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Op-Ed Response: Daf Yomi and the Yetzer Hara

In response to a recent op-ed written by Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer of Crown Heights, who encouraged Lubavitcher Chassidim to take up the daily study of the Daf Yomi, which stirred much controversy due to the Rebbe’s purported distaste for the custom, renowned educator Rabbi Yossi Paltiel had this to say:

Dear Rabbi Alex,

I’m signing my name at the bottom of this note, as one of the people you consulted about this article.

I will explain in short why I supported this idea and actually encourage you to start the shiur three and a half years ago.

There is an entity in our lives that many of us try to make believe does not exist, but by doing so we actually make ourselves more vulnerable to him.

That entity is our Yetzer HaRa. He schemes and connives and uses every imaginable trick to derail any

effort that we may have a doing anything good.

Ideally we should be fighting the Yetzer HaRa at every turn and in each aspect of Our Lives.

There is however another idea, where we can convince the Yetzer HaRa that the good things we want to do, he wants to do as well. This may not be ideal and may not have been correct in an earlier time but we would all be better Jews if we used our Yetzer HaRa in this way.

There is no question that the idea of completing the entire Shas has an enormous appeal to the Yetzer HaRa. Consequently when one undertakes this initiative, his motivations may not to be the holiest and the highest, but there is a considerable likelihood that he will see it through.

I have a friend whose father is completely not Frum who saw on television when they completed the Shas the last time. He called up his son who is a Ba’al Teshuva and he told him “I would also like to complete the entire Talmud”. He joined an existing class in Daf HaYomi and it wasn’t very long before he began to keep Shabbos.

Torah and particularly Gemara we’re and are very very important to the Rebbe. There were years where the Rebbe demanded that each person include along with his Pidyon Nefesh for Rosh Hashanah a list of his regular Shiurim. And the Rebbe was not referring to ChiTaS.

The question on the table is not whether the idea of Daf HaYomi is or is not a Lubavitcher idea.

The question is a simple one: if by advertising the existence of these classes and encouraging people to join, will this increase the number of people in our community who learn Gemara every day?

This question need not be answered because the answer is obvious to all.

The idea that more people will be learning Gemara even if they’re getting help from their Yetzer HaRa would undoubtedly give the Rebbe much Nachas.

The fact is, that too many people in our community that could/need to learn more Torah. The idea that somehow this is a reflection of what the Rebbe wants is ludicrous.

In principle maybe advertising Daf HaYomi isn’t the most ideal way of encouraging an increase in Limud HaTorah, but in practice any class that teaches and encourage people to learn Torah is Hatzalas Nefashos Ruchni Mamosh and is so necessary and must be encouraged.

In other words, the principle of always focusing on the practical, the action, makes this a good thing.

And the Rebbe lives in the practical world of Lo HaMidrash Ikar Ela HaMa’aseh. In this world this suggestion can (in my opinion) only add Nachas to the Rebbe, and nothing else.

Linking this endeavor to Yud Aleph Nissan is also appropriate, as the Rebbe said publicly on more than one occasion, that if you wish to give him a gift that he will value and enjoy “begin with Torah”.

I will conclude with several anecdotes of the Rebbe which will give some idea of how he thinks about certain traditions of ChaBaD in the ‘modern world’.

  • A Yid from Crown Heights went to Miami Beach for the winter. Eight o’clock Shabbos morning he encountered a Bochur at the Yeshiva asking Reb Laib a question in Gemara. An involved conversation in Niglah developed on Shabbos

The Observer found this odd and reported it to the Rebbe when he returned to New York. The answer he received from the Rebbe was something to the effect, “thank you for the good news and I hope you will continue to send me such good news in the future”.

  • A Lubavitcher young man visited a modern Orthodox Bungalow Colony One Summer. One of the people at that colony was a student of Rabbi Soloveitchik ‘The Rav’ from Yeshiva University. Because it was the month of Elul he gave a class in what his teacher would teach, Likutei Torah on Elul and Rosh Rabbi Soloveitchik [it is widely known] held that the only way to understand Rosh Hashanah correctly was to learn it in Likutei Torah, without it Rosh Hashana makes little sense.

