Don’t Forget Daf Alef!
A thought that I had amidst all the talk about the start of Daf Yomi Cycle #13…
But first: Mazal Tov to all the mesaymim!
There has been much talk lately about one of AishDas’s central themes: seeing the forest for the trees. Eg the Spring 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives, and R’ Dr Gidon Rothstein’s recently published seifer, “We’re Missing the Point.” We have universal education at a level that is rare in Jewish history, enabling new levels of halachic observance as well. But to quote [R Peli’s notes of a shiur by] R’ JB Soloveitchik (On Repentance pp 97-98):
Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the “sanctity of Shabbat.” True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat… But it is not for Shabbat that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten “erev Shabbat” (eve of the Sabbath). There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbat‘ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!
The Vilna Shas famously starts each mesekhta on daf beis amud alef — page 2a. And there are many cute thoughts about it, such as learning modesty from the fact that even when you’re finished, you still haven’t even learned page 1. (However, the Vilna Yerushalmi does start on 1a.)
What is happening in the edition of the Bavli is what we find in many books — page numbering includes the front matter. So the Bavli does have a daf alef, it typically looks something like the picture to the right. And so, nearly every copy of the Vilna Shas begins with the picture of an ornate gate.
פִּתְחוּ לִי שַׁעֲרֵי צֶדֶק; אָבֹא בָם, אוֹדֶה קָהּ.
זֶה הַשַּׁעַר לַה’, צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ!
Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, I shall praise G-d!
This is the the gate to G-d — righteous ones go through them!
– Tehillim 118:19-20 (and Hallel)
Yes, we must learn gemara and understand it well, but it is possible to learn gemara and not once mention Hashem’s name. I would suggest that we need to remember daf alef, perhaps pause at it before and after learning. If our learning the trees is not not tied to developing our appreciation of the forest, if we learn without taking personal lessons about righteousness and approaching the Creator, what is its value?
PS: My proposal for the venue for next cycle’s siyum: