Thousands Celebrate Completion of Second Cycle of Dirshu’s Daf HaYomi B’Halacha
The masses who congregated in the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton burst into a frenzy of euphoria upon hearing the announcement of the arrival of an unexpected, distinguished guest.
They had come to celebrate the completion of the second cycle of the daily Daf Yomi B’Halacha study regimen, one of numerous Torah learning programs run by the international Dirshu organization. During the event, which was held on March 4, Rosh Hodesh Adar Sheni, Rabbi Leibish Lish, the chairman of the evening, announced – his voice trembling with emotion – that the venerated Rachmastrivka Rebbe of Boro Park was about to enter the arena. In an instant, every one of the thousands of attendees – who hailed from throughout the Tri-State area and well beyond – craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe’s holy countenance as he slowly entered the stadium and was brought to the middle of the dais, where he joined other of our generation’s leading sages. The nonagenarian Rebbe is the eldest hassidic Rebbe in America, and he rarely leaves Boro Park or travels. Despite his physical frailty, he decided to make the long trip to Trenton, New Jersey in order to encourage the participants of Dirshu’s programs, and to give them his heartfelt blessing.
An Evening of Unity
Like all major Dirshu events, this siyum was characterized by a profound sense of ahdut (unity), its bringing together students spanning the entire spectrum of Torah Jewry, unified through their shared commitment to Torah study. This ahdut was signified by the diverse, inspiring assembly of Torah sages representing vastly different groups, who came together in unity to encourage, strengthen and express their admiration for the dedicated students of Dirshu’s programs.
Addresses were delivered by the leading Rosheh Yeshiva of the Lithuanian Torah world, including: HaGaon HaRav Aharon Feldman, shelita, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, Baltimore; HaGaon HaRav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, shelita, Rosh Yeshiva of South Fallsburg; HaGaon HaPosek, HaRav Hillel David, shelita, Rav of Shaarei Torah; HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferes Yerachmiel; Hagaon HaRav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, shelita, Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood; and others.
Hassidic leaders who graced the event included: the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shelita; the Skulener Rebbe, shelita, who made the siyum and delivered beautiful words of inspiration; the Chernobyler Rebbe, shelita; the Kossover Rebbe, shelita; the Vienner Rav, shelita; HaGaon
HaRav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz, shelita, Skverer Dayan and senior posek of Boro Park; and HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Zalman Gips, Rav of Khal Birchas Avrohom of Boro Park.
Prominent Sephardic Torah sages in attendance included Hagaon HaRav Shmuel Choueka, shelita, Rav of Khal Ohel Simcha; HaGaon HaRav David Ozeri, shelita; and others.
In truth, while the crowd may have externally appeared diverse, there was no actual diversity. As everyone in attendance joined hands and danced together after the siyum, there were no hasidim and no Lithuanian yeshiva students; there were no Ashkenazim and no Sepharadim. They were all Torah Jews, united in their passion for, and commitment to, Torah study generally, and, in particular, to the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha that they all learn and observe.
Praying for Our Brethren in Ukraine
The evening was opened by Rav Shmuel Choueka, the distinguished Rav of Congregation Ohel Simcha of Long Branch who delivers a Daf HaYomi B’Halacha class and has also just completed the entire cycle including all the exams. He began with a heartfelt recitation of Tehillim and prayer for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and all over the world who are enduring suffering and hardship, followed by a beautiful address in honor of the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha students.
Rav Yair Adler, Rav of Khal Shoavei Mayim of Toronto, pronounced that “without a doubt,” Gd and His entire “heavenly entourage” (“pamalia shel maalah”) was celebrating together with the crowd that had assembled in Trenton that evening.
“Hashem loves this gathering,” Rav Adler affirmed. “As Hazal [the Sages] teach us, Hashem loves the ‘gates of halachah.’ Hashem loves those who learn Mishnah Berurah.” Rav Adler proceeded to speak about the father of Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Dirshu’s founder and Nasi (Chairman) – Reb Nosson Nota Yitzchok Hofstedter, who was himself a visionary Torah builder in Toronto, who implanted within his son the drive, foresight and sense of responsibility to create a Torah revolution in Am Yisrael.
Achieving the Ideal
In his address to the crowd, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rosh Yeshiva of South Fallsburg, cited the well-known passage in the Midrash that tells of an argument between Yitzhak Avinu and his half-brother, Yishmael. Yishmael claimed that he was greater because he underwent berit milah at the age of thirteen, when he had the possibility to refuse, whereas Yitzhak was circumcised as an eight-day-old infant, without being given a choice. Yitzhak countered that his circumcision was more beloved to Gd because it constituted a “mitzvah bizmanah” – a mitzvah performed at the proper time.
