By Rabbi Shmuel Pevzner
Photos by Marko Dashev & Ohaliav Abutbol
The Siyum HaRambam Haolomi, as it was called by the Rebbe, was celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm.
The Rambam was completed for the 36th time by the many tens of thousands who study three chapters daily, together with the 12th Siyum for those who study one chapter daily, and the 36th Siyum of those who complete study of Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos annually.
Vast numbers of Jews thronged to this great event, including great Torah scholars and prominent Chassidic leaders from all groups. All wanted to give expression to the great joy of completing the study of the entire Torah in accordance with the Rebbe’s directive.
In the midst of the Ten Days of Teshuva, on the 6th of Tishrei, thousands of men, women and children stopped whatever else they were doing in order to gather at the great hall of Oholei Torah- Oholei Menachem, which quickly filled up. A standing-room-only crowd of those who had that day completed study of Rambam’s great work filled even the lobbies and hallways.
Many hundreds of children, who had completed study of Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos, had their own Siyum in an adjacent hall, with a special program conducted by Rabbi Levi Goldstein and his son, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Goldstein, including a musical presentation by Rabbi Chaim Fogelman. The children’s study is as integral to the Rebbe’s edict as that of the adults, and they deserved to experience a Siyum of their own to which they could relate at their level.
The event’s organizer, Rabbi Shmuel Butman, Director of the Central Lubavitch Youth Organization and Chairman of the International Siyum HaRambam, opened the gathering. Although this event has been held annually for the past 36 years, he continues to toil energetically, together with his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Butman, to organize this great celebration in all its details, ensuring that it be held in the grandest manner possible in honor of the Torah and those who study it, and in honor of the Rambam and of the Rebbe who launched this worldwide study.
Rabbi Butman invited the renowned chazzan, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Baumgarten to recite, verse by verse, followed by everyone else gathered there, the chapter of Tehilim recited for the Rebbe this year.
Immediately following, the hall’s lights were dimmed as a video was shown of a “Dvar Malchus,” the Rebbe giving a holy sicha, in which he compared the Rambam, renowned both for his Halachic code of laws and for his works of Jewish thought, with the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad Chassidus, who is likewise renowned both for his Shulchan Aruch (Harav) and for his Tanya, both of which draw heavily from the Rambam’s works.
The first three talks were by the respected members of the Beth Din of Crown Heights, Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba, Rabbi Yaacov Schwei and Rabbi Yosef Braun. Each according to his unique approach explained lessons we can derive from the last laws in Rambam’s code and blessed all who had completed its study, encouraging everyone to start anew, to the Rebbe’s great satisfaction.
THREEFOLD SIYUM AND THREEFOLD CELEBRATION
Rabbi Yaakov Boruch Lederer, brother-in-law of the Stoliner Rebbe, spoke about the Siyum’s unique timing during the Ten Days of Teshuva, to which correspond the ten chapters of the Laws of Teshuva in Rambam’s code. He elaborated on the connection between Rambam’s words and the date of the 6th day of the Ten Days.
A pause was announced for a presentation by the children’s choir led by Reb Yosef Yitzchak (“Fitche”) Benshimon, which sang Chabad melodies for the High Holidays with great feeling, and then special melodies composed in honor of various Siyum HaRambam celebrations. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause.
In a special address, Rabbi Butman spoke about the uniqueness of the present Siyum. First, it was a threefold celebration of the Siyum by all three tracks of Rambam study – those who study three chapters daily, those who study one chapter daily, and those who study Sefer Hamitzvos, which is relevant to children, too, as the Rebbe said in a sicha that Rabbi Butman quoted.
“Today,” he pointed out, “we are privileged to have a very high number of children who study Sefer Hamitzvos daily, and annual examinations are held to test their familiarity with this study, in which many are more expert than adults, giving their parents great satisfaction. Thus we have a threefold siyum, about which it is stated that ‘the threefold rope will not easily unravel.'”
