[Donate to Lev L’Achim here.] It has been two months since the annual P’eylim / Lev L’Achim convention in Bnai Brak, yet the excitement generated by that inspiring day of seminars and divrei chizuk continues to be felt by the thousands of Lev L’Achim volunteers and personnel who participated. Their efforts to bring the families of Eretz Yisroel to Torah have taken on a new urgency and their representation of all that is good about living a Torah life has become more compelling than ever.
Here in America we marveled at the participation of so many Gedolei Torah at that event. More than eighty roshei yeshiva graced the magnificent dais in a statement of support that has resulted in thousands of their talmidim volunteering an evening each week to Project Door-to-Door and making monetary donations as well. The Bnai Torah of Eretz Yisroel barely have enough to live on themselves, yet they scrupulously contribute every month to Lev L’Achim.
With such amazing unity, the unparalleled endorsement of our Torah leaders and an organizational machine that is resulting in thousands upon thousands being brought back to Torah life, it is no wonder that the Olam HaTorah feels such an affinity for Lev L’Achim. Indeed, P’eylim / Lev L’Achim has united the Bnai Torah of Eretz Yisroel with their counterparts in North America as well. Between the school drives of the elementary schools, the campaigns conducted in the mesivtas and yeshiva gedolos and the financial participation of yungeleit just as in Eretz Yisroel, the “Movement of the Gedolei Yisroel” is a source of pride to Bnai Torah everywhere.
The Ir HaTorah of America – Lakewood – has forged an especially tight bond with Lev L’Achim. Ever since Maran Rosh HaYeshiva HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, galvanized the Olam HaTorah in support of the original P’eylim and the subsequent efforts to ensure a Torah education for all the children of Eretz Yisroel, the Lakewood name has been synonymous with the mission of the Bnai Torah of Eretz Yisroel to bring our nation home to Torah U’Mitzvos.
The annual Lev L’Achim Asifa in Lakewood is a celebration of this partnership. And the Gedolei Eretz Yisroel have extended themselves beyond their usual limits in order to strengthen this vital bond.
Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman initiated the PROJECT RISHUM mass enrollment drives during his first historic visit to America in 1998. Lakewood will never forget the night when he addressed a jam- packed crowd in Bais Faiga. Huge video monitors were set up outside to include the hundreds of people who simply could not squeeze into the main auditorium and instead filled the lobby, the chuppah room and a good portion of Courtney Road.
Over the subsequent years, a tradition has evolved. The elder Gedolei Yisroel – the ziknei hador – who barely venture out of their daled amos and certainly cannot undertake a trip to America, have instead allowed Lakewood to come to them. Time and again, in the last hour of the night before vasikin, the early morning quiet has been witness to a flurry of unusual activity as technicians and cameramen run in and out of the humble homes of the gedolim, running wires and electric cables to enable a live satellite broadcast arranged to coincide with evening in Lakewood.
Rav Shteinman’s pre-Shavuos shmuess in 2001 provided the tzibbur with tremendous chizuk as they prepared once again to be mekabel the Torah. The next year, Lakewood was privileged to see and hear Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkovits, renowned talmid of Rav Shlomo Heiman, zt”l, from his years in the R’Mailles Yeshiva in Vilna and one of the most beloved of the ziknei gedolei hador. For most of those in attendance, it was the first time they had seen this great Rosh Yeshiva who has never been to America. The sight of his hadras panim – as he stood resplendent in his European-style Rosh Yeshiva yarmulke – looming large on the screens spread throughout the hall, made us feel as if we had been transported back in time, as if the gadol before us was somehow speaking to us from an earlier generation.
In 2003 the posek hador, Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, did the unprecedented. Despite his known adversity to appearing in public, he felt that the unique importance of Lev L’Achim and its special bond with the Olam HaTorah of America deserved an extra special chizuk. Close to 3,000 people watched in awe as the elder gaon entered his study and took his place at the head of that famous simple table where so many vital issues facing Klal Yisroel have been decided. To see da’as Torah as it is uttered by a gadol hador is to realize the eternal romemus HaTorah. As one yungerman put it, “Whoever was present at that asifa left the building a different person!”
“THE TORAH ITSELF”
In 2004, prior to the Bnai Brak convention, a message was delivered to Rav Shteinman from Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Although he never participates in mass gatherings or fundraising functions, the special role of P’eylim / Lev L’Achim puts it in a category of its own. Rav Kanievsky therefore offered to attend the convention, humbly inquiring if Rav Shteinman felt there would be some to’eles to his participation.
No sooner did word of this offer get out, than the streets of Bnai Brak began buzzing with excitement. At the Lev L’Achim R’ Eli Stern, z”l, National Operations Center on Rechov Zecharia plans began to be made for an expanded dais and a hookup to additional sites to handle the larger than usual crowd that would surely come to witness this singular event. After all, if Rav Chaim felt he should be there, who would not likewise feel it incumbent upon them to attend?
Then came the shocking news.
Rav Shteinman had sent a message back to Rav Chaim Kanievsky: “Please don’t come.”
Lev L’Achim leaders hastily gathered at Rav Shteinman’s home to understand this inexplicable development. “Yelamdainu Rabbeinu,” they requested. “Please explain to us what the Rosh Yeshiva feels is so lacking in our work that he should deny us the honor of having Rav Chaim Kanievsky attend our asifa.”
