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Torah Is Food for the Soul: Celebrating the Completion of Learning the Talmud

January 2, 2020 | by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

We defeat the anti-Semites by embracing Torah stronger and dedicating ourselves to share it with our brothers and sisters.

When Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l, the founder of the Daf Yomi, the page-of-Talmud-a-day program, was seven years old, he found his mother crying and he asked her why. She explained that she was terribly sad because his Torah teacher was scheduled to come that day but didn’t show up. The young boy didn’t understand why that moved her to tears. She explained, “You don’t understand Meir’l because you are too young, but my son, I want you to always remember, if you miss a day of learning, it cannot be replaced, it cannot be made up.”

Rav Meir Shapiro’s mother understood something so fundamental, so basic and so core to our people: Torah is not information, it is not a set of facts, laws, or history. Torah learning is not just a way of life, it is what provides life, sustains life and nourishes life. Without it we simply cannot live.

Rav Meir Shapiro’s mother’s tears left an indelible impression and when the opportunity presented itself, he introduced a system and initiative which would ensure we would never miss a day of learning in our lives. It is estimated that today there are more than 300,000 people around the world who learn the Daf Yomi daily. Rav Meir Shapiro and his wife didn’t have biological children, but make no mistake, each page of Talmud learned is his continuity and legacy, each of the members of the daf his progeny.

Much of the credit for the Daf Yomi, for the countless people who learn it daily, for the tens of millions of pages of Talmud learned in the last seven and a half years, goes to his mother. She, and Jewish women since then, have inspired, supported, promoted and sacrificed to ensure that a day of learning is never missed. They, too, are heroes of the daf who deserve recognition and appreciation this morning.

In the golden age of the Jewish people, Torah informed and inspired us, and in some of our darkest periods and bleakest moments, Torah learning is what gave us not only courage, faith and hope, but it gave us life.

The Tanya writes: Torah is the nourishment for the soul who learns it sincerely. Mitzvot are garments, they enable us to make contact with the Divine by doing them, but Torah is the spiritual food we ingest. We digest it and it becomes absorbed by us, part of us, informing us, inspiring us and enabling us to not only touch the Divine but be of one mind with Him, integrated as one. When we learn Torah we are feeding our soul, hydrating our spirt.

Today, we are going to recite the Hadran, the prayer recited upon completing a tractate of Talmud, from a very special Gemara. The Nazis had stolen, looted, and burned all the Torah books belonging to German Jews. Not one complete set of Talmud could be found in Western Europe. Rabbi Samuel Snieg and Rabbi Samuel Rose, both survivors of Dachau, had an idea to print an entire full-size set of Talmud in Germany. They printed 50 sets of what became known as “The Survivors’ Talmud” on the exact printing machines the Nazis had used to produce their propaganda during the war. The survivors in the DP camps were starving for food, but many were also desperate to feed their souls, eager to resume learning the Daf Yomi.

Today, almost 75 years later, as we once again face a rise of those who want to harm us, heinous attacks by those who want to eliminate us, we will celebrate the completion of Shas with a statement of defiance, of triumph over our enemies. With this siyum, completion, we once again declare "The Jewish People are eternal." We will read the Hadran from a volume of the Survivors’ Talmud, a testament to the immortality of our people and to the central role of Torah in sustaining us.

Shortly, we will hold that volume and proudly declare "we will return to you," we will return to learning the Torah. No matter what, no matter when, "we will return to you." Some will try to cause us to forget the Torah, but we will be back. Others will burn you and destroy you, but we will be back. Yet others, even today, will try to destroy Torah in Shuls in Har Nof, Pittsburgh, Poway, or Monsey, but we will keep coming back, because nothing can keep us away. This is our mission as Jews, this is core to who we are and remains an essential part of our mandate.

Torah is for every single one of us. None of us can afford to be too busy, too distracted, have too much insecurity or too little interest to learn Torah. It needs us and we need it and nobody understood that better than the extraordinary person whom we dedicate this siyum to today. When our dear friend, Rabbi Dr. Brian Galbut, was diagnosed with a devastating brain tumor, he knew that as important as any medicine, treatment or therapy was for his health and wellbeing, it was Torah learning and the learning of others in his merit, that would give him life.

