“Mesikas haTorah cannot be transmitted without understanding the chashivus, the importance of Torah. A person develops and cultivates a taste for the sweetness of Torah when he understands its importance,” said HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva. Rav Hirsch, one of the most prominent talmidim of the great founding Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler, was addressing the annual Acheinu Kiruv Conference held at the Ramada Hotel in Yerushalayim.
Hundreds of Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbanim, and Kiruv activists participated in the conference that focused simultaneously on kiruv rechokim and kiruv kerovim with the underlying theme exploring how to cultivate and inculcate mesikus haTorah, the sweetness of Torah into young people.
“His Eyes Lit Up at the Word Torah!”
In his keynote address, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch explained that the primary vehicle for transmitting love and sweetness of Torah in talmidim is the personal example of the Rebbe. When seeing how truly important Torah is to one’s Rebbe, how one’s Rebbe is enamored with Torah, how important and pivotal Torah is to one’s Rebbe, how a good sevarah is like chancing on a goldmine, the talmid will also develop a love of Torah and begin to recognize its sweetness, the Rosh Yeshiva stressed.
Providing insight into the mesikus haTorah and ahavas HaTorah cultivated in him by his own primary Rebbe, Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, Rav Moshe Hillel quoted HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, famed Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin. Rav Hutner once said that whenever he spoke with Rav Aharon Kotler, he would make sure to steer the conversation in such a way that Rav Aharon would invariably say the word “Torah”. When Rav Aharon uttered the word Torah, his eyes would light up! It was clear that Rav Aharon was talking about the greatest treasure! After every one of those conversations, Rav Hutner continued, I would feel my love of Torah increase and my chashivus for Torah transformed. Rav Aharon’s own chashivus for Torah transmitted the Torah’s sweetness.
Rav Hirsch then explained how even those talmidim who could not understand the intricate genius of Rav Aharon’s shiurim and his rapid-fire delivery, still derived so much from him, simply from watching him, seeing how the Torah was alive for him and how there was nothing more important, more sweet and more beloved.
At this year’s Acheinu Kiruv Confrence, aside from the profoundly inspiring keynote session, given by Rav Hirsch, addresses were delivered by HaGaon HaRav Shalom Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Porat Yosef and Nasi of Shas’s Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah as well as the Nasi of Dirshu and founder of Acheinu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita.
Targeted Roundtable Discussions Chaired by Expert Rabbanim
One very important innovation at this year’s Acheinu Kiruv Conference was the thirty concurrent roundtable discussions on many of the most burning kiruv kerovim and kiruv rechokim issues facing Jewry. The hundreds of participants found the roundtable discussions to immeasurably enrich and enhance their understanding of the Torah viewpoint on many of the most seemingly intractable issues facing mechanchim and mekarvim in our time. The careful planning that went into each roundtable discussion was clearly evident. Every single table had a panel consisting of a prominent rabbinic authority familiar with the issue under discussion as well as kiruv professionals in the same line. In addition, all participants were invited to pre-submit their most difficult questions to ensure that the questions would receive the appropriate time and attention.
For example, there was a specific roundtable on how to best deal with bochurim who have been orphaned of a parent. Another panel was on the transition from a baal teshuvah yeshiva to a mainstream yeshiva and how best to facilitate that. Yet a third group focused on the transition for frum from birth talmidim from yeshiva ketana to yeshiva gedolah. Among the great mechanchim and rabbinic leaders heading the groups were luminaries such as HaGaon HaRav Chizkiyahu Yosef Mishkofsky, shlita, Mashgiach of Yeshiva Orchos Torah and a talmid muvhak of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Shteiman, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Binyamin Finkel, shlita, Mashgiach in Mir Yerushalayim, HaGaon HaRav Yisroel Gans, senior R’M at Yeshiva Kol Torah and the posek of the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Yerushalayim and many others.
Pre-Conference Guidance from HaGaon HaRav Shteinman, shlita and other Gedolei Hador
In advance of the conference, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, together with senior members of Acheinu’s hanhala went to visit the senior gedolei hador, HaGaon Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita and HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, shlita. The gedolim expressed their enthusiasm over the Kiruv Conference and offered advice on cultivating mesikus haTorah which was then related at the conference.
