Don’t Forget Daf Alef!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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:

You may also like...

No Responses

  1. Neil Harris says:

    Great. I actually emailed two people today about the “gate”/aron. This post is really hashgacha pratis. Any idea about the origin on WHY this image? Aside from the pasuk quoted above?

    • micha says:

      Formal gate or Royal Arch. An aron wouldn’t have the fence across the bottom. I think you’re over-analyzing a printer’s decision. Maybe just because it’s pretty and frames the text well — it’s rectangular and leaves the middle empty. I was just suggesting a meditation, not a cause.

  2. Shmuel says:

    Both the Tanya and Nefesh HaCHaim (among others I’m sure) make a prerequisite to learning every day the acceptance of Ohl Malchut Shamayim and teshuva…

    • micha says:

      The Tanya makes it a precondition.

      The Nefesh haChaim (4:7) has a different mashal, and I think the difference between them is all the difference between Chassidus and Yeshivish:
      כשרז”ל עוד (שבת ל”א) משל לאדם שאמר לשלוחו העלה לי כור של חטים לעליה כו’ א”ל עירבת לי בהן קב חומטין א”ל לא. א”ל מוטב שלא העלית. וקאי על אמצע העסק בתבואות חכמת התורה שראוי ×’”×› לערב בתוכו יראתו ית’. כדי שתתקיים תלמודו בידו. ולכן סמך אצלו הברייתא תני דבי ר”×™ מערב אדם קב חומטין בכור של תבואה ואינו חושש.

      This is line with his earlier mashal of yir’as Shamayim as the storehouse / silo, and Torah as the grain stored (4:5):
      ולפי ערך גודל אוצר היראה אשר הכין לו האדם. כן ×¢”×– הערך יוכל ליכנס ולהשתמר ולהתקיים בתוכו תבואות התורה כפי אשר יחזיק אוצרו. ×›×™ האב המחלק תבואה לבניו. הוא מחלק ונותן לכל א’ מדת התבוא’ כפי אשר יחזיק אוצרו של הבן אשר הכין ×¢”×– מקודם. שאף אם ירצה האב וידו פתוחה ליתן לו הרבה. אמנם כיון שהבן אינו יכול לקבל יותר מחמת שאין אוצרו גדול ×›”×› שיוכל להחזיק יותר. גם האב א”א לו ליתן לו עתה יותר. ואם לא הכין לו הבן אף אוצר קטן. גם האב לא יתן לו כלל. כיון שאין לו מקום משומר שתתקיים אצלו. כן הוא ית”ש ידו פתוחה כביכול להשפיע תמיד לכל איש מעם סגולתו רב חכמה ובינה יתירה. ושתתקיים אצלם ויקשרם על לוח לבם.

      So, to R’ Chaim Volozhiner, yir’as Shamayim is described for its utility in internalizing Torah. The Tanya makes learning a means to gain yir’as Shamayim. (I have a theory, though, that Nefesh haChaim vol 4 is not comprehensible without the prior three chalaqim, which have an emphasis on tiqun ha’olam in the Ari’s sense through tiqun of the self. In which case, we have to explain why the shiurim that R’ Yitzchaq put in shaar 4 has such a limud-centric orientation. I don’t have an answer I am entirely happy with, and in any case, this comment is long enough.)

      R; Chaim stands in contrast to the Gra, at least in Even Sheleimah 1:11, who says that middos are the garden and Torah is the water that nourishes them — and especially yir’ah:
      עניו התורה לנפש דוגמת המטר לארץ שמצמיח מה שנזרע בה סם חיים או סם מות. כן בתורה מצמיח מה שבלבו אם לבו טוב תגדיל יראתו. ואם בלבו שורש פורה ראש ולענה יגדיל השנאה בלבו. כמ״ש “צדיקים ילכו בם ופושעים יבשלו בם” וכמ״ש “למיימינים בה סמא דחיי . ולמשמאילים בה סמא דמותא” . ×¢×´×› צריך לפנות לבו בכל יום קודם הלימוד ואחריו מעיפוש הדיעות והמדות ביראת חטא ומע״ט

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *