General Principles
"Review" is the key to becoming wise.

 Rav Yitzchak Kanpanton (sometimes spelled Canpanton), "The Gaon of Castile," lived from 1360 to 1463 and headed a yeshivah in Zamora, in west Spain. His major talmidim include: Rav Yitzchak de Leon, author of the Megilas Ester, and Rav Yitzchak Aboab and Rav Shmuel Valensi whom the Shulchan Aruch calls the gedolei ha'dor (A"H 141:8). Darchei ha Gemorah, the only sefer we have from Rav Yitzchak Kanpanton, deals with how to study talmud. The book is unique in its scientific approach to the topic, its discussion not only of general rules of the talmud's methodology but pedagogic guidelines for how to study gemorah, and its being the first sefer to deal with how to study talmudic commentaries (i.e. earlier rishonim). Varying versions of the text currently exist stemming from different manuscripts and the sefer is sometimes referred to by its original name Darchei ha Talmud. At one point, all references to the term talmud were replaced by the word gemorah due to censorship. The success of Rav Yitzchak Kanpanton's method of study is testified to by the fact that it was followed and recorded by his talmidim and his talmidims' talmidim. In fact, we see that its influence spread to the Ashkenazi community as well from the fact that the Shelah ha Kadosh quotes extensively from Darchei ha Gemorah in his sefer ( Perek Torah she Ba'al Peh 1-3 , 7-8). Rabbi Parkoff shlita has translated the first part of the sefer, in order to afford the English speaking audience the opportunity to benefit from the inspired guidance regarding the study and teaching of talmud from one of the great later rishonim, Rav Yitzchak Kanpanton, may his merits protect us.

"If you want to become wise, you should increase in sitting." This means, you should spend time carefully studying the words of the Book. Reviewing it once or twice is not enough. Rather, study it time after time, and each time you go over it you will see something "new". This is what Chazal meant when they said, "One who learns 100 times is not like the one who learns 101 times." Another possible explanation (in "If you want to become wise, you should increase in sitting.") is that you should spend less time with your business dealings and more time concentrating on your learning. Included in this is, not letting yourself be distracted while you are learning, as Chazal have said, ("not everyone who increases his business dealings becomes wise.")

Always follow this principle: The reason that you did not reach your goal the first time, is that there is something blocking you. It is only possible to reach it with great difficulty and much work. Therefore, try again and again to reach your goal using quickness and sharpness. If you still do not reach it, exert all your strength to understand it and strive with all your ability to attain it. Effort and sharpness is a necessity in all things and learning is impossible without it. With all your effort, you must also daven for mercy

that Hashem should help you from above. [Sometimes a sin causes a curtain to fall in front of one’s mind making him unable to understand. Therefore, the recent Kabbalists say "Vidui" (confession) and daven to Hashem that He should give them an understanding heart. – Shelah] If you succeed, do not say, "It is my strength and the force of my hand that accomplishes." This idea is stated at the end of Niddah. "What should a person do in order to become very wise? Learn more and be less involved in business." The Gemorah then questions, "Many did this, but it did not help?" The Gemorah answers: "So, ask for mercy from the One who possesses all wisdom…" This means that, one who tries hard to think deeply in order to reach any worthy goal, and also trusts in Hashem, not in his own reasoning or his own strength, will be happy. He will reach his desire with Hashem’s help.

A great principle in thinking deeply is to examine the precise wording. Examine the wording to determine if anything is extra or if there is any repetition. Also, check to see whether or not there is something novel in that subject or that statement. In any change of language, or law, or topic, delve deeply and ask well. Try to develop the wording so that each word in every part of the text teaches something new that would not be understood otherwise. You should understand that subject down to its roots and find all of its boundaries - where it applies and where it does not apply - until you know it well. What is the subject? What is the issue?

At the beginning of your in-depth examination you should realize that each one of the speakers involved, the questioner and those that answer, are very intelligent people. All their statements are well thought out. Their words do not show a lack of education or knowledge. This is exactly what the Gemorah says, "Are we dealing with stupid people?!" Therefore, you should look into each of their statements and see if it makes sense. Is the reasoning logical and sound, or is the evidence weak and illogical? Does it seem reasonable to you or not? Analyze their statements and try to understand them properly. Make sure that you understand the logic, and that it is not built on faulty or flimsy reasoning. Their words were not said carelessly. Rather, they are all "words of the living G-d." If anything is lacking, it is with you. This is what is meant by "In the beginning what was assumed? And in the end what is known?". A person must try to understand, what was meant in the beginning and what was meant in the end.



