By Rabbi Nachman Seltzer
It was Parshas Chayei Sara, 5773; the location: the DoubleTree Tarrytown Hotel in Tarrytown, New York; the occasion: Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah, which hosted five hundred guests for Shabbos and 1,500 for the Grand Siyum Melave Malka on Motzoei Shabbos. The event followed hard on the heels of two monumental happenings that struck the United States with incredible force—the 2012 presidential elections and the never-to-be-forgotten fury of Hurricane Sandy.
This was the backdrop against which Dirshu’s historic Shabbos event took place. It was a way for Klal Yisrael to unite in a beautifully joyful Torah atmosphere, sitting together with the leading Gedolim of the generation, to hear, imbibe and share the timeless messages that bear our life force. It was an opportunity to reinforce the ideas, ideals and concepts that we as a nation know to be true, even as we live with an uneasy sense of uncertainty that looms right outside our doors. Klal Yisrael today is in dire need of nechamah, life-restoring solace—and the presence of the Gedolim and their reassuring words of wisdom served as balm to everyone fortunate enough to have been present at this legendary Shabbos event. Mixing the very best of ruchniyus—inspirational words of wisdom, intellectually stimulating shiurim on a variety of topics, and the celebration of siyumim on various areas of Torah—the Shabbos Kinnus also provided a wonderfully relaxing interlude in the lives of all Bnei Torah who came. Simply speaking, Dirshu provided a feast for the body, mind and soul, all in one, in a Shabbos that will never be forgotten by those who were fortunate to have been a part of it.
Every detail was tended to in the most thoughtful manner imaginable. Participants were given the option of sitting in separate dining rooms or as couples, given separate tables, cutting into available space but ensuring that all remained as comfortable as possible as they enjoyed the experience, the drashos and the atmosphere while retaining ample personal space. It was a classic example of “Ma tovu aholecha Yaakov—How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob . . .”
“We walked into the dining room after davening,” one of the guests recalled, “to be greeted by festively set tables covered with delicious, artfully displayed food. . . . The meals were so betampte, so tastefully arranged, with everyone accommodated according to his preference and needs, in a fashion so inherently tzniusdig . . . every couple at its very own Shabbos table, as it were . . . joining in to hear the incredible drashos while sharing Torah at their own seudos as well . . . exactly the way a Yiddishe Shabbos should look . . .”
From the opening moments of the event until the guests’ reluctant departure, this Shabbos was an experience to savor and delight in, to enjoy and glean from, an opportunity to gain inspiration and rejuvenation while greeting old friends and making new ones. It was a true merger of physical and spiritual, in spectacular Dirshu style.
HaGaon HaRav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Staten Island, delivered an insightful drashah prior to hadlakas neiros, in which he discussed the turbulent times in which we live and the awesome challenges facing mechanchim and parents alike in the area of chinuch habanim. Rav Reuven discussed the issue at length, explaining that all the answers and solutions to this serious issue are to be found in the Torah, and that the only way to be mechaneich our children properly is by utilizing the Torah that we learn to carry out our sacred task.
It was with this vital message that the guests of Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah ushered in the Shabbos Queen.
HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz Cleveland and Mesivta of Lakewood, addressed the tzibbur between Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv, capturing every heart in the room as he ushered in Shabbos with a stunning insight into what it means to be a ben aliyah, a person who spends his life striving constantly to grow in Torah and avodas Hashem. He quoted the Maharsha’s salient discussion of, “What, in fact, turns an individual into a ‘master of growth’?”
“The key to becoming a ben aliyah according to the Maharsha,” thundered Rav Sorotzkin, “lies in being willing to forgo this world for the next one! It means being willing to accept the yoke of Torah as bnei Torah did in previous generations. There is an incredible amount of Torah being learned in the world right now, but it’s often Torah without a yoke, without a shibud, without a genuine commitment. We’re so quick to drop our learning schedules today. We fly in for our second cousin’s wedding . . . a Friday seder is no seder . . . There’s no yoke, no obligation.”
Rav Sorotzkin then related an anecdote he himself had heard from Telzer talmidim who had studied under his grandfather, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zt”l, who was murdered along with all the kedoshei Telz in the Holocaust.
“When these talmidim were becoming bar mitzvah,” Rav Sorotzkin related with emotion, “they approached my zeide to ask his permission to travel home to celebrate this milestone with their families.” The Telzer Rosh Yeshivah’s reply was consistent with the way he lived his life. “‘You don’t praveh (celebrate) a bar mitzvah,’ he told his talmidim. ‘Bein hazemanim you praveh a bar mitzvah’; and they didn’t go home. They remained in Telz and learned. That’s how they celebrated their birthdays—by staying in yeshivah and learning Torah; by reaffirming the yoke of Torah on themselves.”
