I undertook learning Daf Yomi around March 2005. I am regarded as having a pretty good memory and focus on trying to retain as much as I can of anything I learn – whether it’s limudei kodesh, the American Civil War, or baseball statistics.
But I found that as I was getting into Daf Yomi learning, I just could not retain everything. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Each day I reviewed everything I had learned previously. When I was on daf 5, for example, I reviewed dapim 2-4. When I was on daf 12, I reviewed dapim 2-11.
But there came a point at which I was making myself crazy. I seem to recall that it was somewhere around daf 35 – when I was trying to review dapim 2-34 – that I realized that my task was impossible. Even if I devoted all 24 hours of the day to my mission, even a nut like me couldn’t manage to review everything. It was just going too fast.
So I paused and asked myself, “What’s the point? Maybe I should learn more modestly b’iyun.” Ultimately, though, I came up with three reasons why it was important to continue with Daf Yomi – even though I would forget material along the way:
- Daf Yomi is as international as the weekly parshah. It binds frum Yiddin all over the world. There is something so special about that, in and of itself, and it highlights the fact that in this crazy world there is only one people that devotes such a primacy to learning.
Such a kiddush Hashem hopefully neutralizes the impression people get from the Harvey Weinsteins, Jeffrey Epsteins, Bernie Madoffs, Adam Schiffs, and Jerry Nadlers of this world. I know when I introduce Daf Yomi to non-Jews, they are blown away. None of them have met Jews with such devotion to their religion, which far exceeds their devotion to Christianity.
- As a shtella rav, I felt a sense of mission: I was bringing Daf Yomi to Orange County, CA, a community of 100,000 mostly lost Jews who had never heard of it. It attracted a few more guys to minyan every morning. After Shacharit – not before – I taught a daily Daf Yomi shiur that came along with breakfast.
Four out-of-town guys who occasionally traveled to my area for business or family reasons also started attending when in town. In fact, they bonded with me so tightly that when my sanity impelled my wife and me to leave that place and start my own Young Israel congregation, those four guys were among the co-founders and prime donors. Go figure.
- I have come to summarize the difference between Orthodoxy and the apostasy of Reform, Conservative, Open Orthodox, and Reconstructionism in this one sentence: “They don’t know what they don’t know; we Orthodox do know what we don’t know.”
Daf Yomi did that for me. Having accepted somewhere around daf 35 in April 2005 that I could not retain everything, I came to see and appreciate a deeper world of Torah. Let me explain with an example:
Like many yeshiva boys, I had learned a Yevamot sugya here and there over the years, and I obviously knew the basic halachos of yibum. But, gevalt, I had absolutely no idea how complex yevamah cases could get until I started learning Mesechet Yevamot. There were Daf Yomi days that I just got completely overwhelmed. I truly began to appreciate how much I don’t know. And bearing in mind this realization is what makes us different from apostate movements.
We ask sh’ailot when treading tricky waters. We know how much we don’t know. Others don’t – or at least pretend not to. Open Orthodox authorities introduce “ground-breaking innovations” like marrying two men to each other as if they are masters of all of Torah. Daf Yomi instills humility within you.
And then there is this: I am sitting alone one day, minding my own busines, in Coffee Bean (a regional chain akin to Starbucks, found mostly on the American West Coast). Into the store walks a striking young lady in her 30s and says loudly across the room with a huge smile, “I love you! I have been looking and waiting for you all my life!”
Most everyone in the store, including me, turns around to see whom she is greeting so warmly. Meanwhile, she keeps walking towards my general direction. And then she asks whether she can sit down at my table with me. She was talking to me!
It turns out that she is a chozeret b’teshuvah visiting her mother and stopped at a Coffee Bean (where everything is under hashgacha) to buy some sandwiches before continuing on to her mother’s non-kosher home. Since this is Southern California, many of us have “vanity license plates.” The license plate I bought my wife was “REBITZN” and I bought “DAFYOMI” for myself. This young chozeret b’teshuvah couldn’t believe her eyes – a “DAFYOMI” license plate in a parking lot in Irvine! She figured it was mine because I was the only person inside with a yarmulke.
So, single guys, a DAFYOMI license plate can be a great way to pick up a girl who is frum and values a guy who learns!