Daf Yomi: The Dream of a Lifetime

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02 Aug 2012

Rabbi Meir Shapira, originator of the Daf Yomi concept, would be kvelling. What started as a promising idea during the first General Assembly of Agudath Yisrael in Lublin, Poland, 1923, has become a worldwide phenomenon, engaging hundreds of thousands of Jews in daily Torah learning. Over a seven and a half year cycle, participants complete the entire Talmud, page by page, along with their fellow Jews in Israel, South Africa, Argentina, and elsewhere around the globe. Now that the 12th cycle has been completed, what could be more satisfying than celebrating this milestone, with over 90,000 Jews from around the country in Metlife Stadium?

In his remarks on that historic day in 1923, Rabbi Shapira hoped his proposal would impact, not only the Torah learning of Jewish individuals, but the achdut (unity) that would stem from this simultaneous learning experience.

“How great it is! A Jew travels by boat and takes a tractate of Berachot  in his arm. He travels for 15 days from Eretz Israel to America, and each day towards evening he opens the Gemara and studies the daf. When he arrives in America, he enters a Beit Midrash in New York and finds Jews studying the very same page that he studied that day, which allows him to happily join their study group. He discusses matters with them and they answer his questions and the Name of Heaven is glorified and sanctified. Another Jew leaves the United States and travels to Brazil. He returns to the Beit Midrash and finds people immersed in the very page that he studied that day. Can there be a greater unity of hearts than this?”

What’s amazing about the worldwide daf yomi shiur (class) is that anyone can join and reap the rewards.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, our rabbi in the bungalow colony where my family and I live during the summer months, is a passionate advocate of the daf yomi. As Rav of the Agudas Yisrael of Staten Island, a noted lecturer, and author of five books, his inspiring voice has motivated many to be better. This summer, his goal has been clear. Each Shabbat afternoon, when he shares his Torah thoughts with the community, Rabbi Weiss encourages his listeners to attend the Siyum Hashas (the completion of the six orders of the Talmud) and make the commitment to this daily dose of Torah learning. He pushes his daf yomi agenda with remarkable stories of commitment and reward, and I know that he’s already convinced at least one person, and probably many more, to attend that monumental gathering.

Twenty two years ago, when Rabbi Weiss’s daughter Chani was six years old, she ate tainted chopped meat, contracted a virus, and was admitted to the Intensive Care unit at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. The doctors put her on temporary dialysis and provided her with a blood transfusion. The rabbi and his wife stayed with Chani around the clock. The only time Rabbi Weiss left his daughter was when he gave the daf yomi shiur in Boro Park. Despite his exhaustion and worry, he would sit in the ICU, prepare the daf, and make the trip. After five and a half weeks, the virus left her body.

“We would always say that in the great zechus (reward) of the daf hayomi she would get better,” remembers Rabbi Weiss. “A year later we made a seudas hodaah (festive meal to give thanks to G-d) and I shared this amazing gematria (system of assigning numerical value to words): the name Chana Weiss is exactly the same numerical value as the words daf hayomi. That is the reward in a nutshell for bringing daf hayomi in your life. It’s the best health insurance for oneself and one’s loved ones.”

Not everyone has an amazing story. Luckily, Rabbi Weiss has plenty to share.

He had a congregant who decided, in his mid fifties, to take the plunge and make a commitment to the daf yomi. He came for several years and then tragically contracted cancer and passed away. After his passing, this man’s family wrote Rabbi Weiss a letter expressing “that they’re so grateful that their father went to heaven with over a thousand blatt (both sides a of Talmud page) in his bank account.”

Rabbi Weiss maintains that “they knew that this would significantly upgrade his eternal future. The time spent going to a daily daf yomi is the very best kind of investment that one can make.”

There’s no doubt that when a person makes the time to learn a little Torah, he feels accomplished. But what about when the Torah makes the time for us? Rabbi Weiss told a final story that was unbelievably inspiring.

He recalled the story of a student whose stomach suddenly turned inside out and was taken in for emergency surgery. The operation took place on a Thursday night and when Rabbi Weiss came to visit him, the man insisted he would see Rabbi Weiss at Sunday’s daf yomi lecture. Rabbi Weiss was certain that the man wasn’t thinking straight, after all he had just had intensive surgery. Sure enough, the man arrived Sunday morning, ready to learn the daf yomi.

“There’s a greater moral,” insists Rabbi Weiss. “His learning was probably why G-d gave him such a quick and miraculous recovery – because G-d helps those who use their time wisely.”

Although the Siyum was hailed as a do-not-miss event, my husband didn’t consider attending at first.  He hadn’t been involved in the daily daf yomi shiur and figured that the event didn’t pertain to him.  But over the course of the first few weeks of the summer, after listening to Rabbi Weiss’ talks, he decided that he wanted to be part of this incredible moment in Jewish life.

He is thrilled that he went.  The Siyum Hashas was even better than he expected and the feeling of achdut, togetherness, that he felt learning and praying with the nearly 100,000 Jews sitting as one overwhelmed him with joy.  “It was an awesome sight and an awesome experience being a part of such a tremendous unified Jewish voice,” my husband explained. “It was really special.”

What better feedback could there be for Rabbi Meir Shapira and his dream of a universal daf?

Rabbi Moshe Elefant–maggid shiur of the largest daf yomi shiur in the world–gears up to start all over again. Hear his shiurim at oudaf.org and a behind-the-scenes interview with Stephen Savitsky here.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.