Gedolei Yisrael Give Guidance and Inspiration at Dirshu Yom Limud and Tefillah Marking the Chofetz Chaim’s Yahrzeit

Hundreds of Thousands of Children Around the World Daven for Klal Yisrael and Internalize the Chofetz Chaim’s Message

י״ב בתשרי תשפ״ג – Oct 7, 2022

By Chaim Gold

Rav Nissan Kaplan’s voice echoed in the forest around the 7th Fort in Kovno, where Rav Elchonon Wasserman had been murdered al kiddush Hashem. Whoever was present and whoever saw or heard the Dirshu Videocast this year on the first night of selichos shuddered. A shudder of inspiration was felt as Rav Kaplan, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Daas Aharon, exclaimed, “We are a people who, on the one hand, are ready to die al kiddush Hashem should we be forced, and that is wonderful. On the other hand, that same person who is ready to die al kiddush Hashem may not be ready to wake up on time for zeman kriyas Shema!

“As we gather in the makom kadosh where Rav Elchonon was murdered al kiddush Hashem, let us accept upon ourselves to have mesiras nefesh for Yiddishkeit, not only for the big things but for the small things as well. Let us accept upon ourselves to try to daven with more kavanah, learn halacha every day, try to stretch ourselves to do the areas of avodas Hashem that are a bit difficult or out of our comfort zone. Let us make this kabbalah in this hallowed makom kadosh, where Yidden died al kiddush Hashem!”

Rav Kaplan’s drasha was seen by untold multitudes throughout the globe on Dirshu’s groundbreaking pre-Rosh Hashana videocast in conjunction with Dirshu’s eighth annual Yom Limud and Tefilla, designed to bring chizuk and hisrorerus to Klal Yisroel, in advance of the Yamim Noraim, through the message of the Chofetz Chaim on his yahrzei.

On this year’s Yom Limud and Tefilla, hundreds of thousands of Yidden throughout the world said perakim of Tehillim for Klal Yisrael and learned halachos from the Mishnah Berurah and the mussar sefarim of the Chofetz Chaim to mark the yahrtzeit.  

Especially notable was the special Yom Limud and Tefilla programming for children which was created with the singular goal of connecting children to the teachings and life of the Chofetz Chaim. In North America alone, more than 160 Schools held special sessions of learning from the legacy of the Chofetz Chaim while in Eretz Yisrael and Europe similar programming was held in over 500 schools!

“The unprecedented global effort to acquire the zechus of limud haTorah and tefilla combined with the extra sensitivity in matters of speech will certainly serve as a shield for Klal Yisrael in the upcoming Yom Hadin,” said Rabbi Shlomo Rozenstein, Dirshu’s Director of Public Relations.

In addition to the compelling drasha of Rav Nissan Kaplan, the videocast featured never-before-seen footage of the venerated Gaon, HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of the Ponovezh Yeshiva L’Tzeirim, who served as the first Nasi of Acheinu, giving over a pre-Yom Kippur message to talmidim of Yeshivas Acheinu, Dirshu’s kiruv arm; HaGaon HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, Raavad of the Eidah Hachareidis; HaGaon HaRav Shimon Galei, shlita, well-known mashpia and Rosh Kollel; HaGaon HaRav Reuven Elbaz, shlita, Rosh Yeshivat Ohr Hachaim; HaGaon HaRav Yosef Binyomin Pincus, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva, Be’er Hamelech, and Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita, Nasi, Dirshu. The chairman of the event was Rav Zev Smith, shlita, Maggid Shiur Daf HaYomi B’Halacha and Irgun Shiurei Torah.

The Loving Aseres Yemei Teshuva Message of Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz

One of the most moving, inspiring moments on the videocast was the special footage from the home of Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz. For those who merited to know Rav Michel Yehuda in his lifetime the video was especially moving. Just being transported back to that simple home in Bnei Brak from which kedusha and taharah emanated was in and of itself a special chizuk in preparation for the Yamim Noraim. Even more inspirational, however, were his emotional words said during the aseres yemei teshuva.

