Siyum HaShas in Lublin, HaRav Meir Shapiro’s Dreams Live On
Under the banner of “where it all began,” a group of several hundred Jews from dozens of communities and three continents gathered in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in central Poland to celebrate the 13th Siyum Hashas of Daf Hayomi.
What the Lublin Siyum lacked in mass crowds and trappings of Met Life stadium, it made up for with a strong and emotional message that speaks loudly to the continuity of the life and legacy of the founder of Daf Hayomi and of Chachmei Lublin, Harav Meir Shapiro zt”l. Going far beyond the obvious symbolism of holding a celebration to mark the completion of the Daf Yomi cycle in Talmud Bavli in the walls of the hallowed yeshivah, the unique event left participants with a deep feeling of their place in the chain of Klal Yisrael’s history of trials and triumphs.
Harav Yair Adler, mara d’asra of Khal Shoavei Mayim in Toronto, in his address at the Siyum recounted the heartbreaking moments when Chachmei Lublin’s talmidim, under orders from the Nazis, were forced to abandon the yeshivah just over 80 years ago, in September 1939, and said that the evening’s event was a fulfillment of a promise they made.
“Talmidim who survived later remembered that frightening and awful day when before leaving they embraced the walls of the beis medrash as they entered into the darkest period of Jewish history and said ‘heilige yeshivah you were so dear to us, we will return and Torah will reverberate in your walls once again, [now] we have returned…we are here tonight to tell ourselves and our children and our communities that we are still here.”
In a country full of memories of the most glorious periods of Jewish life and equally full reminders of the horrors that brought it all to a horrific end, the building of Chachmei Lublin serves as an effective reminder of both. Since its return to Poland’s Jewish community, its Bais Medrash has been restored and several rooms converted into a museum of sorts with other sections serving as a guest house. It poignantly reminds all those who add some level of thought to their visit of both the thousands of blatt and sugyos that were mastered within its walls and also of the fact that few of its talmidim would survive for more than a few years after their tenure in the yeshivah, never growing to be the lights to Klal Yisrael that Rav Meir Shapiro had envisioned.
Chachmei Lublin was the site of the very first Siyum of the Daf Hayomi cycle, which was led by Rav Meir Shapiro himself, as well as the second, attended by many of the pre-war Gedolei Yisrael, held in 1938 as the clouds over world Jewry and Europe in general were growing ever darker by the day.
This year’s event, was joined by groups from North America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Eretz Yisrael. Yet, the largest contingent were locals, so to speak, some from the Jewish community of Warsaw and many more from communities from around Eastern Europe including Berlin, Pinsk, Odessa, and several other locations from behind what was the Iron curtain. The site of a new generation of bochurim and young families of Shomrei Torah uMitzvos that have grown in the years since the fall of communisim told a story of its own of the resilience of Klal Yisrael.
The simcha of the Siyum was multiplied by the celebration of a Hachnasas Sefer Torah dedicated by the Jaffe Family Foundation, likely one of the most lively events to take place in the yeshivah building since 1939, and the first Sefer Torah dedicated to the yeshivah since the Holocaust. It was a fitting completion of both Torah Shebichsav and Torah Shebaal Peh at the same event.
A festive seudas mitzvah, included a live hookup to MetLife stadium, continued until well after midnight, with simchas haTorah and dancing.
One of the many noble intentions of the far thinking Rav Meir Shapiro when he introduced the idea of Daf hayomi at the Kenissiah Hagedolah in Vienna in 1923 was to use limud Hatorah as a means of uniting Klal Yisrael as a common front. Harav Moshe Chaim Lau, a Rav in Netanya, who was honored by beginning the new cycle of Daf hayomi, noted that the site of Jews from the four corners of the world dancing together in Lublin testified to the success of his vison.
“For Jews from all over the world to join in Simchas Hatorah, this was the dream of Rav Meir Shapiro,” he said.
Rav Lau’s very presence was yet another layer of the event’s symbolisim as his grandfather and namesake, the Pietrikover Rav, Hy”d, was one of the guests of honor at the Siyum held in Chachmei Lublin more than three quarters of a century ago. He noted that while Chachmei Lublin’s functioned for only nine years, Rav Meir Shapiro’s vison of a yeshivah that would raise the position of Bnei Torah in the world has endured.
“Every yeshivah today is a continuation of Chachmei Lublin,” he said. One of the innovative aspects of Chachmei Lublin was the amount of attention that it gave not only to its talmidim’s spiritual growth, but also to their physical needs. Its dining room replaced the common system of talmidim eating, “teg” or taking their meals by a different family in town each day of the week. Rav Lau pointed to the sides of the Bais Medrash showing the yeshivah’s former dining room and library, said, “can we imagine that ‘essen teg’ would work for today’s bachurim? This was also some thing that Rav Meir Shapiro saw in his far reaching vison.”
In an address by Mr. Dovid Singer, who was the forerunner in organizing the this year’s Siyum as well as the last two in Lublin, he spoke of how even the Nazis were keenly aware of the integral part that Chachmei Lublin played to the lifeblood of the Jewish People.
“Himmler gave strict orders to destroy every yeshivah,” he said. “At Chachmei Lublin they threw 22,000 Sefarim out of the yeshivah, brought them to the town square and burned them and forced all the Jews in the town to watch and to play music as they did it. The Yidden of Lublin played as loud as they could to drown out their cries.”
The 13th siyum was not the first, but actually the fourth to be held in Chachmei Lublin since the post-war period. Soon after the fall of communisim in Poland, Rabbi Chatzkel Besser z”l , who was instrumental in the post-war revival of Daf hayomi as well as in preserving Jewish heritage and fostering Jewish life in Poland, organized a small group that held a Siyum in the yeshivah building. This first attempt drew only a minyan, but seven and quarter years later, Rabbi Besser would return with a larger group and it has grown every year since.
Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who worked closely with Rabbi Besser, offered words of tribute to his mentor at the Siyum. He spoke of Rabbi Besser’s unique ability to find an understanding and mutually respectful line of communication with Jews from all walks of life.
“Rabbi Besser taught us not only to learn the Daf, but how to teach it and how to live it,” he said.
The last Gemara of Mesaches Niddah as well as the Hadran was recited by Harav Noach Isaav Oelbaum, mara d”asra of Klal Nachlas Yitzchok in Kew Garden Hills Queens, who is world renown for his widely circulated Daf hayomi shiurim.
Rav Oelbaum began with the last words of the Gemara, Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu, He who learns Halachah daily is a “ben Olam Habah.” He quoted from Hagaon Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, who noted that the Gemara doesn’t say that one who learns Halachah “will be” a Ben Olam Haba, but rather “is” a Ben Olam Habah. Said Rav Aharon – one who learns is already now, in Olam Hazeh, a Ben Olam Habah!
He then elaborated of the tremendous sweetness of limud Hatorah.
“In olam hazeh, when we speak of physical things, whatever it is that one wants or needs they have to give up another physical thing to get it. To take a nice vacation, one has to spend money and so on…[but] Torah is not this way, because limud Hatorah itself contains and exceeds every pleasure in the world.”
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