By Chaim Gold
“In today’s world, everyone is running around helter-skelter. You lomdei Dirshu have it right! You are running every morning to learn Torah. It is simply mind-boggling to see a group of more than 70 ba’alei batim coming together each morning and now making a siyum on the entire Seder Moed!”
Those were the heartfelt words of Rav Aharon Feldman, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael of Baltimore at a unique siyum held last Sunday, 19 Elul/September 14 at the Shaarei Zion shul in Baltimore.
The Dirshu Kollel in Baltimore is one of Dirshu’s largest ba’alei batim kollelim, comprising more than 75 people who come each morning at 5:50 a.m. to learn an amud of Gemara with a chavrusa. “It is like a mini-yeshiva of ba’alei batim. Upon entering the Mesivta of Baltimore, where the kollel meets, one hears a thundering kol Torah. It is the largest gathering in America of lomdei Torah in one place at that time of the morning,” says Reb Daniel Ely, the kollel’s indefatigable coordinator. “It is a large group, but we feel as close as family,” continues Rabbi Ely.
The kollel, which began in 2004, has been learning an amud a day ever since. Monthly tests on the material learned are taken by many of the participants. Thus, with Dirshu’s classic accountability, ba’alei batim who spend a large part of their day working are still able to achieve great accomplishments in limud haTorah. Rav Aharon Feldman highlighted the fact that this group have remained bnei yeshiva, despite pursuing varied careers during the day. “What defines them is their love of Torah that they absorbed in yeshiva. That love of Torah carries over into their lives.”
The event began with a siyum made by the rosh kollel, Rav Shalom Weingot, a prominent mechanech in Baltimore. After the siyum, the entire assemblage erupted into an enthusiastic dance together with the president of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who came especially to take part in the siyum.
Rav Hofstedter pointed out, “To have a group of more than 75 ba’alei batim coming together every morning, before davening, for years, who then make a siyum on the entire Seder Moed with tests—has never been done. It is truly a historic accomplishment!” exclaimed Rav Hofstedter.
Rav Hofstedter related that once upon a time in America, ba’alei batim who were koveia ittim l’Torah were not the norm. “Decades ago, my father, shlita, a Holocaust survivor who rebuilt everything from scratch, began a pre-Shacharis learning seder in his shul. There were many who ridiculed him: ‘You are spending time on a working day learning Torah?’ Setting aside time to learn was not understood back then, and now look at what we have. Seventy-five people coming every day before Shacharis to learn with accountability and culminating in this wonderful siyum on an entire seder. Just amazing!”
Rav Hofstedter went on to ask, “There is so much Torah being learned in the world. Why, then, has Mashiach not yet arrived? Furthermore, when we look at the difficulties that Klal Yisrael has experienced over the past months it gives us pause. The vaunted Israeli army fought in a stalemate with a band of terrorists. According to teva, nature, they should have easily won. However, as we see from the Ramban in Parashas Shoftim, we should not rely on our strength and the prowess of our army but rather do teshuvah, trust in Hashem’s salvation, and realize that Hashem does not want our strength. He wants us to fear Him and hope for His chesed.”
To answer the above questions, Rav Hofstedter quoted the Ramban in this week’s parashah. In speaking about the final geulah, the Ramban writes, “[It will arrive] when the Bnei Yisrael will return to Hashem with all their hearts and souls and accept upon themselves and their future generations to do what I have commanded them” (Devarim 30:2).
The Ramban is teaching us that we have to accept Hashem’s commandments upon ourselves. But how can we even know what Hashem’s commandments are if we do not regularly learn halachah l’ma’aseh?
While Rav Hofstedter hailed the phenomenal accomplishment of finishing Seder Moed, he called on the assemblage and all Yidden to also take upon themselves an accountable daily seder in halachah such as Dirshu’s daf hayomi b’halachah. “Adding a daily seder in halachah l’ma’aseh is the key to great berachah and yeshuah. The Gerer Rebbe, shlita, recently told me that a person must learn and know Mishnah Berurah just to be able to live like a Yid according to halachah.” Now, when the program’s scheduled learning is the halachos of Sukkos, it is an especially auspicious time to join.
The Baltimore siyum was attended by nearly 100 men and 70 women, who reveled in their husbands’ accomplishments. A window into the importance of the siyum could also be gleaned from the prestigious guests. In addition to the rosh yeshiva, Rav Feldman, numerous local rabbanim were in attendance, including Rav Yosef Berger, Rav Eichenstein, Rav Mordechai Frankel, Rav Moshe Hauer, Rav Yaakov Hopfer, Rav Nesanel Kostelitz, Rav Jonathan Seideman, and Rav Tzvi Weiss.
The last speaker was Rav Zvi Dov Slanger, shlita, rosh yeshiva of the Mesivta of Baltimore. Rav Slanger, who is one of Baltimore’s most venerated rabbanim, a survivor of the Holocaust, and subsequently one of the early talmidim of the Ponovezh and Slabodka yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael, commented, “The famed mashgiach Rav Elya Lopian would arise early to learn every morning. He explained that the first se’if in the Shulchan Aruch enjoins us to wake up early before the day starts. After 120 years when they ask me if I kept the Shulchan Aruch, I don’t want to strike out on the very first se’if!”
As the crowd dispersed, there was a rushed sense of purpose. One misayem explained, “I have to get to sleep so I can be at the Dirshu kollel at 5:50 a.m. We are starting Seder Nezikin. Dirshu never stops. Come visit in the pre-sunrise darkness and the resounding kol Torah will be music to your ears.” v