In the course of his learning the teacher made reference to Tanya chapter 32 and he referred to it as we would “ב”ל פרק תניא”.

This Lubavitcher young man was so positively moved by this that he wrote the story into the rebbe.

The answer that he got was approximately the following וכן ‘וכו אונז ביי און צו קומט זיי ביי הפתגם ידוע להיפך.

I will not translate these words I’ll allow everybody to figure out what they mean for themselves.

  • A Bochur in the Yeshiva who was very bright and a big Talmid Chochom was afflicted with a predictable problem. He had a very great ago and he thought very highly of himself. His friends harassed him about his ego and in the good spirit of Lubavitch that doesn’t suffer anybody’s ego they tormented him.

They bothered him so much that he actually decided to ask the Rebbe what to do about it.

He raised the issue to the Rebbe in his next יחידות. The Rebbe’s response was approximately this זאל נו וואס מיט זיין כאטש. This means [in English approximately] whatever you think of yourself be. In other words if you have an ego and a high opinion of yourself- earn it.

He didn’t tell the cancel his ego he told them to turn it around. In other words that he should use his Yetzer HaRa for good things.

No one questions that it was traditionally unthinkable in Chabad to learn Nigleh before davening on Shabbos and to tolerate a Ba’al Ga’ava, yet the Rebbe did and there’s a very simple reason for it: it works, and we need all the help and motivation we can get including this.

And about ביי זיי קומט צו און ביי אונז… וכן להיפך draw your own conclusions.

I believe that this is a similar circumstance.

In any case the point is you, Rabbi Alex, should keep doing what you’re doing.

I’m humbly making an announcement to all of Crown Heights if you want to come to a very good class in Gemara in English delivered very clearly and lucidly [that happens to cover a Blatt a day allowing you to complete the Shas in seven years] visit us at the bottom of the hill, at Empire Shtiebel. Join Rabbi Heppenheimer’s class and you will not regret it.

He’s very good, and he’s brilliant, you will learn and enjoy it, which [learning and enjoying Torah] is another idea that goes against ChaBaD tradition, that the Rebbe adopted.

Keep it up.

Your Sterling St. neighbor,
Rabbi Yossi Paltiel

33 Comments

  • 1. Chaim wrote:

    Most non lubavitchers learn daf hayomi every day just like we learn chitas. This makes them connected to limud hatorah. Crown heights needs more shiurim…nigelah and chassidus. Reb Alexander keep it up..
    Chaim

    • 2. Crown Heights resident wrote:

      You could say if your to busy to do both.
      It’s more important to learn rambam & chitas daily. Since the Tanya chitas brings yoras shomayim. And the rambam helps us understand the 613 mitzvahs better.

  • 3. Rejuvenating!!!!! wrote:

    Dear Rabbi Paltiel,

    I too will sign my name at the bottom of this comment. You have rejuvenated me and brought restoration to my soul! Thank you for coming out clearly and boldly with me the message that “if it’s Torah – it’s lubavitch. Period”.

    How devastating it is to many of us to have to “choose” between “Yiddishkeit vs chasidishkeit”. Or between “team Rebbe vs team olam ha’torah”.

    The fact is we don’t have to choose one over the other. We can have it all!!! And was there a bigger proponent of doing good regardless of the motivation than the Rebbe

    Sincerely,
    Fitz Rabin

    • 4. Alexander Heppenheimer wrote:

      Thank you, R. Paltiel.

      Derech agav, someone pointed out to me in shul that we Lubavitcher chassidim who learn Rambam every day actually have a leg up in this regard over those who don’t. A person who doesn’t have a yeshivah background is really not going to get that much out of a Gemara shiur, because a lot of it will go over their head. But start with learning Rambam, which gives the basic concepts in straightforward language, and then the Gemara discussion becomes that much more meaningful.

