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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Siyum HaShas-Vayigash

Parshat Siyum HaShas-Vayigash

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Siyum HaShas-Vayigash Newsletter
7th of Tevet, 5780 | January 4, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Label Lam
The Shas Jew

Let me introduce you to David.

Years ago, I used to deliver lectures along with a close friend of mine on topics relating to Jewish philosophy in the home of a fiery Moroccan, Israeli woman. A gracious hostess, she would gather together large groups of people to come and hear the engaging seminars we would regularly give. Leaving everyone inspired and engaged, it was a huge success.

While her husband, David, would as well attend the classes, he was clearly not too interested. He would politely enter the room where the class was given with his yarmulke and try as best as he could to listen to the lecture, but as soon as it was over, off came the yarmulke. Seminar after seminar, nothing seemed to touch him. He neither put on Tefillin nor kept Shabbat.

Indifferently allowing his wife to observe Shabbat and carry along as she wished, our speeches seemed to fall on deaf ears. He was simply uninterested.

One day, his wife approached me. “You have to speak to my husband!” she pleaded. After explaining that pushing him too much may not be the wisest decision and that allowing him to grow at his own pace would be preferred, she understood. But, being the good wife that she was, she hoped that he would come around and embrace the beautiful life of Yiddishkeit she so deeply identified with.

It was then that I decided we would try something new. Before everyone gathered together to hear the philosophical lecture, I would give a small Gemara class. Hoping that just maybe this would intrigue her husband, I was right. David started attending the classes. And he liked them. Really liked them. Considering his background in computers, the systematic logic and thinking processes which made up the Talmud struck a chord within him. And indeed, he began to take up the study of Gemara and become more and more familiar with its beauty and depth.

And then the day for the 10th Siyum HaShas, September 28,1997, arrived. Asked by a friend who had an extra ticket if he would like to attend the grand Siyum at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, New York, he complied.

Surrounded by thousands of other people, David was mesmerized by the fantastic scene of Jews who had gathered together to celebrate the accomplishment of those who had learned through the 2,711 pages of the Talmud. And then came the moment which would start him on a life-changing journey.
“Did everyone here learn through the entire Talmud over seven and a half years?” “I don’t think everyone did,” replied his friend, “but I am sure a high percentage of them did.” “Are they all rabbis?” asked David. “No. Many of them are doctors, lawyers, computer technicians and other professionals.” Carefully listening to his friend and taking in the breathtaking spectrum of thousands of dedicated Jews, David was immensely moved.

And so he got started. The next morning, he began attending a Daf Yomi class. And so he did the next day. And the next day. And then for the next three weeks and three months. While his wife knew that something had inspired him, she was beyond surprised when she heard what exactly he was doing and how far he had progressed in just a matter of months. Every morning after attending the Daf Yomi class, he was continuing on to daven with a minyan and put on Tefillin.

Seven and a half years later, David was not merely a spectator at the Siyum HaShas; he was a participant. Dedicatedly learning the daily Daf every morning, he accomplished something he years before would never have contemplated.

It was the night before the Siyum that I called David’s house. His wife picked up the phone. “I just wanted to wish David a Mazel Tov on his tremendous accomplishment. I am so proud of him. But you, as his wife, should also know how privileged you are. Your husband is ‘Shas Yid!’ He is someone who has devoted hours upon hours to the most precious and meaningful endeavor.” All I could hear were tears on the other end of the line. “I know,” she said, “thank you.”

But David did not stop there. He continued to finish Shas a second time around and delve deeper into understanding the background and underpinnings of each piece of Gemara. Now an even more accomplished computer analyst and more accomplished Torah learner, David had pushed beyond his furthest dreams.

It was sometime later that I met David at a seminar over Shavuot. He had come to listen to the numerous lectures being given. But he was accompanied by someone very important in his life: his chavruta (study partner). “Rabbi,” he said, “I apologize for not being able to attend your class, but I came here with my chavruta. We are going through Shas a third time b’iyun (in depth with its commentaries), and we scheduled a time to learn now...”

