I am almost up-to-date in my studies, but a bit behind in posting reflections. The first chapter of Massechet Berachot ends with a discussion of two kinds of things that are linked despite being experienced or named differently. One is the series of persecutions and exiles of the Jews. The other is the names of biblical figures.
The Talmud discusses the issue that new experiences of persecution might drive older ones from Jewish memory or salience -- the exile to Babylonia might replace the slavery in Egypt as the focal point of memory, mourning, or even inspiration. There is a sense in the text that we have to integrate all of them, possibly into the original Exodus consciousness.
The rabbis look for insight into that by noticing that some of the renamed people in the Torah have their names permanently changed, but some like Yaakov/Yisrael seem to keep both names. Even for someone like Avraham, the name Avram is remembered later, which the Talmud says is to remind us of the moments that occasioned the spiritual transformation that made him into Avraham and Sarai into Sarah.
I wonder if this is meant to be the final comment on the Sh'ma itself, the foundation of the whole chapter -- oneness of the divine. Transformations in the world, transformations of us spiritually, historical progress and setback and backsliding, personal progress and backsliding -- these all have to be integrated. When we recite Sh'ma, it's to remind us to bring all of these things together, or to guard against burying some of them or forgetting. Or it's just to remind us of the mystery that someone all of these are one in the mystery of the workings of divine energy in our human universe.
A reflection on myself the Talmud student, after a chapter: When I began, I would have said and still say that I'm not really a Talmud person. For years I hardly cracked a volume, and only recently have I found myself doing so more often. I'd have assumed that I had learned maybe 1 percent of the Talmud ever. Now I realize that before I started this, I probably already had, I don't know, 3 percent, which isn't a lot but almost 1/30th!
And I also realized that even though I hadn't studied this chapter in sequence as a single chapter, a lot of it was familiar. It was thrilling to see things in their original composition and order, and to share knowing virtual glances with other people doing the same. I actually didn't have to rely nearly as much as I thought on translations, and the basic argumentation structure was fairly familiar to me. I know when we get into other technical areas beyond theology and prayer I'll need the study aids much more.
My goal right now is just to know what's where. I'm not a great memorizer -- but so far, I could probably without much effort rattle off a lot about what's in the first chapter of Berachot. We'll see if it sticks. But if it does, it's because of the genius of the rabbis and editors, and the community who are subtly learning in sync.