By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, Yated Ne’eman
All too often, mosdos and organizations tout their events and accomplishments as being historic, as far removed from that appellation as they may be in fact. “Historic” has become an overused and meaningless cliché that we regularly edit the word out of the many articles written on behalf of organizations and sent to us.
This past Shabbos, however, a truly historic event took place, in the form of Bais Medrash Govoah’s “Shabbos of Chizuk” in Monsey. The Lakewood roshei yeshiva spent their Shabbos in different shuls and neighborhoods across the greater Monsey area, touching, inspiring and being mechazeik the town. OnMotzoei Shabbos, the people responded with chizuk for theyeshiva at a packed community-wide melava malka, held at the Atrium.
In the middle of the last century, there were two small sleepy resort towns in this country which were destined to play major roles in the history of the Jewish people. Monsey, NY, was a backwater home to farms and catered to summer vacationers with bungalow colonies and hotels. Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l picked the town to house his Aish Dos Institute, which he founded to train mechanchim to teach the Jewish children spread across the country. That evolved into Bais Medrash Elyon, the advancedbais medrash and kollel of Mesivta Torah Vodaas.
The town of Monsey that we now know grew up around Bais Medrash Elyon and today is an ihr v’eim b’Yisroel.
At the same time that Bais Medrash Elyon was sprouting, Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l was establishing his yeshiva, Bais Medrash Govoah, in Lakewood, home to numerous hotels and a winter vacation destination. Widely derided and given almost no chance of success, he began with a small group of talmidim and spawned a revolution in Torah. It was his fiery determination that changed the thinking of an entire country and brought Torah greatness to the masses. Today, you can’t go anywhere in the world that has not been affected by a student of Lakewood.
This past weekend, Monsey, the former summer resort transformed by Torah, united in support of the great citadel of Torah that has taken root and grown in the former winter resort. The faded origins of these two towns is long forgotten, as the dreams of those who established their yeshivos there flourish beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.
The Shabbos of Chizuk in my hometown, essentially closed the circle. Many thousands participated in the oneg shabbosos,tefillos and drashos, coming together for the cause which unites us all, Torah. In a time of need and crisis, when there are many problems, it was invigorating to know that we can all unite to rally around Torah.
The historic growth of an institution such as Bais Medrash Govoah requires an equally historic commitment from Jews everywhere to appreciate the gift our generation has been blessed with and direct their tzedakah dollars in its support.
At the time of the founding of these two great empires of Torah, conventional wisdom said they had no chance of success. Great thinkers and laymen alike said that Americans would never develop an appreciation for Torah, and worse, that the “old ways” were not applicable in the new medina. Torah was said to be history, and Yidden would never dedicate their very lives to its study. The general feeling was that Klal Yisroel was about to enter a period during which Jews would be less observant and much less knowledgeable about Torah. Unfortunately, that was a self-fulfilling prophecy for many.
Jews who immigrated to America during the first half of the past century believed that the religious life they led in the old country could not be replicated here. Many despaired of their children following in their footsteps; they surrendered to what struck them as the inevitable process of assimilation. They sent their children to public school and lost them ideologically and spiritually. Others acknowledged that America was utterly alien to their values from the alte heim, but they sacrificed to establish yeshivos and/or send their children to already existing ones. Both types recognized that the world had changed, but they differed radically in their approaches of dealing with the new reality.
The ones who succeeded here did so with much mesirus nefesh. Their hard work, deprivation and unflinching dedication to the lifestyle and ideals of their fathers and mothers were rewarded with siyata diShmayah. Those people understood that adapting to the new reality didn’t mean capitulating, denying or diluting the essence of their existence. The people who were able to transplant their greatness to these shores and establish Torah families defined adapting as strengthening what made them strong and enhancing the attributes that distinguish us from the amorphous mass of humanity. They reinforced their characteristics so that they and their children could excel in the new surroundings.
Those who held fast to their traditions and values survived with their essence and their values intact. They transplanted those values to a new country, they translated them into the new language, and they flourished.
Thanks to those hardy souls, centers of Torah exist all across the continent. Yeshivos abound in the farthest flung corners of this continent. Kollelim spring up in virtual deserts. Children are clamoring to learn more and more Torah. In a country where it was difficult to find a kosher piece of meat, kosher products are omnipresent.
A community which barely had enough money to support a handful of yeshivos and a dozen kollel yungeleit in two kollelimhas miraculously expanded to support many thousands who have raised the banner of limud haTorah and shemiras hamitzvos all across the country.
Those of us who are a little older remember shuls that had just oneShas – and even that one set was hardly used. Today, most shulsboast six or seven complete sets of Shas, many of which accompany scores of people on their journey through the Daf Yomi cycle.
Greatness in Torah requires total dedication. Only one who is consumed by ambition for spiritual greatness can grow in Torah. Greatness isn’t accomplished overnight. It takes years of persistence and perseverance, constantly striving and aiming higher. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of growth to reach the pinnacle.
While there are yeshivos across the length and breadth of this country, Lakewood is by far the largest and the one that others measure themselves by as they strive to emulate the historic edifice of Torah which anchors a town of thousands of Torah families.
Six thousand men grace the halls of the fourteen botei medrashwhich comprise Bais Medrash Govoah and dedicate their lives to growth in Torah.
Everyone knows that Lakewood has been experiencing historical growth, but few have paused to recognize that the phenomenon of Lakewood is not just a mass of people learning.
There’s no other place in the world where you can find so many people learning on such an advanced level. In Lakewood, you find accomplished talmidei chachomim learning every sugyah inShas. Today the yeshiva has 265 chaburos, which means you can find people conversant, on a most advanced and sophisticated level, in any subject of Torah. That is part of what makes Lakewood special and draws people there.
