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The Building Blocks of Jewish Knowledge

On Finishing Tanach

By Rabbi Sender Haber

I began the study of Nach (prophets) a long time ago with Mrs. Yaffa Elimelech and my class at the Kadimah school of Buffalo. I have clear memories of her standing in front of the room like Golda Meir proclaiming the words of G-d to Joshua “Chazak V’ematz!” – “Be strong and Courageous”. The next year we had Mr. Zaharani who was an IDF reservist.  He had us map out the strategy for each battle and engage in debates about every decision. My father was less than happy when I was given the part of Yiftach and spent a week working on ways to defend Yiftach’s decision to offer his daughter as a sacrifice. The next year, I moved to Melbourne and learned with Rav Opman. He was a Meah Shearim native and read and translated everything into dramatic Yiddish like it was best story book he ever read. A few years later one of Rav Aharon Kotler’s grandchildren and I studied the Neviim Harishonim together and I’ve been continuing on and off since then. When I began to teach at Toras Chaim elementary, my first subject was Navi and preparing for my students while staying up all night with my newborn daughter brought the study of Tanach to a new level.

Not learning Tanach is something you could get away with all your life, yet it is obviously basic to an understanding of the underlying lessons of the Torah. As I learn Tanach and simultaneously come across quotations from Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim, Acharonim, and other great men, it becomes obvious that they spent time learning Tanach and were familiar with the context and meaning of the most obscure verses.

Two books that stood out for me were Tehillim and Divrei Hayamim. Both center on the legacy of King David. Tehillim gives us a window into his thoughts, his prayers and his challenges. Divrei Hayamim takes the entire Davidic line and ties it together in one book. It goes back to Adam and forwards to the building of the Second Beis Hamikdash. It gives one an awesome perspective on how short history really is.

When Eli Meir Reich and I finished the book of Shmuel in Stamford, CT about twenty years ago we decided to make a siyum. After all, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that one can make a siyum and eat meat in the nine days upon finishing a book of Tanach.

We approached our principal, Rav Dovid Hirsch Meyer Zatzal, and asked for permission. It was rumored that the Menahel – as we called him – had finished Tanach over a summer when he was in his teens, so we figured he would be proud of us. The Menahel listened to our question and asked if we studied the parsha each week. We confirmed that we did. “Then”, he pointed out, “you just finished the book of Bereishis. Did you make a siyum?” Of course we hadn’t. The Menahel’s point was that the custom does not seem to bear out the opinion of Rav Moshe.

The Menahel did go on to praise us and to encourage us to make a party and celebrate and encourage our friends to do the same.

And that is what I am doing. There is a Parsha and Haftorah every week, a Megilla every Yom Tov and, after that, just fourteen more books to go.

I’m glad I did it and encourage anyone who can to do the same.

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