“We must CHAP AREIN, seize the opportunity. Moshiach is almost here. Once Moshiach comes there will be no more opportunity for us to bring them back. It will be too late. Once he comes, you won’t be able to have the zechus anymore.”
This heartfelt charge issued by the gadol hador, Hagaon Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, at the massive Acheinu asifa in Lakewood, was one of the moving highlights in a remarkable evening of numerous emotional, poignant moments that kept the massive audience of some 1,500 members of the Lakewood community riveted and moved.
Fulfilling OUR Obligation
The underlying tangible feeling prevalent among the participants was that Acheinu is our shaliach. They are fulfilling our obligation by saving thousands of Yiddishe neshamos. They are bringing them back to Torah observance and not just Torah observance but transforming them into bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim. The least we can do here in chutz la’aretz, is join with Acheinu and help them; “chap arein” as Rav Shteinman put it so succinctly, by assisting them financially and morally so that they can be our emissaries in stemming the spiritual holocaust that has befallen our people.
In Lakewood, a city that boasts important events virtually every night of the year, the Acheinu asifa was one of the milestone events. An unprecedentedly large crowd came to hear and more importantly take part in the life-saving work performed by Acheinu as they place hundreds of children in Yeshivos. Acheinu’s accountable kiruv includes constant follow-up by Acheinu’s staff as they accompany a bachur and support him until he becomes a ben Torah and talmid chachom.
The massive crowd watched with mounting anticipation as the satellite beamed out from Rechov Chazon Ish, Number 5, in the pre-dawn hours of the morning as Rav Shteinman paused from his in-home, pre-vasikin shiur to address the Lakewood olam. The picture of the Rosh Yeshiva’s austere room and his holy countenance filled those in the Bais Faiga Hall thousands of miles away with a feeling of awe as the more than a thousand people leaned forward intent on catching every word emanating from the venerated Rosh Yeshiva’s mouth.
After being introduced by Hagaon Harav Chizkiyahu Yosef Mishkovsky, shlita, the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Orchos Torah and a talmid muvhak of Rav Shteinman, Rav Shteinman began his address to Lakewood by quoting the authoritative words of the Chovos Halevavos that “those who engage in zikui harabbim can rise to madreigos, spiritual levels that even a malach, an angel cannot attain.” After explaining that engaging in and facilitating kiruv rechokim is one of the highest levels of zikui harrabim, Rav Shteinman then segued into a hashkafa discussion about kiruv.
The Rosh Yeshiva asked, expressed wonderment as to why there are so many baalei teshuvah today? In previous generations it was rare to find a baal teshvua but in our generation we find a ruach of teshuvah where thousands are finding their way back to Avinu Shebashomayim. “Why is that?” asked the Rosh Yeshiva.
Rav Shteinman explained that Moshiach is almost here. This is the last opportunity for these neshamos to come close and perhaps even more urgently it is the last opportunity that we will have to merit bringing them back to Him. There is so little time left. The window is closing. They want to return, we can bring them back. “Chap Arein!” The Rosh Yeshiva said with a vigor, passion and conviction that belied the frail, diminutive figure of the nonagenarian Rosh Yeshiva.
Then, in what seemed to be a clear reference to Acheinu’s unique kiruv hashkafa that stresses not just on bringing them back, but transforming them into bnei Torah, into talmidei chachomim, Rav Shteinman called attention to the fact that there are those who think you can be mekarev people with approaches other than limud haTorah. There is no such thing. Kiruv rechokim can and should only be done with Torah learning. The objective must be to get them to learn Torah, any other approach to kiruv will not be successful. “Only kiruv with Torah will be lasting”¦, the Rosh Yeshiva said.”
