THE SOUNDS OF TORAH REVERBERATING IN THE HILLS OF THE SHOMRON
July 29, 2014
Nosson Avrohom in #936, Shlichus

Mitzpeh Yitzhar was founded on a hilltop in the Shomron mountains by RItzik Sandroi and his wife, Chabad Chassidim. A series of answers from the Rebbe led them to founding Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim there. * There were endless obstacles, including hundreds of policemen who surrounded them one night with tractors to demolish their work, but mysteriously turned around and left. * How uplifting it is to see bachurim sitting and learning Nigleh and Chassidus!

“It started three years ago, after the massacre of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar. Whenever we wrote to the Rebbe, it made no difference about what, the answer we opened to had to do with chinuch and starting a yeshiva,” said R’ Itzik Sandroi. R’ Sandroi founded the outpost Mitzpeh Yitzhar ten years ago, where he lives with six other families. “The Rebbe constantly urged me to start a yeshiva in Mitzpeh Yitzhar.”

Founding a yeshiva was not easy, to say the least, but R’ Sandroi was convinced that it would provide blessing for the entire yishuv. So somehow or another, he says it wasn’t to his credit, he overcame the difficulties and he founded a yeshiva which is in its second year. Along with enormous hardship, the founders of the yeshiva and those who run it also get to see frequent miracles and instances of divine providence. Within a short time and against all odds, a mikva has been built, a building for a dormitory, and a beautiful beis midrash.

About twenty bachurim are learning in this yeshiva including shluchim who came after their year on K’vutza and even new baalei t’shuva who joined from the hills. All of them toil over the study of Nigleh and Chassidus and do mivtzaim with soldiers and policemen.

Near the yeshiva a spot was set up for soldiers and police who serve in the area:

“You can typically meet senior and lower level security forces in the beis midrash learning with the bachurim or joining a farbrengen. Soldiers who work in the area know that there is a place for them here. Within the yeshiva you can find the Division Commander of the Shomron, Yoav Yarom, senior people in the military and police, alongside hilltop youth who come in to learn a sicha or a maamer of the Rebbe or to take an active part in the farbrengens that we often have in the yeshiva.”

R’ Sandroi mentioned the support and funding that the yeshiva received from its first day on the part of settlement leaders.

THE DECISION MADE ON THAT BLACK SHABBOS

When hearing about how the yeshiva was founded, we had to go back twenty-three years when the Sandroi family arrived at Yitzhar:

“I was only ten years old. My parents were unsure about where to live and they sent the Rebbe some possibilities. They received an answer that we should move to the yishuv Yitzhar right away. My parents did not delay; the very next day my family was on its way to Yitzhar. At first we lived in a temporary structure. When permanent dwellings were built, my father asked the Rebbe whether to buy a house or whether his shlichus had ended with his living in the yishuv. Living in such a distant place made parnasa difficult and my father hoped that the Rebbe would give us a bracha to move elsewhere.

“But the Rebbe thought otherwise and told my parents to buy a house and gave a blessing. Today, more Lubavitcher families live in Yitzhar and in nearby yishuvim, but back then we were the only Lubavitchers and you could say that we grew up on shlichus.”

After going through the Chabad system, R’ Itzik married his wife from the Bar Chen family and they settled in a new outpost that was founded near Yitzhar and was called Mitzpeh Yitzhar.

“My wife and I wanted to devote our lives to shlichus. We began doing mivtzaim with soldiers and people in the area. Every Yom Tov, a group of bachurim from the yeshiva in Tzfas came and we went around to the army bases and military posts and brought joy to the soldiers. We were also involved with young and old on the yishuvim.”

The idea of starting a yeshiva came up three years ago. If you would have asked R’ Itzik about it, he would have said he had no thoughts about a yeshiva at all. When I asked him how it began, he had tears in his eyes when he mentioned the massacre of the Fogel family, the parents and three of their children in nearby Itamar.

“I drive an ambulance. As soon as we heard of the attack I thought of going there, but the military people in charge told me to stay and guard my family since they thought the terrorists were still in the vicinity. Throughout the night I stood at the ready with my gun at the entrance to my house with my mind racing, why did Hashem do this? I thought about what the Rebbe said after the massacre in the vocational school in Kfar Chabad and knew that after such a horrific event we had to grow, add light, do more good. After Shabbos, I wrote to the Rebbe and asked what I should do.

