Memorizing all of Masechet Berachot?

By: Leora Moskowitz  |  March 27, 2020

By Leora Moskowitz

This happens to me all the time: I walk out of a shiur, and my friend asks me, “How was it?” I say, “It was great,” so my friend asks, “What did you learn?” and then I am unable to respond. This is one of the main arguments against daf yomi. People dedicate hours of their time to daf yomi. But often, if you ask what they learned in the daf that day, they will say it went in one ear and out the other. Indeed, they dedicated time to learning Torah, which is valuable in itself, but what further goal does daf yomi accomplish if you don’t remember it?

The Mishna in Avot 3:8 says that one is liable to death for forgetting his Torah learning. This only applies if one intentionally forgets his learning, yet it still stresses the severity of forgetting one’s learning. In Menachot 99b, Reish Lakish states that there is a negative commandment against forgetting one’s Torah learning, as the Torah says,“Just be careful, and verily guard your life, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen.”

There are multiple gemaras in Berachot that highlight the greatness of remembering one’s Torah learning. The rewards for doing certain actions mentioned throughout Berachot are a long life, children, and remembering his learning. Remembering one’s Torah learning is equated to having a long life and children — it is evident that there is great value to remembering one’s learning.

The morning of Siyum Hashas, I heard about a new memory tool coming out for this daf yomi cycle, called Zichru. After seeing the masses of people at Siyum Hashas, the Siyumei Hashas happening around the world, and hearing all the hype and excitement about the new daf yomi cycle — and this intriguing memory tool — I was inclined to open the first daf of Masechet Berachot.

Since the first daf of Berachot, I have been listening to the Zichru memory shiur for daf yomi. In it, Rabbi Avraham Goldhar (with the behind-the-scenes help of Barry Lebowitz) identifies three main points of the daf. He then describes a mental image that combines the three main points and the number of the daf. Then, there is a four-blatt back-chazara of the previous dapim learned. Finally, there is a pop quiz of ten questions about the main points of each daf. It takes in total around 10 minutes.

At this point in time, you can give me any daf in Masechet Berachot, 2-64 and I can tell you three main points on the daf! I play trivia with people all the time in shul, at Shabbos tables, and with my friends. It goes both ways — you can say the daf and I tell you the points, or you say the points and I tell you the daf. It is unbelievable.

There are a few highlights to this method of learning daf yomi. One is clearly the tremendous bekius knowledge that one can amass through reviewing this way. Rather than finishing the masechet and not really being able to answer the question of, “So, what did you learn?” I can answer with 159 main points of the masechet. Another is that the masechet becomes like a clearly-organized file cabinet in your mind. I worked on planning a Masechet Berachot themed kiddush for Shabbos of the daf yomi siyum, and when planning what foods to have, I was able to list foods that appear in the masechet and what daf they appear on. Probably the most valuable aspect of Zichru is that you can review whenever and wherever you are. When I’m walking back from Mincha, waiting in line, bored in class, or trying to fall asleep, I review the daf yomi. It is a tremendous tool that can be used anytime. I heard from Rabbi Lebowitz that Rabbi Shay Shechter said about his father, Rabbi Herschel Shachter, that he is not a genius but he knows Torah because he loves it. If you love Torah and think about it all the time, you are sure to remember it. This memory tool organizes the knowledge in a format that allows you to quickly run through tons of dapim in your mind, so Torah is on your mind all day.

I’ll give some examples of simanim, which is the name of these mental images. As a warning, some are relatively normal, while others are completely insane. Berachot daf three is three watchmen on camels, who hear the sounds of a harp playing inside a ruin, so they go into the ruin to check it out. Camels remind us that we are on daf three because a camel in Hebrew is a gamal, which is similar to gimmel. The three watchmen teach us that there are three mishmarot of the night in the Beit Hamikdash. The harp reminds us of David HaMelech’s harp which would play at chatzot during the night. The ruin teaches that one may not enter a ruin for three reasons — suspicion, danger, and demons. 

Berachot daf 32 is a mad scientist in a lab who creates a golden calf that will sing his praises all day long, but when the golden calf comes to life and runs out the door, the mad scientist breaks down into tears. Pretty strange! The lab reminds us that we are on daf 32 because lamed-bet can be read as lab. The golden calf teaches that Moshe Rabeinu prayed to Hashem to save Bnei Yisrael after their sin. The singing of his praises alludes to the requirement that we praise Hashem before making requests in tefillah. The calf running out the door and mad scientist breaking down into tears teaches that the Gate of Tears is never locked.

These are just two examples, but there are many more interesting ones, including a sailor on a yacht who rips off his uniform to jump in and save a rasha from a whale, an am ha’artez chasing people through a maze where the only way to escape the maze is to properly say “amen’” and a teacher standing in front of world map teaching chassidim, when his Uber driver arrives to take him on a trip to his pre-sunrise davening. The wackier the mental image, the more likely you will remember it!

Moving on to Masechet Shabbos, it is thrilling to anticipate the bekius knowledge that can be amassed by this method of review. Towards the beginning of Berachot, Rabbi Goldhar asked everyone to give three numbers: 1) How many dapim would you be really pleased to know? 2) How many dapim would you be amazed to know? 3) How many dapim would it take to be completely shocked to know? My answers were: 1) 34 dapim, so it would be over 100 main points, 2) All of Masechet Berachot, which is about double answer #1, and finally 3) All of Berachot and Shabbos

So far numbers one and two are down… Masechet Shabbos and the rest of Shas await!


Photo: Stern College Beit Midrash