Believe it or not, it all started with a dare nearly 9 years ago, when my older brother challenged me to join him in a quest to study the entire Talmud—all 2711 pages of it. Given the natural time constraints of my busy life, raising children, and other responsibilities it seemed like a nice idea to do someday, but it was certainly not on any to-do list.

Now, you may wonder: What is the big deal about me learning the Talmud? Isn’t that what rabbis are supposed to do? Indeed, many, many others have completed and continue to complete the Talmud regularly, and it may not be seen as a major accomplishment for them, but it’s not something I’d seriously considered.

You know that expression, “Youth is wasted on the young”? Well, that was certainly true for me. When I had the time, back in my yeshiva days, I didn’t have the interest. Now, finally at an age where I wanted to study the stuff I should have studied when I was younger, I didn’t seem to have the time or spirit.

My brother daring me to do it, however, compelled me to give it another thought. Then another factor came into play. A friend and colleague in nearby Waltham, Mass., Rabbi Peretz Chein of the Chabad at Brandeis, was over for a Shabbat and he had just concluded the Talmud. I was inspired to take a page from his book, but the whole thing still seemed too daunting.

It was in the period shortly after Shavuot when Chassidim study the Talmudic Tractate of Sotah , which I had just concluded, learning another one of its 49 pages each of the 49 days of the Omer period. Peretz encouraged me to build on the completion of one tractate to launch into the next. “Don’t focus on completing the entire thing. That will overwhelm you. Just focus on doing one tractate at a time and see where it takes you.”

That reminded me of the old refrain, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” To that end, I followed his guidance and began another tractate. I granted myself permission to use the Hebrew-English Talmud and the classes of Rabbi Dovid Grossman, of blessed memory, whose classes I often listened to while driving.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and I had now studied more than a handful of tractates in no particular order. I was nearing the end of the small stockpile of volumes I owned. Turns out they are quite pricey, so I did the most logical thing and searched for gently used volumes on eBay. That kept me supplied for the next few years. Alas, all good things must come to an end but by the time I had run out of volumes to purchase on eBay, I was past the halfway point, which to me meant the point of no return: I was committed to finishing.

It certainly wasn’t always easy. It was a 7-day-a-week commitment, though at some point, Shabbat became an off day (thus it took closer to 8 ½ years vs the 7 ½ of one who learned a page every single day). At times, it felt like a painful burden and I questioned why I’d ever started. At other times, it was intensely satisfying to be studying the original text from which all of Jewish law is derived. And other times, I felt that as new information came in, old information fell out.

Still, I feel like an infant (as discussed in Niddah 30b) who is taught the entire Torah in the womb, and is then flicked by an angel upon birth and made to forget everything he or she studied. What was the point of studying it then? When you’ve studied something once, explain the commentaries, even if you forget it, the next time you hear it, it’s easier to understand and remember since you are merely recalling information rather than learning it for the first time.

It was exciting to see so many childhood stories come alive as I studied them in their original source. The destruction of the Holy Temple, for example, is one of the central events that literally defines our history and our yearning for a better future. No matter how many times I’ve heard the stories, the original text (Gittin 55a) goes into a level of detail that is both devastating and fascinating.

My favorite though, is the stuff that the academics least enjoy: the sections of Aggadah—stories, parables and allegories. To the brainy student, these are legends with lesser value, but to me, these stories are the inspirations that keep the beautiful tradition alive. You learn about the great women in Jewish history, like Bruria the wife of R. Meir, and the righteous gentiles whose knowledge far exceeded that of many Jews, such as Tevi the servant of Rabbi Gamliel. You learn law and history, biology and sociology.

I have a new appreciation for the old custom to study Ein Yaakov - the Aggadah sections of the Talmud - in shul between Minchah and Maariv.

One story that sticks with me involves Rava, Abaya, and Bar Hedia (Berachot 56). In short, Rava and Abaya have similar dreams and both go to Bar Hedia, a dream interpreter. Abaya pays Bar Hedia while Rava does not, and Bar Hedia consistently gives Abaya positive interpretations while Rava receives negative interpretations. Both interpretations come to fruition, and while Abaya’s life improves, Rava’s becomes more and more difficult.

One day, Rava is on a boat with Bar Hedia and a book falls from his possessions. In the book, Rava reads that “a dream goes according to the interpretation.” Meaning that Bar Hedia was punishing him for not paying for interpretations. Rava curses him, and Bar Hedia’s life turns into a series of difficult experiences. The takeaway, among others, is that things only have power over us in life if we allow them to.

The lessons abound, but the takeaway from all of this, at least for me, is that to study the Talmud doesn’t necessarily make you smart or bright or even filled with as much data as one would hope. What it does do is change you, the person studying, from a simpleton to a person who has made the decision to be a person who studies Torah.

This was not something I thought I’d ever do, and I didn’t do it for any great purpose, other than to educate myself a bit and push myself further than I thought possible, but somehow, with tenacity and grit, I accomplished my goal.

So, now that I’ve finished, what will I do with the hour a day I’ve been dedicating to this? There is no thought that I will have a free hour in my day; the only question is what part of Torah I will study next.