Harnessing The Purity And Power Of The Daf Through Poetry And Joy
By C.B Weinfeld
The Daf has transformed my life. It's one of the most powerful mechuyavim, which obligtes us to learn."
Never underestimate the power of an individual to impact tens of thousands of people through a kernel of an idea...and a niggun.
“Songs of Shas” has taken Daf Yomi to a new level, enabling mesaymim to not only learn the Daf, but remember the Daf long after they have moved on to a new masechta. The brainchild of Yossi Gleiberman, these review songs have been praised by roshei yeshivah, maggidei shiur, and others across the globe for their depth and beauty.
Yossi was a yungerman in Flatbush who learned in kollel for a year and then went to work at age 22. In the 31 years since, the hardworking businessman, who is currently in his fi fth machzor of Daf Yomi, has taken on the responsibility of delivering two Daf Yomi shiurim a day, and is the author of the widely popular “Songs of Shas,” a comprehensive review of the major themes and yesodos of multiple masechtos.
Songs of Shas (www.SongsOfShas.com), as its name implies, is a powerful overview, through rhyme and song, of numerous masechtos, enabling their comprehensive review in a short amount of time.
Yossi stresses that this feature should not be about himself or about any individual. It’s about the Daf and its enduring power to transform every moment of life.
Yossi grew up in Brooklyn, a talmid of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin. After his marriage, he learned in kollel for a short time and then found a job with the worthy goal of supporting his family. It was June 20, 1988. That very day, the fresh baal habayis joined an early morning Daf Yomi shiur in his neighborhood, cognizant of the need to make Torah learning a priority in his life.
As he expressed in a wide-ranging interview, “Virtually the first two questions we will be asked, after 120, when we appear before the Bais Din Shel Maalah, are: ‘Did you conduct your business faithfully?’ and ‘Did you set aside regular times for Torah study?’ This doesn’t mean looking into Chumash with Rashi for a few moments on Shabbos afternoon, with your eyes half closed. It means setting aside time for learning Torah as a serious priority every single day. After all, we don’t want to fail the first two basic questions we are asked in the World of Truth.”
Yossi remained in his original Daf Yomi shiur for eight years, meriting to be mesayeim Shas. Beginning each day at 5:20 a.m. by learning the Daf, come what may, gave his workdays powerful structure and a sense of purpose. Though he rarely missed a morning, he was mostly silent, absorbing and learning, with the majority of the participants at least fi fteen years old than him. “Today, I’m one of the older guys in the shiur,” he quips, “as my eldest grandson is eight...and I am not so quiet anymore!”
After buying a home on the other side of his Flatbush neighborhood, Yossi helped organize and joined a new Daf Yomi shiur at Khal Zichron Mordechai, Rabbi Shimshon Sherer’s shul. A couple of years later, the maggid shiur suddenly landed a shteller in a local shul, and Yossi was asked to cover the shiur on a temporary basis.
Yossi agreed to serve as interim maggid shiur, and has been delivering the shiur for over two decades. Over the past twenty years, shiur membership has more than quadrupled from its original half a dozen participants, and they have celebrated several siyumim of Shas.
Several years ago, Yossi was invited to deliver another early morning Daf Yomi shiur at Khal Bnei Avrohom Yaakov, Rabbi Moshe Bergman’s shul, managing to squeeze it into his packed schedule. The members of the two shiurim, totaling over sixty participants, attend each other’s simchos, sharing both joys and r”l challenges, supporting each other through thick and thin.
Yossi’s schedule is grueling, but he thrives on it, his vigorous appearance considerably younger than his actual age. He is awake most mornings at 4:45 a.m. to deliver his two shiurim, with Shacharis in between.
Instead of relaxing after his long day, he spends most of the evening preparing for the following morning’s shiur. Once a week, on Wednesday nights, he delivers a fast-paced comprehensive chazarah shiur, reviewing the complete seven Dafim covered that week. As he quips, “I’m a bit of a cranky guy in the office on Thursdays, as the shiur sometimes goes until midnight, and I wake up at a quarter to five the next day.”
However, Yossi wouldn’t trade this schedule for any other. He attests, “The Daf has transformed my life. It’s one of the most powerful mechuyavim, which obligates us to learn.”
Yossi travels frequently, but doesn’t allow it to cramp his Daf.
Each year, when Yossi attends a business show in Las Vegas, he delivers the Daf Yomi shiur to a large crowd of baalei batim, each of whom feels obligated by the Daf. During these famous shows, there are hundreds of young men from all over the tri-state area and across the United States gathered in one location.
