The Gemara in Chagigah Daf Heh tells us the story of Rav Idi, the father of Reb Yaakov bar Idi. He would travel for three months from his home to the Bais Medrash, learn for one day, and then travel for three months back home! The Chachomim famously referred to him as the Bar Bei Rav D’chad Yoma “the Torah scholar for one day.” This Gemara always perplexed me. How much could a person learn in a single day to justify a half year of traveling?
The Daf Yomi Shiur at the headquarters of Agudas Yisroel of America in lower Manhattan, given by the inimitable Reb Mechel Schiffenbauer z”l answers the question. In truth, you don’t need even a full day – one hour will do it. Every week from Monday through Thursday, at 12:15 p.m. in the winter and 12:45 p.m. in the summer, Reb Mechel traveled from Pace University, where he served as a professor of microbiology, to give the Daf Yomi Shiur in the Agudah Bais Medrash. It wasn’t just a Shiur, but a tour de force. For starters, Reb Mechel “knew the Gemara cold” and had a marvelous way of explaining it so that everyone in the Shiur, coming from all over, understood it clearly. What made Reb Mechel so unique was his incredible and indescribable joy in saying the Daf. His excitement was palpable as he spoke rapidly, much like a child who comes home from school so eager to tell his mother everything that happened that day and can’t get the words out fast enough. He was literally on fire for every single Shiur!
Reb Mechel’s Ahavas HaTorah was infectious. All the Talmidim would have eagerly awaited his arrival every single day, except that he got there first, preparing feverishly for the Daf, which for many years he delivered three times a day! In the classic sense of Ain Bais Medrash Be’lo Chiddush, Reb Mechel was a fountain of Peshatim, sharing his thoughts on almost every Daf in Shas. These were insights that could only have been said by someone who was totally familiar with Shas – that means every Daf of every Mesechta, both easy and difficult.
One of the special treats for the Shiur and the Agudah staff was the Siyum of each Mesechta. The Agudah would provide lunch for all the attendees and Reb Mechel would hold forth with a beautiful Hadran. When he ended Kaddish there was a rousing round of Mazel Tovs along with the singing of Siman Tov! I remember them fondly, giving me incredible Chizuk in my learning. The Siyumim would be brief because, of course, it was now time to begin learning the next Mesechta.
Reb Mechel began saying the Shiur in the Agudah office shortly after 9/11. The Shiur joyfully participated together in the 2005, 2012, and 2020 Siyumei Hashas. Finishing Shas was an indescribable Simcha for him, his Choshuva wife and family, who were so supportive of him, and for all those around him.
The Kedusha of his Shiur permeated the entire Agudah office for the past twenty years. Illustrious visitors participated in the Shiur, such as Hagaon Reb Mechel Silber Shlit”a and Hagaon Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky Shlit”a , who effusively praised it as something very very special. Torah was being learned totally and wholeheartedly Lish’ma with gusto and Geshmack!
Reb Mechel was beloved by everyone at the Agudah. His sparkling smile and incredible warmth made each of us light up as we walked into the Bais Medrash to say hello to him. His presence made all the difference in our workdays. We were all saddened when Covid-19 closed down the Agudah and the Shiur and had been looking forward to its resumption. We are devastated at the thought that his shining countenance will no longer grace the Bais Medrash every day before Mincha.
This is a Te’kufah in all of our lives and that of Agudas Yisroel, which has sadly come to an end. We all know that they are always looking for a top-notch Maagid Shiur in the Yeshiva Shel Ma’alah and Reb Mechel will be right up there saying his Shiur for Nitzchiyus.
Ze’chuso Yagain Aleinu.