The 13th global siyum, held on January 1 was the fourth such siyum that I had attended. I was at the 10th Siyum HaShas in 1997 at Nassau Coliseum, the 11th in 2005 at Madison Square Garden, and the 12th at MetLife Stadium in 2012. Each one was special. The 1997 siyum was the first time that I had been to a siyum on daf yomi and I was awed by number of people who were involved in the celebration. MSG was special since it was the first time I had been part of the “daily double-sided page” cycle. The crowd in Met Life Stadium in 2005 dwarfed the crowd at any of the prior siyumim. The place was packed with more than 90,000 people present to celebrate the completion of the daily daf. The 13th global siyum that was held at MetLife Stadium was more impressive than the prior event due to the time of year. It is easier for most people to stay outside for a few hours in the summertime. It is a lot different doing it in the dead of winter.
Moreover, this year, due to the expectation of an overflow crowd, the organizers decided to also use Barclays Center as an alternative location. Barclays Center had some of its own speakers as well as those from MetLife. There were good reasons why some people who had bought tickets for MetLife decided instead to go to Barclay Center: It is closer for most people in terms of travel distance, and it is warmer, since it is an indoor arena.
Looking at the crowd, it did not appear that there was a mass defection. Those who came had the extra merit of braving the cold weather. It was important to go to New Jersey, because it sent a message that even though we may not be comfortable, we are showing the importance of Torah learning.
MetLife Stadium is the home of the Jets and the Giants. Their fans come out in droves to see their favorite teams in weather even worse than the day of the siyum. If they are willing to endure such discomforts, shouldn’t we, who are part of “Team Torah,” show how important our team is to us? I would guess that the Siyum HaShas was held on Wednesday, New Year’s Day, as opposed to Sunday, when Brachos was starting, was due to the possibility that MetLife Stadium may not have been available due to the Giants or the Jets hosting a playoff game. (If they had asked Jets or Giants fans, we would have told them that they had nothing to worry about.)
The siyum is also important because it shows the Orthodox community at its best. The visible unity, as well as the respect shown for the stadium employees and state troopers, were a true kiddush Hashem.
Although the event was sponsored by Agudas Yisroel, non-members of Agudah were on the dais, shown on video screen, or otherwise acknowledged. For example, the YU Torah website was mentioned. Rav Hershel Schachter, a rosh haYeshivah at YU, spoke on video and sat at the dais along with other Yeshiva University rebbeim. The videos showing daf being taught or people celebrating the siyum included locations ranging from an Israeli army base to a yeshivah in Minneapolis. The Kaddish after the siyum was recited by Jay Schottenstein, who appeared to be what many refer to as a Modern Orthodox Jew. This was an event where everyone was united in the joy of finishing the daf yomi. For one day, our differences were set aside.
This year, the event was livestreamed, increasing exponentially the number of people who were able to witness it. Of course, seeing it on a webstream is not the same as being there - especially when it comes to experiencing the emotion of the crowd. Nevertheless, it has some effect. Someone texted me that he was so moved by the event that he is going to try to begin learning daf yomi in the new cycle.
My own goal in the new cycle is to fully complete every daf. I know from experience that this won’t be easy, but similarly to many other things, the hardest part is the beginning.
As we get older, we realize that we may not have too many daf yomi cycles that we can complete or siyumim that we can attend. The time is short, and the task is great, but we can do it if we put our minds to it. I hope that the achdus (unity) that was shown at this siyum, both at the event itself as well as around the world, will continue long past the siyum. In these difficult times, unity among all Jews is more important than ever.