When I told my friends I was being sent to Paris to cover the Dirshu Daf HaYomi B’Halacha, Mishnah Berurah siyum - I saw a certain look crossing every face. How should I put this delicately? They were afraid.
“Are you sure it’s safe,” they wanted to know.
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m going from the airport to the convention center and back to the airport.”
“Okay,” they said, somewhat mollified. “As long as it’s safe.”
rtainly I had a chavrusah for an hour but it was just learning without heart. Then I discovered Dirshu. Now I am learning an average of 6 hours a day Gemara and I am planning on adding Daf HaYomi B’Halacha.” Rav Yissocher Frand, inimitably and succinctly exclaimed, “Dirshu has taught us not only that you have to learn, but that you have to know!”
As these words are being written, tens of thousands have undertaken to learn halacha and to know halacha! That is why Rav Shteinman and the Gedolim came. That is why DirshWelcome to Paris 2015.
The city of lights has become a hotbed of Islamic terrorism that is manifested in oh-so-many-ways. The Jews of France no longer feel welcome in their own city. As a child recently asked his mother upon catching sight of an obviously Jewish man walking through a hostile Parisian arrondissement – “what’s he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know that he will be killed?”
Matters came to a head recently with the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, followed by the shocking attack and subsequent day long siege on the Hyper Cacher Kosher Supermarket in which four Jews were senselessly murdered. It seemed like Europe was standing poised on the cusp of disaster. And then more than three million people took to the streets in a spontaneous display of outrage.
Suddenly everyone was Charlie.
Yet though the outrage was properly displayed when it came to fighting for freedom of speech, one couldn’t claim the same regarding the terrorist attack on Paris’s Jews. Everyone might have been Charlie. But it was equally as obvious, that not everyone was Je Suis Hyper Cacher.
It was against this dramatically frightening backdrop that the Jews of Paris were gathering to celebrate Torah learning and all it represents in their lives.
Welcome to Paris 2015.
The dais at the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha siyum was filled with a rare assortment of rabbonim from France and abroad. It’s always nice to see a familiar face and that’s especially true when on foreign soil. It was thus doubly enjoyable seeing the inimitable Rabbi Paysach Krohn standing on a French stage and speaking in Ivrit to an appreciative audience. Though his inspiring words were translated into French, his warmth, charisma and authentic emotion needed no translation.
Rabbi Krohn related how Rav Yosef Karo and the Rema – Rav Moshe Isserles – were close friends who used to correspond with one another on a regular basis. On one occasion, Rav Yosef Karo wrote his friend that he had just concluded his seminal work - the Shulchan Aruch. When the Rema read his friend’s good news, he almost passed out...... He too had been working on a “Shulchan Aruch,” and here his friend, had beat him to it.
Someone else,” said Rabbi Krohn, “might have said, ‘so what if Rav Yosef Karo wrote the Shulchan Aruch. I can also write a Shulchan Aruch! Rav Yosef is a Sephardi Jew and I am an Ashkenazi. His version will be studied by the Jews in Morocco, Syria and Yemen and my version will be learned in Poland, Russia and Germany. Why should I step aside for my friend?’
But the Rema didn’t say that. Instead he made the courageous decision to merge the two versions of Shulchan Aruch into one phenomenal work that would be studied by all of Klal Yisroel, ensuring Achdus – Unity, instead of division.
Dirshu,” explained an emotional Rabbi Krohn, “can be summed up by the word “Achdus.” Because Dirshu unites all the Jewish people under one umbrella of Torah study.”
Rabbi Krohn shared many beautiful insights with his audience. Near the end of his speech, he related the following personal anecdote.
“My three year old grandson spent the seder at my house,” he began. “Being three, he couldn’t sit still and kept on running from the kitchen to the living room and back. When we reached the section of the Hagada that starts with the words “V’hi Sheumda,” he approached me and asked if he could sit on my lap (like there was a question.)
