Today, 1 Tammuz, is Ariel Chaim’s ZT’L fifth Yahrtzeit.
In the summer of 2001, Rabbi Yosef Furman asked Ariel to substitute for him at the Daf Yomi class the good Rabbi taught at Yeshiva University Los Angeles on Shabbos afternoon.
Initially, Ariel hesitated, modest to the core, he did not believe that he was learned enough to teach Gemarah to a group of highly learned and dedicated adults. But Karen and I gently reminded Ariel that if he was thinking of going into Jewish education this would be a perfect opportunity to hone his skills as a teacher. Besides, we told him, you are an incredible Torah scholar, definitely up to the task.
And so, in addition to his already heavy learning schedule, Ariel prepared for the upcoming Shabbos and his first Daf Yomi class. After he went over the page of Talmud, he studied the commentary of the primary Torah and Talmud medieval exegete Rashi, and the lengthy, complex glosses of the Tosafot.
I reminded Ariel that in Daf Yomi we usually don’t delve into the commentaries, but perfectionist that he was, Ariel said:
“Yes, but I have to understand the Gemarah if I’m to teach it and do a good job.”
Here is the first page of the Babylonian Talmud, as it appears in the standard Vilna edition. The standardized pagination follows that of the third Bomberg edition, Venice, 1548. Pages are numbered by folio. This page is Berakhoth 2a—that is, the first side of folio 2 in the tractate Berakhoth, "Blessings".
Several times that week before the first class, Ariel called Karen’s father, Rabbi Pinchas Singer ZT’L , to ask his beloved grandfather to clarify a difficult passage in the Talmud. Sometimes they would spend hours on the phone, Ariel carefully taking copious notes with his favorite fountain pen.
Ariel was more than prepared; he was hyper-prepared.
As we walked to the the class—at the time it was in a back room in the Washington Bank on Pico Boulevard—Ariel fretted that maybe he really wasn’t the right man for the job.
“Who do I talk to?” he asked.
“Try and maintain eye contact with everyone, do a slow scan around the table and then do it again.”
“What happens if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the class?”
Go right before class begins and then if you have to again, just excuse yourself. They won’t hold it against you.”
“What happens if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer?”
“Admit that you don’t know, but that you’ll look it up and have the answer at the next class.”
“What happens if I faint?”
“What do you mean, are you feeling—?”
“Just kidding.” Ariel grinned.
The men who attended the Daf Yomi class were familiar; an assortment of friends and neighbors, all with warm and inviting smiles. Also in the class were several strangers whom Ariel recognized from the Beis Midrash. Ariel whispered to me that they were acknowledged Torah scholars, a good deal more learned than he.
Relax,” I told him, “you’ll do fine.”
My stomach was churning; the massive anxieties of a loving and doting father.
Ariel opened the massive Gemarah, scanned the page, looked up at the dozen expectant men at the table and smiled. He thanked them for giving him the opportunity to learn with them. And then Ariel dived right into the Gemarah.
He chanted the text in a lovely sing-song and translated from the Aramaic to English. His words and explanations flowed like water. I really didn’t hear what he was saying for I was relieved, happy—and so insanely proud that my cognitive abilities just shut down.
Is there a greater happiness for a Jewish father than to witness his son transmitting the Torah, our eternal traditions, with such love and exactitude?