  • 5. Big fan wrote:

    Wow Kol Hakavod, this needed to be said by someone of your stature. My very Gezhe husband has completed 3 cycles of Daf Yomi. I for one am very proud and I always felt the Rebbe was totally backing him. May we all merit to see Moshiach speedily .

  • 6. moshele kolzensky wrote:

    beetween chitas and daf yomi theres a very big diffrence i think that what harav yoel ovadya avner halevi krinckinshtein shlita said about gemara that was really overpowering and the fact that some frayaks that have smart phones and watch movies and listen to hashem melech have the chutzpah to say that what a rosh yeshiva said is wrong?

  • 7. To the point wrote:

    Thanks for this article
    but you too miss the point
    there are halochos in hilchos talmud torah what one is meant to learn first and the same is what the Rebbe insists is a must.
    this is not a philosophical issue or based on Hergesh it is a halachic issue
    of course R’ Paltiel as a neighbor says what he says and is correct only in some instances
    this is an issue primarly for a Rov not just a Mashpia

  • 8. K wrote:

    As an ambassador from olam ha’Torah, I welcome you all with open arms as long lost brothers, to join daf yomi and become once again part of klal yisroel.

    • 9. K, you clearly don't represent Klal Yisroel wrote:

      With that attitude, you certainly don’t represent Klal Yisroel.

      There are certainly all sorts of people with all sorts of opinions and views in all groups and communities.

      If you would like to be the one that is welcoming and taking the role of the “mature adult” in the discussion, then there are criteria to take that on.

      Your attitude obviously doesn’t leave you fit to fill that role.

    • 10. Mr Ambassador: wrote:

      Please. Your self description is arrogant and and your words full of conceit.

      It is precisely that that Chasidus, Mussar, Gemara, and every last text of Judaism abhors.

      While I appreciate that you appreciate any daf-yomi enthusiasm that may be present here, welcoming Chabad to klal yisroel is not only presumptuous but possibly backwards.

      Just consider that the context in which you live is one of self obsession. If you consider this – you might become free. If you don’t – you will only deepen it.

    • 11. first of all wrote:

      most of the yeshiva world doesn’t hold of daf yomi. They focus on a couple mesechtos in nashim and the bavas and that’s it. The Daf yomi schedule doesn’t allow for any review and most shiurim don’t even cover rashi, let alone any serious attempt to study b’iyun.

    • 14. Crown Heights resident wrote:

      Some lubavitchers barely have enough time to learn chitas & rambam

  • 16. another voice wrote:

    to #8
    eRally then the Lubavitch you grew up is not the lubavitch of old (and real).
    In montreal Rabbi Karp (O”H) gave shiur. (its actually recorded and available on the internet) My zaide and other chasidehse Yidden participated.

    This is the same about washing for sholosh Seuda. Once when maa’morin were reviewed between MINCHA and MAARIV, the fashion was not to wash. But if one is not participating and not listening to a Mamar, then one should wash. All the old timers in MTL washed, they learned daf etc. They also all had a community Melave make. Halite is halite.
    I’m sure those that criticized, not only don’t they learn DAF, they probably learn little else. Those who learn and enjoy it, would never criticize such an initiative. So m’chail el choil
    Finally the ‘snags better be careful; once we Lubavitchers start learning DAF with a CHASIDISDHE taam, they’ll be lining up to hear these shiurim

  • 17. Daf wrote:

    I am a bit surprised by this discussion. we have already heard form the Rebbe (Shlach 5748) that the Previous Rebbe did not encourage it,. likewise other gedolei Yisroel were not in favor of it etc

    If one chooses to learn that is his choice but based on the above it can not at all be attributed to Lubavitch.

    Michoel Seligson

    • 18. Alexander Heppenheimer wrote:

      Rabbi Seligson, with all due respect, please read the previous article (linked in the first paragraph of this one) for some thoughts about that.

  • 19. I'm a Lubavitcher B"H wrote:

    Learned and said shiurim in daf yomi bavli and yerushalmi and agree in total with comment # 6 “to the point wrote”.