Rav Shteinman said, “The difference between a human and an animal is that an animal only responds to physical things. The only thing sweet to an animal is something material. A person however, can find sweetness in ruchniyus. How does one cultivate love of Torah and the ability to taste the sweetness of Torah? By learning more and more Torah.” Rav Shteinman elucidated, “The more one learns, the sweeter it becomes. That is why those involved in kiruv should make sure to learn as much Torah with their charges as they can, because that learning will sweeten Torah for them.”
When Acheinu leaders came to the home of Rav Chaim Kanievsky seeking guidance on cultivating mesikus haTorah Rav Chaim, with a smile, seemed to almost not understand the question! “All you have to do is open a sefer and start learning. Right away you will see how sweet it really is!”
The venerated senior Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein added that it is also important for every person to daven with great concentration and fervor when saying birchas haTorah where we beg Hashem to “Please sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths and in the mouths of our children.”
The Critical Ingredient: Loving a Talmid Like a Son
One of the highlights of the Kiruv Conference was the presence at the keynote session of the venerated senior Sephardic gadol, HaGaon HaRav Shalom Cohen, longtime Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Porat Yosef and the recently appointed successor to HaGaon HaRav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, as Nasi of the Shas Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah. Rav Cohen, who has expressed his deep admiration for what Acheinu has done for both the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities, spoke about the imperative of every Rebbi and mentor creating a lasting, deep bond with each talmid. “A talmid who truly feels that his Rebbi or kiruv mentor really loves him like a father loves his son will be open to accept guidance. That critical ingredient of true caring and love, an ingredient that cannot be faked, is one that every person in chinuch must strive to achieve. That is how Torah and yiras shamayim is effectively transmitted from Rebbi to talmid,” the venerated Rosh Yeshiva exclaimed.
Rav Cohen then cited the well-known Gemara that the world exists in the merit of the Torah emanating from the mouths of children learning with their Rebbeim. “We, as Rebbeim, must ensure that the world continues to exist because of the Torah learning of our children and talmidim. The only way they will learn properly is if they feel that their Rebbi truly loves them and cares about them. Thus, every Rebbi and every person who teaches Torah has the responsibility to do so in a way that his talmidim will be able to learn from his example, thereby sustaining the world.”
“The Rebbi Himself Must Possess Mesikus HaTorah and Ahavas Hatorah”
A comprehensive address was given by Acheinu’s founder, Rav Dovid Hofstedter. Expanding on the theme of ahavas haTorah and mesikus haTorah, Rav Hofstedter explained that the sweet taste of Torah comes after one has toiled and invested great effort into learning. When one is amel b’Torah, toils in Torah, he is sure to ultimately taste the sweetness of Torah. “Without ameilus,” said Rav Hofstedter, “it is virtually impossible to achieve mesikus haTorah. Therefore, if a Rebbi or mentor wishes to inculcate and cultivate mesikus haTorah in his charges the best possible way is for the Rebbi himself to be one who toils relentlessly in Torah. The Rebbi himself must possess the mesikus HaTorah and Ahavas HaTorah in order to impart these traits to his talmidim.”
The Realization of a Dream: Acheinu Alumni Taking Dirshu Tests!
Another important component of the Kiruv Conference was the moving siyum and kumzitz marking the 20th anniversary since the establishment of Acheinu. A siyum haShas in honor of the milestone anniversary was made by Acheinu alumni and represented the practical culmination of one of Rav Dovid Hofstedter’s dreams. The greatest nachas, he often remarks, is to see Acheinu alumni continue learning in mainstream yeshivos and kollelim and eventually become so attached to Torah that they begin to complete entire masechtos and take Dirshu tests! The siyum on the entire Shas at the conference illustrated the realization of that dream!
The Most Important Mitzvah “” Cholent?!
The event, replete with emotional singing and dancing, featured the well known mashpia, HaGaon HaRav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg, shlita as guest speaker. Rav Zilberberg related that once a Rebbi asked the children in his class, “What is the most important mitzvah?” One child raised his hand and said, “Shabbos”. A second said, “Tzedakah” and yet a third child raised his hand and said, “Cholent”. Rav Zilberberg explained. “Certainly, no one had told the child that the most important thing in Yiddishkeit was cholent, but children are impressionable and clearly in the home where that child was being raised, he realized that cholent made a far bigger difference than Shabbos, tzedakah or other mitzvos. The message,” Rav Tzvi Meir said, “is that our children are influenced by what is genuinely important to us. We cannot fool them. If limud haTorah, shemiras hamitzvos, Shabbos and the like are really, really important to us, then it will be important to them. If only gashmiyus – a good bowl of cholent or a steak – is what “turns us on” then that message is the message that they will absorb.”
