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Thought for the Day: Enabling Everyone to Appreciate a Siyum Mishnayos

We just commemorated the yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, Aaron Dovid ben Yitchak, a"h.  I was able, Baruch HaShem, to organize a siyum on all of Sh'as Mishnayos.  Being as we are the black sheep/hats of the family, this turned out to have several challenges.  I am sharing my experience because I believe it could be beneficial to others.  I am not, after all, the only Orthodox Jew who has non-frum family.  Moreover, even though both positive and negative experiences are useful to share (positive to encourage certain behaviors, negative to save others from repeating the same mistakes), this actually went very well, so it is more fun to share.

The first decision was to make the siyum on the yahrtzeit and not on the shloshim (30 day) anniversary.  My in-laws had no frum friends, so putting out a sign up sheet during shiva was an option.  That left me asking friends to help.  Everyone I know already has busy learning schedule and is also working.  There are a few very small masechtos, but even an average size masechta -- Rosh HaShana, Yoma, Sukkos, etc -- is not easily done in the "spare" time available over a 30 day interval; let alone the closer to 20 days or so that are actually available by the time things get organized.  Giving a year, though, allowed several people to participate who otherwise would have declined.  Even better, having a year allowed people to learn the masechtos properly without rushing.  Best benefit: everyone who participated felt good about both their learning their participation.

The assignments were managed on line with LZecherNishmas.com.  This is the third siyum I have managed that way.  It really helps avoid duplication of effort and it allows me to see where I have gaps.  It also has links to email all the learners, and to set up reminders.  After I created the page, I signed up for all of seder Taharos.  Since anyone signing up can see the existing assignments, I wanted those I was asking for help to know that I was investing a significant investment myself.  Besides, I am actually starting to understand that little studied topic better!

The actual siyum was attended by a minyan of precisely 10 men and father-in-law's immediate family.  My goal was to make the experience meaningful for my mother-in-law (she should continue in her strength and health), as well as the other attendees; many of whom did not know what a mishna was and had certainly never attended a siyum.  I decided, therefore, not to focus on the mishnayos nor to even try to explain them, but to focus on what we were trying to accomplish.

I told them as follows:
The gemara says that when a single Jew leaves this world, it is appropriate that his should be escorted by 600,000 Jews; therefore each of you in attendance is representing the entire Jew nation.  Suppose someone would return from seeing the Mona Lisa and expressing wonder about what everyone was so excited about, all he saw was some faded pigments smeared on a canvas.  We would understand that while his words are not false, he had sorely missed the point.  Similarly, if someone looks at a Jew and sees flesh and blood over bones; he has sorely missed the point.  We are all in the world for a short period of time and all have our role to play; our mission to accomplish.  In commemorate of my father-in-law's life, 20 people from around the world participated in a year long learning of our Torah.
I then read, one by one with some color commentary (this is a friend from Israel, this is a grandfather and grandson, this is someone I don't know but who wanted to participate to help another Jew, etc)  After that, I finished the last mishna in Avos -- noting that my wife and I had taken that ourselves, as it contains the ethical foundation of our religion -- and the last mishna in Uktzin -- that HaShem could find no better container for all He wants to gives us than Shalom/Peace.  I read -- again with color commentary -- the hadran and finished, of course, with kaddish.

Then the family and friends, from great grandmother to two year old great granddaughter; from long time friends to new acquaintances, sat down to a festive meal of bagels and lox.

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