The correct way of learning beiyun has almost been
forgotten nowadays, and many people are confused about it. I
have therefore found it necessary to explain at length the
derech of our rabbonim regarding this topic:
1. It is of fundamental importance to the understanding of a
sugya to have a crystal-clear picture of all the stages
(shakla vetarya) of a sugya and the various
shittos contained therein. A lack of clarity and
confusion between the shittos prevents a proper
understanding of the sugya. It is heartbreaking to
watch talmidim working hard at understanding concepts
and sevoros, before having acquired a clear enough
picture of the sugya.
It is essential for you, as you go through a sugya, to
summarize separately each shittah in the gemora
and rishonim. Some disputes are "local" ones (on one
specific point), others run through the whole sugya.
This is admittedly no easy task, but it is the most important
and fundamental aspect of learning, and the main component of
If a sugya is not sufficiently clear in your mind, and
you have not studied the shittos of the rishonim
in a satisfactory manner, you may end up hearing a wonderful
elucidation of one of the rishonim and use it to
explain the shittah of another rishon who,
unbeknownst to you, actually has a different mahalach
in the whole sugya. If, on the other hand, you have an
accurate and detailed grasp of the shittos, you should
also be able to work out the sevoros and concepts
underlying each shittah, because a sevoro is
intimately connected with a specific shittah in the
sugya. The sefer Nachalas Dovid may serve as
your model in this regard: he explains the mahalach of
each sugya in a detailed and clear manner.
2. You should also know that a sugya usually has a part
that is difficult to understand. Some people notice this when
they first start learning a sugya, and devote a lot of
time and energy to it. It is obvious, though, that the proper
approach is to concentrate your efforts on the clearer
sections of the sugya, analyzing and clarifying them.
This in itself also requires a lot of time.
You should do the same when learning the rishonim.
There are those who spend a lot of time trying to understand a
difficult section in a rishon before having adequately
understood the main text of the commentary and his specific
shittah on the sugya. We must certainly try to
understand the difficult parts in the commentaries of the
rishonim, but not spend too much time on them. The best
thing is to make a note of a difficult part and come back to
it after having completed the rest of the material, at which
stage you will, besiyato diShmayo, manage to understand
the point properly.
However, even if you will not understand it properly do not be
upset, and always remember that the main thing is to feel,
after having completed a sugya, that you have a clear
understanding of the mahalach of the sugya. We
must realize that we cannot expect to understand everything
very deeply; we are not on the level of being able to learn
every sugya with all the shittos in depth. As an
indication of this, consider how many people today are able to
follow the complicated reasoning of the Maharam Shif?
Our only duty nowadays is to concentrate on the important
points relating to a thorough understanding of
3. Before starting to learn a perek in a
masechta, you must acquire at least a superficial
familiarity with its contents. This will prevent unnecessary
mistakes as you go along. If you really have a burning desire
to learn Torah properly, and not just to engage in
intellectualism, you must realize that this is a prerequisite
for success. There can be no doubt that every ben Torah
has the ability to learn ten daf of gemora, Rashi,
Tosafos in about ten hours. The only reason people do not
do this, is because they are led astray by their
This principle is a conspicuous example of something that was
taken for granted by lomdim in previous generations,
who realized that you could not hope to understand
sugyos without first having gone through the material.
In our times this has, quite unjustifiably, been forgotten.
Until not long ago, it was customary to learn a
masechta several times over and hear shiurim on
it, before learning it with the yeshiva.
The Brisker Rov zt"l once told his talmidim to
prepare themselves for learning Erechin beiyun by going
through the whole masechta first. Two days later, he
asked them how much they had managed to cover. When they
replied that they were up to daf kaf, he was surprised
and said that he had assumed that they would already have
finished the masechta by then!
4. After you have completed studying gemora, Rashi,
Tosafos, you should concentrate on one of the works of the
rishonim. Anyone attempting to learn several
shittos at the same time is bound to get confused. You
should, therefore, focus on one sefer, and learn that
shittah thoroughly throughout the sugya.
In my humble opinion, there are no hard and fast rules about
which rishon to choose to learn from. Nowadays, we are
fortunate b"H to have published editions of the
rishonim which have been thoroughly proofread. Find out
which is the main rishon whose commentary can be
followed easily for all the masechta's sugyos. Nearly
every masechta has such a rishon. Of course, if
you have not yet learnt a masechta, you cannot be
expected to know which is the most appropriate sefer to
use. You must therefore consult with an experienced talmid
chochom about this.
5. In our generation many of the shiurim of the
roshei hayeshivos have b"H been published.
However, use them only as aids to understand the sugya
better, and not to go through them systematically. In the past
it was almost unheard of to spend a lot of time on these
shiurim. In our generation too, even though we are
fortunate that so many shiurim from the previous
generation have been put into print, we must be careful to
spend the right amount of time on each area of study.
It is not wise to read up everything these seforim have
to say about a sugya; I have my doubts whether the
roshei hayeshivos themselves actually said during their
shiurim everything which has been printed in their
names in these seforim. The only aim of perusing them
is to help you find out about the fundamental aspects of a
sugya and which main points you should be spending your
time on. I think that the most useful development in our times
has been the appearance of references and footnotes on the
commentaries of the rishonim. They provide the student
with the tools to become familiar with the main points of a
sugya and to choose a topic to delve into further.
