A Bumpy Start

By Ben Zion Wolff

“V’hayah reishischa mitzar v’acharischa yisgeh me’od — Your beginning will be restricted and your end will be spacious” (Iyov 8:7).

The Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishis 25:6) tells us that this passuk refers to Avraham Avinu, who went 86 years without having any children and was 100 years old when Yitzchak Avinu was finally born. Yet, despite that difficulty, he later married Keturah who bore him many children.

Similarly, says the Tanchuma, Moshe Rabbeinu was hesitant to accept the task of liberating the Bnei Yisrael and demurred from viewing the revelation of the Shechinah when it appeared to him in the burning sneh (Shemos 3:6, 4:13). Yet in the future, Moshe merited a glimpse of the Shechinah (Shemos 33:23, Bamidbar 12:8).

The Malbim (Iyov ibid.) tells us that the success seen in the end is a direct consequence and reward for the difficulties encountered at the onset.

“A Bumpy Start Part II” relates the struggles that a programmer, a mohel and a battim macher had when they commenced their work, which ultimately led to success in their endeavors.

Yosef Karman — SIRIous Solutions

Yosef Karman

“After baruch Hashem learning in kollel for several years, I decided to make use of the technical talents given to me by the Ribbono shel Olam and begin learning how to apply them in a way that I could support my growing family,” said Yossi. “I knew that I was going out on a limb, since I was not formally trained in programming and development, but I had a knack for tinkering with computers and I figured it was worth a try.”

Yossi began by tapping into his large circle of friends and asking advice of those who were involved in the field as to where to begin. “A friend told me to learn a computer programming framework called Flutter, because it is quite versatile and works across multiple platforms, including IOS, Android and web design, which would allow me to create products that could be adapted for all of them,” Yossi related. “While I remained in kollel for first seder between Sukkos and Pesach, I began taking  courses during the afternoon to get a foundation in programming. After Pesach, I expanded my courses to a full day and learned a great deal.”

While the instructor guided the learners, Yossi also gained a lot from the developer community. “Developers are generally very helpful, and there are various groups where people can reach out and post their questions and others in the tech community will gladly respond to them,” he explained. “Many of the problems I faced have come up in the past and others were glad to share their know-how and how they solved them.”

Shortly before he began to genuinely study programming, Yossi took a real-estate course offered by Professional Career Services (PCS), a division of Agudath Yisrael. When Rabbi Daniel Soloff, director of PCS, asked the group if anyone knew how to hook up a livestream, Yossi volunteered to do it and managed to resolve the technical issues they were having. Then, when PCS needed a solution for another issue, they turned to Yossi for help.

“PCS offers an accounting course, and usually they have one course for men and another for women. For their winter cohort, they did not have enough to offer separate courses, and they approached me to see if I could set up a system where the instructor could simultaneously teach both the men and the women remotely yet maintain the tznius in a way where the men and women would not hear each other nor interact,” said Yossi. “Until that point, they were using Zoom, but that platform would not accommodate their needs. Rabbi Soloff hired me to figure out a solution, and I was able to set up what I call a ‘digital mechitzah’ through Google Meet. The instructor had to wear headphones and maintain a double screen, and PCS was able to run the course. I got my first paycheck, and I guess I was in business.

“Since PCS had Microsoft Teams, which came for free with their MS Office package, I showed them how they could offer their classes on that platform and avoid the fees they were paying for Zoom. I trained the PCS instructors how to operate the platform, acting as the ‘professors’ professor.’ These were my first jobs in the field, and although it was difficult, it was gratifying trying to figure out the solutions.”

Assisting users in maximizing the potential of the products they already have by automating them was a field that was relatively unexplored, and Yossi was apprehensive about wading into uncharted waters. But despite his misgivings, he decided to dive right in and reach out to various businesses in his area and offer his services. “I saw that many people have devices or purchased packages which can have a positive impact on their companies, but they have no idea about the contents of these programs, or they do not maximize their use,” said Yossi. “I was unsure how to create a market for my idea. It was so unconventional that I did not have any resources to check it out, and it would require me to figure out ways to help clients navigate their own programs. Despite my reservations, I decided to give it a try, and of course davened for the success of this unproven venture.

“I realized soon enough that the clients themselves were skeptical that I could automate the programs they already had and were using somewhat, and use them to simplify their business. I finally secured one customer, a sheitelmacher, who was setting up appointments for her customers by manually entering each name, marking it off on her digital calendar after figuring out how much time she would need for the service, and then sending out a reminder the day before.

