Neither the threat of rain nor heavy traffic prevented the huge throng of enthusiastic participants from attending the 12th Siyum HaShas last Wednesday, August 1 at MetLife Stadium. The event, which attracted more than 90,000 people, was in celebration of the conclusion of the seven-and-a-half year learning cycle of the Babylonian Talmud.
It was 36-year-old Rabbi Meir Shapiro who introduced the learning of Daf Yomi at the first Knessia Gedolah two weeks before Rosh Hashanah 5684 (1923). The Daf Yomi program requires one to learn one daf (a two-sided page) of the Talmud’s 2,711 pages each day.
Several speakers heaped accolades on Daf Yomi teachers and students alike, the former for preparing their sessions thoroughly and the latter for balancing their busy schedules to ensure early morning or late night learning. Wives of both teachers and students were commended for supporting their husbands’ dedication in this Torah-learning challenge.
Siyum HaShas Chairman Elly Kleinman spoke about Rabbi Shapiro’s vision – uniting Klal Yisrael through the learning of Torah. Rabbi Shapiro visualized a scenario whereby a traveler would enter a shul in another village and find fellow Jews studying the same Talmud page that he was learning. Rabbi Shapiro’s goal has become reality as thousands of Jews from diverse backgrounds and various locations throughout the world learn the same page of Gemara daily. This unity of purpose and achievement was on display at MetLife Stadium, as Jews from all walks of life joined together to partake in the Siyum HaShas.
Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz of Los Angeles, the evening’s MC, mentioned the August 1 date of this Torah-learning accomplishment – 76 years to the day after Adolf Hitler addressed tens of thousands of people at the 1936 Olympics. Rabbi Rechnitz spoke of the sweet revenge the Jewish people could feel on this night with their answer – learning Torah – to Hitler’s barbarism.
The Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, said that it is Torah that defines the Jewish people as a nation, adding that Torah is the only ingredient that can explain our existence throughout the generations while the world’s evil superpowers have perished over time.
Noted author Rabbi Yissocher Frand, the senior lecturer at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, urged Jews to formulate a plan that aims higher in their Torah study. He pointed to American-born Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, who despite the handicap of Parkinson’s disease, grew to become a gadol b’Yisrael. Rabbi Finkel never let his debilitating illness interfere with running the largest yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Frand said that this should be a reminder that it is never too hard to accomplish great things in life, and what seems to be out of one’s reach is in fact in the person’s grasp.
Rabbi Yitzchok Scheiner, rosh yeshiva of Kaminetz Yeshiva in Jerusalem, withstood his advanced age of 90 to make the trip. Impressed with Rabbi Frand’s moving words, Rabbi Scheiner substituted his planned message by taking up Rabbi Frand’s suggestion to devise a plan of action to aim higher in Torah study. Rabbi Scheiner’s two-fold plan was a call for those who have yet to learn Daf Yomi to begin now, and that everyone should learn the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer Shemiras Halashon. He also spoke briefly about his rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, whose recent passing is still fresh in our minds.
For his part, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, stressed the importance of chazarah, reviewing what one has learned. Rabbi Lau emphasized that one who learns 100 times cannot be compared to one who has learned 101 times.
Yechiel Eisenstadt, Shrage Goldschmidt and Moshe Hass spearheaded the groundbreaking Masmidei Hasiyum youth program, whereby thousands of elementary and junior high school boys have completed one-and-a-half million mishnayos in memory of the same number of children murdered in the Holocaust, and six million lines of Gemara in memory of the six million martyrs of the Holocaust.
According to a medrash the origins of holding a celebration upon the completion of studying a part of Torah derive from Shlomo Hamelech, who, upon receiving knowledge from God, made a party. As Shlomo only received the wisdom to be able to learn, the question arises as to how this could be the source for holding a celebratory siyum. After all, he hadn’t yet finished learning anything. We learn from Shlomo’s action that the celebration of a siyum takes place due to one’s receiving of newfound strength to begin learning again. Shlomo Hamelech made a party in celebration of having received new strength to continue learning.
In the beginning of Maseches Avodah Zarah, it is written that at the end of time God will judge all the nations. The Gemara further says that each nation will put forth a claim of how they helped the Jews by building certain structures and bridges. God will answer those claims by saying that they did not do so in order to better the lot of the Jews, but rather for their own benefit.
On this point, the Brisker Rav asks how the nations of the world, at the end of time, can try to deceive God. Based on the Rambam, in his introduction to Perush HaMishnayos, God will allow a man to build a palace because one day a righteous man will benefit from it. At the end of time the nations of the world will realize that all the structures that they built were in fact done so in order for the Jews to better serve God. So despite their attempt to claim credit for building the structures for the Jews’ sake, God will deny them this credit due to the aforementioned reason of having done so for themselves – not for the Jews.
I speculated with some participants that while MetLife Stadium’s builders might one day claim that it was built for the purpose of celebrating the 12th Siyum HaShas, bringing about a Kiddush Hashem, God’s answer will be that that was indeed the reason He allowed for the stadium’s construction – even though that was not the original intent of its builders.
Joining in the evening’s celebration was Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, the world’s largest yeshiva. Rabbi Kotler concluded this cycle of the Shas.
The final Kaddish was recited by Jay Schottenstein, son of Jerome Schottenstein, a”h, in whose memory the siyum was dedicated. Numerous students worldwide have become prolific in Talmud study through the Schottenstein family’s philanthropy to ArtScroll, an imprint of translations, books and commentaries on the Talmud, among other biblical and scholarly publications.
The 13th cycle of the Daf Yomi was dedicated through the generosity of renowned philanthropist Marcos Katz of Mexico. Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom in Jerusalem, led the new cycle of study, Maseches Berachos, the first tractate in Shas.
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