Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains that earth is called “aretz” since at its root is the word “ratz,” to run. He elaborates that from cradle to grave all of us are running. This is especially true in today’s world of e-mails and texts, two-income homes, and skyrocketing costs. If we want to succeed in having a daily regimen of learning, we need to create a his’chaivus, a strong obligation, that demands we attend to it daily.
Only something like Daf Yomi will push us to learn Motzei Yom Kippur and Purim. The night of bedikas chametz and Erev Pesach only get Torah-study attention from those who can’t afford to fall behind on their daf. The Daf Yomi locomotive insists that we don’t get off the train even when we have a baby or a grandchild’s wedding.
I remember learning the daf in the emergency room of Maimonides Hospital as I stayed with a choleh. The daf followed me as I flew on planes and when I went on vacation.
The Medrash Talpios asks an intriguing question: What’s the most “important” pasuk in the Torah? One opinion is “Shema Yisrael.” Another answer is “v’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mocha.” The third suggestion is perplexing: “Es hakeves ha’echad taseh b’boker, v’es hakeves hasheini taseh bein ha’arbaim – One sheep [of the korban tamid] in the morning and one in the afternoon.”
This odd answer stresses the importance of regularity and consistency. Doing something with an unfailing routine like the tamid – which was offered twice a day every single day of the year – is the secret of Daf Yomi. That’s how people from all walks of life conquer Bava Basra and Kesuvos. One page at a time! That’s why 2,711 blatt is not so overwhelming.
And here’s the good news: It’s only difficult in the beginning. Once Daf Yomi becomes a part of your routine, it will become as necessary as eating and sleeping. It will become a beautiful part of your life and gain you the admiration of your family. It’s a great gift of chinuch to give your children and grandchildren. It’s literally a game changer!
Some think the daf goes so fast that they are not learning correctly. They argue that it’s better to learn slower and more thoroughly. First of all, don’t be smarter than Rav Meir Shapiro and all the other hundreds of gedolim and gaonim who felt that Daf Yomi is a proper way to make a commitment to Shas.
Second, you don’t have to grasp everything. Make your pen your friend and write down – even on the side of your Gemara – all your questions. With Hashem’s help, you’ll see your questions next time around and many of them won’t be questions anymore. Your children will also be thrilled to see your questions when they learn.
Others refrain from doing Daf Yomi because they’ll have to use an ArtScroll Gemara, which they think is cheating and a flagrant neglect of ameilus baTorah, toiling in learning. But they’re mistaken. Using an ArtScroll properly, which sometimes has six pages of translation and commentary for one amud, is certainly ameilus. Furthermore, just finding the time to learn and staying attentive is ameilus in today’s world.
As to cheating, I myself use ArtScroll (and in the past I used Soncino) and have finished Shas a few times! So, if it’s cheating, you’re in good company. I remember once learning from an English Gemara on the dais of an Agudah Convention. Afterwards, Rav Boruch Bochardt, zt”l, came over to thank me. He told me that by using that Gemara publicly, I gave chizuk to other people, letting them know that it’s okay for them to use an ArtScroll.
My good friend and talmid, Dr. Eli Purow, a busy gastroenterologist, said to me after one Siyum HaShas, “I asked myself: How many good seven and a half years do I have left?” This question prompted him to start and finish Shas. We all need to galvanize ourselves with this haunting question. How many good seven and a half years do I have left?!
Some say, with a tinge of regret, “Daf Yomi is a great idea – but I can’t do it now. Right now I’m concentrating on my shalom bayis.” This attitude is mistaken. To the contrary, the great Netziv used to say, “If you want to strengthen your marital harmony, open up a Gemara more often.”
Some say, “I certainly plan to do it, but not now. I’m too busy at work,” or “I’m wrapped up with my children. I’ll start when I retire or when the kids are away in yeshiva.” Pirkei Avos warns us about this attitude. “Al tomar l’k’she’efna eshne shema lo tipaneh – Don’t say when I get a chance I will turn to it since maybe you’ll never get the chance.”
The yetzer hara doesn’t tell smart people Daf Yomi isn’t a good idea. He just says it’s not for now. Forewarned is forearmed. Grab a Berachos Gemara and start now! “Ein v’atta ela loshon teshuvah – The word ‘now’ means change!”
Have you ever gone to an airport and seen long lines at the check-in counter? Then all of a sudden you see an individual flanked by two uniformed airport personnel taking a man through a special entrance and whisking him straight on to first class. You hear people whispering, “He must be a VIP.”
All of us want to be a VIP in the afterlife, and the way to do that is to arrive with the “diplomatic pouch” of having finished Shas. As the Gemara teaches us, “Ashrei mi sheba l’kaan v’talmudo byado – Fortunate is he who comes [to the Afterlife] with his Talmud in his hand!”
We are taught, “Ein tov ela Torah – The only real good is Torah,” as it says, “Ki lekach tov nasati lachem; Torasi al tazovu – I [Hashem] have given you a good merchandise; do not forsake my Torah.” The gematria of “lekach tov” is 155, the same gematria as “Daf HaYomi.”
So let us seize the good life and grab hold of our Berachos Gemaras. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, said at a Siyum HaShas, “Hamaschil b’mitzva omrim lo ligmor – One who starts a mitzvah, Hashem says that he should be able to finish it.” May we all start Shas and live to finish it with gezunt many, many times!