I reserved the siyum tickets on day 2,637. The 13th worldwide siyum, or completion, of the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud, the oral commentary on the written Torah, was scheduled on Jan. 1, 2020, at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, and my husband was studiously poised to complete his first go-round. It was a lifetime achievement, and I felt it even warranted shlepping my family from Phoenix to the East Coast in the winter, and breaking my decade long personal ban against owning a pair of boots.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro is widely credited with introducing the concept of daf yomi, or one double sided page of Talmud studied daily according to a calendar followed by Jews worldwide, ensuring the completion of the entire Talmud once every seven-and-a-half years. The first daf yomi cycle began on Rosh Hashanah 1923, and has been uniting Jews globally ever since. This year’s daf yomi siyum was the largest ever, with over 92,000 attendees at Metlife Stadium, another 20,000 at Barclay’s Center in New York and thousands by live hook-up in cities all over the world.
My family’s days and nights revolve around the daf yomi. The current Talmud volume is either on my dining room table, or with my husband at shul where he learns the daf in a group following morning services. I narrowly miss being late for work most mornings waiting for him to come home from his daf class. My children know when one volume is finished and a new one is started. My husband frequently is found at night reviewing the day’s daf, and occasionally, dozing off over the open pages. He grabs his book bleary-eyed in the morning on his way to shul, but still he learns, one page a day.
This seven-and-a-half year cycle of the daf encompassed, thank G-d, the birth of our son, as well as the sudden passing of my father and mother-in-law, of blessed memories. Still, he learned the daf. Page by page, he studied and reviewed, through our overlapping year of mourning, through hectic days, routine days, holidays and a thousand days in between.
So we arrived to Metlife Stadium, floating on air. The sheer number of Jews streaming into the arena was breathtaking. To be in the presence of some of American Jewry’s most revered rabbis, and to daven with them, was a true honor. My seat in the women’s section was literally a few short rows down from the very topmost bleacher row of the open air stadium (not recommended for someone with vertigo). It was also about 35 degrees and windy, but that did not dampen the excitement of the attendees.
During my year of mourning for my beloved father, Tzvi ben Shlomo Hakohen, A”H, I went to services morning and evenings and recited Kaddish for my father in an undertone. I had been waiting all these months to respond to Kaddish of the afternoon and evening services at the siyum. The voices of the tens of thousands below me rose up, seemingly filling all available airspace above the stadium, in perhaps the greatest public sanctification of G-d’s name in modern times, and I screamed aloud, in unison with them with all my might, “Amen, Yehi shemai rabba ... May his great name be blessed forever and ever.” That moment was worth the trip.
The official finishing of the last lines of the Talmud was followed by spirited dancing and music, manifesting simple, pure joy of Torah learning and the growth that one attains through its study. This was followed by a brief discussion of the first daf of tractate Brachos, the first volume of the Talmud, beginning the cycle for the 14th time.
Around the holiday time, there are frequently newspaper articles about people who sit outside stores overnight in the cold in anticipation of Black Friday deals. They are waiting to be among the first to purchase the latest expensive electronic gadget, which will likely be obsolete in a short time and then cast aside. Yet here are the Jewish people, who run to the ancient texts, who bring life to its words, and when they finish the book, they return to it yet again, finding deeper meaning.
The new daf yomi cycle starts Sunday, Jan. 4, 2020, with Brachos, page two. There are a number of local daf yomi classes in the Valley at various synagogues. Additionally, there are many online daf yomi classes available in English from beginner level to more advanced. Consider learning the daf, and joining my husband and tens of thousands around the globe who will be united with you every day. See you at the worldwide siyum in 2027. JN
Dr. Shani Saks Feld is a Phoenix-based cardiologist. She drives a vehicle with a “My husband made a siyum hashas” bumper sticker.