What Happened After the Siyum
Rabbi Nachman Seltzer
(Video at the end of the article)
In the days and weeks leading up to the various siyumim taking place around the globe at the past Siyum Hashas, many people saw and read articles which had been written about one particular Daf Yomi shiur that was being given in Ramat Beit Shemesh and streamed live around the world. This shiur was given twice daily by my good friend Rabbi Eli Stefansky who delivers the same shiur both in the morning and at night. In addition, he also gives what is called “The 8 Minute Daf” where he sums up the sugya in 8 minutes. This is a tool used by many people to either prepare themselves before learning the daf, or to review the daf of that day.
And while in most cases, one may hear about shiurim before the siyum haShas – but nothing more until the end of the next cycle, here I had to write this article because the story here is just too huge to sit on for the next seven and half years. More than that, the actual story is literally unfolding on a daily basis! As a person who sits beside my friend Reb Eli and participates in every shiur, I have been given a front row seat from which to report.
So here goes.
Prepare to be amazed.
You see my friends – this is the story of today.
The shiur began two years ago in a local Beis Medresh. It was attended by a core group of men who were loyal to the shiur and enjoyed the maggid shiur’s personality, enthusiasm, clear explanations, tendency to use props and charts, and liked the warmth, comradery, family atmosphere and freshly brewed coffee. From five participants it grew to ten, twenty and even went up to about forty. Not long after being established, Reb Eli began to stream the shiur online and while it was being watched by a number of viewers, the shiur was still in its infancy. The potential however was enormous.
As in every story, there is always a moment where things shift and in this story there were actually a few of those.
One such moment occurred when Reb Eli and his wife Faigy traveled to South Africa for vacation. There he ran into a fine Yid by the name of Reb Leon Welcher who, having watched Reb Eli online, wanted to get involved. Reb Leon offered to create an app for the 8 minute daf. He came through a few weeks later and the app was launched. At the time, nobody guessed where this was leading us. It was just an example of many people coming together – each bringing their unique talents to the table, while trying to further Torah learning in the world.
And then the shiur reached the end of Shas and siyum fever hit the globe.
Years earlier, when Reb Eli had been actively working in his successful real estate business in Chicago, he’d been featured in Ami Magazine’s lunch break by Nesanel Gantz. Now, years later, Nesanel reached out to him, wanting to do a follow up piece in Ami in honor of the siyum. That however was just the beginning. There were pieces written in Mishpacha Magazine about the businessman/maggid shiur and I myself wrote a feature piece that was published in Yated. Other articles and pieces were posted on Yeshiva World News and Matzav – and wherever you looked, you couldn’t help but read about Reb Eli and the 8 Minute Daf – accompanied by pictures of the clean shaven maggid shiur delivering his shiur on Safari while holding onto a roaring lion.
It was a human interest story par excellence and it fascinated people for many reasons, not least, due to the fact that a very successful businessman had appointed a partner to run his business, while spending the majority of his day learning and teaching Torah to a growing shiur around the globe.
And yet, it still wasn’t clear how far this was going to go.
At the same time as the story was unfolding, Reb Eli was watching another dream of his come true. I am referring to what became known as the “Mercaz Daf Yomi” – a center that was created to host the daily Daf Yomi shiurim and which was built over the course of a few months’ time. Hoping that the shiur would grow exponentially when Brachos began, Reb Eli had commissioned a brand new Beis Medrash (to be built right across from my office window) just for the Daf. The plan was for a wide assortment of shiurim to be given there through the day and night, as well as a number of kollelim to be established on the premises – but the focus of the center was for Daf Yomi and we watched as the building came to be, rising proudly in the sky, covered in Jerusalem stone and eminently inviting, with a balcony and two shining coffee machines.
And so it came to be that the new Daf Yomi Beis Medresh was inaugurated just in time for the shiur’s Siyum Hashas. We held our siyum Hashas in the Mercaz Daf Yomi and it was there that we began the brand new cycle.
The stage was now set for what would quickly become a global expansion – followed by what could only be termed “a global explosion.”
In the first days of Maseches Brachos the numbers jumped from forty people to over a hundred people who attended the shiurim live between the morning and night. And while that in itself was an awesome accomplishment, the numbers watching online were staggering – because in a very short time, there were close to one thousand people watching the shiur on a daily basis – making the shiur one of the largest Daf Yomi shiurim in the world!!!
