By Chaim Gold
It took almost nine decades for the sweet sounds of Torah to be heard again in the Sofiensaal Auditorium in Vienna; yet, during the first week of Nissan, Klal Yisrael witnessed a profound manifestation of “Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker.” A siyum on the daf yomi Seder Nezikin was held on 2 Nissan in the exact same hall in Vienna where the historic first daf yomi siyum was held.
The Torah-observant community, led by its foremost rabbanim, came out in droves to participate in the historic event and derive chizuk in dedication to limud haTorah from a leading delegation of Dirshu, the Torah organization whose raison d’être is to promote accountable limud haTorah.
The Sofiensaal Auditorium has seen a lot over the past 90 years. After the first daf yomi siyum, the hall saw the Nazi takeover of Austria, hosting Nazi rallies and events. Following the war, it became an entertainment venue, slowly fell into disrepair, and was then beautifully renovated. Now it has again merited to host an event that not only represented the grandeur and simcha of the completion of seder Nezikin—a celebration of past learning—but also a kabbalah al l’haba’ah—an enthusiastic undertaking by a large cross-section of the Vienna community to undertake daily learning in Dirshu’s daf hayomi b’halacha program.
Vienna’s Rabbanim Encourage Learning Daily Halacha
In advance of the event, a rare letter was released by seven of Vienna’s prominent rabbanim, calling on all of the members of the community to join the daf hayomi b’halacha program. The letter—signed by Rav Avrohom Yehuda Schwartz, shlita; Rav Alexander Asher Margolius, shlita; Rav Moshe Eliezer Weiss, shlita; Rav Avrohom Hotoveli, shlita; Rav Yosef Pressburger, shlita; and the chief rabbis, Rav Aryeh Folger, shlita, and Rav Chaim Eisenberg, shlita—states, “The Dirshu daf hayomi b’halacha program is presently holding in siman 302, the beginning of the halachos of Meleches Shabbos. In the Mishnah Berurah’s famous hakdamah to hilchos Shabbos, he cites Rav Yonason Eibeschutz from his sefer Ya’aros Devash, wherein he points out that it is impossible to avoid transgressing the laws of Shabbos every Shabbos unless one properly and comprehensively learns the halachos. Therefore, now is the time to undertake the learning of hilchos Shabbos.
“How good it would be to join one of the daily shiurim that already exist in our city! In addition, we call upon all of the gabbaim of shuls in our city to add daf hayomi b’halacha shiurim to the shul’s shiurim so that everyone can properly learn, understand, and observe the halachos in the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch, for it is incumbent on every Jew to know the daily halachos in Orach Chaim that are relevant every day and every Shabbos.”
The siyum began with the entrance of the rabbanim together with the nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who came to Vienna especially to participate in the historic event.
The event was opened by Rav Binyomin Eckstein, shlita, Belzer Dayan of London and chairman of Dirshu Europe. Rav Eckstein enumerated Dirshu’s choice of programs and expressed his deep satisfaction over the establishment of numerous new shiurim in shuls throughout the city.
The siyum on Seder Nezikin was made by Rav Dovid Bidel, a rosh kollel in Vienna and daf hayomi maggid shiur. The Kaddish was recited by Rav Dovid Yehuda Hirsch. Seder Kodshim was begun by Maggid Shiur Rav Yitzchok Binyomin Neuman.
The Necessity For Mesirus Nefesh
A highlight of the event was the emotion-laden derashah of Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who highlighted for the audience Dirshu’s message of ol Torah, bringing Klal Yisrael together with achdus through accountable limud haTorah. In a Pesach-related message he said, “Chazal tell us that the Bnei Yisrael had no mitzvos and needed the blood of Pesach and milah to merit redemption from Egypt. Don’t Chazal tell us that Bnei Yisrael had other merits, such as the fact that they didn’t change their clothing, language, and names?”
Rav Dovid answered, “Yes, they maintained their Jewish clothing and even spoke a Jewish language, etc., but they were simultaneously completely immersed and absorbed in the culture of Egypt, the norms of behavior, the norms of entertainment. They had a veneer of the Jewish religion, the outer trappings of Jewish observance. Superficially, they heeded the Jewish religion, but their essence, their inner core, was completely Egyptian. What energized them were the things that excited their fellow Egyptians.
“Thus, the only way to extricate themselves from the culture of Mitzrayim was with mesirus nefesh, with blood—blood of milah and blood of Pesach.
“Our generation has so many z’chusim! Look at the beautiful edifices of Torah that we have built on the ashes of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, our generation is similar to the generation of Mitzrayim in the sense that we, too, have been inundated with the host culture. The only way that we can extricate ourselves from the superficiality of today’s culture is with mesirus nefesh!
“Just like then it cost them blood, so, too, in our times we must invest our blood, our effort, and our toil in serving Hashem. It is not enough to perfunctorily keep the mitzvos. When it comes to Torah learning we must dedicate ourselves to learning with true accountability.”
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Rav Zishe Horowitz, shlita, rav of Kehillas HaChassidim of Elad, was the guest speaker at the event. Rav Horowitz focused on the words “V’higadeta l’vincha,” the obligation that a father has to relate the story of yetzias Mitzrayim to his children. Usually the word “v’higadeta” translates as “you should relate.” The Targum Onkeles, however, translates the word to mean “you should show.” Showing means one must truly depict the ideals of yetzias Mitzrayim to our children, as the well-known aphorism goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Our children must see us learning Torah and especially learning practical halacha. When a child sees his father learning halacha, he, too, will be spurred to learn halacha and gain the resultant yiras Shamayim.”
