Friday, November 06, 2009

Repeat After Me

Well, as Charlie Brown would say, there's always next year.

Or last year, for that matter. But it still hurts. My beloved Phillies did not repeat as world champions of baseball (though "world" is somewhat of a misnomer). They put up a good fight, I thought. They were reasonably competitive. One or two extra hits, one or two extra strikeouts, and it may have been a different story.

Nevertheless, it was a great season. The Phils were phun to watch all year (and thanks to, I was able to do just that), and the Monday that I skipped work, scalped a box seat at Citi Field for thirty bucks, and watched Cliff Lee beat the Mets, 6-2, was one of the more enjoyable afternoons of the year for me.

But while last year the Phillies won their first title since my bar mitzvah, they didn't quite reach the goal again this year.

Which brings me to today's lesson.

In yeshiva we are constantly reminded of the importance of chazarah--review. In fact just as we learned in journalism class that "writing is re-writing," it is fair to say that in the Torah view, "learning is re-learning." In order to really understand a piece of Gemara you have to go over it again and again and again.

Recently, I commemorated my uncle's yahrtzeit with a siyum on all of mishnayos. All the while I was learning mishnayos, often breaking my head to understand them, I kept telling myself how much easier it would be the next time around. Wouldn't you know it though? Once you've made a siyum on something, it can be very difficult to go back to the beginning and start all over.

Fortunately, I learn mishnayos with two boys on a regular basis and that keeps me in the game. Otherwise, I fear that my learning of mishnayos, which was a steady part of my Torah diet for the past few years, would wane considerably. Let's be honest: it's always easier to start new, exciting projects than to rehash old ones.

But "been there, done that" doesn't cut it when it comes to Torah study.

It is for this reason, I suppose, that we declare at a siyum "Hadran alach vehadrach alan--We should return to you and you should return to us." We ask for the fortitude to go back and review, and in exchange for our determination, we pray for the material to return to us as well--that is, to avoid the frustration of having to re-learn what we thought we already knew, that the second time around should inspire new viewpoints and new ideas.

Years ago, when ArtScroll began its translation of the Talmud, a friend of mine, who was not from the learners in our group, began to study Gemara in a way I had not seen before. He was very determined and conscientious in his learning. Prior to this project of his, I had rarely seen him looking into a sefer.

(Sidebar: I have witnessed this with more than one person--ArtScroll really did "open up" the learning of Talmud for many people. That's the good half of the equation; the other half will have to wait for another post. End sidebar.)

Eventually, the day came when he finished all of Shas. I was shocked and proud at the same time. He threw a beautiful siyum for friends and family.

But the sad part was that I never saw him pick up a Gemara again. He had accomplished his goal, and he was done.

The Phillies players, while proud of their accomplishments this year, are disappointed. At the same time, they are excited about starting all over again in 2010 and beyond.

So like I said, there's always next year. Pitchers and catchers report in four months.


Anonymous chareidilite said...

May I suggest that you learn the mishnayos with different meforshim the next time around. That way you accomplish chazarah, still learn something new, and have the added bonus of occasionally coming across interesting differences in how the meforshim view a given mishna. It's worked well for me.

Tue Nov 10, 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger CJ Srullowitz said...

Yes. An excellent idea!

Wed Nov 11, 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post. Sorry about your team. While it's not easy to re-learn Mishnayos, I think we can take a lesson from those in chinuch who successfully teach the same material each year.
In a way, it's like a baseball coach having new players each season.
Of course, the message of "Hadran alach vehadrach alan.." should, ideally, apply for everyday Mitzvah observance, as well.

Thu Nov 12, 05:18:00 PM  

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