6. The purpose of attending a shiur on the sugya
-- especially the daily shiur -- is for the student to
acquire the correct derech in learning a sugya.
After hearing a shiur and understanding the main
aspects of the sugya, you should try to clarify further
on your own those points which you are still unclear about
after the shiur. However, you must prepare for the
shiur by learning the sugya thoroughly, because
the purpose of the shiur is to elucidate the
sugya and clear up any difficult points you may have
encountered while preparing the sugya. You will
obviously not derive any benefit from the shiur if you
do not have a detailed mastery of the sugya.
7. The fundamental component of toiling in Torah is the study
of the sugya with Rashi and Tosafos, trying to
understand on your own the various sides of the argument, and
what lies at the root of the disputes between Rashi and
Tosafos. To get used to this is a most difficult task, and if
you have mastered it by the time you are in your twenties, you
may consider yourself fortunate.
At first, enlist the help of others to get the basic picture,
then use your own resources to get further into the
sugya. It is certainly difficult to pick up the deeper
points of a sugya without receiving some guidance from
one of the great acharonim who talk about the
sugya, but once you have the basic tools, you should be
able to work out the rest by yourself.
8. If you think you have understood a certain point on your
own and wish to know whether your reasoning is sound, simply
look up one of the accepted works of the acharonim to
see whether your reasoning accords with theirs. There is no
other way to check whether your logic is valid. After many
years of Torah study, you will acquire an instinctive feeling
on your own for discerning a straight sevoro.
You should also know that the simpler a sevoro is, the
straighter it is. Many people make the mistake of thinking
that if something is understood simply, it cannot be a good
sevoro, but this cannot be true, because most of the
material in Shas can be understood literally and
simply. You must be very careful not to read your own
sevoros into what the gemora says. To comprehend
the words of the gemora must remain our main aim.
9. It is well known that one of the major obstacles to success
in omol haTorah is the feeling that you do not remember
what you have learned. This feeling is of course very
frustrating, and we ask Hashem every day that "we should not
toil in vain," but forgetfulness is not our predetermined
fate, nor has an Angel of Forgetfulness come to afflict this
Why do talmidim forget what they have learnt? You must
realize that it is impossible to remember a whole sugya
in all its details, from the hava amina until the
maskono together with all the questions of the
rishonim and explanations and sevoros of the
acharonim. Therefore, once you have finished learning a
sugya, determine which elements lie at the heart of the
sugya by distinguishing them from those of secondary
importance, and clarify and repeat them several times in your
mind until you are satisfied that you have totally absorbed
the material. Some people say that you should summarize
everything in writing.
In any event, it is obvious that you must at least have
everything crystal clear in your mind. This holds true for the
shakla vetarya of the actual sugya, as well as
the explanations of the rishonim and acharonim
on it, and one of the acharonim on each sugya,
who clarifies the mahalach of the material. You should
go over everything so many times that you will not easily
forget what you have learnt.
One of the gedolim once wrote, as part of his advice to
a talmid, that the most effective chazoroh on
the sugya is to review the Rambam on it, because his
work contains all the essential ingredients for the
memorization of material: clear language and methodology, as
well as concentration on the main aspects of every topic at
the expense of issues of secondary importance.
10. Another point to bear in mind in this context is Chazal's
principle that "a person only learns things which appeal to
him," and you cannot dictate to someone how he should learn or
what he should learn; everybody has his own subjective
preferences. One person will derive the most enjoyment from
learning a rishon, another person's main pleasure may
be the works of Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt"l, the
sevoros of the Ketzos or the shiurim of
the roshei hayeshivos. At a young age, talmidim
do not yet know what their preferences are; they only discover
this in the course of time as they devote themselves more to
You should learn what you enjoy most, from beginning to end,
in a pleasant tune, reviewing the material several times
together with the sugya and a summary. This way
everything that you learn will remain engraved in your heart.
If you feel that you have succeeded besiyato deShmaya
in studying a sugya with the required depth and
clarity, you will be motivated to learn more and more, all the
time reaching new heights of Torah awareness.
It goes without saying, that even after acquiring intellectual
knowledge, and following the system of study that has been
outlined here, the most fundamental point is always to feel
that your life has no value without the study of Torah. If
your mind and activities are bound up with the outside world,
the Torah will not find a place and take root inside you.
11. If you really love Torah, you do not derive enjoyment only
from sharp points of conceptual sophistication and beauty.
Every new detail or novel point should be a source of great
pleasure. Learning a sugya with the intention of
resolving doubts you have regarding an analytical inquiry
mentioned in one of the works of the acharonim or which
you thought of yourself, is a distortion of the correct way of
learning. You must pay attention to the total structure of a
sugya with all its details and ramifications. The
sugya must be so clear in your mind, that in the future
when you are learning something else, you will remember this
sugya well enough to resolve a query which will arise
This is the authentic way of studying Torah. If you will be
fortunate enough to complete a masechta learning this
way, that will be quite an acquisition, and you must realize
that whatever you manage to achieve while you are still young,
will remain a part of you throughout your life. May Hashem
yisborach help us to climb the rungs of the ladder leading
to the House of Hashem, omen.
Written by A.C., based on talks to bochurim in Kol
Next week: HaRav Deutsch discusses "bekiyus."
Leilui nishmas Eidele o"h bas Rav Shmuel.