Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not to Forget What You've Learned

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Talmud cautions us numerous times against allowing ourselves to forget anything we have learned. In fact, we are taught that someone who allows themselves to forget any of their Torah studies violates a prohibition of the Torah.[1] In an attempt to safeguard one's Torah knowledge, the Talmud suggests avoiding a number of activities and items which are said to lead to forgetfulness. Although there are many such examples, we will explore some of the more common and prominent ones.

Click here to read moreOne must not eat from food which an animal had first eaten from.[2] One should not use clothes as a pillow[3] or for drying hands[4]. When it comes to clothes, one should never put on two garments at once [5] or sew or otherwise make alterations to a garment that one is currently wearing. Getting angry,[6] extensive worrying,[7] and partaking in too many elaborate meals[8] are also said to cause one to forget one's studies. One should never leave a book open when taking leave of it.[9]

There are a number of instances where one is halachically required to wash one's hands, and neglecting to do so is said to lead to forgetfulness.[10] So too, one must never drink anything which was previously used for any type of washing. One should not wash one's feet together, one on top of the other.[11] Disregarding proper manners – for instance, failing to stand at the arrival of one's rabbi - is said to cause one to forget one's studies, as well.[12]

Olives have a unique place in our discussion of forgetfulness. Eating olives frequently is also said to lead to forgetfulness.[13] According to Kabbala, the olive tree does not posses a heart - which in turn causes confusion in human hearts and minds.[14] Eating olives occasionally, however, does not pose any risk to one's memory. In fact, there are numerous examples throughout the Talmud where we find the great sages enjoying olives from time to time. Eating olives once a month poses no concern whatsoever.[15] Some suggest that the original concern regarding eating olives applied only to raw olives but not those that are pickled, marinated, or even salted. Alternatively, eating olives together with olive oil is said to nullify the forgetful effect of the olives themselves.

One should avoid eating the hearts of animals, as the soul of an animal remains absorbed in the heart. As such, eating hearts can cause one to be influenced in animalistic ways – which, by extension, causes one to forget one's studies.[16] Additional practices which are said to lead to forgetfulness include passing under a camel or its reins, passing between two camels or two women, passing a place where one can smell a carcass, and passing under a bridge which has not had water under it for forty days.[17] Eating bread that was not fully baked and staring excessively at the face of a deceased person are also cited as causes of forgetfulness.[18]

Although it's not necessarily evident in all of the examples cited above, there is actually a common denominator among all these factors which are said to lead to forgetfulness. That factor is laziness. To illustrate: One who is thirsty and needs to drink something should get up and prepare a fresh drink and not just drink droplets which may have been left over from some prior use. Someone who wants to lay down for a rest should prepare a pillow instead of resorting to using their clothes. Getting dressed is actually an exercise in dignity, and one should do so with some reverence, putting on one garment at a time instead of looking for shortcuts by trying to put on two garments on at once. Additionally, there is something not just lazy, but animalistic about eating bread - or any other food for that matter- which is not fully baked; wait patiently for it to completely finish baking! It seems that the lesson this code of conduct is trying to teach us is that knowledge is not gained by cutting corners or finding shortcuts, either. True knowledge is gained the old fashioned way, by sitting down with a book, studying it's contents and always going back to review.


[1] Menachot 99b, Avot 3:10, Yoma 38b, Sanhedrin 99a
[2] Horiyot 13b
[3] Horiyot 13b
[4] Tashbetz Katan 287, Magen Avraham 158:17
[5] Mishna Berura 2:2
[6] Nedarim 22b
[7] Sanhedrin 26b
[8] Pesachim 49a
[9] Shach Y.D. 277
[10] O.C. 4:18
[11] Horiyot 13b
[12] Kiddushin 33b
[13] Horiyot 13b
[14] Rabbeinu Bachye;Vayishlach
[15] Berachot 40a
[16] Horiyot 13b
[17] Horiyot 13b
[18] Mishna Berura 3:3

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