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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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