April 23, 2024
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World Siyum in Belarus Highlights The Eternity of Torah and Klal Yisrael

“I looked at the orchestra and had to rub my eyes. Was I dreaming? We were in the middle of a festive Siyum HaShas and the orchestra playing lively Yiddishe niggunim was the orchestra of the Police Academy of Minsk, Belarus! Yes, just a few decades ago, those same policemen were persecuting Jews for learning Torah and possibly sending them to Siberia for their horribly counter-revolutionary activity of teaching Jews Torah and today? They were the musicians playing ‘Toras Hashem Temimah’ and ‘Siman Tov U’mazel Tov’ at our Siyum HaShas!”

Those were the thoughts of Rabbi Moshe Fhima, the local Menahel of Mosdos Yad Yisroel, cheder, yeshiva and kollel, in Belarus after participating in the Dirshu World Siyum this past Thursday 23 Adar/March 19. The siyum, the largest Torah gathering ever held in Minsk Region since the Holocaust, kicked off an entire Shabbos of chizuk for lomdei Torah under the auspices of Dirshu and Mosdos Yad Yisroel.

Readers may be asking, “What is going on? We are in the middle of an epidemic? How were they able to make a siyum?!” The answer is that, amazingly officially there is no coronavirus in Belarus. All schools and shuls are open, there are no laws implementing social distancing and at this juncture it is one of the only places in the world that has been spared. Nevertheless, even at the festive occasion of a Siyum HaShas, many sanitary precautions were put in place to ensure maximum safety for all participants.

The Siyum HaShas in the Minsk region was the last siyum culminating the winter of World Siyumim held around the world. Perhaps it is especially appropriate that this should be the last venue for a siyum in keeping with the worlds of Chazal, ‘acharon acharon choviv’. After all, Belarus, was once a region home to some of the greatest Torah centers in pre-war Europe such as Radin, Mir, Kletzk, Novardok and Baranovich, to name a few. It was also the cradle of the nascent Chassidic movement and until the war was the epicenter of Karlin-Stolin Chassidus. Then Communism came and the centers of Torah and Chassidus were shuttered as the poor Jews were subject to many decades of a gezeiras hashmad.

Now, before our eyes, the entire region is undergoing a rejuvenation of Yiddishkeit. Rav Fhima has established a cheder, yeshiva and a kollel for the throngs of Yidden returning to their heritage and, in these mosdos, the Daf HaYomi is once again being learned in an unprecedented manner. In fact, Reb Moshe told this writer that participation in the Daf HaYomi has tripled since the beginning of the new machzor!

The siyum and the Shabbos of Chizuk held on Shabbos Parshas Vayakhel Pikudei at the Chaika Resort near Minsk was a Torah event that Belarus Jewry had never experienced. “The achdus, the inspiration for continued dedication to Torah is something I never before saw in this country,” said Reb Moshe.

Reb Moshe Fhima was honored with delivering the Hadran and making the Siyum HaShas. Originally the siyum was to feature two world renowned guests from Eretz Yisrael, HaGaon HaRav Nisson Kaplan, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Daas Aharon, and HaGaon HaRav Chizkyahu Yosef Mishkovsky, shlita, Menahel Ruchani of Yeshiva Orchos Torah. The Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, was also slated to come. Due to the worldwide shutdown, they were unable to participate.

That did not, however, diminish the simcha.

One of the most poignant highlights of the program was the siyum on Masechta Sukka by fifteen-year old Yisroel Meir Burak. Who is Yisroel Meir Burak and what is so special about him?

Five years ago, in the month of Elul, 2015, this writer wrote about a remarkable bris that took place at the Radin Yeshiva on the yahrzeit of the Chofetz Chaim. On that day, Dirshu held a special yom limud and tefillah at the kever of the Chofetz Chaim on his yahrzeit. On that morning, during Shacharis, a unique bris mila took place. The then eleven-year old boy who underwent a bris was a boy named Igor Burak. Igor had been born and raised in Pinsk by Jewish parents who knew absolutely nothing about Yiddishkeit. Somehow, he made the acquaintance of Rav Moshe Fhima and, through Yad Yisroel, became closer to Yiddishkeit and joined the Karlin-Stoliner Yeshiva in Pinsk. Reb Moshe brought him to Radin where several Gedolei Yisrael, led by HaGaonim HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein, HaRav Shimon Galei and HaRav Chizkiyahu Yosef Mishkovsky, shlita, had gathered. Rav Dovid Hofstedter was honored as sandek. Now this same Yisroel Meir was making a siyum on Masechta Sukka that he had learned by heart!! The power of ‘Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker’ could be felt in the room!

One of the main speakers at the event was Rav Mordechai Reichenstein, Chief Rabbi of Belarus. Rav Reichenstein’s story is tremendously compelling. Born in Belarus, he embarked on the path of teshuva that eventually brought him to Yeshiva Aish HaTorah and then he returned to his native country to bring yiddishkeit back to them.

Another highlight was the drasha delivered remotely but live by Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who participated from his home in Toronto.

Rav Hofstedter cited a Medrash Tanchuma that: Hashem said to Moshe, “They shall make a Mishkan for Me, and I shall dwell among them” (ibid. 25:8), so that all the nations shall know that they have been forgiven for the sin of the golden calf. This is why it is called ‘the Mishkan of Testimony,’ for it bears witness for all the people of the world to the fact that Hashem dwells in their Sanctuary.

Rav Hofstedter said with great emotion, “For so many decades, Pinsk, Minsk and the entire Belarus has been a desolate midbar of ruchniyus. Now Hashem has shown His tremendous love for His children in this previously forsaken land, returning His Mishkon, his Shechina to Pinsk, Minsk and the entire region. Today, we have witnessed a renewed kabbolas haTorah in this region with Torah restored to its previous dwelling place.”

It was a profound, moving event that ended off the Thursday night siyum. A Yid named Rav Nachman Blau, a shaliach from Eretz Yisroel who is a rebbi in the Stoliner Yeshiva in Pinsk, had moved together with his Rebbetzin and family to Pinsk with great mesiras nefesh. One week prior to the siyum the Blaus were blessed with a baby boy.

The special night of the Siyum HaShas, that signaled a tripling in Daf Yomi enrollment and the siyum of young Yisroel Meir Burak ended with what was probably the biggest ‘vacht nacht, Kriyas Shema lenining’ on the night before a bris, ever experienced in that region. The entire crowd rose and said Shema with the pesukim of shemirah around that baby’s bed having in mind tefillos beseeching Hashem for shemirah for their brothers and sisters around the world who are in such need of rachmei Shomayim.

Yes, it was a closing of the circle. In the country where, not so long ago, bris milah was prohibited, the largest vact nacht was held. In the country where, not so long ago, Torah was prohibited, the largest siyum was held and Torah is today thriving. Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker.

By Chaim Gold

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