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    Let’s Start Shas Together

    Celebrating the finishing of Shas by thousands of people is one of life’s greatest accomplishments! And, as we sat surrounded by 90,000 of our jubilant brothers and sisters, or glued to our live streams around the world, we were in a state of high excitement. Now, however, many of us are struggling with a personal angst. We dearly wished that we could be amongst the ranks of the misaymim but, to our chagrin, we just don’t feel that we are cut-out to tackle all of Shas. The specter of learning a collection of Mesechtos such as Eruvin, Yevamos, Krisos, and Niddah just seems too daunting. After all, in yeshiva we had difficulty getting through one Tosafos or maybe we never went to a formal yeshiva!

    I believe this was Rav Meir Shapiro’s, zt”l, zy”a, greatest gift to us when he introduced the global Daf HaYomi. He was assuring us that it is indeed within the grasp of every Jew to learn all of Shas. It is possible he based this on the Gemora in Niddah that teaches us that a fetus is taught the entirety of Torah in its mother’s womb. The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, zy”a, explains this is the reason why, at the end of the Hagadah shel Pesach, we ask tisha mi yodei’a, who knows what nine stands for? We answer, tisha yarchei leida, the nine months of gestation. The Chasam Sofer wonders why the nine months of gestation should be included among the other coveted explanations such as One is Hashem, two are the Luchos, and three are our Forefathers, etc. He answers that it is during those nine months that every Jew gets the ability and the potential to reacquire the entirety of Torah. So we must know we all have the power to learn Shas.

    Still, many say to themselves, “I don’t have the discipline to learn every day. I can’t sit five minutes without squirming.” The idea of doing it day after day for seven and a half years seems to be way beyond our capability. Rav Pam, zt”l zy”a, in his address at the siyum haShas encourages would-be starters that haba litaheir misayin oso, when we want to do something right, we will get the siyata d’Shmaya, Heavenly help to succeed. I’d like to humbly add that when calculating whether we are able to do something or not, we might correctly conclude that we simply can’t do it. We must realize however that we are not computing with all of the facts! We are not including the siyata d’Shmaya we will receive when we make up our minds to do the mitzvah. With this additional dose of siyata d’Shmaya, we will surely be able to reach this envious objective. I can tell you that I have watched several people without the benefit of a yeshiva education succeed in finishing all of Shas more than once.

    There are those who will argue that they have tried it and many times and they fell asleep during the shiur from the sheer exhaustion of a hard day’s work. Others have reported believing that the intricate shakla v’tarya, the tricky give and take of the Gemora was beyond their grasp. Firstly, it can happen that in the 2,711 blat of Shas, you might not understand fully 500 of them, so the first time around you will only grasp 2,211 blat. Still, what an awesome talmid chacham you will turn out to be anyway. Then, the next time around, you’ll comprehend most of the remaining 500 with your newly acquired Talmudic mind. Even if you miss a few hundred days over the course of the cycle, you will still be way ahead of most people in Talmudic erudition and you will mark off those dafim that you missed and give them extra attention the next time around. Furthermore, Rav Shimshon Pincus, zt”l, zy”a, informed us that for every blat we make an attempt to study, we will be allowed to master it in the Yeshiva shel Maalah. But, if we never even try to study Mesechtas Meila, for example, then we won’t be admitted into that celestial academy.

    Still, for others, a seven and a half year contract with Daf Yomi, seems overwhelming. There are vorts and weddings, PTA meetings and graduations, business commitments and family outings. We must know, as Harav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlit”a, reminds us, that anyway, every Jew needs to have a kevias itim, a fixed time for Torah study every day. Why not make it Daf Yomi? It used to be that, if you missed out on your regular Daf Yomi shiur, you were lost. This is not the case anymore. You can make it up by listening to Kol Halashon or Dial-a-Daf, or by watching a wide array of masters on TorahAnytime.com, or learning it yourself with the aid of ArtScroll, which is conveniently available both in English and Hebrew.

    Harav Yochanan Sofer, the Erlau Rebbe, revealed that Samael [spelled samech, mem, alef, lamed] the angel of death, is an acronym for siyum masechta ain laasos, the Angel of death wants to block us from making siyumim, for it is his nemesis. When Yaakov fought with Samael, the Torah tells us, “Vayar ki lo yachol lo – He [Samael] saw that he couldn’t prevail over him [Yaakov].” Thus, we have a tradition that Yaakov Avinu lo meis, Yaakov never fully died. This is because Yaakov was the ish tam yosheiv aholim, the perfect one sitting in the tent and learning Torah. The Torah is meigen u’matzlei, It shields and saves us. Rav Gifter, zt”l, zy”a, reminded us that Rav Meir Shapiro explained that the daily Daf is like a life saver. Rav Shapiro, with his masterful oratory, proclaimed that the Daf homiletically is a board that we can grab on to keep us afloat as we swim through the turbulent and tumultuous rapids of life. “Eitz chaim hi l’machazikim bah – A Tree of Life for those that grasp it.”

