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10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Learning Bekius

by HaRav Boruch Shmuel Deutsch

Introduction: Reaping Full Benefit

A considerable portion of a bochur's time is devoted to covering large amounts of gemora, Rashi and Tosafos at a fairly swift pace. The gains to be made from this study are obvious. However, a number of points need to be stressed, to ensure that the maximum benefit is gained from this type of learning. This article explains the quality of the bekius which one should strive for and makes several recommendations as to how to it can be attained.

Aiding Retention

The basic purpose of learning bekius is to gain broad knowledge of as many masechtos of Shas as possible and to remember the material properly. In order to retain the sugyos that they learn, some bochurim need to delve a little into the comments of the Rishonim. This helps them remember the basic structure of the sugya. Others can more easily commit gemoras to memory once they have reviewed them a number of times. Not everyone will find that his efforts to memorize what he learns are helped by looking into the Rishonim, and similarly, not everyone will find that simply reviewing again and again will help him in remembering.

Nevertheless, while the aim of learning bekius is to know the gemora, the Rashi and the Tosafos, it is certainly beneficial to see the principle opinions of the Rishonim and the comments of the major Acharonim while learning the sugya. The point here is that without adding any depth at all from the comments of the Rishonim or the Acharonim to one's study of a sugya, the chances of remembering it well are low. It is therefore important to add some spice, maybe a strong kushyah, or an original insight. The flavor which this adds to the learning helps one in remembering the entire topic.

The True Problem

If, when a week has gone by, one finds that one doesn't remember what one learned the week before, this doesn't necessarily indicate that one's memory is at fault. When speaking about a good memory, we refer to the ability to retrieve information that was learned a long time before. However, everybody ought to be able to remember something which he learned recently. Forgetting quickly is a result of learning with incomplete concentration.

One can forget not only what one learned the week before, but even what one learned on the previous day. Obviously, a normal person's memory is not so weak as to lead him to forget what he has just learned.

If one finds this happening, it can only be because he is not investing all his strength into learning the sugya thoroughly to begin with. He is making do with a superficial understanding, not giving his full attention to what he is learning. If someone can't even recall the details of the sugya while he is learning it, when else should he get to know them? One must therefore make sure to absorb the material properly. The main thing is that a bochur should leave the seder with the feeling that he has a command over what he learned.

Finding the Right Pace

Each individual should learn at a pace that suits his abilities. People differ in the time it takes them to grasp things. Some will gain a thorough understanding swiftly, while others take longer over getting to grips with the basics of a sugya. Most bochurim are able to follow what they are learning without undue difficulty and each should proceed at a pace that suits the abilities that he has received from Hashem yisborach, without trying to make something out of nothing.

The widespread notion that a slow learner is a scholar, while a fast mover is learning superficially, is a mistake. Sometimes learning slowly is a sign of inability to grasp the deeper, more fundamental meaning of the sugya, and going at a slower pace makes it less taxing. Or, it may simply be due to incomplete concentration. Rather than being a sign of depth then, learning slowly may indicate labored thought and inattention. Everyone should ensure that he is using all his abilities to the utmost.

Whether or not this is the case will be evident, for example, from the results of the bekius session, which is usually three-and-a-half hours long in yeshivos. In these two hundred and ten minutes, a capable bochur can achieve a great deal. The yeshiva might only expect an omud to be learned each day in this time, but a gifted bochur can cover that amount in half an hour. At any rate, he shouldn't be covering less than an omud and if he is, he should see to it that he makes up the missing material on Fridays or over Shabbos.

Another important point is that though three-and-a-half hours a day can lead to outstanding results, it's impossible if one arrives half an hour late and then leaves early.

Again and Again

One of the yetzer hora's greatest achievements in our generation is to discourage people from reviewing what they learn. We must repeat the message again and again: There's no knowing without reviewing! If one absorbs what he learns properly and still remembers it after some time has passed, then when he wants to review, he'll be able to do so very quickly, and in half an hour, will be able to cover a considerable amount.

