Gedolei Yisrael from All Over the World Converge on Vienna for Historic Inaugural Amud HaYomi Siyum

100 Years After Daf HaYomi Inaugurated in Vienna, a New “Yomi” Takes Klal Yisrael by a Storm

כ״ח באדר א׳ תשפ״ד – Mar 8, 2024

By Chaim Gold

“This historic maamid transpiring now, in a place where history was previously made, is a maamid that continues the legacy of Torah bequeathed to us right here by the Chofetz Chaim, the Gerer Rebbe, Rav Chaim Ozer, the Chortkover Rebbe and Rav Meir Shapiro, who established the Daf HaYomi in Vienna one-hundred years ago. This is the place where Klal Yisrael came together in unity, the olam hayeshivos and the olam hachassidus joining forces to increase kavod haTorah.”

Those words were the beginning of the seminal speech of HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron at the Sofiensäle Hall in Vienna, the same hall where the Knessiah Gedolah was made in the same city, Vienna, where the Daf HaYomi was established one hundred years ago. Rav Dovid Cohen’s drasha was in essence a shiur on how to view the development of Dirshu’s Amud HaYomi program through the lens of hashkafas haTorah and what it means for Klal Yisrael.

Rav Cohen’s drasha along with those of numerous Gedolei HaTorah V’Hachassidus, Ashkenazim and Sefardim was but one highlight of a historic journey filled with highlight after highlight and climax after climax.

In truth, the word “historic” today has become a bit clichéd, however, Dirshu’s journey to Vienna, Pressburg and Keristier to celebrate the inaugural siyum of the Amud HaYomi program in the Sofiensäle Auditorium in Vienna, the same majestic hall where the famed Knessiah Gedolah was held, was nothing short of historic.

The maamad of the siyum attended by leading senior Gedolei Yisrael, Ashkenazim, Sefardim and Chasssidim of all types, all unified under the Torah banner of Dirshu, was a deeply emotionally and inspiring maamad of chizuk. How to describe the sight of senior Gedolim, many elderly, going above and beyond their abilities, shlepping on planes and buses, to come express their support for Torah, and admiration for an organization that facilitates limud haTorah with a breadth and scope, never seen before?!

How to depict the awe at the realization that tens of Gedolei Yisrael took time from their extremely hectic lives to come from Eretz Yisrael, America and all over Europe to converge on Vienna for one purpose, to celebrate with lomdei Dirshu and daven on behalf of Klal Yisrael b’rov am?!

In addition to the actual maamad of the siyum, which was the heartbeat of the whirlwind journey, powerful tefillah rallies were held at the tziunim of the Chasasm Sofer and the Ksav Sofer in Pressburg, and at the tziunim of the famed Chortkover Rebbe and HaGaon HaRav Yosef Engel in the old beis hakevaros in Vienna and the next day at the tziun of Rav Shayele of Keristier.

Who can forget the heart piercing geshrai, the visceral cry of HaGaon HaTzaddik, HaRav Shimon Galei, shlita, whose pain-filled sobs so deeply aroused the feelings for Acheinu Bnei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael who are fighting a horrible war against implacable foes.

Indeed, the twin powers of Torah and tefilla were deeply felt throughout the three-day Dirshu mission to Europe.

The Siyum at the Sofiensäle Hall

The buses came one after the other stopping in front of the Sofiensäle Hall in downtown Vienna to let off waves of participants. In addition to guests from all over the world, virtually the entire chareidi community of Vienna was in attendance.

The palatial hall filled up quickly and then… it happened. The orchestra began to play as the assemblage rose, craning their necks to see the Gedolei Yisrael entering the hall, being welcomed and then walking down the regal red carpet in the center of the hall: Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita, Nasi of Dirshu, was flanked by HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, on one side and HaGaon HaRav Chaim Peretz Berman, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Ponovezh, on the other. Behind them, walking one by one were numerous Gedolei Torah and Chassidus, HaGaonim HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, shlita, HaRav Avrohom Salim, shlita, HaRav Shimon Galei, shlita, HaRav Yitzchok Koledetzky, shlita, HaRav Binyomin Finkel, shlita, HaRav Yaakov Meir Stern, shlita, HaRav Chizkiyahu Dovid Mishkovsky, shlita, HaRav Shlomo Zafrani, shlita, HaRav Sariel Rosenberg, shlita, HaRav Shevach Rosenblatt, shlita, HaRav Messoud Ben Shimon, shlita, HaRav Mattisyahu Deutsch, shlita, HaRav Nissan Kaplan, shlita, and many others.

