By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Last week, Jews the world over celebrated a massive accomplishment and their hearts swelled with pride. All too often, we take what we have for granted and don’t appreciate it. But not last week. The scene was played out in so many different venues in major capitals and small cities around the world. In each, the people who attended were singing the same songs, proclaiming in every way they know, that we are a people on the rise. The Torah defines us. It is eternal and vibrant, and to the extent that we acknowledge and internalize it, so are we.
All who attended the massive Siyum Hashas at MetLife Stadium, or any of the other smaller celebrations, wish to remain on the high. No one wants to let go of the heightened emotions and the injection of chiyus and energy that the celebrations brought about in all sectors of the globe. Speaking in the distinctive languages of the Jewish people and in the various dialects of the Diaspora, the message of simchas haTorah was one. Whatever the accent, venue, or dress of the participants, the joyous chant of “mah ahavti Sorasecha” rose up to the heavens through the open air stadiums and caused the hearts of all present to beat faster.
Even those who could not attend were swept up in Klal Yisroel’s expression of ahavas haTorah, feeling an intense sense of pride in the accomplishment and a desire to add learning and self-improvement to every day. Everyone present dreamed about doing better and becoming better. Without a doubt, the attendees returned home better people and better Jews than they were when they sat in traffic on the way to the Siyum.
The Siyum was a celebration of rebirth, marking how far we have come as a people over the past few decades through fidelity to Torah.
The echo of the words “Hadron aloch Talmud Bavli” reverberate in the cosmos and in our collective and personal consciences, propelling us onward, driving us forward with the added thrust provided by the great simcha.
A nation in need of nechomah, just days after the anguish of Tisha B’Av when we mourned all that we lost, was provided a gift, a taste of eternal blessing, visualizing the oft-repeated statement of “ein lonu shiur rak haTorah hazos.” The Torah is the only remaining vestige of the glory that was.
As we were approaching Shabbos Nachamu, we were blessed with an awesome glimpse of the glory that will yet be, singing and dancing with ninety thousand Yiddishe bridder, shouting aloud “Amein yehei shemei rabbah” along with rivevos alfei Yisroel, all of whom cling tight to the “shiur,” the remainder, the holy Torah.
On the same day that Adolf Hitler stood in a stadium 76 years earlier bragging about ridding the world of Jews, a survivor of the awful Holocaust he unleashed stood in one of the world’s largest stadiums and proclaimed that the shir shel yom of that day described Hashem as a “Keil Nekamos.” Is there a better nekomah than to witness so many people coming together for Torah?
As everyone’s good friend, Reb Abish Brodt, sang the words “Chazu bonay chavivay,” with which we are all familiar, they seemed to have extra simcha when chanted in the company of 90,000 Jews who gathered – just as the words of the refrain proclaim – to bemishtakach mitzarah dilehoin and be oisek in the chedvah of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
We were touched and inspired, sitting in that huge stadium, with the words of the Hadron, hascholah and drashos rebounding through the temple constructed to celebrate man’s physical impulses, which had been transformed for that evening into a giantmikdosh me’at.
When the Hadron was recited, the energy level in the stadium markedly increased.
What is so special about the words that are recited at the culmination of studying a masechta that people get such a charge from hearing them being recited?
Rav Tzvi Schvartz is the type of tzaddik who makes possible celebrations such as the one we experienced last week by spreading the light of Torah. He heads the Lev L’Achim branch in Rechovot and, with his white beard, bright eyes, broad smile, ready words of encouragement and active support, is a familiar sight in the streets of the Israeli city. I once walked with him down a main street in Rechovot, past falafel stores and shoemakers. Every couple of steps he took, another person ran over to him and kissed his hand. People greeted him with a nodded head and a reverent “Shalom, kevod harav.”
While visiting the United States a few weeks ago, Rav Schvartz shared a memorable lesson that Rav Elazar Shach zt”l taught him during the period when many Russians immigrated to Israel. Thousands of them were brought to Ulpanim in Rechovot, where they were taught the new language and culture. Rav Schvartz was put in charge of running the classes on religion for the incoming Russian olim.
Eventually, Rav Schvartz decided that holding repeated classes for the masses was a waste of time. Instead, he utilized the funding provided to reach out and teach Torah to those who exhibited some interest in the first lectures. Due to the force of his personality and perseverance, he managed to touch the hearts and souls of many olim, returning them to the Torah and mitzvos from which the communists cut them off for seventy years. He was so successful that he had somewhat of a yeshiva and kollel going for the freshbaalei teshuvah who demonstrated promise and displayed interest in progressing in learning.
Rav Tzvi was brimming with joy and went to Bnei Brak to share his nachas with Rav Shach, the spiritual father of Lev L’Achim.
The Ponovezher rosh yeshiva wondered where Rav Tzvi had obtained the funding to maintain his makeshift yeshiva and kollel. He explained to Rav Shach that he received a generous stipend for the introduction to Judaism seminars, which everyone had to attend. The funding came from the Israeli government, which wanted to expose new immigrants to the culture and spirit of Judaism. He told Rav Shach that instead of forcing people who had no interest in the subject matter to attend the entire series of seminars, he chose those who expressed interest in the first two and concentrated on them. He permitted the others to opt out.
