Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

A Monumental Kiddush Hashem

Seldom in a lifetime does one participate in such a memorable event. We looked forward to it enthusiastically for months, although we wondered if it could really be possible to fill over 90,000 seats. Risky, wasn't it, to risk rain in an open air stadium? Transportation. Traffic. Security. So many different constituencies to satisfy. Logistics. And who knows how many other variables we didn't know about.

On the great day, the weather forecast was for rain most of the time and for thunderstorms in the evening – just when the siyum was supposed to take place. One can only imagine the urgent consultations that went on Tuesday and Wednesday and what was happening to the blood pressures of the people who had to take responsibility for deciding whether to proceed with umbrellas and ponchos or to postpone the Siyum to Thursday and risk the fickle weather and the ire of many people who could not change their own schedules to attend the next day.


The decision was made to go ahead, rain or no rain. The MetLife security people would be prevailed upon to permit umbrellas, and the poncho-makers would have an unexpected payday. This writer, a congenital pessimist, was sure that at least 25,000 ticket-holders would opt not to attend for fear of inclement weather. But no one backed out! Every seat was filled, and there were thousands of people who were trying to get last-minute tickets. The highways to MetLife Stadium were crowded with carloads of smiling people waving to one another as they converged on a football palace that was about to become a bais medrash for a night.


The Rambam writes that a magnificent mansion may have been built for only one reason: so that centuries later, it could provide a tzaddik with shade from the blazing sun. The existence of MetLife Stadium was justified because it was host to the Siyum. The man who supervised the planning, financing and construction of the stadium – a 12-year project – is a very distinguished and respected baal teshuvah. He says that the Siyum justified all of his effort. The Rambam would agree.


So the big day came and the forecast was for a severe thunderstorm at 7 p.m., just in time for Minchah. Rav Dovid Trenk, a stellar mechanech, sends an email message to his long list of talmidim and admirers every Erev Shabbos. In reflecting on the Siyum and the threat of rain, he quoted the Gemara (Taanis 20a) which says that Nakdimon ben Gurion, in asking for a miracle, said: “Ribono Shel Olam, it is clear and known before you that I did not act for my glory or for the glory of my family. I acted for Your glory… Make it known that there are people in the world who love You.”


Indeed, the forecasters were wrong. The organizers and participants were not acting for their own glory, and their faith was vindicated. The rain stopped just before the Siyum began and 90,000 people didn’t need their umbrellas or ponchos. Instead, there was a kiddush Hashem and a celebration of Torah that has seldom, if ever, been surpassed on this continent. The evening was long, but the participants didn’t feel it. People sat and absorbed kedushah and inspiration. No one knows how many of the participants opened a Maseches Brachos the next day to begin learning Daf Yomi for the first time. Will they continue for 2,711 days? Some will, some won’t, but all left MetLife Stadium better people than they were when they came, and more dedicated to learning and yiras Shomayim.


There were many people at the Siyum who have not learned and perhaps had no intention of opening a Gemara, but they, too, were exhilarated. It brings to mind a story about Rav Naftoli of Ropshitz, who, in addition to being a gaon and tzaddik, was a famous wit. He said that only one time did someone get the better of him. It was Simchas Torah and a very simple, unlearned Jew was dancing exuberantly. Rav Naftoli teased him saying, “Why are you so happy. You don’t experience the joy of learning.” The man said, “Rebbe, if my brother makes a simcha, shouldn’t I rejoice?!”


Everyone rejoiced at the Siyum, those who learned and their brothers.


What a contrast to the coverage in the media. The New York Times, true to form, emphasized the absence of women from the podium and the dais, and how they were cruelly banished to separate sections behind a $250,000 mechitzah. CBS Radio had little to say except that it was the biggest traffic jam in years, as if there are no traffic jams after a Giants game. WNYC interviewed an editor of the Forward who, when asked what the Talmud is all about, admitted that she was not knowledgeable about the Talmud. A national liberal magazine found it important to point out the “shortcoming” of the ArtScroll Talmud in that it teaches the Talmud in the age-old traditional manner, without resorting to “modern” criticism and “scholarship.” Or, better said, the entire Siyum and its participants are politically incorrect because we are loyal to the mesorah. That’s a criticism we welcome with pride. One major publication noted with satisfaction that there will be another Siyum celebration, in New York, which will not be so old-fashioned and which will feature women mesaymim and speakers, and which is expected to attract 400 participants. Ninety thousand versus 400. The numbers speak for themselves.


Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler writes in Michtav Me’Eliyahu that there are three levels of kiddush Hashem. The first is the sanctification of the Name within the individual. As the Rambam writes, whenever a person performs a mitzvah or refrains from sinning not because others are watching but only because it is the will of Hashem, that constitutes an internal kiddush Hashem. The next level is when someone sanctifies the Name in the presence of fellow Jews. The third level is when Jews behave in such a way that even non-Jews recognize that Hashem’s people are different.



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