Saturday, May 25, 2024

Heilige Shas Yidden

There was a baal habayis in the town of Volozhin - we'll call him R' Yankel - who spent a significant amount of time immersed in Torah learning. R' Yankel was an unpretentious man, who dressed simply and lived an austere life. But word among the townsfolk was that R' Yankel had completed Talmud Bavli several times. Thanks to his diligence and perseverance, he had merited completing all the masechtos of Shas, no simple feat. But there were some who scoffed at those who paid homage to R' Yankel for his accomplishment. After all, he was no scholar. Yes, he had gone through Shas a few times, but so what? “Does he truly understand what he has learned?” they would say. “Give us a break. He's no Shas Yid.”

Amazingly, though, the great Rav Chaim of Volozhin would rise when he saw R’ Yankel, paying respect to this man who had studied the thousands of pages of Talmud Bavli. The Torah giant clearly felt that this man’s achievement warranted such an open display of kavod.


This perplexed the yungeleit at the Volozhiner Yeshiva, who themselves were talmidei chachomim of note and were well versed in all facets of Torah. Why, they wondered, would their great rebbi stand up for a simple Yid like R’ Yankel? True, he had learned the entire Talmud Bavli, but did he understand the Gemaros he had studied? Did he comprehend p’shat in all the arcane and intricate sugyos? Why, they contended, he had done nothing more than read the mere words of the Tannaim and Amoraim. Why the great demonstration of honor by their rebbi?


Rav Chaim, hearing these talmidei chachomim jeering and their philippic regarding the reverence exhibited toward R’ Yankel, approached them. Sitting down near them, he wiped his brow, looked them in the eye, and proceeded to teach them a lesson they would never forget.


“As you know, there are two types of Shasin that are commonly sold,” Rav Chaim began. “There’s the Amsterdam Shas, which boasts a beautiful print, with easy-to-read letters. It is mistake-free and contains critical corrections to errors found in prior editions. It is a pleasure to learn from and is a bit pricier.”


Rav Chaim waited a moment, as the yungeleit tried to decipher what his point was.


“Then there is the Zoltzbach Shas, which is not nearly as nice. In fact, it contains mistakes and inaccuracies. It does not have the improvements and advancements of the Amsterdam Shas.”


Rav Chaim now explained what he was driving at.


“Would you ever suggest that the Zoltzbach Shas in any way possesses less kedushah than the Amsterdam Shas?” asked Rav Chaim rhetorically. “Of course not. A Shas is a Shas. It has the full kedushah of a Shas, whether it is the Amsterdam version or the Zoltzbach version.”


Rav Chaim’s message was clear. R’ Yankel may have been a Zoltzbach Shas. His grasp of some of the sugyos haShas might have been shoddy, and he might not have been fluent in all the masechtos he had completed. He may have forgotten many of the blatt he had learned. But he was a Shas Yid nonetheless.


Whether one is an Amsterdam Shas or a Zoltzbach Shas, the holiness is there.


This Wednesday, tens of thousands of Yidden will gather at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and thousands more will congregate across the globe. Among them will be Amsterdam Shasin and Zoltzbach Shasin. Some of the mesaymim will have mastered the thousands of blatt they studied over the course of seven and a half years, while others will be seeking to cement their knowledge of Shas more firmly with the new cycle of Daf Yomi.


But it will be a celebration of heilige Shas Yidden across the board.


It will be a demonstration of kavod haTorah and a tribute to lomdei Torah.


Rav Chaim Volozhiner let us know that those who have been zocheh to be mesayeim Shas possess a unique level of kedushah that warrants a demonstration of respect, admiration and approbation.


Some 30 years ago, Rav Elimelech Bluth, rov of Khal Ahavas Achim in Brooklyn, was asked to take over as the Daf Yomi maggid shiur at Agudas Yisroel of America’s national headquarters on Beekman Street. Rav Dovid Feinstein encouraged Rav Bluth to accept the position, but Rav Bluth consulted with his rebbi, the gadol hador, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, whose response was less enthusiastic.


Vifil ken men lernen in drei fertel sha? (How much can one learn in three quarters of an hour?)” asked Rav Moshe.