The Midrash here makes the startling statement that a mitzvah performed at its proper time is more precious than a mitzvah performed with great mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice). Rav Wachtfogel explained that performing a mitzvah with mesirut nefesh is undoubtedly precious, and brings great reward, but is not an ideal in and of itself. The ideal is “mitzvah bizmanah” –
performing a mitzvah the way the mitzvah is meant to be performed. This is what Hashem considers dearest.
“This is the simcha [joy] that we are celebrating tonight,” the Rosh Yeshiva exclaimed. He said that when a person learns the Orah Haim section of the Shulhan Aruch, he learns how to perform mitzvot “lechatehilah,” the way they are supposed to be performed. And the difference between performing a mitzvah “lechatehilah” and performing it “bedi’avad” – in a less preferred manner – is, in Rav Wachtfogel’s words, “like the difference between 100 billion dollars and $1,000!” The siyum celebrated the fact that Jews are learning halachah and are thus able to achieve the ultimate ideal, the performance of mitzvot the way Hashem wants.
“It is Obligatory!”
A hush permeated the stadium as the venerated senior Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, made his way to the podium. Rav Schustal eloquently impressed upon the large crowd, and upon those who were listening via livestream, the importance of learning halachah. He stated that attaining proficiency in the Orah Haim section of the Shulhan Aruch, which covers the halachot relevant to day-to-day conduct, is not optional – it is obligatory, an absolute necessity. Without knowing halachah, the Rosh Yeshiva said, one is, in a sense, paralyzed, unable to move his hands or feet, because he does not know what he is and is not allowed to do.
“Some people say it is so hard to learn large amounts, to chazer [review] and be tested,” Rav Schustal noted. “It is indeed difficult, but if you really want to, you can get everything done, you can find the time that you never thought you had to learn, to review and to know!”
“I Have No Time”
The Skulener Rebbe, shelita, was then called upon to teach the final passage of the six-volume Mishnah Berurah, the completion of which was being celebrated that evening.
The Rebbe related that a person once came to his father, the previous Rebbe, for a blessing. The Rebbe asked him whether he attends a regular Torah class, or makes time to learn each day.
“I would love to,” the man said, “but I just don’t have the time. I am so busy. I have no time.”
“You are right,” the Rebbe exclaimed. “You have no time – because no time is your own. It is the Ribbono Shel Olam’s [Master of the world’s] time!”
The Skulener Rebbe observed that most people think that those who learn in Dirshu programs, engaging in Torah and reviewing the material, are working to earn olam haba – the next world. “But,” the Rebbe said, “the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Monsey, zt”l, once told me that this is a mistake. These yungeleit [young scholars] have a much better olam hazeh [‘this world’]!” A Jew who spends his time learning, reviewing, and being tested on what he learns receives not only a beautiful share in the next world, but also immense joy and satisfaction in this world.
“A Tremendous Gift!”
The venerated posek, HaGaon HaRav Hillel David, Rav of Khal Shaarei Orah of Flatbush, was honored with reciting the traditional Hadran text.
Rav David encouraged the thousands gathered in the arena and the tens of thousands who joined by livestream to recognize the great gifts of life and of time, and to utilize the time that Hashem has given them. He shared a story told by a grandson of the Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1839-1933), author of the Mishnah Berurah. This grandson once asked the Hafetz Haim how old he was. The grandfather smiled without answering the question.
Later, the Hafetz Haim saw the grandson playing in front of the house. He called him in and gave me a fistful of coins as a present. Just as the child was about to run to show his mother, the Hafetz Haim asked, “I gave you so many coins – why didn’t you count them?”
The boy explained that it would be impolite to count a cash gift in front of the person who had given it.
“Remember when you asked me how old I am this morning?” the Hafetz Haim replied. “I want you to know that at my age, every single day and every year, is a gift from Hashem. It is not nice for me to count this gift…”
Speaking with fierce emotion, Rav Hillel cried, “We must appreciate every single day that we have! Every day that we are able to learn Hashem’s Torah is a tremendous gift!”
Living in This World With an Eye to the Next
After Rav Hillel David completed the Hadran, Rav Malkiel Kotler, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, was called upon to recite Kaddish.
Before the recitation of Kaddish, Rav Kotler noted the Talmud’s teaching that one who learns halachah every day is assured a place in in the next world.