“It has nothing to do with you,” Rav Shteinman gently responded. “Your work is wonderful and deserving of the support and participation of all gedolei Torah. But Rav Chaim is not merely a gadol BaTorah, he is Torah itself! And Torah rirt men nisht – it is not something we move from place to place, even for the best of reasons.”
It was therefore a special privilege that was granted to P’eylim / Lev L’Achim when Rav Chaim Kanievsky -with the approval of Rav Shteinman- agreed to speak to the Lakewood community that year via live satellite transmission at 4 o’clock in the morning before vasikin in Bnai Brak.
None of the thousands who participated six years ago in that unforgettable asifa will ever forget what it felt like to be right there at Rav Chaim’s table, as it were. The atmosphere was permeated with an undiluted sense of kavod HaTorah, and indeed, there were people who brought their young sons, dressed in their Shabbos best, to experience the awe and kedushah of that inspiring night.
Interestingly, Rav Chaim himself was moved by the reports from Lakewood. In his humility he could not fathom that a crowd would even come to see and hear him. He attributed the mass turnout to the importance of Lev L’Achim and decided that if the Olam HaTorah is so united, then he should not be the one to stay home. For the last five years, Rav Chaim has arrived, unannounced, at the annual Bnai Brak asifa, and only after being told that there are simply no open seats in the audience section, has he reluctantly agreed to be seated on the dais.
WHEN ONE LEARNS TORAH LISHMAH
Every Lakewood yungerman knows what an hour means to the masmid of our generation. Rav Chaim is said to complete kol HaTorah kulo each year by following a grueling schedule of almost non-stop limud. Indeed, it is only during leap years, when there is an additional month, that Rav Chaim takes the time to publish his many seforim.
Visitors to Bnai Brak are happy to spend even a moment in his presence and treasure the few words of brachah they may have been fortunate to elicit. Rav Chaim answers many letters in response to the halachic and Talmudic questions that are directed to him from all over the globe. Usually, the answer to the thorniest of issues is couched in but a few words, with a simple “yes” or “no” sufficing more often than not.
A story circulated in the Olam HaTorah tells of the time Rav Chaim was bogged down in the sugya dealing with the various species of grasshopper that are kosher to eat. It was unclear exactly what was meant when the sources referred to the legs of the insect and their placement. Suddenly, a gust of wind through the open window brought a surprise guest. There on his shtender, Rav Chaim found a grasshopper of the sort under discussion. This insect – not at all indigenous to the region – calmly waited while Rav Chaim inspected him and gained a clarity in the sugya. When Rav Chaim was done, the grasshopper flew away as quickly as he had appeared.
When HaGaon HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv –posek hador and father-in-law of Rav Chaim- was told the story he responded in belief. “A masmid like Rav Chaim merits to have the secrets of the Torah revealed to him min hashamayim!”
The legendary Rav Chaim Kanievsky – who rarely ventures forth from his corner of Rechov Rashbam (except to serve as sandek by brisim) – has once again agreed to allow Lev L’Achim to broadcast a question-and-answer session from his home to the annual gathering of the Lakewood Torah Community on behalf of P’eylim / Lev L’Achim.
The noted posek, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein – Mara D’Asra of Ramat Elchanan and author of numerous popular seforim – will join Rav Chaim for this unique event. The two, who are both sons-in-law of Rav Elyashiv, frequently meet to discuss halachic issues, and the thousands in attendance in Lakewood will be able to see and hear as the discussion takes place before their very eyes.
In keeping with the tradition established by Maran Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, who was one of the main founders of the P’eylim movement, the Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Shneur, zt”l, maintained a leadership position in every effort to bolster the efforts of the Olam HaTorah in Eretz Yisroel to create Torah schools for new immigrants and the as-yet secular. That mesorah is propagated today by the Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Malkiel who stands at the helm of the Lev L’Achim campaign in Lakewood and sets the tone for the annual gatherings by delivering the opening remarks each year and invariably echoing the call to arms handed down by his illustrious forebears.
Last year, Rav Yosef Harari-Raful, Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Torah in Brooklyn, was the special guest at the Lev L’Achim Asifa in Bnai Brak. Accompanying the Rosh Yeshiva was his close associate Rav David Ozeirey, Mara D’Asra of the Yad Yosef Torah Center and Director of Ateret Torah.
Rav Ozeirey addressed the asifa and shared his impressions from the whirlwind two-day tour he and Rav Raful had made in advance of the gathering.
“In America too, we see people being chozeir b’teshuvah. But what I have seen here in the last forty-eight hours,” Rav Ozeirey declared with emotion, “is a wonder of wonders. What the Lev L’Achim avreichim do in schools, in midrashot, with young people, by house visits, and in such a quantity and with such quality is hard to believe. My life, after these two days, is completely different!”
The Lakewood community will get to feel that inspiration as Rav Ozeirey will recount his impressions of that memorable visit to the front lines of Lev L’Achim.
All eyes now turn to Bais Faiga Hall tonight, where history will be made once again, and Lakewood will join to see a Gadol HaDor and help ensure the return to Torah of a new generation in Eretz Yisroel.
Donate to Lev L’Achim here.