Friday, May 24, 2024

The Singers and the Doormen

It’s very early in the morning, it’s still dark outside, and I have knots in my stomach. Why the nervousness? Because I am preparing for my daily shiur to first-year mesivta boys. One would think that after having taught the yeshivishe masechtos for over six cycles, it would be a breeze and quite relaxing. To the contrary. Despite having written and rewritten extensive notes over the years, the knots in my stomach are tighter than ever, because the talmidim I will be facing are better prepared than ever. They are fluent in Mishnayos in some of the most complex masechtos. Many of them have completed numerous masechtos in Gemara.

Like young lions ready to attack, they challenge me, asking, probing, bringing proofs, trying to contradict what was just said from something we learned earlier. One can literally see a troubled look on their faces when they don’t understand and the simcha when they finally do. What I was able to gloss over in the past, not explaining the last minute detail of the sugya, I can no longer do. They want to know the exact translation of every word, grasp the complete explanation of every concept, and master every nook and cranny of the topic. It’s been these last couple of years that I feel the pressure of preparation more than ever before.

Don’t get me wrong. These are not robots we are talking about. They are very human, with ups and downs, enjoying a good laugh, and needing to be motivated from time to time. But basically, they are self-motivated, use their time properly, and enjoy learning. At their stage in life, they are way ahead of where their rebbi was at that age, and hopefully, with the help of Hashem, they will continue to flourish this way throughout their lives.

Daylight arrives, preparation done, my notes complete. I come to yeshiva and enter one of the back shiur rooms where I don my tallis and tefillin. Behind me are two talmidim already in their tefillin learning Maseches Megillah, presumably to be finished by this coming Purim. Around me are other talmidim, precious gems, putting on their tefillin and davening with such an erentzkeit. After a full day of shiurim and secular studies, a night seder in the big bais medrash features a cacophony of sounds – boys learning, arguing over a sevara, looking up Rishonim and Acharonim, others catching up with their notes.

One must shake his head in wonder. How did this all happen? In all my years as a rebbi, I don’t remember hearing such a loud chorus of the songs of Torah. Yes, I experienced it as a bochur in the Telzer bais medrash, but these boys are much younger. And yet, the beautiful sounds of Torah resonate in a way that is a throwback to previous generations.

Although I am blessed to teach in a very special yeshiva, this is not unique to our mosad alone. In summer camp, I get to meet boys from numerous other yeshivos that dot various cities throughout America. Many of them have this same zeal for learning and davening. On a visit to Lakewood, I see mesivta boys in botei medrash on a Shabbos afternoon hunched over their Gemaros, reviewing what they learned during the week. Younger boys are reviewing Gemara or Mishnayos with their fathers. The sound of Torah is heard in these botei medrash and many others throughout the land. Who could have imagined after a world war that decimated our people that we could ever recover? And yet, it is so evident that our enemies were not able to silence the voice of Yaakov, as limud haTorah is spreading everywhere and on a high level. What a pleasure this is for Hakadosh Boruch Hu. And what a nachas ruach it is to their zaidies and bubbies who perished in the war to know that their progeny continue to perpetuate their legacy.

Yes, but… There are so many prob… Please, no buts. At least not for now. As a parent and a rebbi, this writer is well aware that we are not living in a utopian world and that there are many challenges we face in chinuch. But just for the moment, let’s focus on the positive and on what’s being done right.

First of all, it takes tremendous diyata diShmaya for us to experience such phenomenal success. Rav Chatzkel Levenstein said at a mesibah at the Ponovezher Yeshiva, where the zemiros were breathtaking, that it is no simple matter to have such a wonderful gathering amidst kedusha in our day and age. It takes tremendous help from Above. This was in Bnei Brak over 50 years ago. What are we to say about the proliferation of mekomos haTorah here in America? In golus permeated with tumah, greed and all kinds of interests that can easily lure someone away from Torah, we are witnessing these nissim.

But this is also testimony to the mesiras nefesh of our gedolim who planted Torah here in America and around the world, and to the devotion of the founders and supporters of the various mosdos haTorah responsible for this renaissance of Yiddishkeit. It would have been a lot easier to establish institutions that were more in tune with American culture. This would have been more attractive to the populace here and fundraising would have been a lot easier, but they weren’t willing to compromise any of their traditional values. They were set on replanting the old mosdos on this continent and boruch Hashem they have been successful.

