Sunday, January 4, 2009

Siyum Hashas

August, twenty two and a half years ago, our Daf Yomi shiur began with Perek Asara Yuchsin. We just had the third Siyum Hashas celebration in my house. Yes, we're around twenty blatt behind, and, as I mentioned at the Siyum, I just got a call from Reb Meir Shapiro that if we don't catch up, he's going to pull the franchise.

As with the other two siyumim, there was a real siyata dishmaya and ru'ach that generated a real warmth and friendship among everyone that attended. We had fifty one people in the living room/dining room, every one associated with the shiur, including substitute magidei shiur and, of course, spouses.

The siyum was, for me, a very emotional event. To clear space, I had moved the sofa, the recliner, side tables, and carpet to other rooms, and, after moving the piano into the corner, brought in long tables and folding chairs. After the Siyum, my friends, unbidden and unexpectedly, rolled up their sleeves and brought back all the furniture, and took home the chairs they had delivered. The women cleaned up the kitchen, so that there was barely a sign of all the food that was cooked and the salads and deserts and appetizers that had come out of that small space. But I insisted that they not take out the folded tables and remaining chairs and put them in the garage. I want to spend time in the next few days looking at the room and seeing signs of the siyum. I prefer to leave the room disorganized for a while so that the echoes of the sights and sounds of the siyum continue for as long as possible. Those dear, beloved, beautiful people, who take time every day to learn, and who all came to the siyum for one and only one reason-- to give kavod hatorah and to be makir tov for the shiur-- I want to see them in the room for as long as possible.

Seven and a half years ago, I and the boys had been on a fishing charter, and we came back with massive lake trout, brown trout, and salmon. As soon as we came home, sunburned and tired, my wife said that we were going to make a gala siyum the next day and serve the fish. These were not fillets that we had caught; they were real fish that had been swimming that morning. They were fish that were big enough to swallow small pets. But to work we went, and we called everyone to tell them about the siyum, and the next day, I was still in the back yard cleaning the last of the fish, and washing scales off of my forearms with the garden hose, while guests in bigdei yomtov were arriving. My wife put slices of the fish into the oven with some kind of sauce, and afterwards, everyone said that the fish was the best they had ever tasted. It was just extraordinarily moist and flavorful.

Our experience last night was the same. Everything we served was made either in our kitchen or brought over by friends who had made dishes; the entre was mushroom stuffed chicken breasts, Bodek broccolli, little carrots, and brown rice/wild rice. At the end of the evening, there was nothing left on the plates; everyone, even the junk-food junkies, said, once again, that it was just so flavorful and tasty, they couldn't believe it all came out of our kitchen. No caterer could have done as good a job.

I really believe that we were eating kodshim in the Azara of the Beis Hamikdash. I think that there was a special siyata dishmaya, a ruach of chein ve'chesed in the air, a grace that permeated the whole evening, that elevated the food to be the Mahn in the Midbar. The Tzintzenes Hamahn has never been emptied; I think that last night we all tasted it.

The effort my wife and her friends put into the Siyum, and the amazing results of their efforts, reminded me of the Chasam Sofer. I had heard for years that women might have a greater schar than men from limud hatorah, because the women encourage and are mechazeik their men to go and learn, and for this they have schar as if they themselves had learned Torah. But why would their schar be greater than the men's? Someone told me that a darshan said that if the man went to seder and wasted his time, then he gets no schar; what he gets is the onesh for bittul Torah. But his wife, or his mother, who encouraged him to go out to learn, her schar is just as if he had done what she sent him out to do, and had learned with absolute hasmada and concentration. Therefore, the woman's schar might be greater than that of the man. I said this made no sense. The schar for a machshir can't be any greater than the schar for the mitzvah itself. If you help someone, your schar is talui in what he ultimately does, and if he battels, too bad for both of them. You pick your horse, you hitch your wagon, and good luck.

Surprise! I found that the Chasam Sofer says this. In Parshas Nitzavim, it says "Tapchem ne'sheichem." The Chasam Sofer ahl haTorah brings the Gemara in Brachos 17a that the havtacha to women is greater than that made to men, and he explains exactly as above: the men might doze off or just waste their time instead of learning. But "schar ha'isha lo yekupach, ke'ilu hee megadeles baal uben tzadikim gemurim."