As for the 8 Minute Daf, there were sixteen thousand people signed up for the app, with thousands using it every day!!!
The question was why.
What made this shiur different from all other shiurim?
Or in other words, “Ma Nishtana Hashiur Hazeh?”
There are a number of reasons this shiur is so popular.
First of all, people connect with Rabbi Eli Stefansky. He is first and foremost a people person. He puts on no airs, shows everyone watching the shiur that he is a normal person who likes to have a good time and go skiing (something he can no longer do because of his commitment to the shiur,) and embraces everyone – both in the room and watching at any location – with his warmth and friendship.
This brings me to reason number two.
Everyone watching the shiur feels like they are part of the Mercaz Hadaf family. Not only do they feel this way – writing in to the shiur and being answered in real time – they also come visit the shiur when they visit Israel. Almost every day the shiur has visitors, many of whom actually rent cars or hire taxis to drive them from their hotels in Yerushalayim to the shiur in Ramat Beit Shemesh. They do this because they feel completely connected to the shiur. They feel part of it in every way and attending the shiur becomes the highlight of their trips. Not only that, in many cases they come bearing gifts as well – loaded down with bags of coffee for the coffee machines. Many others go out of their way to sponsor parts of the new building, windows, chairs, etc… The offers are spontaneous, beautiful and heartwarming.
But how could they not feel this way when the shiur will erupt into song when the Gemara quotes a posuk or maamar that evokes a memorable or nostalgic tune? It began with Tanya Amar Rabi Yishmael. Prompted by the Maggid Shiur, the entire shiur sang the song and I am sure that everyone watching joined in as well. It’s not every day and it’s not every song, but you can’t help but be moved when you hear an entire shiur singing “Yodu L’shem Chasdo,” or “V’haya B’yom Hahu…..”
And so the numbers grew and grew and grew. And while this was happening, our international members began sending emails to Reb Eli, expressing their thanks and hakoras hatov and he started a new minhag of starting each shiur by reading a few of the emails and showing a picture or two of a member somewhere around the world watching the shiur or the 8 Minute Daf.
Here are but a sampling of some of the emails.
Been stuck at home with limited mobility lately. All the more so enjoying your full shiur, your smile and great humor. It’s a great chizuk and z’chus to bring you and the whole chaburah into my living room on a daily basis.
As a hakoras hatov I am pledging 10 of the chairs that are on hold.
Huge thanks for all and a big mazal tov!!
(Author’s note – This was in reference to Reb Eli’s brand new grandson Naftoli Moshe…)
Eliezer Moshe ben Reb Shachne
Far Rockaway NY
Yes I am referring to you as Rebbe as I have definitely learned much more than teivah achas from you since I started listening.
I already sent you an email a couple of weeks ago. I am the guy who was very happy that you were the “different” shiur with the singing, blame my Chofetz Chaim education for that.
You don’t need to read this email on video though the last time you did, you definitely increased my sholom bayis as I showed it to my wife and she believes I am learning the Daf each day. Little does she know that I just watch the email portion of the shiur. Just kidding!
But that goofah is why I am writing again. I just feel that I need to let you know to give you chizuk in what you are doing.
Hearing the emails before shiur each day is amazing. I get such chizuk from how people are connecting and learning and I am sure that many others feel the same way. It is also a great way to get in a joke or comment, opening the learning with a “mili b’dichusa.”
The singing is great. Keep it up as the Chazals and Pesukim show up. It really gives life to the shiur. I am already working on an album called the “8 Minute Daf’s Greatest Hits.”
This is the serious comment. As I mentioned I am a Rebbe in L.A. at Emek Hebrew Academy. I teach 1st grade and I have given shiurim to some of the fathers in my classes. These shiurim are given on multiple levels to allow everyone to reach Torah in whatever level they are on. Recently I have decided to begin giving these shiurim again after taking a break. But here’s the point. Though I teach young children and use visual aids. I never gave thought to how helpful these can be to adults. You have shown me and inspired me to add proper charts, pictures, and fun stuff to my shiur to make it more accessible and I have started making these as I prepare to give the shiur.
Yasher koach, keep it up,
Hi, I enjoy the shiurim, both the 8 Minute and the regulation time. I enjoy the camaraderie and diversity of the participants. I’m intrigued by the group in the UK who watch it as a chabura.
