May 21, 2019

Day 2711 – Siyum HaShas: The Talmud Ends, The Talmud Begins

Whoever learns halachos every day is assured that he will be a citizen of the World to Come. For it is stated: The ways (halichos) of the world are His. Do not read halichos, but halachos. (Niddah 73a)

After seven and a half years of daily study, my voyage through the sea of Talmud ended with these words, as 92,000 Jews filled every seat of Metlife Stadium in New Jersey to celebrate the completion of Daf Yomi in an event called The 12th Siyum HaShas. My voyage began with a miracle, and ended in transformation.

On March 2, 2005, I ventured into 613 The Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. I’d been there a few times, but it was not a regular stop. I grew up proud to be Jewish, I had a Bar Mitzvah, and I always considered myself a spiritual person with a rational belief in G-d, i.e. it made more sense to me that G-d created the world than that it just happened.

I sought out spirituality in many places and traditions, but I was never satisfied. Then my grandmother of blessed memory, Magdalena Miselbach, passed away in September 1997, and I felt a deep pull to explore my own backyard. I did not realize then, nor until the very moment of writing this paragraph, that her passing coincided with the 10th completion of the Daf Yomi cycle.

In 1997, I simply started going to synagogue, not because I was supposed to, but because I wanted to. I soon became a student of Rabbi Mordecai Finley – a brilliant teacher of Chassidus and the transformative power of our tradition. Learning from him and other great teachers like Rabbis Shlomo Schwartz, David Wolpe, Mark Blazer, David Seidenberg, and Jonathan Omer-Man, I drank in all the Torah I could, and I embarked upon the path described by Reb Springsteen: a time comes when you need to start being the man you aim to become.

Along the way, I often heard about the Talmud. I knew the word, but I never attended a Yeshiva, and I had no real sense of what it meant. On previous visits to the bookstore on Pico, I would look over at the long shelves of Talmud and shake my head. Those volumes seemed like bricks in a wall separating the super-religious from everyone else.

After seven and a half years of learning, however, I had a new thought. Why be intimidated? OK, so each set of Talmud looks like three Encyclopedia Britannicas. But I was an English major in college, and they’re just books! There must be a book one. I’ll get that and see what it’s like. I found Berachos 1, and took it to the counter.

The kid at the register said, “So, you’re doing Daf Yomi.”

I said, “What’s Daf Yomi?”

Looking at me strangely, he answered, “It’s a worldwide program for learning Talmud. Everyone reads one page a day on the same schedule, it takes seven and a half years to read the whole thing, and today is day one.”

There are 2,711 pages in the Talmud. I could’ve bought that book on any one of those days. As a spiritual rationalist, the odds against this “coincidence” did not escape me.

“OK, G-d, I get the message. I’m doing Daf Yomi.”

Many times I thought I would fail. It has been called the world’s longest marathon. I have a family and a high-pressure occupation. Could there be enough hours in the day? Well, if G-d was so generous as to arrange a miracle for me to commence Daf Yomi, I figured He would also give me the strength to finish.

After seven and a half years of learning Talmud, much of it under the wise and gentle guidance of Rabbi Mechie Blau, I reached the long awaited day at Metlife Stadium. Metlife Stadium? Are you kidding me? I grew up in New York. I’m a rabid Giants fan. And last Wednesday I joined 92,000 Jews to fill every seat of Giants Stadium for a Talmud event? Unbelievable!

Accompanying me were my son, Avi, 7, my brother David and my old friend, Lionel Leventhal. Avi has never known me not to be a Talmud student. David is a cardiologist in Boston who pulled multiple favors to attend. Lionel says he was inspired by me to commence the Daf Yomi in the new cycle. My father unfortunately could not attend due to a knee surgery, but his ticket went to Bryan Bridges, whom I met through my “> More pieces like this at