In The Presence Of Greatness

June 27, 2024

  1. Strauss

In a month marked by tremendous displays of kavod haTorah, the kabalas panim of gedolei Eretz Yisrael this Sunday was one that promised to stand out. Tens of thousands were to gather on the streets of Lakewood just to get a glimpse of the venerated gedolei hador.

Excitement began building last week as word spread that the gedolim were planning a historic trip to America to found Keren Olam HaTorah. Their goal is to raise over $100 million for kollelim and yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael after recent unprecedented government cuts.

Anticipation grew as the names of the visiting gedolim were announced: Rav Dov Landau, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Rav Don Segal, Rav Yaakov Hillel, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, and Rav Avrohom Salem. That our town was chosen as the place where the manhigim of our generation began their trip was seen as both a privilege and a symbol of what we represent; Lakewood is, after all, the ir haTorah, where kavod haTorah takes precedence over everything else.

In the days leading up to the event, details of how it would look and what to expect kept trickling in. Participants were advised to bring along water bottles, as 100-degree weather was expected.

Sunday afternoon arrived, and by 6:30, crowds began filling the parking lot outside Bais Shalom and Bais Aharon. Children clad in white shirts held steadfast to their fathers’ hands, and mothers pushing infants crowded the corner of 10th Street and Clifton Ave. Thousands stood waiting for the moment the gedolim would mount the gigantic stage as soft music played in the background.

The clock inched closer to seven, the moment everyone was waiting for. Children, and even adults, stood on chairs to get a better view when suddenly, the skies opened up to let down a torrential summer downpour. And yet, no one budged. Umbrellas opened up, in some cases with six people squeezing under one. Some people just stood tall, exposed to the elements, soaking it all in.

The music turned off and the stage remained empty, but the crowd would not leave. From my vantage point standing on a folding chair, the scene was semi-comical: thousands of men and children swaying in the rain. For what? Not for money, not for pleasure, but to show kavod to those whom we look up to.

After some 20 minutes, the skies cleared and the dais began filling up. First rabbanim from across Lakewood and the roshei yeshivah of Bais Midrash Govoha, and finally, amid joyous dancing and ecstatic singing, the gedolei hador made their way to their seats.

The event then commenced with succinct speeches given by the gedolim, who were called up with outbursts of song.

Rav Malkiel Kotler addressed the crowd, intoning Matan Torah. The thunder and lightning in the backdrop just added to the heightened mood. He welcomed the “glory of our generation,” as he referred to them, to Lakewood and spoke of the importance of giving kavod to the Torah and the gedolei Torah.

A hush fell over the assembled as the mic was given to the zkan gedolei hador, Rav Dov Landau, who warmly bentched the crowd and those who come to the help of the yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch spoke of the mesirus nefesh we need when faced with adversity.

Rav Yaakov Hillel spoke next, stating that despite the goal of the Zionists to uproot Torah, we always rise to the occasion and stand unwaveringly connected to the Torah.

Finally, Rav Don Segal rose, and in a tearful address begged the Yidden in America to do all they can to support this vital cause. When he finished his drashah, the music began playing the Mashgiach’s “Tattele Kum Shoin Aheim” song while, as if on cue, the skies opened up once again and relentless rain descended on the masses.

The Rachmistrivka Rebbe from Yerushalayim recited kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim, after which everyone left the event, drenched to the bone and deeply inspired.

A sentiment that was felt and mentioned in the drashos was that those gathered were there not just to show kavod haTorah, but also to declare their support for the olam haTorah in Eretz Yisrael. The bnei Torah there will inevitably be harassed and intimidated, but they should know that we stand with them.

We can’t claim to know the ways of Hashem, but perhaps the weather on Sunday was a test for us. Would we be fazed by inclement weather? If that was the purpose, we surely passed the test.

As Shlomo HaMelech expressed in his song to Hashem (Shir Hashirim 8:6–7), “Our love to You is a holy, flaming love that water cannot extinguish and rivers cannot wash it away. If a man would give all the riches of his house in exchange for it, he would be scorned.”

We are not deterred by relentless heat or pounding rain. And we are ready to open our wallets wide to those who uphold the torch of Torah, because that is who we are, and that is what we truly love. We stand with the Torah, those who learn it, and those who teach its eternal word to a thirsty and lofty people.

Breaking Limitations

Klal Yisrael steps up to the plate

The biggest supporter of Torah in Eretz Yisrael just stopped its funding, leaving Klal Yisrael to fill in the gaps.

M. Brejt

It’s a threat that’s been hanging over the heads of the chareidim in Eretz Yisrael for years. For more than four decades, the largest segment of the funding for yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael came from the stipends from the Israeli government. For years, the government warned that they would cut this allowance, and as of April 1, they have made good on their threat.

The shortfall is crushing. The money that came in from the government was never extra income; it was used to pay for the basics. Yeshivos have stopped running their air conditioners, leaving hundreds of yungerleit to toil in Torah in the sweltering heat. They’ve stopped offering food as they scramble to make payments. Unfortunately, some kollelim have closed their doors altogether.

Since April 1, Torah institutions have been struggling, but there was the hope that the issue would be corrected and the decree would be reversed. Yet as more and more roshei kollel and roshei yeshivos approached Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch in despair, it was clear that Toras Eretz Yisrael could no longer rely on the Israeli government to fill the shortfall of over $107 million.

Now the zechus is being handed to Klal Yisrael.

Ba’alei batim were mobilized in an astonishingly short span of time. Under the leadership of Rabbi Wolfe, Shimon Glick, Yitzchak Rakowsky, Ralph Herka, Baruch Jeramasi, and others, a fund was created. In an unprecedented event, six gedolim from every branch of Klal Yisrael came to America to raise the money to cover the deficit.

