CHASSIDUS UNOPPOSED
December 5, 2017
Nosson Avrohom in #1096, Feature, SPREADING THE WELLSPRINGS

Every evening, while you are putting your children to sleep, thousands of men from non-Chabad homes go to dozens of kollelim throughout Eretz Yisroel and learn maamarim and sichos of the Rebbe. They’re also tested on them. * These are a network of kollelim run by Rabbi Shmuel Offen, son of the mashpia, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Offen. * How did this silent revolution happen? How does learning Chassidus affect these men? How do they react when they learn the sichos of 5751-5752? * Nosson Avrohom spoke with four roshei kollelim and was amazed with their responses.

There is a network of about fifty night kollelim in Eretz Yisroel in which thousands of men learn every night. They learn from the teachings of our Rebbeim, with an emphasis placed on the teachings of the Rebbe MHM. You can find branches from Kiryat Shmoneh in the north to Eilat in the south.

The founder and director of this enormous project of spreading the wellsprings is the mashpia, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Offen of Yerushalayim. He started the network in 5749 after the passing of the Rebbetzin, but in recent years he is seeing a blossoming of his efforts, after the opening of dozens of new branches with the help of “Keren Meromim” and individual donors. R’ Offen’s dream is to found a kollel in every city in Eretz Yisroel, where Jews who were not taught Chassidus will learn the teachings of the Rebbeim.

The directors of the network print a learning booklet every month with sichos and maamarim, including a maamer that is published with explanations based on the shiurim of Rav Offen. In addition to the learning, there is a “bonus” given for learning the shakla v’tarya (dialectics) of a maamer Chassidus after the learning hours. It is not unusual to see a young man with a striped caftan sitting on a bus while studying a maamer of the Rebbe from this booklet.

The roshei kollelim that we spoke to, all talked about the great seriousness of the learners.

Before the Chag HaGeula – 19 Kislev, we spoke with four roshei kollelim, those who interact daily with young men from across the spectrum of chareidi Jewry, and heard about their high level of interest in Chassidus.

UNPRECEDENTED SCALE

The first one we spoke to was Rabbi Shmuel Offen, who runs the network of kollelim and is in direct charge of the branch in Beitar Ilit, the largest branch in which over 100 men learn. The second was the rosh kollel in Elad, Rabbi Sholom Rosenberg. The third was the Rebbe’s shliach in Kiryat Sefer in Modiin Ilit, Rabbi Mordechai Kenig, the rosh kollel there. The fourth was Rabbi Dovid Minsky of the kollel in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa.

Please describe the kollel that you head.

Rabbi Shmuel Offen: Our kollel in Beitar Ilit is the largest kollel of those funded by the network. The kollel has a respected name, not only within Chabad but also among the other kollelim that operate in the city. We have serious, top young men who sit and learn diligently. We also have talmidei chachomim who serve as rabbanim and poskim, and even grandchildren of Admurim.

We were recently visited by a shliach from Boro Park. He chanced upon the kollel and left in absolute amazement. He saw dozens of men, not Lubavitchers, learning Chassidus. It wasn’t a one-time occurrence; they come every evening, around the year. To me, the most moving thing is to see Litvishe and Poilishe Chassidim holding our booklets outside of the kollel, at bus stops, while waiting on line at the clinic, or in the neighborhood grocery store.

Rabbi Sholom Rosenberg: Elad has numerous kollelim in which only Nigleh or Halacha is learned. Our kollel is the only one in the city where only Chassidus is learned. The special atmosphere of learning Chassidus does not only remain within the kollel. Young married kollel men not affiliated with Chabad, organize Chassidishe farbrengens throughout the year and there is a special emphasis on Chassidic holidays and Chassidic customs. The study of Chassidus does not remain only on the academic level, but affects their everyday lives too.

Rabbi Mordechai Kenig: In our kollel, there is an element of being “lights to shine forth,” as the men don’t just sit and learn for themselves. Every night, a much higher number of men sit and learn Chassidus than are registered for the kollel. I can tell you that the booklets that Rabbi Offen produces open a new window to them. There are Litvishe fellows who, when they learn sichos of the Rebbe, are astounded by the depth and genius they discover.

