91st Agudath Israel Convention Begins

WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J.
Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Mirrer Yeshivah, Brooklyn, addressing the plenary session of Agudath Israel of America's 91st National Convention on the theme, “Chanoch La’Naar: Nurturing Our Children, Ensuring Our Future,” Thursday, November 14, 2013. (All photo credits: Hillel Engel)
Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Mirrer Yeshivah, Brooklyn, addressing the plenary session of Agudath Israel of America’s 91st National Convention on the theme, “Chanoch La’Naar: Nurturing Our Children, Ensuring Our Future,” Thursday, November 14, 2013. (All photo credits: Hillel Engel)

Nurturing Our Children, Ensuring Our Future

Gedolim and askanim, businessmen and rebbeim mingled as the 91st annual convention of Agudath Israel of America commenced Thursday at the Hilton Woodcliffe Lake in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

The plenary session Thursday night focused on how to connect to today’s youth in a way that will ensure the continuity of Klal Yisrael. Hundreds listened as Mr. Avrumi Hirsch opened the program.

Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, Harav Yaakov Bender, shlita, and Harav Matisyahu Solomon, shlita, on Thursday night addressed the convention, which is scheduled to go through Sunday morning. (The address by Harav Solomon, the Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, began after we went to print.)

Harav Matisyahu Salomon, shlita, Mashgiach Ruchani, Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood
Harav Matisyahu Salomon, shlita, Mashgiach Ruchani, Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood

Harav Brudny, Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshivas Mir in Flatbush, began the evening by declaring that the convention’s theme of chinuch has many questions but no easy answers.

“The answers are difficult,” Harav Brudny said. “Solutions are not easy to come by.”

But while the answers may be intricate, he said, they are available.

Citing the passuk considered a benchmark of chinuch, “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko,” Harav Brudny said that there are a plethora of methods to fulfill the second part of the passuk. Psychologists and rebbeim, menahelim and education experts have reams of advice on how to speak to a child or to understand the mind of a child.

However, Harav Brudny said, the first part, that of “chanoch l’naar,” is missing.

Harav Yaakov Perlow, shlita, Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisrael
Harav Yaakov Perlow, shlita, Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisrael

The only way a parent can ensure their future is by following Dovid Hamelech’s direction: “b’mitzvosov chafetz mo’ed — he has a passion for mitzvos.” It is only when a child has a love for mitzvos — not merely performing them out of duty or habit, but out of ahavah — that a parent can be assured that he or she will remain a yerei Shamayim, Harav Brudny declared.

Turning to last week’s parashah, Harav Brudny wondered how Shechem ben Chamor was able to convince his entire city to perform bris milah, to essentially undergo surgery. How did he persuade them to give up their nationality and assimilate with the Bnei Yaakov?

The answer is, he said, because he was “chafetz b’bas Yaakov” — he desired to marry Dinah, Yaakov’s daughter.

Harav Yaakov Bender, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, Far Rockaway
Harav Yaakov Bender, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, Far Rockaway

“It boggles the mind!” Harav Brudny thundered. “It’s unimaginable! But this kid was able to turn a community around, a civilization. …  Why? Because he was ‘chafetz b’bas Yaakov.’ That is what chafetz means. A chafetz moves mountains. A chafetz finds eloquence to the heart of the totally uninterested. … With his passion, with his conviction, he turned a country around.”

“If we would have this level of chafetz mo’ed [for Yiddishkeit], we would have no issues tonight,” Harav Brudny said. “Dor yesharim yevorach.”

Harav Brudny said that for thousands of years, Klal Yisrael was not in need of chinuch classes and conventions. But the effects of galus is weighing heavily on people’s life choices.

Harav Yitzchak Hutner, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Chaim Berlin, said more than 50 years ago, Harav Brudny noted, that the “the biggest kefirah” of the coming generation is the shrug of the shoulders — “I can’t do better.”

Reb Avrumi Hirsch, Chairman.
Reb Avrumi Hirsch, Chairman.

But while a father may fall asleep at the Shabbos table with the excuse that he had a hard day at work, when a father makes excuses that he cannot do better, his children will do the same — but on their own terms.

“If Tatty or Mommy stop at the best they could do, I’ll stop at the best I could do,” the child will rationalize his choice of friends or technology.

Harav Brudny noted that in the recitation of Viduy, Chazal instituted that Yidden plainly admit, “We are not arrogant to say that we are righteous and did not sin, but we and our forefathers sinned.”

