By Rav Aryeh
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
My siyum haShas responsibilities were both hard and easy. When I was asked by senior members of the siyum haShas committee to submit an article for the special commemorative journal to be distributed at the siyum, that was the easy part. However, when asked by the publishers of several periodicals and newspapers to submit some post siyum reflections or afterthoughts, that was quite hard.
In anticipation of my task ahead, I had coordinated with the point person for Agudah in charge with providing access to the world media professionals that were intrigued by the whole idea of the siyum haShas, the very talented Mrs. Leah Zeigelbaum. I received free access to all parts of the vast stadium grounds. My goal was, that after participating in several media interviews, I would circulate amongst the different sections to meet and greet and search for those great personal daf yomi stories that lay just below the surface. I did so, and with pen and paper in hand, I followed the game plan and initially thought I collected just the right mix of personal daf stories. Yet, after reading the avalanche of articles, interviews, thought pieces, and editorials on the siyum in the weeks following the grand siyum, finding something different, something inspiring, something not already covered by someone else, became extremely difficult.
After some weeks of reflection, I believe I found some new perspectives. I hope you will agree.
One young man shared with me the truly “unique” way that he and his group became active celebrants at the siyum, though not one of them learned even one daf of the daf yomi regimen in the last seven and a half years. His story goes as follows.
It started the night before the siyum at a teenage camp for “very active” boys, when one of the counselors challenged the 33 boys sitting around the campfire and anticipating the trip to N.J the next day to participate in the siyum haShas, and he asked them, “Can anyone come up with an idea, how we can go to the siyum and actually participate in the celebration and not just go as observers?”
When none of the boys could come up with a suggestion, the creative young counselor came up with one of his own. He shared with them the Chazal that is found in many places in Shas, that the difference between Torah with chesed and Torah without chesed, is that the Torah with chesed has “kiyum,” which means the zechus of the Torah with chesed is everlasting.
He suggested that while at least this time around they couldn’t contribute to the learning of the Torah as the many who were being mesayeim did, they could do acts of chesed that night that would complement the Torah learned and would give it kiyum. If they did that, they would be able to celebrate as participants and not just as observers.
The group, enthused and energized by this suggestion, began to discuss, debate, and discover how much chesed they could do before, after, and during the siyum that would grant them “participatory celebrant status” so they could rejoice together with the mesaymim. One of the creative young men suggested that they should perform 2,711 acts of chesed on the evening of the siyum, which corresponds to one act of chesed for every daf, and then they would in a real sense make a “hadran” upon their completion.
With everyone on board, the counselor was given the job of scorekeeping and the remainder of the night was spent discussing what acts of chesed they could do in a few hours to reach their goal. The next day, as soon as they arrived at the stadium, these 33 young “meseimei chesed” hit the ground running. They helped older people make the climb up the stairs, dried many seats from the rain that fell on them, and said “thank you” again and again to the many non-Jewish stadium personnel and security people.
With the counselor keeping close watch on the numbers of chesed acts pouring in and keeping an exact score, it was just moments before the 90,000 strong crowd stood on their feet in jubilation and simcha at the siyum itself, the counselor called out “Mazel tov, we hit 2,711 acts of chesed,” and the spontaneous joy that erupted from these 33 young “meseimim” was beyond description. Only the malachim themselves know if in Shamayim there was greater simcha and pride from the many who were mesayeim Shas that night, or from those 33 young men who performed 2,711 acts of chesed to give the Torah of Klal Yisrael a sense of permanence.
I remember hearing from Harav Gedalya Shor, zt’l, many years ago (see sefer Meged Givos Olam, page 64) a thought that underscores this very point. In pre war Europe there were many gaonim, particularly in Warsaw. There was however one person referred to as the “gaon shebegaonim” (genius of geniuses). His name was Harav Menachem Ziemba, Hy’d, who was martyred in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi onslaught of the ghetto.
His surviving talmidim related that he was a prolific writer and had written chiddushim on all of Shas, Bavli, and Yerushalmi. Yet all his writings were lost in the flames of the Warsaw ghetto, except for two very small sefarim. One was called Tozaos Chaim and the other Zera Avraham.
Rav Shor explained the possible reasons why only these two sefarim survived the “Kivshan Haeish.” One was written in memory of a young man who died without any children, and the other for a relative who helped him financially when he was first getting married, so he could continue to learn. Since these two sefarim were written with chesed, the power of Torah combined with chesed was strong enough to withstand the fires of the Churban.
Who knows how much these 2,711 acts of chesed by these 33 young men served to reinforce the thousands who had completed their regimen of 2,711 dapim of Gemara, and will serve to protect Klal Yisrael in these frightening times that we live in.
