I recently had a chance to watch on YouTube a little excerpt of the 12th Siyum Hashas that was held on Aug. 1, 2012, at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in front of close to 100,000 people!
The Siyum Hashas is a completion of the whole cycle of Talmud in seven years and five months, learning one page per day.
The novel idea of learning a daf of Talmud a day was initiated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro on Aug. 16, 1923, at the first Agudath Israel convention, which took place in Vilna.
Watching a little part of the siyum gave me goose bumps. There was a festive atmosphere. People from different streams of Judaism were singing and dancing, almost 100,000 people praying the afternoon and evening service together left me awed, and the speeches made by the speakers I heard were exquisite. There was a feeling of unison in the air!
One of the speakers was a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is a Holocaust child survivor. He reminded the crowd that the siyum is dedicated in memory of people who perished during the Holocaust. He spoke from his heart, and every word was a gem. One part of the speech touched me to the core of my heart. Rabbi Lau said that every day, in the morning prayer, we recite the song of the day, is a chapter of psalms related to that day. The siyum took place on Wednesday, and the first verse of the Wednesday song reads “Kel nakamot HaShem, Kel nekamot hofia,” “God of vengeance HaShem, God of vengeance had appeared.” Rabbi Lau said that the greatest vengeance is to have close to 100,000 Jews gathering to complete the shas!
His words reminded me of a similar message he gave when we hosted him in Vancouver, where he said that by being proud Jews and keeping our tradition alive, we show all our enemies that no one will ever be able to annihilate the Jewish People.
My wife and I recently had the merit to go to a shivah house visit for Ben Axelrod z’l. Ben and his wife, Rita, were Holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives in Canada. On any occasion when I met them, they were a source of inspiration. They did not have to say a word – just being next to them rejuvenated me.
During our visit, Rita shared with us stories about her dear Ben, how much he meant to her, how difficult it was to start their lives in a new country and how they were successful in starting all over again.
As we have just commemorated Yom Hashoah, mourning the loss of people who perished during the Holocaust, and as we approach Yom Hazikaron, remembering the Israeli soldiers and the people who died during terrorist attacks, let us remember that, as a nation, we are invincible. As the Passover Haggadah says, “In every generation, there are those who rise against us to destroy us, but God rescues us from them.”
May God give all of us the strength and conviction to continue surviving.