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
By Chaim Gold
“There is nothing more important that we can do before the Yamim Noarim than to try fixing and rectifying our klei hadibbur, our mouths and our tongues that enable us to speak!”
These were the powerful words of Rav Yissocher Frand, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva Ner Yisrael in Baltimore and one of the prime mashpiim of our time. Rav Frand’s words were said during an emotion-laden drasha that was seen by untold multitudes throughout the globe on Dirshu’s groundbreaking pre-Rosh Hashana videocast in conjunction with Dirshu’s ninth annual Yom Limud and Tefilla. The Yom Limud and Tefilla was designed to bring chizuk and hisrorerus to Klal Yisrael in advance of the Yamim Noraim, through the message of the Chofetz Chaim on his yahrzeit.
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.
In addition to the compelling drasha of Rav Yissocher Frand, the videocast featured never-before-seen footage of the venerated Gaon, Harav Yitzchok Scheiner, zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of the Kamenetz Yeshiva, said many years ago at an Acheinu event. Acheinu is the kiruv arm of Dirshu.
Other drashos were given by HaGaon HaRav Shimon Galei, shlita, well-known mashpia and Rosh Kollel; HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Berkowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, HaGaon HaRav Reuven Elbaz, shlita, Rosh Yeshivat Ohr Hachaim; 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 videocast was punctuated with inspirational niggunim of hisorerus in advance of the Yamim Noraim.
Rav Frand: “What is the Preparation for the Yamim Noraim?”
Rav Frand’s timely and timeless message left much food for thought. He explained that each Yom Tov has its specific preparation. “Before Pesach, we clean, we kasher, we prepare the Haggadah, etc. On Sukkos, we invest much time searching for mehudar arba minim, we build the sukkah and so much more. How then do we prepare for the Yamim Noarim?” he asked.
“Of course, we try to improve our davening, we introspect, we try to gauge where we are holding now, a full year since last Rosh Hashanah. There is, however, another preparation that we do that almost seems to be swept under the rug,” said Rav Yissocher. “On erev Rosh Hashanah, we engage in hataras nedarim, we annual all vows we may have mistakenly made. This annulment of vows becomes much more intense with the onset of Yom Kippur. As Yom Kippur is being ushered in, we all gather for Kol Nidrei, that special, haunting melody, wherein we once again annul the vows we have made throughout the year. It seems strange. Is there truly nothing more important to do on the threshold of what is the most important twenty-five hours of the year?”
“There truly is nothing more important!” thundered Rav Frand. “Because, if we come into the Yamim Noraim with mouths sullied by lies, broken promises, it will be very difficult to use that same mouth to beseech Hashem, ‘Who is Emes, and Whose words are Emes and everlasting,’ with a mouth full of sheker. That is why the first thing we must do before these holy days is fix and rectify our klei hadibbur, our mouths! Only then can we hope that our tefillos will be heard and accepted.”
Rav Yitzchok Scheiner Gives Emotional and Inspirational Message on the Sensitive Subject of Asking for Mechilah
Just seeing the image of Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, zt”l, the unforgettable Rosh Yeshiva of the Kamenetz Yeshiva, as he passionately and eloquently spoke, brought great nostalgia and chizuk to those who merited to know him. He related a powerful story that showed the extent that a great man went to be granted mechilah from someone whom he had mistakenly wronged.
The famed Rav Shmuel Shtrashun, author of the Rashash on Shas, was a wealthy man who operated a gemach. Once, a G-d fearing, poor and unlearned tailor borrowed the very large sum of 300 rubles from him. The payment date was one year from the loan and a year later he came to repay the loan. The Rashash, who was deeply immersed in a sugya when he came, took the money and stuffed it into the flap of the sefer he was learning. Later, the Rashash was reviewing his ledger and noticed that the loan had ostensibly not been repaid. The tailor maintained he had paid, but the Rashash, who had no recollection of the incident, insisted that he had not paid.
In the end, it went to a din Torah and the Rashash, not wanting the man to potentially make an oath in vain, forwent the loan. The people in Vilna were furious with the tailor for having the audacity to continue contradicting the Rashash. They stopped patronizing his store, shunned him in shul and he was left with no choice other than to leave Vilna and live in abject poverty in a tiny village.
The next year, the Rashash was learning from a sefer and… out dropped the 300 rubles! He was mortified. He looked for the tailor and finally found him poverty stricken, his life ruined. Falling at the tailor’s feet, the Rashash begged him for mechilah.
“How can I grant mechilah,” the tailor cried in a pained voice, “when my life is ruined?”
The Rashash offered to go to every shul in Vilna and publicize that the tailor had been right. The tailor responded, “People will just say that the Rashas is a tzaddik…”
Finally, the Rashash had an idea. “I know you have a son of marriageable age and I have a daughter. If we do a shidduch together everyone will realize that you were right!”
That is exactly what happened! The great gaon and wealthy Rashash did a shidduch with a simple tailor. Rav Scheiner’s message about the importance of bein adam l’chaveiro and asking for and granting mechilah during this time of the year came through… loud and clear.
Children Throughout the World Connect to the Chofetz Chaim
One of the especially notable aspects of the Chofetz Chaim’s yahrtzeit 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 100 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!
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.
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 Yisrael, “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!