“I opened volume 18 of the Igros Kodesh to letter 6691 and my heart skipped a beat. I read it again and again and showed it to my mashpia and my family. They all said the same thing, the Rebbe wants a school here. The letter ends with: The merit of your involvement in the Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch school … will certainly stand by you for the fulfillment of your heart’s requests for good and blessing.”

The letter is addressed to someone named Yitzchok, which is R’ Sandroi’s name and that gave him the feeling that the Rebbe was talking to him. “I had no idea how to go about it though. I thought I was good with other mivtzaim, but chinuch? What did I have to do with chinuch? How do you build a school or yeshiva? It seemed beyond me.

“Shortly after the massacre, we brought a big group of bachurim to the hill who started going around and raising the morale of settlers and security forces. At a farbrengen that we held after two busy days, I showed the bachurim the answer I had opened to from the Rebbe. They expressed their enthusiasm but after another few days they left and life returned to its usual routine.

“On a flight to the Kinus HaShluchim, I had an interesting conversation with an old acquaintance. He inquired about our work and I told him about the answer from the Rebbe. This person, a true Chassid of the Rebbe, exclaimed, ‘Itzik, go for it! I’m with you.’ I was very happy but this too receded as time went on.”

ABORTED EVACUATION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

“A week before Yud-Tes Kislev, we were planning a big farbrengen in honor of the great day when we heard that the then Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, had announced the evacuation of a number of outposts including Mitzpeh Yitzhar. Our place. Senior individuals in the settlement movement advised me to negotiate with the powers that be, but I told them that I wouldn’t do anything without the Rebbe’s bracha.

“The Rebbe’s answer was short and to the point. The Rebbe wrote ‘a good thought creates a good reality, even if it is not apparent now.’ I concluded from this that there wouldn’t be an evacuation and I told everyone there was nothing to worry about. One day, I got a call from the then regional General Officer in Command (GOC) Avi Mizrachi who said, ‘Itzik, we are about to evacuate the hilltop. I’d like to know what you’re planning on doing.’ I told him, ‘Avi, there won’t be an evacuation.’ He was taken aback and said, ‘Itzik, I am the GOC and I’m telling you it’s going to happen.’ I said, ‘I am a Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I am busy thinking positively.’

“In the middle of the Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen I was informed that the soldiers were preparing for an evacuation. I told the worried people, ‘Guys, I myself am in the division now and I’m farbrenging with the commanders.’ On Tuesday of that week I went to Tel Aviv to bring a donation of furniture that we got for the outpost. On the way, I got updates about actual preparations for evacuation. When I said I was on my way to the outpost with furniture, some wondered whether I would have any place to put it. I wasn’t rattled. The Rebbe said to think positively and that is what we were doing, even if everything around us looked different. 

“On Wednesday we had another farbrengen in honor of the Chag Ha’Geula for the residents of the outpost and guests. The farbrengen took place in our house and ended close to midnight when everyone left. At three in the morning my cellphone rang and I was told they were about to evacuate the hilltop. I went outside and saw hundreds of policemen dressed in black, holding truncheons and other tools of destruction, itching for a fight and waiting for the command to attack. I was in a turmoil of emotions. I went back inside to write to the Rebbe. The answer amazed me. The Rebbe wrote about the special quality of Yud-Tes Kislev and expressed surprise that we were farbrenging alone when there were many Jews in the area who were thirsting for Yiddishkait.”

On the table there were still some bottles of mashke. Itzik took the table outside, put up a video screen and played a video of the Rebbe talking about the importance of protecting portions of Eretz Yisroel. In the meantime, the army closed all the roads to the outpost so settlers wouldn’t come to help him. Only one managed to get through, R’ Yehuda Leibman, one of the leaders of yishuv Yitzhar and he joined the spontaneous farbrengen along with the rest of the hilltop dwellers.

R’ Leibman described what happened next in an interview that he gave to the newspapers the next day:

“Toward morning, I had the privilege of being with the families of Mitzpeh Yitzhar in this challenging time. I arrived via the wadi and came upon an astonishing sight. R’ Itzik Sandroi was sitting at a table with Yossi Pilant and farbrenging in honor of G-d, in honor of Yud-Tes Kislev. Within touching distance stood hundreds of policemen in black uniforms surrounding the house and what we heard was the voice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe thundering about the connection between the security of Jews in Eretz Yisroel and shleimus ha’aretz and shleimus ha’Torah. Those in uniform ogled the sight and rubbed their eyes again and again. Nobody had prepared them for this scenario. I sat down and drank l’chaim and we sang ‘Pada b’Shalom Nafshi.’”