The First Step in Kiruv
In his introductory remarks to Rav Shteinman’s address Rav Mishkovsky pointed out that we are now living in the era about which the Navi says that there will come a time when there will be a hunger and thirst in the land, not a hunger and thirst for food and drink but rather a hunger and thirst to hear the word of Hashem. We see the fulfillment of this prophesy before our eyes. Rav Mishkovsky went on to say that the approach of Acheinu is alluded to in the Parsha we just read. When Yaakov Avinu met the shepherds at the well and rebuked them, the first words he used were, “Achai””my brothers’. When viewing one’s fellow Jews, even those who are still estranged from Torah, as “my brothers””Achai, then, with that love and sense of responsibility, one can bring them close to Hashem. Rav Mishkovsky, with great emotion, pleaded, “They are Acheinu, our brothers. We are one family. You must partner with Acheinu, help Acheinu, for when you help Acheinu you are building olamos, entire worlds.”
Upon entry into the Bais Faiga hall, Acheinu’s multi-faceted activities and its highly successful approach to kiruv were highlighted. Guests were treated to an impressive display of literature with charts outlining the tens of yeshivos and battei chizuk and the thousands of young people impacted by Acheinu, as they were encouraged to partner with Acheinu in their life saving work of returning Hashem’s lost children to Him.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter:
Stopping the Devastating Trend of Assimilation
Undoubtedly, the tone-setting point of the evening was the seminal drasha given by Acheinu’s founder, Rav Dovid Hofstedter. After thanking the Lakewood community for its overwhelming support of Acheinu’s approach to kiruv and delivering a profound Torah thought that encapsulated the mission of Acheinu, Rav Dovid candidly turned to the audience and said, “In Lakewood, a city saturated with Torah and limud haTorah, how can I come here and request that you assist Acheinu? How can I tell you that it is your responsibility to save souls? Then I remembered what I had heard from Hagaon Harav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l. Rav Simcha told me that during the Holocaust when word started trickling into America that the Nazis were cold-bloodedly exterminating Jews, initially people would not believe it. It was just too horrible a thought. Rav Aharon Kotler, however, immediately sprung into action galvanizing the rabbanim and lay leaders to drop everything and engage in hatzolas nefashos.
At that time, he met an old friend from the great Torah centers of Europe, a great talmid chachom and masmid and encouraged him to join the hatzolah efforts. That person declined, explaining that he was not the askan type, rather he was engaged in Torah study day and night. “Do Chazal not tell us that Talmud Torah is greater than hatzolas nefashos?” he asked Rav Aharon. Rav Aharon shot back. “That Chazal was said when one has a choice. In this case you are not being given a choice. The Torah says “˜lo saamod al dam reyacha'””do not stand by idly when your brother’s blood is being spilled. It is your obligation to help. You have no choice!” Rav Aharon thundered.
Rav Dovid continued, “I recently met a friend who is engaged in kiruv rechokim. I told him how much I admired him for his hatzolas nefashos. With tears in his eyes, he looked at me and said, “Reb Dovid, we are losing. We are losing the battle. For every one we bring back we lose 100!”
“Morai Verabbosai,” Rav Dovid exclaimed emotionally, “Klal Yisroel may lose the battle, but we will never lose the war! Hashem promised us that we will not lose. We will ultimately win, the question is, “Where will YOU be?! Will you have had a part in winning this war? When our children or grandchildren will one day ask, “Where were you, what did you do when whole chunks of Klal Yisroel were dying in the gas chambers of assimilation?! What will we tell our grandchildren when they ask us what did YOU do to save them? What will we tell Hashem when He asks us, “did you do anything to save my children from drowning, from spiritual death?” These are the questions that every one of us must ask ourselves. It is this tzibbur of bnei Torah that can truly appreciate Acheinu’s mission of kiruv to create bnei Torah. It is this tzibbur that can help Acheinu continue to provide Yeshivos, battei chinuch and rishum, enrollment in Yeshivos!”
The crowd was also treated to a video address by Acheinu’s Nasi, Hagaon Harav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, shlita,who said, “Every single person without exception must engage in facilitating kiruv rechokim in one form or another. Acheinu, has been remarkably successful in achieving its goals.”
Rav Reuven Feinstein:
The Goals of Dirshu and Acheinu: Accountability
In a historic night featuring one highlight after the other, the assemblage was also privileged to be addressed by Hagaon Harav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Staten Island. Rav Reuven pointed out that one of the reasons for Acheinu’s great success is because it possesses the same ideals as Dirshu, the worldwide organization that facilitates limud haTorah at an unprecedented scope with an objective of setting goals and showing accountability through the taking of monthly tests. Both Dirshu and Acheinu were founded by Rav Hofstedter and just as Dirshu brings a sense of mission and accountability to learning, Acheinu brings a sense of mission and accountability to kiruv.
