On Wednesday night, MetLife Stadium was again the site of a large crowd of Jews. This time, the purpose of the gathering was not to issue public warnings about the dangers of the internet. It was to celebrate the completion of another cycle of the Daf Yomi project, in which Jews study a double-sided page of the Babylonian Talmud every day, from the beginning of the Bavli to the end. It takes 2,711 days to complete the cycle, and August 2 was that final day.
The pursuit of a singular goal each and every day for more than seven years is, frankly, overwhelming, regardless of the object of our affection. As a newly minted rabbi, I was dedicating 45 minutes a day to study Talmud. I was interested in going deeper than the surface meaning of the material, so I may have been on pace to finish in 15-20 years. But it wasn’t easy. One doesn’t choose the text; the text, as it were, chooses us. One can’t skip around until reaching something more interesting. After a few years of plowing through, I simply left the field, finding other things to read and learn–both Jewish and secular works. Still, I envy those who take the Daf Yomi journey. At least they can say they’ve finished something.
This week’s Torah portion includes the first paragraph of the Shema’, including the famous words about the enterprise of learning Torah: “Vedibarta bam–you shall talk of them” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Rabbi Aha’s words in the Talmud jump out at us: “‘You shall talk of them’ means making them a constant occupation, not something casual” (Bavli Yoma 19b). In his book on the Shema’, Rabbi Norman Lamm expands on this thought: “The study of Torah must be established as basic to one’s program, not treated as a casual matter depending upon circumstances” (The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism, p. 160). But we know it isn’t easy. Are we prepared to make another commitment in our already busy schedules without adding a 25th hour to the day?
Daf Yomi is an internationally acclaimed piece of evidence that when there’s a will to learn Torah daily, there’s a way. 90,000 people don’t pack the seats of a football field to acclaim the accomplishments of a fringe group. What are the pros and cons of the Daf Yomi approach, and can we adapt it in a meaningful way?
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise