Rabbi Meir Shapira • “The Rav of Lublin and Creator of Daf Yomi”
It was the 3rd of Elul, 5683 (1923). Participating in the first general assembly of Agudath Israel was Rabbi Meir Shapira, who arose and proposed the idea of studying “one page per day of Talmud.” Beginning on Rosh Hashanah 5684, Jews around the world would begin studying one page of the Gemara each day following the order of the tractates, starting from Berachot and ending at Niddah.
Rabbi Meir Shapira, who was a tremendous orator, described to his eminent audience – which included all the Torah greats of the world – the goal of studying by page. He put it in these terms: “How great it is! A Jew travels by boat and takes a tractate of Berachot in his arm. He travels for 15 days from Eretz Israel to America, and each day towards evening he opens the Gemara and studies the daf. When he arrives in America, he enters a Beit Midrash in New York and finds Jews studying the very same page that he studied that day, which allows him to happily join their study group. He discusses matters with them and they answer his questions, and the Name of Heaven is glorified and sanctified. Another Jew leaves the United States and travels to Brazil. He returns to the Beit Midrash and finds people immersed in the very page that he studied that day. Can there be a greater unity of hearts than this? What’s more, until the present time there are many tractates that people do not study, tractates that are ‘orphans’ and which only exceptional people concern themselves with. Now the daf will rectify this situation. The idea of Daf Yomi rests on the teachings of the Sages: Rabban Gamliel said, ‘I was once traveling on a boat when I saw another boat that had broken apart. I was distressed over the fate of a Talmid Chacham, Rabbi Akiva, who had been aboard. When I reached dry land, he came and debated before me in Halachah. I said to him, “My son, who pulled you up?” He said, “I came across a board [daf] from the boat and I grabbed it. I bowed my head towards every wave that went over me” ’ [Yebamot 121]. The era in which Rabbi Akiva lived is considered to have been one of the most difficult in the history of the Jewish people. Yet despite this, Rabbi Gamliel saw that Rabbi Akiva succeeded in making 24,000 disciples and gave the Torah back its crown. This is why Rabbi Gamliel phrased his question as ‘My son, who pulled you up?’ meaning: ‘Reveal to me the secret of your success.’ To that, Rabbi Akiva replied, ‘I came across a board [daf] from the boat’ – I found a simple solution, a daf from the boat, and that daf saved me. The word daf has two meanings: A board, and a page of Gemara. I came across a page of Gemara and I grabbed it; I assembled listeners and taught Torah in public. The Torah is our life and saves us from all troubles.” (Heard from Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Rav of Boston, who said on that occasion: “It seems to me that as far as this metaphorical explanation goes, I see it as he does”).
All the eminent listeners who had gathered to hear Rabbi Shapira’s speech accepted his proposal with great enthusiasm, and Rabbi Shapira was applauded. A proclamation was issued by the Assembly: “Orthodox Jewry throughout the world takes upon itself to study exactly one page each day, beginning with tractate Berachot on Rosh Hashanah 5684 (1923).”
After the evening prayer on Rosh Hashanah, the Rebbe of Ger said to his chassidim, “I am now beginning to study the Daf Yomi.” These few words from the mouth of the Rebbe caused great excitement in the hearts of tens of thousands of Ger chassidim, and everyone wanted to study tractate Berachot. Thus Rabbi Meir Shapira became known as the father of Daf Yomi.
When Rabbi Shapira paid a visit to the Chafetz Chaim in Radin, the Chafetz Chaim crowned him with the title of “the inventor of Daf Yomi.” The Chafetz Chaim said to him, “I love you enormously. Do you know why?”
“Probably because of Daf Yomi,” Rabbi Shapira responded.