  • 20. Yaakov Shallman wrote:

    We believe in Torah achas. There is a daily daf yomi (dare I say daf yomi) class on chabad.org- available to the entire world – given by rabbi Avraham Zajac. I have the zchus to participate in this shiur every day. It has enhanced my learning, Torah knowledge, and appreciation of chassidus- please tell me how that is a bad thing? If you want to avoid the “terrible” daf yomi yetzer hara- just skip one class a week- and tell yourself you learn Torah 6 days a week and reserve Shabbos for other shiurim.
    The outcome- learn more Torah and avoid falling prey to the terrible trend of “daf yomi”. Problem solved.

  • 21. Ch'er wrote:

    I took on to learn a mesechta on 10 shevat to finish before Pesach for the Siyum. BH I finished it. When you have a goal you get there. The point is set realistic goals and learn. Eg. You know, 2 plat / week is what u can do. So set out to learn 104 blatt this year. You’ll be amazed how you’re constantly thinking of torah concepts. The rebbe spent most of His time learning nigle

  • 24. Mike wrote:

    Limud Hatorah B’shkida V’hasmada, YES. Seeing the (light) regarding Daf Yomi, OF COURSE NOT.

  • 25. Lets be real wrote:

    The average working man leaves to work at about 7 AM and returns at 7 PM including the commute etc. He also has to pray three times a day with a quorum . So let’s say you head to bed at about 10 or 11 PM he has about three hours of free time. During that time he will be praying as well as spending some minimal time with his wife and kids. Realistically he has maybe a good hour to set aside for Torah study. What should he do in that hour? Well, he should be doing three chapters of Rambam,with at least one of them learned in depth.He also has to learn and not just say the daily portion of Chumash,Rashi and Tanya.He also has to take on one Mesechta to finish every year. In addition there are several other things that must be done such as reviewing the regular as well as the chassidusha portion of the week. Then there is everything else that a chosid should be learning such as at least a Sicha and or Mammer of the Rebbe per week as well as inyono Moshiach etc.

    • 26. Alexander Heppenheimer wrote:

      You’re absolutely right that the various daily shiurim, learning Chassidus, and time to be mechanech one’s children take precedence over Daf Yomi. My original article (and R. Paltiel’s followup) was addressed to people who have more free time than that, and who are not using it optimally.

      (Incidentally, the commute time itself often can be used for learning too.)

  • 27. Daf wrote:

    I read your op-ed. tghe point you made that it wasn’t included in the Hisvaadoyos doesn’t minimize in any way the Rebbe’s stand about this (as many other topics that the Rebbe expressed himself by a Shabbos Farbrengen with Chassidm offline) and as written earlier, everyone has bchira, to each his own choice.

    Rabbi Alexander you have your zchus of a shiur Torah brabim, as every and any shiur for those attending .

  • 28. בדידי הוי עובדא wrote:

    I once visited a chosiva Rov and talmid chocom and it seemed to me he was learning the daf yomi, so I asked him in surprise if he does! he replied: I learn a daf a day but i’m either ahead a daf or a daf behind of the general cycle in order they should not suspect me that I am an Agudist!
    this is a true story! and a good one!

    • 29. yitzchoklevi wrote:

      It may be a true story but not a good one.
      It is divisive and doesn’t lead to achdus.
      A little more ahavas yisroel, my friend

  • 30. to 26 you didn't get it wrote:

    the message is you can learn daf yomi and don’t need to be a partyline member

    • 31. Anonymous wrote:

      There is a better way to send the message than to denigrate another group of shomrei torah u’mitzvos

  • 32. daf yomi sota wrote:

    now is the time seize the moment and follow the rebbes directive

  • 33. Basics wrote:

    Why don’t we focus more on the yud tes kislev chalukas hashas which is a thing established by the REBBEIM? If you need a shiur, there’s plenty of full shas shiurim online. If you want, you can take on 2 mesechtos or 3 and to che’er, the rebbe who spent most of his day learning nigleh was still against daf yomi

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