Kislev: You Never Know What Can Be| September 20, 2022
It might not look dramatic to you but it was life-changing for me
ou think you’re a good guy, a solid guy, you’re in kollel, learning and progressing. But you never dream that you can actually know it all, have it all, have a rigorous understanding of Shas at your fingertips. That’s only for the geniuses.
It’s not for you.
I was a pretty standard, solid avreich, who learned sedorim when I was supposed to, and took vacations when they were permitted. That means that I wasn’t so into learning during bein hazmanim – instead, I’d spend those precious few weeks having “fun,” which meant making sure we had a well-earned family vacation, and for me, it mostly meant playing basketball. After all, it was a good physical outlet and kept me in shape.
I know it sounds like a cliché, like an advertisement for Dirshu, but I can honestly say that the Kinyan Shas program showed me that by putting one foot in front of the other, I could discover strengths I thought were reserved for the elite of the beis medrash.
My story doesn’t sound glamorous — it’s not like I transformed from someone who didn’t know alef-beis, or some bum on the street, into a serious learner. I always learned. Seriously. But when I started Kinyan Shas, I gained a new perspective on my own capabilities. It might not look dramatic to you but it was life-changing for me.
When I started, I had no idea if I’d be able to succeed, and I certainly never envisioned that I’d not only finish two daf yomi cycles and make a siyum on all of Shas twice, but I’d do it in a way that I actually remembered everything I learned, at a review pace that honestly, I never thought I’d be able to handle.
In Kinyan Shas, you do the regular daf yomi schedule, constantly pushing yourself – with the support of your family or it won’t work — but it doesn’t end there. It’s built on systematic review, so every day, in addition to the new daf, you review what you learned yesterday, and the day before and the day before – every day you build on your chazarah. It begins with regular monthly tests, then continues with tests every four months on the previous four months of learning, and then after the Yamim Tovim there are twice-yearly tests followed by cumulative tests on everything learned from the beginning of Shas until where the daf is holding.
The first time I cancelled my bein hazmanim plans in order to stick to my schedule (there’s a huge test at the end of bein hazmanim so there was no way I was going anywhere, even hanging out at the basketball court), I thought my wife and kids would be really upset. But they were all on board, rooting for me (they learned to have a few days of fun without me). As the cycle progressed, it felt a bit like scaling a mountain, but I wasn’t looking down. For the first time in my life, I was living the previous masechtos I’d learned because of the intense chazarah. The first time I took a test on 450 blatt of Shas, I literally had to pinch myself. Was this really me?
I certainly don’t have a photographic memory, so the chazarah was initially quite intimidating, until I developed a system of memory aids, plus a way to summarize the daf so that I could bring it up the next day or week as part of the ongoing review. But one thing there was no getting around was understanding the daf clearly in the first place. Because if you don’t get it, you’ll just keep reinforcing your mistakes every time you review it.
I’ve always been a pretty serious, responsible avreich, but even my friends and extended family tell me something’s changed. We’re a typical Bnei Brak kollel family that’s always gone with the flow. I learn, my wife works as a secretary. Shabbos was nice, Yom Tov was nice – everything just the way it should be. But now there’s a fire, an excitement, real accountability, and we’re all in it together, like we’ve all been swept into this beautiful, challenging whirlwind that’s breathlessly taking us higher – and we can’t afford to fall.
Like I said, I’m just a regular avreich. But I’ve already completed two rounds of Kinyan Shas and now, on my way to my third siyum. I’m still pinching myself. You can do it too.
Nati Cohen is a kollel yungerman living in Bnei Brak.
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