Rav Dovid Cohen:The Amud Hayomi is not Coming to Weaken the Daf Hayomi but to Strengthen it!”

The address of Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron, set the tone for the evening. Rav Dovid who has enthusiastically supported, advised and encouraged Dirshu’s hanhallah in their Amud HaYomi undertaking said, “Wherever I go people ask me, ‘Perhaps the Amud HaYomi can somehow be seen as an insult to Rav Meir Shapiro? After all, he instituted the Daf HaYomi and [with this program] we are minimizing the daf by cutting it in half into an amud?’ My answer to this question is that to me, it is clear as light that the Amud HaYomi is not coming to weaken the Daf HaYomi but to strengthen it!

“We must understand, Daf HaYomi is not like the limud of chok! If a person does the Daf HaYomi in a half hour, that is not the Daf HaYomi of Rav Meir Shapiro. Rav Meir Shapiro envisioned Yidden throughout the world being able to talk together in learning on that day’s daf. He dreamt that they would be so well versed in the daf that they could discuss it and argue over it with fellow Yidden wherever they were. If someone can learn the daf and know it in accordance with that august vision of Rav Meir Shapiro, that is wonderful! Tavo alav bracha! The question is, what happens if a person learns the daf without really understanding it? If he ‘does the daf’ in such a superficial way, he is missing the main point! Rav Elyashiv told me that learning without understanding is worth very little. It is better to learn less but to really understand. Thus, if the Amud HaYomi will ensure that a person can learn less but understand, then this is not minimizing the daf!” Rav Cohen thundered, “It is strengthening the entire purpose of the Daf HaYomi.

“Just look at how many thousands of people have begun to learn the Amud HaYomi! Since the inception of the Amud HaYomi, just a few months ago, so many more people have this amazing daily kevius in Torah. This is not on the cheshbon of the Daf HaYomi. Nearly all the tens of thousands of learners are new learners, that have not been learning the Daf HaYomi until now. It is my hope that more and more will join for Masechta Shabbos.”

Rav Cohen also highlighted the power that Torah has to protect us during these precarious times. He quoted the Yaavetz who says that the greatest miracle is the miracle of Klal Yisrael’s very existence despite all the travails and suffering of galus. That miracle is because of their adherence to limud haTorah. It is Torah that has and will save us from the ravages of galus. “That is why,” Rav Cohen concluded,” we have to strengthen ourselves in Torah at a time like this! Amud HaYomi is an antidote!”

Rav Avraham Salim: “Their Neshama is Here!”

The majestic hall with its high ceiling and balconies, ornate architecture, with the three-tiered dais graced by Gedolei haTorah and prominent rabbanim from throughout Europe and beyond, provided the most fitting backdrop for the royal nature and historic significance of the event.

Rav Avraham Salim, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Me’or HaTorah and a senior Sephardic Gadol who is a member of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah, stressed how, “Being here in Vienna where the Daf HaYomi was instituted and where so many Gedolei Torah came together on behalf of Klal Yisrael connects us to them. The Chofetz Chaim and other Gedolim were here! Right here! They are no longer with us in body but their spirit, their neshama, the power of what they did for Klal Yisrael is eternal and remains with us.”

Rav Salim explained that one of the most important components of the Amud HaYomi is that it provides a clear goal and framework for which to learn Torah. The Daf HaYomi, the Amud HaYomi, the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha all provide a framework to accomplish. Not only for those learning all day, but for baalei battim as well. This is huge! There is no way to quantify the pivotal importance of these frameworks! How fortunate is Dirshu to merit creating these programs and facilitating so much Torah learning.

