April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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A ‘Shabbos of Kodesh HaKodashim’ at Dirshu’s 20th Anniversary International Convention

It was shalosh seudos at the Dirshu Convention and HaGaon HaRav Dovid Schustal, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, was delivering the final address as Shabbos was leaving. “What I saw this Shabbos was kodesh hakodashim! Such a tzibur of special Yidden with their families! Such a tzibur with remarkable hasagos in Torah! Truthfully, I must thank Dirshu for persisting in asking me to come. It was a zechus to spend Shabbos with such Yidden.”

Indeed, the Dirshu International Convention, held on Shabbos Parshas Shemos at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, was all about celebrating the accomplishments of the lomdei Torah, the heroes of Torah and their wives who comprise the extended “Mishpachas Dirshu.” Gedolei Yisroel representing the entire cross-section of Torah Jewry joined in the celebration, displaying their deep admiration for the lomdei Torah.

Let us walk through the convention highlights from its inception on Friday afternoon through Sunday when the lomdei Torah returned home suffused with chizuk to not only continue what they were doing but adding to it as well.

Although the majority of participants were from the tri-state area, there was significant participation from locales across America and Canada as well as a distinguished international presence with a delegation from Eretz Yisrael, England and France.

There was a deeply inspiring women’s program throughout the Shabbos featuring shiurim and divrei chizuk on myriad topics. There was a shiur on practical daily halachos delivered by Rav Zev Hofstedter. Other speakers who addressed the women multiple times throughout the Shabbos included Rebbetzin Shlomtzy Weiss, Mrs. Debbie Selengut and Mrs. Rochel Goldbaum. A number of Dirshu wives also gave moving testimonials about what being part of Dirshu had done for them and their families.

 

HaGaon HaRav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, rosh yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Staten Island, was introduced by his talmid, Rabbi Gabi Fried. Rav Reuven delineated how the Torah repeatedly tells us that we perform mitzvos zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim, as a memorial of the exodus of Egypt. The wording, however, should be “mi’Mitzrayim, from Egypt.” The Rosh Yeshiva explained we are essentially saying that the mitzvos are here to remind us to remove every iota of Egypt, of the culture of Mitzrayim and its excessive materialism, from ourselves. Our task is to refine ourselves. This refinement comes as a result of limud haTorah.

 

After an wonderfully inspiring Kabbalas Shabbos, HaRav Shaul Pinter, rosh chabura of the Dirshu Amud Yomi Kollel in Lakewood, introduced the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Mesivta of Lakewood.

Rav Sorotzkin gave a riveting address that encapsulated what he felt was the unique chidush of Dirshu. “There are many chidushim in Dirshu and many maalos that learning in the Dirshu programs offer, but I think the overarching quality of Dirshu is the concept of ol Torah. Dirshu was mechadesh that a person is never ‘off.’ Day in, day out, no matter what is transpiring in his life, he has the ol Torah. Every day he must learn anew and every day he must review what he previously learned.

Following Maariv, the assemblage gathered for the Shabbos seudah. In the men’s dining room, a drasha was given by HaGaon HaRav Dovid Schustal, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood. He was introduced by Rav Nuta Silber, a Daf HaYomi B’Halacha maggid shiur. In the couples’ dining room, HaRav Yonasan Abraham, shlita, a member of the London beis din and rav of the Toras Chaim Shul in Hendon, North West London, was introduced by Rav Naftali Levy, director of Dirshu France. The Terrace couples’ dining room was addressed by HaRav Chaim Weg, shlita, a Daf HaYomi B’Halacha maggid shiur.

 

After the seudah, the massive crowd returned to the tent where a fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable shailos and teshuvos session was held with the Skverer dayan of Boro Park, HaGaon HaRav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz, shlita, and moderated by Rav Eliezer Ralbag. Rav Steinmetz was first introduced by HaGaon Dayan Binyomin Eckstein, shlita, Belzer dayan of London and yoshev rosh of Dirshu Europe.

