Metlife and Kremenchuk

By now, almost a month after the massive 13th Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi that took place in MetLife Stadium, the stories about the various security officials and stadium workers remarking about the contrast between our behavior at the Siyum versus that of the average crowd at any sports or other event that takes place there has become the stuff of legends. There is the story of the state trooper who, after pulling an observant Jew over, asked him whether he’d done his “page” that day yet. If he promised to do his page, the story goes, the trooper would let him go without a ticket.

No doubt, another version of the story has it that the trooper was a non-observant Jew who has now begun keeping Shabbos. We can feel confident that in a year from now, the incident will be written up somewhere at length, with readers treated to the “amazing, true, story” about a state trooper whose grandfather was a Nazi who kept in his home, as some sort of sick memento, shreds of a Talmud page he’d ripped out of a volume during a raid on a Jewish home. This grandson, the trooper, now so speechlessly awed by the behavior of the massive crowd at the Siyum, decided to let off the next Jew he’d pull over if he’d “do his page.”

The Jew accepted to do “the page,” though he mentioned in passing that the set of Talmud he had in his home, which had been passed down from his grandfather, was sadly missing that particular day’s page because a Nazi had ripped it out during the war. Of course, all the blood drained from the trooper’s face. The two made up to meet in the Jew’s home later that evening, and when the trooper brought out the ripped-out daf his grandfather had kept, it fit inside the Jew’s volume of Talmud perfectly.

Of course, the trooper was megayer, he and the Jew learn the daf every day now from that very set of Talmud, and everyone lived happily ever after.

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All jokes aside, there is no question that the contrast between a crowd of between about eighty and ninety thousand people behaving politely in the very same venue that usually sees even far smaller crowds causing all sorts of injury and mayhem must have been startling and wonderfully impressive to all those who normally work there. From the spirited dancing to the hushed silence that descended upon the stadium as everyone rose for Shemoneh Esrei, it was an experience even for the frum participants. Imagine how much more so for those who never saw such a thing in their lives.

At the same time, is that something we should be proud of? As the editor of this paper, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, pointed out last week, should we pride ourselves for not acting like a bunch of wild animals, for not engaging in the drunken acts of men with no morals and no life? One would think that that goes without saying.

It’s our Torah, explained Rabbi Lipschutz, that truly sets us apart, rather than merely “our crowd” versus “their crowd.”

I would like to take this a step further.

Rav Chaim Epstein zt”l, whose yahrtzeit was this week on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, would very often refer to an amazing incident recorded by Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt”l about his esteemed rebbi and father-in-law, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l. In the second volume of Birkas Shmuel, the seforim of Rav Boruch Ber’s chiddushim on Shas, Rav Reuven penned a few introductory paragraphs about his great father-in-law.

Towards the end, when discussing Rav Boruch Ber’s overriding love of limud haTorah, Rav Reuven relates the following:

The gaon, Rav Shlomo Heiman, related to me that at the time of the pogroms in Kremenchuk, the murderous goons and hoodlums killed and maimed many and inflicted terrible injury and damage. They beat Rav Boruch Ber and his father as well, ripping their clothes from upon them.

Rav Boruch Ber reacted by expressing how much more simcha and happiness we must now feel when reciting the brocha of “Asher bochar bonu mikol ha’amim venosan lonu es Toraso [Who chose us from amongst all the nations and gave us His Torah], because we see now the depths to which a person falls when he has no Torah. Were it not for Torah, it would be possible for us, too, to become, chalilah, murderers and degenerates. It is only by virtue of our Torah that our hands do not spill blood.

Amazing! When a frum Jew is, chalilah, set upon by murderous anti-Semitic thugs, does it enter his mind for even a second that he could have been those very attackers? Not in a thousand years! We are so far from anything even remotely connected to such sheer wickedness and cruelty, we feel. We thank Hashem, surely, that we are the persecuted rather than the persecutors, but we cannot ever imagine that we could even be such persecutors.

Rav Boruch Ber didn’t see it that way.

“Why am I not them?” he asked himself. His answer was that it was only because we have the Torah and they do not. Without Torah, chas veshalom, we could fall to the same depraved depths as they do. We’re not “better” than they are, save for the fact that we have the Torah. With the Torah, of course, we indeed could never become such boors or miscreants.

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So, yes, it is noteworthy that some eighty to ninety thousand Jews got together for a Torah celebration, and even in a gathering of such magnitude the crowd was remarkably calm, courteous, respectful and well-behaved. It is equally worth noting that the average crowd in that same stadium requires police and security officers to break up fights, scuffles, drunken violence, theft and far worse.

The lesson, though, is not one of “look how great we are,” but rather one of “how lucky we are to have the Torah!” It should lead us to feel glad that we are frum Yidden, to indeed recognize the wondrous effects that Torah has on every one of us, from the greatest scholars to the “simple” Torah Jew.

Most of all, it should bring us to – as Rav Boruch Ber expressed it – lismoach yoser b’birchas asher bochar bonu, to feel so much more simple joy upon reciting the blessing each morning wherein we thank Hashem for the gift of our Torah.