Guidelines for Memorizing Torah B’al Peh



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    Guidelines for Memorizing Torah B’al Peh

    From the desk of Rabbi Gershon Avtzon, Director of Yehivas Lubavitch – Cincinnati: I’m from a group of Talmidim Hashluchim in a mainstream Chabad Mesivta. One of the programs that we organize is that the talmidim should learn different parts of Torah by heart. There is an inner debate amongst ourselves: Is it indeed useful that the students put in so much time memorizing? Perhaps they can use that time to learn other useful things. Did the Rebbe encourage this? If yes, what guidance did he give? • Click to Read

    Question: I’m from a group of Talmidim Hashluchim in a mainstream Chabad Mesivta. One of the programs that we organize is that the talmidim should learn different parts of Torah by heart. There is an inner debate amongst ourselves: Is it indeed useful that the students put in so much time memorizing? Perhaps they can use that time to learn other useful things. Did the Rebbe encourage this? If yes, what guidance did he give?

    Answer:

    Firstly, yasher koach for your selfless dedication to the talmidim. As an educator in a Mesivta for many years, I see firsthand the tremendous positive effect that the Talmidim Hashluchim can have on the talmidim.

    As to your inquiry: We are all aware of the Hayom Yom (7 Adar II) about the importance of knowing Torah in your mind, so that one the say (or think) words of Torah when they are walking in the street: “One ought to think about words of Torah when walking down the street, either verbalizing them or not, depending upon whether one is permitted to speak words of Torah in that place. When one walks down the street without being occupied with words of Torah, the cobblestone on which he treads tells him: “Blockhead, who are you to be treading on me? What makes you better than me?”

    So certainly it is of great importance that the students learn Torah b’al peh. Notwithstanding all of the above, there indeed are certain guidelines that the Rebbe wrote about memorizing various parts of Torah:

    Torah Shebiksav:

    In 5717 (1957), someone wrote to the Rebbe of a new program to be started in which students memorize parts of Torah Shbiksav (parts of Tanach) by heart. The Rebbe responded:

    (1) “ You are not asking if one can gain a knowledge of Torah by heart as a result of learning many times inside, rather to set up a system in which the students memorize Torah by heart. To this I answered that one is halachically not permitted to do so and I referenced the first source for this Halacha and it is also in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim siman 49).

    All the examples that you brought of the Tannaim and Amoraim that knew Torah by heart, is a waste of the bother to delve into. You can see in every shul that there are Yidden that know Ashrei and Shema by heart (as a result of having said these passages so many times). As mentioned earlier, there is a big difference between knowing it by heart (as a result of learning it inside so many times) and making an official system of memorizing the written Torah by heart. Memorizing is mainly for the oral Torah.” (Igros, Vol. 15 p. 425; #5750).

    [It is obvious that this does not include the idea of teaching young children a few pesukim by heart (like those included in the “12 Pesukim and Mamarei Chazal” and others which are widely known as explained in Halacha — R.G.A.]

    (2) “In regards to your question on what it says in Likkutei Torah (end of Parshas Kedoshim) that one should work heart to ingrain words of Torah into one’s mind: how does that fit with what we are taught the words of the written Torah should not be recited by heart [and only read from a written text]?

    — It is forbidden to orally repeat the words of the written Torah, but obviously one must put in the effort (and it is actually fulfilling a mitzvah) to ingrain Torah in your mind (so that one does not forget the Torah that they learn).” (Igros, Vol. 24 p. 27; #9049; Likkutei Sichos Vol. 14 p. 237).

    Mishnayos And Gemara By Heart

    In a letter written to Rabbis Mordechai Perlov and Yaakov Gansburg (both were in Italy), the Rebbe encouraged them to work on improving the Kashrus of the Mikvah in their city. Then the Rebbe added: “This that you write in your letter about studying Gemara by heart, I have only heard about studying Mishnayos by heart and Tanya by heart.” (Igros, Vol. 6 p. 204; #1720).

    [My understanding of the letter is that the Rebbe seems to be referring to memorizing  the subject matter verbatim (word-for-word). This applies to Mishnayos and Tanya, not Gemara, which was customarily memorized in Yeshivos, albeit not verbatim but in a manner of shakla v’tarya – mastering the talmudic back-and-forth discussion — R.G.A.]

    Chassidus By Heart:

    “Thank you so much for the good tidings that you have been reviewing Maamarim of Chassidus in Shul. Concerning that which you write that you spoke to Rabbi M[oshe] Weber of Yeshivas Toras Emes that he should prepare the fitting students to do this (going to review Maamarim of Chassidus in Yeshiva), it is shocking that nothing concrete has come out of these discussions yet. Even though this is concerning the older students of the Yeshiva, it is obvious that this does not need to be done exclusively in the Yeshiva itself. On the contrary the students can be trained not to be afraid of public speaking by reviewing Chassidus in the shuls (of Yerushalyim).” (Igros, Vol. 15 p. 252; #5570).

    [Generally, memorizing Ma’amarim is not done verbatim, as the point is that the listeners can understand and appreciate it. Of course, memorizing Tanya is to be done verbatim considering the special status of Tanya as the “Torah shebiksav of Chassidus” and the special care the Alter Rebbe put into its every word and syllable. There are special compilations of letters and sichos about this topic which deserves a treatment of its own.]

    The Moshiach Connection: 

    In 5704 (1944), Rabbi Volf Greenglass — the legendary mashpia of Montreal —  wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking the Rebbe to explain, according to Niglah, the concept of learning Mishnayos by heart. The Rebbe responded with a long letter (published in Igros, Vol. 1 pages 235-244; #132) and included the following section:

    “In the generations of Ikvesa d’Meshicha, as Moshiach is very near, there is an extra emphasis on learning Mishnayos as the Midrash (Vayikra rabbah 7:3) says that it is the merit of Mishnayos that Hashem with do Kibbutz Goluyos – the ingathering of the exiles”!

    [See Toras Menachem 5752 volume 1 p. 179 footnote 17, where the Rebbe connects this to the daily learning of Rambam which we begin once again this week!]

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