Following Rav Steinmetz, a beautiful oneg Shabbos replete with warm niggunim was held. The guest speaker, HaGaon HaRav Dovid Olewski, shlita, rosh yeshivas Ger, was introduced by Reb Shaya Brauner. Rav Dovid Olewski cited the pasuk “Gedolim maaseh Hashem, dirushim l’chol cheftzeihem—Great are the deeds of Hashem, accessible to all who want them.” Rav Olewski said, “Hashem’s deeds are great, they are so exalted they are beyond us. Every Yid, however, who seeks Him out, who is truly doresh, who truly desires to access Him, can do so. That is the phenomenal power of Dirshu and lomdei Dirshu. It is a program that enables Yidden to access Hashem, to become close to Him and to attach themselves to Him.”

 

Morning dawned, and before Shacharis the rooms and lobby areas of the hotel were full of lomdei Torah “chapping arein” that day’s limud and chazarah.

A Daf HaYomi in-depth iyun shiur was delivered by Rav Dovid Hofstedter, nasi Dirshu. Rav Hofstedter’s shiur, covering Gemara, Rashi, Tosafos and the primary Rishonim and Acharonim, was well received as could be seen by the spirited debate on the sugya that ensued following the shiur.

One of the highlights of Shabbos transpired with the shiur klali delivered by Rav Berel Povarsky. Rav Berel was introduced by Reb Shimshon Klein, a long-time Dirshu learner.

Rav Berel began by saying that although he is primarily accustomed to delivering shiurim in yeshiva, here it is no different because “Dirshu is also a yeshiva, the biggest yeshiva in the entire world!”

Observing the simchas haTorah as Rav Berel gave the shiur was to see true simcha. The sight of the great roshei yeshiva who participated in the shiur along with so many rabbonim sitting and listening with bated breath, asking questions and participating in the ensuing rischa d’Oraisah, fiery Torah debate—with Rav Berel presiding over the shiur like a master conductor of the most harmonious Torah symphony—was a sight that left the entire assemblage energized with simchas haTorah.

The shiur was also a microcosm of Dirshu achdus. Litvishe roshei yeshivos, chasidishe rabbonim, bnei yeshiva, chasidim from many different communities, Sephardim, Ashkenazim… all listening, asking, debating with Rav Berel.

 

Following the shiur, HaGaon HaRav Yehoshua Fuhrer, shlita, spoke at the morning seudah in the men’s dining room. In the couples’ dining room, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Mordechai Lowy, shlita, rav of Agudas Yisroel of Toronto, was introduced by Rabbi Yossi Abramczyk, Dirshu’s Montreal coordinator. The Terrace couples’ dining room was addressed by HaRav Shlomo Cynamon, rav of Kehal Bnei Torah and rosh kollel Dirshu of Flatbush.

 

One of the most moving moments at the convention transpired at Shabbos Mincha. During the Shabbos morning tefillah, aliyos were given to the attending gedolei Yisrael. Only one aliyah was “sold” over Shabbos, shlishi at Shabbos Mincha. That aliyah was not sold for money, however, because the only “legal tender” for lomdei Dirshu is Torah!

The bidding started: 1,000 blatt, 2,000… Furious bidding ensued until finally, after some 20 minutes, the aliyah was sold for a whopping 10,000 blatt Gemara to be learned by this time next year. 10,000 blatt by one person! The person then presented the aliyah to Dirshu’s nasi, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, as hakaras hatov for the transformation his life underwent as a result of joining the Kinyan Shas learning program.

Indeed, during his remarks at shalosh seudos, Rav Schustal, his voice suffused with emotion, related, “Who would believe that a person could be mekabel on himself to learn 10,000 blatt in one year?! This is the koach of Dirshu. It is a zechus to be together with such Yidden!”

 

Shalosh seudos was a fitting inspirational culmination to a Shabbos full of hergesh. Dirshu’s American director, Rabbi Ahron Gobioff, chaired the event and paid tribute to the love of Torah of lomdei Dirshu.