“You have done a tremendous thing, and in Heaven they are greatly rejoicing because of your initiative. You should know that there, in the World of Truth, it is the study of Torah that is most respected. Every Jew merits being honored in relation to the amount of Torah that he studied in this world. In the World to Come, we do not say, ‘Welcome Rabbi Yaakov,’ or ‘Welcome Rabbi Chaim.’ Rather, it is ‘Welcome to the one who studied tractate Berachot,’ or ‘Welcome to the one who studied tractate Shabbat.’ There in Heaven, there are thrones of glory for those who have studied Torah, and engraved on each throne is the name of a tractate, such as Berachot, Shabbat, Eruvin, and so on. In the World to Come, each person is seated on the throne of the tractate that he studied. Consequently, not long ago there were many empty thrones there, for those who studied Torah only studied the tractates that they came across in their younger years, leaving the others for exceptional individuals to study. Yet now because of your proposal, the thrones of all the tractates will be filled, and the joy in Heaven will be beyond measure! That is why you deserve the greatest congratulations!” (From Rabbi Moses M. Yoshor in his book The Chafetz Chaim).
As the Chafetz Chaim and other Tzaddikim and Gaonim said of him, “How great is the merit of Rabbi Meir because of Daf Yomi!”
When he left this world, one of the Tzaddikim of the generation exclaimed: “All the Tannaim and Amoraim went to meet him to bring him into Gan Eden, for there is no Rav in Israel who taught as much Torah to the public as Rabbi Meir through his Daf Yomi, and there is no other Rav who revived several tractates of the Talmud. This is why the reward that awaits him is without equal.”
Rabbi Meir Shapira was born on Adar 7, 5647 (1887) in the city of Schatz, Romania. His father, Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon, was a descendant of Rabbi Nathan Shapira of Krakow, the author of Megalleh Amukot.
From his childhood, Rabbi Meir stood out for his diligence and exceptional gifts. He studied Torah with his maternal grandfather from Manestritch, the Minchat Shai, and by the age of nine he already knew Yore Deah along with its commentators by heart. His grandfather cried like a child when his friend and Gaon of the generation, the Maharsham of Brezhan, wrote concerning his 15 year old grandson: “I saw Rabbi Meir uproot mountains and grind them together in Halachah, and over him I recited the blessing, ‘Blessed are You, Who created lights.’ ” Rabbi Meir Shapira’s name as the Genius of Schatz became known far and wide.
Still quite young, Rabbi Meir Shapira became the Rav of the community of Glina, where he stayed for 10 years before becoming the Rav of Sanok. From there he was offered a position in the great and ancient city of Pioterkov, and finally he became the Rav of Lublin. He founded educational institutions and yeshivot in many places, for he was greatly concerned with everything that dealt with the young.
Rabbi Meir also concerned himself with community affairs. He was a marvelous orator, and he sanctified the Name of G-d in public wherever he spoke. Rabbi Meir was also chosen as the Jewish deputy to the Polish parliament. A book containing his Halachic responsa, entitled Ohr Meir, was published in Pioterkov and made a great impression on the rabbinic and yeshiva world. Of all the accomplishments in his short life (he died at the age of 47), he is primarily known for his two great endeavors: Daf Yomi, which was accepted by all Jewry, and the magnificent Chachmei Lublin yeshiva.
Rabbi Meir still had many plans before dying, but Heaven had decided otherwise and so his fate was sealed. He suddenly caught diphtheria and the doctors were incapable of healing him. Before rendering his soul to his Creator on Heshvan 7, 5694 (1933), he ordered that some cognac and cake be brought to him. He then told his students to drink to his health and dance around his bed while singing the verse, “In You our fathers placed their trust,” to the tune that he had composed. The students danced, tears flowed down their cheeks, and at that point his holy soul departed.
The impure hands of the Nazis desecrated all the Jewish graves in Lublin except for one. One tombstone remained intact, that of Rabbi Meir Shapira, which was nothing short of miraculous. Near the end of 5718 (1958), his remains were transported to Eretz Israel and buried in the Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem.
In Eretz Israel, Rabbi Yaakov Halpern established the orthodox neighborhood of Zichron Meir (which carries the name of the Gaon of Lublin), and within that neighborhood the Chachmei Lublin yeshiva was rebuilt. Rabbi Shemuel Halevi Wozner, one of the most prominent disciples of Rabbi Meir Shapira, is the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Zichron Meir.