Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro, Rav of Lublin, revolutionized limud haTorah in a way few have in recent history. He developed a revolutionary program, Daf Yomi, that has turned thousands of simple Jews into talmidei chachamim, knowledgeable in all of Shas.
The Chofetz Chaim once shared his appreciation of Daf Hayomi with Rav Meir. “I am especially fond of you. Do you know why?” asked the Chofetz Chaim. “Because of what you have achieved through the Daf Hayomi study program.
“In the World of Truth,” continued the Chofetz Chaim, “a person receives more honor for his limud haTorah than for his maasim tovim, his good deeds. Each Jew is honored in accordance with how much Torah he has studied and is given a chair engraved with the names of the masechtos he has learned.
“Until now, many of these seats were empty. People studied only certain masechtos while others were neglected. Thanks to you,” concluded the Chofetz Chaim, “all the seats are now occupied, and there is incredible simcha in Shamayim.”
With his deep understanding of Klal Yisroel, Reb Meir realized that limud haTorah must be strengthened on many different levels, because both the learned talmid chacham and the simple baal habayis must learn Torah every day of their lives.
Throughout the years that Reb Meir served in the rabbinate, he continued to be politically active and work for the good of Klal Yisroel.
In 1921 Reb Meir represented Eastern Galicia at the first Agudas HaRabbonim convention held in Warsaw. The following year, Reb Meir was elected president of Agudas Yisroel. At first he refused the honor, as he was already dreaming of building a bastion of Torah study, and only agreed after the Imrei Emes of Ger personally insisted that he accept the position.
Reb Meir began to restructure Agudas Yisroel and implemented a wide-ranging program to disseminate the Agudah’s philosophy.
Reb Meir literally became one with the Agudah. A journalist once asked him it if were true that he was now a part of Agudas Yisroel. “No, he replied. “I am not a part of the Agudah. The Agudah is a part of me.” With those few words he explained how the tenets of Agudas Yisroel had become the force that drove his very existence.
It was in 1923, at the Agudah’s first Knessia Gedola, that Reb Meir suggested the development of an international learning program, Daf Hayomi, which would eventually revolutionize limud haTorah. Daf Hayomi, a daily study of Gemara, united Torah true Jews throughout the world with Torah study. Reb Meir calculated that with this program even a simple working Jew would be able to complete the entire Shas in seven and a half years.
“This program,” wrote Reb Meir, “will create a common language among our people. When two Jews from different towns, or even different countries, meet, the knowledge they share on the Gemara currently being studied will help them form a deep bond of friendship.
“Jews will gain new direction in their lives. A day without Daf Hayomi means a day lost in the steady journey that the entire Jewish nation Yisroel is making toward gadlus in Torah. The sense of obligation and the regularity of the program will help the common man continue learning.”
And the Daf Hayomi did just that. People burdened with the need to earn a living became as scrupulous about attending their daily Daf Hayomi shiur as they were about putting on tefillin. The moment they knew that the shiur was about to begin, they would drop whatever they were doing and join their friends to study the daily daf. Baalei batim slowly turned into talmidei chachamim, while talmidei chachamim widened the scope of their learning.
What’s Does Daf Yomi Have To Do With a Ship?
You may have noticed that the logo for The Siyum features a picture of a ship. What does a ship have to do with the global Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi?
The Gemara relates the following story: Rabban Gamliel was at sea when he encountered a capsized vessel. Seeing that there were no survivors, he was distraught over the loss of the great Rebbi Akiva who was on board. Upon disembarking, Rebbe Akiva came before him to study. Obviously relieved, but surprised he asked, “My son, who brought you up from the water?” Rebbe Akiva responded:
דף של ספינה נזדמן לי וכל גל וגל שבא עלי נענעתי לו ראשי…
The plank of a ship came before me. I grabbed hold of it and floated to safety, nodding my head to each and every wave.
Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l derived an astounding life lesson from this Gemora that has changed the Torah world. “A plank from the boat came to me, and I bent my head before each and every wave that came toward me. This plank, this daf, is the daf Gemora, the Daf Yomi, which is available to every Yid wherever he may be, to save him from the crashing waves of evil that threaten to destroy him physically and spiritually, the daf Gemora that saves every Yid from the waves of a stormy life.”
This is the legacy we seek to carry on. Let us unify on this special day, 7 Chashvan, the Yahrtzeit of Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l and further our commitment to daily learning – to daf shel sefina that prevents us from drowning in the hustle and bustle of daily life.