The Daf Yomi study was founded by R. Meir Shapira in 1923, in Vienna. By studying one double-sided page every day, one can cover the entire Babylonian Talmud in 7.5 years, from Berachot to Niddah. (More about Daf Yomi here: English, Hebrew).
My personal 7.5-year journey ends this coming Sunday, when I will celebrate my own Siyum HaShas with family and friends. Here below are a few words I wrote for the occasion, with regards to the custom of the siyum:
It has been customary for centuries among Jews, at the completion of a Mishnah/Talmud tractate, to come together and learn the last few lines, then recite a special prayer, and (as is mandatory in every Jewish event) have a celebratory meal. There are various explanations offered on the origins of this custom; here are a couple:
- In Bavli Shabbat (118:), Abaye says that every time a student finished a tractate, he would turn that day into a holiday for all his fellow learners.
- In Kohelet Raba, R. Yitzchak brings the following verse from Melachim I about king Shlomo: “and he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of God, and offered up burnt-offerings, and offered peace-offerings, and made a feast to all his servants”, and learns from it that one needs to have a meal at the completion of every Torah learning.
The Ramah (Yoreh De’ah) says it is a mitzvah to rejoice and have a meal at the completion of the studay of a tractate.
The special prayer recited during a siyum begins with the Hadran, which is attributed to R. Hai Gaon (10th century CE). In this prayer, we promise the tractate three things: that we will come back to it, that we will keep our mind on it, and that we will not forget it. I saw an interesting interpretation of this prayer which talks about three categories of Day Yomi learners. There are those that study every day, and if they miss a page, they make sure they catch up with it later. Then there are those that do not have time to study every day, but on Shabbat they join the study. And the third category includes those that cannot join the study, but come to the siyum anyway, and take some part in the study. The first group promises the tractate that they will come back to it, no doubt; the second group promises it that they always have it on their mind, even if they can study only once a week; and the third group, although they can’t study, still promise not to forget to come and “visit” the tractate at the end of the learning.
After the Hadran, we mention the ten children of R. Papa, a Talmudic sage that lived in the 4th century CE. The reason for mentioning this particular sage and his children is unknown, but various explanations were offered over the ages. Here are a few:
- R. Hai Gaon says this is a segulah (something that will change one’s fortune, a charm if you like) against forgetfulness, and is therefore appropriate to recite after completing the study.
- The Ramah says that R. Papa was a rich person and held lavish feasts every time one of his sons finished a tractate. He also ties the ten sons to the ten commandments and to the ten sayings with which God created the earth.
- Someone used Gimatriah and found that the ten children plus R. Papa equals 2,693, which is apparently the number of pages in the Talmud (I didn’t check this…).
- My favourite explanation is that R. Papa is quoted ten times in the Talmud as saying: הלכך נימרינהו לתרוויהו, meaning he reconciled the views of two other sags and combined them into one view. This peace-loving and harmonious approach by R. Papa earned him a place in the prayer we say at the end of every tractate.
The prayer then continues with passages from the Torah blessings, verses from Psalms 119 and the prayer we say upon exiting a place of Torah learning. It concludes with us asking God to give us strength and help us study other tractates.
Then a Kaddish Gadol is recited. This special Kaddish, which is longer than the Kaddish Rabanan, is mentioned by the Rambam and is recited also at the burial of the dead. I heard the Yemenites still recite it at the end of every Torah learning.
In conclusion, I wish to return to the Hadran. When we make our three promises to the tractate, we also mention “back to back” promises made by the tractate itself. We say: “we shall return to you”, and then the tractate supposedly replies: “I shall return to you (the learners)”. And the same goes for the promises of keeping our mind on each other and not forgetting each other. This personification of the Talmudic pages reflects, I believe, a profound understanding of the relationship between us and the Torah. This study forms an unbreakable bond between the Torah and the person who studies it, a personal and intimate relationship that does not depend on the scholarly level or erudition of the learner. Anyone who studies Torah out of love participates in a meeting of living souls, a meeting of truth, that in turn creates a bond of friendship and devotement.
This special bond is illustrated in the Midrashic story that was recently rendered into a song by Aharon Razel. It tells the story of a man who learnt only one tractate in his life, Hagigah, repeating it over and over again. This man lived alone, and when he died there was no one there to take care of his burial. A woman appeared at his deathbed and started wailing so hard she brought the neighbours running. She told them to take care of the body and in return promised they will be rewarded in the world to come. They did as they were told, and then asked for her name. She replied: Hagigah. After the burial, she vanished. They all then knew that it was the tractate itself that came, in the shape of a woman, to take care of the man that was devoted to her study all his life.
חגיגה / אהרן רזאל
מעשה נורא בחסיד אחד
שהיה מתייחד במקום אחד והיה למד בו מסכת חגיגה
והיה מהפך בה ומהדרה כמה פעמים עד שלמד אותה היטב
לא היה יודע מסכת אחרת והיה שוגה בה כל ימיו
כיוון שנפטר מן העולם
היה בביתו לבדו ולא היה שום אדם יודע פטירתו
באה דמות אשה אחת ועמדה לפניו והרימה קולה בבכי ומספד
ותרבה צעקתה עד אשר נתקבצו ההמון
ותאמר להם: סיפדו לחסיד הזה וקברוהו וכבדו את ארונו ותזכו לחיי העולם הבא
שזה כיבדני כל ימי ולא הייתי עזובה ולא שכוחה
מיד נתקבצו כל האנשים ועשו עליו מספד גדול ועצום
ואותה אשה בוכה וצועקת
אמרו לה: מה שמך, אמרה להם: חגיגה שמי
כיוון שנקבר אותו חסיד, נעלמה אותה אשה מן העין
מיד ידעו שמסכת חגיגה היתה, שנראית להם בצורת אשה