For me, the journey to Daf Yomi was a series of aspirations that seemed impossible, something I wanted to do every time I heard about it, but that never seemed like it could be truly “for me.” How could I fit Daf Yomi into my daily life? Do I really have time for that? Do I know enough to learn a page of Talmud every day? Every time I heard about Daf Yomi, I felt a surge of excitement, but I always managed to talk myself out of it.
I first thought about Daf Yomi when I read Ilana Kurshan’s book If All the Seas Were Ink in 10th grade. I loved the way Kurshan blended narrative with Talmud, deftly weaving the strands of her life into Talmudic texts. I wanted my life to be one with the text the way hers seemed to be.
When I reread the book last summer, two years later, the way Kurshan marked time through learning deeply resonated with me. Should I start doing Daf Yomi, I wondered seriously for the first time? The question jostled around my brain, nagging me. I looked up the calendar and was surprised to find that a new cycle started in only two months. I left the tab open on my computer for at least a month, coming back to it periodically, undecided.
As 2019 came to a close, the excitement began to increase about the upcoming Daf Yomi siyyum. The seven-and-a-half-year cycle was ending, and a new one would soon begin. The Jewish world was getting ready to celebrate.
“I know someone who started when he was a senior at Ramaz and is finishing at this siyyum,” said my teacher, “He’s married now.” It was an offhand comment, but it stuck with me. The second semester of your senior year is when you’re supposed to have the fewest commitments. To paraphrase Hillel (Avot 1:14): If I don’t start Daf Yomi now, when will I start?
Even so, we came to the first day of the cycle, and I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t be starting. I didn’t have time. That first day coincided with the day of the No Hate, No Fear, Solidarity march, so I went downtown to Lower Manhattan to join the march, protesting against the recent antisemitic attacks that had occurred in New York City. There, I met some friends, and we started discussing Daf Yomi. It turned out that several of them were planning to start. Somehow, without trying, they convinced me. Their passion and excitement to start the new cycle got me excited about it, and I decided…there was nothing to lose; I would give it a day or two.
That night, I pulled out my copy of Brachot from 9th grade and turned on the Hadran podcast. Since I’d learned much of it before, the first daf was relatively easy, and I closed my Talmud eager to reopen it in the morning.
The next day, at school, we celebrated the siyyum for the seven-and-a-half-year cycle. “You’ll be standing up there in seven-and-a-half years,” whispered my friend, sitting next to me. I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t imagine that I would still be doing Daf Yomi in a week, let alone seven-and-a-half years.
I still refuse to tell anyone I’m “doing” Daf Yomi…even today, I’m doing it “for now” or “I’m trying.” It feels like too much of a commitment to say that I’m on board for the whole seven-and-a-half years. I’m taking it one day at a time, one daf at a time, one masechet at a time. Today, though, I know one more masechet than I knew two months ago, so I’m considering that a win, no matter what happens in the next seven years.
On Shabbat, I finished learning Masechet Brachot and recited the Hadran. I finished a masechet for the first time in my life and celebrated the siyyum at my shul. Torah is imbued in my daily life more than ever before as I pull out Sefaria in a crowded subway car or turn on the Talking Talmud podcast as I walk through Central Park. This is what Daf Yomi means to me—making Torah so much a part of my existence that it is playing through my headphones as I walk down the street.
Hadran Alach Masechet Brachot v’Hadrach Alan.