“Invariably, if I see a baal habayis sitting in a corner, learning Gemara, whether on the airplane, in a corner at the show, or in the local shul, he is learning Daf Yomi. What else is mechayev you as much as the Daf every single day?”
In February 2018, Yossi celebrated his fourth Siyum Hashas. He planned to host a festive siyum along with the participants in the Daf Yomi shiur, who shared this milestone. The summer before that, Yossi spent a lot of time thinking about a suitable, creative program for the upcoming siyum. As he expressed, “I wanted to convey the joy and simcha that I was feeling and to inspire others to join in the kvius ittim that helped me reach this milestone. At the same time, I also was feeling somewhat disheartened. Though I had been learning Shas for nearly thirty years, I still found it a struggle to retain much of what I learned. “And it wasn’t just me. I have always seen the frustration on people’s faces while trying to retain all the details and the back-and-forth of every Daf of Gemara. During and after a fast-paced shiur, it’s nearly impossible to recall and to remember every line of Gemara. However, it was possible to try to remember the main sugyos, topics, and themes of each Daf and masechta, and at the end of my shiurim, I always tried to review and to accentuate these important points.”
During the peaceful summer evenings, as his family was upstate, Yossi had an epiphany.
“I decided to try to write down some of the main points and topics that I remembered from Maseches Brachos. After several nights of thought, sitting quietly at my kitchen table, I came up with a list of 60-70 main points. I then put together a list from the next masechta, Shabbos, followed by Eruvin, and so on. Over the next two weeks, I slowly accumulated pages and pages of bullet-pointed yesodos and phrases. In total, I had over 2,500!”
When Yossi reviewed these pages of notes, he was suffused with joy. He now realized that “the months and years of learning every day had allowed me to absorb, and to retain, and draft this huge list from memory. I was suddenly aware of our miraculous ability to preserve through consistency and determination. The sugyos, the ‘reid,’ and the klalim that I learned over the years had indeed penetrated into me.”
Yossi was blessed with the gift of composing in rhyme. As he mentioned, “Ten years ago, when my eldest son became a chosson, my father was very sick. I promised myself that if he makes it to the chasunah, I will call him up to a mitzvah tantz with a special grammen. Boruch Hashem, he was at the wedding and I composed a half hour grammen, a live hesped so to speak, about his life. People were crying openly as the grammen were read, and then my father got up to dance. He was niftar a short few months later.”
Yossi decided to spend his downtime during the summer using the list that he created, compiling a review in rhyme of the main themes throughout Shas, including a brief synopsis of every masechta. After weeks of intense effort, he created an original song that included approximately 800 klalim in Shas, condensed into a 35-minute presentation.
A few months later, he presented the first “Song of Shas” to a rapt crowd at his Siyum Hashas. After all, as he says, Torah, especially Torah Shebaal Peh, should be learned in a niggun.
To his surprise, the Song of Shas went viral. And it wasn’t because of the melody. As he admits, “I have a terrible voice, and I can hardly carry even a basic tune.”
Within the next twenty-four hours, the Song of Shas appeared on dozens of Jewish sites, and was even picked up by Israeli and European sites and viewed over 30,000 times.
To Yossi’s surprise, “I received emails and comments from many lomdei Daf Yomi, usually complete strangers, along with maggidei shiur and rabbonim across the world, even as far as Denmark and Australia. Many people requested hard copies of the lyrics. The most common theme was gratitude for making it easy to review so much material and cover so many nuances in such a short presentation. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky listened to the song and smiled, saying, “Why don’t we play this at the upcoming Siyum Hashas?”
Yossi was taken by surprise at the outpouring of interest in the chazarah song, and he resolved to try a more in-depth review of a complicated masechta. Since Zevachim was about to begin, he kept a running list, jotting down notes and themes that he had learned each week. At around the halfway point, he began turning them into a rhyme, and upon completion, he reviewed them with his uncle, Rabbi Yisroel Berger, a noted maggid shiur. The Songs are transcribed and edited by Mrs. Susan Goldstein of Kew Garden Hills, who considers it an honor and privilege to be involved in this project.
The twenty-minute rhyme was videotaped without any professional music or soundtrack, in Yossi’s office, and again presented at the siyum of the masechta. Once more, it was a huge success, so he went on to Maseches Menachos.
At the siyum of Menachos, planned in conjunction with the annual Agudah Convention, Yossi presented his Song of Menachos, once more to enthusiastic reviews. By now, hundreds of people were clamoring for these songs, and so Yossi embarked on his Song of Chullin, one of the most challenging masechtos, containing many facts and yedios that are unfamiliar to the average Daf Yomi participant.