R’ Itzik:

“At first, the police and soldiers seemed despondent. When they realized that nobody was coming to fight them, the atmosphere lightened up to the disappointment of the journalists who were there. In the end, the tractor destroyed one small structure on the edge of the outpost which eventually paved the way for the yeshiva.

“The next day, all the reporters wrote about the battle that never happened and that it was all thanks to the answer received by the Chabad Chassidim who live in the Rebbe’s outpost. Some of the journalists even told about the farbrengen that took place and about Yud-Tes Kislev. A group of students from Tel Aviv University who saw the item on Channel 2 contacted me the next day and asked to visit.”

AMAZING DIVINE PROVIDENCE

The destruction was minimal and not what had been expected, but R’ Itzik was left wondering about the answer he got to “think positively and it will be good” because, after all, there was some destruction. He would fully understand the Rebbe’s answer only two years later. In the meantime, he remembered the Rebbe’s answer about a yeshiva and decided that perhaps this was a wake-up call to get to work.

“I felt infused with a spirit of action. I called my brother Shneur Zalman who was a year after K’vutza and asked him whether he would join me. He said yes. My wife agreed to have our kitchen at home serve the yeshiva boys. We set aside one of the big rooms in our house as a dormitory and the living room became the beis midrash. After making these decisions, we wrote to the Rebbe.

“The answer was amazing. The Rebbe wrote that he was happy about the good news relating to the founding of the yeshiva and, in eleven paragraphs, delineated how the yeshiva should be run. 

“We decided on Yud Shevat (two years ago) as our opening day. Although we did not have the full amount of money to produce an event, we went l’chat’chilla aribber. We ordered 500 chairs, twenty tables, a caterer, and a band. We invited everybody in the area and the rabbanim and people came!”

One of the moving moments was the Hachnasas Seifer Torah to the yeshiva:

“My wife’s grandfather was R’ Dovid Bar Chen who served Baba Sali. He often told my wife, ‘When your husband opens a yeshiva, I promise you my personal Torah scroll.’ He had died a short while before and my father-in-law carried out his behest. My father-in-law is Mr. Rafi Bar Chen, who used to be the General Chairman of the Likud party and who helps us tremendously. The yeshiva was named for her grandfather, Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim named for R’ Dovid Bar Chen zt”l.

“At the end of the event I had no money with which to pay the musicians and did not know what to do. I pushed them off and hoped for a miracle. Suddenly, the same shliach whom I had met on the plane on the way to the Kinus HaShluchim ran over to me with hugs and kisses. I was surprised to see him. He explained that he had just landed that morning but remembered his promise to stand by me, and so when he heard about the event he decided to make the effort and come. He asked how he could help. I referred him to the musicians and he took them aside and paid them.”

Starting a yeshiva is not easy and it’s not easy to bring bachurim to learn there on a steady basis. One day, before Shavuos, some bachurim from shiur beis in the yeshiva g’dola in Tzfas called and asked whether they could stay with him for a Shabbos Achdus. 

“I immediately agreed. The logistics and preparations for their coming were hard, but I did it wholeheartedly and with complete faith that this is what the Rebbe wants. They came and the atmosphere was electric. On Motzaei Shabbos we farbrenged and after hearing about the Rebbe’s horaos about starting a yeshiva, they went up the hill where I had thought of putting a yeshiva and we placed a cornerstone with about 120 bachurim dancing around.”

Some of those bachurim decided to stay and become the nucleus of the new yeshiva, though not before asking for and receiving permission from the hanhala of their yeshiva. That is how the yeshiva in Mitzpeh Yitzhar got off the ground. That day, the bachurim sat down with R’ Itzik to write to the Rebbe and the answer they opened to, in volume 9, letter 2824, was incredible. In it, the Rebbe wrote that he was pleased to hear about how some of the talmidim were going to remain to learn in the yeshiva. The Rebbe said there was a kal v’chomer – that if, with the efforts made thus far they saw such results, then all the more so if they put in more effort they would certainly see far greater results. The letters ends with a yehi ratzon that it increase by tens of talmidim.

The feeling was that when you do as the Rebbe wants, the brachos come in abundance.