“Acheinu kiruv,” Rav Reuven remarked, “is Torah Kiruv. Acheinu accomplishes the same thing as Dirshu. It systematically develops talmidei chachomim. The only difference between the two is that Acheinu graduates are embarking on Dirshu at a later date.”
Rav Malkiel Kotler:
The Secret of Acheinu’s Success, “The Light of Torah”
The evening was opened by the evening’s chairman, Rav Eliezer Ralbag, Rav of the Lakewood Courtyard shul, who welcomed the guests and then asked the crowd to turn their attention to the screens where they were privileged to view a riveting question and answer session with Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, where the Rosh Yeshiva tackled some of the most knotty and complex chinuch questions that are vitally relevant to our times.
Rav Ralbag then introduced the Rosh Yeshiva, of Bais Medrash Govoha, Hagaon Harav Malkiel Kotler, shlita. The Rosh Yeshiva highlighted the idea of accountability that Acheinu has brought to kiruv and the common denominator shared by Acheinu and Dirshu.
“Acheinu,” Rav Malkiel remarked, “Does not just do kiruv, it does kiruv in a way that transforms its charges into bnei Torah and eventually into true talmidei chachomim.”
The Rosh Yeshiva explained that the passuk in Parshas V’eschanan tells us that when we observe the mitzvos properly the nations will say, “Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation.” Rav Malkiel continued, “Acheinu activists, by virtue of their exemplary conduct and their love for those who have not yet tasted the sweet taste of Torah, are showing countless Jews the beauty and wisdom of Torah. The profound beauty and wisdom contained in a piece of Gemara, a Rashi or a Tosafos, is what brings them back. Chazal teach us that, “The light of Torah, bring them back.” This is the secret of Acheinu’s tremendous hatzlacha.
RAV AHARON LEIB’S CHARGE TO LAKEWOOD
“Morai verobosai, in our times, the most important thing is Zikui Harrabim. The Chovos Halevavos says that a person can work on himself and reach such heights to the extent that he can attain the spiritual level of a malach, an angel. Still, this [exalted level] does not reach the lofty level that one can attain through Zikui Harrabim. Rav Mishkovsky just said that in our times, we are experiencing a unique phenomenon. There have never been as many baalei teshuva as there are today.
“What happened? What has changed? I think the answer is, because Moshiach is almost here. Once Moshiach comes, there will be no more opportunity for us to bring them back. The message to us is that before Moshiach comes we must CHAP AREIN, seize the opportunity. We can still save them. Afterwards it will be too late!
“This is why Hashem has created a special cognizance, a special feeling, a special desire among not yet frum people, [to come closer to Hashem]. He has made it easier to become a baal teshuvah today. Once upon a time it was extremely hard. To make a baal teshuvah was akin to a kriyas yam suf””a splitting of the sea. Today the neshamos come closer much more easily, much quicker. Otherwise, chas v’chalilah, these neshamos will be finished, they will be lost.
“Therefore, now is the time to chap arein. Boruch Hashem there are Yidden that are involved in [kiruv]. There are those that have made this their area of expertise, their life’s mission. Boruch Hashem because of them, we merit to hear every day about more and more Yidden coming back from the worst of places. All they need is a small push [and they return].
“It does not happen, however, on its own. We have to do something too! We cannot think it will happen completely on its own.
“May Hashem help that we will be able to be mekarev, bring close, as many Yidden as we can, to Hashem and may we be zoche that they do not chalilah become lost forever.
“All of the other tactics in Kiruv do not help. The ikar, the main thing, is Torah. Only with Torah, through learning Torah [with them] can we be mekarev. With Torah we are mekarev Yidden to the Ribbono Shel Olam so that they will not remain lost forever.
In this way we will be zocheh to have more and more Yidden that will merit to witness the geulah hamiti, b’mheira biyomeinu amein selah!”