By Gavriel Horan
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, the internationally acclaimed maggid shiur of the “Shmuz,” just completed a tour of Eretz Yisrael and Toronto to promote his new book, “Stop Surviving and Start Living.” The book is roughly based on the first perek of Mesilas Yesharim in twenty-first century language, providing readers with a strong perspective on the world and life according to the Ramchal’s approach.
The Tour began in Toronto where Rabbi Shafier addressed the NCSY Convention. Every NCSY Toronto staff member received a copy of the book to assist them with their teaching curriculum. Rabbi Shafier was also invited as scholar in residence at Ateres Mordechai. In Eretz Yisrael he spoke at Moshav Matisyahu, the OU Israel Center, Neve Yerushalayim, Ohr Samayach, Sharfman’s Seminary, Ohr Yerushalayim, and dozens of other yeshivas, seminaries, and communities. The book has already sold over 3000 copies before even hitting the stores, just a few weeks after printing.
Across the Spectrum
Eight years ago, Rabbi Shafier left his post as Rebbe in Monsey’s Chofetz Chaim yeshiva at the request of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Alter Hanoch Leibowitz zt”l, to devote his time to teaching working bnei Torah. “There was nothing holding many of these guys in learning,” Rabbi Shafier explained. The result was Tiferes Bnei Torah, a network of learning opportunities for young, working men, focused around a weekly mussar and hashkafa shmooze. “The ‘Shmuz’ deals with all of the topics that a thinking Ben Torah should be working on such as the meaning of life, emuna, bituchon, davening, marriage, parenting, and so on,” he said. “It gets people involved in growing, shteigin, and serving Hashem.”
The Shmuz started in Brooklyn, Queens, and Monsey, but over the years, has spread to Passaic, Lakewood, Teaneck, and Baltimore. Today, the Shmuz has over 10,000 members in 29 different countries, and 4000 people download shiurim each week, from Chassidim to secular Jews and everything in between. There are even non-Jews in Holland who support the shiur! One time Rabbi Shafier went on vacation in an out of the way Chassidish community in order to get away. After davening a Chassid approached him and said “You’re Rabbi Shafier, right? You put me to sleep.”
“Excuse me?” Rabbi Shafier asked in surprise.
“You put me to sleep. I listen to your shiurim before I go to bed every single night!”
“The most special thing about the Shmuz is that it’s based on yediyas, not hergesh,” one avid listener from England said. His father started listening to the shiurim a year ago, and now the entire family is hooked. “They make so much sense that you just want to change.”
“It’s yesodisdik and clear and packaged in a way that it’s a treat to listen to,” another follower in Israel said.
Although the concepts that Rabbi Shafier addresses are not novel, his non-threatening and down-to-earth presentation reaches people who wouldn’t normally be moved. After attending a Shmuz, one elderly man commented that according to what he had just learned, he had wasted most of his life. “I’ve spent my entire life working, and I’ve never thought about these issues at all!” he said.
Rabbi Shafier takes from a wide variety of modern day sources to bring his points home. In his recent shmooze in Ramat Beit Shemesh, he quoted a Harvard course that decided to give G-d a grade on Creation. They concluded on a B-. “How could they rate G-d, if they don’t have a clue why the world was created in the first place?” Rabbi Shafier asked. “Before you grade the manufacturer you have to know what the intended use of the product is. So too, before you rate G-d, you better have a clear fundamental understanding of why Hashem created the world.”
His answer: “This world is an opportunity to grow. Hashem orchestrated and created every single situation for me to achieve my maximum potential. When I go to the next world I enjoy forever that which I shaped myself into in this world. If you don’t understand that, G-d would never rate a B-. If you think life ends in the grave, G-d would rate an F. Why would Hashem create a world full of so much suffering, pain, inequality, challenges, sickness, and evil if this world was the final destination? When you begin studying the human condition you quickly see that it makes no sense.”
Rabbi Shafier went on to explain that according to the Mesilas Yesharim, a thinking person who looks at life, will see that it is impossible to think that Hashem created us for this world alone. “A thinking person will quickly understand that it’s obvious that Hashem created us for a station in the World to Come. If you understand life from this perspective, than fundamentally everything makes sense, but if you don’t, nothing under the sun makes sense. You will have countless questions on G-d and there will be no answers.”
He pointed out that although every industry has its ups and downs, the mental health profession seems to always be increasing. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. alone are profoundly, clinically depressed and only a small fraction can be attributed to medical causes. “Never before in the course of history has so much wealth been available to man. For centuries people lived in fear of the Black Plague, pogroms, oppression, starvation-it’s all gone. We have freedom of religion, opportunities, and wealth and yet people walk the streets full of despondency and depression.”
Rabbi Shafier explained that the reason for this is that most people feel that their lives are meaningless. “Hashem put us into this predicament called life to grow and accomplish and to change ourselves. When you live a life of purpose there’s a sense of balance, harmony, and inner joy. But if you spend your life doing anything else, making money, pursuing a career, or saving the whales, you wake up in the morning with a feeling of emptiness inside. That vacuum is your neshama screaming out that there has to be more.”
He gives a prescription for taking your spiritual temperature: how happy are you? “When you understand what a chesed is, what limud HaTorah is, and what putting on tefillin means-you feel joy that you’re changing yourself. But when you practice robotic Judaism just going through the motions, you feel empty and unfulfilled. We were given the most unbelievable opportunity called life and we, the Chosen People, were given the greatest system for spiritual self perfection. Let’s use it!”
To order a copy of Stop Surviving and Start Living or to download all shmuzim for free visit www.theshmuz.com or call 1-866-613-TORAH.