Rav Yaakov Meir Stern: “Limud HaTorah, Our Heartbeat, is the Call of the Hour!”

Rav Yaakov Meir Stern, Dayan of Zichron Meir and a talmid muvhak of Rav Shmuel Wosner who deeply valued Dirshu’s contributions to the Torah world, was then asked to speak.

Rav Stern pointed out three distinct advantages of lomdei Amud HaYomi. Firstly, when learning Amud HaYomi, there is built-in time for chazarah. Secondly, for those who find the Daf HaYomi too much, the Amud HaYomi provides a chelek in every part of Torah and thirdly, bnei haYeshivos who are accustomed to learning at a slower pace, can afford the time to look into meforshim.

“One-hundred years ago,” Rav Stern said, “the Chofetz Chaim at the Knessiah Gedolah said that the only medicine that will save Klal Yisrael is limud haTorah. He explained with a mashal: when a doctor treats a sick person, the doctor is capable of treating multiple ailments at once. However, when the patient goes into cardiac arrest, the doctors drops all other treatments and focuses only on trying to keep the person alive and restore his pulse. The Chofetz Chaim continued that similarly, the only way we will survive this galus is by strengthening our heartbeat – Torah. All the other things are wonderful but without the heartbeat they are worthless! Now too, in these precarious times when we are engaged in a war for our survival against bloodthirsty genocidal Arabs, strengthening ourselves with more limud haTorah is the call of the hour!”

Rav Dovid Hofstedter: The Call Of The Hour Is To Connect Am Yisrael With The Torah Hakedoshah

The chairman of the evening then called upon the Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter to address the assemblage.

In a drasha that was in essence a shiur klali on the power that Torah has to enable Klal Yisrael to withstand the ravages of galus and continue to thrive, Rav Dovid pointed out how, “One-hundred years ago, Klal Yisrael accepted upon themselves a new limud. Not long thereafter Klal Yisrael was struck with one of the greatest periods of darkness and this limud was tremendously mechazek Klal Yisrael, enabling them to survive the darkness of the Holocaust and was instrumental in the ultimate rebirth of Klal Yisrael. Today, a new limud has again been instituted and again the world is descending into darkness. Madmen are standing at the gates and some of the gatekeepers themselves are madmen!”

“We always felt and hoped that the terrible tzaros that we heard about from our forbearers belonged to a different era. Tragically, Jewish blood is being spilled again. The world is trembling again.

In a beautiful Torah tapestry, Rav Hofstedter brought proofs from the words of Chazal that without Torah the world cannot survive. Not just the spiritual world but even the physical world. Only with the zechus of Torah can the world be saved.”

Rav Hofstedter explained that if we see the world trembling it is a sign that our bond with the Torah is weak. The purpose of this new limud, the Amud HaYomi, is to connect all of Am Yisrael through undertaking more learning, more iyun and more clarity.

“All the Gedolim are telling us that the call of the hour is to connect Am Yisrael with the Torah hakedoshah. We must invest all our kochos to connect Yidden with the Amud HaYomi. From Brooklyn to Bnei Brak, from London to Lakewood, from Buenos Aires to Beitar, and from Monsey to Melbourne!

“It is our task to go from kehillah to kehillah opening new shiurim and new chaburos. We cannot afford to be weak. Even when we feel there is no koach, we must declare that there IS koach!!

“We need to come together in achdus and extend the borders of kedushah. We must all daven from the depths of our hearts to Hashem, that He should look favorably at our desire to extend the borders of kedushah and taharah in Klal Yisrael k’ish echad b’lev echad!

Rav Aharon Schiff: “Torah Builds the Jewish Home”

One of the highlights of the event was the divrei bracha delivered in advance of the hadran by HaGaon HaRav Aharon Schiff, shlita, Rav of Antwerp. Rav Schiff related that recently he had been in Switzerland and was asked by several baalei battim, who had joined the program, if he could test them on a masechta that they had just completed. He had known them before, and they were not the type of people who were steeped in learning. “I farhered them and they knew it amazingly! We got to talking and they told me that ever since they started the program their lives have changed and not only that, but their wives have changed too! Talmidei chachamim are called bonayich, builders and we see how learning builds the Yiddishe shtieb, it transforms the Jewish home!”