“After a few months, we decided to expand the yeshiva and to build a beis midrash with a large place to learn. All the work was done by me and my brother and some bachurim who volunteered to help during the breaks between s’darim. Toward the completion of the work, we wrote to the Rebbe again and asked for a bracha. The Rebbe’s answer was in volume 13, letter 4653 and referred to the Chanukas Ha’bayis of Achei T’mimim in Rishon L’Tziyon, with a yehi ratzon for outstanding success.

“The Rebbe asked explicitly that we send him updates about the yeshiva in a more detailed way and we committed to doing so.

“One of the bachurim who learned by us in the summer was a baal t’shuva, just released from the army. The fact that the yeshiva did not have a library bothered him, so he decided to do something about it.

“He told me that he wanted to donate his ‘discharge bonus’ to buy a lot of s’farim for the yeshiva. That same day we traveled to Kfar Chabad and returned to the yeshiva with a sizable amount of s’farim.

“The yeshiva still experienced many woes on its way to where it is now, but the Rebbe’s brachos gave us hope. Today, the yeshiva consists of a large beis midrash building, a kitchen and dining room, a mikva and a dormitory for the bachurim and another dormitory for bachurim who come from their year on K’vutza on shlichus and to learn for smicha. Nearby is a spot for the soldiers and security forces who come occasionally to drink a hot cup of tea and enjoy some cookies or just sit and relax. Many of them walk into the yeshiva, put on t’fillin, and even sit down to learn.”

R’ Itzik said how good he felt at the beginning of this year when he walked into the yeshiva and saw the bachurim learning, each one with his own place, bed and personal s’farim. “It’s a dream that without the kochos and brachos that we got would never have been realized.”

GOOD TIMING

One of the biggest hardships in maintaining the yeshiva, especially during these days of governmental decrees, is money.

“Last Tishrei, most of the talmidim went to 770 and those that remained went home. There was no money and it reached the point where, on Erev Shabbos, I did not have money to pay for food for Shabbos. My wife saved the day when she said she would prepare food with what she had at home. It was a wonderful Shabbos and we even had guests.

“On Sunday I checked the mailbox and was surprised to find a letter which informed me about a Provident Fund containing a large amount of money that until the evening of that same day (that I checked the mail box) I could open and use. I was stunned. I told my wife and of course, I took out the money that very same day. My wife wanted to use the money to renovate the kitchen but I wanted to use it for the yeshiva. We decided to pay the carpenter to do the kitchen with postdated checks and use the ready cash for the yeshiva and with Hashem’s help we would manage.”

After the carpenter finished the work, he asked to be paid. R’ Itzik traveled to Yerushalayim to borrow money and pay him. “I did not know how I would repay the loan. I hoped for a miracle.” 

“The next day, something incredible happened. The carpenter called me and asked me whether it was true that I had a yeshiva. I told him yes and he said, ‘My father died four months ago and I am the only one saying Kaddish. I would like your yeshiva to also say Kaddish and to learn as a z’chus for him. If you promise to do this until the end of the year of mourning, I will forgo payment.’

“I wondered whether I was dreaming. I arranged for someone to say Kaddish in the yeshiva and for the bachurim to learn l’ilui nishmas his father. The carpenter became one of our most generous supporters.”

Speaking of money, R’ Itzik tells of an answer he opened to when the yeshiva was first founded. From the very start he realized that the financial burden was too heavy and he asked the Rebbe for a bracha to get out from under his debts. The Rebbe’s answer was in volume 9, letter 2867, and seemed to be written just for him. It said: I am sure that you will ultimately get out of all debts and although I realize it is hard to wait, but as I wrote before I repeat: Yisroel are believers the children of believers in Hashem and Moshe His servant and the extension of Moshe in every generation. In our generation this is the Rebbe, my father-in-law …  

Despite his strong faith, there are unbearable times and R’ Itzik told of one of them:

“Last year I was invited by the bachurim in 770 to farbreng with them. I thought it would be a good opportunity to raise money for the yeshiva and I agreed to do it. On the last day before returning home, I went to meet with a wealthy person to ask him for a donation. The man wasn’t impressed by our work and dismissed me without giving me any money. I was greatly disappointed and thought that maybe I was entirely unsuited to this shlichus and others would do a better job.

