Preparing Ourselves for the Siyum Hashas

Tens of thousands of us are gearing up for the Siyum Hashas. Many types of preparations are being made for this enormous event. The leaders and askanim of Agudas Yisroel have been dedicating tireless days and sleepless nights to make this the kiddush Hashem and inspiring experience it can and should be. Many people have spent time and money obtaining tickets so that they can tell their children and grandchildren about the historic moment in which they were fortunate enough to participate. Some are simply worried about sitting in the cold and have made plans to avoid frostbite and hypothermia.

We must be careful not to lose sight of the purpose and goal of the Siyum in the midst of all the minutiae and physical details, as crucial as they are. To just seize upon a metaphor which has boruch Hashem become reality: At the last Siyum, a significant number of previously unaffiliated Jews became baalei teshuvah and changed their lives completely. A new initiative on the part of several wonderful individuals has been making sure that this great potential of the Siyum become available again – only many times over – for these precious Yidden whose neshamos have been waiting years and decades for such an opportunity.

But what of the multitudes of us who are already frum, who are already learning? What can we gain from this once-in-seven-year event that we may have somehow missed until now?

Perhaps what we should do for preparation is to think of this as our Mattan Torah (see Pachad Yitzchok, Igros, page 164, No. 87). Some three thousand years ago, Hashem commanded that we prepare for the maamad hanichbad in various ways, some irrelevant to us today, some quite pertinent for us all. We can either attend, feel good about the three hours or so and go home to warm up, or we can make sure that this is the epiphany and life-changing experience we all need to take our lives to a new level.

The Chassidim teach and enact the thought that nothing can be accomplished without preparation, and with the proper hachanah we can change ourselves and the world. To accomplish this, we must remind ourselves what the Torah means to us, our nation, and indeed to the world itself.

Hashem created a special light – the ohr haganuz – that had nothing to do with the sun or any star. He gave the universe His own light (Kli Yokor, Bereishis 1:3) and then hid it away so that the wicked should not abuse its power (Chagigah 12a; Ramban, Bereishis 1:14). Where did Hashem hide this precious gift? Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt”l (Nefesh Hachaim 1:6, footnote, page 24) teaches, based upon the Zohar Hakadosh, that it was placed into the Torah. Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Shavuos 7a) gets more specific by revealing that it was hidden in Torah Shebaal Peh – the very Shas we shall be completing in just a few weeks. If we merit and do our homework, perhaps we can, at least somewhat, “see the light,” the holy light of creation itself. How can we finite mortals even aspire to such loftiness?

The answer is given by the Medrash (Tanchuma, Noach 3), which teaches that this primordial light was given “to those who toil in the study of Torah.” Rav Meir Simcha Hakohein of Dvinsk, author of the Ohr Somayach, once commented (Hi Sichasi 2:641) that two great gaonim had brilliant sons who followed in their fathers’ footsteps, but neither was as great as his father. They were Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and his son, Rav Yitzchok Yerucham, and Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector and his son, Rav Tzvi Hirsh. The reason they did not achieve the level of their progenitors was that their toil in Torah was not as great.”

The Novominsker Rebbe charged the Agudah activists with making this Siyum a source for new learning, not just a commemoration of something completed. They have prepared many opportunities for us to do so, but we should not wait for organizations or others to set our table for us.

Rav Yosef Karo and the Rama gave us the best setting of all for a Torah feast, the Shulchan Aruch and its tablecloth. Before we sit down to its delicious repast, let us explore further the gifts we will receive, if we are prepared to receive.

The Zohar Hakadosh and the Kuzari both raise the question: Why do Jews shake when they pray and learn? The Kuzari suggests that it reflects the ancient practice of sharing one sefer, which each student would bow to read and then straighten up to let the next talmid have his turn. The Zohar, however, sees a more ancient source: “The souls of the Jews were hewn from the holy lamp of Hashem. When this fire becomes unified with the Torah from above, it does not rest even for a moment. It moves this way and that, not resting for a moment. So it is with the Jews themselves. Since their souls were born of that holy flame, when they speak words of Torah, the light of their souls ignites within them with incandescence. They can therefore not stand still or rest, but must sway to and fro, like the shimmering candle which is never still.”

This is surely one goal for our upcoming experience, to not be drawn to the light, but to become the dancing flame itself through our constant love and affection for the Torah we are privileged to make our own.

To return to the Shulchan Aruch, the Mechaber teaches us: “There is a mitzvah to look at the writing on the Torah when it is lifted at hagbah” (Orach Chaim 134a). The Mishnah Berurah adds: “It is good to see the letters themselves close enough so that one can read them, because the Kabbalists write that by doing this, one brings a great light upon himself.” Let us imagine the power of 90,000 Jews and more learning, davening and singing together. Our goal must be to access those moments of kedusha and elevate ourselves forever, not just for one exciting day.

Perhaps one of the practical results of this Siyum and others which will soon take place is a new appreciation of the value of every moment and effort in Torah study. Rav Aharon Kotler (Mishnas Rav Aharon 1:56) taught that just as there is a concept of bitul Torah – wasting time from Torah study – in quantity, so is there a concept of bitul Torah in quality. He quotes from the Alter of Slabodka that “if one could possibly learn Torah more deeply with greater understanding, when he studies superficially it is considered relatively as wasted time.” Rav Aharon cautions us that we must constantly grow in learning and not “rest on our laurels.”

The Vilna Gaon (Mishlei 31:27) cautions us to “chew the words of the Torah carefully,” savor literally every word, and not learn lazily.”

I remember how Rav Avrohom Pam taught us all how to learn a Mishnah at the Siyum Hashas. In what seemed to be the simplest of language, he radiated the depth, beauty, excitement and profundity of the Torah all in one short learning session. I am sure we will enjoy similar opportunities this time as well to emulate the Torah giants of our generation in both their learning and their sacred approach to limud haTorah. However, despite cold, fatigue or crowding, we must remind ourselves that every moment is incredibly precious and valuable. We must remember the holy words of the Chofetz Chaim (quoted by Rav Elchonon Wasserman, end of Kovetz He’aros) that “the yeitzer hara has no problem with us fasting, crying and davening all day, as long as we don’t learn Torah.” This indicates to us how important Torah study should be to us, if it is the majority of the yeitzer hara’s focus. These upcoming events should be our opportunity to commit ourselves to thwarting his evil plans and redouble our commitments to Torah study.

To gain just one insight into the importance of one new understanding in Torah, let us note what Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz used to relate from the Ridbaz, rov of Slutzk. When he came up with a chiddush – a novel Torah thought – he would joyously declare that “the labor pains of my mother, her mother and the mothers in our family before were worth their suffering for that one sevarah (Torah idea).”

Finally, let us remember the famous words of the Avnei Neizer, the Sochatchover Rebbe in the introduction to his Sefer Iglei Tal. He teaches us that “the essence of the mitzvah of learning Torah is the joy and pleasure one gains from the experience, for then the Torah truly becomes embedded in his blood.”

The joyous sounds we will hear at the Siyum will hopefully fill us as well with the satisfaction and delight of being bnei Torah who have the greatest privilege in the world, that of partaking in Hashem’s Torah and even completing and then starting again its holy works. May we continue to grow from these events, which will surely help bring the geulah sheleimah.