Afterwards, a special video from the famed Chassidic mashpia, Rav Elimelech Biderman, shlita, was shown. Rav Biderman exhorted Vienna Jews about the critical importance of incorporating a halacha seder into their everyday learning.
Heartfelt zemiros and grammen were sung by Reb Yisroel Adler. It was deeply moving to see the entire assemblage spontaneously burst out in song and dance as the Sofiensaal Auditorium again experienced true simchas haTorah after an almost nine-decade hiatus. The entire frum community of Vienna was deeply moved, and, indeed, new shiurim in daf hayomi b’halacha sprang up in numerous shuls in the aftermath of the event.
Returning To Roots In Budapest: Ba’alei Teshuvah Take Monthly Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Tests
Following Vienna, the Dirshu delegation went to the city of Bratislava-Pressburg where they davened at the kever of the Chasam Sofer on behalf of the tens of thousands of lomdei Dirshu throughout the world.
The next stop was the city of Budapest, Hungary, where a fascinating Torah revolution is transpiring under the auspices of Rav Dovid Kelety. Rav Dovid, a Hungarian-born Jew, learned in Eretz Yisrael and then returned to Hungary where he established a kiruv organization that reaches Jews in Budapest. There are 90,000 Jews in Budapest, most of them completely estranged from Yiddishkeit. A young group of ba’alei teshuvah has grown under his tutelage, and a couple of years ago, Rav Kelety reached out to Dirshu and asked if some of his more advanced talmidim could join the daf hayomi b’halacha program. Since then they have been learning the Mishnah Berurah daily and he even translates the tests for them into Hungarian.
The Dirshu delegation came to Budapest and Rav Hofstedter gave a shiur. At the seudas mitzvah that followed, Rav Hofstedter delivered divrei chizuk and interactively engaged the tzibbur of motivated young people who had left everything behind in order to dedicate their lives to Yiddishkeit.
“I cannot tell you what an impact Dirshu’s visit had on the young dedicated Yidden from Budapest. They truly felt part of the Torah world, and renewed their motivation to dedicating their lives to live in accordance with the Torah and halacha, and most importantly to learn Torah with mesirus nefesh. Hashem promised us that “Torah would not be forgotten from your children.” Dirshu is instrumental in helping fulfill that promise in Budapest,” Rav Kelety explained.
Dirshu Opens In Berlin
The next day brought the Dirshu delegation to Berlin, the capital of Germany. Over the last years there has been a Torah rejuvenation in Berlin, both by local Berlin Jews and a large expatriate community that has emigrated from Russia.
Berlin features more than one kollel, and the Dirshu delegation’s first stop was Beis Medrash Beis Tzion, a shul that had survived Kristallnacht and today houses the Adas Bnei Yisroel Kehilla as well as a kollel.
Upon entering the beis midrash, the delegation saw a large sign heralding the opening of a Dirshu branch in Berlin. In honor of the establishment of a new daf hayomi b’halacha shiur in Berlin, a beautiful seudas mitzvah was held. Leading the Berlin kehillah in this endeavor is Rav Moshe Halpern and Rav Yitzchak Eherenberg, chief rabbi of Berlin.
A Personal Message From HaRav Berel Povarsky, Shlita
One of the most moving moments at the Berlin event was the special message from Rav Berel Povarsky, shlita, rosh yeshivas Ponovezh, who went out of his way to record a video in honor of the event. Rav Moshe Halpern, who is presiding over the Dirshu program in Berlin and has been instrumental in facilitating a Torah revolution in the German capital, is a close talmid of Rav Berel. In his message to the kehillah, Rav Berel lovingly said, “Rav Moshe, my talmid, is like a son to me! It follows that you Yidden in Berlin are all my grandchildren!”
Rav Dovid then elucidated how “Torah is called ohr, light. Conversely, a person without Torah is like one walking in darkness. In no way is that darkness more evident than when it comes to lack of knowledge of halacha. A person who doesn’t know what to do is truly walking in the dark. That is why what Dirshu is doing in Berlin by starting daf hayomi b’halacha programs is so important. When learning halacha, you will be endowed with light. Every Shabbos, you will know how to conduct yourself—how to eat a piece of fish that has bones, how to make yourself a hot drink … Without knowledge of halacha, you are in the dark. Dirshu brings light to Klal Yisrael!”
The symbolism in Berlin was a fitting backdrop. The fact that Dirshu, the largest organization facilitating limud haTorah in the world, established a branch just around the corner from where Hitler’s Reichtstag was once located was not lost on anyone. In his remarks, Rav Hofstedter reiterated the idea that the blood of Pesach and the blood of milah represent the need for mesirus nefesh for Torah learning. He said that perhaps there is a lesson for us from the fact that in Europe today, the mitzvos of shechitah and milah are under threat, with European governments attempting to ban these practices. Perhaps we are being enjoined to have more mesirus nefesh for Torah. Maybe this is a sign that we should accept upon ourselves not only to learn but to learn in a way that we will review and retain!
Possibly the most gratifying result of the visit to Berlin was the fact that the morning after the event, immediately after the community davened Shacharis, everyone gathered around the table for the beginning of what will certainly be the first of many daf hayomi b’halacha shiurim in Berlin, Germany.
Seventy years after the churban of the Holocaust, the Nazis are in the dust heap of history, and Yidden are learning and taking Dirshu tests in Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest.