Like most of us, I have been enjoying and savoring the gradual resumption of “normal life,” as more and more are getting vaccinated and restrictions seem to be easing, albeit slowly. I was especially delighted to hear and read the news early this week about Israel ending all outdoor mask restrictions and I was doubly overjoyed to hear and read about it on the local radio and TV stations.
I was happy to hear about Israelis walking around without masks for a number of reasons. First, I felt happy for my many friends in Israel who no longer have to wear masks outdoors. Second, I was also hopeful that we here in the U.S. aren’t that far behind. And third, I believe that watching, hearing and reading about Israelis going out unmasked on so many media sites and local news channels gave hope to many millions, far beyond our own Israel-oriented readership, that the COVID-19 pandemic may actually end one day...and that’s a message that many need to hear and see.
However, another COVID-19-related announcement really made me joyful this past week. What was it? It was the announcement late last week that my shul, Congregation Beth Aaron, would be restarting the daily in-person Daf Yomi shiur. You see, up until the pandemic started, I would typically teach the Daf Yomi shiur in our shul every third or fourth week or so and I absolutely loved it. Boy, did I miss teaching the Daf this past year! This announcement was a true sign for me that the pandemic may be ending.
For the first decade or so of living in Teaneck, I was able to commit to teaching the Daf Yomi shiur weekly on Thursday nights in our shul and an occasional Shabbat shiur. My running joke during those years was that I had finished a seventh of Shas since I was teaching it once a week for many years. As life and work got a bit more hectic, I wasn’t able to keep up the Thursday night shiur commitment and scaled back to one to two times per month Shabbat shiur, which worked out better for me and my family.
I treasured those Daf Yomi shiur weeks where I would prep for at least an hour for each amud on Friday night, and sometimes, if the daf was extra demanding or complex, I would get up super-early on Shabbat morning to do additional prep. I loved giving the shiur and interacting with the shul Daf Yomi group and the occasional guests from far and wide, all of whom brought their own perspectives and insights to every shiur. I always enjoyed the good-natured repartee and occasionally humorous banter that flowed within the group, all with a goal of making sure everyone understood the Gemara to the best of their abilities and no one left the shiur too confused.
For me, teaching the Daf Yomi was just a small yet meaningful way (to me, at least) to keep my hand in the arena of teaching Torah. You see, I learned so many incredible things and met many special people in my time learning Torah and studying for semicha
at RIETS, but perhaps the most powerful message that was instilled deep into me (and I think in all of my peers as well) was that if you have the ability and wherewithal to teach Torah on some level or to serve the community in some critical leadership role, you absolutely must do so. A RIETS musmach simply cannot easily say no when the local shul or the local community or the Jewish people need something.
In fact, to this very day, it is physically hard for me to say the word “no” to a shul or minyan gabbai who needs someone to daven for the amud or do the haftorah, or any manner of in-shul tasks and responsibilities, many of which I am not all that great at and don’t have the best ear, voice or adequate nusach knowledge, etc. If I really don’t want to do something, I typically will respond something along the lines of “Come back to me if you can’t find anyone else,” but I just can’t say no outright. I believe this inability to say no stems from my RIETS days.
I often like to joke that RIETS was successful in giving me and my chaverim an existential “guilt complex” about serving the klal. We were trained not to say no...and to see ourselves as future leaders of the Jewish people. For those who are not involved directly in klei kodesh (chinuch, rabbanut, dayanut, etc.) on a daily and professional basis, I believe we all feel some sense of guilt that we are not doing more. Perhaps on some level it explains why I have stayed in the Jewish world for most of my professional life and why I started The Jewish Link to serve our growing Jewish community. Hmm...definitely something to think about.
(Quick plug for my alma mater RIETS here: the virtual RIETS Annual Gala is this Tuesday night (April 27) at 7p.m. The site to register and sign up is https://www.yu.edu/rietsgala2021. This year's program will pay tribute to the memory of Rabbi Hyman Arbesfeld, z”l, and also feature Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz and other distinguished rabbis from across the YU/RIETS spectrum who will be presenting.)
So the bottom line is that I see the return of the in-person Daf Yomi shiurim as a very positive signpost in our recovery from COVID-19 and I am anxiously looking forward to the return of my shul’s shiur and my place in our rotation. I am currently slotted in for next week’s shiur and can’t wait to start preparing.
Last but not least, a quick word about the special group of men who learn in our shul’s Daf Yomi. I don’t want to embarrass them too much so I will just close with a short anecdote about what a special group it is. A few years ago, I wasn’t able to give the shiur one week and I arranged for a young man from our shul, recently back from shana bet at a fine Israeli hesder yeshiva, to fill in for me. This young man started the shiur and unfortunately erred on which day’s daf it was and started giving the shiur on the prior day’s daf, for which he had prepared. However, not a single member of the group said a word to my substitute as they didn’t want to hurt or embarrass him. They sat through the shiur and learned with him as if it was the first time they had seen the daf in seven years. To this day, I don’t believe the young man ever realized his error and it’s all to the credit of the very special Jews in this Daf Yomi shiur.
May we continue to be able to learn together for many years to come!
By Moshe Kinderlehrer,
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link