“I returned to the apartment where I was staying and wrote to the Rebbe, asking him to release me from this job because I did not think I was good at it. Why did I have to suffer these humiliations? The answer I opened to was in volume 13, letter 4599. The Rebbe protested about my request and explained the greatness of this role and the power of shlichus through which all bounty passes through. Obviously, after reading this letter, my perspective changed.”

THE BLESSED STORM

The yeshiva is built on miracles. R’ Itzik has many stories about heart-stopping hashgacha pratis. When I asked to hear one, he shared this story that took place this past winter:

“The news reported an approaching storm. The dorm wasn’t yet built and the bachurim slept in an army tent. Under the circumstances, we opted to send the boys home until the storm passed. That same day I evacuated the tent. The next day there were powerful winds and I heard a banging sound. I went outside and saw that the kitchen which I had decided to leave where it was, had fallen and smashed to pieces. I regretted not having taken it down along with the tent.

“A few days went by and the bachurim had already returned to yeshiva when I received a phone call from the Regional Division Commander, Colonel Yoav Yarom, a personal friend of mine and of the yeshiva. He told me that for a few days now he had an evacuation order for Mitzpeh Yitzhar but since he liked me he kept postponing it. But now the time had come and he wanted me to meet with him in his office to see what he could do to cause us the least amount of damage. I went to his office after asking the bachurim to dedicate their learning to the cancellation of the decree.

“The atmosphere in the room was tense. The commander suggested that before we began to talk that I call the Civil Administration office and ask what they are requesting the army to get rid of. The supervisor there told me, ‘In Mitzpeh Yitzhar there is no need to evacuate anything.’ The Commander couldn’t believe it. ‘Then why did you send me an evacuation notice?’ The supervisor said, ‘It’s an old order. They had a kitchen that they built in a bad location but they removed it recently so there is no need for an eviction.’

“I left the Commander excited and shaken by the divine providence, and here I was still feeling sorry for myself that I had forgotten to take down this small kitchen made out of plastic before the storm.”

R’ Itzik then went back to an answer he opened to before the first evacuation, before he founded the yeshiva. “The Rebbe wrote that a good thought creates a good reality even though there are times that seem bad. I understood this bracha only in recent months. Since the yeshiva opened, all threats of evacuation of the hilltop are gone. Not only that but the government is going to include us in their planning and construction procedures, since we are on surveyed land, which means land that the Supreme Court ruled that the State must take responsibility for.

“So although a little structure was demolished in that evacuation, not only was it a descent for the sake of the ascent of the yeshiva and the expansion to many other structures, it is also what led to the situation in which, once and for all, the threat of destruction has been eliminated.”

I asked R’ Itzik whether there aren’t times he raises his hands in defeat and says he just can’t go on. He said:

“The hardest thing is not facing the army and the financial difficulties, but having to deal with our own people, those of Anash who are supposed to help but create problems. In the beginning it was very hard but the Rebbe is the one who provides the kochos. It’s not that there is no pressure; there is. It’s that we have bitachon and carry on.

“People from the settlements and other places in the country ask how we’ve managed to build a yeshiva with buildings and a great learning atmosphere and I say it’s all thanks to the Rebbe. Without his brachos nothing would happen. I remember that in the early days of the yeshiva I met with R’ Elimelech Shachar of Rechovot and he told me, ‘You should know that opening a Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim is to declare war on the Satan.’ At the time, I did not really understand what he meant but now I do.”

As for Moshiach:

“Moshiach is the fuel which keeps everything moving. A majority of the talmidim here, mainly the shluchim, are graduates of the yeshiva in Tzfat and Natzrat Ilit so they were educated about Moshiach, and when someone lives it he gives life to everything around him.

“One of the special s’darim in yeshiva is the one on Moshiach and Geula which takes place after Mincha. The fact that the bachurim live Moshiach helps a lot in the work with residents and soldiers and makes the yeshiva a source of chayus and light to the area; it’s a terrific gift.”

R’ Itzik described the impact of the yeshiva on the area:

“We love everyone around us and everyone loves us. The religious-Zionists love us because we live in an outpost and for our stubbornness in staying the course. The security personnel love us because of the mivtzaim that we do with them. The head of the Council, Gershon Masika and his right hand, Yossi Dagan are very friendly with us and visit us regularly, admire our work and help us to the best of their abilities.

“I’ll end this interview with something that one of the unit commanders told me yesterday. He said that the level of potential terror threats in our area dropped in recent years to zero and he believes that it is all because of the Torah that is learned in the yeshiva.”

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