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17 Cheshvan 5763 - October 23, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Recollections from the First Siyum HaShas
by B. Yisraeli

Was the goal to sit and learn or to know and remember? Did the Rebbe want us to skim through the Shas at least once -- or to know the Shas?

First let me share my great store of memories from the first Shas cycle that we pioneers experienced under the tutelage of the Klausenburger Rebbe, which is the only way to get a real understanding of his intention.

One does not truly understand his rov until he has reached the age of forty and I was still below that age. I was astounded that such an elevated Torah giant could descend to our level to guide us and to act as an angel telling us to grow and, while we were yet young, to go to each of us and take the trouble to give us individual guidance to help us rise up and begin to take tests covering 100 dapim, 300 dapim, 600 dapim, 1,000 dapim. These were figures, inconceivable during the generation of Holocaust survivors, when there was great joy over every talmid in a yeshiva kedoshoh who had not been caught up in the flow of the national-religious or high- school yeshivos.

The Rebbe spilled many tears reciting Ahavo Rabo and Hashiveinu Ovinu lesorosecho, both of which he said very slowly and carefully during every tefilloh. Undoubtedly these things helped those who joyously celebrated the completion of the second Shas cycle.

Yated Ne'eman: How did the concept of the Shas kollel begin?

All of a sudden the Rebbe said he would not be satisfied with 1,000 pages of gemora with Rashi and Tosafos, that he wanted the entire Shas and Chumash with Rashi. In Jerusalem's Kiryat Tzanz he announced the opening of a kollel whose members would learn 70 dapim per month.

Jerusalem had been hit by a storm; the reaction was simply incredible. We pioneers who answered the call did not believe we had it in us. And then he called from America and told us by phone that indeed the din in Shulchan Oruch HaRav regarding knowing the entire Torah is difficult, but when a Jew pours out his pleas and prayers before HaKodosh Boruch Hu to show compassion and pity him, he acknowledges his state of poverty and destitution. He realizes that he does not have the innate ability to carry out the task, but his soul yearns for Torah and to know the whole Shas. Then he will devote all of his strength night and day to Torah and will indeed succeed.

With this in mind we set out during the first zman with eight avreichim and were joined by many more at the beginning of the second zman.

The learning was solid and fundamental like today, three months of new material and a month of review, but the difference between now and then is that today, during the month of review, the tests cover only the material studied over the preceding three months, while back in our time we had to review from the very beginning. When we had the merit of completing 1,000 dapim after a year-and-a-half of learning, a two- month review period was proclaimed--five hundred dapim and a test at the end of each month.

Once I called the US to ask that someone be remembered for a yeshu'oh and the Rebbe, as usual, asked, "Have you been learning? What are you learning this month?" I told him, but the Rebbe was not pleased. "Why are you tested on each 500 pages separately? Tell my son, HaRav shlita, that I said there has to be a test on all 1,000 together." All of the avreichim were angry with me, but I had no choice. We were given a bit more time and we had to take a test on all 1,000 dapim.

After a few zmanim we had completed 1,700 dapim. Again we had to take a test on all of them. That was avodas perach. Within a short time we had to review about half of the Shas with Rashi and Tosafos to prepare for the test. We truly learned night and day. We would not go to sleep, or wake up in the wee hours of the night. We were constantly learning. We often had to forego our relatives' chasunos. We had already grown accustomed to studying in buses and cars, but during that period we had to do so more intently.

Sometimes I would only review my notes or entire dapim with Rashi and later Tosafos. For some of us, including myself, it was beyond our ability, so I took the initiative to write a long letter to the Rebbe in which I described the great efforts we were making. It began something like this:

"I am stealing time between dapim and between lines of the gemora to write this letter, but I must tell the Rebbe that we are making use of every moment of the day and night and have not been attending smochos held by family and friends, yet nevertheless we are unable to review such large quantities of material. Every daf takes me at least an hour and a half to review . . . " I also wrote out my learning schedule.

I added that in the recent past, reviewing such large amounts of material in such a short time was unheard of and that we needed to have the load lightened. Boruch Hashem there are other Kollelei HaShas today where there is a lighter load.

