One morning, I noticed there was a spread of food in front of the shul. After davening, the baal tefillah turned around and made a siyum. Then he began the prayer: “Hadran alach — I will return to you …” a solemn promise to return to the tractate he had completed and learn it again.
When he reached the name of the tractate — Maseches Moed Kattan — I began to shudder.
I remembered a story Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, z”l, heard from a survivor of Auschwitz. The man’s uncle was a wealthy Chassid in Cracow. “He had businesses all over the world. But every minute he had free, he was learning. He knew the whole Shas by heart.”
The uncle’s whole family was killed in Auschwitz. The only one he had left was his nephew. And the nephew told Reb Shlomo that one night his uncle told him:
“Tomorrow I am going and I will not come back until the Great Day. You’re the only one left from my whole family. Let me give you over my last will.
“G-d is my witness, since I came to Auschwitz, I have not stopped learning for one second. I went through Shas a few times right here in Auschwitz. But I’m leaving tomorrow.
“I want you to know I’m in the middle of Masechta Moed Kattan and I know I won’t be finishing it until it’s too late. Swear to me when you come out, that you will finish Masechta Moed Kattan.
“Swear to me that you will tell your children and your grandchildren … all of Israel … Finish learning all those Holy Books that we Six Million began and never finished. Tell all of Israel, keep on learning until we come back. …”
When I told the story to my wife, I kept getting choked up.
She shook her head and said, “It’s not enough to cry. You have to do something about it.”
Mordechai Schiller, Brooklyn, N.Y.