Baruch Hashem, many members of our congregation, along with untold numbers of Jews around the world, are now completing the entire Talmud Bavli with the conclusion of the 13th cycle of the daily Daf Yomi learning program.
This celebration is commonly referred to as the "Siyum HaShas," but technically speaking, this term is inaccurate. The word "Shas" is an acronym for the words, "Shisha Sedarim," referring to the six sections of the Mishna. The Daf Yomi program completes the entire Talmud Bavli, but the Talmud Bavli does not cover all six sections of the Mishna. For example, there is no tractate of Talmud Bavli on the section of Zera’im (with the exception of Masechet Berachot), or on most of the section of Taharot. Therefore, when reciting the "Hadran" text at the Siyum celebration, one should ensure to recite "Talmud Bavli," and not "Shas" or "Shisha Sedarim."
The Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797) observed that the four letters of the Hebrew word "Siyum" are unique in that the "active" portion of each of these letters has the same numerical value as the "inactive" portion. The first letter, for example, is Samech, and the word "Samech" is spelled Samech, Mem, Chaf. The two "hidden" letters – Mem and Chaf – have a combined numerical value of 60, which is also the numerical value of the letter Samech. Similarly, the second letter in "Siyum," the letter Yod, is spelled Yod, Vav, Dalet, and the combined numerical value of Vav and Dalet is the same as the value of the letter Yod (10). The third letter, Vav, is spelled Vav, Vav, and quite obviously the "hidden" letter is identical to the "outer" letter. This is true as well of the fourth and final letter, Mem, which is spelled Mem, Mem.
The common explanation is that the "inactive" participants in a Torah study program are equivalent to the active participants. Even those who did not complete the term of study are nevertheless significant, insofar as their participation in the Siyum celebration, and the praise and respect they give to the students, provides them with encouragement and inspiration to continue learning and to reach even greater achievements. In a Siyum, even the "hidden" participants are important, no less than the obvious participants.
But there may also be an additional explanation for this unique feature of the word "Siyum." The Mishna in Pirkeh Abot teaches that when ten people study Torah together, the Shechina (divine presence) is there with them. The Mishna then proceeds to comment that even if fewer than ten people study together, and there is no Minyan, even so, God is there with the group. And even if just two people study together, like a Habruta, God is there with them. The Mishna then says that even if a person sits and studies alone, he really is not alone, as God is present with him. Torah learning is fundamentally different from a course in university. It is an encounter with the Almighty, and not simply the acquisition of knowledge.
And so, when a person completes a Masechet of Talmud, and certainly if he completes the entire Talmud Bavli, and he looks at the books on the shelves and begins to wonder, "How did I do that? How was I able to study so much material?" – the answer is clear. He was accompanied by the Almighty at every step of the way. Anyone who invests genuine effort into Torah learning receives a great deal of Siyata Di’shmaya – divine assistance – that enables him to succeed and achieve. Although we cannot see Him, He is there in the room beside us as we learn. God is called the "Yosheb Be’seter" – the One who sits in hiding, concealed from view. He is the hidden member of every study group, and the hidden partner of every student of Torah.
At every Siyum, there is a hidden participant – Hashem. The "hidden" letters are the same as the "revealed" letters to remind us of God, our hidden study partner who was with us at every step along the way and enabled us to reach this remarkable goal.
May it be Hashem’s will that just as we reached this special milestone, we shall be given the privilege to reach even greater heights and accomplish greater goals, with health, happiness and prosperity, Amen.