Parents have let out a collective sigh of relief. The new academic year has started and, thank God, the kids are back in school. It is amazing that, at the end of the school year, parents are so grateful to have a reprieve from supervising homework, making lunches and driving carpools. By the end of the summer, however, they are all too happy to resume those duties and have their kids back in a structured, productive and learning environment.
While we mostly think about the end of summer as a time that kids go back to school, Judaism teaches that it is specifically this period of the year that all of us, adults, kids, men and women are encouraged to return to learning, studying and personal growth. Learning is a lifelong endeavor and its mission is never complete.
Over the past few weeks, I attended two siyumim, the celebrations over completion of a major body of learning, that deeply inspired me. During the nine days, our member, Jeff Silkin made a siyum on an entire mesechta (tractate) of gemara. Remarkably, when Jeff and his family first moved to the circle he would classify himself as a beginner with little background or learning skills. Yet, by committing to study one night a week with his chavrusa (R. Mayer Englander), something he considers totally ordinary, he was able to achieve an extraordinary feat.
Last Shabbos at Seudah Shlishiet, another of our members, Dan Waldman, made a siyum on Shas Mishnayos, having completed every single mishna in the six orders. He told the story of how, as a survivor, he tried to learn about his murdered ancestors so he could visit their graves. When he recognized that, tragically, he could not locate much information, he decided he would study the entire mishna and dedicate it to them. Through this process of study that took several years, he became their monument. Ask Dan how he completed this rigorous project and his answer is simple – one mishna at a time.
Like our many children and like Jeff and Dan, this Elul, let’s all go back to school. Challenge yourself to complete an area of study, to read a challenging book, to attend an inspiring lecture or to engage a regular study partner. Participate in the Beis Midrash program nightly or Shabbos afternoon in the Senders Library. If you need a chavrusa, feel free to contact me any time.
May we all use Labor Day to return to school for a labor of love – Torah study, and may we attend each other’s siyumim and celebrations for many years to come.