Small but Memorable Moments at a Big Event

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

It is difficult to describe an event of this magnitude in words. I’ll share a few thoughts that come to mind upon celebrating Siyum HaShas — completion of the Talmud after studying one page every single day for more than 7 years — tonight in America.

  • To see 100,000 Jews gathered together who are not demonstrating, who are not talking or crying about anti-Semitism, but just celebrating the joy of being Jewish; to see here also those who did not study the whole Talmud but came to appreciate and empower those who did.
  • To see a major emphasis on children at this event; the Torah does not only belong to old folks but is also attractive to the younger generation, to whom the torch is being passed.
  • To see unity among those who wear knitted kippot and those who wear black kippot, among Sefaradim and Ashkenazim, among chasidim (disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov) and Lita’im (those who follow in the path of the Vilna Gaon); every Jew honors and makes room for every other Jew; to recite together psalms beseeching peace for those living in Eretz Yisrael, and to direct similar thoughts, in light of recent events, to Jews living in America as well.
  • To see an entire stadium of people dancing to “Open, Heavenly Gates, to our Prayer”; and hear a security guard comments: “This is a place for football games but you are an unusually calm and quiet crowd,” and then asks, “You’re fans of which team?”
  • To look around and be reminded that they are Americans – the nation of Netflix and Amazon – but have not been confused or distracted by these American inventions, have not succumbed to instant gratification, but have chosen instead to learn, with persistence and daily striving, one Talmud page after the next.
  • To speak with a doctor and a lawyer who tell me how, in the middle of their working day, every day, they have a meeting with Tanaim and Amoraim, a meeting with eternity.
  • To hear Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky explain that instead of calling this celebration Siyum HaShas (finishing the Talmud), we should call it Hatchalat HaShas (beginning the Talmud) since we immediately start learning it tonight, from the very beginning, all over again.
  • To recite “Shema Yisrael” together with 100,000 men, women, and children, when sitting beside me is Marlit Berger, a Holocaust survivor with a number tattooed on her arm, surrounded by grandchildren, and softly saying: “If someone had told me in the camps that I would be privileged to witness a moment like this…”
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סיון רהב-מאיר

Sivan Rahav-Meir is a media personality and lecturer. Married to Yedidya, the mother of five. Lives in Jerusalem. She works for Israel TV news, writes a column for Yediot Aharonot newspaper, and hosts a weekly radio show on Galei Zahal (Army Radio). Her lectures on the weekly Torah portion are attended by hundreds and the live broadcast attracts thousands more listeners throughout the world.
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