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Tuesday
Mar292016

HELLO, HAKHEL HERE, CAN YOU HEAR ME?

Every week, RNadav Cohen, author of GPS for the Soul, has people gather for Hakhel gatherings via teleconference. He hosts a popular speaker, mashpia or interesting Chassidic personality. * These gatherings make a great impact on the listeners and many of them report changes they made in their lives. * How did this original idea start? How great is its impact? What does RNadav recommend you do in this Shnas Hakhel to carry out the Rebbes wishes?

Photo by Dovi GurewitzRNadav Cohen is familiar to many people for his book, Modaat Yehudit (and his English book, GPS for the Soul). He speaks daily on a popular radio program which is regularly heard by hundreds of thousands of people, in which he conveys the main idea of the daily portion of Tanya.

R’ Nadav Cohen was born on Moshav Nir Yisroel near Ashkelon. He went to school in Moshav Beer Tuvia which was not at all religious. His family was secular even though his grandfather was religious and his father had attended yeshiva. Over the years, even the tradition of Kiddush on Friday night was neglected.

Nadav went through the system as the average Israeli kid does, high school, the army, where he was in Field Intelligence. He served for one year in Gaza and two years in the Beer Sheva command center. After being released from the army, he did not see himself as someone searching for religious meaning.

Like many other young people his age, he planned a long trip to India. He was going to seek the unknown, the spirituality-mysticism that is plentiful in India. The trip was planned for half a year and he met Chabad for the first time through the Rebbe’s shluchim there. He had a number of experiences in which he saw divine providence and he listened to messages that he felt were sent directly to him. He began looking into the Tanya that immediately captivated him.

Since then, Tanya has become a staple for him. He even wrote a popular book on the Tanya and developed classes and courses on Tanya. Over time, he translated the ideas in Tanya into practical tools to handle everyday life.

In recent months he has launched an exciting new project; telephone Hakhel gatherings. Every week he hosts a Hakhel gathering via teleconferencing. He hosts mashpiim, rabbanim, and interesting Chassidic personalities. They speak on different topics, but the bottom line is always the point of Hakhel – “fear of G-d.”

These are not telephone lectures but a conference call in the course of which participants can ask questions. In this way, those gathered together derive inspiration and strength to face life.

How did this special Hakhel set-up start?

About two years ago, I started recording the daily shiurim of Chumash, T’hillim and Tanya as well as the HaYom Yom, and I sending them out via WhatsApp. One of the big innovations of recent years is WhatsApp with which you can quickly send out messages. Over a billion people today are on it. This is aside from the other social media which have hundreds of millions of people.

Nowadays, nearly everyone has a Smartphone. I have spoken with shluchim who complain that there’s nobody to talk to anymore. People are less focused than they used to be because of the phones and they don’t even put their phones away during a shiur.

I thought of a solution to this. What can be done – have even more fascinating shiurim? Live events? Classes over a barbecue? The Rebbe’s way is to use the tool itself for holy purposes. So we would reach people through their Smartphone! We would bring shiurim straight to their phone. That’s what I started doing. I started sending the daily Chitas in shortened form so people could listen to it while working or while traveling.

Every day I reach tens of thousands of people who receive the shiur every morning. I get comments from all over the world, including Austria, New Zealand, Brazil, France, and Italy.

We are talking about a vast and fascinating range of people who tell me that they are in the middle of a trip or at work, or they live far away. They listen to the shiurim on their phone and enjoy it. They also forward it to others. Someone once told me that he forwards the daily shiur to about two thousand people every day! That’s the advantage of our times that we can easily achieve mass distribution and all with a click of a button. R’ Shimi Goldstein, shliach in Pushkar, India, told me that a mekurav from Eretz Yisroel told him that he listens to a shiur every day on WhatsApp. He said, “I cannot start my day without these shiurim.”

THOUSANDS OF PARTICIPANTS IN THE PHONE HAKHEL

As successful as R’ Cohen’s project is, you can’t remain standing in one place; you have to constantly move forward. He started getting requests from people who aren’t satisfied with the short daily shiur. They wanted additional spiritual fortification. “The spiritual thirst today is tremendous,” he says.

R’ Cohen started giving shiurim before holidays or special dates. Now and then he also made the shiurim longer but he realized this was not the answer.

One day, someone told him about a teleconferencing system. “A Geula system,” he calls it, a free system via which you can farbreng from anyplace in the world. It’s an advanced system which enables thousands of people to be on the line simultaneously and listen to a shiur together, all for the price of a local call. “These days, a local call is free because everyone has unlimited talk time,” he explains.

Everyone from all over the world can join the shiur. What could be better than that?