At the original event, young bachurim from less-observant homes were brought to Rav Michel Yehuda by Acheinu activists to hear words of chizuk in advance of Yom Kippur. Rav Lefkowitz who was well into his nineties at the time, slowly addressed the bachurim with great love. He told them that an important kabbalah that they can make before Yom Kippur would be to not talk “street talk” in the unrefined way that people in the street talk. Another thing the Rosh Yeshiva, said in his sweet yet serious way is that often so much time is wasted by bachurim who while away their time at night schmoozing in the dorm. “If you want to really succeed in learning,” Rav Michel Yehuda stressed, “decide now that you will go to sleep on time. When you do this, your entire day the next day will be different. These are small kabbalos that you can make in advance of Yom Kippur that will have a transformative impact on your entire year,” the Rosh Yeshiva concluded.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch: “How Can One Give Up Precious Moments to be a Ben Olam Haba?!”

Rav Moshe Sternbuch’s powerful words provided a sobering perspective on what the focus for the upcoming Yamim Noraim should be. He said, “It has been said about the Vilna Gaon, zt”l that he davened with a minyan in his home. There were times, however, when he would go to the shul to daven Mincha. On those occasions he walked a roundabout, much longer route. He was asked why he took the circuitous route rather than the direct route through the town square? He explained that he took the long route as it is difficult for him to see people sitting around storefronts chatting idly. “How can one give up precious moments to be a ben Olam Haba and engage instead in nonsense?!”

These and other inspiring messages broadcast right before Rosh Hashanah carried within them a powerful message of setting priorities and realizing how precious each minute is and how time should be utilized for avodas Hashem.

Rav Sternbuch also stressed the importance of learning daily halacha. “Chazal teach us that whoever learns halachos every day is ‘guaranteed’ to be a ben Olam Haba. I once heard from the Brisker Rav that this ‘guarantee’ is not merely a check, rather it is cash! How do we understand this guarantee of being a ben Olam Haba? One who merits Olam Haba can be compared to a citizen of a certain city. Such an individual remains a citizen of his city even if he is currently visiting a neighboring village. Likewise, someone who learns halachos every day, even though physically he is residing in this world, he is already a member of the world to come, a ben Olam Haba. When a person constantly thinks, ‘what is the will of Hashem at any given moment of the day?’ he is a ben Olam Haba.” 

Rav Dovid Hofstedter: Don’t Think the Battles of Amalek and the Satan are Ancient History!

Rav Dovid Hofstedter, in his poignant remarks, spoke about the deep impression made on the Dirshu delegation of esteemed rabbanim from around the world who travelled to Vilna earlier in the year to celebrate the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Siyum. Rav Dovid spoke about the emotional impact of his visit to the 7th Fort in Kovno where Rav Elchonon Wasserman was murdered al kiddush Hashem and to the Punar forest, just outside Vilna, where most of Vilna Jewry was murdered.

“In the forest of Punar we saw trees that were still red from the blood of the Yiddishe kedoshim who were brutally killed there. When we saw the pit where Rav Elchonon and the Kovno Yidden were mowed down, we could almost hear the Shema Yisrael of the kedoshim.

“We should not think,” Rav Hofstedter cautioned, “that the battle with Amalek and all the other battles and bloody wars in the past, are just part of ancient history. The Chofetz Chaim and Rav Elchonon have taught us that this battle continues into our times. How do we know when Amalek is strong? They taught us that the answer is, when there is a milchama against Torah! When they fight against Torah and shemiras hamitzvos, we know the Satan and Amalek are out to get us. The only way to fight him is with mesiras nefesh. One of Amalek’s greatest weapons is complacency. We think, ‘We are okay. We don’t have to worry in the same way as the previous generations did. We can go on with our lives without worry.’ That is davka when Amalek comes. He looks for that hole, goes in and tries to infect us with his poison. He originally came in ‘Refidim’, which Chazal teach us was when they weakened in Torah. The only way to drive him away is to strengthen ourselves in Torah and mitzvos, being moser nefesh to extend ourselves and go beyond our natural abilities to learn Torah and increase kevod shomayim!”

Captivating Program Bringing the Message of the Chofetz Chaim to Children Across the Globe

Another component of the Yom Limud and Tefilla was the special programming featured in many hundreds of schools that impacted countless children across the globe.

