Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Siyum HaShas: Daf Yomi Redux

[It's been weeks since I last posted, the result of jet-lag, work load, graduate students and a bout with some bug I picked up somewhere in North America. In order to return to the Blogosphere, I thought it apt to start with Divre Torah.]

I"ve had a long, conflicted relationship with Daf Yomi. I started a number of times, finished Berachos (at least six times, though not with DY) and fell when the cycle reached Shabbos. There were two reasons for this. First, personal discipline. Second, and more importantly, the idea of surfing the 'Yam HaTalmud' didn't seem to suit me. After all, nine and a half years with Rov זצ"ל, leave an imprint for life. In good years, we used to learn between 14 and 20 blatt a year. In the Summers, which in my day were dedicated to Qodoshim, we considered ourselfs lucky if we finished 7 (10 was a max). The reason can be summed up with an anecdote which, even if not true, expresses the philosophy we learned in the Rov's class. The story goes as follows ( I heard it from a friend back in my YU days, a young ilui named R. Shlomo (Stevie) Rosenberg):

In 1960, after undergoing surgery for the removal of a cancerous growth, the Rov resumed his shiurim in Yeshiva. Under doctor's orders, he chose to teach Mishnayos Hallah. The idea was that the material wa less demanding and the shiur would be more for information (beqi'us) than for analysis (iyyun). Studying this relatively short massekhta took much of the year. When asked why this was, the Rov was reputed to have said: Beqi'us is fine but you have to understand, too.

Once I got to Shabbos, the temptation to delve deeper, 'to understand,' was always more than I could handle and so away went my involvement with the Daf Yomi. Last week, I decided to try again. After all, it would be nice to get to parts of Shas that would never be otherwise on my radar. My brother, David, who just finished his first time around, put the rationale as follows. His thought are so beautiful that I wanted to share them (with his permission).

For the past few months, I have been struggling with what I should do post March 2nd, after the Siyum haShas. Should I start learning the daf again or should I go on to something else. I got a lot of different answers; the answers I got depended largely on how people viewed the Daf Hayomi. In the end, I listened to my friend Ephraim who told me that if I didn’t start again, I would have missed the point of the last 7 and a half years.

Not wanting to miss the point of the last 7 years, I started again. But I also didn’t want to admit to Ephraim that I wasn’t quite sure what the point of the last 7 and a half years was. So, as I ended the 11th cycle, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what Ephraim was telling me. I think the answer lies in understanding what learning the Daf accomplishes and what it does not.

At the beginning of each cycle, many people get caught up in the excitement and inspiration of the event of the Siyum and start to learn the Daf everyday. After a while, many of them stop. They get left by the wayside. I had a conversation with a friend from shul who told me that he felt that learning the daf was not worthwhile. If you couldn’t learn b’iyun then there was no value. In fact after the last Siyum, he was learning in Israel and told his Rebbe that he wanted to learn the Daf. His rebbe told him that if that is what he wanted to do then he needed to learn it with all the Rashi’s and Tosaphos and the Rif and Rosh… You get the idea. Needless to say he didn’t even start.

It was clear that the Rebbe also missed the point of learning the daf. In the title Daf Hayomi one needs to understand that the Ikar is not daf but yomi. It is keva versus kavana. There is a value of learning everyday and feeling the obligation that if you miss a day you are behind and need to make it up. Even in davening, though we have the concept of ‘making up tephila’ we don’t always feel it pressing us.

The daf presents us with an ongoing awareness that we need to learn every day. Rain, shine, sick, well, traveling or at home. Over these past 7 and a half years, I learned the Daf all over the world. In Crete, where I needed 9 others for a minyan, in Hevron, in the Avraham Avinu synagogue and in Amsterdam, Holland. On vacation in Cancun. In Sioux Falls South Dakota. Wherever I went, I brought my G’marah with me. To fall behind, even a little imperils the entire effort.

Learning the daf is a lot like davening. I have gone to shiurim all over the world. I know what everyone is learning. I know where they are holding and I am instantly part of the kahal. I did attend a shiur in Dutch which wasn’t quite as inclusive as I would have liked but, the daf was the same. And it is the same all over the world, people carving out an hour a day to learn the daf.

My cousin Seymour suggested that now that I have gone through it once I should add m’forshim to the learning. I told him that the point was not to make it more time consuming but to keep to the keva. Everyday. That’s what Yomi means. And I think this is the point that my friend Efraim was telling me. If you think the point was to learn shas and then cross it off your list, you are wrong. It is not the product that’s important but the process. Its aim is to work on your avodas hashem as part of klal yisrael. And as such you can’t worry about the insights you miss or the speed at which you cover a sugya.

I tell people that if you can get past daf 5 of Brachos, you can make it to the end of Niddah. Daf 5 holds the secret to learning Daf Yomi. On daf 5 is the ma’aseh that R’ Elazar was ill. R’ Yochanan went in to visit him. He saw that R’ Elazar was crying. R’ Yochanan asked him “why are you crying? If it is because you did not accumulate as much Torah knowledge as you wanted, but we learned in a Mishnah “both the offering of one who gives much and the offering of one who gives little are equally pleasing to the K”BH. Provided he directs his heart to heaven. It is at that daf, that the point of the 7 and a half years is revealed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard on a tape of R' H. Shacheter that the Rov made a siyyum upon completing maseches Challah that year and that it was the first siyyum he ever made...