Friday, July 27, 2012

The Siyum HaShas. אנו רצים והם רצים

12th siyum hashas metlife stadium teddy agudah aguda meir shapiro 90,000 
I'm planning to attend the siyum at the Metlife stadium, and I'm very excited about joining this unprecedented gathering.  The sense of Kiddush Hashem, the feeling that the Jew's love affair with the Torah is unquenchable by the passage of millenia and galus and wholesale destruction and continues to grow, cannot be better expressed than at such a gathering.

Most of the people in my shiur will be staying in Chicago and attending the local siyum.  I was disappointed to learn that some of the chaveirim are not excited about going to the siyum gathering.  Some feel they don't remember enough, or that it's too big of a gathering, or that too many people who didn't learn will be there, or they have a bad history with some of the organizers, and so on.  I strongly feel they should go.  As I was contemplating the upcoming event, I was reminded of the marathons that are held in many large cities, and how excited people are to finish, even though they take hours longer than the Kenyans.  Just finishing, imagine how satisfying that is.... this is a visual thing, and I recommend that you try to visualize this as you read it.  (It would make a great video, and I spoke to Aish about making one, but it doesn't speak to their demographic.)

A man wakes up early every morning and puts on his running shoes.  He goes out in all weather, snow, rain, hail, baking heat, freezing cold, it doesn't matter.  If it's impossible to run outside, bedi'eved, he'll get on the treadmill, but it's not the same at all.  The point is, that his determination and discipline drive him to just do it, no matter how tired or lazy he's feeling that day, and he does it every single day.

A Ben Torah gets up early every morning, no matter what the weather is, no matter how tired he is, and he goes to the shiur and focuses as best as he can on the words of Torah.  It's dark outside, it's freezing, it's boiling, doesn't matter.  You have to go to the shiur.  If you think you're going to turn over and learn later on the train, your wife kicks you out of the bedroom.  You go, every day, tired, hot, cold, wet, no excuses.

After months of training, the day comes, and you've finally gotten yourself in good enough shape to join the other runners.  There are thirty thousand people there.  Some are bronzed and lithe, like animated beef jerky, some are overweight, some are in wheelchairs, but the excitement is in the air.  They're off- and finally, many hours later, the last one drags himself over the line, as proud as can be.  Look what I've accomplished!  I would have regretted my whole life that I could have done this, but I was lucky and smart and disciplined enough to follow through!

It doesn't matter that by the time he's finished, all the reporters are in bed and all that's left is cups and cleaning crews.  He did it!

How proud he is to get a certificate, Ploni finished the Boston Marathon!  He'll buy a t-shirt that heralds his achievement, he might mention it in conversation, when he meets someone else that's done it, he somehow senses that this is a compatriot with whom he's shared so much pain and joy.

After seven and a half years of learning, they come together to celebrate Torah, and to celebrate Klal Yisrael's love of Limud Hatorah. The speeches, well, some are magnificent and to the point.  The singing is inspiring.  The different kinds of people- with yeshiva backgrounds, without, srugies, blacker than black, professionals, businessmen, Kollel Yungeleit, men, women, children, no two of whom totally agree on any point- gathered for only one common purpose:  to celebrate our beloved Torah.

Runners usually are healthier, they are usually trim and fit.  They're less prone to minor ailments, other than knee problems, and running generally improves the quality of life.  But it only improves life.  It's what we call חיי שעה.  It does nothing for your existence after this life, for your חיי עולם.  Ultimately, the benefits of running end in the same place life ends, sooner or later, in the grave.

People who learn the daf, people who are  קובע עתים לתורה , they run, too.  It doesn't do much for their bodies, but it does make their soul fit.  It doesn't get them from place A to place B in a hurry, but it is a chariot of fire that transports them to the eternal world of truth. !אשר נתן לנו תורת אמתוחיי עולם נטע בתוכנו   It gives them Olam Haba, it gives them Techiyas Hameisim.

אנו רצים והם רצים, אנו רצים לחיי העולם הבא, והם רצים לבאר שחת.
daf yomi
siyum hashas metlife stadium teddy stadium aguda shas 


  1. And then there is Rabbi Eliezer / Dr Leon Ehrenpreis zt"l...

    See the Philadelpha Inquirer obituary. He was one of the 20th century's better known mathemeticians (to others in the field), ordained by R' Moshe Feinstein, and ran every NY marathon from 1970 to 2007. (When he was 77!)

