Reflections on the Daf

There are two motives that I have for deciding to write a weekly column of reflections on Daf Yomi.

They are both based on stories; one, a legendary one, and the other, a treasured recollection that my grandfather a”h shared with me many years ago.

The legendary story is attributed to various chassidishe rebbeim (Hasidic rabbis). There was once a young man who met the Rebbe but behaved in a very haughty fashion. It seems he was the worst of characters, the typical baal gaava, haughty individual . The Rebbe entered into a conversation with him that deteriorated more and more into arrogance. Finally, the Rebbe asked him in Yiddish if he had learned much Torah. The young man responded, “Ich habe durchgegangen ganz Shas, I went through all of Shas!” The Rebbe was shocked by the degree of gaava (haughtiness)  in this young fellow, and he retorted, “Yuh. Uber hatte Shas dich durchgegangen, did Shas go through you?!”

As more and more people engage in the daily study of ganz Shas, it is important that Shas “go through” them and have an influence upon their character, behavior and moral fiber.

The other story was told to me by my paternal grandfather, Reb Chaim Yitzchok Weinreb a”h. He was a talmid, a student, of the great Berzhaner Rav, Rav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron zt”l (the grandfather of the famous Maggid of Yerushalayim, who was named after him).

My zaide learned for several years under the Berzhaner Rav and told me many stories about his derech halimud, his teaching style. One of the interesting demands he made of all his students was that they must extract a practical lesson from every page of Gemara (Talmud) that they studied, something they would use in their daily lives. I spent many hours learning with my grandfather, and before we turned each page, he invariably would say to me, “Nu, voss hast du gelernt in der blatt vos kenn dir machen a besserer mensch, what did you learn on the page that can make you a better person?”

So here goes: There is a Tosafos on daf daled amud bais (4b) which comments on the Gemara’s statement that although it is very important to connect geula (redemption) to tefila (prayer), we interpose the beracha (blessing) of “Hashkiveinu” at Maariv (the evening prayer) between the beracha of “Ga’al Yisrael” and the Shemona Esreh. The Gemara explains that Hashkiveinu is a geulah arichta—a kind of extension to ga’al Yisrael. Tosafos asks about the fact that it was their custom, and the custom for many of us, to recite a long list of pesukim (verses) and a new beracha of “yiru eineinu,” making for an even longer interruption between geula and tefila.

Tosafos answer is not my point here. Rather, the reason that Tosafos gives for why this custom was introduced. Tosafos says that the custom originated as a way to accommodate people who came late for shul, and would have to go home alone in the dark. By introducing these pesukim, the davening was slowed down sufficiently so that everyone finished at the same time and could escort each other home.

This important lesson of considerate behavior even for a latecomer to shul is reinforced by the statement of Aba Binyamin on daf heh amud bais (5b). Condensing the statement a bit, it reads: “If two people enter a shul, and one finishes before the other and does not wait for him and leaves him alone in the shul, that person’s prayer is thrown back in his face.”

This is a powerful lesson for all of us, one which we can put into practice in so many ways. One should not get so self-congratulatory about the fact that he attends shul and davens bekavana, with concentration, to the point that he becomes inconsiderate of his companions in the shul. For tefilos to be heard, they must be accompanied by proper behavior bein adam lechaveiro, between man his fellow.