A funny thing happened to me at on the way to Talmud celebaration

Will you Celebrate last page of Shakespeare's Hamlet with me??!!

Last week something remarkable happened in the Jewish world. While millions flew to the London Olympics to watch the most prestigious sportsmen and sportswomen performing spectacular feats in large stadiums and sports fields, hundreds of thousands of Jews flew to Jerusalem, New York, and many other cities in nearly every part of the world to dance, sing, and express unmitigated joy about something as remote from sports as can be.

Standing for hours in long lines waiting to get in, they did not come to watch the most incredible tour de force of sports, but rather to share in the absolutely unimaginable. One of these gatherings took place in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, a sports arena (!!) that held moer than 90,000 spectators.

What world-transforming event had taken place that made them leave their families, work, and even old age homes and spend their hard-earned money to celebrate an event that seems to be the pinnacle of their lives? A rock concert? No, it was not that. Not even close. These people came to celebrate something that even the Guinness World Records is unable to chronicle.

They came to study the last page of a book, with the ineffable anticipation of immediately starting it again, from page one, without losing a minute.

These Jews, many of them well into their 80s and even 90s, with long white beards, arrived with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, including numerous babies to celebrate the completion of what is probably the most bizarre book in all of human history: the Babylonian Talmud.

And this while dressed in their Shabbat clothes as if they were going to a royal wedding. Indeed, a wedding it was. As no other. It was the wedding of a 4,000-year-old nation to a book nearly 1,500 years old and probably the largest in the world.

Since 1923, when Meir Shapiro zt”l (1887-1933), the famous rabbi of Lublin, initiated and instituted the Daf Yomi (a system of Talmud study in which one learns one page a day), Jews throughout the world complete the 40 or so volumes of the Talmud in seven-and-a-half year cycles. This book is said to have 2711 pages, but this is far from true. Since it is written in cryptic language and most of the words are missing – as in secret code – it would, by today’s standards, fill approximately 10,000 pages if not more.

This type of celebration, such as the one that took place in MetLife Stadium, is unparalleled in the entire world of secular and religious scholarship. That people from all walks of life – not only  scholars, but even laymen and youth – finish an encyclopedic work by studying it every day without exception, as if their lives depend on it, is the strangest cause for celebration known to human beings.

Have you ever seen hundreds of thousands of Shakespeare lovers – including scholars, laymen, young people, and even kids – coming together in a huge stadium to dance and sing when they finished the last page of Hamlet?

Many of the “finalists” live in old age homes, others are confined to wheelchairs; some are recovering from illnesses, others are in severe pain; some are on vacation in Hawaii, others are longing for their beds after a long day of hard work.

Yet, whatever the hour of day, they all push themselves to finish one more page – every day, without exception, for seven and a half years.  Only to start all over again because they can’t get enough of it!

How strange it is that while the world is accustomed to finishing a book, the Jewish world emphasizes and celebrates the continuous restarting of the same book. Western civilization is preoccupied with getting matters over with; Judaism, is dedicated to infinite beginnings.

It is not for nothing that these “finalists” say the following personal words to the Talmudic Tractate they just finished: Hadran alach – “We will return to you”; Da’atan alach – “Our minds are still with you.”

So, who really won the Olympics this year? The human body or the human spirit?

(these thoughts are from combined sources)