By N. Aaron Troodler
One of the hallmarks of Judaism is the unique attachment that all Jews shares with one another. We may come from diverse backgrounds, different locations, and divergent paths in life, yet there is a common factor that ties us together and connects us in an extraordinary and unparalleled fashion: Limud HaTorah. A love of Torah and a deep understanding and appreciation of Torah is the foundation upon which Judaism is built.
That love of Torah was on full display this past weekend as nearly a thousand men, women, and children gathered at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Somerset, New Jersey, for Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah.
This special sold-out event drew people from far and wide. In addition to the large contingent from the Greater New York and New Jersey area, there were participants from across the United States and from around the world, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit, and Cleveland and Eretz Yisrael, England, and Canada.
The Dirshu organization has truly revolutionized Limud HaTorah. Dirshu encourages Torah study in a wide variety of subject matters, with a particular emphasis on review and retention of the material. Through an innovative and unique model, Dirshu provides participants with a schedule of learning, which is followed by the administration of regular exams on the material. Currently tens of thousands of people throughout the world study Torah as part of the Dirshu program and participate in the tests.
The Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah, organized under the skilled leadership and guidance of Rabbi Ahron Gobioff, Dirshu’s North American Director, featured an impressive array of Gedolei Torah and Lomdei Torah, who thoroughly enjoyed spending time with one another and basking in the glow of the Limud HaTorah that permeated the hotel.
The underlying theme of the weekend was achdus, ruchnius, and aliyah la’Torah. Each of the distinguished speakers and maggidei shiur that addressed the crowd expounded on those ideas and spoke about the critical importance of Kavod HaTorah.
HaGaon HaRav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Staten Island, gave a major address on Erev Shabbos. As the crowd listened intently to this Gadol HaDor, Rav Feinstein conveyed to them a message that was well received and well understood. Learning is something that you bring home with you, said Rav Feinstein. Limud HaTorah is something that you have to make an integral part of your everyday lives.
Because of the large crowd that participated in Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah, a massive heated tent was set up outdoors to serve as the shul, and the davening there was nothing short of spectacular. The world-renowned Reb Isaac Honig and his singers from the Shira Choir greatly enhanced the tefillos and zemiros throughout Shabbos, beginning with Kabbalos Shabbos on Friday night.
HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva, Telz Cleveland and Mesivta of Lakewood, gave a stirring speech on Friday night that centered on the idea that true avdus–service of Hashem–is achieved when one uses all of his potential. That is what Dirshu is all about, said Rav Sorotzkin. It is a program that encourages and enables people to fully maximize their potential. L’Avdo–to serve Hashem–means to learn Torah and to daven. Rav Sorotzkin also discussed some of the current events in Israel and stressed the importance of being mispallel for the people in Eretz Yisrael.
One of the more beautiful features of the Dirshu Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah was the presence of so many families who came to participate in the event and the special emphasis that was placed on the critical role that the spouses of the Dirshu participants play in the Limud HaTorah of their husbands.
The vital role that the women play in the Torah growth of their spouses and families was discussed by a number of the speakers, including HaGaon HaRav Yehoshua Fuhrer, shlita, Mara D’asra of Bobov in Toronto, who discussed the important partnership between the husband and wife that exists when one participates in Dirshu’s learning program.
In addition to the many programs over Shabbos that were offered for women by wonderful female speakers such as Mrs. Chany Feldbrand, Mrs. Chani Juravel, and Rebbetzin Dina Fink, there was one address in particular that stood out for many as the most spiritually uplifting and emotional.
On Friday night, Mrs. Weisz addressed the crowd. She gave a heartfelt account about her husband, Reb Avrohom Weisz, who takes part in the Dirshu learning programs. Reb Avrohom suffers from ALS, which is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a result, the only muscles in his body that he is able to control are those that move his eyes. Using a computer and controlled eye movements, Reb Avrohom Weisz takes the Dirshu tests, taking well over 14 hours to complete each test because of the painstakingly slow process. His wife told the crowd about the time when her husband was nearing the end of the test when the electricity went out and the computer he was using shut down. As a sign of his deep devotion to Dirshu and his determination to take the test, Reb Avrohom proceeded to begin the test again from the beginning when the lights came back on. As the crowd listened to this brave woman recount her husband’s story, there was not a dry eye in the room.
Another powerful story was told about Reb Avrohom and his connection to Dirshu. Following a major surgical procedure, he fell into a coma. Everyone–the medical professionals and his family–kept talking to him and hoping and praying that he would wake up. The passionate pleas of his wife and children failed to rouse him from the coma. It was only when one of his non-Jewish caregivers yelled “Abraham–Dirshu!” that Reb Avrohom Weisz came out of his coma.
Watching Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita, the Nasi of Dirshu, grab hold of Reb Avrohom Weisz’s wheelchair during the Melave Malka on Motzai Shabbos and dance with him was a sight that none of us will easily forget.
The focus on Kavod HaTorah was on full display during the entire Shabbos. The Bais Medrash was open 24 hours a day and it was always being used by people who were learning.
At 7:10 on Shabbos morning, Rav Hofstedter gave a shiur in Daf Yomi. Yet even earlier, the hotel lobby was filled with people with a sefer in hand. Despite getting to sleep very late the night before as a result of all the Friday-night programming, people did not miss an opportunity to learn a bit more and awake early to hear an extra shiur.
