Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar 5762 - March 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
On Chazoro

by Rav Avraham Zvi Margolit, founder of Mifal Hamasechtos

These ideas are always important but they serve as special guidelines for activity in Nisan.

The key word in all aspects of avodas Hashem is ambition. This is especially true in the case of limud haTorah. A bochur who has no ambition to acquire knowledge of the Torah will have a very low productivity level. Everyone has to aspire to train himself to be the godol beTorah of the next generation.

The mashgiach in our yeshiva, HaRav Dov Yoffe often repeats the statement made to him by the Chazon Ish: "Almost any yeshiva bochur can be the next godol hador."

This should be the goal of any yeshiva bochur, in fact of any Jew. Rav Yisroel Salanter put it this way: "A soldier who joins the army without aspiring to become the Chief of Staff, won't even become a low- ranking officer."

However, sometimes positive ambitions can break a person's spirit, since he can end up feeling that despite his yearning for Torah, he is still somewhere at or near the bottom of the ladder. Ever so often he lifts his eyes to behold the upper rungs, but the light emanating from there only causes him to lose heart: it is a long journey, and he is still far from his destination. Often it is actually the ambition for greatness that breaks a person's resolve.

Consequently, each one of us has to be aware of our limitations as mortal beings. The Chazon Ish quoted the Rambam: "It is beyond a mortal to be proficient in the whole of Shas." That is not to say that there are not people who are beki'im in Shas: the Jewish nation has been blessed with such individuals, but they acquired this status not as humans, but in the merit of immense siyata deShmaya.

Our desire to know the whole of Shas often leads us to neglect material we have studied in favor of the acquisition of new knowledge. In practice, we end up forgetting a lot of material we once knew very well, because of our failure to review it sufficiently.

The path to knowing the whole of Shas starts with being proficient in one daf. Proficiency does not mean comprehension, but retention of the material in our minds. We try to comfort ourselves by saying, "Boruch Hashem, I've already learned this," but such a statement often says almost nothing about our real mastery of the subject matter.

If we want to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the Torah, we should not move on to the second daf before having mastered the first.

Someone who does not devote time to chazoro will end up having to relearn everything from scratch. HaRav Shach told me that when he was a yeshiva bochur, he devoted several hours a day to chazoro.

It says in Shmuel 1 (16:12), "And he sent and brought him in and he (Dovid Hamelech) was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a pleasant appearance." On this Rav Yitzchok says, "He had a pleasant appearance in halocho: whoever saw him, remembered what he had studied."

On the face of it, this medrash gives us a wonderful recipe for improving our memory or reminding us of forgotten material. Anyone can go to Dovid Hamelech in his time or to one of the gedolim in our time, look at them, and thereby be reminded of what he learned. But this is not what the medrash means.

The Kotzker Rebbe says (Ohel Torah, p. Acharei Mos), "If this person really does not have a good memory, and is forgetful, how will seeing Dovid Hamelech help jog his memory?

"What the medrash means is that a person can learn about halochos, the acquisition of good middos and appropriate behavior, and after all that, still not know how to conduct himself in practice. However if, after his studies, such a person will go to a talmid chochom and observe his actions, the meaning of halochos and teachings studied by him will become clear. That is the power of a talmid chochom `with a pleasant appearance.'

"However, a person is responsible himself for the functioning of his memory. It is up to him whether he will remember or forget. If he wants to, he will review his studies and remember, or he can choose to run ahead without reviewing what he has studied -- and then he will forget."

Chazal comment on the posuk, "If you will surely listen": "If you listen to the old, you will listen to the new, but if your heart turns away, you will not listen anymore" (Brochos 40a). If someone wants to learn something new, he first has to review what he has learned already. Rashi (ibid.) tells us the extent to which we have to "listen to the old": "`If you listen to the old' -- that you have reviewed two or three times what you learned last year." In other words, before studying your yearly masechta, you must first go over what you learned last year at least two or three times, and only then start to learn the current masechta.

On the other side of the same daf, the gemora brings a beraissa: "`Over salt and brine and truffles and mushrooms one says shehakol.' This would imply that truffles and mushrooms do not grow from the ground, but has it not been taught: If one vows to abstain from vegetables, he is forbidden to eat vegetables but is allowed to eat truffles and mushrooms? Abaye said, `They do spring up from the earth, but their sustenance is not derived from the earth.' " Therefore their brocho is shehakol.

There are two stages in the life cycle of mushrooms: their reproductive stage and their continuous growth and sustenance. Chazal tell us that the second stage is the more important one. This teaches us that although a person's origins are of great consequence, the more important stage is not where you have come from, but what is sustaining you today. A person's future is not determined by his roots, his yichus, but by what he is absorbing in the present.

We can go further and say that with respect to a person's learning too, we can trace two stages: the "birth", when a person learns something for the first time and the "child" stage when the material is reviewed and its knowledge is consolidated. Which is the more important stage? Abaye teaches us the principle that what matters most is how much you develop the "child," the extent to which you review what has already been "born," what you have already learned.

Various incidents in the lives of our gedolim may be cited to illustrate the fact that they acquired their vast Torah knowledge because they appreciated the importance of chazoro and memorization techniques. Rav Yitzchok Hutner said: "A person does not become great from learning, only from chazoro. If someone does not have patience to do chazoro, he will not amount to anything."

We have to internalize this truth, which we sometimes find very difficult to accept: without continuous chazoro, we will have nothing.

"Indolence casts one into a deep sleep, and the idle soul (literally, `full of deceit') shall suffer hunger." (Mishlei 19:15). The Vilna Gaon explains: "He wants to amass a fortune, and fill his treasury deceitfully. And the same applies to Torah -- whoever learns a lot, does not constantly review his studies, and still wants to accumulate a lot of knowledge, will `starve,' because he will be left with nothing."

We must constantly remind ourselves that in order to reach the summit, we have to first conquer the paths of the Written and the Oral Torah, concentrating on our current studies, and preserving our old knowledge by continuous chazoro; only this way can we continue our progress. In order to fulfill our fine aspiration of knowing the whole of Shas, we have to make stops on our route as we go along. We should as a first stage strive to have a mastery of one masechta, and then aim to progress further. That way we can realize our wonderful goal.

It says in Medrash Mishlei, ch. 10: "R. Yishmoel said, `Come and see how difficult is the yom hadin, when HaKodosh Boruch Hu will judge the whole world in Emek Yehoshofot. When a talmid chochom will appear in front of Him, He will say, `Did you study Torah?' `Yes.' HaKodosh Boruch Hu will say to him, `Since you have confessed, tell Me what you have read and learned.' Thus it has been taught: let a person have full mastery of everything he has read and learned, lest he be humiliated on the Day of Judgment."

It is not enough to learn. If you have learned, you have to retain it too; otherwise you will eventually be humiliated. As R. Yosef, the son of R. Yehoshua ben Levi said (he heard these words from the heavenly retinue): "Happy is he who comes here armed with knowledge." We have to make sure our learning remains with us constantly.

HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l was once asked what someone should be learning. He answered that one should learn something which could be learned again.

If I am standing in front of the bookshelf and am deliberating with myself which sefer to take off, I would be best advised to choose a sefer which I am likely to learn again, because otherwise even what I am learning now is likely to slip my memory. Therefore, if is preferable to study material, which I will be able to review again easily.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.