There are large groups of yungeleit learning together and becoming experts in even the most esoteric areas of Shas andposkim, including ribbis, kodshim, eruvin, avodah zarah, shviisand challah, among others. When you think about what a “center of Torah learning” means, you realize BMG really is more than ayeshiva, it is a central gathering place for limud haTorah. There is no other place like it in the world. This is what draws more and more talmidim to it year after year and this is the reason that few want to leave.
The ruach haTorah that exists in Lakewood creates a spirit of greatness in learning which encourages young men to reach higher and higher in depth and understanding of Torah.
The ruach haTorah present there creates a nachas ruach to the Creator which causes Him to reflect kindly on all of Am Yisroel. The Torah studied in Lakewood carries much of the world in its merit.
The impact of Lakewood is felt not only on a spiritual level, but also in a very direct way wherever Jews live. There are few Jewish communities anywhere that don’t benefit from Lakewooders in their midst. The yeshiva’s alumni stand at the helm of hundreds ofyeshivos throughout this country and around the world. They have launched kollelim in cities such as Beverly Hills, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Deal, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami, Monsey, North Miami Beach, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Seattle, as well as in Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Ottawa, Thornhill, Toronto and Yerushalayim, among many other places. Strong Torah communities flourish and thrive thanks to the kollelim.
Graduates of Lakewood have spearheaded Torah outreach projects in towns large and small throughout America, besides serving as mechanchim and rabbonim reaching out to Jews of all levels of observance.
Torah is compared to light, fire and water. It is our essence and reality. It is the root of our being. The greater our support for Torah, the greater we are. The more we do for Torah, the more we are and the more we enable our people to become.
Every generation has its unique tests of faith. Meeting those challenges demands that we have the courage of our convictions and not be deterred by opposition. We have to be mindful of our obligations and make sure to carry them out.
Our world is in turmoil. We must do all we can to produce a new generation of leaders and giants to deal with the complex issues facing us. That is accomplished by supporting Lakewood and the other yeshivos which come knocking on our door seeking support.
Greatness and leadership in the world around us are so fleeting. Titans of American industry, commerce and wealth for a century such as AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, General Motors, Chrysler, Citibank, and so many others collapsed, reminding us once again that the idols of the world are all temporary.
Just one year ago, President Barack Obama was hailed as the man of the future. He was said to be the leader who would restore America’s popularity around the world. He would fix the economy, heal the broken souls, and get everyone who wanted one a job. He was rushed into office with a hail of commemorative books and films heralding his arrival as the man who would change America for the good. He was swept into power with a filibuster-proof Senate, and anyone who doubted him was embarrassed to say so publicly.
What a difference a year makes! Obama’s support has evaporated. His agenda has crumbled. Everyone, Right and Left, is questioning his competence and intelligence.
He responds not by examining his record and adjusting his positions to be more in tune with those of the American people, but by seeking ways to improve his methods of marketing his very positions which the people have expressed displeasure with. Every recent opinion poll shows him doing worse than the previous poll. In each closely watched election since he has sought to promote his progressive agenda, he and his party have lost.
Still, instead of showing remorse he produces more of the same and unleashes his oratory against big business, which must grow in order for employment to pick up. He jawbones against Wall Street and causes the stock market to stop rising, engendering yet more worry about the much-awaited economic recovery.
The first person he hired in the wake of the Massachusetts massacre was not someone versed in economics, nor homeland security, nor health insurance, nor someone who can assist in tuning the president back in to the voices emanating from the American people. Rather, it was a former campaign aide brought on to assist the president in marketing his out-of-touch policy ideas the American people have loudly declared they do not want. When the truth is not your guide, when your personal ego is your barometer, it is very difficult to admit the truth and provide proper leadership to a wanting people. Instead of learning from your mistakes and seeking self-improvement, you blame your losses on others. Rather than hewing to the truth you further entrench yourself in fiction, believing that you can succeed despite basing your future on fallacies.
Every era presents new temptations and challenges. A society that is strong and realistic studies the new situation until it can navigate it competently. One that is weak and fatalistic either continues on as if nothing has changed or compromises away everything that gave it its identity in the first place.
As our forefathers before us who blazed the trail in this country and enabled it to become a land hospitable to Torah greatness, we have to deal with the challenges that face us in our time and confront them wisely. We cannot bury our heads or engage in illegitimate compromises. Neither of those options holds out any chance for long-term success. We need to hold our heads up high, maintain pride of our past, and be resolute with our Torah andminhagim.
In our time as well, we are confronted by a constantly changing society, one that is plagued by ebbing morals and a host of temptations that threaten to invade our lives. New problems arise daily. In order to maintain our existence until the coming ofMoshiach, we have to exert ourselves to remain steadfast to that which makes us great. We have to remember why we were created and what our mission is.
We cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the vagaries of the moment. As our grandparents who immigrated to this country did, we have to remain focused on building, maintaining and improving yeshivos and mosdos for our children. We cannot allow ourselves to be deterred by the naysayers who complain that it is too difficult to maintain and an impossible task. We must remain focused on our goals and not water them down or take refuge in easy excuses to justify inaction.
This past Shabbos in Monsey was historic because wherever theroshei yeshiva went, the people followed, demonstrating that they recognize what it takes to make our people great. They showed that the flame of Torah burns brightly in their hearts and minds. They displayed that they recognize the historic opportunity available to them to support the greatest makom Torah Hashem has ever blessed us with. The people of Monsey showed that theroshei yeshiva of Lakewood and other mosdos of Torah can count on united support as they build on the foundations established for us and spread kedushah in this world, preparing us all for the coming of Moshiach, may it be in our day.