By Chaim Gold
“You ruined my life!” he said, as he grabbed me by both arms. Those were the startling words that a Yid who met Rav Dovid Hofstedter told him to his face when he happened to meet him in the streets of Boro Park. “I don’t have a day, I don’t have a night, I don’t even have a minute to go to a simcha….” With a pure smile bathing his entire face, the Yid exclaimed, “On behalf of myself and my whole mishpachah, I don’t know how to thank you!”
As Rav Hofstedter related this anecdote to a spellbound audience at the grand melaveh malkah siyum there was virtually no member of the wider Mishpachas Dirshu who did not understand and identify with the message conveyed by this Yid from Boro Park. Rav Hofstedter eloquently explained, “Whatever previous lives we had have been ruined because this constant dedication to accountable limud haTorah and relentless hasmadah has become our lives!”
The grand melaveh malkah, where throngs of Yidden joined the lomdei Dirshu who had spent Shabbos at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, was the culmination of an unforgettable Shabbos led by gedolei Yisrael. The overwhelming feeling throughout the Shabbos by lomdei Dirshu and their wives was one of simcha, joy, and ecstasy, thanking Hashem for a life permeated by ol Torah!
Rav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, shlita, who spent Shabbos at the convention, gave a deep, intricate shiur klali after Shacharis on Shabbos morning. Before embarking on the sugya upon which the shiur was based, he expressed his profound feelings of awe, amazement, and emotion. He explained that he felt unable to begin the shiur without first sharing his emotions with the assemblage. “I am here for Shabbos,” he said, “and what is so remarkable is that I see all types of Yidden, older, younger, ba’alei batim and kollel yungeleit, all learning with such a bren, such she’ifos, such tremendous motivation to learn, to know, and to retain…”
The rosh yeshiva continued, “We live in an era where the yetzer ha’ra, r’l, is constantly coming up with new innovations to try to make us stumble. Baruch Hashem, Hashem has also sent chiddushim as antidotes to the yetzer ha’ra, and Dirshu is such a chiddush! It gives a person his primary cheshek, desire, and goal in limud haTorah. It requires a tremendous z’chus to be able to gift Klal Yisrael with so much limud haTorah!”
After Minchah on erev Shabbos, an eye-opening she’eilah-and-teshuvah session was held with Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, rosh yeshiva of the Staten Island Yeshiva. The rosh yeshiva answered many important chinuch questions. His answers and explanations for why he answered the way he did were tremendously insightful. After Kabbalas Shabbos, Rav Yeruchem Olshin, shlita, rosh yeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, delivered an address citing a Midrash that states that the bnei Yisrael were protected in the z’chus of Yaakov Avinu. The reason why it was Yaakov and not the other avos is because Yaakov symbolizes Torah. Rav Olshin went on to praise the lomdei Dirshu for bringing such an ashirus, wealth of Torah. “They live in a different world, in a world of Torah,” he said.
One of the highlights of the convention every year is the she’eilah-and-teshuvah session on all four chalakim of Shulchan Aruch with Rav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz, shlita, Skverer Dayan of Boro Park.
The teshuvah session with Rav Steinmetz was followed by a beautiful oneg Shabbos that was addressed by Rav Dovid Olewski, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Ger.
In the early morning before Shacharis, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, nasi of Dirshu, gave a shiur klali on perek Eilu Tereifos, the complex perek that the daf ha’yomi is now doing in Masechta Chulin.
During Minchah, one of the most breathtaking traditions of the Dirshu convention took place. Whereas during Shabbos-morning davening all of the aliyos are given to the gedolim, at Minchah the aliyah of shlishi is sold in Dirshu currency — pages of Gemara. The bidding was the greatest testament to the Dirshu mission: 1,000 blatt, 2,000, 3,000 … it kept on going until one Dirshu learner prevailed by pledging to learn 8,200 blatt Gemara over the next 12 months! That Yid gave the aliyah to Rav Dovid Hofstedter as a token of his gratitude for “changing his life.”
At the inspiring shalosh seudos, Rav Moshe Pruzansky, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chemdas HaTorah and founding rosh chaburah of Dirshu’s iyun chaburah in Beth Medrash Govoha, introduced Rav Zev Smith, shlita, one of Dirshu’s most popular maggidei shiur. In his powerful address, Rav Smith said that Dirshu’s middle name is “accountability.”
Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Telshe and Lakewood Mesivta, eloquently brought proof from Chazal the fact that the difficulties that we have in our generation and in any generation—whether it is government intervention in our observance of Yiddishkeit or difficulty with parnassah—is a result of a lack of complete immersion in Torah. “Torah is life!” the rosh yeshiva exclaimed, “This is not a poetic turn of phrase; it is the metzius!”
The convention’s high point was the melaveh malkah, and the climax of the melaveh malkah was the unveiling of plans for the Dirshu world siyum to be held next winter. The lomdei Dirshu were given an advance preview of the worldwide siyumim in Eretz Yisrael, England, France, and South Africa, culminating with an unprecedented kavod for lomdei Torah that will transpire at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, where the entire arena will be transformed into a giant beis midrash celebrating the accomplishments of lomdei Torah with accountability.
“The purpose of the Dirshu World Siyum,” explained Rav Dovid Hofstedter, “is to galvanize, empower, and energize lomdei Torah throughout the world, young and old, whatever standing and station in life, irrespective of what shevet they belong to, k’ish echad b’lev echad, to accept upon themselves the ol, the yoke, of Torah, to become a mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh and to rise above the nisyonos. That is our objective and goal! Hashem has given us the tools to survive. Today there are all kinds of aids to help us in learning. There are umpteen ways to do the daf, with this shortcut and that aid. Dirshu’s goal, however, is not to do the daf—it is to live the daf!”
The chairman of the event, Rav Yoir Adler, asked the rosh yeshiva of Telshe, Rav Dovid Goldberg, shlita, to address the crowd. Rav Goldberg spoke about the fact that a person must not only learn Torah but be machshiv Torah, show how much he cares for, appreciates, and values Torah. “At this convention,” exclaimed the rosh yeshiva, “I saw not only tremendous limud haTorah, but perhaps even I saw how the people value Torah. Ashreinu!”
The final address of the evening was given by Rav Lipa Geldwerth, who masterfully brought out aspects of the unique greatness that characterizes Dirshu. “Looking around on Shabbos, I saw so many colors and shades. People representing 20 different chassidusin, 20 different yeshivos, Sefardim, Yekkes… the one thing that binds them together is the fire of Torah! If someone would ask me what the most unique thing that Dirshu has accomplished is, I would say, that they made Torah keva, the most important thing in a person’s life.”
Perhaps Rav Dovid Hofstedter encapsulated the primary message of the night at the end of his remarks, when, with such love, he looked at the audience and said, “Tayere lomdei Dirshu, mishpachas Dirshu, our close family. You have ruined my life. I don’t have a day, I don’t have a night, I am constantly preparing for another shiur, running here, running there, not able to have time to attend a simcha. On behalf of my entire mishpachah I want to say, I don’t know how to thank you! We have ruined our lives for Torah, because Torah is our life!”
A more comprehensive report on the Dirshu International Convention, with detailed messages of the gedolei Yisrael will be forthcoming next week, be’H.