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
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
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
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'
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
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 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
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
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
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!"