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Isha Bekia

Siyum Hashas

Jul 31, 2017 | Speeches


This Siyum Hashas is the culmination of a long journey of twenty seven years. It has been a journey of learning daf by daf – page by page, perek by perek – chapter by chapter, masechta after masechta – tractate after tractate. It is a journey that has traversed many stages of my life, from being a single yeshiva bocher, to getting married and having children baruch Hashem, receiving smicha, living in different homes, serving as a Rabbi of various shuls and then as Chief Rabbi. And during these stages of life, I have been steadily walking the journey of completing Shas step by step.
It is not a journey that I have taken alone. Many have accompanied me on my way, friends and family who have supported and loved and given me the strength, the courage and the opportunity to complete this journey. As the Torah says right at the beginning of the creation of man “it is not good for man to be alone” – there is nothing in life that we can achieve which is worthwhile and of lasting value without the support, partnership, friendship and love of the people around us.
This journey began when my parents agreed and supported me to go to Yeshiva to learn. Initially the idea was only to go for a year and then when I said that I felt it was important to continue learning full time in Yeshiva for many years, it was something that came as a surprise and which wasn’t part of the plan. But my parents, gave me their full blessing, support and love to do so. Without them sharing the vision of what many years of learning in Yeshiva could be, none of this, or any of my other public work, would have been possible. I am eternally grateful to them for that and for all the kindnesses they have done for me my whole life.
For most of this journey through Shas I have been accompanied by my beloved wife, Gina. For twenty two years Gina has been an unwavering partner and support in everything that I have done. She has sacrificed so much to make it all possible and the beauty is that she doesn’t even view it as a sacrifice. She sees the privilege in the work that we do together to serve Hashem and His people. With her love and partnership so much has become possible. I’ll share with you a secret that it was Gina who had the necessary clarity of vision to ensure that when we were at a crucial turning point in our lives two decades ago, that we stayed in the Rabbinate and turned it into a life calling. Our precious children, Mordechai, Levi, Shayna and Azriel, have also accompanied me for many years on this journey and have been beacons of light and nachas and love and joy every step of the way.
My brothers and their wives and families have also accompanied me on this journey, and always generously given their time, advice, love and support and friendship, which mean the world to me and which have been essential to so much of my other work for Hashem and His people.
From the beginning of the journey of learning Torah and especially Gemora, I was accompanied by my beloved Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Azriel Chaim Goldfein of blessed memory, who empowered me with the many skills needed to learn Gemora. I will never forget the privilege it was to sit in his shiurim. I can still picture the scene in my mind’s eye. The Rosh Yeshiva sat at the head of the table with his Gemora open and I sat on his left and his son, Moshe, on his right, and for a time it was just the two of us in the shiur. And then a while later Rav Tuvia Sifris joined us, and then there were just three of us in the shiur. And even when a few more joined there were never more than five or six of us, and so for years and years I had the incredible privilege and zechus of sitting right next to the Rosh Yeshiva, hearing his brilliant Torah, and experiencing the transcendent joy of learning from him. With dazzling brilliance the Rosh Yeshiva showed us how to take apart a sugya and how to understand its components with real clarity. I will never forget the shiur that he gave on Tosfos at the beginning of Bava Metzia, Vayachloku. It was the first sugya shiur I had heard from him and I was absolutely astonished at the depth and brilliance of his analysis of Tosfos and the Gemora and felt the sheer exhilaration of the intellectual, spiritual and emotional experience. The Rosh Yeshiva instilled within me and his talmidim not only an ability to learn Torah, but also a love for learning Torah, and a love and a passion for teaching and sharing Torah.
I have also been accompanied on this journey by many friends who have attended my Gemora shiurim over the years, and now my Daf Yomi shiur. I am grateful to each of you for being part of the journey. To be able to teach Gemora gives real clarity and understanding and is something that I enjoy so much.