Now you know who David is.

Every single Jew, no matter where he finds himself on his journey in life, has the opportunity to turn himself around and forge a new path. Especially when it comes to the area of Torah learning, no one should ever feel that they are too old or unlearned to begin uncovering the beautiful concepts and lessons the Torah has to teach us. Even a few moments spent on a daily basis will add up little by little until one has achieved something he never could have believed he was capable of. And it is all because every one of us is surely capable of plummeting the depths of Torah and coming into contact with the greatest gift we have in this world. Yes indeed, little old you can become greater than ever imagined.

Rabbi Avi Wiesenfeld
Dancing Mountains

Chazal (Pesachim 118a) explain the verse recited during Hallel, “The mountains danced like rams, the hills like sheep” (Tehillim 114:4), to be a reference to the Giving of the Torah. What stands out is the fact that although the mountains and hills figuratively danced, only one mountain – Har Sinai – was chosen to be the site of Mattan Torah. Nothing actually happened to all the other mountains. Why then does their rejoicing play any role in the overall picture of Mattan Torah?

I once heard from Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu a beautiful insight into this Chazal.

The Gemara (Berachot 55a) says that Hashem only gives wisdom to the wise-hearted.

There are two difficulties with this statement. Firstly, what need is there for one who is already wise to be given wisdom? Isn’t it superfluous? Moreover, the mind and the heart are two distinct organs. What does being wise of heart have to do with intellectual wisdom?

As the Torah relates in Parshas Pinchas, when Moshe Rabbeinu looked for a successor to lead the Jewish people after his demise, Hashem instructed him to appoint Yehoshua. Why? Because he was someone “Asher ruach bo” – “In whom there is spirit” (Bamidbar 27:18). What does this mean and why is it a determining ingredient in a leader?

Let me tell you a story.

When R’ Eizel Charif, the 19th Century Rav of Slonim, was looking for a prospective shidduch for his daughter, he sought to find the top yeshiva bachur. Traveling to the city of Volozhin, he approached the Rosh Yeshiva and said, “I am looking for a husband for my daughter. With the Rosh Yeshiva’s permission, I would like to pose a complex Talmudic question to the students and see who will come up with the correct answer. Whoever that boy is will marry my daughter.” Agreeing to R’ Eizel’s idea, the question was posed before the students in the Beit Midrash.

Eager to come up with an answer, the students immediately took to resolving the query. Throngs of boys lined up outside R’ Eizel’s door and discussed the matter with him. But no one provided the correct answer. After some time, R’ Eizel felt it was time to move on to the next town and seek a boy there.

Packing his bags and loading them onto the carriage, he began to drive away. But then, all of a sudden, a boy began running after him. “Rebbe!” the boy yelled, “wait!” Thinking to himself that one boy had finally figured out the answer, the Rebbe waited for the boy to reach him. “So,” said R’ Eizel, “what is the answer?” “Rebbe,” replied the boy, “I don’t know what the answer is. That is precisely why I came here. Can you tell me?”

Without hesitation, R’ Eizel said, “This is the boy who is going to marry my daughter.”

The goal of learning Torah is not necessarily to come up with the answer, but to want the answer. It is about possessing the ambition and drive to learn Torah. Someone who is a “chacham lev,” wise-hearted, is not someone who necessarily knows Torah, but someone who wants to know Torah. That is the key to greatness.

In this vein, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l notes that Yehoshua was not the biggest Torah scholar among the Jewish people that would warrant him becoming the next leader. In fact, when the Torah delineates the names of the Spies who scouted out the Land of Israel, Yehoshua is listed fifth. Considering, as the Ramban writes, that the enumerated order of the Spies is according to their relative wisdom, it is clear that Yehoshua was not the wisest. But he was chosen for a different reason: “Lo yamush mitoch ha’ohel” – “He did not depart from the tent of Moshe” (Shemot 33:11). Yehoshua was someone who spent his every moment in the shadow of Moshe Rabbeinu, ready and eager to learn. He may not have been the biggest scholar, but he was the biggest seeker. And that is what counts most.

