Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

A Canyon In Harmony

I spent last Shabbos in the Grand Canyon. It was not my first time visiting the Canyon; that was a few years back, in the winter of 2012. Had I not seen it in Arizona, I would have no frame of reference for my second visit to the Canyon, last Shabbos, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.

You must be wondering, or perhaps you are confirming, that this writer must have lost his mind. Clearly such preposterous confusion has no place in a periodical as prestigious as Yated! After all, even the most geographically-challenged reader, whose secular education does not surpass that of an elementary school level, knows that the Grand Canyon is not in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Ah! But it was.


For many years I had longed to see the Canyon in person. The pictures in glossy magazines never did justice, and the descriptions I had heard, not from geologists and topographers, but from great disseminators of Torah, whet my curiosity. I am a man of letters. I write. I try to describe things. I am challenged to describe the indescribable. And so I went.


When I arrived, I knew they were right. It was indescribable. It is impossible to encompass the vast greatness with endless elements of enormity that lie within the tiniest crevice of His Majesty’s playground.


There are rocks and boulders of every color, along with the most beautiful species of wildlife and flora. There is dry bed and there are flowing rivers, there are mountains and canyons, crests and peaks, jagged rocks and smooth boulders. You stand on the edge of a cliff and behold an endless view of the diversity of creation with every inch of nature shouting His majesty and glory in a most eerie stillness. It is the quietest place I have known, yet its declaration of G-dliness screams with a shrill that can pierce the toughest heart. It is known as the Grand Canyon. Each tiny stone, babbling brook, chirping bird, majestic peak is as different from its neighbor in ways unfathomable, but when all of the thousands of species and hundreds of miles of majestic rock meld together, they form one harmonious marvel known as the Grand Canyon.


But this Shabbos, in Eastern Pennsylvania, there was a different type of Harmony, and to me, it was a spiritual Grand Canyon, whose majesty is beyond description and whose every gradation left me an awe.


Indeed, there were close to two thousand individuals, each one a marvelous entity unto him or herself, yet somehow they blended perfectly. In Harmony. A spiritual Grand Canyon. The Convention of Mosrei Torah of Torah Umesorah.


Oh, I’ve been to large gatherings of Jews before. Sometimes it was to pray in response to a tzorah that was befalling Eretz Yisroel, whether from without or within. Sometimes it was to celebrate the completion of Shas. There were more Jews at those gatherings. But they all said the same Tehillim, learned the same daf. The harmony was in what they were literally doing, the words they prayed, the pages that they learned. But this gathering was different.


To me it was as diverse and majestic as the Grand Canyon itself.


No two people did the same thing. One taught aleph bais to primary girls. Another taught Rav Akiva Eiger to mesivta bochurim. A third directed adult education and organized chavrusos, while a fourth developed a curriculum to teach hilchos metzorah. And a fifth and a sixth and a seventh, all the way until two thousand. Two thousand different limudim. Two thousand different mountains and birds, flora and fauna, each declaring the majesty of the Almighty in different ways, some in simplicity, others in complexity. All in one Grand Canyon, in Harmony.


Their lives, their dreams, their circles are so different, but they all came for one mission. They did not come to celebrate what they had already accomplished; they came because they wanted to accomplish more.


They did not come because they were proud of how well they do their jobs; they came because they wanted to learn how to do their jobs better. They did not get to where they are by turning page after page in a race against time in order to reach a stated goal. No. They got to where they are by staying their course, remaining on the same page day after day, sometimes week after week, sometimes reviewing with a child ten times, sometimes tenfold that figure, just to get him to the next step.


There was not one person who felt he was more distinguished than another. I flashed to the majestic beauty of emerald green moss, resting comfortably on a mighty mountain in that other Canyon. And I realized the coexistence, or rather, the harmonious symbiosis of the two projected the greatness.


The speeches, the droshos and the shiurim. Each one had a different focus, yet all enveloped a common theme: the importance of every child’s role in the future of Klal Yisroel and our role in developing it.


I meandered around the massive complex in the Split Rock Resort and I could not grasp the multitude of projects and ideas that were being shared by those who are charged not only to carry the torch of mesorah, but to pass it to the next generation.


I saw a display of children’s projects, a bird made of Styrofoam balls and plastic bottles and pipe cleaners. It was a child’s handiwork, but I flashed back to Arizona and I saw a beautiful cardinal perched on the ledge of a massive boulder, its bright red wings a splash of color on the majestic tapestry of the Canyon.


I saw a simple homemade tambourine made by a young girl who must have been learning Parshas Beshalach. It was constructed with a discarded aluminum pie tin and paper clips, and made noise when the makeshift instrument was shaken. My mind flashed to the ingenuity of our forebears in constructing klei kodesh, be it a menorah or Shabbos licht from the scraps of potatoes, daps of bootblack and wood or tin that were used to fabricate our mesorah in the mire of Bergen-Belsen.


I met a South Shore talmid who had learned in our yeshiva for close to nine years. I had not seen him in ages. He was always a star talmid, destined for greatness in learning. I had heard about his accomplishments in Torah, and I hardly recognized him with his prominent beard and regal tzurah. He told me that after nearly ten years in yeshiva and kollel in Eretz Yisroel, he was going to teach Torah to children, in Jacksonville Florida.


I met a young man who sought me out. As a member of the Pittsburgh Kollel, I learned with him and other boys from Hillel Academy, that town’s coed day school. He decided to go to Ner Yisroel and today, he is the rosh yeshiva in a new bais medrash, Ohr HaTorah in Baltimore.


I heard story after story about tiny seeds planted that sprouted into great lomdim and marbitzei Torah of our generation, and again, I flashed back to the thousands of species of rare and beautiful flora that beautify the landscape of what should be otherwise a barren wilderness.


From all the distinguished roshei yeshiva, rabbonim and magidei shiur, I heard more stories than I can remember. From those whose boots are on the ground I heard more tales than I could ever relate to, and each and every one was a mountain of inspiration on its own. But perhaps the most telling snippet of a tale sparkled in my mind like a ray of sunlight reflecting off a flint rock in that great Canyon.


The Lakewood rosh yeshiva recounted how a man once boasted to the Brisker Rov about all he had accomplished for Klal Yisroel and for the sake of the Ribono Shel Olam. And then, related the rosh yeshiva, the man had the audacity to ask the rov, “What have you done for the Ribono Shel Olam?”


The rov was unfazed. He answered simply, “I got up and said Modeh Ani. I washed negel vasser. I put my right shoe on and then my left shoe. I tied my left shoe and then I tied my right shoe. That is what I have done for the glory of the Ribono Shel Olam.”


During sholosh seudos, I stood up and tried to take in the enormity of the moment. I am a short fellow and even if I had stood on a chair, I could not have taken in the view of thousands craning to hear every word from the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, words laden with simple, humble honesty. I could not see the faces and expressions of thousands of variant species of Hashem’s majesty, straining to hear the story of how one person persevered to get one boy to yeshiva, a boy whose attendance spurred his brother’s attendance. That brother’s attendance spurred the growth and development of a marbitz Torah to dozens of adult men and families in Riverdale. The story continues on, endlessly, just like the vastness of the canyon. Just like the expansiveness and diversity in the room. All in Harmony.



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