When you start looking into any of the Commentaries, see exactly which part of the Gemorah is being explained. Look into what the Commentator adds and what is the exact wording of the Gemorah. Understand the Commentaries intention. Is the Commentator fixing up the language, explaining a subject, or answering a question? Is the Commentator working on a problem or guarding you from another way of explaining the Gemorah? Check if there is a difference between the Commentator's text and the one in your Gemorah. After you know their intention or their explanation, examine it carefully and see what you would have thought without their explanation. Then you will know what Rashi guarded himself against or what explanation he rejected. The correct way to learn is first to derive everything you can from the Gemorah, and then research the Commentaries. See whether or not what you understood agrees with Rashi’s explanation. Then, after you understand what Rashi’s intention is, figure out what explanation he is avoiding and guarding himself from, and what forced him to explain it this way. Before you understand what Rashi’s intention is and what he is saying, how can you know what explanation he is rejecting?


"In-depth Examination"

A path in learning

First, you should look into the Gemorah or the verse by yourself, being very precise in your "reading" of the text; then you may look into the commentaries. Afterwards, go back over the Gemorah to fit this explanation into the text. Each extra statement and novel idea in the law should be able to be derived from the language of the Gemorah itself. After you know what his intention, his problem, or his question is, then you should look into Rashi to see if he noticed it and guarded himself from it. Are they agreeing or are they disputing each other? In general, you should systematically examine their opinion in the whole section to see whether they agree or disagree.

In the beginning you should go over the whole unit, know its intention, and study it in a general way. Afterwards, go back and look into each part of it, in detail, to see who is asking the question. Always keep in mind the general concepts, which you (originally) derived from this section. Then, go over it again to see if what you have derived fits into the language. Now, you are ready to delve into the roots and reasoning of the subject, investigating all of its details and sources, as it says "Then he saw and told it; he prepared and also searched it." - Iyov 28:27. This means that in the beginning you should look at it generally. Next, analyze it in your mind, which refers to the words in the "Pasuk" - and told it."" Then, return to see if what you have learned fits the language; this is what is meant by the words "and he prepared it". Afterwards, check to see whether your explanation is correct. Make sure that you understand the reasoning of the subject with its sources and roots. This is what is meant by "and also searched it." Only then does it say: "and He said to the man". Now, you have a solid understanding of the entire unit.

Do not make light of any problem, difficulty, or questions you have while you are learning. Just the opposite, do not go further until you clarify it. (Note—This cannot be taken literally, because this can sometimes be a stumbling block. You should not pretend that the problem does not exist, and you should deal with it. However, this process often means continuing on to the end of the unit in order to gain a better understanding of the whole text and subject. Just sitting on the line that bothers you may, for the moment, be fruitless. Gaining a broader picture by continuing on and then coming back to your difficulty often sheds light on the problem at hand. You may also discover that your question is asked and even answered, later on. – Editor)

Don’t rely on your own understanding. Ask your companion, study partner, or friend. Check with him to see if your reasoning is correct. Perhaps there is a question on your explanation. You may have missed it, because a person does not see his own faulty reasoning. By checking with your study partner, everything will become clearer.

When looking at each statement in the section which is brought down from Tradition

(Meaning, when a statement is being quoted from a previous Tanna [Mishnah or Braisa] or Amora (Maamar), examine it carefully. Make sure that you understand why it is being brought, the purpose of the law or laws that are derived from it, and what general principles can be learned from this statement. Then count them, just as you find in the Gemorah: "we understand 3 laws from here", or " 2 laws are derived from this", or "memory devices are valid." In each subject or exegesis, go into its roots and branches to make mnemonics (memory aids) and lists of the principles and subjects, in order to remember them and make them part of you forever. As you see in the Talmud, numbers are used as mnemonics such as: in the first Mishnah in Kiddushin - "A woman can be acquired in 3 ways," or in the first Mishnah of Bava Kama - "There are 4 basic categories of damages," or in the beginning of Yevamos - "15 women release their co-wives," and many other places.

As you encounter new commentaries or different versions of the text, investigate the details to know their roots and opposites. By exerting the effort to understand something, you will never forget it. Also, look for similes and parables in order to make it more "REAL" to you. In this way, it will become part of you and you will not forget it, as it says, "Parables should not be treated lightly as we see that Shlomo used them frequently." This is a great help to counter forgetfulness and its hurdles. Moreover, it will strengthen and fortify your in-depth examination. "One hour of enjoyable in-depth study is better than a whole morning and evening of halfhearted learning." Therefore, choose a time when your mind is free from all worldly matters, and do not let yourself get distracted. "And never say, ‘When I have time, I will learn.’ You may never have time." Instead, push aside all matters that prevent you from studying Torah.

After you completely understand the subject matter, review it and see if there is any question or problem with it, as it says, "study, study, then study again". In this way, what you learned will remain with you forever. Then, review it again. Understanding everything from the first process is called "simple understanding"; the second is called "precise Mishnah". The experts of proper learning refer to "simple understanding" as the introduction and to "precise Mishnah" as the result.