Brian cherished the Daf Yomi, even if it meant breaking his teeth over a difficult topic. Learning a page of Talmud was only a part of his rigorous learning schedule that included exploring topics that interested him and preparing high-level classes that he delivered. The wear and tear of his books, the notes in their margins and the underlines on its pages all testify to his diligence and commitment to learning Torah, all while earning a reputation as an outstanding physician and being one of the most hands-on fathers I ever saw.

When he got sick, the Daf in particular took on special significance for Brian, not only for what it meant for himself but as the perfect project to recruit others to join in his merit. When people wanted to visit while he was recovering from surgery, he suggested learning the Daf together. He got his uncles, brothers-in-law and cousins to learn it with him and for him. He called friends and acquaintances and asked them to take it on for him. As his illness progressed, understanding the Daf became harder and harder but you wouldn’t know it. He smiled and laughed, even while he struggled. He was never fatigued, never defeated. He kept plugging away until he literally, physically couldn’t learn the Daf anymore, and even then, it continued to play in his ears.

In anticipation of this siyum in his memory, several people shared with me the experience of being recruited by Brian to learn the Daf. I will just share what one person wrote:

I will never forget the call. It was a Friday afternoon in July. I was driving home from work. When I first saw the name on the caller ID my jaw practically dropped: “Brian Galbut.” This was two weeks after Brian had been diagnosed and undergone brain surgery. It shocked me to see that he was calling me now. I picked up the phone and said hello. After answering my “How are you doing” with his trademark “Baruch Hashem, feeling great, everything’s great,” he told me he wanted a favor. “You’re smart, you’re capable, you can learn…. I was wondering if you could start learning Daf Yomi in my merit?” I didn’t hesitate to agree.

Those few minutes literally changed my life. I started Daf Yomi the next day. And that learning, but most of all the source behind it – Brian putting himself out there to personally ask me to do it – sparked something in me… Until then, I could check off every box as someone “observant” — but I wasn’t connected in a serious way to learning or davening or in my connection with Hashem. Seeing how Brian immediately reacted to his illness, calling people like me, trying to get us to commit to learning, inspired me to re-evaluate my life and consider what I could do to be more like Brian, someone I had always admired as a model of a true servant of God…

There is literally no area of my life that has not improved because Brian picked up the phone and called me one July day and solicited the initial commitment. Among other things, my Torah learning and davening are better, qualitatively and quantitatively, than they have ever been. We weren’t close friends and yet not a day goes by that I do not think about Brian and what he did for me with one short phone call. I cherish his memory and I will continue to learn Torah in his memory every day.

Brian Galbut knew that if he could get others to learn Torah in his merit, it would not only extend his life, but it would give them eternal life.

Many here are marking the completion of the Talmud, an enormous accomplishment. I wish you all a huge mazel tov and bless you that Hashem should continue to grant you energy, good health and the wherewithal to continue learning. But those who finished the Talmud are only half the reason we are celebrating. We are also here to celebrate those who are about to embark on this extraordinary journey, whether of learning Daf Yomi, or anything else. If you are moved by this event and by this time to imbibe the sweetness of Torah, this celebration is for you. If you are determined to go from today and incorporate Torah study into your life in a real and consistent way, the joy we feel with you today knows no limits.

Make a plan today. Join the movement of those who realize that Torah is our lifeline and take upon yourself a commitment for Torah learning. It could be a page a day or a page a week, it could be Mishna or Tanach, it could be listening to a class or having a study partner but everyone, absolutely everyone here, men, women and children must nourish our souls by feeding them Torah.

Anti-Semites are once again trying to destroy us. Of course, we must fight them in the halls of Congress, in the court of public opinion, with greater measures of safety and with security. But, we ultimately fight their nefarious plan when we double down on our Jewish identity, when we recommit to our Jewish mission and when we promise to keep Torah the centerpiece of our lives. We defeat them not only when we embrace Torah stronger ourselves, but when we dedicate ourselves to share it with our brothers and sisters who have never been introduced to Torah before. This large gathering is extraordinary, but for each person here, there are literally 100 Jews living in our area who are spiritually malnourished, dehydrated and on the brink of spiritual death.

Take something upon yourself right now, right here. May yourself a promise. Do it for the Jewish people, do it elevate the soul of Brian, Boruch Tzvi ben Reuven Natan, most of all do it for yourself.

Adapted from Raqbbi Goldberg's remarks at the South Florida Siyum Hashas in memory of Brian Galbut – Baruch Tzvi ben Reuven Nosson – held on January 1, 2020


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