Feeling a bit discouraged, Rav Bluth, heeding the advice of Rav Dovid, returned to Rav Moshe and said, “In 45 minutes, I can learn good p’shat.”


Dos iz a groisser limud (That’s substantial learning),” said Rav Moshe, who then bentched Rav Bluth with hatzlachah before adding an important piece of advice: “You must learn everyblatt with every Rashi. “


Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l, in remarks printed in last week’s Yated from the recently released sefer Moreh Tzedek, offers strong words of “consolation” to lomdei Daf Yomi who may get discouraged by being unable to fully delve as deeply as they would like into the topics covered due to the pace of learning, as well as frustration in not being able to retain all the Gemara that is studied because of a lack of opportunity to properly review the daf.


Rav Pam, whose words should be read fully by lomdei hadaf, quotesthe Shulchan Aruch Harav, who states that a person should involve himself in learning the entire Torah, even those matters that he does not understand, so that in the Next World he will be zocheh to understand and grasp all of the Torah that he studied in this world. One who studies the entire Shas, even at a somewhat quick pace, says Rav Pam, will, at a later time, understand it well, with clarity and depth. Furthermore, even the Torah that one forgets, says Rav Pam, has the koach to purify one’s soul. The Torah that passes through one’s mind has the power to purify one’s thoughts and positively affect one’s approach to life and avodas Hashem. Even the Torah that one forgets, said Rav Pam, has long-lasting influence.


In addition to the lomdim of Daf Yomi, the Siyum Hashas will be attended by many who didn’t participate in the learning of Daf Yomi, but will join in celebrating the accomplishments of their fellow Yidden.


Rav Naftoli of Ropshitz, it is told, once observed a simple, perhaps even ignorant, Jew dancing on Simchas Torah with incredible gusto. The man went round and round, singing and dancing with an almost tangible simcha, a smile spread across his face. He held on to the Sefer Torah with great passion, exuding a matchless simchas haTorah.


The Ropshitzer was a bit surprised. This man was unlearned and knew little in the way of Torah. What was he so exuberant about? How was he capable of mustering such elation on Simchas Torah?


Intrigued, the Ropshitzer approached the man and shared his puzzlement. The man flashed the Rebbe a big smile and explained.


“True,” he said, “I am not learned and I don’t know much Torah, but my brothers, my fellow Yidden, are celebrating the completion of the entire Torah. I am rejoicing in my brothers’ simcha! I am exhilarated with their accomplishment. How can I not dance?”


As the masses gather to celebrate this occasion, the Siyum Hashas will honor the heroic maggidei shiur and the valiant lomdim of Daf Yomi, who persisted and kept at it to reach this special day.


And as we approach this wonderful celebration, which, in a world of discord and disconnect, is like a balm for our souls and psyches, I reflect upon the memories of the many maggidei shiur and Daf Yomi stalwarts who graced past Siyumei Hashas but were taken from our midst since the last event.


I think of the unforgettable Rav Chaim Stein zt”l, the Telsher rosh yeshiva, who recited the Hadran at the last Siyum Hashas, celebrating his participation in Daf Yomi since its very inception.


I think of the venerable Agudah leader, Rav Chaskel Besser zt”l, who was born the year of the First Knessia Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel, where the Lubliner Rov, Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l, first introduced the concept of Daf Yomi. Rav Besser was the founding chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission and did so much to make the program known to the masses.


I remember my dear rebbi, the legendary Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum zt”l, who was supremely devoted to making Daf Yomi accessible to all. After the completion of the eighth cycle of Daf Yomi in 1981, Rabbi Teitelbaum set out to spread Torah through technology in a manner that was unprecedented. Outside his Boro Park home, onlookers watched as the sidewalk was torn up to allow for the placing of hundreds of phone lines, which were connected in Rabbi Teitelbaum’s basement to a reel-to-reel tape player, which was timed to begin a Daf Yomi shiur on the hour. 
The Torah Communications Network, of which Dial-A-Daf was the flagship program, caught on like wildfire, with thousands of listeners calling in each day. Over time and by popular demand, the program became available in Yiddish and Hebrew as well.


