The first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av, culminating with the fast of Tisha b’Av, observed on the date when both Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) were destroyed, are the blackest days on the Jewish calendar. These are days of national mourning, when we contemplate the nearly 2,000-year-long galus and the physical and spiritual displacement of our nation.
Though festivities are inappropriate for these days, there is one avenue of joy that is permitted – joy associated with serving G-d, the joy of a mitzvah. In fact, the celebration of certain mitzvot overrides the sorrowful nature of the time and calls for a seudat mitzvah, a celebratory mitzvah meal during the course of which the mourning practices of these days are relaxed.
One such joyous occasion is participating in a siyum (the completion) of a tractate of the Talmud, which is a mitzvah as well as an intellectual feat worthy of celebration.
This also demonstrates, in a very practical way, how one Jew cares for another Jew. If my friend makes a simcha – he finishes a Gemara – I will participate as if I had finished the Gemara myself.
The Rebbe spoke of the need to shine a beacon of light into these days of darkness through participation in a siyum during each one of the nine days. The Rebbe asked his followers to share this joy with others, and as such encouraged public siyumim and even the broadcast of siyumim on the radio. Transmission over the radio – and today, the internet – multiplies the joy a thousand-fold by allowing for the participation of those far beyond the confines of the location where the siyum is held.
Though these days heralded an exile rife with persecution and spiritual estrangement, this has been for our ultimate good. Very soon, with the coming of Mashiach, we will understand that all the suffering was necessary in order for us to reach the ultimate good. At that time, these sorrowful days will be transformed into days of joy. Rejoicing at a siyum hastens the day when these days will be universally celebrated.
Our Sages have said that the primary reason for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was the lack of love and harmony between Jews. Sharing in the joy of another, the one who completed the tractate, is a demonstration of Jewish unity, which reverses the cause of our predicament and therefore brings it to an end.
The Rebbe also requested that the siyumim should continue through the 15th of Av, the holiday that celebrates the “upward rebound” from Tisha b’Av.
In today’s day and age, it is not difficult to find a siyum online and participate in what the Rebbe referred to many times as “tzubrechn di vent fun galus – breaking down the walls of galus.”