The hadran was made by HaGaon HaRav Pesach Horowitz, shlita, senior Dayan of Belz. Prior to calling on HaGaon HaRav Shevach Rosenblatt, shlita, Rav of Bnei Brak, to recite the Kaddish, the chairman reminisced about previous major Dirshu siyumim when the Sar HaTorah HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, said the Kaddish

Torah Fireworks in Vienna!

What transpired at the completion of the Kaddish could aptly be described as fireworks! The simchas haTorah! The entire Sofiensäle Auditorium burst out in song as the venerated Rabbanim on the mizrach held hands and began to dance together in a profound outburst of simchas haTorah.

Eventually, Rav Hofstedter and many of the other Rabbanim came down from the dais and spirited dancing enveloped the entire hall as the mesaymim and the Gedolei Yisrael who so support and encourage the Amud HaYomi danced together in circle after circle of achdus through Torah.

There were no Sephardim and no Ashkenazim, no Chassidim and no Litvish bnei Torah, there was no Europeans, no Americans and no Israelis, there was just one unified body of the Am Hashem fused as one as they danced with Hashem and His Torah. One Am Yisrael united through the Kol Yaakov, the Torah that they all learned! The simcha of that dance will remain etched in the hearts and minds of those who merited participating, for years to come.

“This Siyum is a Watershed Moment for Jewry in Vienna and Throughout Europe!”

On a personal level, over the course of the evening, this writer was sitting in proximity to a prominent Rav from the local Vienna community. I couldn’t help but see how every few minutes the Rav took a tissue from his pocket and wiped the tears from his eyes.

In answer to why he was so emotional, the Rav explained, “I have been a Rav here in Vienna for more than thirty years. Never in my life have I experienced such a deeply inspiring Torah event as this. We here in Vienna are deriving chizuk that will last long after you leave. You have brought such pride in Torah with such deep sheifos for setting Torah goals to us here in this community. This siyum is a watershed moment for Vienna Jewry and for all of Europe.”

Rav Binyomin Finkel: “Torah is Meshivas Nefesh!

After HaGaon HaRav Tzvi Rabinowitz, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Boyan, was honored with saying the pesicha on Masechta Shabbos, HaGaon HaTzaddik HaRav Binyomin Finkel, shlita, Mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir, Yerushalayim addressed the crowd.

With great emotion, Rav Finkel shared a thought that he recently discovered from the Chofetz Chaim in a sefer written by a talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva of Radin, Rav Naftoli Trop. “The Chofetz Chaim once described what happens when a person is sick. His family calls the doctor. If the doctor comes and says, “The patient is very sick, I can’t help him,’ they will do hishtadlus and find an even better doctor who might be able to treat the patient. If the better doctor also fails… it is time to call the chevra kaddisha. They come, he says Shema and sadly he dies. What happens if a few minutes later a family member comes and screams, ‘Wait! The biggest specialist in the world is on his way here from Boston. He will come shortly’? They will sadly look at him and say, ‘Sorry! You are too late. He is already dead.’”

“The Chofetz Chaim explains, ‘This applies to physical life and death, but with regard to Torah things are different. Torah is called meshivas nafesh. Yes! Torah can restore the soul even after it has been declared, ‘dead’!”

“If we want to know what we can do during this difficult time for Klal Yisrael,” Rav Finkel exclaimed, “If we want to know how we can restore the nefesh of Klal Yisrael, the answer is: one more amud Gemara! One more daf Gemara! Learn Torah with a bit more depth, with a bit more breadth! Learn Torah, even if it is difficult for you to learn.

“That is what Dirshu is doing! Yes, they already have many programs, but Dirshu wants to give us another course, they want to give us dessert. The Amud HaYomi is dessert. It is another scoop of ice cream! But it is that ice cream that will return our souls to us and lead to the ultimate geulah!”