Instead of utilizing the entire budget for all the olim, and wasting time and money on them, Rav Tzvi explained, he focused on those who showed potential.
Rav Shach responded that what he was doing was improper.
“You are incorrect,” said the rosh yeshiva. “They come, these Yidden, from Russia and other places, and Israel is new to them. They listen to the lectures, but they are in a strange country and are worried about how they will adapt and what will be with their children. They are worried about finding housing and a job. They have many concerns. They aren’t really going to be concentrating on Yiddishkeit, something that they are quite unfamiliar with and is very low on their list of concerns.
“But,” the rosh yeshiva continued, “the years will pass, they will settle in, their children will be growing, and they will feel emptiness in their lives. They will be searching for meaning, for something to ground them. They will be seeking for inner happiness to fill a void in their lives, which they have finally noticed. But they won’t know where to look. They will have nothing to fall back on. There will be nothing faded in their memory bank to bring back to life.
“And at that time, they will start to remember what they were taught in the Ulpan seminars. When they start searching, they will have something to search for. Their memories of something Jewish will be brought to the fore and they will seek out Torah. But if you don’t go through the motions of teaching them the full series of lectures, they will have nowhere to go when that day comes. They will have nothing to fall back on and their lives will remain empty and devoid of Torah and Yiddishkeit.
“You have no right to do that to them,” Rav Shach concluded. “Every Yid deserves to have something to come back to.”
That is the reason for the burst of joy following the recital of the Hadron, which is not just a declaration that we have finished learning a masechta. It is a whole lot more. It is a proclamation of this message. We say, “Hadron aloch, we will return to you, and you will return to us. We will think about you and you will think about us. We will not forget you and you will not forget us.”
We will have what to fall back on. We will have the Torah. And we will remember where we came from and from where we derive our strength and purpose.
In this week’s haftorah, the novi Yeshayahu advises the nation to look back at the rock from which it has been cut. “Look back,” he says. “Habitu el tzur chutzavtem, ve’el makeves bor nukartem. Habitu el Avrohom avichem ve’el Sarah techolelchem” (Yeshayah51:1).
Look back. You have what to look back to. You have a starting point, a foundation. There you will find what you need for life and for growth.
Reb Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, in explaining the novi’s exhortation to “look” at Avrohom and Sorah, the parents who spawned us all, remarks that Avrohom and Sorah were the least likely candidates to be the progenitors of a people. They were old, without hope of bearing children.
And yet, at ninety years old, Sorah gave birth to a son, who gave birth to two sons, one of who gave birth to twelve shevatim. The rest is history.
Look, urges the novi. Don’t ever stop looking. When things seem impossible, when obstacles seem insurmountable and it’s hard for you to go on, remember where you came from. You hail from the childless couple who built a nation. You are part of a people with the spiritual resources to rise above every difficult nisayon, a nation with the strength to persevere and forge ahead despite all types of hardships.
That was what Rav Shach was telling Rav Schvartz. Every Jew hears the call of Yeshayahu at some time in their life. Every Jew feels a stirring for a return to the ways of the avos. Every Jew needs a place to look back to. Habitu, look back. But we need a place to return to.
We are overcome with joy at a Siyum, because we know that we have what to look back to, and we are so thankful. We proclaim that we will always have something and somewhere to come back to – the comforting, familiar embrace of the blatt Gemara.
The eternity of the Torah, our foundation and kiyum, was so eloquently underscored by the multitudes who recited the Hadron at MetLife, at the siyumim in Eretz Yisroel, and around the world. Each person proclaimed that he knows where to look. Habitu ure’u.They looked back to their roots and they are firmly grounded in the field of Torah. They know that Torah is what gives their lives meaning and relevance. Hadron aloch. Da’aton aloch.
Saying “Hadron aloch“ and “Da’aton aloch,” they were declaring that although the world has changed immeasurably since Rav Meir Schapiro proposed the Daf Yomi program, we maintain the same commitment and dedication to the Torah, despite the best efforts of resha’im to destroy us and our connection to Shas.
Yeshayahu proclaims to those who “shimu eilay,” those who paid heed to him, “Habitu el Avrohom.” He tells them, “Ki nicham Hashem Tzion,” Hashem has comforted Tzion. “Sasson vesimcha yimotzei boh, todah vekol zimrah,” their previously desolate places will bloom and will be filled with joy and song.
During the first week of the Shiva Dinechemasah, the seven weeks of solace, a couple of days after we picked ourselves off of the ground, we sat in a $1.7 billon stadium and got a taste of that joy.
Though the genuine and complete joy will return only when the Bais Hamikdosh is rebuilt, we can achieve a measure of comfort by recognizing who we are and where we come from. We remember that anything is possible, and that as bleak and dark as things may appear, we are the children of Avrohom and Sorah and our very existence is proof that, at any time, the floodgates of mercy can open for us.
Hadron aloch. Da’aton aloch. Lo sisnishei minoch. We’re coming back, bigger and better than ever.