In 1923 the great Rabbi Meir Shapiro came up with the revolutionary idea of creating a system in which every Jew on the planet could literally be on the same page of Talmud. There is a Talmudic passage in which the great Rabbi Akiva survived a shipwreck, by grasping onto a daf (translated as plank, but also meaning “page.”) He survived the turmoil and raging sea by grasping onto the daf for dear life. A Jew traveling from Europe could find himself in America, on the same page as his American brethren. By studying one page a day, every single day, a person would finish the 2,711 pages of Talmud once every 7.5ish years.
On January 1st, 2020, 90,000ish Jews celebrated this massive accomplishment in MetLife Stadium, as the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi came to a close. As chronicled here, I watched this massive celebration from my couch with tears in my eyes, deeply moved, pledging to myself that I wanted to be the one celebrating this enormous accomplishment 7.5 years from now.
On March 7, 2020 we celebrated the completion of the first tractate, Berachos. The world was already changing. By March 15, 2020, a week into the new tractate Shabbos, the world completely shutdown.
And then, as everything changed in remarkable ways, and uncertainty reigned, there was only one thing that remained consistent and predictable: the Daf Yomi– studying Tractate Shabbos. Every. Single. Day.
Ironically, Tractate Shabbos is about the Sabbath– our eternal day of rest. At the same time, humanity as we know it, entered an extended period of rest. Gone were the days of running out to work, going to programs, sports games, etc. We were home. In a way, every day was like the Sabbath. The family time was unprecedented. The lack of outside noise and distraction provided an unprecedented opportunity for growth. Just like on the Sabbath day when any stressful part of the week evaporates as soon as the glowing flickering candles are lit.
For the thousands of Jews who studied Daf Yomi these past 157 days, it will always be remembered as the tractate that was studied during the Pandemic. Interestingly, the Mishna in Pirkei Avos, Ethics of our Fathers, quotes Shammai, that a person should make his Torah study keva, a fixed practice. I think this could also mean that a person should make his Torah study as a focal point of his life, a reference point of sorts. As I look back on my life since college, I have always been so busy and so focussed on what I was doing, I honestly do not have the best recall of day to day life. I don’t have the clearest image in my head of what our apartments looked like. But I do vividly remember what tractate of Talmud I was studying at different periods in my life. In this way, Torah study has been a table of contents of my life. When I was studying abroad in Jerusalem as a college sophomore, I studied the tractate about marriage. As a newlywed living in Boston, I studied about the holiday of Sukkos and then Kesubos, or marriage documents. In Washington Heights, it was Nedarim, or vows. My first years in Albany was about the Sotah, the unfaithful woman. And during the historic Corona Pandemic of 2020, it was Shabbos.
For me, throughout the chaos of Covid-19, the serenity of Shabbos never departed. For six days a week we work hard, get stressed out, and ride the tumultuous waves that life often throws at us. But we fear not, because Shabbos is never that far away. During Corona, every day we had Shabbos.
And today, 8/10/2020, we finished this holy, special tractate.
Tomorrow, 8/11/2020, we get into the complexities of the eruv– the legal partitions that enable us to carry objects on the Sabbath. Theres lots of details. Lots of technicalities.
How appropriate, as we learn new protocols for how to open up the world, how to run schools, synagogues, and institutions. Lots of details. Lots of complexities.
Every Saturday as the sun begins its majestic descent behind the stunning Rocky Mountains, I feel a tinge of sadness. The Holy Sabbath is leaving. Time to get back to the grind and complexity of real life.
Meseches Shabbos, it is sad to leave you. We will miss you. Thank you for being the rock that kept us grounded theses past 157 days. But just like the Sabbath returns every seven days, we know you too, are not going that far.
We can always come back to you.
And at the very least, we will see you in 7.5 years.