You Can Do It

As a Jewish newspaper, our focus this week is totally on the Siyum Hashas. Everything else pales compared to that magnificent event. What is more important than tens of thousands of Jews marking their completion of studying Shas? The celebrations taking place around the country and across the world are at the center of everyone’s attention, even as we are in the grips of a series of anti-Semitic attacks.

Words have consequences, and the utterances of leftist politicians and other leaders have awakened a dormant eternal hatred of our people. We had thought that vile anti-Semitism would never take root in this great democratic country. We had thought that in America, we were free – free to practice our religion, and free from the hatred that cost our forefathers their lives and limbs. We were wrong.

We taught our children that pogroms were a thing of the past, never to be repeated. We taught them that in our day, in our world, in our country, the evils perpetrated against our people would not be repeated. We were wrong.

Madness At Our Own Doorstep

From afar, we witnessed murderous attacks against our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. We pitied them, we said Tehillim for them, and we went about our daily lives, feeling very safe. From afar, we witnessed Jews getting killed in France. We pitied them and wondered why they didn’t leave. We went about our daily lives, feeling quite safe. After a few years, the madness came here, spreading across the country from Pittsburgh to Poway to Jersey City. Then, on Motzoei Shabbos, it came to Monsey, as a man entered a home on a quiet safe street and attempted to kill Jews. No, no place is safe anymore. Golus is back with a vengeance. We need to take appropriate steps and learn appropriate lessons.

Ever since our father Yaakov was on the run from his brother Eisov, the Jewish people have found refuge in the Torah. Studying Torah gave their lives meaning, infused their hearts with strength and pumped their souls. Torah is our essence. It is our being. It is what no one can take away from us. So many have tried, but no one has succeeded.

We just finished celebrating Chanukah, marking the triumph of the Jewish people over the Greeks and their culture. So many have come after us, seeking our destruction. We have survived; they haven’t. The Torah has sustained us throughout the centuries.

This week’s Siyum Hashas proclaimed, “Kol kli yutzar olayich lo yitzloch.” Tens of thousands gathered to say that nothing will cut us down. Nothing will deter us. Nothing will separate us from Hashem and His Torah.

Klal Yisroel came together to proclaim, “Netzach Yisroel lo yishaker.” All the nisyonos in the world, all the tumah, all the temptations, will never stop people from waking up early in the morning to learn a blatt Gemara. No day will ever be difficult enough to keep our people from the bais medrash.

Torah has been our life, in the past, in the present, and in the future.

Some wonder why so many people come together. What brought them? Why did grandparents buy tickets for their entire family? Why did fathers and mothers and children come? What drove them?

They were all there for no reason other than to proclaim the nitzchiyus of Torah and Am Yisroel.

HaTorah hee chayeinu.” Our life is Torah. There is nothing more important to us than studying a blatt Gemara. There is nothing as fulfilling as grasping the holy words and concepts of the Tannaim and Amoraim. There is nothing as great as greatness in Torah.

The Fifth Question

A father and son celebrated the Pesach Seder in Auschwitz. They were concealed, shuddering from hunger and exhaustion. The son asked the four questions and then asked a fifth. “Tatteh,” he whispered, “will we have a Seder next year? Will I be asking you these questions next year?”

The father was quiet, as memories of Sedorim in years past flew by, mixing with the tragedy of his current situation. And then he spoke with the emunah that has kept our people alive through the centuries of torture and pogroms. He said, “My dear son, I don’t know if you will be asking me the questions next year. I am not a prophet. But I promise you that somewhere, a Jewish child will be asking his father the four questions and the father will answer.”

“Ki heim chayeinu v’orech yomeinu­.” Torah is our lifeblood. Torah is what sustains us and keeps us going.

Ever since Rav Papa died, killed by the Romans for teaching Torah to the next generation of scholars, Jews have given their all to transmit the chochmah of Torah to the next generation. The mightiest of men threatened the weakest Jews, and just as they did in the battle with the Chashmonaim, the gibborim fell into the hands of the chaloshim, and the temei’im into the hands of the tehorim.

This week, when the Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi occupies center stage, it is a fitting time to examine our relationship with Shas and those who study it.

