WATCH: Looking Back to Look Forward: The 88th Anniversary of the first Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi
This Tu B’Shevat marks the 88th anniversary of the very first, Global Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi, which took place in Lublin, Poland, on Tu B’Shevat 5691- February 2, 1931.
Torah learning thrived in pre-war Europe. However, the early 1930s were also a difficult time for many Jews. Jewish communities struggled with financial burdens, and the challenges of living far from each other. The announcement of the siyum by Rav Meir Shapiro was therefore met with tremendous enthusiasm. The idea of achdus – the bringing together of many mekomos haTorah as they all celebrate learning the same Daf – day in and day out – for the previous 7 and a half years, was a thrilling, and history-altering event.
A VISION FOR GREATNESS
After the monumental announcement at the Knessiah Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel and with the enthusiasm of the greatest gedolim of the time, including the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Ger, Daf Yomi began. On Rosh Hashana 1923, tens of thousands of Jews picked up the very first masechta of Shas and started learning the words: ‘Mei’emasai Korin Es Shema?’
Over seven years later, when the time came to announce the siyum, Rav Meir Shapiro, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Poland, issued a special declaration in Dos Yiddishe Togblat, a Warsaw newspaper: “Now… they are about to finish…2,702 days went by like the blink of an eye, and as every day passed, another page was turned…” (Daf Yomi later changed, adding Mesechtas Shekalim to the rotation, making today’s cycle 2711 pages.)
The Rosh HaYeshiva went on to eloquently describe the learning of the Daf as a vital source of strength and protection: “Daf Yomi is like a paper bridge that the Yid strides over to cross the infinite sea of suffering, a bridge that is stronger than the strongest bridge of solid steel.”
Throughout the ensuing nearly nine decades, The Lubliner Rav’s words ring true. From pre-war Europe, through the dark days of the holocaust, to the rebirth and rebuilding of Torah in America and around the world, the power of that “paper bridge” has indeed upheld Klal Yisroel. The ripple effect continues to spread, as the impact of the Daf has magnified exponentially.
Rav Shapiro knew that this monumental siyum would forever change the course of Torah learning and the celebration of Torah in our times. In his own words: “Nation of HaShem, let us be strong!…The Knessia Gedola accepted my plan to learn the Daf Yomi and in Shamayim they also agreed. This decision echoed around the world…”
Rav Meir Shapiro’s own impassioned words on the day of the first siyum describe the unique ability of the Daf to unite: “The secret of the magnetic pull of the Daf Yomi is the idea that the same daf that someone learns here is being learned by thousands of Jews all over the world… Each person has his own way of learning, his own way of thinking, and his own type of shiur to go to, but Abaye and Rava are always the same Abaye and Rava…”
ANTICIPATION AND PREPARATION
Rav Meir Shapiro’s publishing of the announcement of the event clearly shared his own personal excitement: “Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkeinu – We are lucky, and good is our portion… A global Siyum HaShas is a paramount event in the lives of all Yidden and it is up to us to ensure that it is recognizable as a holy day.”
The Rav insisted on doing the preparations for the siyum himself, at his newly opened Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. He himself sent out the invitations, assigning the Yeshiva’s talmidim and staff to direct traffic and help the large crowds navigate. Not only were the hours of preparation not considered Bittul Torah, they were in fact considered avodas hakodesh – the holiest of work to be done to honor limud HaTorah and be mechabed Torah learning, b’rov am, with greatness and grandeur, as never before.
Throughout the world, tens of thousands of Jews traveled to large cities in their locality in order to rejoice in the majesty of the occasion of the very first siyum of the Daf. But the magnetic pull of Lublin – the hometown of the originator and implementer of the Daf Yomi – drew unprecedented huge crowds. Throngs of participants, dressed in their Shabbos best, converged on the city. Every train that arrived in Lublin brought Gedolei Torah, distinguished guests, prominent community members, as well as famous leaders of Polish Jewry.
THE SIYUM ITSELF
To describe the siyum as a moving and powerful event is an understatement. Rav Meir, in his regal kolpik, Gemara in hand, led the siyum in the presence of thousands from across Europe.
As the much-anticipated siyum began, Rav Shapiro’s face glowed with Holiness of Torah. He recited the Kaddish and the Hadran. He then gave a discourse of deep pilpul, and emphatically described the power of the siyum.
The yeshiva’s choir loudly sang the words of “Kad Yasvin Yisroel” to a melody composed by the Rav especially for the event, that has since become famous throughout the Jewish world. The talmidim encircled the bima, and the dancing circles widened outward to the point where thousands danced hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, with an other-worldly simcha.
The lasting impact of the Daf Yomi and its siyumim is undeniable. From 5000 attendees in Felt Forum in 1982 to 90,000 in MetLife Stadium in 2012, the growth of Torah learning is remarkable. Once again, The Agudah is planning an even larger and greater Siyum. Global initiatives of Chavrei HaSiyum, with thousands already signed up to make their own siyumim in conjunction with The Siyum, and Masmidei HaSiyum, through which tens of thousands of children will be mesayeim Shisha Sidrei Mishna many times over are already in the works. And most importantly, the tens of thousands who have learned the daf, every single day for 2,711 days, rain, sun, snow, sleet, health and sickness, cold and hot, nothing could stop their commitment to Torah.
Chavrei HaSiyum, the newest initiative, is a true manifestation of Rav Meir Shapiro’s vision. Chavrei HaSiyum allows for everyone to be kovei’a itim, learning what you want, at the pace you want, as an individual or as a group. So, whether you want to finish one perek, one mesechta, a seder, or shas, Chavrei HaSiyum is for you.
Looking back, it’s crystal clear. Looking forward, it’s in our sights. With perfect faith, we follow the mesorah of yesteryear – unflinching, unwavering, uncompromising. We don’t miss a day. We look back and carry on the legacy of the Lubliner Rav.
As we look forward and prepare for the 13th Siyum HaShas of the Daf Yomi, which will be next year iy”h, Daled Shevat, 5780, January 1, 2020, may we all be zoche to take part as one, united eternally through Torah, as one nation, at one siyum, celebrating our one Torah.
To sign up for information and updates regarding the upcoming Siyum Hashas, please visit thesiyum.org.