The remarkable, school-age program designed by Dirshu made a tremendous impact on tens of thousands of children both in major Jewish centers and in places far from Yiddishkeit hubs. The program was created with the singular goal of connecting children to the teachings and life of the Chofetz Chaim. Towards that goal, halachos from the Mishnah Berurah, together with hashkafa and mussar as taught by the Chofetz Chaim were compiled into age-appropriate, user-friendly, easy-to-understand booklets replete with magnificent illustrations and beautiful stories of the Chofetz Chaim.

Dirshu distributed the extremely compelling, artfully designed booklets in both English and Yiddish for three different age groups: grades 1-3, 4-5 and 6-8.

The captivating stories and graphics motivated the children in each age group to read and be inspired. In addition, the combination of riveting graphics and clarity of the lessons was hailed by leading menahelim and mechanchim as a tremendously successful way of bringing alive the lessons of the Chofetz Chaim.

In their effort to reach tinokos shel beis rabban from across the spectrum, Dirshu vividly designed a Yiddish version of the booklet for Chassidishe chadorim with tailormade illustrations. They were a smashing success.

Along with the booklet, all children were gifted a professionally produced CD containing inspiring stories and lessons from the Chofetz Chaim. The English-speaking students received a CD by Rabbi Yoel Ferber while the Yiddish speakers were entertained by Rav Leibish Lish.

Throughout the diverse communities across the United States and Canada, a wide range of more than 160 boys’ and girls’ schools, chadorim and Bais Yaakovs that truly represent the entire panoply of Orthodox Jewry, participated in the Yom Limud and Tefilla school programs. They included schools from communities such as Indianapolis, Indiana, Monsey, NY; Lakewood, NJ; Brooklyn, NY; Manhattan, NY; Toronto, and Montreal, Canada; Houston, TX; Baltimore, MD; Cleveland, OH; Waterbury, CN; Passaic, NJ; Denver, CO; Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; and Providence, RI. In addition, countless Chassidishe schools in Brooklyn, Lakewood and Monsey also participated.

That is aside from schools, chadorim and Bais Yaakovs throughout Eretz Yisrael and both Western Europe and Eastern Europe. According to Rabbi Gershon Kroizer of Dirshu, Eretz Yisroel, “Hundreds of schools in Eretz Yisrael, North America and Europe that together encompass hundreds of thousands of children participated in the Yom Limud and Tefilla utilizing the unique content provided by Dirshu to commemorate the auspicious day. The impact on young boys and girls learning about the Chofetz Chaim was huge and unparalleled,” he exclaimed.

In addition, tens of schools in, South Africa, Australia and South America participated in the momentous day, making it truly worldwide!

Dirshu Made the Chofetz Chaim REAL!

Rabbi Tuvia Steinharter, menahel of Cheder Tiferes Yisroel of Lakewood, related, “The program was extremely well received and deeply inspiring for our talmidim. We gathered the entire school for an assembly and two of our Rebbeim told stories of the Chofetz Chaim. What was special about the event was that although of course everyone had heard of the Chofetz Chaim, they hear about him in a very abstract way. ‘He was a big tzaddik, etc.’ What the Dirshu programming did was bring the Chofetz Chaim alive for the children in a way that they could relate to him. He became ‘real’. Another of our Rebbeim explained what the Mishnah Berurah is and how this sefer written by the Chofetz Chaim still today guides us in our every day life.

“Then, the entire school said Tehillim together followed by the tefillah of Acheinu. It was so beautiful! The pure voices of the children davening for Klal Yisrael right before Rosh Hashanah in the merit of the Chofetz Chaim, left us all very moved.”

“You Will Never Lose Out From Vitur!”

Rav Reuven Elbaz, concluded with a parting message on how one can invoke rachmei shomayim before Rosh Hashanah, “Learn the holy sefarim of the holy Chofetz Chaim, and you will see how to be sweeter than honey, how to be people of halacha, how to be mevater just like the Chofetz Chaim was mevater! That’s how the Chofetz Chaim guides us! To be mevater and be mevater and be mevater—and you will never lose out from any vitur! And you will see bracha and hatzlacha in your life!”