In honor of Siyum HaShas

Hadran alach – we have returned to you.

THE WOMEN’S SIYUM HaShas in the Jerusalem Convention Center.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE WOMEN’S SIYUM HaShas in the Jerusalem Convention Center.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Extraordinary events are taking place all over the world these days. Some of them are in the presence of family and friends, others with masses of tens of thousands of participants. They are all celebrating the same event – the completion of another cycle of learning the daf yomi (daily page) of Talmud. Jews all around the world, young and old, rich and poor, people who work and those who learn, in cities, villages, settlements, and of course at the Western Wall – they all learned, every day, the same exact page.
Ever since Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin declared his initiative to learn one page of the Babylonian Talmud every day until the entire Shas is completed, the idea spread around the Jewish world like wildfire. Thirteen cycles of seven and a half years each of shared learning created an invisible network connecting Jews worldwide, uniting them around common learning.
Learning Gemara is one of the greatest challenges in the Torah world. The page is crowded, the writing is in Hebrew and Aramaic, and there are no vowel signs or punctuation. It is the entrance gate into the inner world of Torah creation – an entire world of Halacha (Jewish law) and Aggadah (legend), thought and action that has been shaping the lives of the Jewish people for centuries.
The Talmud in Tractate Chagiga says, “A person who learns something 100 times is different from someone who learns it 101 times.” The more you learn, the deeper you understand. Talmud shapes the learner and influences him in ways that are hard to describe. The persistence, the devotion, and the sharing in this wonderful worldwide project that continued throughout even the darkest of times in the previous centuries, all shape the lives of the thousands of learners and the millions of their family members and friends.
At the end of every tractate of Talmud, the learners say “Hadran alach, ve’hadrach alan,” Aramaic for “We have returned to you and we will return to you, dear tractate, and you have returned to us and will return to us.” These words refer to the glory of the Babylonian Talmud, the incredible endeavor of the sages of Babylon, and are true of us, its learners, today.
The glory of the Talmud, the glory of devotedly and consistently learning Torah, has illuminated the existence of its learners and of the entire Jewish nation for generations. From day to day, from page to page, the eternal palace of the Jewish Torah is being built – and we are all invited to take part in its construction.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.