By Sandy Eller. Amid all the planning, predictions and even prayers for the 13th Global Siyum Hashas, not a single member of the massive team that planned the worldwide celebration of limud haTorah ever expected things to turn out quite the way they did.
Starting on December 16th in Melbourne, Australia and moving on days later to Mexico City, the Global Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi began a month-long trek across the planet, igniting an unprecedented passion for Torah in every city, at every siyum. Throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Israel, well over 500,000 people participated in multiple siyumim and like the mountaintop flames in Mishnaic times that signaled the coming of Rosh Chodesh from one locale to another, the torch of Torah circled the globe, setting hearts and souls on fire.
Rav Meir Shapiro’s vision of a daily commitment to learning bringing Klal Yisroel together came to life like never before at the makom Torah that he founded in Poland in 1930, with the Siyum HaShas returning on January 1st to its birthplace, Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. Inscribing another memorable page in the annals of history on the same day were epic siyumim at MetLife Stadium and Barclays Center, with thousands more flocking to Daf Yomi celebrations in Jerusalem and other locations. In the days that followed, the flames of Torah blazed an impassioned trail from the Western Hemisphere eastward, each of the ebullient Siyumei HaShas transcending time and space as they united in-person participants with hundreds of thousands of livestream viewers under a banner of Torah that spanned both continents and generations.
Days after the final emotional Hadran was made in Minneapolis on January 18th, sparks of the Siyum HaShas continue to burn brightly, reflections of The Siyum’s duality that simultaneously marked the culmination of the 2,711 page journey through Shas and the start of the 14th Daf Yomi cycle. Stories continue to pour into the offices of Agudath Israel of America of increased commitments to Torah and mitzvos brought on by The Siyum, including a group of non-observant French students who left MetLife Stadium determined to take on a single mitzvah, seeking out the advice and the blessings of the Kaliver Rebbe in Williamsburg to guide them on their spiritual quest. A Lakewood woman reported that her husband’s decision to start Daf Yomi had him heading to a local seforim store where he discovered that it had completely sold out every volume of Maseches Berachos, a scenario that repeated itself in the next two stores he visited. Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of Agudath Israel of America, noted how a proud daughter told him that her father was so inspired by the last siyum that he finished shas for the first time at the age of 85! Just days after the Siyum HaShas, Rabbi Moshe Matz, executive director of Agudath Israel of Florida, was stopped in a Miami supermarket parking lot by a young boy who proudly announced that he had been inspired to undertake a commitment in mishnayos. And a participant in one of The Siyum’s suites saw firsthand how the pintele yid can never be extinguished when a MetLife Stadium staffer who was mesmerized by images of Holocaust survivors flashing across a wall mounted monitor shared that her family had abandoned their yiddishkeit during the Holocaust, but that The Siyum has inspired her to explore her long-buried religious roots.
The serious commitment to limud Torah that was The Siyum encouraged in people of all ages, from all walks of life and from all across the religious is unprecedented, noted Rabbi Eliyahu Simcha Bamberger, national director of the Agudah’s Daf Yomi Commission. The MetLife Stadium Siyum HaShas was the first siyum to offer a livestream with simultaneous translations given in Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Russian and French, and starting the MetLife program at 1 PM Eastern Standard Time also opened up the event to a worldwide audience. Even the January 1st date of the MetLife Stadium siyum, chosen to avoid potential scheduling conflicts in the sporting world, added an extra element of hashgachah pratis, the New Year’s Day holiday minimizing traffic while allowing more people to attend the program.
While pictures of the Siyumei HaShas remain forever etched in the minds of Klal Yisroel, the Kodak moment that encapsulates the event differs from person to person. For some it was the unbridled exuberance of singing and dancing after the Hadran, while for others it was the silence that spoke volumes as thousands, and in MetLife Stadium, tens of thousands, davened Shmoneh Esrai together in complete and utter stillness. Some point to the emotional moment of kabalas ol malchus shomayim as the highlight of the Siyum HaShas, while for others it was the incredible reverence shown for the priceless jewels of our generation, the Holocaust survivors who attended the siyumim. But there is no doubt that the Siyumei Hashas were emotionally charged events for all who participated, adding heartfelt fuel to the fire of Torah that has sustained Klal Yisroel for centuries, with hundreds of thousands signing up to learn Daf Yomi for the first time and an equal number of people and tens of thousands of children embarking on new voyages in Torah study.
“There has never been a springboard for more serious commitments to learning than this siyum,” observed Rabbi Bamberger. “This siyum touched people’s lives in so many different ways, from those who had zero to do with Orthodoxy to people who are committed but couldn’t find the time to learn previously and are now making the time, no matter how difficult it may be.”
Literally translated, the word “siyum” means conclusion, and those who attended siyumim in every corner of the world did so with the intent of celebrating the ending to a monumental achievement in learning. Little did they know that no matter which siyum they attended, their lives would be forever changed as they celebrated new beginnings in learning, sparks of Torah and achdus flashing all across the globe as siyumim were held in city after city, offering a tantalizing glimpse of bias haMoshiach.
“None of us ever expected anything like this to happen,” admitted Rabbi Avrohom Nisan Perl, Director of Agudath Israel’s Torah Projects Commission. “The Siyum HaShas was a testament to a true thirst for Torah and what yiddishkeit stands for – getting close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu through Torah. This siyum showed the world what we stand for and wherever any member of Klal Yisroel may be, geographically, emotionally or culturally, this is what is going to carry us through this final stage of golus.”