I lifted my grandson up with one hand and held the cup of wine in the other. I sang and cried (here Rabbi Krohn’s voice broke) as I recited the ancient words of the Pesach Hagada…. “In every generation, not one, but many enemies - have risen up against us, yet G-d saves us from their hands time and again….”
I thought of all the Jews who have died throughout the generations and how the pain just never seems to finish!”
The room was silent, the crowd utterly captivated by Rabbi Krohn’s honest emotion.
“After the seder,” he continued, “I opened a few seforim to research the message of “V’hi Sheumda” and I saw the following.
“In every generation not one, but many rise up against us…..” - if the Jewish nation doesn’t retain their connection with G-d Above who is one - then we will be destroyed. More than anything, we need to keep our connection with the One G-d,” he entreated his listeners.
Rabbi Krohn ended his speech by exhorting his listeners to follow the “golden path” and to study Jewish law with a focus on the first section of Shulchan Aruch.
When the siyum was made, the crowd broke out into spirited dancing. I have covered many Dirshu events, but there was something special about this French crowd. Maybe it was the rarity of seeing so many rabbinical figures on one stage, maybe it was the timing of the event, but whatever it was, it was clear that the religious Jews of Paris were drinking it all in thirstily. They crowded the stage, dancing with abandon while recording the events in real time.
And they sang…. loud enough to be heard above the music!
The area in front of the stage was filled with people who had left their seats and a French Jew grabbed my hand and we broke into a circle – dancing like we were on fire, like the very room was on fire! A giant circle broke out, as the stands emptied, and the band played like no tomorrow.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu, addressed the gathering, thanking them for coming to the first siyum on Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. He translated his own words into French, thereby instantly connecting with the audience.
“In the last few months we have felt a global awakening of anti Semitism. We are shaken and shocked by what happened here in Paris. May Hashem protect us all!
But what do all these tragedies tell us? What’s the message for every one of us?”
Rav Dovid explained with his trademark clarity.
“The message is that Hashem is with us and we need not fear! Hashem is the one fighting the wars and not our armies or strength. We need to draw closer to Him. Especially at times like these!
It’s a difficult situation. We have no prophets to tell us what Hashem wants from us. How then are we supposed to know what to do?
He then quoted the Chofetz Chaim who explains that fire, wind and water are the personal messengers of Hashem and that he sends them to us with His message and reminder when he wants us to repent. They are the prophets – and the ones exhorting us to do teshuva.
Hashem is calling to us through fire, wind and water!!
Rav Dovid spoke at length from his heart, and you could tell that he meant every word. You could feel the innate love that he possesses for every single Jew as he begged the audience to join Dirshu for the start of the new Halacha cycle and concluded by bestowing his heartfelt blessings on everyone there.
What a night it was!
And what an atmosphere filled the hall in Les Docks de Paris!
A sense of being surrounded by the finest of French Jews – and a sense of pride in their ability to live life as Torah Jews in a time of such uncertainty.
The crowd was excited by what they had accomplished over the past seven years of daily learning, while ambitiously contemplating future Torah study. They were united against the background of the worrisome political situation and the growing danger in the streets. These were Jews who cried for their brethren when four fellow Jews were laid to rest – murdered on the Sabbath eve for the crime of being Jews. And now they had gathered to express their belief in G-d and their readiness to study His laws.
They were eager, jubilant and filled with a sense of mission.
I heard many words and messages. Powerful speeches and touching stories. And as I looked around Les Docks de Paris, I knew that the evening’s message would resound within my heart for days to come, as I recalled a convention center in Paris filled with Jews proudly proclaiming their readiness to stand up for what they knew to be true.
The gathering was poignant, authentic, genuine and emotional, its message triumphant.
“Je suis Dirshu.”
“Je suis proud Jews of France.”
And perhaps most importantly “Je suis Torah.”
Welcome to Paris 2015 – where the battle’s being fought with graceful perseverance, a link to eternity and a refusal to surrender.
Rabbi Nachman Seltzer
Les Docks de Paris