Our chareidi school system is thriving. I have only fond memories of my school experience, but in those years shortly after the war, the schools were still in their embryonic stage. Over the years, they have become much more organized in transmitting Torah in a way that could appeal to an American boy with new methods that have not compromised our mesorah by one iota. There is so much more material being covered in the younger grades and with more of a clarity, giving children a more solid foundation before entering mesivta. There are also many more extracurricular activities during which talmidim use free time constructively to complement what they learn in school. The hard work and mesirus nefesh of the menahalim, rabbeim and moros can be seen in the bounty that their hallowed fields are producing.

In this week’s sedrah, we learn that after all the parts of the Mishkon were produced by the various craftsmen and the time had come to put it up. “They brought the Mishkon to Moshe, the tent and all of its utensils, its hooks, its planks, its bars, pillars and its sockets…” (Shemos 39:33). The Medrash explains why they had to bring these to Moshe. There were numerous wise men who worked on the Mishkon, but after fashioning the various parts, they were incapable of putting it all together. So they brought it all to Moshe, saying, “Here are the planks of wood, the latches, etc.” When Moshe saw this, ruach hakodesh immediately rested upon him and he was able to put it all together.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv explains that with wisdom alone, one cannot erect a Mishkon, a place for the holy Shechinah to dwell. For this, one needs siyata diShmaya. Only when Moshe Rabbeinu was imbued with a heavenly spirit was he capable of putting it all together. And those who brought the parts of the Mishkon to Moshe, those who represent the builders of Torah institutions who were in the vicinity of Moshe Rabbeinu, those who tread the path of daas Torah, they merit to build a place for the Shechina to rest. This can certainly be said about the founders of chareidi mosdos here in America. They weren’t out to merely build Jewish schools, but rather a Mishkon in the ways of Moshe Rabbeinu.

But it is not merely the Torah knowledge of children today that is so impressive. It is also amazing to see a distinct temimus and purity about them, even here in America, where the secular world is rapidly going off the deep end and there is a rampant spirit of corruption and immorality. And here, with limited budgets, we are producing wonderful gems so different from the products of the secular American school system, whose activities are better not spoken about. How different is the beautiful tzurah of our children. How removed they are from the lunacy prevalent around the country.

Here is another thought on the sedra that sheds light on this phenomena: “Moshe saw the entire work and behold they had done it as Hashem had commanded, so had they done. And Moshe blessed them” (Shemos 39:43). What was the blessing he gave them? “Vihi noam Hashem Elokeinu aleinu… May the pleasantness of Hashem Elokim be upon us – our handiwork may He establish for us, our handiwork may He establish” (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:9). Why did Moshe Rabbeinu give them this brocha in particular?

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv explains that Moshe knew that all those who were occupied with building the Mishkon came from Mitzrayim where Yidden lived for hundreds of years. He was afraid that perhaps they would want to chalilah bring into this holy edifice some of the Egyptian beauty, concepts they picked up in Mitzrayim. To prevent this, Moshe davened, “May it be the will of Hashem that the beauty and pleasantness should be that which Hashem bestows upon us, godly beauty and not that of Egyptian culture.” Furthermore, Moshe davened, the handiwork may He establish for us… Our hard work. All the efforts that we invested into this structure should not go to waste, but should be everlasting.

We are seeing products of the third and fourth generations of Torah families, klei kodesh who were devoted to learning or marbitzei Torah. This is most significant. For although Torah is not passed down as an inheritance and there are no guarantees that children will be successful bnei Torah even with our tefillos, there is no question that what we strive for in raising our children is of paramount importance. And one can definitely see a pattern in these distinguished families. If for numerous generations parents lived a life that is isolated from the secular culture and what mattered to them was only the beauty of Hashem, their chances are that this godly beauty and purity will be reflected on their progeny. One can also see it in families that are not in chinuch and kollel but who are meticulous in guarding their families from influences of the secular culture.

A while back, I was shopping in our local supermarket, Monsey Glatt, waiting on line at the checkout counter, and there was some delay. Standing at the front of the line was a young chassidishe boy as pure as the white snow who had forgotten one of the items his mother had instructed him to buy. Seeing the boy’s dilemma, Reb Yanky, the friendly man at the counter who recites Tehillim between customers and always has a good vort, offered to let him use his old-fashioned flip phone to call home. But the boy, who was taught to be wary of modern technology, did not want to touch the phone. So Reb Yanky kindly called his home for him. Only when his mother said that it was okay did the child speak with her on the phone.

To some, this may sound extreme, but it works. This is how to produce kedusha and tahara, and yes, it can be done even in our day and age. There were two different jobs performed by the Levi’im. There were meshorwrim, the singers and the shuarim, those who guarded the doors of the Bais Hamikdosh. These are two responsibilities that we have in raising our progeny. To teach them the song of Torah and at the same time to stand guard at the doors, not allowing things that are alien to our mesorah to enter our homes. Yes, it can be done.



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