Those who rise to call of the hour, acting for kvod Shamayim, ahavas haTorah and ahavas Yisrael, will merit eternal reward, impacting worlds and drawing the Geulah closer. That theme resonated throughout every address on Motzoei Shabbos at the convention.
Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, a singular leader, was machzir atarah l’yoshnah and raised kvod haTorah to new heights. Chacham Yosef Harari-Raful, shlita, paid a moving tribute to Harav Yosef, the loss of whom Klal Yisrael feels so deeply.
He eulogized the tzaddik born in Bavel 93 years ago, whose Rosh Yeshivah at Porat Yosef realized early on the special gifts with which he had been blessed. He had a sharp memory and lightning-quick grasp of material. He was straight and clear, and knew how to classify everything. And, in his love of learning Torah, he devoured sefarim. Torah was all-encompassing in his life.
His own sefarim, including Chazon Ovadiah and Yabia Omer, amazed Gedolei Torah of his day. The complex areas of halachah that he masterfully covered are vital resources for Rabbanim all over the world. When he presented the second chelek of Yabia Omer to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, before Sukkos, the Rav wrote, “Your nekius and yashrus brought me oneg Yom Tov.”
Harav Ovadiah was a bor sid sh’eino me’abed tipah, as well as a maayan hamisgaber. He grew and grew in Torah, and the greater he became, the more he was “yored l’am,” spoke to the people on a level they could understand. He was always highly connected to the tzibbur.
He traveled from place to place in Eretz Yisrael, addressing and teaching his fellow Jews, uplifting them through Torah. At one point, however, he decided to curtail those travels, which left him with insufficient time to write his sefarim. Shortly after making that decision, Harav Ovadiah dreamt that the Ben Ish Chai told him, “Do not stop what you are doing. You must both strengthen your people and write your sefarim.”
When he spoke to the tzibbur, he was rach kakaneh. But when he had to stand on principle, he was az k’namer. He did not tire, and relentlessly did what had to be done. He fought the milchamos Hashem, standing up for Shabbos, for Torah, for authentic Yahadus, against those who would undermine those essentials of our faith.
His word was revered; when he demanded an upgrade in kashrus, his instructions went into effect immediately.
The passuk “Ovadiah hayah yareh es Hashem me’od” applied to him unfailingly.
Chaval al d’avdin v’lo mishtakchin.
Continuing the theme of rising up to fulfill dvar Hashem, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel highlighted the connection between Shimon and Levi’s fighting Shechem to save their sister Dinah, and their subsequent charge to become the melamdim and sofrim of Am Yisrael. Rebbeim, said Rabbi Zwiebel, must have a burning dedication to their talmidim; these are the people who will ensure the future of our nation. The ones who passionately stand up for the welfare of those in their care are worthy of being mechanech the next generation.
Klal Yisrael, said Rabbi Zwiebel, needs young people with energy, idealism and a burning desire to help solve problems. We need such people, guided by daas Torah, in order to survive as the Am Hashem.
On Shabbos of the convention, members of Agudah’s young leadership division requested a meeting with the Novominsker Rebbe, shlita. They said to the Rebbe, “We feel a need to better understand the matzav in Eretz Yisrael, the issues of the hour. Please inform and guide us.” For half an hour, the Rebbe spoke with the committee, enlightening them regarding these crucial matters.
“This,” said Rabbi Zwiebel, “is Agudas Yisrael at its finest. And it’s an urgent need.”
At a convention 30 years ago, Rabbi Zwiebel heard Harav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, relate the words of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, to him: “When Moshiach comes, I will be among those who, as kohanim, serve in the Beis Hamikdash — because my ancestors, at the time of chet ha’egel, zealously rose to defend kvod Shamayim.”
“‘In every generation,’ Harav Schwab had noted, ‘there is a call of “Mi LaShem eilai.” Bend your ear and listen to that call.’”
Harav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, shlita, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah, spoke of the well-known Rashi that tells us that Yaakov Avinu wanted to be megaleh the ketz, but nistalkah mimenu Shechinah. He was able to reveal one word, however — “He’asfu, gather together.” When Am Yisrael is gathered as an agudah achas, the Geulah can come.
