Shayna Herszage, Managing Editor
Most months, the “Daf Yomi at Beren” column in the YU Observer features a section from a recent page of the daf yomi cycle. However, for the month of May, I will be diverting from this convention as this month marks the fulfillment of one of my biggest college goals: finishing all of Talmud Bavli before my undergraduate commencement.
I began the process of learning all of Talmud Bavli three and a half years ago, when I was in seminary in Jerusalem between high school and college. Throughout that year in Israel, I heard constant reminders that we would not be able to put aside time for Torah learning in college. I had only just discovered my love for Talmudic study, and I was not ready to pursue my secular studies passions at the price of my Judaic learning. As such, I established a goal for myself before starting YU of finishing Talmud Bavli before my undergraduate commencement — in order to prove to myself that I can live a life of Torah learning and secular learning in tandem.
Upon completing a tractate of Talmud, it is traditional to recite a series of passages and declarations, collectively known as the “Hadran,” named for the opening word in this series. The text begins (roughly translated) with the following proclamation: “We will return to you, Tractate ______, and you will return to us.”
The Hadran emphasizes the notion that a person who has learned a text has not actually completed studying it. Rather, a person is expected to continue learning and someday revisit the same text for the sake of reviewing and gaining a deeper understanding. Through repeated study of the same text, its values and content will become a more central part of the learner’s life, and the experience may even illuminate for the learner new details and meaning within the text.
The notion of a learning cycle is not at all foreign to Jewish rituals. In addition to the daf yomi cycle and the cyclical theme of the Hadran, Jewish communities around the world celebrate Simchat Torah each year. The holiday of Simchat Torah is a double celebration: we celebrate having finished reading all of the weekly Torah portions, in addition to immediately restarting the very same cycle of reading the weekly portions, a process which lasts a year on the Hebrew calendar.
For me, preparing to say the Hadran this month makes me think of this text as more of a declaration than ever before. Completing Talmud Bavli on such a tight schedule (the standard daf yomi cycle lasts approximately seven years, twice as long as the amount of time I gave myself) as a full-time student was not easy. It required learning between classes, on the subways and late at night. However, I knew that I had a goal to meet, and that goal kept me motivated and on task. When I make my siyum (celebration of completion) this month, the Hadran will serve not only as a statement that I completed one round of this goal, but also as a commitment that this will not be the last time I finish the Talmud Bavli cycle — as the passage states, I will return to it. Having fulfilled this goal once now despite tremendous difficulty, I am determined to do so again. The end of the cycle, therefore, does not represent the end of the learning, but an invitation to learn the text anew.
As I near the conclusion of my final “Daf Yomi at Beren” article as an undergraduate student, I know that this is not the end of my life of Torah learning, but a new beginning.
Talmud Bavli, I will return to you.