Yesterday, on the first of January, in the North American Continent alone, hundreds of thousands of Jews in more than 100 cities convened to take part in a celebration of the Siyum Hashas which occurs once every seven and a half years. This celebration marks the completion of a cycle of learning the entire Babylonian Talmud for those who study one page of the 2,711 pages of the Talmud every day. Every day both sides of the page are studied; thus, approximately 5400 individual pages are studied. This scheduled study of the Talmud is called Daf Yomi – a folio a day. Because of this tremendous accomplishment, a massive celebration took place at the Meadowlands in the presence of 90,000 Jewish men and women. Another 20,000 people were at the Barclays Center and at many other locations and homes that joined simultaneously through satellite/internet hookup. Featured speakers offered words of encouragement, and there was spontaneous celebratory singing and dancing; it was exhilarating!
In 1923 Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the famed Lubliner Rav, proposed that Jews across the world learn the same daf, page of Talmud each day. Since then, every seven and a half years, Jews around the world from all backgrounds have celebrated the completion and commencement of the Talmud. This year’s celebration marks the 13th completion of the Talmud.
Wherever one is in the world, he can call up the local synagogue or look in a printed or online directory and find out where the class on the Daf is being given. Any class he attends will be discussing the exact same page he would have studied at home with his usual class. Today there are wonderful classes posted online that can be accessed at one’s convenience.
I am fortunate and blessed to have completed this Daf cycle and I was present at the Meadowlands along with my wife, children and grandchildren. I have previously attended a number of these celebrations and have always been inspired by the great Rabbis in attendance and by the massive crowd of fellow Jews who either studied the Daf or who came to be inspired to begin the next cycle, or just to share this great accomplishment with fellow Jews.
Where else do you have an opportunity to Daven – pray – together with over 90,000 Jews? The non-Jewish ushers are always amazed at the discipline displayed by such a massive crowd remaining silent for a full five minutes – the amount of time that it takes for the silent Amidah prayer to be recited.
Torah is an equalizer and it is Torah that binds all Jews together. For example, when the weekly portion of the Torah is read in the Synagogue on Shabbos, it is quite common that when one sits next to a fellow Jew, whether they know each other or not, they will share insights on the portion of the week. Torah is a common bond between us, it speaks to us and inspires us.
In this week’s Portion we have two situations where the observance of the Torah was able to identity a lost relative.
When Yosef, who had been sold by his brothers finally revealed himself, the Torah relates that the brothers were in total shock and could not believe what was happening. Here was the second in command of Egypt, to whom they had bowed down to as he had predicted in his dreams. When he had shared the dreams with them they thought they were bogus, and he now informs them he is actually Yosef! Their assumptions and the feeling they were correct in selling Yosef which they had for 22 years collapsed in a moment.
Yosef then proved that he was indeed their brother by showing them he was circumcised and that he had a command over Loshon Hakodesh – the Hebrew language.
Our Sages explain that anyone can have a circumcision and anyone can learn Hebrew. Yosef shared with his brothers through his Bris that he was true to his covenant with G-d and remained pure from any immoral behavior. When Yosef began to speak in Hebrew they recognized the pleasant way he spoke and realized that he maintained the purity of his tongue. The language he spoke was infused with holiness and bore witness that he was not influenced by the decadent environment that surrounded him.
Yosef sent his brothers back to their father in Israel to inform him that he was alive and to invite Yaacov to come and reside in Egypt. The Torah tells us that Yosef sent food and provisions, and that he sent wagons.
When they approached Yaacov and told him all the characteristics and tell-tale signs that proved Yosef`s true identity, Yaacov was not convinced. Only once he saw the wagons that Yosef sent did Yaacov`s spirit return.
What was the message behind the wagons that convinced Yaacov of Yosef`s identity?
One reason offered, is that our sages tell us that the last Torah conversation that Yaacov had with Yosef before he disappeared was about an event in the future at the inauguration of the Temple while the Jews travelled in the desert. The 12 Tribal princes of Israel presented a donation of 6 wagons to transport the beams of the Temple. For this to occur, all of the 12 Tribal heads had to pair up to share in the donation of a wagon. This was a wonderful display of unity between the Tribes. Before Yosef departed, Yaacov had shared this idea with Yosef.
The Hebrew word for wagon is Agalah. The Zohar – Kaballah tells us that Yosef sent 6 wagons to remind his father of the last Torah conversation they had. Thus their last Torah conversation proved Yosef’s true identity. Yosef was also sharing the message that the twelve tribes, which included himself and his brothers, were one unit no matter what had transpired.
Our Sages instruct us that when friends part from one another they should discuss a Torah law or insight. This creates a special bond between the two which endures until the next time they meet.
The new cycle of Daf Yomi begins with the tractate of Brochos on Sunday January 5th. Give it a try or encourage your spouse, sibling or friend to go for it. It is an exhilarating and challenging discipline through which we gain the knowledge of G-d’s Oral Law that is exclusively ours!