“This,” Rav Sorotzkin concluded, “is what Dirshu is doing for Klal Yisrael—helping us reaffirm the yoke, giving us back the shibud . . .”
HaGaon HaRav Moshe Mordechai Lowy, shlita, Mara D’Asra of the Agudas Yisroel of Toronto, spoke during the Friday evening seudah. He discussed one of Parshas Chayei Sarah’s major themes, that of Rivkah Imeinu’s chessed, not only for Eliezer but for his camels as well, and compared her actions of thousands of years ago to the outstanding behavior exhibited by the entire Jewish community in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“The hurricane served as a clear demonstration of the chessed that flowed freely from every segment of Klal Yisrael. People opened their homes to their brothers in need. Not only did they welcome them lovingly into their homes, they gave their guests priority. They couldn’t do enough for their guests; no detail was too small . . . and this was seen over and over again, in every neighborhood, in so many homes . . .
“The middah of chessed is part and parcel of Dirshu as well,” Rav Lowy asserted. “From the attention given to the tiniest detail over this Shabbos, to ensuring that everyone had exactly what they needed despite the constant power failures happening everywhere, to the magnificent achdus that Dirshu helps create. . . . It’s Torah-chessed taking place on an unprecedented scale!”
After The Seuda
The Shabbos schedule was chock-full of the most enjoyable surprises, one of which turned out to be a fascinating and informative session of she’eilos and teshuvos—halachic questions and answers, delivered by HaGaon HaRav Yechiel Michel Steinmetz, shlita, Dayan of Kehal Toldos Yaakov Yosef of Skver, and moderated and translated by HaRav Eliezer Ralbag, shlita.
One of the many questions asked was: “If a number of people are about to celebrate a siyum, is it preferable for each to make his own siyum, his own Kaddish, his own seudas mitzvah . . . or should they combine and celebrate all together, making one large siyum, with the kiddush Hashem that this creates?” Rav Steinmetz’s response was: “This question should clearly be asked to Rav Dovid Hofstedter—for after witnessing the unforgettable siyumim that Rav Dovid put together this past summer, who is more of an expert on siyumim than he?”
The camaraderie that filled the room, the tremendous achdus between people of different stripes, and the festive spirit and obvious delight in Torah study, turned this session into one of the highlights of the Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah. The lively give-and-take of a true Torah shiur enveloped the proceedings. No one wanted it to end.
Rav Steinmetz mentioned another point that was repeated and quoted throughout the Shabbos: “The passuk states, ‘Dirshu Hashem Ve’izi,’” he said, using the Chassidishe pronunciation of the word Ve’uzo. “Dirshu makes learning Torah easy!” This point went over very well among all the participants, who pointed out that the printed schedule was misleading, as it stated that the oneg would begin at 10:30, when it had in fact begun with Rav Steinmetz’s halachah shiur at 9:45!
The shiur was followed by a gala oneg Shabbos, at which the tzibbur enjoyed heartfelt Shabbos zemiros by Reb Abish Brodt and sons, and yet another delightful shiur given by HaGaon HaRav Fischel Shachter, shlita, Maggid Shiur in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, in his inimitably amusing and thought-provoking style.
“The respect that a wife and children have for a husband and father, who commits to the full learning schedule that is required in order to undertake the responsibility of the monthly Dirshu tests, is not to be believed . . . it’s pashut not shayich!” Rav Shachter gave numerous examples of stories he’d heard firsthand of families whose lives had been revolutionized by the introduction of Dirshu in their homes. His trademark warmth, humor and sincerity touched a chord in the heart of everyone sitting in the hall and was the perfect ending to an evening of true inspiration.
While many people did in fact retire for the night after the oneg, the rooms set aside for battei medrash at the DoubleTree Tarrytown Hotel were in fact full, well past 1 a.m., with Yidden shteiging away over their sefarim. Apparently, the official oneg Shabbos had been just the beginning of their evening.
Of course, there were Daf Yomi shiurim before davening on Shabbos morning, delivered by Rav Dovid Hofstedter and Rav Nuta Silber. This was, after all, a Dirshu Shabbos. One participant at Rav Dovid’s Shiur remarked, “I’m filled with such incredible hakaras hatov to Rav Dovid for everything he’s done for me. . . . What better way to show it than by rising early on a Shabbos morning to learn from the man who has changed my life?”
“I learn Rav Dovid’s sefarim as well,” he went on, “and I make sure to repeat his chashuveh Torah chiddushim in his name . . . what better way is there to be mezakeh a fellow Jew . . . and certainly someone to whom I owe so very much!” One could feel the electricity in air as he explained the sugya, quoting extensively from Rishonim and Acharonim, the sounds of his kol Torah filling the early Shabbos morning with beautiful notes of Torah music—an auspicious start to what promised to be another day to remember for life.