80% of the residents of Kiryat Sefer learn in kollel. This is a Litvishe town and when serious young men who toil in the study of Nigleh are exposed to the teachings of the Rebbe, they are amazed. I constantly hear comments how they can’t believe that in Chabad there is such lomdus. Our kollel has been active for fifteen years, but there is no doubt that since we joined Rav Offen’s network of kollelim, things have intensified. The number of seats has swelled, and the program is more structured.

Rabbi Dovid Minsky: Our kollel operates in Hadar which is next to Kiryat Seret-Vizhnitz, and most of the young men are Vizhnitzer Chassidim. But there are also some Litvish and Sephardic participants. Fifteen men learn in our kollel and there are many more on the waiting list, but without funds I can’t accept them. I think that the most special thing about us is the fact that the men don’t come just to learn for the money. Many of them take on Chassidic practices and I regularly find them participating in farbrengens.

SERIOUSLY PLUMBING THE DEPTHS OF CHASSIDUS

How does it work? How does someone without a background in Chassidus become part of this?

R’ Offen: When someone new comes, we pair him up with someone more experienced. In the booklet we produce, there is always one maamer with explanations based on my father’s shiurim, so that someone who knows how to learn, won’t find it hard.

We see that someone who comes in with a serious attitude, makes up the gaps quickly.

In addition to the learning of sichos and maamarim in the booklet, we added a bonus for anyone who learns an extra maamer every month, shakla v’tarya. I ask them to learn it not on kollel time. A few months ago, I noticed that the list of those being tested is high and it made me wonder whether someone was taking shortcuts. I asked the next one on line to be tested to come over to me. What can I tell you … I was amazed. One by one, they were tested on long maamarim, like born and bred Chassidim reviewing a maamer Chassidus during seuda shlishis in Chabad shuls.

The program to learn a maamer by heart came after I attended a farbrengen in 770 and one of the mashpiim told about his friend who wrote to the Rebbe that he learned a maamer by heart and received a speedy response, that the news gave the Rebbe much nachas. I thought, how much nachas will the Rebbe have if hundreds of men do this every month?

R’ Rosenberg: In our kollel, we also have some Lubavitchers, and when someone comes with no background in Chassidus, we pair them up so they can learn the basics of Chassidus. In general, R’ Offen’s booklet is a blessing; it’s packed with material. If someone still finds it difficult, they ask questions.

R’ Kenig: The men who come to learn by us have a background in learning, unlike the kollelim that are in Chabad Houses in cities that are less Torah’dig.

When it comes to the Rebbe’s sichos with detail oriented questions on the parsha or topics in Nigleh, they won’t have a hard time because they know how to learn. With the maamarim in the booklet, they can avail themselves of the Chassidic concepts that are presented therein. The booklets usually focus on one theme that repeats itself in various forms in sichos and maamarim, and that is how they become familiar and learn basic concepts in depth. Aside from that, we occasionally give shiurim on various topics and explain what needs explaining.

R’ Minsky: I see how men make up the gaps, despite never having learned Chabad Chassidus before. These are men who sat and learned in regular yeshivos for years, and most of the concepts are now becoming clear to them.

I’ll tell you something. One day, someone came to me with a little background in Chassidus from other places. In the early months, he wondered why we don’t bring more of the teachings of the earlier Chabad Rebbeim or from other Admurim. After learning in the kollel for a while, he changed his mind and said that in the Rebbe’s teachings you can find everything.

Do you find that they make progress not only in learning but also in the darchei ha’chassidus?

R’ Offen: There is no one who learns Chassidus and is not affected by it. It is hard to break it down to specifics, but we see clearly that when someone is immersed in the study of Chassidus, it affects his behavior. Often I see chevra who come to us and after a few months, their conduct is completely changed. It is hard to explain in words, but it’s a fact. Some roshei kollelim were sitting together, including Rabbi Wilhelm of Nahariya, and he did a good job demonstrating the change that the kollel has on the learners. With permission from that fellow, he showed a before and after picture of someone who came to learn in the kollel; a real change.

R’ Rosenberg: The greatest impact is that I see the same men visiting a Chabad shul, attending farbrengens, and learning Chassidus even in off-hours, and that means Chassidus impacted them.