The Chasam Sofer says exactly fahrkehrt from what I was sure was true. Once again, Daas Baal Habayis Hepech Midaas Torah. This is not helping for my self-esteem issues. Should I laugh or cry? But I console myself by saying that the Gemara is a raya that my seichel, at least, is on the right track. The Gemara in Brachos needs a passuk for this concept, so maybe that proves that lulei the drasha, the pashtus, the seichel hayashar, would be like me.

I hope, over the next days, to post the main divrei torah that were said at the siyum. But not too fast: I want to make this last for a while.

This is what I said at the siyum:
I spoke about the din of Seudas Mitzvah. I brought the Mechaber in YD 246 25-26 who talks about the schar of limud hatorah and the onesh for one who could be learning but doesn't, and the Rama in 26 that says that a Siyum Masechta is a Seudas Mitzvah. The Shach there in sk 27 says that it is a Seudas Mitzva even for people who did not learn the Masechta.

Then I said over the Chavos Yair brought in the Pischei Teshuva YD 217 who tries to define the parameters of Seudas Mitzva. He discusses Chanukas Habayis parties, Seventieth Birthday parties, and so on, and then says that of course, a siyum is s seudas mitzvah, and even the seuda the day after, and two days after, if made to celebrate the siyum, are seudos mitzva. (This can be a very convenient shitta to remember during the Nine Days.) I mentioned that a past member of the shiur, Yosef Zev ben Chaya Alteh, may he have a refuah shleima besoch she'or cholei yisroel, told me that in Kelm, where he grew up, when the Rov made a siyum, all the businesses closed for the day, everyone put on bigdei yomtov, and they made seudos to celebrate the siyum-- it was mamesh ah yomtov.

Anyway, I mentioned that I didn't see any discussion of Hachnasas Sefer Torah. I suggested that although it does not fit into the rules of Seudas Mitzva, which celebrates the finishing of a mitzva, it might be a seudas mitzva because it is a mitzva to celebrate the bringing in of a Davar Shebikedusha into a community, like the Chanukas Habayis of Shlomo Hamelech. Of course, if you also finish the writing of the sefer, that is a mitzva, and that itself would give the din of seudas mitzva. So there are two dinim by a Hachnasas Sefer Torah: the writing of the sefer, and the bringing of the sefer to the community.

I say that both of these dinim are present by a Siyum Masechta. In Torah Shebaal Peh, there is no klaf to write on. The only way to 'write' a sefer torah shebaal peh is to learn it. The Klaf is our heart-- Kasveim ahl lu'ach libecha. When we finish a masechta, we celebrate the 'writing' of a sefer torah sheba'al peh. And we also celebrate the bringing of a davar shebikedusha into the community: When Moshe finished learning the Torah on Har Sinai, Hashem passed the Kolmus over his forehead, because, as the Beis Halevi says, Moshe Rabbeinu became the true repository of the Torah. Unlike Torah shebiksav, which belongs and whose primary place is on a klaf, Torah shebaal peh belongs only in the mind of the ben Torah, and therefore one who learns Torah shebaal peh is not just tashmishei kedusha, he is kedusha atzma. Just like we celebrate Hachnasas Sefer Torah Shebiksav, so too we celebrate Hachnasas Sefer Torah SheBaal Peh; the Masechta of Torah we learn resides in us, and the community now has a beautiful new davar shebikedusha within it. The difference is that we merely house a Sefer Torah Shebiksav, while with a Sefer Torah Shebaal Peh, we don't house it, we incorporate it. We have met the Sefer Torah, and it is us.


  1. Mazal tov! And may you be zocheh to do it again and again.

    (If you get bored you can always try the yerushalmi -

  2. I always wondered about that gemara about women getting schar - is it an independent schar, or is it a cheilek of their husband's schar limud. The first time I made a siyum I also spoke about this and took the latter road because I explained that a husband and wife share the same neshoma b'etzem and that's why she can share the schar of his ma'aseh mitzvah. The Chasam Sofer is a nice find.

  3. Thank you Chaim and Josh. Amein, vechein lemaranan.