Today’s daf (Yoma 35b) contains a powerful message – requiring almost no further commentary – for each and every one of us as we prepare to celebrate Shavuot tonight.
‘The Rabbis taught: A poor person, a wealthy person and a wicked person (which, more accurately here, means someone who is constantly battling – and occasionally succumbing to – forbidden physical temptations) come to judgement. To the poor person they say, “why did you not involve yourself with Torah study?”, then if the response is, “I was poor and distracted [from my duty of Torah study] by my need to sustain myself,” they said to him, “were you any poorer than Hillel?”… To the wealthy person they say, “why did you not involve yourself with Torah study?”, then if the response is, “I was wealthy and distracted [from my duty of Torah study] by my assets,” they said to him, “were you any wealthier than Rabbi Elazar?”… And to the wicked person they say, “why did you not involve yourself with Torah study?”, then if the response is, “I was attractive and was constantly distracted [from my duty of Torah study] by the physical temptations around me,” they said to him, “were you any more attractive that Yosef?”.
Personally, prior to starting daf yomi, I didn’t think I had the time or temperament for daf yomi. However, I then reflected on this teaching found in today’s daf, which then pushed me to discover/create the time for daf yomi. And Baruch Hashem, since then I have felt that my life has been significantly enriched as a result.
At the same time, daf yomi isn’t for everyone, and as the Gemara writes elsewhere (Avoda Zara 19a), a person should always study those parts of Torah that their heart desires. What this means – as Rav Yisrael Salanter writes in his Iggeret HaMussar – is that it doesn’t matter what specific part of Torah you wish to study for it to benefit and be spiritually impactful on you.
Today there are more sefarim and more digital learning resources than ever before, and if you’d prefer to learn with someone, there are those like me who provide one-to-one online Torah learning.
In terms of my service, over the past year I have learnt many different topics with many different people. With one person, I studied the halachot of tzedakah. With another, the topic of minhagim in the home. Another wished to review the laws of honouring parents. Another wished to discuss faith in God. One person wished to improve their Torah learning skills. Another wished to review the laws of hair covering. One person wished to discuss the role of music in Jewish worship. Another wished to discuss halachic compromise in marriage. While another wished to examine the laws of cooking on Shabbat.
And what is remarkable about all the men and women with whom I have learnt? It is that they identified a topic that they felt they needed to know more about or that their heart desired, and notwithstanding their busy lives, they found or made time to learn.
So as we ebb towards Shavuot and the celebrating of Matan Torah, let us each – whatever our situation – commit ourselves a little more to Torah, both in its study and its observance, and try and discover/create time to learn Torah alone, with a friend, or with others. Chag Sameach!