Then there was a group of six older men, all friends and neighbors who swam together through the yam haTalmud in three cycles of daf yomi, and as they were about to conclude together their third cycle, one of the chaburah was stricken with a terrible illness that has robbed his body of all normal function and ability. And while he couldn’t be at the siyum to celebrate with them together, as he had done in the last two siyumim, the five remaining members of the chaburah brought along his eye glasses, yarmulke, and bookmark that he used for decades to keep his place of the days daf, and his Gemara Niddah that he had used to learn the daf, but was unable to finish, and they placed these personal items on the chair that their friend had reserved for the siyum right next to his five chavrusos. The Gemara was opened to daf yud alef, the daf learned on the morning that ended with his being stricken just mere hours after learning that daf with his decades-long chavrusos.
I was thinking after hearing this heart-rending story that while for everyone else the heavy rains earlier in the day had completely stopped, if only we would have the ability to see, no doubt on that one chair holding the glasses, yarmulka, bookmark, and Gemara of that unfortunate Yid, rain coming from the tears of the malachei hashareis were surely pouring down in buckets.
I only wish that had the distinguished Chancellor of J.T.S., Arnold Eisen, witnessed these stories and the thousands of other similar stories at the stadium that night, instead of his dream that he described in his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal after the siyum, that his Conservative movement should also adopt a form of daf yomi “study, with a collection of art, music, drama, poetry, politics, and law,” etc., he would have understood how deeply imbedded in the neshomos of Klal Yisrael is their connection to Torah and chesed and the spiritual connection to the next world that comes along with it. There is no other form of daily regimen that could ever create that unbreakable bond and connection with a Yid and his daf.
On a personal note, like everyone else that was planning on participating in the siyum, there was a great deal of excitement in the days and weeks before the grand event, but I also had a deep sense of loss at the same time. Though close to 100,000 fellow Yidden filled every inch of the colossal stadium, there was one person who was glaringly missing and that was my late father, Rav Avraham Ginzberg, zt’l, who was about to be mesayeim Shas through daf yomi either the seventh or eighth time, but was called to receive his eternal reward just months before the siyum.
It was a few months shy of my 18th birthday, and I had returned home from spending 16 months learning in a yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. It was before the summer, more than two months until I was to begin learning in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Queens that coming Elul. Planning on taking some summer courses, the question was what seder limud should I adopt for the next two months. About one week after I returned, the siyum haShas of daf yomi was to be held in Manhattan. My father as an avid and committed daf yomi learner; he had planned on participating and he invited me along.
I knew nothing about daf yomi at the time, but was thoroughly inspired by seeing all of the zikinei hador in attendance who were praising the daf yomi with such glowing descriptions. I decided to give it a shot and the next day I joined my father at his regular daf yomi seder that began at 5:00 a.m.. That summer we completed Berachos together. I still remember the great joy and sense of accomplishment that I had at that time.
Returning to the yeshiva schedule, daf yomi became something that I committed to do in the off hours. I don’t recall actually learning again daf yomi with my father, even though this happened more than 35 years ago. However, we had a shared kinship with the daf and in almost every weekly conversation, he would either ask if I did the daf yet, or share an insight in a Rashi or Tosfos from that day’s daf. The daf was his life and through that we connected and I truly felt the loss even greater at that event.
My father’s longtime daf yomi chavrusa for over 30 years was going to participate in the siyum and would have him in mind as well. From my vantage point on the dais, I tried hard to locate that chavrusa, Rabbi William Wealcatch, to tell him that we both tonight share the sense of loss, his longtime daf chavrusa, and my daf connection with my father, but I just could not locate him amongst the vast crowd.
However I received great nechamah and chizuk from the heartfelt words spoken by the chairman of the event, a dear friend, Reb Eli Kleinman, in his remarks that opened the evening’s program.
He related a story about his grandfather, Rav Elimelech Fishman, zt’l, who was the gabbai of the world famous Tzadik Reb Shayaleh Keresztirer, zt’l, that took place in his small shtetl in Hungary in 1944. As the winds of war were already howling through everyone’s hearts and minds, he called over his son and grandson and said to them “We know terrible things are coming and the future of all Yidden are bleak, but let us sit down together and learn a blatt of Gemara, for the Gemara (Bava Metzia) teaches us that when three generations of Yidden learn together, no matter what the future has in store for us, Torah will not be destroyed. The bond of Torah of three generations learning together will have a “kiyum” for eternity.
When I heard these powerful words, I remembered those early morning daf yomi learning sessions that we learned together more than 35 years ago, and I thought of the many mishmar nights that my father spent reviewing the Gemara with his grandson (my son) Moshe that he had learned that day in yeshiva. And I took great comfort that while I will no longer pick up the phone and hear that familiar refrain, “Did you learn the daf yet today, what a beautiful Gemara,” I can take comfort knowing that the promise of Chazal that when three generations of Yidden learn Torah together that it will remain with them for generations to come. And that alone would the very legacy that my father strove for his entire life.
May all Yidden the world over indeed be zocheh to the greatest berachah anyone can ever hope for and that is that “Lo yamushu mipicha umipi zaracha umipi zera zaracha mei’ata ve’ad olam.”