The First World Congress of the Agudath Israel of 1923, convened in the elegant Viennese Opera House, was a magnificent event graced by the presence of the legendary Chofetz Chaim and a large crowd of young dynamic individuals who were committed to the furtherance of the Jewish message worldwide. Although the atmosphere of the entire event was charged through with fervour and the orators were of the highest calibre, there was one 36-year-old rabbi who captivated everyone with his eloquence and brilliance. It was Rabbi Meir Shapiro, who made a strikingly original proposal that shook the very foundations of Torah study.

With passion and lustre, he suggested the idea of the “Daf HaYomi” (or the Daily Daf), where Jews across the world would learn in solidarity the same page of Gemara each day until seven-and-a-half years later, they would master the entire Talmud. The cycle of learning he proposed would begin on Rosh Hashanah 1923 and would end on the 15th day of Shevat 1931 . Amazingly, this incredibly ambitious initiative was immediately seized upon by the masses and remains until today—12 full cycles down the line—an integral part of the daily routine of tens of thousands of Jews.

With perfect hindsight, we see that the daf (as it lovingly referred to) has indeed united Jews of different languages, ages and backgrounds and given them knowledge previously reserved to the scholars. Still, what always puzzled me was how Rabbi Shapiro ever expected his idea to initially take off the ground—never mind be such a roaring success? How would he possibly convince the average Jew to commit to a seven-and-a-half year voyage that requires negotiating the roughest seas of the Talmud on a daily basis? With an ingenious explanation in this week's parsha by this very same Rabbi Shapiro, we can understand the key to why he had so much confidence in his initiative.

In this week's parsha, we find that Hashem appeared to Avraham and the possuk relates that: He took him outside and said, “Gaze, now, toward the Heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them!” And He said to him, “So shall your offspring be!” (Bereishis 15:5-6) With our knowledge that nothing in the Torah is superfluous, what could possibly be the reason behind the second "and he said to him" when it was clearly Hashem speaking all the time?

Rabbi Shapiro answered that these few seemingly extra words show us that there was actually a hidden discussion that went on between Hashem and Avraham that went like this: Hashem tells Avraham to go outside, saying "Gaze, now, toward the Heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them!" Upon hearing this command, Avraham does exactly that, looking up towards the billions of stars stretched endlessly across the sky and begins to count one, two, three, four…

Hashem then says to him, “What on earth are you doing? You know as an accomplished astronomer that it is impossible to count the infinite amount of stars!” Avraham humbly replies, "I do as I am commanded. Since the instruction was to count, I did as was required and ignored the fact that in practice it would seem an impossibility." Hearing this reply, Hashem said (the second time) “So shall your offspring be!”
Avraham, the founder of Judaism, thus put into motion a concept that has become the very essence of the nation, and with Hashem’s blessing continues to blossom despite the influences of world decadence. The Jew holds dearly to the banner that his focus must be on necessity and not realism, obligation and not practicality. If a project must be undertaken, then the words impossible or unfeasible no longer remain viable adjectives. This axiom was proudly transmitted through our unique history, focused on by Rabbi Shapiro, and eagerly practiced by the brave and committed Jewish fighter in every continent. Undoubtedly as humans we are restricted, but as the emissaries of Hashem—as Avraham taught us—not even the sky's the limit!

Gut Shabbos!!

Rabbi Sipper is a close friend of ShortVort.com. Further divrei Torah from the Rov can be found on his yeshiva's website at www.ohravraham.com


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