Yaakov Avinu’s actions, said the Rosh Yeshivah, teach us how to act in Olam Hazeh, a world which is, in truth, not totally distinct from Olam Haba.
Harav Elazar Menachem Shach, zt”l, taught that Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba are not two separate entities. The way a person is in this world is the way he will be l’netzach netzachim. That is why Yaakov Avinu cared so much about the pachim ketanim, small vessels, as do all tzaddikim. Everything in this world, including his material possessions, was used toward a higher purpose, and became part of his Olam Haba.
And Yaakov, the Midrash teaches us, is the symbol of u’v’chol me’odecha, loving Hashem with all of one’s resources. One coin, properly used, can build worlds. This is in total opposition to the mahalach of Esav Harasha, who valued Olam Hazeh exclusively for its own sake.
“They are calling us from Shamayim!” the Rosh Yeshivah cried out, “to rescue the Torah. We are the last dor before Moshiach. That is a great achrayus and a great zechus!
“The Satan is fighting against the Torah. And we are being called with the words of Mi LaShem eilai. The government didn’t realize what a zechus they had, to be able to help bnei Torah. Today, there are yungeleit who don’t have 10 shekel in their pockets; they need to borrow money weekly to make Shabbos. If we donate money to help bnei Torah in Eretz Yisrael, so that Torah can flourish, it can be netzach netzachim. Chapt arein, teire Yidden.
The Rosh Yeshivah said that before coming to America, he asked Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, what he should say. Harav Kanievsky told him, “Tell the people that we are in ikvesa d’Meshicha, and those who are mechazek Torah will enter first.”
“Be mechazek,” exhorted the Rosh Yeshivah, “in kvod haTorah, limud haTorah and hachzakas haTorah. And may we be zocheh to learn the Torah hakedoshah with harchavas hadaas.”
Harav Ephraim Wachsman told of a gathering of Rabbanim who wanted to explain to the minister of Education of Czarist Russia why he should revoke the edict stating that secular subjects had to be taught in the yeshivos. One person suggested translating the words of Ahavah Rabba to the minister, to show him, through the meaning of that tefillah, how precious the Torah is to us. Harav Itzeleh Ponevzher responded, “If we would translate those words for ourselves, we wouldn’t need to do so for the goyim.”
We must know, Rabbi Wachsman emphasized, where our starting point is. If the love of Torah pulsates in our hearts, we can begin.
Rabbi Wachsman recounted how, according to the Gemara in Taanis, groups of kohanim ascended to the roof of the Beis Hamikdash as the Bayis was burning. In their hands were the keys to the Mikdash, which the kohanim now threw heavenward, saying “We were, apparently, not faithful guardians of our responsibility, and so we are returning the keys.”
Over 65 years ago, when a few surviving leaders emerged from the ashes of the raging inferno of Europe, dazed and bereft of all that was precious to them — families, kehillah, talmidim, chassidim — they saw a vast Jewish cemetery. No one would have been surprised had they stood on top of those burning embers and said, “Hashem, take back the keys.” No one would have faulted them.
But they didn’t do that. They said, “Vayivaser Yaakov levado. We have no resources, but Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we have You. With Your help, we will rebuild.” And they wrought a miracle impossible to explain.
The only explanation for our rejuvenation is “Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker.”
The old Zionist guard expected the olam haTorah to wither and die. They said, “You are irrelevant. We will show the world a new Jew, muscular and brazen.” Yet even in that hostile environment, thousands rallied around the luminaries of the generation, and Torah flourished.
Now the Torah community in Eretz Yisrael is threatened by foreign elements who say they will “educate us anew.” Those naysayers have forgotten that Am Israel is an am k’sheh oref. We have stubbornly held on to the banner of naaseh v’nishma and will continue to do so.
It is up to Klal Yisrael — not only the wealthy, but everyone, as much as he can — to be mechazek the olam haTorah in Eretz Yisrael.
And those of us who hold on to our mesorah in truth, concluded Rabbi Wachsman, who are mechazek and mechabed Torah v’lomdeha, will, iy”H, be zocheh to dance with that Torah toward Moshiach Tzidkeinu.