There are specific incidents or subject matters in each Parsha that people enjoy expounding upon and others that are left relatively unplumbed and unengaged. It’s always intriguing and original to see someone encounter and shed light upon the obscure sections of the Parsha than those that are regularly spoken of. On that note, there is an aspect of the Siyum Hashas that has not been discussed in the plethora of articles and notes written since the mammoth event took place in MetLife Stadium on Sunday August 1st that I believe is worth mentioning. Being that I was not in attendance this is probably the only aspect of the Siyum that I could comment on having seen many photographs on line and in newspapers.
It’s well known that the Siyum Hashas packed a larger attendance than any other event in the history of MetLife Stadium. It’s safe to say that there will not be a larger event ever in MetLife Stadium since the playing field is generally in use by other events taking place there. Still it’s hard to distinguish with the naked eye between 83,000 attendees and 93,000 attendees, both are tremendously large crowds. But if you have ever been at or seen a football game filled to capacity you don’t get the same feeling as looking at the photos of the overflowing crowd at the Siyum Hashas. There is something awesome about a crowd of 93,000 Jews that you just don’t feel amidst 93,000 football fans despite the relative few Jews in every crowd. I think the difference is that 93,000 football fans are 93,000 individuals that are not in any way cohesive or inextricably bound. Jews who unite under a common principle and shared common values and belief systems form a unified whole and that is incomparable to 93,000 individuals.
There is a special blessing made upon seeing 600,000 Jews. This blessing is not made upon seeing 600,000 people of the world! The reason perhaps is tied to what I have suggested that there is nothing unifying the world’s people whereas the Jews unite around the Torah. The Gemara tells us that after Rebbi Akiva married his wife Rochel he went off to learn and to teach Torah. After 12 years he returned to his hometown followed by 12,000 students that he had amassed during that period of time. As he was about to enter he heard his wife in conversation saying, “If it was up to me he would stay for another 12 years.” Without even knocking on the door seeing her off for another 12 years Rebbi Akiva made an about face and went back fulfilling the will of his wife, Rochel. Many commentators ask, “What would have been so terrible for Rebbi Akiva to greet his wife even for a moment before returning for another 12 years of learning? He was there already! It would have been a matter of minutes before he’d be back on his way! Rav Mordechai Gifter the Telsher Rosh Yeshiva once famously quipped, “Because Rebbi Akiva understood that twelve and twelve is not twenty-four.” This is precisely the difference between 93,000 football fans and 93,000 unified Jews attending the Siyum Hashas.
This is indeed an inspiring message, one that will perhaps intrigue others as it did myself to begin learning the Daf Yomi in this 13th cycle. But as prideful as this is, there is an aspect of it that creates an onus or burden of responsibility upon us in the way we view our fellow Jew. This is what was so distasteful about reports of people blackmailing the honorable convocation due to details in the program that they were opposed to. It has to come to a point where we could look at a gathering as a whole without scrutinizing the parts or individuals that are involved. We are so caught up with names, labels and affiliations, which present an obstacle to true unity that is very possibly keeping us in exile to endure the brunt of ikvesa d’moshicha in which each passing day is worse than the one that preceded it. It has to reach a point where we go about our daily work under the banner of Torah and the Aibershter each in their own unique way as they have received from their parents and grand-parents spanning generations. Individuality is not a contradiction to unity as long as we accept each other despite the nuanced varied approaches in our specific minhagim.
So, as inspiring a gathering as the Siyum was it really obligates us to perpetuate the same unity and camaraderie that we felt during the 5 or 6 hours that we were together on that evening throughout the rest of the year and not to limit it to a specific point in time. We see the pain that our father Yaakov had to endure as a result of the Shevatims alienation of Yosef and how ultimately they came to realize their mistake. Every parent knows how deep the pain runs to see divisiveness amongst his or her own children enough that we should begin to feel for Hashem in the way that we view each other.
There is no doubt that more people are learning the Daf now than during the 12th cycle. After reading this piece we should attempt to view our daily obligation of learning the prescribed Daf in a manner that unites us rather than divides us. My father, the Publisher and managing editor of this newspaper, was pondering the irony of the name of the Stadium in which this siyum was held. He relayed to me that the whole time he could not lose sight of the gargantuan sign overhead which read, “MetLife Stadium.” After seeing this enough times he began searching for meaning in a seeming contradiction in terms. The word Met or Mes in Hebrew means death and the end of the word Life, of course, is the opposite of death. What then is the meaning in the word MetLife as it pertains to the Sium Hashas?
The thought then occurred to me that the answer lies in an explicit Gemara. The Gemara says regarding Torah, “Im zachah na’asis lo sam haChaim v’im lo zachah na’asis lo sam maves.” The Gemara says that the same Torah which could lengthen a person’s life could shorten a person’s life. The difference between Torah as an elixir of life or death depends on our intentions towards learning in the first place. If we are looking to become united then it adds to our length and quality of life and if we are looking to exclude ourselves from the Klal even if our lives are not physically shortened as a result, that is not a life. Lets internalize these timeless lessons and this time merit to celebrate the 13th Siyum Hashas which is Gematria Echad in Yerushalaim Ir Hakodesh with Moshiach Tzidkeinu, the Avos, Imahos, our Bubbes and Zaides, Rebbes and Roshei Yeshiva altogether in the Chatzeir of the Beis Hamikdash.