Acquiring Torah 22: Torah Tools
Rabbi Chisda stated: The Torah can only be acquired with the aid of mnemonic signs, for it is said: “Put it in their mouths (Devarim 31:19,”) read not, ‘put it,’ ‘Simah,’ but, ‘its mnemonic sign,’ ‘Simanim.’
Rabbi Tachlifa of the West (Israel is West of Babylon) heard this and proceeding to Rabbi Abbahu told it to him. ‘You,’ the other said to him, ‘deduce this (need for memory aids) from that verse; we deduce it from this one: “Set up for yourselves waymarks (Jeremiah 31:21),” devise mnemonic signs, ‘Tziyonim,’ for the Torah. What proof, however, is there that the expression of ‘ziyyun’ means a sign? Since it is written, “And when they see a human bone, they will build a marker – Tziyun – near it (Ezekiel 39:15).”
R. Eleazar said: The deduction is made from this text: “Say unto wisdom, ‘You are my sister, and call understanding your kinswoman (Proverbs 7:4),” devise mnemonic signs, Modaim for the Torah. Raba expounded this verse as, ‘Appoint fixed times, Mo’adim, for the study of the Torah. (Eiruvin 54b)
“Simanim,” “Tziyonim,” and Modaim.” The Ben Yehoyadah associates Simanim, signs, with the double seals we place on Kosher meat to prevent them from being tampering or being mixed in with non-kosher meats. He understands Rav Chisdah as teaching that we must review our Torah study until it becomes part of us, clear, solid, and safe.
My Uncle Noach zt”l trained me in forming mnemonics for everything I study, and I can review my learning wherever I am. I have different systems of Simanim for Talmud, Mishnah, Rambam and Bible. The Simanim not only help me remember; they allow me to take my learning with me.
My experience of Tziyonim, ‘markers,’ is that I associate books I have studied with different stages of my life and development. I clearly recall how I read a text at each stage, which helps me observe my development.
Modaim, or, ‘announcers,’ can better be appreciated as derived from the context of the verse as Relationships; how each thing we study changes our relationship with Torah, and through Torah, with God.