Ninety-six years, three months and 17 days ago, a 36-year-old Rav, a fiery orator and brilliant talmid chacham, took the stage at the world’s first Knessiah Gedolah in Vienna, and delivered a three-hour long lecture on chinuch. Among the numerous ideas Rav Meir Shapiro, Rosh Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, introduced was the idea of increasing Torah study by having all men learn the same daf of Gemara on the same day “so that when a Jew meets another, anywhere in the world, they shall greet each other with words of Torah.”
The Knessiah Gedolah took place in the heart of Vienna’s Second District, home to most Viennese Jews since the 17th century. That is where it started, the idea that every Yid should learn the same page of Gemara on the same day, and in a cycle of seven and half years, Jews around the world would mark the siyum of the entire Shas.
Most remarkable is the fact that in this city, where 81 years ago the Nazi monster reared its head and spewed out its 180,000 Jews, a Jewish community arose from the ashes and built a new world. A new world but with its old values, continuing the cycles of Daf Yomi since 1923.
On Motzoei Shabbos Vayeishev, a mere stroll from where the Knessiah took place, the community in Vienna, led by all the Rabbanim, gathered to mark the completion of the 13th cycle of Talmud Bavli. What a beautiful sight: Frum Jews of every stripe had learned the same pages and together celebrated this extraordinary moment. Dressed in their Shabbos finery, they took part in this momentous occasion, organized by the Agudas Yisroel of Vienna under the helm of Reb Yitzchok Binyamon Neumann, Reb Yeshua Zafir and Reb Aryeh Papa.
The evening commenced with Tehillim, led by Reb Shmuel Binyomin Schiffer, recited for the refuah sheleimah of the Brisker Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Dovid Soloveitchik.
Rav Dovid Baddiel, Rosh Kollel of the Wiener Kollel, lead the evening with inspirational words, imparting the enthusiasm to join in this incredible journey of learning a daf a day.
He quoted the Gemara in Chullin: “The biggest joy for a father is when his child sits in his lap and plays with his beard.” When we learn Torah we are, k’vayachol, doing the same with Hashem! What greater nachas ruach than learning His Torah every single day? With Torah learning we connect with Hashem.
In tribute to the women of Vienna, Rav Baddiel quoted the story of Rabi Akiva, whose wife was willing to wait another 12 years for her husband to grow in learning. Just as he said then, “sheli v’shelachem shelah,” Rav Baddiel finished off with, “shelanu v’shelachem – shelahen!” All the Torah that is studied in this town is in the zechus of the women who support their husbands.
The highlight of the event was, of course, the siyum and haschalah by Reb Yitzchok Binyonim (Lani) Neumann, a Maggid Shiur of Daf Yomi for many years at the Agudas Yisroel shul. Whose heart did not swell when the words of the Hadran were recited, and the pride of “anu ameilim...” echoed in the hall. Exulting in the moment, young and old, bachurim and boys, broke out in joyous dance.
Starting the 14th cycle of Daf Yomi, Harav Avrohom Yona Schwartz, Rav of Kahal Chassidim, learned the first daf of Brachos. Explaining why Rabi Yehuda Hanasi chose to start Mishnayos with the topic of Krias Shema, he said that twice a day a Yid takes upon himself ol Malchus Shamayim and proclaims, “I am proud, I am different,” and takes upon himself to never let go of that feeling – and that is the message by opening the Mishnah with this. He closed with brachos to all the attendees, who displayed their true joy, spending hours rejoicing in kvod haTorah.
Guest of honor Rav Avrohom Ehrentreu, Rav in Antwerp and Maggid Shiur in Yeshivas Etz Chaim of Wilrijk, delivered a fiery drashah, leaving every listener with a passion to dive right into learning, to join the worldwide initiative of Daf Yomi in this city, where it was launched some 96 years ago.
With great passion he implored the crowds to take to heart their responsibility of instilling the next generation with ahavas haTorah, to be kovei’a itim, so the children will be aware that “my father is learning now,” which will carry them through their lives. He stressed that every Yid should know that a day without Torah is like a day without food, our sustenance for the soul.
“On the 8th of Teves make a kabbalah to start Daf Yomi,” he cried, “and in seven and half years, on Monday, 2 Sivan 5787 (June 7, 2027), we will all join the great Siyum HaShas where Moshiach himself will be the mesayem and maschil!”
Dayan Harav Alexander Asher Margulies of Ohel Moshe lead the crowds in kabbalas ol Malchus Shamayim. The evening ended with joyous dancing and a seudas melaveh malkah which continued past midnight.