By Chaim Gold
“What I see from observing the large tzibbur here, and what fills me with awe, simcha, and gratitude, is how in these very difficult times we can not only overcome the difficulties and persevere in our learning, but we can shteig even higher and reach even greater levels of learning, yegias haTorah, and yedias haTorah!” Those were the emotional words of Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita, nasi of Dirshu, at the Dirshu testing site in Boro Park last week. Rav Hofstedter, who has not visited the Torah centers of Brooklyn and Lakewood for so long, due to the corona pandemic, was visibly moved at the opportunity to reconnect with beloved chavrei Dirshu during his visits to Dirshu testing sites in Boro Park and Williamsburg as well as to numerous gedolei Yisrael.
Klal Yisrael and the world have been through so much in the past year. Yet, from observing the Yidden at the testing sites in Boro Park and Williamsburg, it was clear that despite the turmoil, despite the tremendous disruption to life as we once knew it, indescribable dedication to limud haTorah has continued. A profound and eternal bond with learning Torah and knowing Torah and an insatiable drive to continue to learn with accountability and taking tests have been the constants in the lives of Dirshu Yidden!
From The World Siyum To Lockdown To … Kinyan Torah!
Reb Chaim Bauer, a years-long devoted Dirshu adheren, remarked, “I have been just amazed by the dedication of the lomdei Dirshu to persevere, no matter what is going on in the world. I think back to the Dirshu World Siyum and its aftermath before the pandemic hit. There were so many new Dirshu Kinyan Torah learners at that time and then COVID-19 hit. Life was shut down. We were relegated to our homes. We wondered how we could learn as normal during such times. The testing sites were also closed during the first phase of the pandemic, and yet I was amazed to see how when we were allowed to gather again for the tests in the large Spinka beis midrash in Boro Park, hundreds flocked to take the tests. They came and showed how their bond with limud haTorah the Dirshu way, with multiple chazaros and tests continued.”
This past test in particular was a special ma’amad that showed, more than anything else, the tremendous kesher that Dirshu learners have with the Torah. The news spread through the olam that Rav Dovid Hofstedter, the nasi of Dirshu and visionary leader, would be there. More than 500 people came on Sunday night to take the test. Some completed their tests before Rav Hofstedter’s arrival, but they felt compelled to stay so they could hear his divrei Torah and divrei berachah and express their personal hakaras ha’tov to him with their presence.
In Williamsburg, too, hundreds flocked to the testing site in Bnos Yaakov Vizhnitz to take the test and to greet and hear words of chizuk from Rav Hofstedter. After the derashah, one Dirshu learner spontaneously rose to express his hakaras ha’tov to Dirshu and Rav Hofstedter for having a transformative impact on his learning and his life, echoing the feelings of so many participants.
“Torah Learned In Times Of Difficulty Is What Stands”
The long period of separation aroused a special outpouring of ahavah, as could be seen by the spontaneous, enthusiastic explosion of song that greeted Rav Dovid’s arrival.
As for Rav Hofstedter? To him it was clearly about the lomdei Dirshu. In his remarks, he expressed his tremendous admiration for the fact that despite everything, thousands upon thousands of lomdei Dirshu shteiged.
“Recently, the lomdei Dirshu learned the difficult masechta of Eruvin. Even more recently, they learned the very difficult sugya of Rav Chananya S’gan HaKohanim and were tested on it! The Dirshu olam is a manifestation of that which the Gemara says, ‘Torah she’lamadeti b’af amdah li—the Torah that I learned in times of great difficulty is what preserved me.’”
The Z’chus Of Torah
Perhaps the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, of Boro Park, put it most succinctly when, after the visit to the testing site, Rav Hofstedter visited the Rebbe in his home and the Rebbe, with remarkable love of Torah visible on his countenance, kept on repeating, “The z’chus of Torah!”
Those words, “the z’chus of Torah,” perhaps most encapsulate the miracles that the Dirshu extended family has experienced since the Dirshu World Siyum celebrated all over the world, just one year ago.
At that point, when Shas with tests had been completed by many thousands of Yidden, and Dirshu had given Klal Yisrael a massive new cadre of true Shas Yidden, the enthusiasm for the new machzor of Shas peaked. The World Siyum showcased the ideal of not just coasting through the daf but rather learning and chazering it to the extent that one could take a test. This standard took root among thousands of new chavrei Dirshu.
Underground Seeds, “Underground” Learning
And then? The pandemic struck. No one knew what would happen. The World Siyum seemed to have transpired in a different world, a different universe, a different reality! Despite everything, however, the seeds that had been planted “under the ground” began to flourish. Chazal share a fascinating thought about Tu B’Shevat, the time when the Siyum HaShas was celebrated and the time that we are currently fast approaching. Despite the fact that Tu B’Shevat is in the middle of the winter when no tree grows, that is when, under the ground, the sap enters the roots of the trees, the sap that will enable them to bear fruit. This is analogous to what happened during the pandemic. Everything went underground, but the sap was in the trees and the trees were poised to flourish. The Dirshu family may have been stuck in their homes, but they were learning new masechtos and finding ways to chazer despite the turmoil, and they bore beautiful fruit, the fruits of masechtos Berachos, Shabbos, Eruvin, and now the first perakim of Pesachim. Kinyan Torah is not only alive and well but is tremendously shteiging.
In his remarks at both testing sites, Rav Dovid Hofstedter gave voice to these ideas. He asked, “Why does the pasuk say that the Yidden groaned from the avodah after Pharaoh’s death? Shouldn’t they have been happy that he died? The answer,” Rav Dovid continued, “is that until then, they thought their salvation would come through nature. Pharaoh would die, there would be a new king, and, finally, things would change. Instead, now that Pharaoh died, they saw that things got even worse! Davka then, when they realized that they had no other hope, was when they truly groaned and cried to Hashem from the depths of their hearts, praying that Hashem should remember them and his covenant with the Avos. It is specifically at that time that the pasuk says, ‘Hashem knew.’ There was a sense of deep attachment to Hashem.’”
“Now, too,” Rav Dovid concluded, “during these difficult corona times when there is no teva—the doctors don’t know and can’t help, the politicians have all been rendered powerless—now, davka at this time, we and especially lomdei Dirshu have connected with Hashem and the essence of life: ‘Ki heim chayeinu!’”