Rabbi Butman also emphasized that this study of Rambam leads to the completeness of the Torah, joining the Rebbe’s battle for completeness of the Jewish people and completeness of the Holy Land. The victory in all three will soon be completed and will bring about the “true and complete Geula,” as the Rebbe always expressed it.
A SIYUM OF THE WHOLE TORAH”
“The number 36 is twice the numerical value of chai,” Rabbi Butman continued, and it refers to the special perfection of capturing the world for Hashem, as the Rebbe Maharash states in a maamar, “S’u marom eineichem ur’u mi bara eileh” (“Raise your eyes above and see Who created these”) – the word eileh has the numerical value of 36. The Rebbe MaHaRaSh explains that 36 is 6×6, symbolizing the six points of the compass, expressing Hashem’s sovereignty over the entire universe at the greatest level of perfection.
“The 12th Siyum by those studying one chapter of Rambam daily,” continued Rabbi Butman, “symbolizes the 12 tribes of the Jewish people, which all participate in daily Rambam study. Lately we hear of many Jews joining the single-chapter daily study, showing how everyone should have a connection with studying and completing Rambam’s work. The Rebbe left room for those who cannot study three chapters daily to study one, or to study Sefer Hamitzvos.”
This year, the Siyum was held on 6th Tishrei, day of the passing of the Rebbe’s saintly mother, Rebbetzin Chana. On this occasion every year, the Rebbe would make a siyum of a Talmudic tractate. “This year,” said Rabbi Butman, “the Rebbe, together with hundreds and thousands of Jews, is making a siyum not just of a single tractate but of the entire Torah!”
It is 53 years since the Rebbetzin’s passing. The numerical value of GaN – a “garden” – is 53, Rabbi Butman noted. This has special relevance to the Rebbetzin’s anniversary, as we see from the fact that the renowned maamar that the Rebbe Rayatz issued for 10th Shvat, anniversary of the passing of his saintly grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivka, started with the verse, “Bosi l’gani…” (“I have come to My garden”). “During the past 53 years, the Rebbe has turned every corner of the world into a flourishing garden of Hashem. There are shluchim and chassidim of the Rebbe literally everywhere, and in every community they are at the forefront, the vitalizing force in all Jewish matters worldwide.”
GRATITUDE TO THE REBBE’S SHLUCHIM
Rabbi Butman emphasized that studying Rambam is the Rebbe’s directive. When a Jew, after a long, hard day of work, sits down to study his daily quota of Rambam, he thereby forms his personal Hiskashrus, bind and attachment to the Rebbe. By making the Rebbe’s desire our own desire, the Rebbe will correspondingly fulfill our desires, blessing us that Hashem should fulfill all the desires of our hearts in all our concerns – for children and family, for good health and for ample livelihood and, as the Rebbe would always say, “all of them in an ample manner.”
As befitting a Chassidic gathering, the great multitude sang together several of the Rebbe’s melodies, with great joy and enthusiasm.
Rabbi Yaakov Eisenberger, Dayan of the Skverer community in Bnei Brak and the Skverer Rebbe‘s personal representative brought the blessings of the Skverer Rebbe to the event. Rabbi Eisenberger stressed the amazing accomplishments of the Rebbe’s shluchim throughout the world.
He also expressed the gratitude of the Skverer Rebbe and the Skverer Chassidim to the Rebbe’s Shluchim for the great assistance they provide to the Skverer Rebbe several times this year.
The next speaker was the brother-in-law and personal representative of the Munkatcher Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Leib Weiss, who is well known in his own right as an author of Torah works. He connected the Jewish custom of Tashlich, practiced at this time, with Rambam’s conclusion, just now studied by so many thousands, “for the world will be full of knowledge of Hashem as water covers the sea.”
Rabbi Weiss shared with the audience what he heard from great Torah scholars about the Rebbe. For example, Rabbi Chaim Zimmerman visited many great Torah scholars, nevertheless, his admiration for the Rebbe was on a different level. Rabbi Weiss also quoted Rabbi Simcha Elberg, who said about the Rebbe, “For me he was not only my Rebbe but also my father and mother!”