There is no fixed way to review which, if followed, will ensure that a person retains what he has learned. Everyone has to make his own reckoning. What is clear though is, that one must review a number of times in order to remember material well.

It is easier to review an entire masechteh which one has learned well, for this is a self-contained unit and there is a particular pleasure in holding onto something which one has acquired in its entirety. This pleasure exceeds that of any reviewing of other material and it will always draw him back to this masechteh, to review and reflect upon it again and again, so that he can always retain the wonderful feeling of knowing a complete masechteh.

Every ben Torah invests a lot in learning a masechteh, usually six months or even a year, and it's a great pity to lose such a precious belonging because of the failure to review. A person's most precious commodity is his time, especially his years as a bochur. Woe to someone who wastes his opportunities. Chazal call such a person -- who wastes what he is given -- a fool.

HaRav Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky zt'l, related that in his youth, he learned perek Chezkas Habatim together with HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt'l. They also reviewed it together a number of times and Rav Tikochinsky recalled, "When we learned the perek for the thirtieth time, I no longer felt the pleasure and the desire that I had felt the first time. However HaRav Frank made his thirtieth review of the perek with as much enjoyment as he had made his first."

One should be reviewing one's learning continually, and always with enjoyment and desire. Experience shows that the more a person applies himself to his learning, the more he enjoys it and the greater his pleasure in it.

The Key to Success

Another point that should be discussed is the importance of recognizing one's own value. This is something which many talmidim do not have nowadays. It often happens that a bochur realizes that he has the abilities and the opportunity to climb higher but he holds back because he is worried about having to cope with feelings of pride. The truth is, however, that the root of humility is the recognition of one's own worth together with the realization that however great one may be, one deserves nothing for it.

Everyone must try to discover, either by himself or by consulting others, the particular gifts which he has been given. Rather than attempting to reach levels for which he lacks the necessary traits, he should make full use of those abilities which he does have.

The Creator has endowed everyone with certain gifts. One type of person is more inclined towards learning in depth, another's inclination is towards acquiring great breadth of knowledge, while a third has a bent towards using his abilities for learning halochoh. Another type of bochur enjoys writing. Why not use such a valuable gift, which can be of immense benefit?

At the same time, there are also bochurim who do not enjoy the yeshiva's regular program of study. They only feel fulfilled when they are learning other things which, naturally, they prefer to spend their time on. The general rule in this kind of case is that during a bochur's first years in yeshiva, while he attends shiurim, his learning must follow the approach of the shiurim and their way of learning. Even in subsequent years, one should be careful not to abandon the framework of the yeshiva's sedorim, to maintain the full learning schedule and to keep one's priorities straight, not relegating what is of prime importance to second place and vice versa. However, at the same time, one ought to also find a suitable time to delve into those topics that one feels a strong desire to learn.

Everyone should use his gifts to the fullest and very often this will bring tremendous benefit. Besides reaping the actual benefit of the particular strengths which he possesses, a bochur will be able to see his own worth and this will lead him to utilize other traits of his, to which he had not previously paid attention. The greater the extent to which he does this, the higher it will help him climb in Torah. Someone who doesn't recognize his own worth, is liable to fall into despondency and depression chas vesholom. Experience bears out all of this, and there are many, many stories that could be cited as examples.

In his later years, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, met HaRav Shmuel Yitzchok Hillman zt'l, who told him, "We learned together in Volozhin for many years and both of us were fortunate enough to write seforim. You wrote Even Ho'ezel and I wrote Or Hayoshor (a work in the bekius style, drawing on a very broad and comprehensive knowledge). If I would have tried to write a sefer like yours, and you would have tried to write one like mine, neither of us would have managed to produce any kind of sefer."

Conclusion: Building the Future

Every bochur should utilize the opportunity of being together with other good bochurim and the merit of spending time in a yeshiva, to make the most of his years as a bochur, for this is the period that determines his entire future. This is the pattern with which Hakodosh Boruch Hu has imprinted us -- whatever a person acquires as a bochur, he carries with him for life. If we use our time properly, we will merit Heavenly assistance, enabling us to grow and to progress in Torah and in yiras Shomayim.

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