    Let me share with you an example of this from my own personal experience. Twenty-eight years ago, my oldest daughter ate a tainted piece of chopped meat that had E.coli. Because of this, she contracted a rare virus that temporarily shut down her kidneys and made her blood ‘sandy.’ As she lay in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, my first wife, a”h, and I stayed at the hospital around the clock for almost six weeks. The only time I left the hospital was when a car came at 9 p.m. to pick me up from Washington Heights to bring me to say the Daf in the Fourteenth Avenue Aguda to my large olam. At 11 p.m., another car would bring me back to the hospital where I arrived after midnight. This was a huge mesiras nefesh since I was always wiped out by the daily life-threatening tensions of our daughter’s condition. We always said that in the zchus, merit of the Daf Yomi she should get better. Boruch Hashem, after six weeks the virus left as if it never existed. A year later we made a seudas hodaah. I figured to myself that everyone likes a gematria, so I calculated the gematria of Chana Weiss, my daughter’s name. To my amazement, her name has a gematria of 155 [we spell Weiss with two vavs], the precise gematria of Daf HaYomi! The Daf helped to save our daughter’s life!

    Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, zy”a, 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 and rushing. This is especially true in today’s world of emails and texts, two family incomes and skyrocketing costs. If we want to succeed in having a daily regimen of learning, we need to create a hischaivus, a strong obligation that demands we attend to it every day. Only something like Daf Yomi will push us to learn Motzei Yom Kippur and Purim. The night of bedikas chometz and Erev Pesach only get 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 child or grandchild’s wedding.

    I remember learning the Daf in the emergency room of Maimonides Hospital as I stayed with a choleh. I cradled the Gemora on my lap as I gave a bottle to all six of our children. The Daf followed me as I flew on planes and when I went on vacation. The commitment of the Daf prodded our Zeideh’s to learn in the death camps, the DP camps, and in the woods of Siberia. The Medrash Talpios asks an intriguing question. What is the most “important” posuk in the Torah? One opinion is Shema Yisroel. 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, the perpetual daily offering) in the morning, and one in the afternoon.” This odd answer stresses the great importance of having 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. This is the way people from all walks of life conquer Bava Basra and Kesuvos. One page at a time! This is why 2,711 blat 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 literally become a beautiful part of your life that will illuminate your day and gain you the admiration of your family. It is a great gift of chinuch to give to the children and grandchildren. It is literally a “game changer!”

    There are those who feel the Daf goes so fast that they are not learning correctly. They argue that it’s better to learn slower and more thoroughly than to pursue the Gemora so rapidly and “superficially.” First of all, don’t be smarter than Rav Meir Shapiro and all the other hundreds of Gedolim and Gaonim who felt that this is a proper way to make a commitment to Shas. Secondly, you don’t have to grasp everything. Make your pen your friend and write down – even on the side of your Gemora – all your questions. With Hashem’s help, you’ll see your question next time around and many of them won’t be questions anymore. Your children will be thrilled to see your questions when they learn as well.

    Then there are those who feel that using an ArtScroll Gemora is cheating and that it’s a flagrant neglect of ameilus baTorah, toiling in learning. Firstly using an ArtScroll properly, with sometimes six pages on one amud, is certainly ameilus. Furthermore, just finding the time to sit and learn and keeping your eyes open and attentive is also ameilus in today’s world. As to cheating, I myself use ArtScroll (and in the past 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 Gemora on the Dais of an Aguda Convention. Afterwards, Rav Boruch Bochardt, zt”l, zy”a, came over to thank me. He told me that by using that Gemora publicly, I gave chizuk to other people, letting them know that it’s okay for them to do so as well.

    My good friend and talmid, Dr. Eli Purow, a busy gastroenterologist, told me a good line. He said after one Siyum HaShas, “I asked myself how many good seven and a half years do I have left?” This 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!

    Yet others will say, with a tinge of regret, that Daf Yomi is a great idea – but not now. I’m concentrating at this time on my shalom bais. To the contrary, the great Netzi”v used to say, “If you want to strengthen your marital harmony, open up a Gemora more often.” Then there are those who 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.” The Mishna in 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, maybe you’ll never get the chance.” “Ein v’atta ela loshon tshuva – The word “now” refers to change!” The Yetzer HaRa doesn’t tell smart people that Daf Yomi is not a good idea. He just says it’s not for now. Forewarned is forearmed: Grab a Berachos Gemora and start NOW!!

    Have you ever gone to an airport and seen long lines at check-in and at customs. Then all of a sudden you see an individual flanked by two uniformed airport personnel and they take this man through a special entrance and whisk him straight on to First Class. You hear people whispering he must be a VIP. All of us want to be such a VIP in the Afterlife for all eternity. The way to do so is to arrive with the “diplomatic pouch” of having finished Shas. As the Gemora teaches us, “Ashrei mi sheba l’kaan v’talmudo byado – Fortunate is he who comes here (to the Afterlife) with his Talmud in his hand!”

    We all want to enjoy the “good” life. 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 numerical value as Daf HaYomi. Let’s seize the good life and grab hold of our Berachos Gemora’s. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, zy”a, said by one of the siyumim, “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!