MAY SUCH ATTACKS CONTINUE
A week ago, an event took place that should have captured the attention of any and every law-abiding American who has been following the onslaught of attacks that have been taking place against those in our society, who simply wanted to come to pray and participate in their religion.
Ninety thousand Jews converged on MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The event was Siyyum HaShas or the completion of the study of 2711 double-sided pages of Talmud. At the rate of a folio (both sides of a page) a day, the faithful devoted over 7 years, of painstakingly making their way through the endlessly daunting Talmud, to gain a better understanding, as well as a deeper appreciation of the text. Written in Aramaic, the Talmud is devoid of vocalization and punctuation. But even if one is capable of mastering reading the text, one is left with the formidable task of understanding the text. To a large extent, the depth of Talmudic thought and reasoning is mind-boggling, to say the least. It would in no way be an exaggeration, I believe, to say that just as the English language deems it correct for us to say, that one “attacks” a problem, so too is it correct for us to say that those who devote themselves to serious Talmud study do so, by attacking the plethora of issues found in the Talmud. As such, last week’s Siyyum HaShas was a classical Jewish response to the seemingly unceasing attacks against our people within the last few years in general and the last few weeks in particular. Upon completion of a tractate of the Talmud, as well as the entire Talmud, five non-textual paragraphs are included, followed by the reciting of a special Kaddish. Among these five paragraphs, we find “…for we rise, and they rise. We rise to study Torah, but they rise to kill time… we run, and they run. Our running will ultimately gain us entry into heaven, but their running will ultimately lead them to the pit of destruction.” In light of recent events, I believe that it would have been most fitting for those participating in Siyyum HaShass to have added “we attack, and they attack. We attack in order to master a tome, but they attack to create disaster as part of a syndrome.”
Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize that our constant attack of the Talmud text is out of love and reverence. We attack the text cerebrally and spiritually, with the goal of unlocking hidden treasures and solving a myriad of mysteries. The greatest disservice one can render the Talmud is to treat it like any other text. I once recall reading the following statement from a renowned Talmudic scholar: “Quite often, when I scrutinize the same text for the hundredth time, I see something that I failed to notice the previous ninety-nine times.” True appreciation is accorded the Talmud when it is viewed as a holy puzzle, filled with cryptic statements as well as phrases and words that drop hints to the trained eye.
Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize that our unceasing attack of the Talmud, reveals much about ourselves. Aside from our trademark tenacity – we Jews never give up – we have also shown that we are capable of a rebirth. Sixty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a Siyyum HaShas to have taken place in a setting even remotely comparable to MetLife Stadium. Instead, any Siyum HaShas sixty years ago was in all probability a private affair with little fanfare, where at best, hundreds participated, rather than tens of thousands.
Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize what’s in the crosshairs of a sizeable segment of our population. Rather than spending time fomenting hatred against those who are a thorn in our side and mean us harm, instead of devoting time to devise different ways of revenge, those who participated in last week’s Siyyum HaShas, set aside roughly an hour a day, in a way that threatens no one. Groups of people who are “on the same page” both literally and figuratively, agreed to get together, using their time productively as they set out on a holy quest that hopefully sharpened their thinking and ideally improved their character.
May such attacks continue.