A WhatsApp group of eight-to-ten minutes a day completed the Talmud tractate of Megillah. The Young Israel of Forest Hills celebrated with a siyum and a Chanukah party on Wednesday, December 1. Rabbi Shmuel Marcus of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, who is president of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, was the guest speaker.
“Taking small chunks of learning one day at a time, you accomplish amazing things,” said Rabbi Ashie Schreier of the Young Israel of Forest Hills. Like Chanukah, when the Syrian-Greeks tried to destroy the Jewish nation spiritually, “we fight back.”
Tractate Megillah was finished in three months. Tractates B’rachos and Shabbos were also completed during the three years since Rabbi Schreier started the WhatsApp group.
“We underestimate the value of Torah,” said Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, the guest speaker. The Rav of the Old City of Jerusalem, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, walked from his yeshivah to pray at the Kosel with a gemara in hand, just to learn an extra two-to-five minutes.
Chanukah “is the power of the small,” said Rabbi Marcus. The few Jews who fought the Syrian-Greeks, the small flask of oil that lasted eight days. Chazal taught that “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam” – learning Torah is equal to everything. “Every single word of Torah learned is the equivalent of 613 mitzvos.”
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, a baal t’shuvah at the University of Berlin who later became Mashgiach (the spiritual guide) at the Lakewood Yeshiva in Jerusalem, said, “It’s the small steps, the small investments of time, in the small, miniature accomplishments, one day at a time, one small act at a time, that builds the person in his spirituality.”
It’s hard battling the yeitzer ha’ra (the evil inclination) when there is the Internet, television, and things to do, said Rabbi Marcus. People can learn for eight minutes though. “If you want to avoid the yeitzer ha’ra challenge, small is better. You’ll have an easier chance of success,” said Rabbi Marcus.
“Studies have shown that happiness has stayed flat in this country since 1962,” Rabbi Marcus said about the 2003 book, The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook. Just 50% of people reported themselves happy despite increases in income. “People should have more reasons to be happy,” said Rabbi Marcus.
“Americans are people who engage in the pursuit of happiness,” said Rabbi Marcus. “For someone to be truly happy, you have to have meaningful goals.”
“Torah certainly provides us with that aspiration, that goal, that striving for meaning, the journey of pursing that which we are told is spiritually meaningful. It is a source of simchah in a Jew’s life.”
Rabbi Marcus noticed people of all ages at this simchah. Jews throughout the world are different, but “the one common language we all have is Torah.”
“People need in life to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. They need to connect with people whom they can share identity with,” said Rabbi Marcus. When a person feels part of something larger, he feels “more fulfilled, more satisfied, more meaning in life.”
Many identify with sports teams, but Jews are the ones who received the Torah, who seek to connect to G-d, said Rabbi Marcus. The Syrian-Greeks tried to take Jews away from G-d and Torah, but now all Jews celebrate Chanukah.
Dovid Gottlieb, a psychologist and member of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, said, “Psychologists feel that what drives religious interest is based on attachment” to a community, to parents, and to rebbeim.
“The warmer the community, the warmer the friendships, the warmer the rabbi, the more connected you can get to religion and Torah.” Gottlieb thanked Rabbi Schreier and the community for being “really warm and welcoming.”
DJ Jacob Fiskus provided Jewish music. Stop, Wok, and Roll of Cedarhurst provided the hot kosher Chinese food.
The WhatsApp group is now learning Tractate Taanis. To join the WhatsApp Talmud class, call the Young Israel of Forest Hills at 718-268-7100.
By David Schneier