(Author’s note – they have been part of the shiur from way back in the beginning…)
Perhaps with the right equipment the 8 Minute shiur could be played at many weddings, either right after the tisch or immediately after the Chupa. Any interested caterer or askan could set it up. Perhaps one of your in-house pros could recommend the device for downloading and screening it. We would like to set it up ASAP at our chasunas.
Reb Fishel Gross, founder and owner of O’Fishel Caterers, went on to visit us in RBS, spending every morning of his visit to Eretz Yisroel at the shiur. We got to know him – and found him full of great ideas, enthusiasm and warmth. He did in fact follow through on his idea and sent us follow up emails with pictures of people learning the daf at weddings which he catered.
Dear Reb Eli,
I recently came across your shiur online and have been watching it every day. Every morning I chazer the Daf with my son who is in Mesivta. It’s great. I have an interesting question. I have an older friend who is basically home bound. He is disabled and stuck at home for the most part in a wheelchair. He is an American living in Israel and told me that he would very much like to learn Daf Yomi but cannot get to a shiur etc.. I bought him a laptop about two years ago but he needs help setting it up. I really think that he would appreciate your shiur. I tried so many people in his neighborhood to help him set it up but nobody has the time. Would you have anyone that would be able to go there to set him up in a way that would allay his wife’s fears about the internet (filters and stuff like that…) He is stuck at home and cannot do much. He only speaks English so he has to be an English speaker. Please let me know if you can help.
Seconds after Reb Eli read this email in shiur, one of the local participants volunteered to go and help set him up and Reb Itchy sent a follow up email thanking our member for his chesed, and a picture of the two of them in the man’s apartment.
What a beautiful story that was!!!
Dear Reb Eli,
First thank you for your daily shiur which has enriched my spiritual life beyond words. I feel like I am part of a worldwide Daf community.
(Author’s note – You are…)
I daven better, my brachos are better, and I am overall a better Jew. The internet could have been developed just for your shiur. That being said, I was surprised at the comment you made at point 5:48 in the Daf Yomi video on “Tul Baruch, Tul Baruch.” The example you gave in getting someone’s attention was that “Maybe your wife was spacing out.”
I know you did not mean any harm, but if one’s wife is spacing out at the Shabbos table, it is probably because she baked that delicious challa Thursday night in the wee hours, and also cooked for Shabbos and got the children ready for baths and put them to bed and perhaps also works part or full time and does chessed in her “free” time and don’t forget the Hachnosas Orchim guests sitting around your table who need attention. So maybe it’s not a good example to use. Let us remember Rabi Akiva who praised his wife…. “Make way for her. All of your learning belongs to her….”
May you be blessed to continue streaming Torah to all of us,
From a sincere fan of yours,
Since that email, Reb Eli “complains” that he can no longer make fun of his family in the shiur… Not that it stops him from continuing to read the emails that never stop arriving in his inbox. There are so many kinds of emails – from people who comment on the sugya, to those who talk about Bircas Kohanim to those who mention people in the shiur and send them regards.
And then of course there are the truly interesting email writers….
Like Bernie the Bern…..
Yasher Koach. I watch the 8 Minute daf. Great job there. I sampled the regular daf shiur and see you have lots of personality. On the eight minute shiur you never smile and I thought you must be an intense person. Maybe smile a little on the eight minute shiur?
Just wondering, while some emails being read may be entertaining and have good ideas, don’t you think it is an act of gayvah to read in public all kinds of compliments to yourself? Just saying….
It goes without saying that that writer quickly became known as “Bernie the Bern.”
The fact is the daily email dose did create a stir, with different schools of thought holding different opinions – either pro or against. Some of the Manchester Chevra sent an email stating that in their opinion we could do without them, but that was counteracted by an email sent to us the next day by the inventor of the “Shabbos Lamp” who completely disagreed with those who were against, pointing out that by reading emails sent to the shiur from all over the world, we were uniting the group to a much greater level.
Boruch Hashem the shiur continues growing by leaps and bounds. It is a unifying force, bringing all types of Yidden together through the daily daf – and is something incredibly beautiful to see and to be a part of.
The upcoming siyum on Eiruvin will be taking place on Sunday, November 22nd at 1pm EST, 8pm Israel time. visit www.8MINUTEDAF.com to see the siyum and join the shiurim.
So if you don’t have a shiur yet, or have tried something and left, or just never thought about it – why not jump in for Masechte Pesachim and see what the action is all about. This is your chance to be part of something huge – and to take part yourself in changing the world for the better – one Daf at a time.