Wednesday, March 02, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, when the Siyum Hashas of the Daf Yomi occupies center stage in our community and in religious Jewish homes, is a most fitting time to examine our relationship with Shas, in general, and Talmidei Chachomim, in particular.

For everyone to gather and celebrate the major accomplishment of having completed Shas is without question a wonderful thing. The question is, what does it ultimately accomplish?

“Ah Shas Yid” was once one of the greatest compliments you could pay a Jew; a man would walk into the shul and someone would say “Ehr iz a shas yid,” and everyone would exclaim “Aahhh!” and stand up in respect.

Once upon a time, a Jew’s goal was to finish and know Shas. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this grand siyum would be if people would resolve to actually sit down and make friends with the Gemorah.

It is very nice that tens of thousands of people thronged together to join in the celebration of a major accomplishment. It is tremendous that with each passing siyum the number of attendees grow larger and larger, attracting successively more people. But it seems as if perhaps too much attention is placed only on the number of people who attended the siyumim, instead of on how many people actually rise early and go to bed late in order to achieve this milestone. The excitement of the climax should not overshadow the story of the struggle to get there.

The emphasis ought to be on the day-to-day heroes of the Daf Yomi, the people who labored for seven and a half long years to reach this milestone. Over that period of time, through times of happiness and sadness; deep cold and oppressive heat; ups and downs; good days and bad days; births and rch”l deaths, engagements and weddings; through every challenge that life throws at us, these people persevered and found a way to do the Daf.

The massive gatherings are in essence a tribute to the Mesaymim. Yes, the magnitude of the turnout is evidence of how far we have come as a people and as individuals since the decimation of our brethren during the Holocaust, and that is something to take pride in. But it doesn’t mean we should forget what the gathering, at its core, is really all about.

People go to a wedding and meet old friends and family members they haven’t seen in a while. They catch up on old news and enjoy a good meal and in the process forget what the celebration is all about. They get so wrapped up in the outer trimmings that they forget that celebrating a Jewish marriage is akin to celebrating the rebuilding of a part of the churvos Yerushalayim.

A new Jewish couple brings promise into the world; they carry the potential for rebirth and renewal of the Jewish people—another link in the glorious chain linking back to Yerushalayim of yore. They embody the hope and dream that our nation’s future will continue through them and their offspring. Sharing this dream are hundreds of family members and friends traveling from near and far to join in the festivities.

The Siyum Hashas commemorates the same promise and it can surely be said that one who attends it and joins in the celebration is regarded as having taken a role in the rebuilding of the ruins of Yerushalayim. It is through the study of Torah and support of Torah that Yerushalayim will be rebuilt, speedily in our days.

But weddings and bar-mitzvahs and other simchos do not always bring out sunshine and happiness in others. People complain about the many simcha obligations they have. “Don’t tell me there’s another bar mitzvah we have to go to,” they groan. “Why do people have to make such a large affair for their son’s Bar Mitzvah, what’s the big deal, why do they need me there?”

The big deal is that we celebrate yet another Jew accepting upon himself the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos. The big deal is that despite all the sufferings and persecutions of Golus, we are still here. We are still the nation of Hashem, we are still the Am Hanivchar, and we still remain loyal to the Torah and its precepts.

Another Jewish boy is beginning life of a Bar Chiyuvah, the ranks of the Torah people are growing and thus we celebrate.

All too often the point of the simcha gets lost in the frivolity of the occasion or shunted aside by our preoccupation with life’s problems. We forget what the celebration is for and we’d rather stay home.

We fail to realize the momentousness of a Jewish child’s entrance into the covenant of his forefathers. We don’t see that every child has the potential for greatness and thus don’t appreciate the importance of the celebration.

A siyum as well is as much a celebration of the future as it is of the past. The siyum says, “I have surmounted multiple obstacles and succeeded in completing something significant.” But it also says to those who have not yet made the siyum that they can undoubtedly do so. It celebrates the potential for greatness in everyone.

A siyum is a time for a beginning. Perhaps that is the reason why it has become de rigueur for boys to make a siyum at their Bar Mitzvah celebrations. It is not only to guarantee that the meal is a Seudas Mitzva, but also as a further indication that the young man is off to a good start.

When we see so many people gathering we should draw inspiration for the potential of Am Yisroel and each one of us. We should all be motivated to undertake additional learning for ourselves. We should be convinced that it is possible to squeeze more time into the day for more constructive pursuits.

Should everyone learn Daf Yomi? Perhaps not; perhaps some of us should take upon ourselves to learn a masechtah b’iyun, one and then another and then another until we complete the study of the entire Shas in depth. Is it a realistic goal? It is as realistic as the goal of completing Shas with the Daf-a-day program.

Perhaps we should undertake to gain a more complete and well rounded knowledge of Halacha so that we could be yet better Shomrei Torah Umitzvos, ereim Ushlaimim.

No matter which path it is upon which we embark, no one has grounds to say that he can not learn Shas. No one can say that he can’t learn a daf a day. No one can say that it is an insurmountable challenge.

Oftentimes we aspire to study or accomplish something and over time, as we continue pursuing the goal, it appears to slip further and further from our grasp. Those of us who are weaker begin slackening off and delude ourselves into thinking that perhaps the goal is indeed unattainable. We become defeatist and begin giving up.

The initial inspiration wears off and if we don’t have people around us supporting us and encouraging us forward, we can fail.

So often we can be so close to the summit and we slip back because we get discouraged by the obstacles and ridges on the path to the crest. The Siyum Hashas is our cheering squad. The Siyum Hashas beckons us onward, proclaiming to us for the next seven and a half years that we can do it.

Next time we are at the end of our line and want to quit and give up, we should think of all the people at the various international arenas who gathered to celebrate all those who persevered through every difficulty, and reached the finish line.

Think about the multitudes who gathered to cheer on the people who quietly pursue excellence and accomplishment. So many triumphed over everything thrown in their path. So can we. So many set themselves a goal and were able to reach it. So can we. So many were able to master a daf a day and much more. So can we all.

At the very minimum, we can set a goal and set out on a path to reach it. The siyum marks a chance for a new beginning. Let us at least make the attempt. It’s never too late to make a new beginning. We’re never too old for a new start.

Did you ever notice how a snow storm gets underway? It starts as a few little flakes fluttering down to the ground. They don’t stick at first. Then more and more flakes hurl downward. It appears to be a futile exercise. The flakes reach their destination on the ground and melt, disappearing without a trace.

But if the flakes persist and continue falling to the ground, eventually they increase in size and amount; the wind kicks in and starts blowing the flakes about. After a while, the flakes start sticking. And then before you know it snow starts piling up, millions of flakes converge and pile on each other. Depending on the severity of the storm, millimeters turn to an inch and then 2 inches, and then 3 and 4 and 5 and before you know it, you are snowed in.

The snow is everywhere, piling up on the streets, houses, cars, gardens, tree limbs and everything in its path.

So it is with Torah. In the beginning it may be difficult. In the beginning we may feel as if we are wasting our time. We may feel as if nothing sticks. We may ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Why am I going to sleep so late over this? It’s a waste of time and effort.”

Don’t pay attention to the Atzas Hayeitzer. Keep at it, one blatt and then another and another. They will pile up and before long you will begin noticing their effect. Stick to it. Keep at it. The learning will inject you with a new spirit and cover all the cobwebs in the recesses of your soul. Torah does that. It improves and enhances our lives. One blatt at a time. One Halacha at a time. One sugya at a time.

Im lo achshav aimosai!


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