I figured that in order for the shiurim to be more interesting, I would do them as a collaborative effort. From the Rebbe and Chassidus we learn how much cooperation gives pleasure to Hashem, with each person setting himself aside which brings about a far better result than one person himself giving a shiur. Every person has his strengths and can give a shiur in his own style, but when two people give a joint shiur, then not only do they each bring their own mekuravim so there are more listeners, but each brings his perspective and the shiur becomes more interesting for there is a dialogue. I saw that people love this approach. I knew that in this way we could be far more successful.

It was the end of Elul 5775 and Rosh HaShana 5756 was around the corner. Not just a new year but a Shnas Hakhel.

Like every Chassid, I also wondered – what would I do in this Shnas Hakhel to get people together, something which the Rebbe wants so much. The Rebbe himself said that Hakhel is the gateway for all brachos. I really deliberated a lot about how to do more, how to reach as many people as possible and strengthen their yiras Shamayim during this year.

I found out about this teleconferencing system just at that time and all the dots connected for me; an amazing telephone initiative that is just right for a Hakhel year, by means of which it is possible to get thousands of people together. Once a week I can make a Hakhel gathering that addresses yiras Shamayim, emuna in Hashem, and achdus.

HOW TO OVERCOME THE ANIMAL SOUL

What do people get out of this phone conversation?

I start with the premise that the essential thing about these gatherings is that a person strengthen his yiras Shamayim. But there is one main problem.

Which is?

A person’s animal soul. It does not want a person to attend a Hakhel gathering or a shiur. It constantly asks this simple question: What do I get out of it? What do I need this for?

The G-dly soul wants to attend a shiur because it’s Torah, something spiritual, it’s the ratzon Hashem. But for a person to really want to attend a shiur, in order for lots of people with animal souls to attend a Hakhel gathering, you need to direct yourself to the animal soul and provide it with a tangible benefit.

Boruch Hashem, I’ve developed some experience in this area as far as how it works in the advanced world of today, how you motivate a person through his ego, how you satisfy the interests of the animal soul. I structured the Hakhel gatherings in such a way that they would be broadcasting on the frequencies of both the animal soul and the G-dly soul, and as I see, many people participate in these shiurim and gatherings.

So how do you do it? How do you entice the animal soul to join the shiurim and Hakhel gatherings?

The most important thing to the animal soul is self-realization; this is what it loves to hear. It wants to live a better life, easier life. It wants to know how to deal with life’s challenges, to find its purpose in the world, to live better, to find its personal mission, to have good marital and parenting relationships, etc. Actually, these are not purely material things, for we pray three times a day for children, health, and a livelihood. Everyone wants a good education for their children. Everyone wants good shidduchim. Everyone wants to experience success in chinuch and nachas from children, not to mention good parnasa.

These are three areas that draw the attention of the animal soul. But those subjects are not exclusive to the animal domain for there is no subject in Torah and Chassidus which does not deal with, and the answers to all the questions that the animal soul grapples with are found in the teachings of Chassidus. So every week we choose another topic and it gets people to listen in.

SHLUCHIM AND MASHPIIM JOIN THE HAKHEL

Who are the lecturers and mashpiim that you have brought to these Hakhel gatherings?

I work with the premise that the more well known a speaker is, the more people will attend the gathering and make the Rebbe happy. I look for shluchim and mashpiim who will attract the most people. Before the teleconference call, they invite their mekuravim to participate. I also invite all my mekuravim who listen to me on the radio and on the various apps, those who are in my phone book, WhatsApp, the website, every possible place, in order to get as many people as possible.

We have had R’ Yossi Ginsburgh of Ramat Aviv, R’ Yossi Jacobson of New York, R’ Nechemia Wilhelm of Thailand, the mashpia R’ Michoel Taieb, R’ Y.Y. Wilschansky – the rosh yeshiva of the Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas, and many other shluchim.

I will take this opportunity to thank all the people who were our guests. I was impressed that as soon as they heard about this Hakhel phone project, they understood its importance and agreed to participate.

We have done about twenty Hakhel gatherings so far. People listen and after the kinus they also get a recording of the kinus, in the course of which people get advice for a good life on the topics we mentioned: purpose in the world, my personal shlichus, doing well financially, successful chinuch, good parental and couples relationships, but it’s presented with a Chassidishe approach which instills emuna and yiras Shamayim.

How many people on average participate in a Hakhel gathering like this?

About 150 people participate in every kinus and several hundred more listen to a recording.

PEOPLE CHANGE VIA TELEPHONE TOO

I remember how at the beginning of this year, I interviewed the mashpia, R’ Shimon Weitzhandler, of the Chabad yeshiva in Rishon L’Tziyon, and we spoke about various aspects of Hakhel. After seven long years, it was necessary to learn the topic of Hakhel again in order to experience it. I asked him whether in the present era, when the modern world progressed with giant steps since 5748, should we suffice with the “Hakhel membership cards” that the Rebbe initiated that year, or could we gather people together with the means currently available to us like WhatsApp, teleconferencing, etc. Are these methods considered equivalent to the means the Rebbe specified?