YN: I get the impression the letter was charged with a lot of emotion and with the expectation that the Rebbe would ease up. What was his reply?

I received a very harsh letter in return. I had the merit of bearing the brocho stated in maseches Brochos: Kol talmid sherabo ko'eis olov veshosek . . . In his reply Rabbenu revealed what his goal had been in setting up Kollel HaShas (which can also be applied to Mifal HaShas). I will quote just a few excerpts relating to your question:

"I have received the long letter you wrote `between lines and dapim of the gemora' as you put it, which was a big chiddush for me, although your intention was for the sake of Heaven. I do not know of any heteir for this, for Chazal say, "Hamehaleich baderech veshoneh umafsik mimishnoso . . . ke'ilu mischayeiv benafsho" (Ovos 3:7) and as you said, time is short and there is much work to be done." At this point he writes some harsh words and comments on my learning schedule, although to me it had been great mesirus nefesh not to attend family smochos or even my friends' smochos.

"The truth is neither you or your fellow [kollel members] understood correctly. Despite all of the work I invested in you, giving over my strength and my soul to show you the proper path and right conduct, for in the mishnah Chazal explicitly state the 48 elements through which the Torah is acquired. Just as a woman is sanctified with [no less than] one prutoh and Jewish maidservant with two prutos, the Torah cannot be acquired with 47 [of these] elements, but only with all 48 . . . And upon seeing the darkness that descended upon our generation due to the extended golus and that chavlei Moshiach have reached neck-high, I thought I might be able to make some talmidim into talmidei chachomim. What is a talmid chochom? He who is asked about a halocho in any given place and says it (Shabbos 114a). The way to achieve this is to at least be boki in Shas and Rishonim and the four sections of the Shulchan Oruch." Geonim who know the Torah backwards and forwards.

Then the Rebbe commented on my claim that in the recent past it was unheard of to do so much review on such a tremendous quantity of material and Torah knowledge: "I, too, am aware of the limitations of my mind and intelligence, but I had the merit of being a shamash and educating myself and witnessing gedolei hador who truly knew the entire Torah, and this I saw with my own eyes . . . And not in the time of Odom Horishon, Chanoch and Mesuchelach, Sheim and Eiver and Avrohom and his seed, and not in the time of the Nevi'im, such as Chizkiyohu and his peers. Not in the time of the Tanaim and the Amoraim. And not in the time of the Geonim Rishonim and the Poskim Rishonim, and the Arizal and his talmidim, and the Baal Shem Tov and his talmidim. Today I have yet to arrive even to Gevuros and only for a few decades have I had the merit `to be covered in the dust of the legs' of talmidei chachomim and I have seen their way of learning and the way they lead their lives.

"In my innocence I thought there might remain `kernels to revive the dry bones' and to serve as candles to light up the darkness. That there might be some talmidim who wanted to acquire the Torah through `the 48 elements through which the Torah is acquired,' who, given the opportunity, would rise up and realize the verse, ' . . . Ki lo sishochach mipi zaro ki yodati es yitzro asher hu oseh hayom beterem avi'enu el Ho'oretz asher nishbati' (Devorim 31:21) and Rashbi's statement, 'Chas vesholom shetishtakeach Torah miYisroel' (see Shabbos 138a) by increasing the study of gemora with Rashi and Tosafos. According to Rashi on Eruvin 65a (s.v. yazif uforo), 'If one fixes a set amount to study every day . . . but is occupied with matters of subsistence during the day he should make up his set time at night.' This indicates that they were accustomed to studying large quantities. Furthermore Chazal said, `One should always study Torah [superficially] and later in depth' (Avodoh Zora 19a).

"One should continue his studies and constantly review so he does not have time to forget, as it says in Chagigo (9b), `One who reviews his learning 100 times is entirely different from one who reviews 101 times.'"