Rav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz: “Now After Completing Masechta Brachos We Truly Appreciate the Life Changing Nature of Amud HaYomi”

Rav Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz is one of the busiest Rabbanim in Klal Yisrael. In addition to serving as the senior Skverer Dayan in Boro Park, he is sought after by Yidden from across the globe with the most difficult shailos. His magnum opus teshuva sefarim are a testament to the wide range of difficult shailos that reach his table. He is constantly answering the phone and personally paskening and teaching Torah all day. Despite his extremely busy schedule, Rav Steinmetz was one of the prominent American Gedolim who felt compelled to journey halfway across the world to participate in Dirshu’s inaugural Amud HaYomi Siyum in Vienna.

In his powerful remarks, Rav Steinmetz pointed out that the original plan had been to celebrate the start of the Amud HaYomi program in Vienna, during the week after Sukkos. Due to the war situation in Eretz Yisrael, it was cancelled and was later rescheduled to celebrate the siyum on Masechta Brachos. Rav Steinmetz compared this with the famous question on why we don’t celebrate Simchas Torah on Shavuos, the day when we were actually given the Torah.

The gist of his answer was based on a mashal by the Dubno Maggid with the following message, “When we received the Torah, we didn’t really know what was in it, so we couldn’t celebrate with the full joy. On Simchas Torah, after we completed the entire Torah and appreciated its profound greatness and kedushah, that is the real time of simcha. Once we complete learning the Torah, we can really appreciate what we have.

“Perhaps,” Rav Steinmetz continued, “we can say that Hashem arranged that we should celebrate the siyum now. Why? Because now that we see what the Amud HaYomi is, how much of a taam and geshmak we have in it, we can truly celebrate this new program with our entire heart and soul.”

Rav Steinmetz concluded by relating how, in Parshas Terumah that was leined that week, the passuk says, “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti besocham.”

“I must say,” Rav Steinmetz commented, “as a dayan, I am privy to many difficulties, often in the area of shalom bayis. I have repeatedly seen that in a home where the husband learns Torah and has goals in Torah, learns in programs where he must take tests, this very discipline is so helpful in shalom bayis! How many homes have been saved or enhanced due to Dirshu’s many programs?! How many homes were illuminated by Torah learned in these programs?!

“On the front of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, Rav Meir Shapiro, the originator of the Daf HaYomi, insisted that a banner passuk be chiseled into the architecture. That passuk is ‘Lechu banim shimu li – Go my sons listen to me.’ The message is, that when you ‘Go’, when you leave the walls of the yeshiva, you should listen to Me. We have seen this with lomdei Dirshu,” exclaimed Rav Steinmetz, “they bring home the Torah that they learned! It illuminates the home with kedushah, it enhances shalom bayis and chinuch! For baalei battim as well. The fact that a person participates in Dirshu means that the end of the passuk applies to him as well. ‘Bakshu panav tamid – he is always seeking Hashem.’ Even his working is part of his learning because he is working so that he can get back to his Gemara. That is the greatness of Dirshu and its programs! That is the greatness of its distinguished founder and Nassi who stands behind it! That is what we are celebrating today!”

Rav Nissan Kaplan: “The Secret of Dirshu is Chaveirim!’

The entire evening was interspersed with a combination of lively and inspiring music. The tasteful music was imbued with a special taam that inspired ahavas haTorah, and complimented Dirshu’s mission. The beautiful, multi-course seudah was itself a testament to the chashivus that Dirshu attributes to the accomplishments of its chaveirim. You can tell what a person deems important by the amount of time, effort, attention to detail and resources that one invests. It was clear to everyone present that there is nothing more chashuv, nothing more important to Dirshu, than the Torah accomplishments of its chaveirim.

Indeed, the topic of chaveirim segues so beautifully into the message of HaGaon HaRav Nissan Kaplan, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Daas Aharon, who came especially from Eretz Yisrael to participate in the event.

Rav Nissan first addressed the difficult situation in which Klal Yisrael finds itself. He cited the Medrash that says, “The nations came to Bilaam and asked him, ‘Is there any way that we can defeat the descendants of Yaakov?’ Bilaam replied, ‘Go check the yeshivos. If you hear the sound of children learning Torah, you cannot win. Their old father promised them that as long as the kol of Yaakov is heard, the hands of Eisav will not have power over them.’