Rabbi Teitelbaum’s derived much nachas when walking into his home and observing hundreds of red lights lit up. Each light indicated that a caller was logged into the system listening to a shiur. Those lit-up lights lit up his eyes with the nachas that Jews were benefiting from his system.


It was Rabbi Teitelbaum who uncovered the eminentDaf Yomi maggid shiur, Rav Mechel Zilber of Yerushalayim, and paid him to record his shiurim on tape. Rav Zilber once quipped that it was in the zechus of Rabbi Teitelbaum that he “became the biggest maggid shiur in Klal Yisroel.”


Unfortunately, Rabbi Teitelbaum won’t be with us this time around, but his memory and his legacy live on.


As I muse about the upcoming siyum, I think of another specialYid, Rav Shamshon Brodsky zt”l, a quiet tzaddik who I merited to watch as I was growing up. Rav Brodsky, who served as rov of Bais Medrash Yaakov Moshe in Flatbush, was a Daf Yomi maggid shiur for several cycles. He taught, in one remarkable incident, about the unspoken heroes of lomdei Torah and lomdei Daf Yomi.


Bais Medrash Yaakov Moshe was a humble shul that was led by an equally humble rov, whose diminutive build seemed appropriate, matching his modest demeanor. The shul lacked material trappings, but whatever it did not have materially was more than compensated spiritually, under the gentle leadership of the beloved rov, Rav Brodsky.


In this shul, as in many others, each Simchas Torah, the kehillah customarily honored the mara d’asra with the kibbud of Chosson Torah. The mispallelim would watch their rov slowly make his way to the bimah and recite the bracha on the Torah, while the children reveled in the joyous atmosphere of the day, observing the rov’s shining countenance at this most festive time.


The kriah would end and the rov would recite the bracha of Asher Nosan Lonu. The kehillah would spontaneously erupt in cheerful singing, celebrating the great simcha of Chosson Torah. But the rov was already on his way across the room.


Where was he headed? He wasn’t going toward his seat. What had suddenly captured his interest?


The mispallelim watched as he walked toward the mechitzah and the women’s section. A moment later, the rov was seen approaching his wife, the beloved rebbetzin of the shul.


Mazel tov,” said the rov, smiling. “Mazel tov.”


Having wished his wife mazel tov on her husband receiving the honor of Chosson Torah, the rov turned around and headed to his seat.


Rav Brodsky, with his sterling middos and impeccable character, showed us all the credit owed to the noshim tzidkoniyos, the silent heroes who allow their husbands – the Chassanei haTorah – to head out, either in the early morning or late at night, to their respective botei medrash to immerse themselves in learning, imbibing the sweetness of the words of the Tannaim and Amoraim.


This lesson was similarly conveyed by the famed Agudah president, Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt”l, whose dedication to Daf Yomi knew no bounds. It is hard to forget when, at the Tenth Siyum Hashas, Rabbi Sherer, with eloquence and emotion, pointed out how the Nazis, yemach shemom, had recognized that the “Talmud-lehrers” were the greatest threat to their diabolical plans to obliterate the Jewish people, and how a celebration of this magnitude half-a-century later was the most eloquent testimonial to the eternity of the am Hashem.


For many years, Rabbi Sherer attended the Daf Yomi shiur at the Agudah of 14th Avenue delivered by Rav Moshe Meir Weiss, rov of Agudas Yisroel of Staten Island.


One Erev Yom Kippur, Rabbi Sherer called the Weiss home and one of Rav Weiss’ daughters answered the phone. When Rabbi Sherer asked to speak to her mother, the girl thought she hadn’t heard him correctly.


“Do you want to speak to Totty?” she asked.


“No, to Mommy,” clarified Rabbi Sherer.


Rebbetzin Miriam Libby Weiss got on the phone and Rabbi Sherer explained why he had called.


“Your husband gives the Daf Yomi shiur at the Agudah of Boro Park and the Agudah of Staten Island,” said Rabbi Sherer. “He is out every night from 8 p.m. until midnight. So I called to thank you and wish you a good year.”


