Rabbi Moses Schreiber, known as the Hatam Sofer, connects the opening words of the Torah portion with Avot 1:4 where Yosi ben Yo’ezer teaches about the Sages: “sit in the dust of their feet and drink up their words thirstily.” The practice in the days of Rabbi Schreiber (nineteenth century Hungary) as it was in centuries before and persists still today is that students of Torah would travel long and far in order to learn at the feet of the great and wise rabbis of their day. These students, by their very devotion and willingness to uproot themselves from family and home to seek out and learn from the best teachers of Torah, found intellectual fulfillment and career success.
So when the Torah uses the word “heel” (Deuteronomy 7:12) in describing those who follow the Torah, it is hinting at the peripatetic student of Torah who goes by foot to hear “these statutes.” Heel is a merism, that is, an expression whereby one small part represents the whole, which in this case, is the foot. To walk in the ways of God often requires walking great distances to seek out the expositors of God’s words.
Devotion to Torah is a recurrent rabbinic theme. Elsewhere in Avot it is recommended to “find yourself a teacher.” Among the questions the rabbis assert will be asked of the soul of the deceased in order to determine one’s final status is “Have you set a fixed time for study.” Again, Avot advises not to say: “I will study when I have [free] time” since you may never have any free time. In effect, the rabbis teach that making time for study is the solution to finding time for study.
Hence, in 1920 Rabbi Moshe Menahem Mendel Spivak introduced the idea of Daf Yomi, the daily study of one folio page of Talmud each day. Rabbi Meir Shapiro then implemented that idea three years later. Soon the program expanded beyond the borders of the Jewish community in Poland. As much as the program has made the Talmud more accessible to a greater number of Jews, it has also prodded many Jews into incorporating serious study in their daily lives over a considerable period of time. (One page of study each day will complete the study of the 2711 pages of Talmud in about seven and a half years.) Daf Yomi is but a modern example of walking in the ways of God.