Rabbi Butman mentioned that he had heard the Rebbetzin saying several times, “I am not only the daughter of a talmid chochom but also an eishes chover” (wife of a Torah scholar). Accordingly, he called on everyone to sing the well-known song that her husband, Rabbi Levi Yizchak, the Rebbe’s father, would sing at hakofos.
IN CHABAD, IT’S ALREADY SIMCHAS TORAH
The next speaker was Rabbi Shlomo Leizer, Dayan of the Klausenberg Chassidic community. He related the well-known story of a Chabad chossid in earlier generations who one year, during the Ten Days of Teshuva, took the responsibility of collecting a large sum for pidyon shvuyim (liberating a Jew in captivity).
By the day before Yom Kippur, he was still far short of the sum needed. He found some drunken Jews playing cards at a tavern and asked them to participate in his cause. They agreed on condition that he would drink a full glass of the strongest spirit, to which he agreed, despite the difficulty. After he drank it, they gave him the agreed sum, and then suggested he do so again and they would repeat their donation. This happened several times until he had the full sum, whereupon he ran as fast as he could to pay off the Jew’s rent so that he could be set free before Yom Kippur.
Totally intoxicated, he went off to shul for the solemn first prayer of Yom Kippur – Kol Nidrei. Walking straight over to the Aron Kodesh, he opened it up and started the verses recited before hakofos on Simchas Torah – “Atoh horeiso…” The congregants wanted to stop him, but the Rebbe said that, in order to get to Simchas Torah, every Jew first needs to go through the avoda of Yom Kippur. But this chossid, through his mesiras nefesh to help another Jew, had already fully accomplished the atonement of Yom Kippur, and was already at the level of Simchas Torah!
“I have the great privilege of joining you here for the Siyum,” the speaker said, “when already, during the Ten Days of Teshuva, you are celebrating Simchas Torah, the joy of completing the whole Torah, completing the entire Rambam!”
He went on to mention what the Rebbe said when he met the two Chief Rabbis of the Holy Land, that he wanted that every Jew should gain a broad knowledge of the entire Torah. Indeed, he said, the Rebbe has succeeded in accomplishing this, and such a large number of people have completed the entire Torah.
YECHIDUS WITH THE REBBE RAYYATZ
A special new guest was Rabbi Menachem Meir Weissmandel, a well-known Torah personality, Rav of Nitra and son of the renowned Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandel, who courageously saved many Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
Rabbi Weissmandel once related how, after the War, his father had a yechidus with the Rebbe Rayatz and told him he was afraid of raising a family again after having lost his wife and six children in the Holocaust. The Rebbe told him nevertheless to start a new family. All else is the concern of Hashem. Indeed, Rabbi Weissmandel is a member of the family that his father raised after the War.
He quoted from the order of the Kohen Godol’s special mitzvos on Yom Kippur, which include several times sprinkling “once above,” which the Rama explains to refer to our bond with Hashem, which has to permeate every deed. He described the greatness of the study of Rambam, explaining the famous saying, “From Moshe to Moshe, no one arose like Moshe.”
“I would like also to note my work in cooperation with the Rabbonim of Crown Heights, especially my friendship with Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Segal, and the accomplishments of the Rabbonim of Lubavitch.”
Rabbi Weissmandel spoke enthusiastically about what he has witnessed in the course of his travels around the world for the purpose of Kashrus. Concerning the Rebbe’s shluchim, he said, “I am amazed by what I see: Keeping mitzvos with wondrous hiddur, highest level Torah education for their children, observing kashrus with hiddur, and all this is in distant places where there are no other observant Jews. This power is a result of their study of Chassidus and their personal attachment to the Rebbe.” His words left a deep impression upon the audience, which listened to him with great attention.
INVITED TO SPEAK BY THE REBBE
Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, author of the renowned series of Halachic works, Nitei Gavriel, which are accepted worldwide, was the next speaker. Once, when he went to receive a dollar and blessing from the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him whether he had participated in the Siyum HaRambam.