“We have seen,” Rav Kaplan stressed with great passion, “what the hands of Eisav are capable of doing! We have seen the sadism, the brutality, the bloodthirsty killing that transpired this past Simchas Torah. We have only one way that we can prevail, with the kol Yaakov. When thousands upon thousands of Yidden begin learning the Amud HaYomi on Masechta Shabbos that will enable the kol Yaakov to prevail! When thousands make a siyum on Masechta Brachos, that prevents the hands of Eisav from gaining power!

The Baal HaTurim describes the keruvim facing each other as ‘two chaveirim learning Torah together.’ He doesn’t say two talmidei chachomim. No. He says two chaveirim. I think this is the secret of Dirshu.” emphasized Rav Nissan. “Dirshu brings each of its lomdim together as chaveirim. Lomdei Dirshu are part of a special club. The beauty of Torah is when it is learned together as chaveirim, with a shared sense of mission and friendship. That is what you see at every Dirshu gathering. It is a chevra.

“What must come out from this special maamid held here in Vienna, where the Chofetz Chaim, the Imrei Emes, the Chortkover Rebbe and Rav Meir Shapiro, all called, ‘Mi L’Hashem eilai.’ We must also call ‘Mi L’Hashem eilai!’ If you have not joined yet, now is the time to join the Amud HaYomi!

“Thus far, the Amud HaYomi has been so successful that it has already become part of the DNA of Klal Yisrael. Brachos was a relatively easy Masechta. Now Shabbos is starting. Now is the time to join the next mass movement of Klal Yisrael!”

The Global Reach of Amud HaYomi

Rav Chaim Peretz Berman, shlita, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Ponovzeh Yeshiva, focused on the profound zechus harabbim that characterizes Dirshu and its Nasi. He explained how Chazal mention that the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu was that he was mizakeh the masses with Torah.

Rav Berman then thanked Dirshu and Rav Hofstedter for taking zikui harabbim to unprecedented levels.

As the large crowd slowly exited the majestic Sofiensäle Auditorium, one could hear a cacophony of languages, French and Yiddish, German and British English, American English, Flemish and Swiss-German and even Hungarian and Russian.

Indeed, the European siyum provided a glimpse into the global reach of Dirshu and the enthusiasm for the new Amud HaYomi was palpable. Yes, the kol Yaakov is alive and well in Europe and will certainly serve as the antidote against the yadayim, the hands of Eisav.

 

“The First Siyum of my Life!”

By Mattisyahu Lazar

Inspiration can hit in the most unlikely of places and hit it did. It happened at the Heldenplatz. What is the Heldenplatz? It is a place that will live in infamy until the end of time. The Heldenplatz is a massive, opulent palace in downtown Vienna, the imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When looking up at the massive palace, you can see an ornate balcony. This is no ordinary balcony. Rather, it is the balcony from which Hitler, yemach shemo, gave one of his first speeches after the Anschluss in 1938 when the Nazis took over Austria. The speech was attended by tens of thousands of admirers roaring “Heil Hitler” and cheering when he clearly spelled out his plans to exterminate every last Jew in the world. The balcony has been preserved exactly as it was when Hitler spoke from there.

How then, can I have found inspiration at that very spot?

As we were looking at the balcony, I noticed a Jew wearing a cap standing a few feet away from me. He looked to be in his 60’s and he was surrounded by several young avreichim who could have fit in any beis medrash in Yerushalayim or Lakewood.

Someone noticed me eyeing this Yid and came over and said, “You have to speak to this man. He is amazing!” So, I did. I went over and introduced myself as a writer always seeking a good story.

With tangible emotion in his voice, he shook my hand and introduced himself as Sonny Doer. And then he told me his story. “I felt I had to come here to celebrate the Amud HaYomi Siyum on Masechta Brachos. Why, you might wonder. Well,” his voice shook with emotion, “I am over 60 years old, and this is the very first time I am making a siyum in my life! I am a proud religious Jew. I go to shul every day, my sons here,” he points to two of his sons, “Joe and Jacob, are Torah scholars. One lives in Har Nof and is a Rabbi and another just came back after learning for four years in Yerushalayim and now lives in London.

