Frequent Questions and Difficulties in Learning the Daf
by R’ Sender Dolgin
- How should I learn a complex Gemara or topic that is unfamiliar and overwhelming?
- I learn Rava’s question and there is an obvious problem since he had an opposite opinion a few lines before and Rashi doesn’t address the problem. I think maybe I am learning incorrectly and can’t go further.
- The Gemara brings six questions from different Gemaros and I have great difficulty processing and retaining the information.
- The Gemara brings a question form Mesechet Keilim or Zeraim and I have no idea what the Gemara is asking due to lack of background information.
- How can I stick to a schedule if some Gemaros are more complex than others and require more time to learn?
- I learn Daf Yomi, but sometimes a simcha or other pressing event comes up and causes me to fall behind, get frustrated and give up.
We must change our approach in learning the Daf. Rashi (Brochos 5a) tells us a Talmud Chochum is one who is ragil b’mishnaso lachzor al girsoso tamid. One should learn the daf to become familiar with the daf rather then to know the daf and with each review one will add to his previous understanding and clarity. We need to learn a new Gemara each day to increase our yedios and to review each day, not to allow oneself to forget his previous learning. By going forward and backward, all the pieces will come together and the Gemara will become familiar to him as his telephone number or address. He will experience a new simchas haTorah every time he opens a Gemara.
The trick of chazarah is to review before one has a chance to forget. By seeing it the next day and a week later and then a month later, with every review he will not only retain the past, but will be able to understand more since he has more yediyos to connect to this to the daf that he is reviewing.
In summary – we are not learning the daf to know the daf but rather to become familiar with the daf (whether it’s 50% or 15% comprehension) and with each review we will further increase our comprehension of the daf.
There is another fundamental question that needs to be addressed – how do I learn the Gemara properly the first time especially with a complex and unfamiliar sugya? A Gemara needs a Rebbe that has a broad knowledge of Shas to teach the Gemara and parts of Rashi and Tosfos that are essential for the peshat giving background information when necessary, explaining every word in the Gemara and giving summaries at the end of the sugya.
Since most people don’t have a live Rebbe to teach them Shas, we are blessed today with Art Scroll, Mesivta, Daf Yomi Shiurim etc.(whichever works best for the person) to teach them the Gemara. By using a Rebbe, we will be able to accomplish qualitatively and quantitatively many times more than we could if we try to figure out the Gemara on our own.
I suggest as a rule of thumb, half the time for the new and half the time for review. For example: If a person has 3-4 hours a day he should learn a daf a day spending 1 1/2 – 2 hrs on the new daf and 30-40 minutes on the review dafim.
If he has 1 1/2 – 2 hrs, he should spend 45min-1hr on the new amud and 15-20 min on the review amudim.
The first priority is to finish your goal (regardless if the degree of comprehension). If one has extra time he can delve more deeply on something he wishes to better understand.
I also suggest (for most people who need days off) to build into his schedule 25 off days for Bar Mitzvahs, Wedding occasions, etc. When he resumes his learning he should go back to the last day that he learned as if he never missed a day.
If a person learns a blatt a day with the reviews in 8 years he will have seen every Gemara between 3-12 times with an average of every daf 6-7 times. With 2-3 hours a day he will then be able to learn straight from Brochos to Nidda 8 Blatt a day and 6 Blatt on Shabbos or 54 Blatt a week and finish the entire Shas once a year ad meah v’esrim.
For an Amud a day it will be twice the time, but the goal is the same – to be able to finish the entire Shas once a year. One will thereby have a clarity to answer a question whenever asked and will become a true talmud chocum.
This is all possible even for one with average abilities and a weak background.
R’ Sender Dolgin
Feel free to ask a question or schedule a phone call with Rabbi Dolgin.