“This does not only mean that after his lifetime he will go to olam haba [the next world],” the Rosh Yeshiva explained, but rather that “a person who learns halachah every day, lives his life ‘olam habadig’” – in a “next-world” manner; he lives his life in this world with an eye to the next world.
Nothing could have prepared the crowd for the eruption – or, more precisely, explosion – of joy throughout the cavernous stadium upon the completion of the Kaddish. The orchestra began to play…but it was the people in the audience who set the tone, creating so much ruach (spirit) that it almost seemed like the roof was about to come off. Thousands upon thousands of men danced feverishly, with a feeling of deep satisfaction, their faces radiating genuine simcha.
“An Inner Bond with Torah”
The electric dancing continued for over half an hour, with the crowd barely able to contain their excitement. Finally, the chairman of the evening, Rabbi Lish, called upon Rav Dovid Hofstedter to address the siyum.
Rav Hofstedter observed that the event was being held during the week following Shabbat Shekalim, when we read about the mahatzit hashekel (half-shekel) tax, through which the Jewish Nation was counted. The Torah forbids counting the nation directly, and it is told that when this prohibition was violated, a plague struck.
“Perhaps,” Rav Hofstedter suggested, “the reason is because counting people is a form of separation. Each person is counted alone, separated from others by his individual number.” He explained that when a person is drawn apart from the nation, he is exposed to an “ayin hara” (“evil eye”) which can empower the forces of death and destruction. Without unity, when we are not attached to one another, then the “malach hamavet” (“angel of death”) receives the strength to inflict harm, Heaven forbid.
Rav Hofstedter proceeded to speak about his recent trip to Vilna and Kovno, which were once great centers of Torah learning, and where, 80 years ago, the Jewish nation was almost eradicated.
“Sadly,” he lamented, “the world is once again in turmoil. There is sinat Yisrael [hatred of Jews] and sinat haTorah [hatred of Torah] everywhere, even, sadly, in Eretz Yisrael, where there are designs to make so many gezeirot [decrees] against Torah learning and Torah observance.” The only proper response, Rav Hofstedter said, is for us to join together in unity, a unity “defined by a shared spiritual goal and bond, a true ‘chibbur penimi,’ a spiritual bond…”
Rav Hofstedter cited the verse in Tehillim (105:4), “Dirshu Hashem ve’uzo bakshu fanav tamid – Seek out Gd and His strength; always beseech His countenance.” We must join in this effort, he said, “though learning the holy Torah together and building Torah together.
“If they want to close ten yeshivas, we will open 100 new yeshivas! If they want to close 100 kollelim, we will open a thousand new kollelim, if they want to push Yidden [Jews] away from Torah, we will bring close thousands of new baaleh teshuva [newly observant Jews] to Torah!”
Testifying That Hashem Created the World
Rav Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Ner Yisroel of Baltimore, was honored with beginning the study of the third cycle of the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha program.
Rav Feldman said that the ultimate goal of mankind is to attest to the existence of a Creator, but also “that our daily conduct, from the minute we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep at night, should attest to the fact that there is a Boreh olam [Creator of the world].”
Speaking with palpable emotion, Rav Feldman said, “We do not have to wait until Mashiah comes for this goal to be realized, and to show all that Hashem runs the world. We can show it right now! How? By keeping halachah, by showing that how we go to sleep is dictated by Hashem, and how we wake up is dictated by Hashem. By showing that how we do business is dictated by Hashem, and how we raise our families is all dictated by halachah… When we keep halachah, we are testifying that Hashem created the world and runs the world!”
The Promise of a Share in the Next World
The final speaker of the evening was the senior Skverer Dayan of Boro Park, HaGaon HaRav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz, shelita.
Rav Steinmetz cited the Gemara’s famous teaching that one who learns halachah every day is guaranteed a share in the next world. With his comprehensive knowledge of the entire Talmud, Rav Steinmetz noted that the Gemara never makes any such promise in any other context.
“Only with regard to [the study of] halachah,” Rav Steinmetz emotionally exclaimed, “is Hashem giving you an absolute guarantee, a guarantee that you can take to the bank, that you are assured a place in olam haba [the next world]. What a zechut [privilege]! What an obligation!”
As the massive crowd exited the Cure Insurance Arena, it was clear to all that they had been part of a historic experience. They left with the feeling that they participated in not simply a siyum on the entire Mishnah Berurah, but a demonstration, a testimony by the Jewish People that they deeply want to bring Hashem into their daily lives.