Rebbetzin Weiss thanked the venerable Agudah leader for the call and asked him if he was sure he didn’t wish to speak to Rav Weiss.


“Wish your husband a good year,” he said, “but this call was for you.”


The Siyum this coming week will honor the lomdim as well as their partners in life who encourage them, support them and give them the wherewithal to complete Talmud Bavli, with all the effort and sacrifice it entails.


And joining the Amsterdam Shashin and the Zoltzbach Shashin at the siyum will be other Yidden who “picked up” masechtos along the way, as they participated in the Daf Yomi cycle according to their abilities and schedules, with the sincere hope that this time around, they will be able to complete each and every daf.


Stories abound about the courage and boldness of those who have overcome challenges and limitations to undertake sessions of limud haTorah through Daf Yomi.


A Daf Yomi maggid shiur in Baltimore, following the Eleventh Siyum Hashas, was approached by a fellow in his twenties with the news that he was due a mazel tov, as he would be making a Siyum Hashas that night. The maggid shiur was more than surprised, as complications at birth had left this young man with significant learning disabilities. It was hard to comprehend how he could have followed the pace of the Daf Yomi schedule.


The young man proceeded to explain that not having learned Daf Yomi, he felt left out of the prior Siyum Hashas. A friend of his, however, recognizing his limitations, had established a schedule for him to participate in the siyum the next time around, advising him to learn one line of every daf every day. In this fashion, this fellow, overcoming daunting obstacles, had “completed” Shas.


This man might not have even been a Zoltzbach Shas, but considering his nisyonos and limitations, his siyum was a precious one in the eyes of the Melameid Torah Le’amo Yisroel.


Back in March, I read a funny, if inspiring, tale by a man named Salvador Litvak. I had encountered his article by accident, but the author’s name was enough to get me to read what he had to say in an article titled, “Accidental Talmudist, Day One.”


“On March 2, 2005,” the Los Angeles resident wrote, “I went to The Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard in order to buy a book. I was in my seventh year of being a practicing Jew, and I had probably visited the shop a dozen times. After finding the needed book, I glanced over at the shelves of Talmud. Every set looked like three Encyclopedia Britannicas, and, as usual, I was totally intimidated.


“As I looked over at those rows of tractates with strange names like ‘Bava Kama’ and ‘Avodah Zara,’ I thought, ‘What am I afraid of? They’re just books.’


“I walked over and picked up the nearest volume of something called the ‘Schottenstein Edition of Talmud Bavli – the Babylonian Talmud.’ The table of contents told me that the first book is ‘Brachos 1.’ I found a copy and took it over to the counter with my other purchases. The kid at the register wore a kippah. As he rang up ‘Brachos 1,’ he remarked, ‘You’re doing Daf Yomi.’


“I said, ‘What’s Daf Yomi?’


“He looked at me strangely. ‘Well, Daf Yomi means page-of-the-day. It’s a program in which Jews all over the world read the Talmud together, one page every day. It takes seven and a half years to do the cycle, and today…is day one.’






“Fairly stunned, I walked out to the car. ‘Seven and a half years worth of pages,’ I thought, as I perused the strange layout of ‘Brachos 1.’ Aramaic, Hebrew and English. Boldface here, all caps there, comments on comments, an ocean of footnotes.


“‘And today is day one. A 1-in-2,711 chance. Okay, G-d, I get the message. I’m doing Daf Yomi.


“And that’s how my voyage began. It’s been called the world’s longest marathon. A page of Talmud equals four to twelve pages of English. It takes twenty to fifty minutes a day for seven and a half years. Every day, including Shabbos, Yom Kippur and even your wedding day, if that should occur during the cycle…


“When you embark upon a linear Daf Yomi voyage through their seas, you never know what the day’s page will bring. What you will always find, however, is a passionate quest for truth in every aspect of human experience. There is simply no matter too small or too large for the Sages – they eventually focus on everything.


“My hope is that someone will hear my story and try out Daf Yomi… The cycle renews this August, so now is the perfect time to investigate and prepare. You don’t need a 1-in-2,711 miracle to set sail on the seas of Talmud.”