At this point the Rebbe commented on my claim that it takes me at least an hour and a half to review a page of gemora with Rashi and Tosafos. "Every time one reviews he knows and understands more, and the next time he studies it he will be able to learn it faster, not as you wrote that you need about an hour and a half per daf. This is nonsense, for not every time [you review] is the same. If at first one needs an hour and a half then the next time an hour will be enough and then half an hour and then ten minutes and five minutes.

"I knew in advance that this was not a suitable approach for the masses, since they would soon grow weary from the load. As Chazal said, `Elef nichnasim letalmud . . . ' (Vayikra Rabba, Parsha 2), but nevertheless I will not despair and I will remain at my post to do everything in my power to teach the proper path and course of conduct . . . We will continue according to the original plan and those who are able to meet [these demands] will travel a tried and true path and Hashem will favor them and grant them success, and those who are unable will drop out and stop."

This letter has already become famous. It contains other details from which a lot can be learned. I just wanted to present you with the background against which the letter was written.

YN: How long did you continue with this learning program?

When we continued the program, the Admor ztvk'l was not convinced we were succeeding as he had intended. Someone suggested we be tested by gedolei hador, who would then give their opinion. Following a request by the Klausenberger Rebbe ztvk'l we had the merit of being tested by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita who ylct'a, was on friendly terms with the Rebbe and he went through the whole Shas with us, with questions and contradictions between different masechtos, and gave us a brochoh and sent word in writing to the Admor ztvk'l of the positive impression he had received.

YN: Do you have anything you would like to say to those joining the third cycle?

I got carried away with my memories, but in my opinion this is timely since Mifal HaShas is celebrating the completion of the Shas. We must recall the original plan and not view it with a small-minded hashkofo. The original plan was not for avreichim to be tested on either 30 or 90 dapim per month. The original plan was to build talmidei chachomim who can be asked regarding any halocho, to serve as candles to light up the darkness and to find talmidim who want to acquire the Torah through the 48 elements, and given the opportunity would rise up and realize the verse, ' . . . Ki lo sishochach mipi zaro' (Devorim 31:21) And as the Rebbe zt'l writes in Letter 179, "Toward this end Kollelei HaShas and Mifal HaShas were founded-- to return the Torah to its pedestal through toil and comprehensive knowledge, for divrei Torah are meager in one place and ample in another."

In conclusion the Rebbe, zechuso yogen aleinu, writes in reply to the inquirer, "One should learn a lot and constantly review numerous times and Hashem will favor his efforts and he will succeed and rise up and attain comprehensive knowledge of the entire Torah."

In his Shabbos Shuva drosho at the beginning of 5740 he expounded on Shefa Chaim (p. 125), saying the only way to uncover chiddushim and to begin to probe the depths of Chazal's intentions is by toiling and "killing" oneself in the tents of Torah night and day. And every day one must learn several dapim of gemora with Rashi and Tosafos and to thoroughly review them orally until he has the merit to complete the entire Shas with the commentaries and to know every single daf inside out and in depth. Then he will be able to uncover its secrets and to make chiddushim properly.

I would like to add one important sentence: As is well known Rabbenu HaRashal says a siyum is considered a "yomo tovo lerabonon" not because of those who have finished but because of those who join. And therefore, to my friends who have completed the Shas, I say I join them on their day of celebrating. I saw all their hard work and I take part in their happiness. He who has not experienced the joy of completing the Shas does not know the true value of this day! And I say to those taking part in the occasion, may we merit seeing these things reflected in gedolei Yisroel and realize that the goal is not just completing the Shas, which although in itself it is a lofty goal, nevertheless it is not the end purpose.

The founder's objective was not to be satisfied with little, but to aim to be a gaon in Torah in all sections of Shas and poskim! The goal of Mifal HaShas is to lay the groundwork, a foundation for iyun and knowledge of the whole Shas and the four parts of the Shulchan Oruch - - to produce geonim with kinyonei Torah. These days of joy will rouse every talmid chochom and tzorev to accept the yoke of Torah with a spirit of high-mindedness and aspirations for greatness. That every individual should make the most of himself according to his abilities like an ox to the yoke and a mule to the load through yegioh and hasmodoh and tefilloh, with the aim of achieving knowledge of the entire Torah.


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