There are men in the kollel, Litvish, who insist and plead for help to arrange farbrengens on special days in the calendar. After Tishrei, one of them told me that after learning the sichos and maamarim of the Rebbe about the Yomim Nora’im, Sukkos and Simchas Torah, all his Yomim tovim were completely different.

There is a man in the kollel from Litvishe circles who works as a teacher in the mornings. He proudly told me how he teaches his students Chassidus. Obviously, he doesn’t tell them where it’s coming from, and doesn’t mention it on the notes home. Thanks to him, his students are being educated in the spirit of Chabad.

R’ Kenig: I’ve noticed that there are men who learn Chitas every day and the daily shiurim of Rambam. In the kollel, we don’t talk about making changes in behavior, but we see that someone who learns the Rebbe’s teachings and becomes aware of the Rebbe’s greatness, wants to carry out the Rebbe’s horaos. I even meet people who began saying T’hillim on Shabbos Mevarchim.

R’ Minsky: You cannot learn Chassidus, certainly not the Rebbe’s teachings, and not be affected by it. Of course it makes an impact. We have someone, a Russian immigrant, who was taught Judaism by Litvishe groups and was a staunch Misnaged. He ended up getting engaged to a girl who became religious through Chabad and she sent him to learn Chassidus with us. When he came, two years ago, aside from learning Gemara, he knew nothing. One month passed and then another and I saw that he was putting on a gartel before davening. A while later, he began coming with a hat and jacket and even began growing a beard.

The ultimate was when his son was born on 11 Nissan and he named him Menachem Mendel. He put his baby into Chabad daycare, began wearing Rabbeinu Tam t’fillin and going to the mikva before davening. It’s a classic case of someone who has become Lubavitch in every aspect of his life. But even someone who doesn’t externally become a Chassid, inside, things are moving. Their connection with Chassidus extends beyond the regular hours of the kollel. They begin to relate more to Chabad niggunim, and carry out the Rebbe’s horaos in every respect.

What you are describing sounds idyllic; is there no push-back?

R’ Offen: I am telling you straight out that there is no opposition.

R’ Rosenberg: It seems that opposition is a thing of the past. In all my years as a rosh kollel, I have not seen anyone having a problem with chassidus. If someone comes to our kollel, that means he already has worked those things out with himself and his environment.

R’ Kenig: When we went on shlichus to Kiryat Sefer fourteen years ago, we had tremendous opposition. The person who rented us the place where we opened the Chabad House suffered persecution because of it. Today, boruch Hashem, we have our own place. But over the years, the opposition dissipated. Today people come in and respect our work. If we only had more funding, I believe that our kollel would have 100 and even 200 men. As it is, the amount of participants is double the official number registered.

R’ Minsky: Even if there is opposition, it is not ideological as it was in the past. Today there is no opposition to the actual learning of Chassidus.

We had someone who came from another Chassidic court which has a relatively small community. He was niskarev very much and began making external changes. He began wearing a Chabad tallis and keeping Chabad customs. There were rumors spread against him and they made his life difficult, mainly because of the concern of the leadership that it would undermine the community cohesion. In the end, he had to leave that community.

WHEN YOU LEARN YOU WILL UNDERSTAND

R’ Offen, in addition to his insistence on focusing the learning on the teachings of the Rebbe, includes sichos from 5751-5752 in his booklets, sichos in which the Rebbe openly speaks about Moshiach and his identity. What feedback do you get?

R’ Offen: It’s a mistake to think that there’s a difference between the Rebbe’s sichos from the early years and the later years. It’s all one continuum. Someone who has a problem with the later sichos would have a problem with the earlier sichos too. They all complement each other and there is no contradiction.

R’ Rosenberg: The truth must be said that when there is a sicha from 5751-5752, it nearly always generates discussions and questions. There are those who express astonishment. However, that is not only the case on those sichos but on the entire topic of Geula, and we need to respond as the Rebbe wants us to, just as we need to respond to questions of newcomers who are first learning the Rebbe’s sichos on textual nuances in Rashi. It’s a new world for them. The same is true for the topic of Geula; we need to direct them and provide answers.