This gentleman joined the unique “chaburah” of lomdei hadaf whose families and children have come to recognize that the amount of free time they have each day is actually dictated by the level of difficulty of the day’s Daf Yomi. The limud becomes transformative, impacting, in positive and uplifting ways, every aspect of a person’s life.


The Yated’s own Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, former executive vice president of Agudas Yisroel of America and currently the dean of Yeshiva Ohr Somayach’s Ohr Lagolah Kollel, has been a Daf Yomi maggid shiur for some five machzorim. Seven and a half years ago, Rabbi Bloom was honored when, as part of a White House faith-based conference slated to be held in Washington, DC, he was included among a select group of faith-based organization leaders who were invited to participate in a half-hour closed-door meeting with President George W. Bush. But when Rabbi Bloom saw the date of the event, it gave him pause. The conference had been scheduled for March 1, 2005, a day that had been circled in bright red ink on his calendar for seven and half years. It was the day of the Eleventh Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi.


Rabbi Bloom made a quick calculation. The flight to Washington was under an hour long. If he left Washington right after the meeting, which was planned for 9:30 a.m., he would make it back in plenty of time for the siyum. But what if it snowed? What if the plane was delayed for any one of a dozen reasons? Wasn’t it safer to decline the invitation? Then again, since he was the only representative of a Jewish organization who had been invited to the meeting, didn’t he have an achrayus to go?


After consulting with a number of people, Rabbi Bloom made the arrangements necessary to attend the meeting, which proved constructive and well worth the time.


When he meeting was over, Rabbi Bloom apologized to President Bush for having to leave the conference early. Later that evening, he told the president, he would be addressing an audience of more than 100,000 people.


President Bush, intrigued, asked what the gathering was all about. Rabbi Bloom proceeded to briefly describe the Daf Yomi program and what it represents. After his short presentation, the president had just one question: “So why only 100,000?”


Indeed, why only 100,000?


While we celebrate the feat of tens of thousands, we know that the siyum is not only a celebration of the past, but a commitment for the future. As Chazal tell us, If you have learned a large amount of Torah, do not applaud yourself, for that is why you were created” (Avos 2:9).


The Amsterdam Shashin will continue to beautify and perfect their knowledge of the timeless words of the Gemara, while the Zoltzbachs among us will use their accomplishment to engage in another round of Daf Yomi learning so that, indeed, that can be counted among the Amsterdam group some time in the future.


At a siyum, we say, “Hadron aloch,” which some meforshim explain to mean not only “We will return to you,” which is the conventional understanding, but that “our hadar, or splendor, comes from you.”


When we complete a masechta, we announce that we acquired splendor through the study of the Gemara. It is a splendor that Hashem placed in his holy Torah, a splendor that is accessible to one and all through the learning of Torah.


The final parsha that is read on Shabbos as part of the annual cycle of krias haTorah is Parshas Haazinu. (The last parsha of the Torah, Vezos Habracha, is lained on Simchas Torah.) The Gemara in Maseches Rosh Hashanah (31a) describes how the aliyos of Parshas Haazinu are divided, providing a mnemonic, haziv loch, comprised of the first letters of each aliyah in the parsha. The mnemonic, haziv loch,alludes to the joy and satisfaction we experience upon completing the Torah. We proclaim, “Haziv loch – The splendor is yours,” just as we announce upon the completion of a masechta, “Hadron aloch.” With this pronouncement, we make it known that we are cognizant that we have been zocheh to acquire the splendor of the Torah through the weekly reading of the Torah. Similarly, at a siyum, we declare that we consider ourselves blessed and fortunate to bask in the splendor that comes only from the study of Torah.


As we stand with the multitudes at MetLife Stadium paying tribute to lomdei Torah, we will recall the response of the Kotzker Rebbe to a man who approached him and said with great pride, “I have gone through the entire Shas!” With his incisive and penetrating wit, the Kotzker looked at the man and said, “It is wonderful that you have gone through Shas, but tell me, has Shas gone through you?”


May we indeed merit to not only study the timeless words of our great sages, but to live them and make them part of the very fabric of our lives.



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