The words of Torah and Mussar from the mouths of great Gedolei Torah and Talmidei Chachamim were enjoyed all throughout Shabbos.
HaGaon HaRav Chaim Cohen, shlita, Rav D’Chasidei Gur D’Flatbush, noted that learning in and of itself is a great thing. However, when you begin reviewing the material in a substantive way in order to prepare yourself for a test, as is done in the Dirshu program, that is a tremendous thing.
HaGaon HaRav Yeruchem Olshin, shlita, Rosh HaYeshiva Bais Medrash Govoha, spoke at Shalosh Seudos about how Dirshu uplifts people as they strive to achieve great heights in their learning. There is a constant yearning to go further and to keep making progress in one’s learning. HaRav Olshin noted that he sees firsthand the positive impact that Dirshu has, by watching the incredible growth of his Talmidim in Lakewood who participate in the Dirshu learning program.
HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Berenstein, shlita, who came from Eretz Yisrael to participate in Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah, spoke about the positive attributes of Dirshu’s unique program of daily learning in Halacha.
After he was given an enthusiastic introduction at Shalosh Seudos by HaGaon HaRav Zev Smith, shlita, Maggid Shiur Daf HaYomi B’Halacha and Irgun Shiurei Torah, who served as the Master of Ceremonies, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita, the Nasi of Dirshu, picked up on the endorsements of the Gedolei Yisrael for Dirshu’s daily limud of Halacha and discussed the program in greater detail. Reb Dovid talked about the importance of incorporating practical Halacha into our daily lives and the special feeling of being part of Mishpachas Dirshu.
A number of other prominent Gedolei Torah participated in Dirshu’s Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah as well, including HaGaon HaRav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz, shlita, Dayan, Khal Toldos Yakov Yosef of Skver; HaGaon HaRav Moshe Mordechai Lowy, shlita, Mara D’Asra of the Agudas Yisroel of Toronto; Rav Eliezer Ralbag, shlita, Rav D’Kehilla Lakewood Courtyard; HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zafrani, shlita, Rosh HaKollel Khal Bnei Torah; HaRav Avrohom Reit, shlita, Maggid Shiur Daf HaYomi B’Halacha; HaGaon HaRav Dovid Yitzchok Shapiro, Rosh Yeshiva Be’er Yaakov; HaRav Ephrayim Greenbaum, shlita, Rosh HaKollel D’Shikun Skver; HaRav Moshe Pruzansky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Chemdas HaTorah; HaRav Shmuel Shmelka Schwartz, shlita, Rav Dkhal Shefa Chaim D’Klausenberg, Lakewood; and HaRav Chaim Krause, shlita, Maggid Shiur Daf HaYomi B’Halacha.
The elongated Shalosh Seudos program was truly a sight to behold. After the z’man, the entire program, including the speeches and the music, was broadcast live on the Nachum Segal Network and on Kol Haneshama Radio for the entire community to enjoy and take part of.
After the words of Torah and Chizuk from the Gedolei Torah, Reb Isaac Honig and the Shira Choir treated the crowd to great music and tremendous ruach. The men all got up and danced with great exuberance. The scene in the ballroom as the men danced and shared in their collective simcha was a microcosm of the entire Shabbos. Everyone joined arms and danced with one another. It did not matter one iota that this person was Chassidish, this man was Litvish, or this guy was Yeshivish. Everyone in attendance was part of the Dirshu family and the unity and excitement that they felt as they danced together was evident to all.
On Motzai Shabbos, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of individuals about their participation in Dirshu and what the program means to them.
Reb Shlomo Lichtenstein, a Rosh Kollel in Williamsburg, noted that although he had been giving shiurim in Halacha for some time, he still felt somewhat of a lack of accomplishment. He talked to me about how Dirshu uplifted his learning and changed his life.
“The monthly tests from Dirshu give me a great sense of pleasure and accomplishment,” he said. “With Dirshu, I am finding that I have time which I never thought I had. The Dirshu tests force me to do chazarah and to study and learn wherever I am.”
Pinchas Elbaum of Williamsburg also spoke with me about his thoughts on the Dirshu tests. “When I come home after taking a test, it is the best feeling,” he said.
Yanky Herbst of Lakewood told me about his experiences with Dirshu’s Kinyan Halacha program. He noted that there are approximately 50 to 60 guys in Lakewood who participate in the Kinyan Halacha program and take the Dirshu test every six months. “If you walk into the Bais Medrash in Lakewood during Bain HaZemanim and you see guys sitting there and learning, it is probably guys who are doing Dirshu.”
Yosef Frank of Far Rockaway has been participating in Dirshu’s Kinyan Halacha program for over five years. “The Dirshu tests force me to review and help make certain that I retain the information and remember all the Halachos that I learn,” he said. “I feel good after I take the tests and find them to be extremely helpful.”
It was quite apparent that the common denominator for the Dirshu Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah was Achdus and Kavod HaTorah. It was incredible to see the tremendous unity in every aspect of the event. It was an Achdus that is established by people who are all involved in the same thing, namely, Limud HaTorah and Kavod HaTorah.
It was clear that when you are part of Dirshu, you are not only part of a movement or an organization. When you are part of Dirshu, you are part of one big Torah family. v