As the deeply inspiring and moving Kiruv Conference concluded, Acheinu’s Executive Director, Rabbi Shlomo Fisherowitz remarked, “Upon entering the conference hall, it was tremendously moving to see the multitude of tables filled with Rebbeim and Avreichem of all types representing the entire cross-section of Jewry. All of them were there for one purpose to discuss the kiruv of today’s youth and to bring young people even closer to Hashem. It is a profound zechus to be part of a movement that has transformed and continues to transform klal Yisrael by engaging in kiruv that produces true bnei Torah!”
Rishon L’Tzion, HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Amar, shlita Addresses Acheinu Yeshiva Parents and Talmidim
Acheinu’s Yeshiva L’Tze’irim in Modiin Illit is a special yeshiva that has taken countless young men from Torani schools in the periphery and put them on the path to Torah greatness.
Recently, the yeshiva featured a special “Yom Shekulo Torah” where parents of the talmidim joined the yeshiva for a day. A highlight was the presence of Rav Shlomo Amar, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. The day opened with a siyum on Masechta Megillah made by the talmidei yeshiva. Then the parents had the opportunity to actually learn with their sons. Before the session began, Rav Amar addressed the assemblage. He said, “The true bond between father and son is one that is forged through learning Torah together.” Rav Amar also cautioned parents to ensure that during the bein hazemanim the atmosphere in the home is one that cultivates and supports the tremendous spiritual growth that the boys have accomplished during the year. “You must make your houses into little yeshivot!”
It was amazing to see the fathers learning with their sons and gaining a newfound appreciation for the budding talmidei chachamim that their sons were becoming. Rav Zev Hofstedter, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Acheinu, related that “When a parent sees his son daily he does not notice the progress, but today, parents came after an entire zman and were so amazed to see their children’s progress in middos and Torah. Out of nowhere, a talmid chacham has grown!”
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, in his powerful remarks, told the assemblage that during the last century we saw how the most advanced and “cultured” Western Societies such as the Nazis and the Communists perpetrated the most unspeakable evil on mankind. From here we see that knowledge alone and “culture” is valueless. Without Torah learning and Torah observance the greatest scientific and cultural accomplishments guarantee nothing and often bring with them terrible destruction. That is why it is Acheinu’s mission to bring Torah to every Jew in Eretz Yisroel.”
HaGaon HaRav Asher Arielli, shlita Tests Acheinu Yeshiva Hakedosha Talmidim
Just before Pesach, a truly special and momentous event took place in the Acheinu Yeshiva Hakedosha in Yerushalayim. The Acheinu Yeshiva Kedosha is Acheinu’s yeshiva for baalei teshuvah with virtually no background in learning. During the course of the year, the bachurim made such progress that they completed the entire Masechta Bava Metziah!
In honor of that milestone a special guest came to the yeshiva to test the bachurim and infuse them with chizuk and an appreciation of the magnitude of their accomplishment. That guest was the renown Gaon, Harav Asher Arielli, senior R”M at the Mir Yeshiva of Yerushalayim and one of the world’s most prominent and popular maggidei shiur. Rav Arielli, spent much time talking to the bachurim in learning, reveling in their knowledge and their familiarity with the underlying lomdus concepts in the masechta.
When relating his impression to the hanhala of the yeshiva Rav Arielli said, “There are numerous bachurim in the yeshiva who speak in learning like regular yeshiva bachurim who have been learning for their entire lives. It is amazing to think that many of these talmidim have just begun learning a year or two ago and have become so advanced. Perhaps even more importantly,” Rav Arielli said, “one sees how happy they are, how much they love Torah and love Hashem!”
The visit of Rav Asher Arielli to the Yeshiva Hakedosha and the knowledge of the bachurim is the greatest testament to the success of Acheinu’s mission of accountable kiruv. Rabbi Ariel Elbaz, a R”M at the yeshiva said, “At Acheinu, kiruv and follow-up go hand in hand. We stay with each bachur, tapping into his strengths. That is how, with great siyatta d’Shmaya, the bachurim have completed the entire masechta Bava Metizah and accomplished so much!”