And of course every day of this great journey I have also had the privilege of the company of our greatest Sages. When you learn Gemora you enter into conversation with the greatest Sages of all time, a conversation which began when Hashem gave us His Torah at Mount Sinai. I have been accompanied on this journey by Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehuda, and Rabban Gamliel, of the Mishna; and by Rav and Shmuel, Abaya and Rova, Ravina and Rav Ashi, of the Gemora. To delve into their words and their debates has been one of the great privileges of my life. In this quest to understand their lofty thoughts I have been accompanied by the great commentators of Jewish history – Rashi as a daily companion and Tosfos and the Rambam, the Ritva and the Rashba, Reb Chaim Brisker, and so many more. The very act of Torah learning is to engage in conversation with these great Sages, spanning historical eras and continents. As the Mishna is Pirkei Avos says, “Let your house be a meeting place for the Sages”. Reb Chaim Volozhiner explains that this refers to meeting with the Sages of all times in learning.
And, of course, on this journey each and every single moment of every day I have been accompanied by Hashem Himself. Because when we learn His Torah, we connect with Him in the deepest possible way. In the blessings that we say before learning Torah, we give praise to Hashem who is the “Giver of the Torah” and the “one who teaches Torah to His people, Israel”. Note the language of the blessing is in the present tense – that G-d teaches us Torah each and every single day. I am eternally grateful to Hashem for the blessings that have enabled me to learn His Torah.
Learning Torah is to engage dynamically with Hashem and to be as close to Him as a human being can be because through Torah we are binding ourselves to His thoughts, and we look at the world through His eyes. I will never forget what my Rosh Yeshiva taught us, that when we learn Torah the Shechina comes – the Divine Presence comes to be with us. He taught this idea based on many sources, once of which is the Midrash, which compares the Torah to the only daughter of Hashem who is like a king who cannot be separated from His princess.
Closeness to Hashem that comes from Torah learning defines our relationship with Him. Reb Chaim Volozhiner explains that through teaching us Torah, Hashem relates to us as a loving parent, who patiently sits down with his child to explain what must be done and why it is important. A bond of love and respect emerges.
Learning Torah for me has been through all the years and stages of my life, a source of joy and inspiration, of peace of mind and tranquillity of spirit, of intellectual challenge and spiritual nourishment, and especially now with the heavy responsibilities of being Chief Rabbi. I could not survive without it. People ask me how I find time to learn, and my answer is how could I not find time to learn. My Rosh Yeshiva used to often quote the verse from psalms by King David, “Were it not for your Torah, which is my delight, I would have been lost in my affliction”. In my mind’s ear I can still hear my Rosh Yeshiva singing this verse on Purim with deep devotion, and he often referred to the fact that Torah gives a person strength to handle all of the challenges of life. King David had many terrible challenges, more than most of us could ever imagine facing, and yet he said that it was the learning of Torah that gave him the energy and the positivity and the inspiration to cope with everything that he needed to do.
Without learning Torah every day I don’t know how I could have stood up to the challenges of these years. It has not only given me emotional and spiritual strength, but it has also given me the clarity of purpose to understand my responsibilities in this world and the goals and values that I need to aspire to, and lead with. Truthfully, so much of what I have done as Chief Rabbi has been with the vision of spreading the learning of Torah in as many ways and to as many people as possible. This approach is based on the teachings of our Sages from the Midrash which I often heard my Rosh Yeshiva quote, where Hashem says that even if the people will forsake Him, but they will learn His Torah saying, “the light within it will bring them back to the good”.
And now the journey continues. The great prayer of thanksgiving at a Siyum is a prayer of Hadran – to return. We pray to G-d that we be granted the privilege of returning to what we have learnt, to continue the journey, for it is a journey of learning and connection that we traverse each and every single day. It is a journey of endless depth, beauty and light. And we do not walk it alone. We walk with our loved ones. We walk with our great Sages and we walk with Hashem.
The words of this Hadran prayer are magnificent and have been said by our people at siyumim through the ages. I am honoured to say these words today and to pray these prayers with you all.