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Tuesday
Dec202016

TORAH STUDY FOR THE WORKING MAN

It’s happening in Kfar Chabad and Nachalat Har Chabad, in Lud, in Tzfas and Chabad communities across Eretz Yisroel. * Shuls are full of Lubavitcher balabatim (working men) who are learning Torah, Nigleh and Chassidus and Halacha like young yeshiva bachurim. * We checked out the phenomenon and were gratified to return with information about dozens of shiurim and night kollels. * About the transformation of a young man from Kfar Chabad, “For they [words of Torah] are our lives and the length of our days.”

By Elad Yitzchaki

Mendel’s Shul in Kfar Chabad looked like a yeshiva zal. Dozens of men were sitting in pairs, bent over s’farim and concentrating on their learning. The sound of Torah reverberated in the shul that turned into a beis medrash. Now and then, thumbs twirled, voices were raised, discussions got heated, as they delved into the intricacies of the Sea of the Talmud.

Only the colored shirts here and there, the graying beards and the thinning hair let us know that these are people who are bachurim no longer. Some of them are fathers to sons who themselves fill yeshivos with the sound of their learning.

Among those who learn in the night kollel in Kfar Chabad, we met Shmuel, or perhaps it would be more correct to refer to him as R’ Shmuel. It’s the second year that he is sitting and learning every night with a chavrusa and he does not treat these learning sessions lightly. Over the past year he hardly missed an evening. The learning is very important to him. Every morning, Shmuel takes the train to the big city. He works at a big company in Tel Aviv in finances. In the evening, he fortifies his neshama with spiritual resources and holy energy.

R’ Shmuel heard that we came for an article and asked to speak to us after his learning. After Maariv we sat down to talk. He asked that we not use his name. “The kollel saved my life,” he said. “Do you hear? It literally saved me. Today I am a different person because of the kollel.

“In yeshiva, I wasn’t one of the big learners. When I got married, I was in the army and right after I was released I started working. My life consisted of work, home and family. I would go to shul on Shabbos and sometimes for Mincha Maariv in the summer.

“At first we lived the life of a young couple. Then the children started coming and life became more demanding. The routine of work, home, and family wore away at me. I suddenly felt an emptiness. I felt as though I was working and exerting myself for nothing. It all became a burden to me. I had no desire for anything. Even taking care of my three sweet children whom I love dearly and whom I loved caring for, suddenly seemed to me like a burden too hard to bear. I felt no joy in life whatsoever.

“Naturally, this did not make a good impact on the home, not on chinuch and not on our relationship. My wife did not understand what happened to me. At first we thought that we needed to focus on ourselves. We started going out in the evenings, we went away for Shabbos, on vacation. It helped a little but it was like giving an aspirin to a sick person who needs serious medical treatment.

“One day, I went to the pizza store and saw an ad about the kollel. I gave a donation and then tried to remember when the last time was that I had opened a Jewish book. We were married for seven years already. I figured the wedding maamer was the last thing I learned, aside from Chitas and Rambam which I said now and then when I had a ‘D’var Malchus’ pamphlet with me on the train.

“I don’t know why but I thought it would be a good idea to try and start learning. I spoke with a friend who liked the idea and we decided to learn together. We went to Mendel’s shul where we knew there was an atmosphere of learning. We joined one of the shiurim of the Rosh Kollel, R’ Menachem Vaheva, and then sat and reviewed the material, just like in yeshiva.

“That evening I returned home floating on air. I felt energized. It was such an uplifting feeling, one that I hadn’t felt in so long. That terrific feeling at the beginning did not last, but my wife, who saw how good this was for me, would not relent and pushed me to go to the kollel.

“Boruch Hashem, I finished a tractate of Gemara and some maamarei Chassidus. The entire house is different. It also influenced the Chassidishe atmosphere at home. My children have a father who learns Torah. They are growing up in this atmosphere. They know that their father goes out every night to learn Torah and I am proud and happy about this.”