Afterwards, review it again to see if any novel idea can be derived from deeper analysis. Also, see if any novel idea can be derived from an examination of the language. If there is something novel, even if only from the simple understanding and not from a derivation, then no question can be asked. However, if there is nothing novel, you should question the author of the statement: "What is novel? It is obvious!" If you see something novel in a derivation of the statement, but nothing in the direct understanding of the statement itself, you can say that the statement was brought to teach us the novel idea of the derivation. Sometimes you will find two statements with something novel in only one of them. If the novel idea is in the first part and not in the second part, then answer that "the ‘end’ was brought because of the ‘beginning’." If the novel idea is at the end, answer "the ‘beginning’ was taught because the ‘end’ needed to be said."

In every statement, see if you would have thought that same thing or judged the same law before the Tanna or Amora taught it to you. This will be a great help to you. If you would have thought of it yourself, you should now ask: "What is this coming to tell us? It is obvious!" If your idea is in conflict with the statement, then examine the text more closely to see what caused him to say differently from the simple way of understanding it. Also, check your first impression to make sure that the logic is not faulty. This is called, "Logic from the outside." Do this with Gemorah and with Chumash. In the beginning you must learn with all your strength, trying to understand everything, wherever possible, according to your own logic. Only then should you delve into the commentaries on the Mishnah, Gemorah, or Chumash. This will help you a great deal, as we explained above.

Investigate each law that the Tanna said, asking: "Why did he say it? What is his opinion? What is the logic? What are they arguing about? What is the source and what are the branches of this law in the Torah? From what law or commandment do they emanate? Is it a Torah law or a decree of the Rabbis?


More paths to In-depth study

Now, we must backtrack and set down some guidelines to follow, whenever you look into any law or language in the Mishnah or Gemorah:

First: In each statement be aware of who is speaking, who is answering, who is asking, who is being asked, and who gives the answer. See if he is a Tanna with a Tanna, or an Amora with an Amora, or a Rav with his Talmid. Know their names and do not confuse the one who questions with the one who is answering, or vice versa.

Second: In each statement of a Tanna or Amora, see what problem might have forced him to make his statement. Why is it a problem to us? After you know the problem and its reasoning, then we must understand why it would be wrong to learn that way. Seek the reason forcing the Tanna to say what he did. If there was no problem, why did the Tanna bother saying it? If someone says this ring is silver or gold, there is no reason to assume that it is a different material. This statement would be completely superfluous and unnecessary, and no intelligent person would say such a thing, especially a Tanna or Amora. In such a statement the Gemorah asks: "What is this coming to teach us?". Sometimes the answer will inform us of the problem: There was a fundamental misunderstanding. Sometimes the Gemorah asks, "Why not?". Then you find the Gemorah saying: "Perhaps you can say that this is so." This means that it is seeking the reason, which forced the Tanna to make his statement. When the Gemorah uses this structure, the one who answers will explain the problem.

Third: Try to understand the reason for everything the Tanna or Amora tells you. What is the reasoning or the principle forcing him to say it? If you know the reasoning, you know the basic principle. This is a "complete and true concept." It is like one who is walking on the path with a Torah of light in his hand. The light brightens up the path for him. Regarding this the Gemorah says, "What is the reason for this dispute?" After you know the reason, find its source, and see whether or not the reasoning is sound and applies to all details of the subject matter or law. We know that the law can change based on the different understandings of the reason.


Chazon Ish: Collected Letters - Letter II

The part of the "order of learning" which needs extra effort is, making the primary really the primary. This means that one must be sure what is of primary importance and what is of secondary importance, based on all of the principles and details in each unit. The entire discussion should be at your fingertips. Review it over and over again, to remember the early assumption and the final decision. In this way, you will know which Halachos are clear and which still require investigation. This basic examination requires effort and an internal battle against laziness, learning the unit several times without seeing anything new. One must review it over and over again; concentrating on things which the mind does not enjoy. In fact, they are quite burdensome. This toil is the toil of Torah, about which all the mystical blessings of the learning of Torah are stated. As a result of all this toil, a Gate of New Light will open, wherein the mind will find endless pleasure. Be careful not to spend too much time explaining the logic. Rather, spend your time in the Gemorah itself, looking over the simple meaning and clarifying the end results.


An excerpt from the introduction of the book "Miluai Even"

Written by the Rosh Hayeshiva Shlita

(See the introduction of the Chavas Daas on Yoreh De’ah) "… and this was written against those Bnei Torah who always want and request a study partner who is better than they are, in all realms, be it in breadth of knowledge or understanding. They do not understand this principle. In fact, it is just the opposite: "From one’s students, one learns the most of all." Experience teaches that when learning with a talmid, one feels within himself the necessity to be the "Giver" and not the "Receiver." Automatically, he is forced to delve deeper and to know the subject clearly, so that he will not be embarrassed by someone who is weaker than he. In this way, one’s learning is broadened and he merits to truly understand the subject matter.

We find a marvelous thing in Masechta Niddah Daf 14: In his youth, (Rebbi) Rabeinu haKadosh was the talmid of R’ Yossi. Yet, when he grew old, he became greater, due to his talmidim. The Gemorah points this out by saying that Rebbi was the Rosh Yeshiva, and the Rabbanim were often found learning by him, sharpening his learning.


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