I left Eretz Yisrael on an early morning flight to Paris, arriving at the arena with plenty of time before the event began.
Luckily for me I met a French rav, a Lubavitcher shliach in Paris, who graciously agreed to sit beside me throughout the event and translate the words of the French-speaking rabbis. His name was Rav David Zaoui and he assisted me tremendously.
Rav Yitzchok Weil shlita, rosh yeshivah of Aix les Bains, was then introduced.
“In a short while,” he began, “we will be commemorating a hundred years from when Rav Meir Shapiro introduced the concept of Daf Yomi at the Knessiah Gedola in Vienna. Although Rav Meir passed away at a young age, the idea he introduced has become stronger and stronger, uniting Klal Yisrael around the world through the study of Daf Yomi. After every Siyum more and more people decide to join their brethren in learning the Daf. One can be a misnagid or a chassid, or any type of Jew, and learn the Daf. It’s universal.”
Rav Shlomo Kanievsky shlita then read a letter from his father, Rav Chaim shlita, the Sar HaTorah.
“Everyone speaks about the importance of finishing Shas,” Rav Chaim wrote. “I however want to focus on another point – on the point of being kovea itim laTorah, of setting set times to learn Torah every day.
“I want to tell you a story about the Chazon Ish,” Rav Shlomo continued. “There was a man who used to travel for an hour each way to deliver a shiur to a small group of Yidden in a moshav outside of Bnei Brak. On a good day it wasn’t a large group. One day when it was time to set out, the man saw that it was raining heavily. Knowing that such heavy rain would mean that even fewer people would come to the already small shiur, the maggid shiur went to consult with the Chazon Ish, asking whether he should put in the effort of traveling so far on such a day, especially knowing that barely anyone was going to show up.
“Tell me,” the Chazon Ish asked him, “is there anyone who you know will definitely attend the shiur?” “Yes,” the maggid shiur replied, “the gabbai who opens the door will definitely come.” The Chazon Ish answered, “Then go. Go deliver the shiur.”
He then explained to the maggid shiur that when a person learns for an hour on a daily basis it makes his entire day different. There is a huge difference between a day with learning and a day without, “and that is why you should make the trip to give the shiur – even for one man, ensuring that he doesn’t go without Torah, even for a day!”
Rav Yehuda Toledano, rosh yeshivah of Mercaz HaTorah, rose to address the assembled.
“There is a big simchah in heaven right now,” he called out. “The Ribono Shel Olam is saying to the malachim, “Come My angels, come see what My children are doing and how they finished the entire Shas!! But why is Hashem so happy by this accomplishment? Nefesh Hachaim explains that learning Torah is the tachlis of the creation and that being the case, we can understand the reason for His great happiness. We are all part of this project of Hashem’s and Hashem is so very proud of those who learn every day while willingly foregoing the pull of the outside world!!”
He then called out emotionally, “Tatte Ich Dank Dir, Tatte Ich Loeb Dir, Veil Ich Bin a Yid! – Tatte I thank You, Tatte I praise You, because I am a Jew!”
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu, was then introduced to speak.
“Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehilas Yaakov…. The Torah is our yerushah, our inheritance,” he began. “We didn’t need to buy it, it has always been ours. On the other hand, we find that it is written in Pirkei Avos that we do need to work for it and that it is not just a yerushah. This is a contradiction. Do we need to work for it or not? Is it our inheritance or not?
“Some answer that the words ‘Torah tziva lanu’ are referring to a yerushah for Klal Yisrael, and to the idea that the Torah will never be lost from our nation. But that’s not a promise for every individual. Sure the Torah will never be forgotten from our nation, but that’s not a promise for every Yid on his own! There a person needs to work for their portion.”
At the end of the speech, Rav Dovid asked the crowd a number of questions in French and it was obvious that he was actually waiting for an answer and that they weren’t just rhetorical questions.
“Do you accept the yoke of Heaven upon you?”
“Yes,” came the reply.
“Are you ready to learn Gemara every day?”
“Yes!” they screamed.
“Do you think that our survival as a nation comes from the fact that we kept the Torah for so long?”
Rav Dovid concluded his speech on that high note – and then it was time for the Siyum HaShas, the moment everyone was waiting for…
Rav Michoel Smerzla, Av Beis Din in Strasborg, was honored with reciting the final words of Talmud Bavli.
Rav Yitzchok Levy recited the Kaddish. And then the music began to play and dancing broke out throughout the hall. When the dancing was finished and the crowd had finally returned to their seats, Rav Rafael Abuchatzeira was introduced to speak.
“There is nothing more special in heaven,” he said, “than someone who sits and learns Torah. We were given the Torah by Hashem – and since we so desired to draw close to the Shechinah, the Shechinah wanted the same.
“When a person learns Torah the Shechinah learns k’negdo – opposite him. It doesn’t say this about any other mitzvah – only when it comes to learning Torah. This shows us the importance of Torah learning in the eyes of Hashem.”
The phenomenal event came to a close with singing and dancing that went on for a long time. Nobody wanted it to stop. It was a truly inspirational afternoon and evening, one that I knew would remain with me for a long time to come. I would not be surprised if this Dirshu event has a major effect on the Torah learning of the Jews of France.