By Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky
By no stretch of the imagination is Newark, New Jersey, the epicenter of the Torah world. Yet for one evening, the city of Newark hosted the most significant celebration of Torah accomplishments in the United States: the World Siyum of Dirshu.
The three venues — Prudential Center, NJPAC, and the Symphony Hall — held over 25,000 men, women, and children who traveled from all over the tristate area and beyond who came to celebrate the accomplishments of thousands of Dirshu Yidden who mastered Shas, reviewing it many times and passing monthly tests on each masechta they learned.
As the huge arena slowly filled with thousands of ba’alei simchah, one could not help but notice how this venue was meticulously prepared for the event, each detail ensuring the proper kavod haTorah.
The dais was graced by gedolei Yisrael from America and Eretz Yisrael, rabbanim, admorim, roshei yeshivah, dayanim, maggidei shiur, and Dirshu participants. The center table was decorated with beautiful tablecloths and floral arrangements — a reflection of the kavod deserved by the leaders and heroes of Klal Yisrael.
The musical arrangements throughout the night were majestic. Hamenagnim and Freilich Orchestras were accompanied by Shira, Malchus, and Yiddishe Nachas choirs. Their brilliant music was both uplifting and beautiful as they were accompanied by Motti Steinmetz, Isaac Honig, Zanvil Weinberger, Ahrele Samet, and Yisroel Adler, who sang heartfelt, uplifting niggunim throughout the four-hour program under a backdrop of a dazzling display of lights and visuals on massive LED screens. As soon as the music began, all 25,000 participants were completely enveloped in the music, uplifting all their senses with niggunim of simchah and hisorerus.
Ma’ariv was led by Reb Avrohom Bleeman followed by HaRav Zev Smith, maggid shiur Dirshu daf ha’yomi b’halacha and maggid shiur Irgun Shiurei Torah, who opened the siyum and set the tone for the evening.
“This is the dor of pischu li pesach shel ulam! Dirshu is making it easy to live ki heim chayeinu, and Dirshu is enabling Klal Yisrael to be mekayem ‘Ashrei mi she’ba l’kan v’talmudo b’yado!’”
HaRav Shimon Galei, shlita, noted mekubal from Eretz Yisrael, led the attendees in Tehillim, and praised Dirshu for making this yom tov.
Rav Shmuel Aron Tousig, shlita, mashgiach ruchani in Yeshiva Alexander in Bnei Brak, spoke passionately about Dirshu and the accomplishments of the participants.
One of the highlights of the siyum was the derashah by Rav Dovid Cohen, shlita, rosh yeshivas Chevron. When he was introduced to the crowd, a rousing rendition of “Yamim Al Yemei Melech” broke out, showing how excited the attendees were by his participation.
Rav Cohen repeated a phenomenal thought from Rav Hutner, zt’l. When one makes a siyum on Shas, he is not merely completing 60 masechtos; he is making a siyum on the entire Torah she’b’al peh! This siyum is a true simchas haTorah because the mesaymim learned, reviewed, and mastered the entire Torah sheb’al peh — and this is true simchas haTorah!
HaRav Yerucham Olshin, shlita, rosh yeshivas Beis Medrash Govoha, spoke next. He explained, based on a Midrash, that the type of learning that protects us in galus is Dirshu learning—perfecting and reviewing Shas! He then took a moment to thank the wives of Dirshu for their support of their husbands, thus enabling them to continue their holy mission of ameilus baTorah!
Rav Leibish Lish then spoke and mentioned that on that very morning, he had met a boy wearing a white shirt. When he asked the boy why he was wearing a white shirt, the boy responded, “My father does Dirshu, so I’m going to the siyum.” Rav Lish then corrected the boy and repeated his comment to the crowd with great excitement: “Dirshu is not what we do! Dirshu is what we are!” The crowd broke out in applause, expressing their appreciation of these words — and of this movement that changed their lives.
The Sanzer Rebbe from Eretz Yisrael, shlita, addressed the crowd before the actual siyum. “Dirshu makes a difference to the entire Klal Yisrael!” he exclaimed.
Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, was honored with saying the Hadran, and Rav Malkiel Kotler, shlita, said Kaddish. The crowd then broke out in exuberant dancing. To many, this was the highlight of the night, as they were all able to express the true joy of simchas haTorah through true ameilus, which built up inside their hearts over the past seven years.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter then spoke. He began by commending the thousands of new participants in the Dirshu program. “We just had the first bechinah this past Thursday night,” he said. “And there were several tens of thousands of new people who took the tests!”
“We sometimes think we are too tired, too busy, or simply not smart enough to learn. But we can! When it comes with a kabbalah of yegias haTorah and a kabbalas haTorah, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Are we going to be complacent with superficiality and superficial Torah of bitter waters, or will we experience sweet waters?’
“We must cry the battle cry of mi la’Hashem elai! The battle cry of Dirshu Hashem ve’uzo!”
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, shlita, led the participants in kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim, followed by a derashah from HaRav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, shlita, rosh yeshivas South Fallsburg, who explained that if you start from the beginning, it only gets easier. If you learn Berachos and then Shabbos, Eruvin will not be so hard. In the end a person will find himself learning in one hour what he couldn’t learn in a whole year when he first started!
A highlight of the evening was the featured audiovisual production, “Hinei yamim ba’im,” a historic perspective of a father and son in the early 1900s. The father takes a page from his grandfather’s Gemara and hands it to young Srulik, telling him, “Torah is your pulse! This blatt Gemara will protect you.”
Many years later, Srulik joins his grandson in celebration of his siyum haShas. In an emotion-filled moment, Srulik hands his treasured page to his einikel and tells him, “My father gave me this blatt from his zeide’s Gemara, telling me to protect it. But in reality, the blatt Gemara has protected me!”
As the crowd left, visibly uplifted, one needed only to look around at their faces. The inspiration of the evening has surely changed all who attended. Many will soon join the ranks of our generation’s ameilim baTorah, and many will strengthen their commitment. But one message which everyone has taken home is that Dirshu is no longer an organization, but a sweeping movement that is providing a solid foundation to support Klal Yisrael through the final stretch of our galus, and uplifting our entire nation — uniting Jews across the world with true Torah learning, and bringing them closer to Hashem.