Tomorrow, I expect to complete my first “cycle” of teaching the Daf Yomi here in Allentown. I started teaching the second chapter of Kiddushin in the early summer of 2001, shortly after arriving here, and we are slated to begin that chapter again tomorrow.
I would not have expected it, but this is a very exciting moment for me.
It’s not the issue of completing another round of shas; I know quite well that there is no such thing, at least for a human intellect like mine, as completing shas. Besides, I have had substitutes for 100-150 of the daf along the way, so this can’t really count as a completion.
Part of it, I suppose, is that learning by teaching is so much deeper than learning personally. Certainly, I understand the gemara much better now, for having had to explain it.
And part of it is the simple fact that I showed up every day for so long, consecutively, to do this.
But what really moves me is the group, the Daffies, my guys. (And women, of course; we have a couple of women who attend daily as well. But they’re all “my guys” to me.) Learning Torah with anyone creates a unique link, learning Gemara moreso, and learning daily much more. (Frankly, this makes me somewhat uncomfortable with the co-ed aspect of it, but that’s a topic for another post.)
And through that link, I can see growth.
I always have mixed feelings about encouraging people to attend classes. In my student days, I learned much more through chavruta (partner) study than through shiurim (classes); I emerged from personal study with rich understanding, but I usually emerged from shiurim with a set of notes. So it’s hard for me to encourage people to come to classes; I tend to push private study more.
But Daf Yomi is different. Here, through the day after day after day, I actually see the change in people. I’m not talking about a change in religiosity, or a change in knowledge; I’m talking about a change in their approach to gemara, a maturity and sophistication so that when people say gemara or talmud, my Daffies comprehend what those words mean. It’s not about the words or the pages or the volumes, it’s about the system as a whole. My crew may not get every shiur, we may not understand every page, but we emerge with a greater respect for the analytic methods, for the commitment, for the expertise, of the sages who compiled the gemara.
And that’s what moves me, on the eve of completing the cycle and beginning again. It’s the knowledge that I am playing a role in helping Jews come to a real appreciation for this essential part of our heritage, this mass of knowledge and thought and hope and analysis which is lengthier than the land and broader than the sea.
Their appreciation for our heritage, their grasp of the spectrum of Jewish intellectual tradition, their comprehension of what it means to be heir to Judaism’s great repository of wisdom – this is their reward for participating in the Daf, and it is my reward as well.