I stare listlessly at the text; a sinking feeling grasps my innards and twists them with a vengeance. A sense of despair curls around my optimism, slowly suffocating it, like a phantom boa constrictor. I feel myself drowning in a sea of words.

“Argh! I have no idea what this gemara is talking about,” I mouth, exasperated, hopeless.

That is how I used to feel about learning Gemara. It was this arduous task, yet it was hailed as the pinnacle of spiritual achievement. I felt compelled to succeed, yet destined to fail. So I kept on plugging away until, after a great deal of effort, loads of frustration and a few partial successes, I met a chavrusa who changed the course of my learning. He would challenge me as much about my understanding of the lomdus as about the way the Gemara worked. He helped me to question the way Gemara was formatted, the seemingly endless hava aminas (initial understandings), the apparently random arrangement of topics, and slowly things started to fall into place.

I began to realize that the confusion that reigned over my learning was a symptom of a total misunderstanding of the agenda of the Gemara and a lack of an approach for navigating the wide Talmudic seas. Over the course of time, I have come to see that there are many others that wander about the worn pages of their Gemara in the same state of fuzziness as I did, knowing that learning Gemara is where it’s all at, but not knowing how to do it.

Shimon is a classic example. He had been learning for more than eight years but felt that something was just not right. He is a very talented manager, having worked on Wall Street, and his yeshivah was encouraging him to take an administrative position. He was so deeply conflicted, because he felt he just never really developed the love and excitement for learning that so many people spoke about, and it made sense that he should move on. Yet at the same time, he felt maybe there was some way that he could also reach that level of clarity and joy.

Another was Avigdor, a bochur in a choshuve shiur. He asked me to learn with him so as to give him a few tips on teaching in preparation for a career in chinuch. But when I began to question him about the details of the Gemara, he was completely unsure. He had no idea how to explain to me, let alone to a talmid, what the Gemara was doing and why. (Excerpted from Kolmus, Issue 39)

Rabbi Peretz Segal has been teaching Gemara in Yeshivas Ohr Somayach for two decades. Initially challenged to find a way to teach Gemara to beginners, he began to search for an effective way of helping his students “get” what Gemara is all about, and over the last two decades, he studied the works of the Rishonim and Acharonim in order to a find a method of “learning how to learn.”

After the method crystalized, he began teaching it to beginners and advanced students alike, and the success of students in reaching new levels of understanding, and the joy they’ve experienced as a result, have spurred him to produce the recently published book, Vagueness Vanquished, which details this simple- to-apply method of Gemara study.