This past Monday evening, my 18-year old daughter Leora made a siyum on Masechet Shekalim along with thousands of other Jews around the world. In the Daf Yomi cycle, she had previously made a siyum on Masechet Eruvin and Masechet Pesachim, but this siyum was different.
Leora was a waitress in a camp this past summer. When she had a little spare time, she decided that she would like to dedicate time to learn each day. When she asked me what to learn, I suggested to her that she start learning daf yomi. She had already studied and completed Masechet Makkot, a project that she completed with a Chavruta from college, her Madricha from Michlelet. She developed a love of learning Gemara, so she jumped at the opportunity to learn the daf yomi on the day that everyone started learning Masechet Eruvin.
Since she was in camp, she didn’t have a Gemara and had to go to the camp Judaic library to get one. She was a little uncomfortable as she had never been in the library and it was mostly used by the men in the camp. Nevertheless, she went into the library each day to get her Gemara and go to the women’s side of the Beit Midrash and learn the daf. She told me that she very much related to the story that Rav Soloveitchik told in the first-ever Talmud class at Stern College that when he learns Torah she-ba’al peh, all the members of the tradition – the tannaim, amoraim, rishonim and even his grandfather, Rav Chayim – are in the room with him. She felt learning the daf yomi that she was connecting with the thousands of people around the world who were studying the same page of Gemara that she was. It was unusual for a girl in this camp to study Gemara, but she learned to be confident about what she was doing.
On the last Shabbat of camp, she went into the library as she always did to get the Gemara. But it wasn’t there. Noticing that she was searching for something, a man in the room asked her what she was looking for. She explained that she was learning daf yomi and was looking for a Masechet Eruvin. He helped her look for it, but they couldn’t find it. He told her, “We will make sure that you have a Gemara the next time you want to learn.” Leora didn’t think much of it. The next day, he came into the dining room holding a bag, looking for her. He revealed that the previous night he had bought her an Artscroll Masechet Eruvin. He explained that he believed that if someone wants to accomplish something, then she needs the right tools to do so. He then asked Leora to continue learning in honor and memory of his father, who had recently passed away. She did not take his gesture lightly. Leora told me that whenever she is unmotivated to continue her learning, she thinks of this act of kindness and with that in mind, she learns the page of the day.
When Leora finished Masechet Eruvin, she contacted him to thank him for the gift of the Gemara and let him know that she learned in memory of his father. He asked if, assuming we agreed, he could buy her all the volumes for Masechet Pesachim and then when she started learning Masechet Shekalim, he bought her that Gemara, as well. And all the while, Leora learned in memory of his father. When she started learning Masechet Shekalim, Leora wanted to share the siyum with this generous man and his family. And that is why Leora’s siyum on Masechet Shekalim was so different. Leora’s zoom siyum didn’t merely include our family, but it also included this man and his siblings who were so excited to zoom in and hear Leora’s siyum. After Leora did the siyum, Yael, my wife, asked the family to share some stories about their father. They shared with us wonderful stories about their father, including how he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael from Yemen and fought in Israel’s War of Independence when he was 17 years old. What a beautiful way for us to celebrate during the week of Yom Haatzmaut! This story makes me think about how one act of kindness can turn into something unexpected and wonderful, and inspires me to look beyond myself to those around me, who are “searching for a book” that they need a little help finding.