A momentous event occurred in the Jewish community early this year that had nothing to do with the coronavirus.
On January 1, the Jewish world celebrated the 13th global Siyum HaShas, honoring those who had completed the Talmud by learning one daf (page) each day. There are 2,711 pages in the Gemara, and thus the Daf Yomi cycle spans approximately seven years and five months.
The Siyum was a global celebration that generated a great deal of energy and excitement throughout the Jewish world. Over 90,000 men, women and children gathered at MetLife Stadium, and tens of thousands more celebrated this momentous event in a variety of other venues throughout the world.
The idea of Jews across the globe representing a variety of backgrounds studying the very same text each day was the brainchild of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin in Poland (1887-1933). When he proposed the idea at the First World Congress of Agudath Israel in Vienna on August 16, 1923, many rabbinic leaders enthusiastically embraced his idea, which they saw as a way of unifying the Jewish people by providing a commonality of purpose and injecting pride in being part of the Torah world.
The sense of communal connection which we all felt so powerfully at the heels of January’s momentous Siyum HaShas was sadly disrupted due to the COVID-19 crisis. Daily prayers in the synagogue, the recitation of Kaddish and Birkat Kohanim, and Daf Yomi classes were all suspended. Everyone was relegated to creating their own mikdash me’at (miniature sanctuary) in their own homes, and creating “Zoom” classes. With many community members falling ill and being hospitalized, and everyone else being quarantined and separated, the sense of unity and togetherness was, sadly, lost.
“Let’s Shoot for the Stars”
Yet, in a vacuum, innovation occurs.
A self-proclaimed “regular guy”, Marc Sayegh, responding to the rabbis’ call for unity in the community and seeking to bring zechut (merit) to end the crisis and healing to the sick, thought to himself, “If we’re going to come together as a community, let’s shoot for the stars and do the impossible.”
Mr. Sayegh’s idea was simple, yet ingenious.
Just as groups sometimes form to divide the book of Tehillim, each committing to recite certain chapters so that the group collectively completes the entire book, Marc decided to unite the community to do the same with Shas. Instead of each individual learning one page a day for 2,711 days, he figured, let’s gather 2,711 men who will commit to learn one page, such that altogether, they will finish the entire Shas by Shavuot, which was just six weeks away. Shooting for the stars, indeed!
Mr. Sayegh approached several prominent community rabbis, including Rabbi Rahamim Churba, Rabbi Eli Mansour, and Rabbi Duvi Ben Sousson, for their advice and blessing. Then, together with his “partner in crime,” Benny Serure, who spent countless hours making phone calls to publicize the event, and with the support of Morris Dweck from Itorah.com, Mr. Sayegh had a website created and advertised the endeavor. In just six weeks, 600 men from around the world had committed to learn all 2,711 pages.
A Celebration of Unity
Speaking at the Siyum, which was livestreamed on Itorah.com, Rabbi Churba stressed that each one of us is a vital member of Klal Yisrael with unique qualities that enhance the whole group.
“With ahdut we can do great things; we could not have completed the Shas without those who committed to learning even one daf,” Rabbi Churba reflected.
Rabbi Ben Sousson echoed Rabbi Churba’s sentiments with the story of an elderly Holocaust survivor who, after learning one daf, his first ever, wanted to make a siyum. His son was concerned that this might not be proper protocol, and so he consulted with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who agreed with the father – that this was truly a cause for celebration. Rabbi Feinstein even asked if he could participate.
The day after the siyum, the man passed away.
Speaking at the funeral, Rabbi Feinstein said of this man, “There are those who acquire their world with one daf.”
Rabbi Ben Soussan applied the lesson of this inspiring story to the recent community siyum.
“There are many people who participated in the learning for this siyum who studied their first daf ever,” he said. “They don’t realize that they receive the full zechut of Shas. Everyone who learned even one daf is an equal participant in the Siyum HaShas and celebration of unity.”
With the encouragement of the rabbis, Community Shas has started a new cycle with the goal of completing the entire Shas by Rosh Hashanah. Anybody interested in joining is encouraged to visit communityshas.com and register for the page or pages he wishes to learn.