| One Day Closer |

Keeping the Rhythm

Whether or not we learn daf yomi, we're all climbers, struggling one day at a time to achieve our goals

Mutti was a large, tall, imposing gentleman, but behind that tough-looking exterior, he possessed a sweet and kind heart. He was also very private and dignified, a man of few words. I got to know Mutti through music — occasionally we worked an event together, because I played the keyboard and accordion and he played the guitar.

We’d play at weddings, bar mitzvahs, Melaveh Malkahs, or dinners, usually ending at eleven thirty or twelve thirty at night, or sometimes even at 1 a.m. After long hours of playing lively music together, most band members need time to decompress, and back then the frum musicians on the simchah circuit had developed a semi-formal ritual: pack up the instruments, check work calendars, engage in a little light banter, and then make plans to meet our fellow late-night performers at a nearby restaurant, pizza joint, or coffee shop for some socializing and relaxed conversation before finally heading home.

The routine worked well for all of us, but not Mutti. As soon as the last note sounded, he’d immediately stash his guitar in its case, toss on his jacket, and make a beeline for the exit. I’d often invite him, as he was departing the hall, to join us for a bite, but the response was always a definite no.

One evening, after quite a few years of this, I got curious. Mutti was an enigmatic fellow and I knew he wouldn’t give me any easy answers, so I blocked his path and demanded to know why he was always in such a rush to leave.

“You know, we’ve been playing together for years,” I said, “and never once have you joined us afterward to eat. Why can’t you spend even a short amount of time with us?”

After a bit of hemming and hawing, he revealed his secret. “I need to get as much sleep as possible,” he said, “because I can’t sleep late in the mornings. I go to a daf yomi shiur every morning in a shtibel in Flatbush. It starts early — at six fifteen — and if I don’t make it to bed soon, I won’t make it there in time.”

I was incredulous — and intrigued. “I’ve got to see this for myself,” I said to him. “Tell me where and when this daf yomi takes place. I’m going to join you there tomorrow morning!”

Well, that was a long time ago, about 33 years back, when I was still living in Flatbush. The location and schedule of my shiur has changed over the years, but that early morning daf remains a commitment of mine. It’s always a struggle, some days more than others, especially when I don’t get a chance to get to sleep early.

Mutti passed away a few years ago. I remember telling his wife and children at the shivah about this deep debt of gratitude I owe him, and how it came about. They, of course, knew nothing about it, but I think about it every morning, because Mutti’s inspiration pushes me every day. Little did I know that when Mutti refused to go out for a cup of coffee, he’d inspire me to join the hundreds of thousands of Yidden learning the daf yomi.

David Nulman is a music teacher, music therapist, and a carpenter building shtenders. He’s based in Monsey, New York.

(Originally featured in 'One Day Closer', Special Supplement, Chanuka/Siyum HaShas 5780)

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