Rav Dovid Hofstedter: Keep on Davening, Keep on Connecting
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu, focused on the topic of tefillah that is such an integral part of the Yamim Noraim. He cited the well-known words of Chazal that teach us, “The gates of tefillah are never closed.” The question arises that we often see that our tefillos are not answered? We have all experienced at times when we have poured our hearts out in tefillah but the tefillos were not answered. What does Chazal mean when they say the gates of tefillos are never closed?
Rav Hofstedter cited the fascinating words of the Baal HaTurim that show the connection between the last passuk of Parshas Devarim and the first passuk in Parshas V’Eschanan, when Moshe Rabbeinu begs Hashem to be allowed into Eretz Yisrael. The words “Hashem Elokeichem,” contained in the last passuk of Devarim, connect to Moshe’s tefillah of V’Eschanan to teach us, shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid – Hashem is with us, always.
The Baal Haturim is saying that tefillah is not merely an exercise in asking Hashem for our needs, it is much more than that. It is our connection to Hashem! Tefillah is our relationship to Hashem.
Hashem doesn’t need anything. He is lacking nothing. What He wants is for US to have a relationship with Him. The difficulties that a person undergoes empowers the person to become closer to Hashem. Thus, even though it may seem like our tefillos are not answered, really, they are being answered, because they are enabling us to connect with Hashem in ways that we otherwise never could have.
Another answer to the question is that we often do receive answers but not immediately. Rav Hofstedter then told over a story that he had personally witnessed at the home of the first Nasi of Acheinu, HaGaon HaRav Michel Yehuda Lekfowitz, zt”l.
A group of young bachurim who had become baalei teshuva had been brought to Rav Michel Yehuda’s home for a bracha. Just months earlier, these bachurim had been completely irreligious and knew nothing about Yiddishkeit. Rav Lefkowitz tested them on what they were learning, and their knowledge was amazing.
“I told Rav Michel Yehuda, ‘It is a miracle! Just a short time ago they knew nothing and now they are answering questions on Gemara?!’ Rav Michel Yehuda replied, ‘You don’t know who their grandparents or great-grandparents were. Decades ago, or more, they davened for G-d fearing descendants and now their tefillos are being answered!’”
Rav Hofstedter concluded with a personal story. “Recently my father-in-law, R’ Avrohom Bleeman, celebrated a very memorable birthday. He received good wishes from all over. One of them was a card signed by King Charles, the King of England. I asked him, ‘When you were in the Nazi concentration camps suffering unspeakable horror for five years straight, did you ever dream you would get a letter from the King of England?! He replied, ‘The only thing we could daven for then was to live for another day. We had no idea what the future would hold for us, but we davened to Hashem!’ That is the message for us, to daven to Hashem and daven some more. Kavei El Hashem and Kavei El Hashem!”
The Chofetz Chaim “Fixed” Klal Yisrael
Rav Yitzchok Berkowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, highlighted the uniqueness of the Chofetz Chaim, that he wrote sefarim to fix things that needed fixing in Klal Yisrael. No one understood what lashon hara was and how bad it was until the Chofetz Chaim created that awareness. He realized how important it was to write a sefer on daily halacha so that Yidden would be able to know what is wrong and right. The Chofetz Chaim was misaken Klal Yisrael.
Dirshu today is going in that path, creating daily limudim such as the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha and publishing the wonderful Mishnah Berurah with all the modern-day halachic rulings set forth so beautifully and effectively.
Rav Berkowitz brought out that a way to follow in the path of the Chofetz Chaim is to learn his sefarim daily. Chazal teach us that a person who learns halacha daily is a ben Olam Habaah. The emphasis is on the “daily.” Even a short investment of time learning halacha or the Chofetz Chaim’s other sefarim transforms a person’s life…
Making the Chofetz Chaim “Real!”
Dirshu invested great effort into creating programing for schools that would bring the Chofetz Chaim alive. Schools were given beautifully illustrated booklets that brought out the relevance of the Chofetz Chaim and his life to children today. The books were written in age-appropriate ways with separate booklets for older and younger grades that truly gave them insight into the Chofetz Chaim and what he stood for and how they could connect with the message of the Chofetz Chaim today in 2023.
A prominent menahel of a cheder in 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 everyday 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.”
Rav Galei: The Greatest Kaddish!
Rav Reuven Elbaz emphasized a general message on how to find favor in Hashem’s eyes during this critically important period of the year. He said, “One of the prerequisites to meriting Torah is humility, because of his humility, Moshe Rabbeinu, merited to receive the Torah from Hashem. He genuinely felt, ‘Why should I be the one? I am nothing, I am a nobody!’ We must emulate Moshe Rabbeinu.
Let us conclude with the profound remarks of Rav Shimon Galei, who in his inimitable way, full of regesh, pointed out how we can connect with the Chofetz Chaim and attain zechusim before Rosh Hashana, “Just as with a yahrtzeit children say Kaddish, the greatest Kaddish we can say is to undertake to learn and strengthen ourselves in any area of kedusha. The Pele Yoetz writes, if a person loses a father, if a child loses a parent, and he accepts upon himself to follow and emulate one thing that his father sacrificed his life for, that would be the greatest Kaddish one can do!
“The Chofetz Chaim was surely our spiritual father up until this day and age, as we all learn from his sefarim. Surely learning his sefarim is the greatest Kaddish we can say!”