A few weeks ago, we enjoyed Chanukah celebrations in every grade, ranging from the pre-school programs to the PHDS annual celebration attended by well over a hundred people, and the NEAT Chanukah Chagigah. At the same time, we have witnessed numerous anti-Semitic events over the past few weeks in the New York area, creating fear and uncertainty for the safety of Jews nationwide. One of the most inspiring aspects was the response of the Rebbe whose home was attacked. A few hours after the attack he hosted a Chanukah mesibah for his congregants and the next day danced at a hachnossas Sefer Torah which stopped at his home. Many in a similar situation would have canceled all events, but the Rebbe felt it necessary not to diminish the simchah of Chanukah and he would certainly not give the perpetrators of violence a victory. The Rebbe showed tremendous resilience in the face of adversity.
On January 1, the secular new year, more than ninety thousand Jews from multiple backgrounds and upbringings descended on Met Life stadium, where they were joined by tens of thousands of others by live stream to celebrate the thirteenth Siyum HaShas, culminating 2,711 days of learning a page a day of Talmud. Aside from the tremendous emotional celebration that affected the many families from Providence that participated, there was also the aspect of Kiddush Hashem that was spoken of by the many service and law enforcement personnel doing their jobs. They commented on the orderliness of the event, the thank yous, and the Happy New Year greetings; perhaps for this alone the Siyum was worth it. A policeman, the day after the event, stopped an Orthodox Jew for a traffic infraction traveling on the Garden State Parkway. As he had been stationed at the stadium the day before, he asked the rabbi he had just stopped, “Did you do your page yet today?” The rabbi said, “What page?” He answered, “You know, the page of Talmud. If you agree to study your page, I will let you off with a warning!” This is not just a nice story; it is indicative of the profound impact that the Siyum had on a non-Jewish policeman. My friend shared with me (unconfirmed) that a policeman said, “If this is what being Jewish is all about, I want to join them.”
I wanted to close with the personal inspiration that I had this week on multiple counts. At the Siyum several videos were shared relating to the 7½-year cycle of study that led up to the Siyum. There was a young man sick with the debilitating disease known as ALS. His body had begun to slowly shut down in response to this dreaded disease. Seven and a half years ago he had attended the Siyum and was inspired to begin studying the daf. Despite suffering from his illness, he began daily study in earnest until a time when the disease paralyzed his entire body. He continued to study the daf electronically with the use of his eyes and a special computer, and completed all of Shas. He was present at the Siyum.
One could not help but be awed by the Daf Yomi and these and other stories of commitment and inspiration. Rabbi Schwartz mentioned this Shabbos that while Daf Yomi is not for everybody, our renewed commitment to some form of Torah learning is achievable by everyone.
Lastly, I would like to wish a hearty mazel tov to the men who completed Shas in our community. I especially point out and wish mazel tov to our school rebbeim, Rabbi Menachem Zev Weissmann, who completed Shas, and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Brown, who finished Shas a few months ago. Talmidei Chachomim of their caliber are a pride both to the community and the school.
The Siyum HaShas culminated with a video depicting the destruction of yeshiva and Jewish life in Europe, followed by the recitation by Chazan Helfgott of Kel Molei Rachamim and a Kaddish in memory of the six million. This was personally moving to me and reminded me that like Rabbi Rottenberg who faced his attackers by celebrating on Chanukah, Klal Yisroel, led by the survivors of the war, came to the shores of America, and in the face of adversity educated the next generation of shomrei Torah umitzvos. Imagine, if the Lubliner Rav, Harav Shapiro, would have been able to look forward to the Siyum, he would have been “blown away” by the ninety thousand attendees, seeing the way Torah flourishes in America and worldwide today.
Let us remember, however, and hope that of equal importance to the learning was the Kiddush Hashem that was a “light unto the nations” on what it means to be a Jew.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman