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Vayigash 5780

Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING!  Something momentous is about to happen; a rare and rather extraordinary event. This event only happens once every seven and a half years. Do you have any idea what I am talking about?

On Sunday, January 5th the Jewish people are throwing a MONUMENTAL party and everyone wants to join in this joyful and meaningful event. Multiple stadiums are sold out in New York for those wishing to attend in person. In London, the event will take place at the Wembley Arena. Around the world there are countless convention centers, theaters, and other venues booked for this special occasion and all can participate via satellite feed.

By now you must be wondering, what's going on?

The Jewish people are known as the "People of the Book," so it's only fitting that the biggest party for our nation would be a celebration of a completion of a course of study. What is being studied and why is this significant?

The Siyum HaShas is the ceremony marking the completion of learning the entirety of the Babylonian Talmud. Every day, Jews around the world study the same new page for 2,711 consecutive days to complete the Talmud. Now is the time to gather together and celebrate the tremendous accomplishment of completion ... and immediately start the next cycle. For a Jew, learning Torah never ends!

What is the Talmud?

Jewish tradition has our holy Torah divided into two sections. The Written Torah is comprised of three sections: 1) the Five Books of Moses, known as the Chumash 2) the Prophets, which includes twenty one separate works 3) the Writings, which includes an additional thirteen books.

The second part of our holy Torah is known as the Oral Law. This is the oral tradition that was passed down from Moses to his student Joshua and succeeding teachers and students in the various academies and schools of study throughout Jewish history. Students in these academies took copious notes of the traditions passed on to them by their teachers, but they were never organized in a universally accepted written form.

The prescient sages of antiquity realized that the Roman persecutions and imminent expulsion of Jews from ancient Israel threatened the very survival of the Oral Law. So close to 2,000 years ago the sages of the time redacted the Oral Law into the first written version known as the Mishna - "Teachings." Succeeding generations of sages expanded commentary on the Mishna, known as the Talmud, and it was redacted approximately 1,500 years ago (also known as the Gemara in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Talmud).

Together, the Written Torah and the Oral Law are the central unifying forces of the Jewish people, and both are absolutely necessary. In fact, it is impossible to fully understand much of the Torah without the Oral Law's elucidation of the Written Torah.

A good example of this is the well known obligation to fast on Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. A careful reading will reveal that this obligation is nowhere to be found in the Written Torah, and yet Jews have been fasting for millennia. Where does this come from?

This, and many of our customs and traditions (like the holiday of Hanukah), are derived from the Oral Law. The primary basis of the Oral Law is the Talmud. The Talmud also contains Aggadata - homiletical stories that transmit insights into life, values, and the mystical traditions. The famous book of Jewish ethics known as Ethics of our Fathers is also found in the Oral Law (and printed in every edition of the Talmud).

Imagine looking at an encyclopedia - twenty-something volumes of information on every conceivable topic under the sun. The Talmud is our equivalent work on Jewish law, culture, and tradition. As stated above, there are 2,711 pages in the Talmud. A "page" of Talmud is both sides of a page - so if it were being counted as conventional book pages it would actually total 5,422 pages!

In 1923, Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the famed "Lubliner Rav," proposed that Jews across the world learn the same "daf - page" of Talmud each day. The program is called Daf Yom - Daily Page. There isn't a city in the entire world with an organized Jewish community that doesn't have at least one Daf Yomi class taking place every day.

This practice is an incredible unification for Jews everywhere. A person can be on a plane, train, bus, or even visiting some far flung city and he is sure to find someone studying the exact same page that he is studying. This provides an automatic connection and commonality that can lead to spirited discussions with people who would otherwise be complete strangers. There is something quite magical about that.

Sadly, Rabbi Shapiro died in 1933 at a very young age (46) and without any children. But his gift to the Jewish people will forevermore be cherished by every succeeding generation.

Getting back to our worldwide party. Who is invited to the celebration? Anyone who cares about being Jewish and who either feels a thrill at being part of an event of this magnitude or who is curious as to what would cause so many people to dedicate a portion of each day for over seven years to learning Talmud. Any Jew who yearns for Jewish unity and wants to experience it should be sure to attend!

For information on planned Daf Yomi events in your city, call the organization coordinating these events known as Agudath Israel (212) 797-9000.


Torah Portion of the Week

Vayigash, Genesis 44:18 - 47:27

We left off last week with Joseph's pronouncement that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave for stealing his wine cup. Judah steps forward to challenge the decision and offers himself as a slave instead of Benjamin. Joseph is overcome with emotion, clears the room of all Egyptians and then reveals his identity to his unsuspecting brothers.

The brothers are shocked! They suspect Joseph's intentions, but accept his offer to bring the extended family to Egypt. Jacob is initially numb and disbelieving of the news, but becomes very excited to see his son.

The Torah recounts the 70 members of Jacob's family which went down to Egypt. Jacob reunites with Joseph, meets Pharaoh and settles with the family in the Goshen district. During the famine, Joseph buys up all of the property and people in Egypt for Pharaoh with the grain stored during the seven good years.


Candle Lighting Times

January 3
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:12
Guatemala 5:27 - Hong Kong 5:34 - Honolulu 5:44
J'Burg 6:46 - London 3:47 - Los Angeles 4:39
Melbourne 8:28 - Mexico City 5:53 - Miami 5:24
New York 4:22 - Singapore 6:52 - Toronto 4:34

Quote of the Week

Reading or taking a class is easy;
learning something requires work.


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