HaRav Yitzchok Zalman Gips, shlita, rosh yeshivas Nehardaah and rav of Kehal Birchas Avrohom in Boro Park, began his speech by saying, “I am sorry. I am not prepared. I simply didn’t have time to prepare. I have a large family, a yeshiva, a shul. There just wasn’t time. If you will rightfully ask, didn’t Dirshu invite you to speak several months ago? How can you say you are not prepared? I have no answer, other than I couldn’t find the time.” Only when Rav Gips began his nimshal did the assemblage realize that his claim of lack of preparedness was only a mashal. Rav Gips pivoted, saying, “We all know that after 70 years of life—hopefully a bit more—we will be called to the beis din shel maalah for the great farher. They will ask us, ‘What did you learn?’ What will we answer? ‘I was busy. I had a large family to feed, I had all kinds of tirdos, I simply couldn’t learn.’ They will retort, ‘Is that an answer? You knew you would be tested one day. You had years to prepare!’ Nevertheless,” Rav Gips explained, “the pace of our lives, raising our children, earning our parnassah and myriad social obligations make it so hard to learn. What Dirshu does is enable us to find the time that we don’t have. It gives us a misgeres wherein we can learn Torah and know Torah. Dirshu takes away the excuses!”

 

HaRav Zev Smith, shlita, maggid shiur Dirshu Daf HaYomi B’Halacha and Irgun Shiurei Torah, said, “It has never been easier to learn in our generation and simultaneously it has never been harder! Yes, there are so many opportunities, so many shiurim, so many ways to tap into the power of limud haTorah, but there are also so many distractions, so many enticements that can bring a person down. What Dirshu does is enables us to not be distracted and avail ourselves of the opportunities to learn. It is the antidote to the nisyonos of our generation.”

 

HaRav Dovid Schustal gave the final address at shalosh seudos. He said, “One of the beautiful things about our generation is the hisorerus in learning Daf Yomi. It is wonderful that so many Yidden learn Daf Yomi. Nevertheless, we must understand that when Rav Meir Shapiro instituted the Daf Yomi, his intention was not that one should be ‘yotzeh’ with a short, superficial shiur, without chazara. What Dirshu has done is that it has elevated Daf Yomi to becoming once again—to paraphrase the Rambam when referring to Talmud Bavli written in Aramaic—‘the bread and meat’ of Torah learning. Dirshu makes baalei batim into kollel yungeleit. Rav Dovid Hofstedter has changed the world through the Dirshu programs.”

Following havdalah, concurrent events were held. HaRav Usher Anshel Eckstein, shlita, Belzer dayan, gave a shiur on kashrus and there were two roundtable discussions for Daf HaYomi magidei shiur, one in Yiddish led by Reb Chaim Bauer and Reb Nechemia Bluzenshtein, and one in English led by HaRav Asher Eisenberger, rav of Agudas Yisroel of Detroit. There was also a fascinating, intimate question-and-answer session with three prominent American roshei yeshiva.

A climactic culmination was the melave malka siyum on Masechta Bava Metzia, where some 2,000 people attended.

Before introducing HaRav Shmuel Choueka, rav of Congregation Ohel Simcha of Deal, Rabbi Ari Seidenfeld, a rosh chaburah from Lakewood, opened the evening, noting that this year was Dirshu’s 20th anniversary and highlighting Dirshu’s myriad programs and its impact on the entire klal Yisrael the world over in the past 20 years.

Rav Choueka explained how the Daf HaYomi B’halacha program not only enhances observance of halacha, but the myriad details in the Mishnah Berurah with the biurim and musafim in the Dirshu Mishnah Berurah also enhance one’s yiras shomayim!

Rav Berel Povarsky was then called upon to say the Hadran of Masechta Bava Metzia. In his remarks preceding the Hadran, Rav Povarsky exclaimed, “Dirshu was mechadesh that a person doesn’t just have set sedorim. Rather, his whole day is full of chapping arein another bit of Torah learning.”

The Kaddish following the Hadran was recited by HaRav Moshe Mordechai Lowy, after which the hall immediately exploded in simcha-filled dancing in celebration of the siyum. To watch the venerated gedolim on the dais linking arms as they danced in honor of the Torah was truly moving.

 

Rav Dovid Hofstedter cited the well-known midrash that when the time came to redeem Bnei Yisrael from Mitzrayim they did not have mitzvos. Hashem therefore gave them the mitzvah of korban Pesach and bris milah. Rav Hofstedter asked, “They had no mitzvos? The Gemara says, “In the merit of righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt. The midrash also teaches that we were redeemed because we did not change our language, our names, we didn’t speak lashon hara and we did not transgress the prohibition of arayos. How can we say that they had no mitzvos?”

