More Discussions for this daf
1. Lechem on the Shulchan too early 2. Thinking Of Aveira 3. Logical Problem
4. Re-learning old information

Marc chipkin asks:

The Gemara at the top of 29a says that it is harder to re-learn old information that one has forgotten than to learn it afresh. Doesn't this contradict the idea that the reason we learn the whole Torah in utero and then forget it when we are born, is that it is EASIER to re-learn knowledge that you once had and have forgotten?

Marc chipkin, Johannesburg South Africa

The Kollel replies:

xx 50 min 511-

1) The Gemara is referring to a person who forgets the Torah he learned because he does not possess a proper appreciation of the value of the Torah. In Mishnas Rebbi Aharon, volume 3 page 41, Rav Aharon Kotler zt'l writes that the Gemara is discussing a person who actively removed himself from the Torah. The reason why he forgets the Torah is that he does not consider it important enough for him to guard it. In volume 2, page 145, hecites the Gemara in Chagigah (15a) which says that words of Torah are as hard to acquire as gold vessels, and are as easy to lose as it is easy to break glass vessels. Rav Chaim of Volozhin explains that this refers to the second time that one learns something. He neglected the Torah that he learned the first time. If one receives a good impression from something but does not review it, it becomes more difficult to revive that original impression. However, if one does Chazarah and reviews his learning before he forgets it, then, on the contrary, his original positive impression is strengthened.

2) It appears to me that Rashi here hints at the above when he writes that the person learned Torah and then "Hisi'ach Da'ato" -- he removed his mind from what he had learned, and thereby forgot it. This suggests that he is deliberately putting his mind on other matters, rather than on Torah, and this is why it is more diffcult to get back to where he was originally.

3) The Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:10) writes something similar. He says that whenever one does not occupy oneself with Torah, one forgets. It seems that even though one might learn a totally different area of Torah, nevertheless when one returns to the first area one was learning it comes back a lot quicker. On the other hand, if a person was entirely out of learning, then there is a danger that he will totally forget his earlier learning because he had "Hesech ha'Da'as" -- he put out of his mind entirely his original studies.

4) In contrast, what the baby learns in utero has a very different effect. The Sefer Chochmas Bezalel, on the Gemara in Nidah (30b) that you mentioned, cites the Vilna Gaon who explains that the reason why the embryo is taught the entire Torah is that he has not yet become sullied by sin and therefore is still able to attain the Torah. Afterwards, when a person learns Torah in this world, his soul remembers what he has already learned and thus it is easier for him to re-acquire it.

5) According to the Mishnas Aharon (cited above in #1), we can now answer your question. The reason why it is harder to learn the second time is that one did not appreciate properly the value of the Torah he learned the first time, and therefore the original good impression was compromised, and it becomes more difficult to retrieve it. In contrast, nothing could be better than the way the baby learns in the mother's womb. A person will not forget entirely this sort of learning because it leaves a wonderful impression. The reason he must forget it temporarily is totally different; if he would remember everything, this would make things too easy and he would never receive any reward for his learning in this world. However, the baby did not deliberately put out of his mind what he learned. On the contrary, a person's Neshamah is yearning to return to learning the Torah he learned in his mother's womb, which is why -- when he gets the opportunity to learn in this world -- he understands it better than if he would never have learned before he came into the world.

6) I found a different way among the Mefarshim for reconciling the Gemara that it is more difficult to re-learn old topics, with the Gemara that the baby is taught the entire Torah before he is born. In the emendations of the Ya'avetz (Rav Yakov Emden) to Nidah 30b (DH u'Meshacho), the Ya'avetz writes that the reason why one is taught the entire Torah before he is born is in order to give him a greater reward when he comes into this world. Since it is more difficult to re-learn things that one has already learned, and since Pirkei Avos (5:23) teaches that the more difficult is the Mitzvah, the greater is the reward, it follows that Hash-m wants to repay us more for the Torah we learn here since it is more difficult to learn it.

We see that the Ya'avetz understood that the reason why the embryo is taught in the womb is in order to make it more difficult afterwards for him to learn. This is the opposite of the Mefarshim who explain that the reason is in order to make it easier for him to re-learn it.

7) Finally, I saw a short comment on the Gemara here in the notes of Rav Elyashiv zt'l to Maseches Yoma (He'oros b'Maseches Yoma, 29a), with which your question can be answered.

Rav Elyashiv comments on what Rashi wrote, and what I pointed out in my reply above (#2), that the Gemara is referring to someone who removed his thoughts from his learning. Rav Elyashiv explains that Rashi thereby implies that if a person forgot what he learned through an "Ones," an unavoidable circumstance, he will receive Siyata di'Shmaya, Divine help, which will enable him to regain what he learned before.

According to this, we can understand that when the Mal'ach taps the baby on his mouth before he comes into this world, there is no bigger "Ones" possible. It is totally impossible that the child should not forget his learning under such circumstances, so it follows that Hash-m will help every Jew in the course of his life to recall the Torah that he learned in his mother's womb.

Kol Tuv,

Dovid Bloom