Over 100 Oraysa learners gathered together on September 6th for a festive celebration in honor of the completion, “siyum,” of the tractate of gemara Rosh Hashana at Kol Yaakov Synagogue in Brooklyn.
What Is the Oraysa Program?
The Oraysa Amud V’Chazara Program was founded just three years ago to promote gemara learning and retention for learners of all levels, and to give them the tools to succeed. There are already 5,000 learners participating in 115 “chaburas” (learning groups) in 30 cities around the world, including places as far-flung as Phoenix, Jerusalem, Zurich, London, and New York.
Participants in the “daf yomi” program cover a full two-sided blat (page or “daf” of gemara) each day, seven days a week. The Oraysa program focuses on slower, more comprehensive learning and review, with participants learning one amud (one side of a page of gemara) Sunday through Thursday, reviewing the previous day’s learning each day, and on Friday and Shabbat the participants review the last five days of learning – two-and-a-half blat. Learners test their retention with regular bechinot (tests). It is possible to apply for a stipend, as well.
Learners can access the daily shiurim via the Oraysa website, email podcasts, or call-in hotline. They can network with other learners worldwide. As their website states, “The beauty of this program is its versatility and ability to be tailored to the level of each participant.”
A Night to Remember
The siyum was a true tribute to Torah learning, complete with a delicious array of food, a professional singer, joyous dancing, and, of course, speeches. Attendees engaged in spirited discussions, as each chabura group sat together. The esteemed rabbis in attendance were seated at the front.
It was a special feeling for the learners to have completed the masachet of Rosh Hashana so close to the holiday. They had, indeed, toiled in Torah learning, studying, reviewing, and mastering the material together. This requires a strong level of commitment on the part of each participant. One of the things that helps keep these learners going is the shared commitment to the endeavor, and the spirit of engaging in a holy project with other Jews. This creates a special camaraderie for the participants, who are dedicated to the same goals of in-depth gemara learning and retaining what they learned.
The community rabbis in attendance were Rabbis Eli and David Mansour, Rabbi Nathan Escava, and Rabbi David Ozeri. Representing Oraysa were Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Shuster, Rabbi Aharon Gobioff, and Rabbi Chaim Zell.
The first speaker, Rabbi David Mansour, focused on how the Oraysa program is perfectly suited for the community, which includes many different people with different levels of learning. Oraysa, through the resources on their website and their monthly newsletters, as well as the sense of togetherness they offer through the schedule, is able to cater to each and every member of our community, each on their own level. And, the rabbi said, “B”H, each one on their level is growing tremendously.”
Rabbi Eli Mansour delivered a beautiful dvar Torah about the word “oraysa” from a pasuk in the Torah. He gleaned that from the specific placement of the word that oraysa is what allows us to properly connect with Hashem. Then he asked: what is the point of learning? He explained that learning tis not simply an exercise in analytical ability. Rather, the point of learning is in order to reach a new level of closeness with Hashem. He said, “The purpose is to reach a level called debekut. Debekut means attachment, closeness, to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”
Rabbi Nathan Escava was honored with making the ritual siyum. He told the audience that it would take 20 years to complete shas through Oraysa’s program, which on the one hand is a long time. On the other hand, 20 years can go by in the blink of an eye. He continued, “Imagine we had Oraysa 20 years ago. We could have finished shas by now! This program enables us, day by day, to learn an amud, to gain ground. It brings the best out of everyone.” He said that on Rosh Hashanah we can tell Hashem: “We’re in this for the next twenty years. Give us 20!”
A Fitting Closing
After Rabbi Escava completed the siyum, the music started and attendees headed to the dance floor for lively dancing. Clearly, the learners were filled with the special joy of a significant accomplishment. And there was a real feeling of achdut for these men who had learned together with a common goal. The excitement on the dance floor was palpable.
Rabbi Ozeri’s speech concluded the evening after the dancing. He discussed the concept of how things work in Olam Haba. There, in the Next World, everyone who has completed shas gets a “seat.” However, not everyone will get the same seat. He said that the type of effort you put into your learning in this world will determine the type of seat you get in the next one. He used a sports stadium metaphor to illustrate his point, calling the best seats in Olam Haba the “box seats.” He looked out at the audience and said that Oraysa learners will get the box seats in Olam Haba, and that the learning Oraysa has done and will continue to do is strong enough to take them far into Olam Haba. It was an inspiring message and a perfect end to a wonderful evening.
Start Your Own Chabura
What better way is there to start the new year than making a commitment to daily learning? Oraysa’s website includes a page where you can set up a chabura of your own. An Oraysa chabura is simply a group of people who want to learn the daily amud together. To create a chabura, just fill out the form, Oraysa will get the ball rolling. They make setting up a new group easy and convenient. They believe that the best way to learn is to do so with others, and their goal is to make it possible wherever there is an interest. Find them at oraysa.com.