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8 Av 5762 - July 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
To be Great -- Review!

by HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Margalit

At the beginning of the bein hazmanim, when everyone has more flexibility to make his own schedule and to determine what he will learn, these words are particularly worth considering well.

"To be great," said Maran Eliezer Menachem Man Shach, zt'l, "means knowing one maseches thoroughly. Someone who knows two masechtos thoroughly is very great." That is what the Rosh Yeshiva told an avreich who had come to seek guidance and advice on Torah study.

Those who doubt whether knowing one maseches backwards and forwards is enough to earn the title of godol should keep in mind that of most masechtos, it can be said that someone who masters the gemora with Rashi, Tosafos, Rishonim and Acharonim has mastered more than half the Shas. In the case of some masechtos, he has mastered the majority of Shas.

Mastering a maseches means toiling over it dozens of times -- some say hundreds of times -- and each time on a higher madreigo of kedushoh and with greater ability to retain the material.

The aspiration of each and every one of us is to establish a kinyon in the holy Torah, a real kinyon so that the Torah becomes part of his flesh and blood, a kinyon that will allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of veshinantom by knowing divrei Torah fluently so one does not have to stutter when asked a question and can reply right away. "Call chochmoh your sister," says the gemora (Kiddushin 30b), which according to Rashi means divrei Torah should issue clearly from your mouth. "Review them and examine them in depth so that if someone asks, you will not have to stutter but will be able to reply immediately." Rashi's explanation shows superficial knowledge is insufficient. One who lacks depth of understanding stutters out divrei Torah.

Our Torah is as vast as the sea. The Chazon Ish, citing the Rambam, said the human species does not have the capacity to know the entire Shas. Therefore, when we endeavor to acquire Torah through a kinyon we must inspect the merchandise carefully.

There are many approaches to Torah study. Some learn a little here and a little there, two chapters of Bovo Metzia, three chapters of Bovo Kamo, five chapters of Gittin, two chapters of Kiddushin . . . and so on until eventually they accumulate considerable knowledge in many areas.

Others stick with one maseches from start to finish and only after completing it do they go on to another maseches. The first type of learner will make a better impression by skipping sugyos normally not delved into and focusing exclusively on topics discussed in the yeshiva world, yet we must keep in mind that shleimus is a tremendous mailoh, even at the expense of yedi'o.

The gemora hints at this in Brochos (39b): "Whole [loaves] and pieces [of bread] were brought before them. Said R' Huna, one should make a brocho on the pieces, covering the whole ones as well, and R' Yonoson said a whole one is a superior mitzvah." Rabbenu Tam explains that the case in point involved big pieces and small loaves. R' Huna holds that he should make a brochoh on whichever he prefers but R' Yonoson maintains even smaller whole ones take priority, and Tosafos rules in accordance with R' Yonoson.

Small and whole is better even than bigger pieces. Even if it means fewer yedios, one maseches in its entirety is better than a lot of scattered pieces. Knowing one maseches in its entirety provides sharper and more profound knowledge.

To those who consider extensive chazoroh almost bitul Torah, the following three arguments -- among many others -- show otherwise.

First, every chazoroh generates at least one chiddush. Rav Chaim of Volozhin wrote that chiddushei Torah are primarily the result of chazoroh, for finding chiddushim is essentially an act of uncovering. The word "chiddush" can be misleading for it is not a new creation but a process of uncovering hidden treasures.

Second, as illustrated in Ovos DeRav Nosson (Chapter 24) and in Tanna Devei Eliyohu, "A man can forget twenty years of Torah study in two years. How? If he sits for six months without reviewing his learning he calls tomei-tohor and tohor-tomei. After twelve months without review he begins to exchange one sage with another. After 18 months without review he forgets roshei masechtos, after 24 months without review he forgets roshei perokov. Thus because he called tomei-tohor and tohor-tomei, and exchanges one sage with another and he forgets roshei masechtos, and he forgets roshei perokov, eventually he will sit with nothing to say, as Shlomo [Hamelech] writes, `I went by the field of a lazy man, and by the vineyard of a man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all overgrown with thorns and nettles had covered it over and its stone wall had fallen' (Mishlei 24:30). Once the wall comes down, the whole vineyard is quickly destroyed."