“When Dirshu announced its new Amud HaYomi program, my son brought it to our synagogue, Beit Hakenesset Torat Moshe in Golders Green. My son asked me, ‘Dad, will you join the program?’ Now really, for me, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. I have always gotten up very early and prayed. I always went to work early. I had a very busy schedule. It is not easy for someone at my age to make changes. Still, I thought about it and my son encouraged me, and I finally decided, ‘Yes, I will give it a go!’” I changed my routine and joined the Amud HaYomi shiur from 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. every morning. What can I say? My life has changed. This is the first time in my life that I have made a siyum! The entire group that participates in the shiur feels like they have changed.

“I want to tell you something,” he continued with pride, “Thank G-d, my sons learn Torah very diligently and every time one of them would make a siyum I would travel from London to Israel to proudly participate in their siyum and celebrate their Torah accomplishments.

“And today? Can you imagine? My sons from Israel [and London] surprised me and they all flew in for MY siyum!

“In addition, I have learned that Torah learning is ‘contagious.’ Because we started learning, others in our synagogue have also begun to study Torah!”

As we finished talking, I heard some of the lomdei Dirshu singing the hallowed words of age old “Ani Maamin…,” the song that celebrates the fact that no matter how many times they try to destroy us, they will not succeed, and we will be here until the arrival of Mashiach. Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker.

With those words playing in the background, I looked at Reb Sonny. Then, wiping a tear from my eye, I looked up at the balcony and thought, “Hitler! We Are Here! Thousands of Yidden who are learning Torah and celebrating Torah are here, in Austria, the place from whence you proclaimed the end of the Jewish Nation. You are gone! And we? We are making a new haschalah!” 

 

At the Chortkover Rebbe’s Tziyon: Feeling the Tzaar of Another Yid!

By Mattisyahu Lazar

On Monday morning, within an hour of each other, several planes carrying Gedolei Yisrael, Rabbanim and mesaymim from all over the world landed in Vienna. A large delegation from Eretz Yisrael led by Gedolei Yisrael, a delegation from the United States and Canada, a delegation from South Africa and more delegations from London, Manchester, Antwerp and multiple cities in France, landed at the airport.

After davening Shacharis in a hotel near the airport and partaking of breakfast, Rav Yisroel Friedman, shlita, Rav of the Chortkover Kloiz, set the tone for the passion-filled visit and tremendous outpouring of tefilla that transpired at the tziyon of the Chortkover Rebbe in Vienna.

He quoted his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Zev Segal, zt”l, the famed Manchester Rosh Yeshiva who defined the characteristics of a true Gadol b’Yisrael. Of course, he must be a giant in Torah, but that alone is not enough. A true Gadol must also feel, truly feel, the tzaar, the pain and suffering of another Yid.

Rav Friedman then related a story about his great-grandfather, the Chortkover Rebbe. The government had heard that when people would be drafted to the army – a spiritual and physical death sentence – they would come to the Chortkover Rebbe, and he would help extricate them from the gezeirah. The government therefore decided that the time had come to catch him in the act and punish him.

They hired a Jew to present himself as the broken father of a child who had been drafted and to bemoan his plight to the Rebbe, begging for advice on how to receive an exemption. The man came in, and with great feeling, depicted the plight of his son and begged the Rebbe to help get his son out of the army.

The Rebbe listened and then asked the man to repeat the story again. The man complied. When he finished the second repetition, the Rebbe asked the man to repeat the story yet again. Finally, after the man finished depicting his pitiful plight for the third time, the Rebbe replied, “You must send your son to the army. As Jews, we must comply with the law of the land and do our part in fighting on behalf of the country…”

Needless to say, the informer came back with nothing and the Chortkover was absolved of any wrongdoing. Later, when they asked the Rebbe how he had known that the man was an informer, he explained, “Usually when a Yid comes and tells me about a terrible tzara such as a child being drafted, my heart immediately feels the deep pain of the Yid standing before me. This time, however, my heart didn’t feel anything! I asked him to repeat it, wondering if perhaps now I would feel something. Again, nothing. After the third time I realized he must be an informer. Otherwise, my heart would have felt the pain of another yid!”