The superb voice of Reb Abish Brodt accompanied the assembled throughout the Shabbos. He davened not only Kabbalas Shabbos but Shacharis and Rosh Chodesh bentching as well, with his talented children backing him up throughout.
After Mussaf it was time for another Dirshu highlight, as HaGaon HaRav Berel Povarsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Ponovezh, who had flown in from Eretz Yisrael especially for the occasion, rose to speak. The Ponovezher Rosh Yeshivah gave a lomdisheh shiur on the intricate details of the sugya of kinyanei kiddushin, into which he interwove a new yesod on kinyanei eirusin and nisuin that inspired his listeners to begin an excited debate in the way of milchamtah shel Torah. It was a legendary moment in the Torah world, as Rav Povarsky delivered his masterful shiur flanked by Rav Yeruchim Olshin, shlita, Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, the Skverer Dayan, shlita, and Rav Yitzchak Sorotzkin, shlita.
It was a true chaburah, with the Gedolim as full participants! Rav Reuven quoted at length from the psak of his father, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l on the monetary worth of a kesubah, the Skverer Dayan had plenty to add, and Rav Berel tied it all together with true gadlus.
“It wasn’t just a shiur,” was how one listener put it. “The Rosh Yeshivah gave it over with such geshmak, you could eat it up . . . so amazing, so delicious, we wanted to make Kiddush on it!”
Listeners described the shiur as one from a bygone era, the kind of shiur that had been delivered by legendary Rashei Yeshivah of yesteryear, where questions are posed and an answer is given with a single yesod that causes everything to fall beautifully into place . . .
Rav Berel himself obviously felt the extraordinary emotions running through the air, exclaiming excitedly on motzaei Shabbos that “this was the most beautiful Shabbos I’ve have ever had in my life!”
The Shabbos morning seudah was characterized by a warmth that spread to every single participant, making everyone so happy and thankful to have been able to make the trip to Tarrytown for this Shabbos event. It was felt by the spontaneous dancing that broke out through the dining room at both the morning and afternoon seudos and by the achdus that surged among everyone there, no matter what his affiliation, age or nusach. So many people from so many communities throughout the United States and even from Eretz Yisrael had come to be a part of Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah. There were Yidden from all over New York, from Chicago and Baltimore, from Philadelphia and Toronto, from Lakewood and Montreal, from Teaneck and elsewhere; a crowd so diverse yet so alike. With a brief glimpse just below the surface, the common bonds were visible for all to see.
HaRav Moshe Pruzansky, shlita, who has been part of Dirshu for many years and is Rosh Chaburah of the Dirshu chaburah in Beth Medrash Govoha, was one of the speakers at the morning seudah. He quoted the famous medrash rabbah that describes the shiur Rabi Akiva was giving to his talmidim, who were having trouble staying awake. Rabi Akiva challenged his students with a question that was somewhat out of the box in order to rouse them.
“In what merit did Esther Hamalkah rule over 127 countries?”
In answer to his own question, Rabi Akiva then said, “Because of Sarah Imeinu, who lived for 127 years.”
Rav Pruzansky found this midrash difficult.
“Had Sarah Imeinu lived only half the time she did, would that have cut down on the amount of countries over which Esther Hamalkah ruled?”
“No doubt,” he explained, “Rabi Akiva was referring to an entirely different concept. When the Torah states that Sarah Imeinu lived for 127 years, and that they were good years, even though we know that Sarah Imeinu’s life was a difficult one, it means that Sarah Imeinu utilized her time to the fullest, never wasting a second, never losing a minute—and that’s why her life is considered to have been so good. It was in this zechus, in the merit of knowing the importance of every second, that Esther Hamalkah merited to rule over 127 countries. Time management is the key here—and that’s the gift that Dirshu has brought to our world.”
In another dining hall, HaRav Moshe Schonblum, shlita, Menahel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, was the featured speaker during the morning seudah, his words clearly emerging from the depths of his heart.
“Chazarah and more chazarah and more chazarah,” he exhorted the crowd. “This is the way to acquire the Torah! With tests and constant review, with accountability and responsibility! This is what keeps a person growing and moving in the right direction!”
He then related a personal story. While interviewing for the position of Menahel at Yeshivah Ateret Torah, Rav Moshe had met with HaGaon HaRav Yosef Harari-Raful, shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Torah and one of the guiding spiritual forces of Sephardic Jewry in the United States. “I’ve heard lashon hara about you,” Rav Harari-Raful said to him. Rav Moshe was taken aback. What had the eminent Rav Raful heard about him?
“They told me that you take Dirshu tests on a regular basis . . . such devotion to Torah learning might interfere with running the school and will pull you away from your job . . .”
Rav Moshe waited tensely to see where Rav Harari-Raful was going with this.