One who does not review is destined to forget. When the yetzer strikes, he should keep in mind that if he fails to do chazoroh now, when he returns to the material in a few years he will be returning to a vineyard whose walls lie in ruins and whose vines have been ravaged. Thus he will be compelled to start from scratch.

"Eizeh chochom? Haro'eh es hanolod." A chochom is someone who sees what has already been born as something that must be safeguarded from all harm. The opposite type of person, who sees only what has yet to be born, overlooks what has already been born. Chazal illustrated this point in Sanhedrin (99a): "R' Yehoshua says anyone who studies Torah and forgets is like a woman who gives birth and buries the child."

The wise man does not let the "nolod" -- what he has learned -- out of his sight for a single moment. This allows him to continue to grow in Torah and yiras Shomayim. "R' Akiva says, `Sing every day, sing every day," (ibid.). According to Rashi, one should review his learning even if he knows it as well as the words of a song, and by doing so he will be granted a place of joy and singing in the World to Come.

Torah study that is not reviewed is considered as if it was not studied even once. Says the Maharsha, just as a woman who gives birth and buries her child has nothing, the same applies to one who studies and does not review. Forgotten material comes to naught, he writes, just as in the case of a woman who gives birth and buries the child, for the child who dies right after birth never performs any activity and is very easily and quickly forgotten.

Third, as the Chida writes in Devorim Acheirim (Drush 11), "The wonders of the Torah are brought about according to the combination of letters [that are being learned] and the holy Names that control [nature] at each different hour of each day [that is, at the time it is being studied], such that even if one studied the topic for several days and certain combinations have already been done, the next time he studies it will be a whole, new matter, according to the circumstances of that particular day and that particular time, based on the combination of the holy Names revealed at that time."

Similarly the Arizal wrote, "No prayer is the same as another in terms of the arrangement of the oros and their combinations and meeting . . . and this is what the Tanna Devei Eliyohu said, that even if he reads the verse `Achos Loton Timno' all day long, the combination is constantly changing -- moment to moment." One chazoroh is never identical to another, and every moment holds its own special potential.

And in response to those who are concerned that this type of study will grow tedious, Rachmono litzlan, in his commentary on Mishlei (21:5) the Vilna Gaon writes, "He who studies towards the true goal constantly reviews and finds new elements of interest."

The Chofetz Chaim exhorted people to review material numerous times and urged everyone to adopt a single maseches and study it until he knows it well by heart (Maamar Toras Habayis Chapter 6, 4).

According to a recent publication, the late mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva, HaRav Nosson Meir Wachtfogel zt"l had the merit to meet the Chofetz Chaim once in his lifetime. While he was a bochur at Mir, during bein hazmanim, when they heard the Chofetz Chaim was staying nearby as part of a recuperation program, he and two other bochurim traveled to meet him. There they had the opportunity to hear a full hour of mussar and divrei his'orerus.

During the course of that hour the Chofetz Chaim claimed one has to be prepared for the arrival of Moshiach "with at least one maseches mastered." R' Nosson Meir heeded his words and upon returning to the yeshiva he began to repeat the first chapter of Bovo Metzia word by word by heart -- gemora, Rashi, Tosafos -- and toiled at it almost to the point of endangering his health. Later he realized the Chofetz Chaim had not meant word for word, but merely the shakla vetaria, the give-and-take of the reasoning, adding that he found the Vilna Gaon had said the same.

The greatness of the Rishonim was that they recognized the value of chazoroh. Said the Maharal, "And I will conclude my words with what is the foundation and purpose of everything, and which everything depends on: reviewing their learning until they have mastered the material and it will not leave their mouth. Then the Torah will return to its pedestal, as was the practice in Am Yisroel until not long ago, for what is the use of gathering and amassing wealth and to lose it in an instant? Therefore anyone who has the slightest fear of G-d in his heart and is wary to make pillars for G-d's Torah to stand on lest it fall in its entirety, will accustom himself and his students to this practice, which is the foundation of everything, so that it does not leave their mouths."

In conclusion, HaRav Hutner zt"l was famous for saying, "A man does not become a godol through his study, but only through his chazoroh. Nothing can come of one who does not have the patience to review!"

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