POSITIVE PHENOMENON

Apparently, Shmuel is not the only one. The phenomenon of young men setting aside time to learn has been growing in recent years. In all Lubavitch communities you can find shiurim on various levels for Anash, for the early risers and the late to bed. In the morning and at night.

In small communities and communities of Chabad Houses, there are mainly weekly shiurim. In large communities, there are actual kollelim. Some of them even offer a stipend for balabatim who work for a living. During the day they work, and at night or in the morning, they exert themselves in Torah study.

For example, in Kiryat Malachi, you can find an impressive array of shiurim that start at seven in the morning with the shiur of the mashpia, Rabbi Mendel Wechter, a Chassidus class that has been going on for many years and is attended by dozens of people, not only Lubavitchers.

Then there is a shiur by Rabbi Nadav Cohen on the Rebbe’s maamarim, which is also attended by dozens of people. Afterward there is a shiur by Rabbi Shlomo Lifsh of Kfar Achim, followed by a Gemara shiur with Rabbi Berger until eleven. The evening and night classes begin at four in the afternoon with a shiur given by Rabbi Yosef Hartman.

“There is an enormous array of shiurim and a choice of topics and speakers. This enables most people to attend and learn, each one choosing the time that works for him and the topic or speaker that he likes. Most of the hours of the day there are shiurim in the shul,” says Yisroel Yakubov, a resident of the community.

In addition, there are other shiurim that take place in other homes and shuls in Kiryat Malachi. “For young men alone there are four active minyanim and in all of them there is at least one weekly shiur that everyone attends,” says R’ Yisroel. “There is also the kollel run by Rabbi Bumi Friedland and the shul of Rabbi Boaz Lerner a”h where there are active shiurim every day, and at Beis Moshiach that is run by Rabbi Sholom Fash, which also has an impressive list of shiurim. Learning Torah together unifies the community. And when the unity revolves around Torah study, then it is more spiritual.”

R’ Wechter gives two daily classes – in Chassidus every morning and Gemara in the afternoon. And then there is a weekly Chassidus class that attracts people from all over the country.

The interest in learning Chassidus and the reputation of R’ Wechter’s classes has led the organizers of the shiur to try and bring him to broader audiences via digital media. The shiurim are recorded on video and broadcast over the web to the entire world. So in addition to the dozens who pack the shul, many hundreds more participate in the shiur. The wonders of technology…

R’ Yisroel Yakubov of Kiryat Malachi is the one who arranges the logistics of the shiur. “I kind of fell into it,” he says. “I started to help and suddenly found myself arranging the shiur and everything that entails, but I enjoy it and do it happily. Boruch Hashem, when necessary, I can also enlist the participants of the shiur.”

Mr. Shai Bar is a businessman from Tel Aviv who travels every week from Tel Aviv to Kiryat Malachi to attend R’ Wechter’s shiur. He tries not to miss it. “This shiur gives me energy for the week,” he says. “R’ Wechter’s style is unique. At first, it’s a little hard to follow but when you get it, it’s sweet as honey. For me, this weekly hour of elatedness and spiritual pleasure is like a visit to Gan Eden.”

We asked how learning Torah impacts his life and he said, “I try to learn at other times too, on my own and at the Chabad house run by Rabbi Ido Rahav. I also give a shiur in my office to the partners in the firm and businessmen who work with me. There’s no question that Torah study has an enormous impact on life. This is expressed both at work and in every aspect of daily life. When you learn Torah, especially Chassidus, on a regular basis, it transforms your personality.”

R’ Shmuel Chaim Frankel is a retired educator. He has been attending the shiur for many years, every day. He also talks about the blessed impact the shiur has. “Learning Chassidus changes a person, especially when you learn with someone who has such broad knowledge of Chassidus and the ability to explain. With every shiur, you take something home with you.”