The gedolim all maintained that the money being collected could not come at the expense of other obligations; Klal Yisrael wouldn’t gain that way. In the current difficult economic times, with many people having trouble with their usual donations and many yeshivos struggling to survive, Klal Yisrael is being pushed to its limits. No one wanted to push Klal Yisrael more—but Klal Yisrael responded to the pressure by going beyond all previous limitations.

Mr. Ralph Herzka spoke at one fundraising event, saying that he had a fund set up for a rainy day. He and his wife decided that now is the time to use it. Now isn’t just a rainy day, it’s a mabul, and Klal Yisrael needs the funds.

The collection has just barely gotten off the ground, and as a nation, we have demonstrated that we can go beyond our limitations. People have pledged 1 million, 3 million, 5 million, going way beyond their means. In Lakewood alone, over $16 million has been raised. The gedolim have also visited Monsey for a fundraiser in the home of Shimon Glick, as well as Manhattan, Flatbush, Toronto, and Deal. As of this writing, $70 million has been raised, an incredible display of achdus and mesirus nefesh for the lifeblood of our people.

Although the fund was initially directed at the very wealthy since they have the ability to bring in the money at a pace that meets the urgency of the moment, objections quickly arose from the rest of the American community. Why should only millionaires have the chance to give? We also want a part in the mitzvah. In response, effort was put into giving everyone the opportunity to donate. As soon as the page was set up, even before it officially became public, money started pouring in.

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch’s talmidim report that this is the first time he has come out so forcefully, but his mission is on behalf of the entire olam haTorah.

With siyata d’Shamaya, the money will be collected to cover the shortfall, but this sum will support the need for just one year. What happens next? What is the long-term plan?

The laws in Israel tend to change at such a rapid pace that it’s easy to imagine that the law will be reversed and the budget will go back to the way it was.

And if not?

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch encapsulated it for us beautifully when he spoke at the kabbalas panim in Lakewood. The Aron was nosei es nosav—it carried itself. Klal Yisrael is being given the zechus to contribute, but Hashem can take care of any shortfall.

He related that years ago, he would travel extensively, collecting money for the many mosdos he was responsible for. Then, five years ago, he stopped traveling and nothing changed. The multimillion-dollar budget was still covered.

“We just need to do our best to allow the Ribono Shel Olam to disguise His ways of giving us the money.”

He added that when he was no longer able to make phone calls, he said, “Hashem, I belong to you, Klal Yisrael belongs to you, the Torah belongs to You, and now I’m asking You to take over. The Ribono Shel Olam is not bankrupt. We just need to do the best we can.”

What We Saw

It started with the rumbling.

It always does.

The hottest day of the year! And the threat of rain to boot! Was it even safe?

Through it all, I went about my business, unsure of whether I would actually be one of the very few who would brave it.

On Shabbos, our rav gave an impassioned drashah about the need to discuss the ma’amad with our children, to share what true kavod haTorah means with them, and not to squander this golden opportunity.

I dutifully did just that at the seudah, explaining what the meaning of the upcoming ma’amad was and why six venerated elderly gedolim were making the arduous journey to America. But when my son asked me, “Ta, are we going?” I still mumbled something resembling “We’ll see.”

When Sunday afternoon rolled around and the weather reports showed a 100 percent chance of rain, it was decision time.

I knew what the right thing was and concluded that I wasn’t about to let this slip away. With water bottles in hand, we were off.

As the rain started coming down and thoughts of turning around entered my mind, we ventured on, determined to get there no matter the weather.

Settling into some semblance of a spot, my son clambered on top of a fence in front of us and craned his neck toward the dais, trying to see if the gedolim had arrived yet.

As the rain continued to come down and umbrellas popped open all around us, we waited with thousands of others for the moment when we would be able to see what mesirus nefesh for Torah looks like in the flesh. We waited to see what it means to wage a war against those who want to tear us down. Most importantly, we waited to see why they will never be successful, no matter how many millions of dollars it will take.

All at once, the music started up and the moment arrived. On the dais far in front of us, six giants of Torah made their way to their seats, determined to send their message: that united, Klal Yisrael will continue b’derech avoseinu.

From his perch on the fence, with my well-positioned hands making sure he wouldn’t fall, my son tried once again looking above black hats and around countless umbrellas.

“Can you see them?”

That was the question I and no doubt thousands of others were asking their children at that moment.

With his clean white shirt soaked and his wet hair matted to his face, he turned to me with a brilliant smile that said it all. He had seen, and he had internalized.

It was at that moment that I realized what he had truly seen. Whether or not he actually saw from that distance who he thought he saw, equally as important was what he and thousands of other children saw standing right next to them.

They saw fathers, many of whom had come straight from second seder with no thought to hungry stomachs, standing with them in the rain for a chance to witness mesores haTorah in its purest form. There were no lavish buffet tables with meat boards and sushi. There wasn’t even a Danish to be found. There was just Klal Yisrael and its holy leaders gathered together to fight a war for Torah lishmah.

They saw mothers bundling young children and pushing strollers in the howling wind, no doubt knowing they would have to deal with overtired kids the next day, bringing to life the words they say every Erev Shabbos, “v’zakeini legadel banim u’vnei banim.”

It was a chance of a lifetime to live the “V’hayu einecha ro’os es morecha” sukkah poster we have all seen countless times throughout the years.

It was mesirus nefesh for Torah and mesirus nefesh for kavod haTorah coming together as one—and the promise that Toras Hashem will forever shine brightly as it continues to be passed from generation to generation.