Yesterday was the annual siyum in my son's yeshiva and it was a tremendous source of chizuk. Over 60 bachurim finished Bava Kama (yes, my son was among them), and others were mesayeim other masechtos as well. These are boys who mostly hail from Far Rockaway and the 5 Towns, boys who certainly are aware of, if not exposed to, TV, the internet, to the allure of Central Ave in the Five Towns with its numerous hangouts and what-not. Yet, despite the potential distractions, these boys have achieved success in learning b'iyun and hasmadah. Y'yasher cheilam. I wrote this last year, but I'll repeat it: this is what chinuch is all about. My son's yeshiva doesn't have a gym period, an art class, a music program, etc. all of which I agree have value, but unless you can show me a yeshiva which has all those and can also boast of bachurim churning through masechtos, I'll stick with what we have.
Just two quick stories from the siyum:
First, a story about a bachur, one of my son's chaveirim. This boy is a Russian immigrant who came to the yeshiva last year mid-year from another school knowing next to nothing. The Menahel explained to the boy that the yeshiva has no real preparatory classes -- the expectation is that the boys will sit and learn gemara, Rashi, Tosfos, Rishonim. How will he fit in? The boy responded, "But I want to learn Torah." The Menahel said that he and the Rosh Yeshiva were in tears. What could they do? The Menahel is a tzadik and did the right thing -- they took the boy in and figured they would see what happens. This boy was mesayem Bava Kama this year.
The guest speaker was Rav Noach Oelbaum from Queens, who told a story that I heard before from another reliable source as well. The minhag in Poland was that on the yahrzeit of the Rama, which is Lag baOmer, people would gather in Cracow by the Rama's kever and be mispallel and learn (see Yevamos 121a, Rashi on top). One year R' Yosef Shaul Natahanson, the Sho'el u'Meishiv, was passing through town on that date, so he came and paid his respects to the local mora d'asra, Rav Avraham David. The Rav asked R' Yosef Shaul to honor them with a derasha, but R' Yosef Shaul said they should talk in learning instead. The Rav asked what he would like to discuss; R' Yosef Shaul suggested maybe going through every Abayei and Rava in shas. (!) I imagine this little contest attracted a crowd, and so they began.... R' Avraham David put his head in his hands and began with Brachos, saying over ba'al peh every Abaye and Rava. After Brachos, he turned to the Shoel u'Meishiv and asked if they should continue, and he got a nod to go on. Next came Shabbos, and then seder Moed, and they kept going right through Nashim and Nezikin. Finally, and here there is a safeik whether it was in Mes. Sanhedrin or Shavuos, R' Yosef Shaul Nathanson said to stop -- enough for one day. Rav Avraham David turned to his guest and asked why, considering how much they had done so far, they should suddenly stop? To which the Sho'el u'Meishiv answered that he, R' Avraham David, had missed 33 instanced of Abaye and Rava since the beginning of shas, and l'chavod the yahrtzeit of the Rama on Lag (33) b'Omer, that's enough.
As Rav Oelbaum said, missing 33 Abayei and Rava's is mistama like a 95 on a test -- and all this on the spot, ba'al peh. We don't even have a hasaga of what this level of yedi'as haTorah is! Yet, people not too long ago were able to do it. But, you will say, how many of us have the kishronos, the ability, the memory, the concentration, of the Sho'el u'Meishiv? They had extraordinary ability -- what does it have to do with us? But I want to echo a point Rav Oelbaum made -- it's not all about memory and ability. How many of us have a cheishek for Torah like that of the Sho'el u'Meishiv? Rav Oelbaum related that the Chazon Ish's brother mentioned in his hesped for the C. I. that everyone knew of the ge'onus of the Chazon Ish, but did they also know about the tears he said when he davened "atah chonein l'adam da'as"? Hashem rewards those tefilos and that desire to achieve. You don't believe it? Just look at that 15 year old boy who didn't know aleph-beis last year and said a hadran yesterday.
The yeshiva deserves a special y'yasher koach for producing bachurim such as these, boys with a love for learning who will undoubtedly reap the rewards of that cheishek.