By Kyle Seidel
What if you were told that you could remember what happened on any Daf [page] of Shas [the talmudic order] through memorizing a series of seemingly wacky stories and mnemonics? My reaction a year ago would certainly have been one of disbelief and astonishment. Yet, a year after being introduced to the Zichru Program for Daf Yomi [daily Talmud study], I’ve seen that this goal is quite attainable. Ever since its start for this current Daf Yomi cycle the Zichru Program has certainly changed the scope of how one can view the learning of Daf Yomi.
Daf Yomi is often thought of as a quick way to get through a lot of Gemara. Many people when they think of Daf Yomi tend to place a strong emphasis on this “quick” aspect of Daf Yomi as they believe following the pace of a Daf a day is unlikely to allow one to retain much of their learning. This fit my initial experience when I first began listening to a Daf Yomi shiur. My approach to learning Daf Yomi was that I would be able to get a broad knowledge of many concepts throughout Shas as I would coast through Masechet after Masechet. I believed this advantage would outweigh the fact that I wasn’t ensuring that I would understand or remember many of the finer points on each Daf. Nonetheless, I found myself able to still enjoy and gain a lot from the daily Daf. However, my approach to Daf Yomi entirely changed when I was introduced to the Zichru Program. With all that introduction you’re probably wondering what the Zichru Program is.
Zichru, designed by Rabbi Avraham Goldhar together with Barry Lebovitz, is a program that allows one to retain three major points from each Daf of Gemara they learn. The program is based on the principle that it is very easy to remember three items each day. A comparable situation would be if one was going to a grocery store to buy three items. This person would easily be able to list these items in their mind so that they could buy them in the store if they put a slight effort into committing the items to memory. Zichru follows this same structure of simply committing to memory three points from a Daf of Gemara. However, rather than forgetting the three items from yesterday’s shopping list, one reviews the three points from the previous Daf the ensuing day to ensure they have retained the information. This might seem a bit challenging, but with the help of Rabbi Goldhar’s mnemonics and memory hints, Zichru brings out one’s potential to retain a large amount of information at a minimal time expense. Zichru gives a siman [mnemonic] for each Daf of Gemara. For example: Daf Bet is a House (Bayit), Gimmel is a Camel (Gamal), Dalet is a Door (Delet). These simple associations of a Hebrew letter to an item are then given a seemingly ridiculous story.
An example will illustrate this idea and shed further light on just how wacky these stories can get. The story for Masechet Sukkah Daf 29 is: “as the empty cot in the sukkah got soaked from the rain while the family ate inside, the master poured a pitcher on the face of a thief, who tried to sneak in and steal his lulav.” This seems like a ridiculous story, though with the right tools it alludes directly to three things that occur on Daf 29. 29 in Hebrew is chof-tet, which can be read as cot. Thus, the empty cot in the sukkah that got soaked in the rain while the family ate inside reminds us of the Gemara’s discussion regarding when it is raining into the sukkah at what point is it permitted to leave and go inside one’s house during a meal. The master pouring a pitcher on someone’s face reminds us of the idea that when it rains on Sukkot it is as if God, the master, is pouring a pitcher on the slave’s face and saying I do not desire your service. Lastly, the thief who is getting the pitcher poured on his face reminds us of the opening Mishnah of the third perek [chapter] of Sukkah which discusses the halacha [law] of a stolen lulav. Thus, this seemingly arbitrary story is really a densely coded message which contains within it many references to the discussions on Daf 29.
Many people have joined the Zichru program since it first began at the start of this recent Shas cycle (January 5th 2020). All Zichru subscribers receive a daily email with the story and Siman for the day’s Daf and a detailed summary on the discussion in the Gemara related to the three points in the story. As more people joined the Zichru program, they contributed and added new features that are sent in the daily email. Now there are professional graphic illustrators who draw out the story for each Daf in a cartoon-like image. Additionally, there are Quizlets and pop-quizzes sent out, as well as animated videos. These features are all intended to make it easier to remember and review the structure of each Daf. Most recently for Masechet Sukkah Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, Director of Semicha at RIETS, recorded a Shiur in which he reviewed all the Zichru points from each chapter in the Masechet. With all these great aids to retain one’s learning it really simplifies the process of memorization. However, the one key factor that remains to be discussed is how one actually reviews these Zichru Simanim and stories to remember them as time goes on.
I started learning Daf Yomi with Zichru when the Daf was up to the last Perek of Masechet Pesachim. Ever since then at night I have reviewed with a friend in YU the Simanim from the recent days of Daf Yomi. This suggestion of reviewing with someone else was presented by Zichru and as time goes on it is the best way for us both to ensure we are remembering what we have learned as we test each other one by one on the past weeks Simanim. Over time we have amassed a large amount of valuable information that appeared on each Daf and have been able to categorize them in our minds in the order in which they appear. This gives one a tremendous feeling of accomplishment that they are really taking responsibility for ensuring their learning is being retained. As Leora Moskowitz wrote in an earlier YU Observer article on Zichru, “It is thrilling to anticipate the bekius [wide-breadth] of knowledge that can be amassed by this method of review.”
I really internalized this feeling this past Shabbos when walking for 30 minutes from my home to listen to Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz’s Daf Yomi Shiur in his Shul in North Woodmere. Over the span of that walk using the Simanim from Zichru I was able to review in my head three points from every Daf of Masechet Sukkah. That is over 165 separate discussions that occurred throughout the Masechet. That anecdote is just one small example of the value of Zichru: the ability to turn what could be a mindless walk into a mindful walk through the key discussions of an entire Masechet. In addition, it is quite fortuitous that Daf Yomi just finished Masechet Sukkah so recently. As we head into the Holiday of Sukkot I am left with a newfound appreciation for many of the central ideas of the Holiday that Zichru has instilled within me and given me an ability to recall with ease. Zichru has truly elevated the way one can learn Daf Yomi majorly and brings with it so many positives. I can’t wait to see where the Zichru journey will continue to bring me going forward.