Rav Dovid answered by quoting the Midrash on the pasuk “The world was filled with them, (Shemos 1:7).” “The world was filled with theaters and circuses. The Shevet Sofer explains that the Jewish people became influenced by the culture of Mitzrayim. They enjoyed the Egyptian holidays, danced with them and mixed with the goyim…

“Thus, the only way to extricate themselves from the culture of Mitzrayim was with mesiras nefesh, with blood—blood of milah and blood of Pesach—real mesiras nefesh.”

Rav Hofstedter continued, “Our generation has so many zechusim! Look at the beautiful edifices of Torah that we have built on the ashes of the Holocaust. It is unprecedented. We have righteous women who are moser nefesh for Torah and who raise wonderful families. We have such chesed.

“Still, perhaps in our generation we too have been inundated with goyish culture. We have ads in our publications for a Rosh Hashanah overlooking a beach. Yes, we go to kivrei tzaddikim for brachos oversees, we go to Eretz Yisrael for the Yamim Noraim, but during the trip are we viewing things we shouldn’t? How can we access bracha if en route we are immersed in the tumah of Mitzrayim?

“Yes, we have zechusim, but to be an oveid Hashem requires tochen pnimi. To think that with a 30- or 40-minute superficial seder or a five-minute daily dose we are yotzeh and then we are done?!

“We are not American society. We are not a nation obsessed with acquiring material possessions. We are not a nation of jealousy, of greed, with a superficial veneer. We are the am hanivchar. We are the mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh!”

Rav Hofstedter then introduced what can be an antidote to the superficial host culture that has infiltrated even the most sheltered of our communities. “Therefore, morai v’rabosai, achai vera’ei, it is our zechus to present a new program, entitled Kinyan Chochma, a daily limud of mussar and hadracha culled from various mussar seforim, Tomer Devorah, Orchos Chaim l’Harosh, Orchos Tzaddikim and others…”

Sample editions of the Kinyan Chochma kuntres were distributed so that lomdim can begin learning it daily and be tested monthly.

 

After a beautiful audiovisual presentation highlighting the last 20 years of the Dirshu revolution, Dayan Yonason Abraham was introduced. He said, “If there is one enduring message that encapsulates the Shabbos it is that I feel humbled by being in the presence of the bnei aliyah here. For me, this Shabbos has been an absolutely shattering experience. Rav Abraham exclaimed, “If I can borrow a number of political campaign phrases, it is that Dirshu says, ‘Yes We Can!’ ‘Torah First! Right Here, Right Now!’ Rav Choueka said earlier, “Let’s Make Torah Great Again! It is not an empty slogan. That is Dirshu’s mission!”

 

The final drasha of the evening was given by HaRav Binyomin Eisenberger, shlita, rav of Kehal Heichal Tefillah. In a commanding speech that addressed some of the difficulties facing our generation, he said, “There was a time when people looked at the news once a day. They got their daily paper and that was it. Today, people need fresh news every minute. This constant desire for change, for something new, creates a tremendous bilbul hadaas—confusion. After a Shabbos Dirshu we see that Dirshu embodies kevius. You reside in the world where everything is a great bilbul but it doesn’t affect you. You have your kevius, your seder, your blatt Gemara, your daf of Mishnah Berurah…”

Following bentching, the entire hall erupted in song and dance as the tables were moved and the simchas haTorah pulsated. It was well after 1:00 a.m., but one wouldn’t have known from the enthusiasm, the pace and the simcha that suffused the countenances of the participants.

A Daf Yomi shiur was given on Sunday morning by Rabbi Ari Hofstedter. Following breakfast, a fascinating shailos and teshuvos session with Rav Berel Povarsky was moderated by Rav Shlomo Cynamon.

Then it was time to leave. As they purposefully exited the hotel you saw that they were on a mission, a mission to learn, to chazer and perhaps add one more program to their daily schedule. That is what Dirshu does.

By Chaim Gold

 

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