More Advice for Memory & Retention

In a previous article, I quoted several pieces of advice that the Rebbe had written to people looking to strengthen their memory. I received many positive responses to the article and people sent me various sources — from the letters of our holy Rabbeim — that address this issue with additional guidance. Due to the importance of the matter, I would like to share those sources with you as well:

Positive Affirmation

(1) In 5703 (1943) a young bochur by the name of Hershel Fogelman (who would later become the legendary shliach to Worcester, MA), wrote to the Rebbe Rayatz about the various struggles he was having in his learning in general and in retaining the information in particular.

The Rebbe wrote him a very encouraging response filled with practical guidance:

“In response to your letter in which you complain that you are not seeing success in your learning of Yoreh Deah and that you feel that you are forgetting what you have studied. [I advise as follows:] You should set up your learning schedule in a way that combines both Gemara in depth as well as Yoreh Deah. The learning should be in a scheduled (and disciplined) manner, and you should not rush through your learning. You must recognize that success in learning takes time.

In regards to your memory: Like all of our inner abilities, the success of their functioning depends greatly on the mindset and thoughts of the person and thus are truly dependent on the person himself. If you think that you have a weak memory, this very thought process (and attitude) will weaken your actual memory. If, however, you are convinced that you have a good memory, that will actually cause a strengthening of your memory. This is a natural phenomenon that Hashem put into this natural ability of a person, more than other abilities.

In light of the above, you should internally affirm to yourself that you have a good memory and in a short time — b’ezras Hashem — your memory will be strengthened. Hashem will help you be successful in your learning of both Nigleh and Chassidus and Yiras Shamayim. You should involve yourself in the work of spreading Torah and ingraining the fear of Hashem in the (American) youth in accordance with what you will be directed to do. Because of this, Hashem will grant you success in becoming a yerei Shamayim, Chassid and lamdan.” (Igros of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. 7 p. 311; #2079).

[I thank Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner from Melbourne, Australia for sending me this letter.]

Learn What You Enjoy; Alternate Learning Styles

(2) “In response to your writing to me that you feel a recent weakness in your memory: It is well-known that the way to deal with this is by learning the parts of Torah that you enjoy. When you feel that you exert yourself too much, and you can no longer properly focus, then change topics (of what you are learning) or the style of learning (In depth or more superficial learning to gain more general knowledge).

Learn Mishnayos and Maamar “Vehadarta” By Heart

In addition: you should add in the learning of Mishnayos by heart as well as the maamar of the Alter Rebbe (printed in Likkutei Torah at the end of Parshas Kedoshim) entitled “Vehadarta P’nei Zaken.” (Igros, Vol. 11 p. 187; #3579).

[Thank you to Rabbi Levi Plotkin from Crown Heights for sending me this letter]

It should be pointed out that the Rebbe encouraged the learning of this special Maamer as a tikkun for other spiritual issues that come from the lack of proper focus of our thoughts. See Igros Vol. 9 p. 104 (#2718) p. 150 (#2771); p. 159 (#2780); p. 269 (#2898); p. 283 (#2916)

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