Sunday, May 31, 2020

When we celebrated the completion of Shas, we recited the hadran prayer, Hadran alach Talmud Bavli, our return will be to you, Talmud Bavli. This seems to be a declaration and not merely a wish. We state with confidence that we will return to the study of Talmud Bavli and don’t appeal to the Almighty to kindly allow us another opportunity with the text. Why are we confident of a return? Don’t many read a book and then decide not to revisit it for they no longer find it interesting or novel?

Maybe our confidence stems from our awareness of who we really are. Part of the dream of Daf Yomi was to unite our nation around Torah. The Gemara is a book with contributors from all over the world. Mishnah was written in Israel, the Amoraim who discussed the Mishnah lived in Bavel, Rashi studied in Germany and taught in France, Rif was from North Africa, and Maharsha was from Poland. The volume of Gemara itself contains contributions from throughout the world; what better book could there be to unite Jews? What is it about Torah that it encompasses a singular ability to bring Jews from different locales and backgrounds together as one?

I think the answer is based on an understanding of the Jewish essence. The Zohar teaches that there are 600,000 primary Jewish souls and 600,000 letters in the Torah. Each Jewish soul is, at its core, a letter of Hashem’s Torah. Rav Saadia Gaon communicated this thought with his famous dictum אין אומתינו אומה אלא בתורתה, our nation is only a nation through its Torah. Other nationalities unite around a land, flag or common history. What unites and bonds us, though, is the Torah. Torah is our essence; hence, the study of our wisdom is what will connect the Jew from France with a Jew from the United States.

One of the most inspiring aspects of teaching Daf Yomi for seven and a half years at East Hill Synagogue is the great diversity that has developed around our table. When I look out at the shiur at 5:50 a.m. I see Jews stemming from all over the globe. There on the right is Gabriel, born in Morocco who came to the U.S. via France. At the end of the table on the left sits Almog, whose parents fled Libya, was raised in Israel, and now lives in Englewood. At the head of the table on the left sits Izzy, whose parents hailed from Aleppo, Syria. On the side is Baroukh from Isfahan and Rachamim and Mordechai from Tehran. There are many others: Jason, Yosef and David from Englewood, Rodger and Sheldon from Brooklyn, Seth from Lakewood, David from Ness Ziona, Medinah from upstate New York, Jay from the Bronx, Phil from Elizabeth, Fred from Boro Park, Kim from Denmark, Jonathan from New York City, Paul from Rockland, Scott from Long Island and Rick from South Africa. Several others listen in as they come in for davening and there are those who listen to the recordings on their way to work and while going about their day. Why does the daf create such a deep bond despite our different backgrounds? I believe that it is because the sing-song of Talmud study resonates with the notes of the soul’s identity. We are all intrinsically letters of the Torah, and the Gemara—which amplifies and applies those letters—creates a symphony with the music of each Jewish individual to produce a celestial concert.

Thus we are confident that hadran alach. When we finish the masechta we are certain that we will come back because the masechta is an expression of our deepest self. An individual will always ultimately return to his deepest root.

On a personal note, regarding my two grandfathers’ heritage, one was a Litvak, Mr. Yechezkel Etzion, and the other was from Polish chasidim, Mr. Eli Reichman. Both of them learned the daf. I remember how the daf was the last activity my Zaide Reichman engaged in on that day in Sivan when he passed away. I also still recall entering my mother’s father’s library after his passing and seeing the shelf filled with the small paperback Gemaras that had been printed by the Daf Yomi Commission. He purchased each one and on his subway rides to work from Washington Heights, or late at night after his time in the bank, he reviewed the daf. One of my earliest memories is of escorting my grandfather from Lithuania, proud alumnus of Telshe Yeshiva, on a cold winter day down to Madison Square Garden to attend the Siyum Hashas. Chasidim and misnagdim once opposed each other. My grandfathers came from different worlds, one from Belz chasidim and the other from Telshe Yeshiva bachurim, and the daf united them, as it unites all of us.

When I teach the daf, my 12-year-old son Eli Reichman sits at my right. I look upon him at 5:50 in the morning and watch him listen to the daf that his namesake, Eli Reichman, his great-grandfather whom he never met, would listen to, and know that there is a guarantee, hadran alach, we will return to you, Talmud Bavli, hadran alach!

Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches the daf at EHS in the mornings. Sunday: 7:45 a.m., Monday, Thursday: early daf 5:35 a.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 5:45 a.m., late daf weekdays at 7:10 a.m. and on Shabbat an hour before Mincha. All are welcome.