He surprised me when he said that the Rebbe referred to this too. “The Rebbe did not leave anything unclear when it came to Hakhel.” He quoted the Rebbe from a sicha of Sukkos 5748, “‘In distant places (to a chutza beyond which there is no chutza in the whole world) Hakhel can be done with the telephone and radio too, thus reaching even a Jew at the end of the world, chutza physically and all the more so, spiritually.

“That year, the telephone and radio were the most up to date means of hafatza and the Rebbe approved of making Hakhel gatherings that way. It is on condition that you cannot gather people in the usual way, ‘in distant places.’”

I was reminded of this when I spoke with R’ Nadav Cohen. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his ability to harness technological advances for the Rebbe’s projects.

R’ Cohen remarked that the interview with R’ Weitzhandler in Beis Moshiach made a great impact on him. “I realized that with Hakhel it is not enough to tell everyone that we are in a Hakhel year; you need to actually gather them together and talk to them about fear of heaven. R’ Weitzhandler also spoke about ‘Hakhel cards,’ and about keeping in touch with people. Thanks to this, I intensified all the hafatza I do via email with the understanding that keeping regularly in touch with people in the ways they are used to, is the way to gather them today and is the way to reach them to strengthen their yiras Shamayim.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

“My goal, of course, is to attend the real Hakhel of the Geula with Moshiach. In the meantime, we are working on galus plans and doing everything we can to gather people in order to bring everybody to yiras Shamayim in a Geula way, and from a personal Geula to the collective Geula of the Jewish people. I am presently working on getting people, one by one, to listen to the shiurim and Hakhel gatherings we do. This is done both via the advanced telephone system and through working together with shluchim who have many mekuravim who want to listen and learn, thus uniting as many Jews as possible.”

Can you tell us a story to illustrate what your Hakhel gatherings do for people?

There are many stories. I will tell you about the feedback I got after the Hakhel I did with R’ Nachmanson, Dayan and Moreh Tzedek in Rechovot. He focused on Torah study; how to learn Torah and what are the requirements of someone who learns Torah. He explained everything with such clarity that afterward I got texts from participants who had made good hachlatos about Torah study.

After the Hakhel gathering we made with the mashpia, R’ Zalman Notik, who spoke about the difference between a young married man and a bachur in yeshiva, and how to balance between the time we devote to our home and the time we devote to Torah study, and who urged people to carry out the Rebbe’s instruction to find a mashpia, I also got many messages from people. They committed to finding a rav and mashpia and to learn more.

We also had R’ Shneur Ashkenazi, rav of the central shul in Rishon L’Tziyon, who spoke about a man’s purpose in the world, how a person finds his mission, something that preoccupies many people. In the course of the conversation with him, many questions came in and he answered them. I also got excited feedback on the topic and people told me that they had sent the link of the recording to others.

Another fascinating Hakhel we did was with R’ Arad of Rechovot on marriage, how it uplifts and changes a person’s entire perspective. Afterward, people reacted via email or WhatsApp, telling me how much it changed their perspective.

It sounds fascinating. Is it possible to hear recordings of all the kinusim you’ve had until now?

Certainly. The goal is for as many people as possible to hear them.

Since I want to get as many people as possible involved in Mivtza Hakhel, whoever wants recordings can go to our site and get involved by sending five email addresses of friends or acquaintances so we can include them in future gatherings. This enables us to expand the circle of participants; whoever participates in this way, will get links to all the recordings.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

R’ Nadav Cohen:

“As soon as we started using the teleconferencing system, we realized the sky’s the limit. If there is such a demand, why have just one shiur-kinus a week? I realized that the messages can be transmitted not just as a shiur but in a way that delivers a deeper personal impact. So I constructed courses on topics that interest people; relationships – for people who want to achieve their personal Geula when it comes to good relationships and shalom bayis, as well as topics of self-realization and finding one’s personal purpose in the world.”

R’ Nadav recently launched another course – “Therapeutic Tools in Tanya,” a course that teaches a person how to treat himself and others based on the treasures found in Tanya. All the information about courses and Hakhel gatherings can be found on the website gil.nadav123.com

In conclusion?

That we merit to gather with the Rebbe in the Azara of the Beis HaMikdash, together with all the Jewish people throughout the generations, a Hakhel the likes of which has never been since the Creation of the world.

And an idea for Lubavitcher Chassidim who are looking for ways to make a Hakhel gathering – There are many shuls that have small minyanim for Mincha and Maariv. People would be happy to have a Chassid come and help out with the minyan and give a brief shiur between Mincha and Maariv. It’s simple, easy, and something anyone can do.

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