What is the highest form of praise you can use to describe a good Jew? You say that he is “a Shas Yid.” A newcomer comes to shul and others ask about him. Who is he? What is he? Is he a good guy? Someone says, “Ehr iz ah Shas Yid,” and everyone looks at him with much-deserved respect.

Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach was at a chupah. When it was over, he became upset. How can it be that they didn’t give a kibbud to a certain rosh yeshiva? He knows Shas!

Daf Yomi has brought that goal closer for so many.

Many tens of thousands joined in the celebration of the accomplishment of completing the study of Shas. With each passing siyum, the number of attendees grows larger, attracting more people, reaching numbers previously thought impossible for an event of this kind.

Alongside the growing number of attendees at the siyumim is the ever increasing number of people participating in the daf-a-day program. More and more people than ever before are arising early every morning and going to sleep later every night so that they can learn the daf.

Heroes of our people, these men stuck with it for seven-and-a-half long years. Through times of happiness and sadness, deep cold and oppressive heat, ups and downs, good days and bad days, births and r”l deaths, engagements and weddings, through every challenge that life throws at us, these people persevered and found a way to study the daf.

The massive siyum was a celebration of their achievement. We rise in acknowledgment of what masses of people have done. We offer them acclaim, praise and blessings. We remind them that they are now on a higher plane, more connected with Hashem, and stronger than ever before.

And as much as the siyum celebrated what tens of thousands accomplished in the past, it is also a rousing cry for the future. The siyum says, “These people have surmounted multiple obstacles and succeeded in completing something significant.” But it also proclaims to those who have not yet made the siyum that they can also do it. It celebrates the potential for greatness in everyone.

A siyum is not only an end. It is also an invitation to begin. Perhaps that is the reason it has become de rigueur for boys to make siyumim at their bar mitzvah celebrations. It is not only to guarantee that the meal is a seudas mitzvah, but also to prove that the young man is off to a good start.

Inspiration For A Lifetime

When we see so many people gathering, we should draw inspiration for the potential of Am Yisroel and each one of us. We should all be motivated to undertake additional learning for ourselves. We should be convinced that it is possible to squeeze more time into the day for more constructive pursuits.

Should everyone learn Daf Yomi? Perhaps not. Perhaps some of us should take upon ourselves to learn a masechta b’iyun, one and then another and then another, until we complete the study of Shas in depth. Is it a realistic goal? It is as realistic as the goal of completing Shas with the daf-a-day program. Perhaps we should undertake to gain a more complete and well-rounded knowledge of halacha so that we can be yet better shomrei Torah umitzvos, yerei’im ushleimim.

No matter which path we embark upon, no one has grounds to say that he cannot learn Shas. No one can say that he can’t learn a daf a day. No one can say that it is an insurmountable challenge.

Oftentimes, we aspire to study or accomplish something, and over time, as we continue pursuing the goal, it appears to slip further and further from our grasp. The weaker ones begin slackening off and delude themselves into thinking that the goal is unattainable. It is too hard, they say. It will never work. It’s impossible to do. They despair, become defeatist, and before long they have given up.

The initial inspiration wears off, and if we don’t have people around us supporting us and encouraging us onward, too often we slip, fall and fail.

The Siyum Hashas is our cheering squad. The Siyum Hashas beckons us onward, proclaiming to us for the next seven-and-a-half years that we can do it.

When we are working towards a goal and it begins to appear unattainable, think of all the people at the various international arenas who gathered to celebrate the ones who persevered through every difficulty and reached the finish line. Think about the people sitting at 7 a.m. around a table in a shul basement in the deep of winter with snow falling outside. Think of the warmth their Torah gives off. Think of their satisfaction and know that you can also do it.

The siyum is a chance for a new beginning. Let us at least make the attempt. It’s never too late to make a new beginning. We’re never too old for a new start.

And then keep at it, one blatt at a time. One day at a time. One day, one blatt. One day, one blatt. And then another and another. Without making you feel overwhelmed, they will begin piling up, and before long, you will begin noticing their effect.

Stick to it. Keep at it. The learning will inject you with a new spirit. You will feel satisfied. And fulfilled. One blatt at a time. One halacha at a time. One sugya at a time.

Mazel tov.

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