As an educator, R’ Frankel speaks about the impact Torah study makes on a home and on the chinuch of children. “When a child sees that his father gets up early and goes to a Chassidus shiur, it impacts his entire chinuch. The child is not taught with words, but by action. He looks around him and is influenced by what he sees. And when this is what he sees, then his entire chinuch is different. Even more so when his father returns from the shiur and has something to repeat from it, a thought, a Chassidishe vort, or even a story, and he shares it with his wife and family, then there is no estimating the power of this positive influence.”

In recent years, Kfar Chabad has also become an empire of Torah study. It started with the night kollel run by R’ Menachem Vaheva at the initiative of R’ Zalman Scheinberger, in Mendel’s shul, and has been copied at other shuls. Today, there are a number of Torah learning projects for balabatim such as “Ta Shema,” which was initiated by the Mara D’Asra, Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, the Chassidus kollel of Rabbi Alperowitz, and others.

R’ Zalman Scheinberger, who is known to all because of his pizza store in the center of the kfar, says jokingly, “People say that I am the most expensive pizza in the country. You come to buy three slices and it costs you 200 shekels.” He means that he runs a fundraising campaign for the kollel which also operates out of his store.

Thirty men learn in the kollel for an hour and a half every day. There is a shiur a few times a week given by the rosh kollel. For the first hour they learn Gemara, then they learn halacha, usually connected to the topic they’re learning in Gemara. Twice a week they also learn Chassidus.

“The men registered in the kollel are all residents of Kfar Chabad, ages 25-70. Most of them work by day and learn at night. They receive a modest stipend at the end of the month. Not that they need the money, but it helps their commitment. They must come on time every night and cover the required material. Attendance is taken and there are occasional tests.

“While building the mikva in the new neighborhood, we went to see mikvaos in other places to get ideas. On one of these trips we went to the beis medrash of the Belzer Rebbe. After looking at the mikva we went up to the beis medrash and saw several halls full of Chassidim, balabatim, sitting and learning. Our hosts explained that there is a takana (enactment) of the Rebbe that every Chassid must show up every evening to learn Torah for an hour.

“We liked the idea and thought of copying it in Kfar Chabad. Until then, there were a few shiurim here and there but no organized framework of intensive Torah study.

“While building the mikva we met with the philanthropist, Yitzchak Mirilashvili. After he made his donation, he asked, ‘So, what’s the next project?’ Since I had this idea, I told him about starting an evening kollel for balabatim. He liked the idea and immediately gave a respectable amount so we could get started.

“This is our fifth year and the kollel is supported by donations from good people for whom Torah study is important. There are many people in the kfar and outside of it who make monthly deposits, and some people dedicate certain days l’ilui nishmas someone or in the merit of someone.”

You can see the impact the kollel in Kfar Chabad has made by the many learning initiatives that have sprouted there. On the personal level, there are stories like that told earlier in the article.

“The model we followed was the kollel in Lud,” says Scheinberger. “A kollel halacha has been in existence there for a number of years, founded and run by Rabbi Avrohom Alashvilli. It is very successful and is attended by a nice number of people. R’ Alashvilli guided us in the beginning stages until we got on our feet.”

In the capital of the Galil, the situation is similar.

“In Tzfas, boruch Hashem, in recent years shiurim have been growing,” says R’ Yehuda Disraeli, of the Chabad community there. “It starts every morning at six with shiurim in Chassidus in rotations of twenty minutes. A new shiur starts every twenty minutes until ten and even later. In the afternoon there are dozens of shiurim a week for balabatim, shiurim in Gemara and Chassidus. A shiur in Ein Yaakov by Rabbi Gershowitz, a Tanya class by Rabbi Chitrik, etc. In the evening there is a kollel for balabatim sitting and learning in pairs. On Shabbos there are numerous shiurim in the morning and afternoon. You can walk into shul and see it full of pairs of balabatim learning together.”

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