Brachot 38b: Practice, Practice, Practice!

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

As the Talmud is, at its core, an oral tradition—with the words before us a summary of “classroom”” discussion—it is not surprising that debates will occur as to what the “teacher” actually said.

The Talmud quotes a dispute between Rav Chiyya bar Abba and Rav Binyamin bar Yefet as to what Rav Yochanan, the head of the academy in Tiberias, said regarding the blessing to be made on cooked vegetables. At issue is the question of whether, by cooking the vegetable, its status becomes inferior—thus converting the bracha from a boreh pri hadama to a shehakol. (This is most interesting in light of the fact—not mentioned in the Talmud—that by cooking vegetables, many of the nutrients are lost.) This change in status is why, for example, we make a shehakol on orange juice; we assume that the ideal way to eat the fruit is not in liquid form, an assumption that may not be true today.

Rav Zeirah is amazed: “How can one mention Rav Binyamin next to Rav Chiyya?”. Rav Chiyya was in a different league than his disputant. Why so? Because Rav Chiyya “was exact” in recording what his teacher said; or, in modern parlance, he took great notes. Rav Binaymin “was not exacting”. Secondly, Rav Zeira notes, Rav Chiyya used to spend one day a month reviewing what he had learned that month, something that Rav Binyamin did not do.

Review is by far the most important part, and possibly the most difficult part, of learning. Often, what excites people about learning is the new insights, discoveries, arguments put forth and knowledge gained. Review lacks those attributes, and can’t “compete” with the excitement of learning something new. Many find it boring.

Yet the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is not just to learn, but to know; and in order to know, one must review, and review, and then review some more. And quite often, review will lead to new and exciting insights.

While it is difficult for review to compete with the thrill of learning something new, the road to greatness—be it in the areas of learning, sports, music, or any of countless others—is achieved by constant review. And there is nothing more exciting than achieving greatness.