“I disagree with them,” Rav Raful told his potential menahel. “I disagree with them. The reason that they claim it makes you unsuitable is the very reason I’m choosing you for the job! L’kach nivcharta—for that very reason, for your wonderful achrayus and dedication to the Torah that you learn. That’s why I want you!”
HaGaon HaRav Zev Smith, shlita, Maggid Shiur for Daf HaYomi and Irgun Shiurei Torah, delivered a comprehensive halachah shiur before Minchah on inyanim relating to electricity in the neiros of Shabbos, the Chanukah menorah and biur chametz. He quoted the famous mishnah in Shabbos that we recite in davening every Friday night: “The mishnah states that a person is supposed to say three things to the members of his household on erev Shabbos: Isartem? Eiravtem? Hadliku es haneir—Did you separate maaser [from the fruits]? Did you take care of the eiruv? [Remember to] light the candles.”
Rav Zev then cited a chiddush found in HaRav Akiva Eiger zt”l: “Notice that the Mishna states ‘Hadliku—light the candles.’ It does not suggest that the husband tell anyone to prepare the lamp, fill it with oil and insert a wick. This is because the husband is obligated to take care of preparing the lamp himself. He may leave for others only the act of kindling the lights. He must do his part to ensure that the Shabbos enters a peaceful home that is ready and waiting for it.”
At Shalosh Seudos
HaGaon HaRav Yeruchim Olshin, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha, who spoke during shalosh seudos, quoted a Ramban that relates how Avraham Avinu returned to Be’er Sheva after Akeidas Yitzchak to give praise to Hashem for the miracles that had been wrought on Har Hamoriah.
“Why did he go specifically to Be’er Sheva to give praise and thanks to Hashem? asks the Ramban. He answers that it is because that’s where Avraham’s eishel was—the place where he’d provided hachnasas orchim to so many people over the years—which made Be’er Sheva the most appropriate place to give thanks to Hashem.”
Rav Olshin then quoted a passuk from Nishmas: “Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongues as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves . . . and our hands spread as wide as eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as deer. . . .”
“Isn’t hodayah—giving praise—something that we do with only our mouths?” Rav Yeruchim wondered. “Why does the passuk include these other elements as well?”
“The most effective hodayah, the most gracious thanks a person can offer Hashem,” the Rosh Yeshivah explained, “is to carry on doing the wonderful things he’s been doing all his life. Avraham Avinu gave thanks to the Ribbono Shel Olam by returning to the place where he had done so much chessed and where he had carried out the ratzon Hashem so beautifully. That’s what made Be’er Sheva the perfect location for offering thanks. He was thanking Hashem by continuing to do the mitzvos he had done for so long! We can give thanks to Hashem with our mouths and our lips and our tongues and our feet and our hands—with every part of our bodies, because every part of us has been involved in serving Him, and we want to thank Hashem by continuing to do our very best with our entire selves.”
What Hat Will
HaGaon HaRav Yitzchak Zalman Gipps, shlita, Rosh Kollel of Tiferes Yaakov Yosef of Spink, was another featured speaker during shalosh seudos.
“We are all familiar with Mashiach’s famous dilemma,” he said. “If he comes to redeem us wearing a Litvisheh hat, what will all the chassidim say? If he walks into Klal Yisrael’s shuls with a streimel perched on his head, what will the proud wearers of spudiks say? If he wears white socks, it won’t be acceptable to those who wear black socks, and vice versa. Poor Mashiach! What’s he to do?”
“The answer is simple,” Rav Yitzchak Zalman explained with a twinkle in his eye. “Mashiach will come down from Shamayim, and the first thing he’ll do is take a Dirshu test. Taking a Dirshu test will, without a doubt, unite Klal Yisrael behind him, to the point that nobody will even bother to look at his hat or socks. Because Dirshu is one of the most effective unifying forces in Klal Yisrael today! Belz, Ger, Vizhnitz, Lakewood, Flatbush, Europe and Eretz Yisrael . . . all brought together by Dirshu and its common goals. And that same power applies when it comes to marriages. Dirshu is the most effective tool for shalom bayis that exists today!”
Rav Gipps then related a personal story about the power of Torah.
“There was a yungerman learning in kollel who hadn’t had children for many years. Someone phoned me asking me to daven for the couple. I decided that I would begin learning four blatt a day, so that they might have the zechus to have a baby. One day I received a call from the Skverer Dayan that the couple was expecting a child, but that there were complications. I thought the matter over until I came to the realization that I had recently stopped making sure to learn four blatt a day in their zechus. It had been difficult for me, and I had begun slacking off. Immediately, I strengthened myself and renewed my commitment to those four blatt a day.”
“Rabbosai,” Rav Gipps said, speaking with great emotion, “the day that I took the Dirshu test on those 120 blatt that I had been learning in this couple’s merit was the day that my phone rang and I was informed that their child had just been born! That’s the power of Dirshu!” v