“Once again, while giving the shiurim, I would try to stress these concepts, putting the rhyme together as we learned. The final Song of Chullin, which is longer and more detailed than the previous masechtos, was released at the siyum of Chullin two days before Pesach. Since then, Bechoros and Arachin were followed by Temurah and Kerisos, and the final five masechtos were all timed to be released several days before the completion of each masechta. In total, we will have covered the final thirteen masechtos of Shas as we head into the new Daf machzor. In total, the songs have by now been viewed in total over 100,000 times.”
Each Song of Shas has its own challenges. Zevochim and Menachos deal with unfamiliar concepts, so the goal is a clear narrative to help with a deeper understanding. Chullin speaks of unique mitzvos, and thus needed to be specific. Yossi added, “Treifos was truly challenging, as there are eighteen major categories, which I was challenged to cover in only four paragraphs. ‘It was such a joy and delight’ to listen to was an oft-repeated theme. I try to keep the tune light, the lyrics upbeat, the mood joyful and entertaining. I also enjoy adding a pun or some humor to the lyrics to keep it light. Many of the more recent videos also have some background music to make them more palatable. Yet, you can’t please everyone. Some people want to know why I left certain concepts out, but if I’d put in everything, each Song would be a couple of hours long!”
At some point, Yossi established a website, www.SongsOfShas.com, where the songs are available, both to listen and to download as a PDF file. As he stressed, “Rather than people going all over the place to find the songs, why not create one destination where all the songs are located along with a downloadable hard copy? In addition, anyone can register on the site to receive an email link to each new song the day it is released.”
What’s next for Yossi? After the Siyum Hashas, he hopes to continue the new machzor with more Songs of Shas, including so-called “yeshivishe masechtos,” which lay people are more familiar with.
As he expresses, “I cannot wait until we reach some of the masechtos that are learned in the regular yeshiva cycle and we are able to hear feedback and observations from the yeshiva bochurim who spend many months focused on a single masechta. The enthusiastic comments that I have received on these unfamiliar masechtos make me excited to hear what they will come up with once we hit the yeshivishe Gemaros.”
We wondered if Yossi ever has writer’s block. Not in the literal sense, he assures us. Sometimes, it’s challenging to find the perfect word that rhymes, but eventually the words come.
“I keep a list when I have tough words to rhyme, and I look at the list once or twice a day. Sometimes the right jingle or phrases hit me at the oddest times and I immediately try jot it down. I also attempt to combine the lashon of the Gemara with English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. Using merged multiple languages in the same stanza adds to the quality and beauty of the phrases and paragraphs. The final key is the enjoyment and passion that I work to inject into each stanza, hoping to communicate the simchas haTorah and excitement that we should feel when we are privileged to learn Torah.” Does Yossi accept specific requests? He does, but he can’t always accommodate them. “A rebbi in a local yeshiva requested that I put together a Song for Bava Metzia, the masechta that he was learning, so that he could share it with his shiur at his endof-year siyum. I explained that based on the current timetable, he could expect it in five years!” However, Yossi is eager to start working on the shorter Maseches Makkos, which is taught in many yeshivos in the seventh grade. He feels that once Daf Yomi is up to Brachos and Shabbos, which are lengthier masechtos, he will have more time to work on this project in time for the end-of-year seventh grade siyumim in many yeshivos. Currently, he tries to be at least a month ahead of Daf Yomi in order to have the real flavor of the masechta before beginning to write the Song, which he was able to achieve during the past summer and fall.
Yossi concludes, “I hope the Songs of Shas series could be used by lomdei Daf Yomi, baalei batim, and yeshivaleit. Reviewing these condensed klalim and phrases should trigger many additional memories and specifics of each sugya mentioned. Most of all, with these condensed Songs, I am hoping that they can retain the geshmak and rekindle the zest that they felt when they initially learned that masechta. It bothers me when I hear people say that they want to ‘do’ the Daf. I always try to correct them by saying that we ‘do’ lunch, but the Daf is to be ‘learnt’! Imagine spending just 15-20 minutes every so often reviewing all the main points and recapturing the geshmak of an entire masechta that you learned a few months or a few years ago.”
What’s next for Yossi?
“Who knows? Perhaps the Songs of Tosafos,” he says with a smile, only half-joking. Producing Songs of Shas is a major commitment of time and effort, but the rewards are intangible, and sometimes tangible as well. Recently, an elderly man met Yossi and asked if he was the “Shas video man.” When he replied in the affirmative, the old man kissed him. “I live alone and am often lonely,” he explained. “When I turn them on and play the Shas song, I become filled with joy and I start dancing!”