I once bought a book on developing a good memory, but I
forgot where I put it. There is a sefer on advanced
memory techniques called "Alfai Menashe." I think it
is by an early Acharon, but I do not remember who
Some people have photographic memory; whatever they see, they
remember. Other people's abilities are less well developed.
Some people can remember one type of topic, other people can
remember other types of topics. And even from moment to
moment, poeple's ability to remember and recall can vary.
The exact neurology of memory still remains a mystery. The
brain has enormous capacity but scientists have still not
worked out exactly where and how memories are stored and how
they are recalled. Freshly-stored memories seem to be stored
in the front part of the brain. After a while, the memories
are transferred to the back part of the brain for long-term
storage. Theoretically, memories can be recalled from storage
in a thousandth of a second, but we have all experienced
trying to recall a memory and slowly, slowly, it "comes back"
until, eventually we can remember the entire event. And then
there are the times when you know you know it, and its "on
the edge of your tongue"; but it just doesn't come through.
Then, all of a sudden, it just flashes into the mind!
The "backbone" of developing a good memory is clarity.
Whether it is regarding Chumash, Mishna or
Gemora, the pupil should "see," "hear," or "act," the
reality of the topic.
Young children enjoy learning by rote. Older children and
adults need to understand what they are learning. This does
not mean that the pupil needs to understand everything.
Clarity includes knowing what you do not understand.
An easy way to develop clarity is to discuss the topic. If
the topic is text-based, first read over the text and try to
understand it. Then, close the text and discuss the concepts
and details. If questions arise, try to answer them. If you
cannot think of an answer, either ask someone or write the
question down for your attention in the future.
When the topic is clear, say it over to your partner and he
can check you; then you can check him. If you are learning
gemora, it is good to "anchor" the memory to the
particular page and its layout. Try this: Look at the page,
close your eyes, see the page in your mind's eye and then ask
your partner to read the text. While your partner is reading
it, "look" at the page in your mind's eye and follow it down
as if it were a teleprompter.
It is important to go over the topic again and again. This
means, re-learning the topic and attaining even greater
clarity. Works such as "Alfai Menashe" describe
techniques for "storing" what you learn in an organized
manner so that it is easy to recall and review large amounts
of information. "Kerem Yehoshua" and "Hadran
Aloch" are recently-written works which give practical
guidance on how to learn clearly and remember what you have