With this, we can answer our original question. What allusion to Mattan Torah lies within this Pasuk, “The mountains danced like rams, the hills like sheep”? Those mountains were not the conduits to transmit the Torah?

The answer is that the key to Torah is yearning and desiring it. The mountains and hills eagerly desired to have the Torah be given upon them, and even danced in fervent hope that they would be the chosen site to do so. What matters most when it comes to Torah is the concerted effort and thirst to probe and understand. That is the ultimate goal. He who deeply longs to understand Torah is the most fitting recipient of Torah; not necessarily the one who knows the most or is the smartest. That is what Hashem holds most dearly and looks for in His devoted children.

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger
Fan or Player?

In every sports game, there are two types of participants: fans and players. Fans can come and go when they want and as they want. They are merely spectators who are there for a limited duration. On the other hand, if you are a player on the team, you don’t simply leave when you want. Even if you had a hard and bad game and your team lost, you must keep at it. It is your team and you cannot simply give in and give up.

The same is true of Yiddishkeit. We can either be a “fan” or a “player.” It can be that when we are up to it, we go to shul, learn or fulfill a mitzvah; yet when it is difficult or inconvenient, we are not so quick to jump at such opportunities. On the other hand, we can choose to join the team and be a player. We can choose to always put all our energies into Yiddishkeit in all areas of our life and never give up. We can choose to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the point that, even when it is difficult and we just fell seven times and lost 7-0, we get back up and start again.

The difference lies as to whether Yiddishkeit is what we do or who we are. If it is something we simply do, we become a fan, and it is then easy to choose what we want to do and when we want to do it. Yet, if it who we are and defines our life, then we are a player, and even when it is not what or when we want to do it, we will still push ourselves. We are part of a team and we will always, always be on the field, pushing ourselves and putting forth our best.

Rabbi Ari Bensoussan
I Love to Learn

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, the late and esteemed Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Yerushalyim, was a man of extraordinary strength and perseverance. For the last 28 years of his life, he lived with the degenerative disease of Parkinson’s. But for Rav Nosson Tzvi, it may have been a debilitating illness, but it was not demoralizing. It robbed him of his ability to control his muscles, but he was in full control of his life. And his life’s accomplishments speak right to that.

After Rav Nosson Tzvi passed away, a man from Jerusalem came to visit the family and lend them his comfort. This Jew, though, had something in common with Rav Nosson Tzvi that many others did not. He also suffered from Parkinson’s disease. “Your father,” the man began, “will force me to endure a very strong judgment before the Heavenly Court after I pass away.

Before I developed Parkinson’s,” he explained,” I was known as the ‘Masmid of Beis Yisroel,’ a neighborhood in Jerusalem. I would learn day and night, as much as I could. However, ever since I have gotten sick, it has become extremely difficult for me to concentrate, even slightly, on my learning. I am bedridden and on medication, and my mind is often numbed.

“But I just want you to know, that your father, Rav Nosson Tzvi, had Parkinson’s much worse than I do, and he still never stopped learning. Every day, he walked to the Yeshiva and davened, despite the enormous effort and energy he needed to exert. People would beg him to take medication to alleviate the pain, but he would always tell people, ‘My body is my problem; my brain belongs to the Jewish people. I need to be clear-headed to offer guidance and encouragement to my fellow Jews.
I cannot take that away from them.’ And so, your father would sit on the couch and throb in discomfort, as throngs of people would line up to see him.

On one occasion, a student of your father, said, “Rebbe, I cannot bare to see you like this. Why is Hashem doing this to you?” Rav Nosson Tzvi replied, “You know, I love learning Torah so much that before I got sick, I couldn’t ever think of how Hashem will give me reward for learning. I personally enjoyed it too much. But now that it is so difficult for me to concentrate and learn, and I do it nonetheless, I know that I will receive reward…”

For all of us, the privilege to learn Torah, for even a few minutes, is an opportunity not worth giving up for anything else. And if it comes with any among of difficulty and struggle, then how much greater our reward will be…

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