This is because it is possible for a person to convince himself that he is doing the best he can, and should not be held responsible for his actions. That is why Chazal force him to say straightforwardly, “We are not righteous. We have sinned. We thought we couldn’t do better, but we realize that we could.”

Partial view of the crowd.
Partial view of the crowd.

“If I’m learning because everybody is learning — there are times, there are situations [to get out of it]. But if I am learning Torah Hashem cheftzo … if that is my approach to Torah … we come home from a long day and we grab a [seder with a] chavrusa. Or we grab a daf. … It is a big contributor to ensure [our children].”

“There are no quick fixes ensuring this very tall order,” Harav Brudny said. “But we have to begin and we have to rethink our role in the chanoch l’naar. … Our role is as role model. [The Gemara says], the words of a child are either from his father or from his mother. The rebbi could do his, the menahel could do his, the morah could do hers, but [it all hinges on the home].”

During family trips, Harav Brudny said, “children are watching, children are seeing, children are getting messages, very strong messages.” They watch how the father goes to learn — does he go with a slump as if he would rather be elsewhere,  or with a spring in his step?

Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, speaking.
Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, speaking.

Harav Brudny said that children pick up even how the parents discuss evil — is it with a tolerant tone of voice, or with a feeling of disgust?

“If we are apathetic … the sakanah of our child seeing [evil] as silver and gold is a very high probability,” he said.

Harav Brudny also praised the idea of parents taking their children to see their own Rosh Yeshivah or Rebbe. He took the example of Efraim and Menashe, the only grandchildren in history who were counted as full-fledged children of Yaakov — they were shevatim in their own right.

“Let’s elevate children to the level of banim” to one’s own rebbeim,” Harav Brudny said. “Let my child see my Rosh Yeshivah that I learned by 30 years ago, let my child see my rebbi that I learned by 15 years ago.”

He held up Harav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Mir-Yerushalayim, as an example of how to influence the youth, the way he learned Torah with mesiras nefesh.

Partial view of the crowd.
Partial view of the crowd.

Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Barchei Torah in Far Rockaway, cited a Midrash relating that when Hashem created man, he consulted with the melachim. The malach of chessed advised to create the world with chessed. Indeed, wherever you turn today, you find individuals and organizations occupied with chessed on a massive scale. The malach of emes advised not to create the world, to avoid the proliferation of sheker — falsehood — in the world.

Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, the legendary menahel of Yeshivah Torah Vodaas and builder of Torah and chinuch, explained that one of the biggest falsehoods possible is the assertion that Torah could not be established in America, as many naysayers were wont to remark in his times. He averred that it could be done. He taught that emes — truth — would be brought into the world, and indeed, it was done. Just look around what was rebuilt from Churban Europa, remarked Harav Bender. An impressive Torah landscape spread across America.

How was this accomplished? Harav Bender noted that Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, said a talmid in a yeshivah becomes a talmid chacham due to the caring and warmth of a rebbi or parent. Harav Bender illustrated this principle by recalling that Harav  Simchah Sheps, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah in Yeshivah Torah Vodaas, who was a close talmid of Harav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Brisker Rav. The Brisker Rav was once discussing a certain Gemara with the young Rav Sheps. He offered five approaches to that Gemara and asked him which he felt most comfortable with, and Rav Sheps selected one of the approaches. The Brisker Rav, obviously pleased, thereupon placed his hand on Rav Sheps’s shoulder and warmly replied, “I see you are a maven.” About six decades later, Rav Sheps, then in his 80s, would relate this incident to his own talmidim, telling them that he still feels the caring of the Brisker Rav

At the time of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Nesi’im delayed their donations, since they wanted to wait and see what would be missing after the masses gave. The people brought everything that was needed, and there was nothing more to give. Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Mir,  explained that while their calculation may have been an understandable, the Nesi’im were mistaken. As the leaders, it was incumbent upon them to set the standard and demonstrate to the people what it means to give.

Each parent is the nasi in his or her home, and must set the standard. Parents must set the example of chessed, middos and kedushah at home. “A little warmth and a little smile” go a long way in ensuring the success of a child or a talmid, said Harav Bender.

The Motzoei Shabbos keynote addresses will remember the late Chacham, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, by, ybl”c, Chacham Yosef Harari-Raful, Rosh Yeshivah of Ateret Torah and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and will also present a Torah perspective on “the unprecedented assault on the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael,” by Harav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, Rosh Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim.


 

A more comprehensive report on this session, as well as on the rest of the convention, will, iy”H, appear in the weekly edition of Hamodia.

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