FIRST MISHNA, SECOND TIME
It was an ambitious undertaking and a calculated risk. Perhaps that is an odd way to refer to the recent communal conclusion to the study of Shas, the Babylonian Talmud. Certainly for a people so drawn to criticism of the constructive variety, of course, it turns out that there were about 93,000 opinions on what should have been slightly adjusted or done differently at last weeks acclaimed Siyum Hashas expertly and miraculously produced and directed by the Agudath Israel of America.
The bottom line is that it was an exhilarating and memorable experience. Having attended the last such event seven and a half years ago at Madison Square Garden there was at least something to contrast last week’s epic and impressive experience with. From the moment I entered Met Life on that Wednesday evening I was just overwhelmed and awe struck.
And then in the quietude of the next day that had unceremoniously dawned and arrived we searched our bookcases for that thick volume of Tractate Brachos and the opportunity to do it all again. But this time there was something extraordinarily unique about the process. Sure, this is the famous first Mishna that we had plowed our way through again and again as kids and perhaps more than a few times as adults.
But this first Mishna holds a distinction that no other can claim as it both represents and genuinely is the very first step on a very precious journey that takes us through a long and sometimes intellectually challenging trek of 2,711 pages of Gemorah and every nook and cranny of life from birth to rebirth.
A friend in shul was telling me the other day that one of the security people at MetLife asked him what was going on, what occasion was being observed or celebrated. He explained that we had just completed the reading of 2711 pages of scholarship whose authors lived many hundreds of years ago. They wanted to know how long it took to read all those pages to which he respond that it took seven and a half years. The response was : “That’s not too much to do, I can do that.”
Sometime ago another acquaintance on the subject of the study of the blueprint of Jewish life known as Shas said that he recalls striking up a friendship in Yeshiva with the building custodian. Every day my friend saw the man at some point and always exchanged greetings and niceties. Once referring to the large volume my buddy was cradling in his arms, the custodian inquired: “Let me ask you something Rabbi, are you ever going to finish that book?”
Oh yes, about the criticism that I heard about the event both constructive and otherwise. I heard from more than a few people that while the massive crowd was an impressive tribute to our commitment to Torah scholarship, they preferred the more intimate environs of an indoor venue like the Garden as opposed to an outdoor stadium. So the open question, so to speak, leaves us with some curiosity about where this is going to take place next time.
More in this weeks 5TJT.