R’ Kenig: We are taught that there is no difference between learning Tanya and learning the Rebbe’s later sichos. Someone who learns the Rebbe’s maamarim every night and understands the Rebbe’s position as Nasi HaDor, then when he learns a sicha from 5751-2, he has no questions. When someone new in the kollel asks me something about Moshiach, I tell him I will answer him in a few weeks, after he has learned a number of sichos and maamarim. Generally, after a week, all the questions disappear. He understands that the Rebbe is the yechida and his entire function is to make a dwelling down below for Hashem.

R’ Minsky: In the not too distant past, our kollel operated out of a building belonging to Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim, and the men who came to the kollel got to see copies of Beis Moshiach. They saw bachurim singing Yechi before and after davening; nobody hid anything from them, and I was never asked anything about it. Today, it is clear to all that Chabad is Moshiach and Moshiach is Chabad. The amazing thing is that today we are in a different building and the kollel members, on their own, start singing Yechi before davening. I never explained or tried to justify the topics in the sichos of 5751-2; you simply need to learn and consequently, all is understood.

UNEXPECTED REACTION FROM THE ROSH YESHIVA FROM B’NEI BRAK

Yud-Tes Kislev is approaching, the holiday of Chassidus. How do you feel on this day?

R’ Offen: We see that the world is extremely interested in Chassidus and that’s exciting. I’ll tell you something. In addition to the kollel project, we started a Chassidus learning program during bein ha’z’manim. From the moment we opened registration, the call center was flooded with callers. Since there wasn’t room for the 300 people who registered in the building where our kollel is, we were given permission to operate in the big Chabad shul in town. Every day, for several hours, the shul was packed with people learning Chassidus. About 300 non-Lubavitchers studied maamarim by heart.

R’ Rosenberg: The chiddush of Chassidus is to gain the correct perspective on the world, not to be fazed by the concealment, nor by the world, whether in one’s personal or communal life. When you are raised this way but don’t learn it inside, it’s just the atmosphere you grew up in and something is missing. I am excited to see someone who wasn’t raised that way who “gets it.” When this happens, then I know he is ready for the Geula.

R’ Kenig: Yud-Tes Kislev and Modiin Ilit are practically synonymous. One of the biggest farbrengens in the country takes place in our city with the participation of 1500 people who are not Lubavitchers. Entire yeshivos of Litvish, Sephardim, and Poilishers come to us after they finish learning at night. They all know that something big happened on Yud-Tes Kislev. We rent the biggest hall in town and every year bring someone different to farbreng. The farbrengen begins at 8:00 in the evening and ends at four in the morning. It is the biggest event that takes place in this city every year. It bears noting that in the beginning there were those who were not thrilled about the fact that a Chabadnik was coming to live in their city.

People today are very interested in Chassidus and are taking giant steps. We had someone in the kollel from a Sephardic family, who asked me before my trip to the Rebbe to “mention” him there. Upon my return, I told him that I had done so. He smiled and said, “Rav Kenig, I know.” I asked him how he knew and his answer was, “The night that you flew, the Rebbe came to me in a dream and blessed me with what I needed, and boruch Hashem, everything worked out well.” Stories like this happen often with us.

I’ll tell you about another person who attends our kollel, who was very drawn by Chassidus and was so amazed by it that it changed his whole way of life. At a certain point he had the thought: how could I not have reported to and consulted with the rosh yeshiva I learned with in B’nei Brak with whom I was close?

He went to B’nei Brak for Shabbos, met the rosh yeshiva walking down the street, and took the opportunity to tell him about his interest in Chassidus. The rosh yeshiva astounded him when he asked him how he understood the meaning of a certain chapter in Tanya. He was stunned by that unexpected response. The two of them discussed Chassidus for a while. Finally, the rosh yeshiva said, “When I want to learn something to revive my soul, I learn Tanya.”

R’ Minsky: Unlike in the past, today we see Jews connecting to the depth of Chassidus, and it changes their direction in life. I meet men in the kollel who attend Chassidishe farbrengens that take place in Haifa and sit there for hours, taking it all in. They are no longer mekuravim; they are full members of the fraternity.

I heard that in a certain place where there is a large chareidi community, one of the kollel members started a Chabad minyan in one of the neighborhood shuls. This is because he wanted to learn Likkutei Torah before davening and sit and farbreng afterward. There are already 17 people participating. This is hafatzas ha’maayanos!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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