Daf Yomi Siyum Thoughts
Seven and a half years ago, I watched with pride and admiration as the women of the Matan Daf Yomi shiur stood and together recited the Hadran, celebrating their accomplishment of learning the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud. Motzei Shabbat (4.1.2020), some of those very same women finished Shas for the second time and this time, I stood with them and proudly recited the Hadran myself.
As Rav Shabbtai Rappaport explained in his remarks at the siyum, the Gemara is not a train with a beginning and an end. Rather, there are tangents, false starts, questions without answers. All of these add to the richness of the sugya. In the same way, my Daf Yomi journey wasn’t a straight road.
Fifteen years ago, inspired by all those finishing the 11th cycle of Daf Yomi, I decided to pick up a Gemara and start learning. I had some background in learning Gemara, but when I was learning on my own the Aramaic proved too challenging and I gave up somewhere around Brachot 5a. When I began learning in the Advanced Talmud Institute at Matan in the fall of 2008, I wasn’t learning daf yomi myself. However, I was asked to teach the daf yomi shiur once a week. In this way I was able to give back to the Matan community and exercise my newly learned skills in Gemara. By learning some of the surrounding material I was able to prepare and teach a daf a week. After the birth of my son, I was able to continue my personal learning, but I had to put teaching on hold. Every once in a while, women from the daf yomi shiur would come up to me in the halls of Matan and ask when I was coming back to teach.
After finishing the three year Talmud Institute at Matan, I was looking for a way to keep Talmud in my life even if I couldn’t sit in the Beit Midrash for a significant part of the day. My husband and I found daf yomi to be an excellent way of ensuring a little bit of Torah learning each day. When my children were old enough to be excited about getting to school a bit early, I was able to go back to teaching the daf yomi shiur once a week. Preparing for the shiur really enhances my own learning. It’s not enough for me to have a basic grasp of the material. I have to be ready to answer questions from the group that I wouldn’t have addressed on my own.
I look forward to continue teaching this group and welcome new women who have been inspired by our siyum and others. As we begin the next cycle, I think that the Gemara itself can be instructive in how to get the most out of the Daf Yomi practice.
In my remarks on Motzei Shabbat, I taught the first Mishna in Masechet Brachot which begins מאימתי קורין קריאת שמע בערבין – from when can one recite the Shema in the evening. Brachot, the tractate that begins the entire Shas, begins with the daily practice of Shema. The Mishna goes on to discuss the latest time at night that one may recite Shema. The Rabbis teach that one may not recite Shema after midnight. Rabban Gamliel disagrees and says that one may recite the Shema until first light. In a real-life case, Rabban Gamliel instructs his sons who have come in late from a party and have not yet recited the Shema, that as long as it is still dark they are obligated to recite it. To me, Rabban Gamliel is speaking to the procrastinators. The Rabbis were trying to save us from ourselves by creating an artificial deadline in the middle of the night. By saying that the mitzvah ends at midnight, they encourage people to perform it as soon as possible – not to delay. Rabban Gamliel speaks to reality. Things happen, people are busy, but just because it is late at night doesn’t mean that the mitzvah is over. It is still there waiting to be performed, all night long. In the same way Daf Yomi is a daily practice which certainly benefits from being performed at the same time each and every day. Preferably earlier than later to get the day off to a good start. That said, each day has 24 hours in which to learn a daf of Gemara. Plenty of time. Don’t give up even if you get started late at night.