Rabbi Zinner referred to the date of the Siyum, 6th Tishrei, the anniversary of the Rebbe’s mother’s passing, and spoke about the Rebbe’s outstanding respect for her, as everyone observed. This is one of the mitzvos that bring Moshiach, and he spoke at length of the Rebbe’s accomplishments to bring the complete Geula.
The next speaker was Rabbi Yechiel Michal Daskal, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Tzemach Tzaddik of Vizhnitz. Besides his scholarship in Nigleh, he showed great familiarity with Chabad Chassidus and the Rebbe’s sichos, noting the dates of the Rebbe’s farbrengens when he spoke on these subjects – like a true Chabad chassid.
Rabbi Daskal quoted from the farbrengen of 6th Tishrei, 5716, at which the Rebbe quoted our Sages, “Upon every gathering of ten Jews, the Shechina rests.” This applies to this occasion, the Rebbe said, in all three categories of “place, time and soul”: The gathering is taking place in the location where his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, did his holy service of Hashem during the last ten years of his life in this world; it is during the time of the Ten Days of Teshuva; and it is in the presence of several times ten Jewish souls. Likewise, said Rabbi Daskal, this siyum is during the Ten Days of Teshuva, it includes many times ten Jewish souls, and it is certainly in the presence of the Rebbe, who is bestowing his blessings from Above.
He went on to make the actual (36th and 12th) siyum of the final law of Rambam’s code. Rabbi Daskal concluded by describing Rebbetzin Chana’s great mesiras nefesh to go into exile, on her own initiative, to join her saintly husband, and how, under the most difficult conditions, she enabled him to continue studying Torah and writing his innovative Torah insights – which were his whole life. In her merit, thousands of Jews can now study Rabbi Levi Yitzchak‘s amazing insights in his series of works, Likkutei Levi Yitzchak.
The audience was astonished by Rabbi Daskal’s close familiarity with the Rebbe’s sichos.
“I WILL NOT LET YOU GO.”
Immediately after the siyum, Rabbi Zalman Sofer was honored to open the new round of Rambam study. Rabbi Sofer, is a son of the late Erlauer Rebbe, Rabbi Yochanon Sofer, and is the Rav of the Erlauer Chassidim in Borough Park.
The Rebbe related to Rabbi Yochanon with great fondness, holding his hand and requesting him to say a Dvar Torah. When, in his humility, he declined to do so in the Rebbe’s presence, the Rebbe told him he would not let him go until he would do so.
Rabbi Zalman Sofer began the first law in Rambam’s code, and spoke with great ferver noting the joy and enthusiasm of the occasion.
Before proceeding to the dancing and joy celebrating the completion of Torah study, Rabbi Butman mentioned the average Rambam learner who was now completing his study. He is not necessarily a Torah scholar, or even a “young disciple of the Sages” who completes a single Talmudic tractate, as the Talmud states that Abbaye would mark such a completion with a feast.
But the present rejoicing can be considered even greater. Here is a Jew who is neither a Rosh Yeshivah nor a practicing Rabbi, neither yeshiva student nor a kollel yungerman, nor does he belong to the category of Toroso Umnoso –those “whose Torah study is their profession.” Usually he toils for his livelihood, at his business or job, coming home exhausted. But he does not go to lie down until he finishes his three chapters or one chapter of Rambam, as the Rebbe directed. Can there be any greater rejoicing than such a siyum?
“The coming siyum,” announced Rabbi Butman, “will be held together with the Rambam himself and the Rebbe himself, in the Holy City of Yerushalayim, on 20th Ellul this year, for 5778 is special year that will feature two siyumim!
Despite the late hour, the crowd broke into enthusiastic dancing, and “the earth was full of knowledge of Hashem,” as gigantic circles filled the great hall, singing melodies of Selichos interspersed with the Rebbe’s melodies for the High Holidays, and then on to the lively march sung at the end of Yom Kippur and to SimchasTorah songs. The ultimate completion will be when we see with our fleshly eyes fulfillment of the ultimate promise, with which Rambam concludes his work, and which study of his work paves the way towards, “the earth shall be full of knowledge of Hashem as water covers the sea.”