  2. Micha, Micha, I was davka anticipating that point. I didn't say that running is futile. I said that running, no less than life itself, is fleeting. Torah is eternal. True, running can improve the quality of life, maybe even extend the fruitful and energetic portion of our life, but tell me, did Dr. Ehrenpreis take his running shoes with him? But he certainly did take his Torah with him. That's my pshat in anu ratzim v'heim ratzim, which expands and deepens my basic analogy of the unflagging determination and discipline that goes into crossing the respective finish lines.

  3. Knowing that you are the opposite of a superficial reader, it appears that I wasn't effective in making my point. I try to write it over after TB.

  4. Your "Chariots of Fire" reference at the end is very nice, if you disregard what Blake had in mind when he wrote that.

  5. Chariots of Fire is a trope that, as you say, fits in perfectly. Before Blake, and unblemished by his usage, it was used to describe Eliahu's ascent, in Melachim II 2:11, וְהִנֵּה רֶכֶב אֵשׁ וְסוּסֵי אֵשׁ.

  6. To be truthful, you reminded me of a beloved professor and rebbe, and I chimed in without trying to make a point. But now that your reply made me consider if there might be a point to be made...

    The problem is that running isn't the opposite of limud Torah. To keep the original intended contrast, you need to find a cheit they're running to. Running for one's health is a positive thing, for fun... well it depends what you do with the equilibrium one gets from that fun, but it's still not a cheit, the flipside of Torah.

    A daf yomi learner who also runs the marathon is more likely to be alive to finish more dafim than one who doesn't. (He also probably doesn't have my job, where finding time for both would be a challenge.)

    It's not simply meaning vs meaninglessness. It's good vs evil vs things that can be associaed with either. (And perhaps neither.) There is a middle ground.

  7. Eur Heart J (2008) 29 (15): 1800-1802.
    doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehn273
    First published online: June 13, 2008
    The Essen marathon study has the unique merit of demonstrating a high prevalence of advanced coronary atherosclerosis and myocardial scar formation in seemingly healthy marathon runners aged >50 years. Regular running in mid-life was unable to prevent this damage. Whether marathon racing itself had a causal role in this respect remains open. However, it is quite plausible that some subjects with prior risk factor exposure, endothelial dysfunction and increased coronary atherosclerosis are vulnerable to developing further damage in the setting of extreme physical exertion. Although much remains to be learned, it is clear that cardiologists have an important role in determining their patients' risk and giving advice to those who are aspiring marathon runners.
    -end quote.
    Bottom line: regular brisk walking is far healthier than long distance running.

  8. Let me save you the effort:

    Regarding less-than-marathon-running, here's an article from '08, from as follows:

    STANFORD, Calif. — Regular running slows the effects of aging, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine that has tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years. Elderly runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging nonrunners to die early deaths, the research found.

    “The study has a very pro-exercise message,” said James Fries, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine at the medical school and the study’s senior author. “If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise.” The new findings appear in the Aug. 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

    When Fries and his team began this research in 1984, many scientists thought vigorous exercise would do older folks more harm than good. Some feared the long-term effect of the then-new jogging craze would be floods of orthopedic injuries, with older runners permanently hobbled by their exercise habit. Fries had a different hypothesis: he thought regular exercise would extend high-quality, disability-free life. Keeping the body moving, he speculated, wouldn’t necessarily extend longevity, but it would compress the period at the end of life when people couldn’t carry out daily tasks on their own. That idea came to be known as “the compression of morbidity theory.”

    Fries’ team began tracking 538 runners over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of nonrunners. The subjects, now in their 70s and 80s, have answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects. The researchers have used national death records to learn which participants died, and why. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the nonrunners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners.

    At the beginning of the study, the runners ran an average of about four hours a week. After 21 years, their running time declined to an average of 76 minutes per week, but they were still seeing health benefits from running.

    On average both groups in the study became more disabled after 21 years of aging, but for runners the onset of disability started later.

    “Runners’ initial disability was 16 years later than nonrunners,’” Fries said. “By and large, the runners have stayed healthy.”