At the beis hachaim, Tehillim was recited passuk by passuk. There was not a dry eye there. Rav Baruch Leib Rabinowitz, the Biala Rebbe of London, aroused the olam by depicting the great zechus that tzaddikim have in death to invoke rachamei shomayim on Yidden.

The heart-rending Tehillim at the tziyon of the Chortkover Rebbe and Rav Yosef Engel on behalf of Yidden all over the world during this eis tzarah, aroused the gathering to tears. Yes, one could tell that everyone there felt the tzaar of their fellow Jews and begged Hashem for rachamim.

 

Touching Other-Worldly Holiness at the Kever of the Chasam Sofer

Pressburg. The name of the city itself arouses a cherdas kodesh, a holy trembling. Pressburg, the home of the Chasam Sofer, the place where the Chasam Sofer taught Torah in yeshiva, wrote his sefarim on Shas, halachic teshuvos, drashos, and on Chumash. Pressburg, the holy place where the subsequent Rabbanim of Pressburg, the Ksav Sofer, the Shevet Sofer and the Daas Sofer guided Hungarian Jewry and beyond.

It was at night, we were all so deeply touched by the Amud HaYomi siyum in Vienna, and we were headed to Pressburg, or Bratislava, as it is called today.

Still, despite the anticipation, nothing could have prepared us for the spiritual odyssey that hundreds of chavrei Dirshu underwent at the unique, life-transforming maamad tefilla held at the tziyon of the Chasam Sofer in a subterranean mausoleum where he is buried with other Gedolim of that era.

The delegation arrived. All the numerous Rabbanim were ushered in first, down the long stairs, into the cave where the kevarim are located. The Rabbanim, gedolei hador, were standing there around the tziyon. The rest of us were standing a bit further back… and then it happened. A wail pierced the air. The piercing wail, the geshrai of Rav Shimon Galei as he started to recite the special kappitlach of Tehillim that were specially recommended to be said at the Chasam Sofer’s tziyon by his talmid, Rav Avrohom Shag, Rav of Kobersdorf and later in Yerushalayim.

It was as if the floodgates of tears had been released. All the pent-up heartache caused by the tzaros plaguing Klal Yisrael since Simchas Torah burst forth from the feeling heart of Rav Shimon Galei, and all of the gedolim and the Dirshu Yidden began to shed tears. He began reciting the Tehillim passuk by passuk, punctuated by heart-rending sobs. The ancient words echoed through the mausoleum accompanied by the cries of all the Yidden pouring their hearts out in tefilla to Hashem as they begged Hashem, in the zechus of the Chasasm Sofer, to send Klal Yisrael all the yeshuos that they need. One kappitel, after another, after another… the hisorerus reached an emotional crescendo.

After the recital of Tehillim, Rav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, a talmid muvhak of Rav Shmuel Wosner, a representative of the mesorah of the Chasam Sofer who today serves as av beis din and Rav of Western Bnei Brak, was asked to say divrei hisorerus and lead tefillos. His tefillos culminated with the resounding roar of Shema Yisrael, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuso and Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim recited seven times.

The assemblage then made their way to the kevarim of the Ksav Sofer and the Shevet Sofer, located in a beis hachaim just minutes away from the Chasam Sofer. The tefillos said from the depths of the heart, seemed to shake the rafters!

At both kevarim, one literally felt as if the very gates of shomayim were opening. As the large crowd slowly exited the compound, following the singing of niggunei hisorerus, a pensive atmosphere filled the air. We all knew that we had just experienced something unique… we had touched other-worldly holiness.

We were hopeful.

The zechus of the Chasasm Sofer who so valiantly fought on behalf of Klal Yisrael would stand Klal Yisrael in good stead at this difficult time. Amein Kein Yehi Ratzon.