The more I committed myself, the more siyata d’Shmaya I had
ome years ago, I was introduced to a program of limud haTorah known as Chaburas Shas. The brainchild of Rabbi Sender Dolgin of Lakewood, New Jersey, it’s a system for reviewing one’s learning using a method that draws on research done on how people can most effectively remember and retain what they’ve learned.
It really works. I know, because I’m a not-all-that consistent and successful user of the system and even so, it has enabled me to achieve truly wonderful things in my learning that I couldn’t possibly have done otherwise. By now, thousands of Jews around the world can offer their own testimony to that effect as well.
Although it’s called Chaburas Shas, it’s not made just for Shas. It’s a system of chazarah that can be easily adapted to anything one is learning, at whatever pace he’s learning it. But since knowing Shas is just about the biggest challenge there is, it is there that this method reaches its greatest potential.
Yet rather than say any more about it, I’ll let someone we’ll call “Yossi A.,” a working fellow in his thirties, describe what it has done for him. A hint: After I asked him to put his experience in writing, I called him several days later to check on how it was coming along. It was early afternoon, and as we spoke it emerged that by that point in his day, after having risen at 4 a.m. as he does every morning, he had already learned 11 blatt Gemara.
Yossi chose an ambitious way to use Chaburas Shas, using a daily daf as his baseline. Others have chosen a daily amud or some other pace, and thus, what he achieved in seven-plus years they too will achieve, just that it will take them longer.
Here’s what he had to say:
On March 1, 2005, my mother came home and told me, “I got tickets.” I said, “Tickets to what?” She had bought tickets to the Siyum HaShas. When I told her I’d pass, she tried to persuade me to attend. I replied that I felt the Siyum should be attended exclusively by people actually finishing Shas, but I promised her that if I finished the next cycle I would attend the Siyum.
By way of background, although I grew up in New York in a very frum family, learning of any kind wasn’t my forte, and the more it was pressed upon me, the more I resented it. Like many other teens, I made my rounds in a variety of different mesivtos, and was not accepted by two prominent yeshivos gedolos. From the outside I looked like your average yeshivah boy, but I didn’t feel any connection to learning.
The day my mother approached me with the Siyum tickets changed everything. I was single and had been dating for a couple of years with no success in sight, and I decided it might be worth taking a shot at daf yomi, as this would provide some structure in my day. At the time, I was “learning” one seder a day, and I convinced my chavrusa to start Berachos with me.
I got engaged approximately a year later, and my future wife got her parents to buy me an ArtScroll Shas as a gift. I was now more committed to the daf than ever. While my life became busier with building my family and with my business, I never looked back, and made it to the Siyum on August 1, 2012, along with my wife and parents. They couldn’t believe that I actually finished Shas and were very proud to participate in the celebration.
I had always been looking forward to the Siyum, but as that day came closer I began to feel an emptiness, since I had spent so many days and years learning the daf but didn’t remember much, if anything. While dedicating time for learning daily had become routine and essential for me, I started wondering about the day after the Siyum. I didn’t want to just repeat another seven years of the same daf-a-day, especially since my retention was so poor.
I began asking friends if they knew of a more suitable style of learning the daf tailored to my needs. One friend mentioned someone he knew who did something called Chaburas Shas, with its primary focus being review. I reached out to this person, and he provided me with the Chaburah calendar. I was very intimidated by the idea, but I realized that this might be the best way to help memorize and retain Shas, and at the Siyum I finally decided to give it my best shot.
The first challenge was, of course, finding the time, and I realized I’d need some serious personal sacrifice to tackle this. First, I decided that sleep is overrated, and that going forward no matter when I’d end up going to sleep, I would get up at around 4 a.m. This gave me serious quiet time to focus and learn a few blatt without any interruption, since there are no texts, e-mails or phone calls to deal with at that time of the day.
I made sure to travel with my Gemara everywhere so that whenever I had a break during the day I would do a couple of lines. Most importantly, I didn’t go to sleep until I finished that day’s review, and that applied to Erev Yom Tov, after Tishah B’Av or any other day that was busier than usual. Many times, when we traveled on Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov for hours on the road, my dear wife would volunteer to be at the wheel so I could keep at it, while my kids would whisper in the back seat so as not to distract me. With such a supportive team, I felt encouraged anew every day.
As you can imagine, in seven and a half years, there were many things that could have interfered with my Chaburas Shas, but I wouldn’t allow it to happen. I realized that the more I committed myself, the more siyata d’Shmaya I had. I also found that the more I reviewed and the more I sacrificed, the more passionate I became about learning.
Honestly, it was a battle every day. Getting out of bed early even after seven hours of sleep can be a struggle, let alone after three hours. I remember voices saying to me, “It’s Shabbos,” “It’s Sunday,” “You’re on vacation,” “You have the flu,” and “You just had a baby,” among many other excuses. But I always convinced myself that I can sleep later… “as soon as I’ve done my daily reviews.”
With Hashem’s help, I managed to complete the program on January 3, 2020, without ever missing a day or falling behind. What can I possibly say to thank my wife and kids, who sacrificed thousands of hours over the last seven and a half years at home and during vacation to allow for this rigorous program to succeed. I also have great hakaras hatov to Rabbi Sender Dolgin, who created this program.
Daf yomi definitely changed my life in a meaningfully positive way, but Chaburas Shas changed my life, every facet of it, in the most dramatic way. While I don’t have the entire Bavli at my fingertips yet, I’m getting a lot closer. I can now visualize many different Gemara passages to the exact line.
But the greatest benefit I’ve had has come from the true power of Torah to enhance my dveikus to Hashem, which is the ultimate goal of learning in the first place. It changed the way I daven and the way I live my daily life.
That’s Yossi’s story. He wrote that he has now “managed to complete the program,” but he neglected to mention what that means. Over the next several months, he will be reaping the delicious fruits of his intensive work of the last seven-plus years, and by this coming summer, he’ll have made this year eight separate siyumim on Shas .
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