April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Jim England once said: “There is great meaning in life for those who are willing to journey.”

In my long time role as a high school basketball coach I have often found myself conveying to my players my strong belief that the basketball season is a journey that in many ways mirrors life itself. The journey is comprised of numerous peaks and valleys, ups and downs, successes and failures. The same certainly can be said for the journey of life itself.

Ironically, it was in a sports venue, the MetLife Stadium, in which I heard four words that pierced my soul and inspired me to embark on an entirely new journey altogether. As I joined over 90,000 fellow Jews (of all stripes, shapes, kippot and backgrounds) on Wednesday night August 1, 2012 for the twelfth Siyum Hashas, I reflected back on the last several such celebrations that I had the privilege to attend. At each of those previous siyums, I walked away inspired by the efforts and vast accomplishments of the many thousands of people around the world who had completed the entire cycle of Daf Yomi.

I walked away equally awed by the brilliant foresight of Rabbi Meir Shapira z’l, who founded the Daf Yomi concept in 1923, as well as by the brilliant leadership of Rabbi Cheskel Besser, z’l, the late Rav of Congregation Bnai Yisroel Chaim (affectionately known in our family as “Opa’s Shul”), who was the International Chairman of Daf Yomi for many years and who was credited with bringing the Daf Yomi concept to America. Rabbi Besser was also responsible for all the Jewish sites in Europe, was a leader of the World Agudath Israel and worked for the Lauder Foundation.

Closer to home, my attendance at the previous Siyum Hashas celebrations prompted me to reflect deeply on the life of my maternal grandfather, Charles Goldner, a’h, known in our family as Opa. Opa was a Holocaust survivor who, like too many from his generation, suffered through the tragic loss of several children and family members, as well as the loss of his business and numerous other hardships at the hands of the Nazi barbarians. Most amazing to me was the fact that despite experiencing epic tragedies that would bring most people to their knees, Opa rebuilt his life in America while demonstrating unwavering faith and commitment to Hashem and to the Torah way of life. My Opa completed the Daf Yomi cycle many times and was the closest I have ever come to knowing a tzaddik.

I also harkened back to the memory of my paternal grandfather, Isadore Gibber, a’h, known as Grandpa. Grandpa was a farmer and together with my grandmother (tibadeh lechaim) raised a shomer shabbos family in Monticello in a time and place where such an accomplishment was extremely rare. Despite Grandpa’s unbridled commitment to a Torah way of life, he himself never had a yeshiva education or the opportunity to be a serious Torah learner. It was for this reason that his decision to begin learning Daf Yomi upon his retirement at the ripe old age of 80 and his subsequent completion of the entire cycle at the age of 88 was celebrated and legendary in our extended family.

On a few occasions immediately following previous Siyim Hashas celebrations, I made halfhearted, and ultimately failed, attempts to jump onto the Daf Yomi bandwagon. A lack of commitment to Torah study, combined with the busy demands of daily family and professional life often left me feeling somewhat detached and less than fully fulfilled in my relationship with Hashem.

Then Rabbi Yissocher Frand stepped to the podium and delivered a powerful 22-minute speech that electrified the stadium. He spoke about the Bas Kol, the [feminine] heavenly voice, that lurks in each of our heads asking each of us why we aren’t doing more to learn and to strengthen our relationships with Hashem. Rabbi Frand was adamant in suggesting that in response to the proverbial Bas Kol, “Today we must leave here with a plan.”

He challenged the attendees to “learn a Daf a day. If you can’t learn a Daf a day then make it an Amud a day, or a Daf of Mishna Berurah a day or a Mishna a day.” He then yelled out the powerful and memorable four words “But Something A Day!”

The capacity crowd erupted in thunderous applause. From that moment on I knew that that regular Torah learning had to become part of the fabric of my life.

The next morning I joined the many thousands around the world in embarking on this new journey by learning the first daf of Maseches Berachos. In the ensuing weeks I began to feel as if I was establishing relationships with new friends named Rava, Abaye, Bais Hillel, Bais Shamai, Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Rebbe and so many others. Who wouldn’t want to have such friends?

At the siyum upon the completion of Meseches Berachos, I experienced a genuine feeling of accomplishment, and it had a positive impact my own children and the children of others who joined the siyum.

The long term challenge is consistency and “staying with it” regardless of the demands of daily life. As Maseches Shabbos turned to the early pages of Maseches Eiruvin, I found myself falling behind and struggling to stay on pace. I had been learning Daf Yomi on my own (aided by the excellent Schottenstein Gemarahs as well as several helpful online shiurim) and with family smachot, business trips and other obligations tugging at me, I was quickly reminded that the daily Daf Yomi doesn’t wait for anyone.

I found myself standing at the crossroads of my Daf Yomi commitment when I had a conversation with an uncle who has always been a true role model in how to synthesize genuine commitment to learning Torah while being a highly respected professional in his field. My uncle strongly suggested that if I was serious about my Daf Yomi commitment, I had to commit to attending a daily Daf Yomi shiur and it had to be etched in stone into my daily calendar, like any important business meeting.

Never one known as an early morning person, I chose the earliest Daf Yomi shiur I could find, 5:30 a.m. in Bnai Yeshurun, where I davened each Shabbos. I decided to try the 5:30 a.m. daily shiur for one week.

The first day that I walked into the 5:30 a.m. shiur, a few eyes glanced my way and welcomed me. At the conclusion of that first shiur, the well-learned and friendly gentleman sitting next to me remarked that it isn’t common for someone to stumble upon a shiur at 5:30 in the morning and that I obviously had made a conscious decision to attend. He then asked if I planned to attend every day. I replied that I was there for that day’s shiur and had planned to be there again the next day. I looked at the journey as one step at a time.

This quickly developed into a daily routine. After a few weeks, one of my sons asked me why I was bothering to get up at 5 a.m. every day to learn Daf Yomi. I was proud to inform him that I wanted to become a better role model for him. My daily attendance also ensured that I could now stay on pace, while simultaneously enabling me to better understand each day’s Daf and the many intricate details of that day’s topics.

I also gained respect and appreciation for the 25 to 30 regulars, most learning Daf Yomi for many years, even decades. One man in particular, an elderly gentleman named Rabbi Solomon Weinberger, an immense talmid chacham who practically knows shas by heart, had a tremendous impact on me. He was the decades-long well-respected rabbi of a shul in Passaic prior to his retirement. Always friendly and cheerful, Rabbi Weinberger verbally spars with the person giving the shiur that day either to add or clarify an important point to the discussion or to challenge the person teaching the shiur if he is less than fully satisfied with the explanations given. Witnessing Rabbi Weinberger’s keen understanding of the Gemarah and the way that Torah is central to his very essence, is a warm reminder of my Opa. I understand now how learning Daf Yomi is life-changing and ensures an automatic daily “plug in” to God and the Torah.

Rabbi Frand described Daf Yomi as a lifeline. As I reach for that lifeline each day I think of my Opa and Grandpa and my desire to continue on the path that they paved. I also think of my late friend and colleague, Maurice Grossman, a’h, who wanted to embark on the Daf Yomi journey but never had the chance. Above all, I think about the countless ways in which this journey continues to enrich my life every day. It is my hope that in describing my journey, someone out there will decide to come along. As the old Chinese Proverb says, “The journey itself is the reward.

Daniel Gibber is the longtime MTA Varsity Basketball Coach and lives in Teaneck, NJ, with his wife Amy and their five children.

By Daniel Gibber

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