“I developed a simple method in which she can access the name from her contacts, and after clicking off what service was needed, it automatically set up an appointment. For example, if a ‘wash and set’ was needed, it reserved a 15-minute slot, while if a cut was needed, it would set aside a 45-minute appointment. It then sent out text reminders automatically, reminding the customers to drop off the sheitel the day before, and reminding them on the day of the appointment what time to arrive. Her IOS automation was already in her device, but I sort of put it on steroids and allowed it to be customized to be more efficient. Instead of entering all the information, she can now just click her way through a menu and set it all up in seconds.”

Setting up his business, which he named SIRIous Solutions after the IOS virtual assistant, took time and effort. As a beginner in a field which is dominated by the corporatocracy of megalithic enterprises, Yossi had to carve out a niche for his venture. “Most companies develop programs or customize those available. I design automation for customers and connect them in a seamless way to facilitate ease of use for their business. This seems to be an untapped field, and I am working on expanding this concept.”

A recent project involved a construction company which renovates housing units for real-estate owners. Before Sirious Solutions came aboard, the company spent an inordinate amount of time and energy setting up and tracking each project.

“The construction company was familiar with spreadsheets which kept track of the various steps, but the numerous spreadsheets were not communicating with each other,” Yossi says with a hyperbolic sigh. “By automizing the process, we were able to arrange that whenever units became vacant, the company can check off the boxes which will set in motion whatever is needed. The photo crew will be notified to visit the units and snap before and after photos, the construction crew will be sent to the site, the management company will be ready for a walk-through when the job is completed, and the inventory used by the crew will be automatically updated. Developing this required me to write code onto the spreadsheets, and I can now use this method on future jobs.

“The work is challenging, and each project is different and needs to be customized to the specification of the individual customer. At times, I will be frustrated when a small glitch prevents the program from working properly. Yet when it is resolved and I can deliver a finished product to a satisfied customer, the rewarding feeling I get makes it worth the effort. The way I resolved the difficulty will help me in future endeavors and will serve as a means to produce improved products for future customers.

Rabbi Leibish Langer — Public Speaker

Rabbi Leibish Langer

In addition to Rabbi Leibish Langer’s expertise first as a fifth-grade Rebbi and currently as the Mashgiach in Yeshiva Darchei Torah of Far Rockaway, he is a much-sought-after speaker for numerous events in which he regales his audiences, ranging from young cheder boys to adults of all ages.

“My start as a public speaker was totally unplanned,” Rabbi Langer told me as we met after Minchah in a local shul one afternoon. “I had recently gotten married, and I was still looking for a beis medrash to settle into. I was in the Nitra shul where Harav Yonah Forst, zt”l, would give shiurim and speak by seudah shelishis, and often the young children, who were too young to listen to the drashah of the saintly tzaddik, would run around and disturb.

“Harav Shlomo Feldman, who was raised by Rav Yonah, asked me to say a story for the kids in order to allow the olam to hear the shalosh seudos Torah. Initially, I agreed to do it only once.”

Rabbi Langer relates that as a young bachur, he enjoyed listening to the drashos of the famous maggidim of Eretz Yisrael, namely Harav Shalom Schwadron, Harav Yankel Galinsky and Harav Shabsi Yudalevitch, zichronam l’vrachah. “They were my entertainment when they came to America, and I followed them around to hear them speak as often as possible,” Rabbi Langer recalls. “I had a Craig shoebox tape recorder, and I listened to tapes of Rav Shabsi’s drashos over and over again until I knew them verbatim.

“I tried it once, and Harav Yonah Forst asked me to continue, insisting that I take $25 per Shabbos. I protested it was s’char Shabbos, salary from work performed on Shabbos, but the Rav said I wouldn’t do it otherwise and he told me to take the payment. I saw that the children gravitated to it, and of course I continued.”

Harav Yonah Forst being led by his devoted talmid, Harav Shlomo Feldman.

After Harav Yonah Forst was niftar on 16 Teves 5743/January 1, 1983, Harav Shlomo Feldman began Tiferes Yonah in his memory. He arranged programs on Chol Hamoed during which Rabbi Langer would tell stories for boys ages 8 through 13. “His idea was to train them to spend some time in shul for the stories, with the hope that when they grow older, they will come to the beis medrash to learn during bein hazmanim,” Rabbi Langer says. “The program at the time was not very popular because families generally went on trips. But as the boys who attended grew older, they did come to learn in the beis medrash on Chol Hamoed, and today we commonly see that this has developed into a movement which is accepted amongst the serious bachurim.

“While I told the stories in Tiferes Yonah, I used all the tricks in my arsenal to make them exciting. Of course, I told the stories which I heard from Rav Shalom, Rav Yankel and Rav Shabi. Thus my first forays into public speaking were for children.

Rabbi Langer eventually went into chinuch, beginning his teaching career in Yeshiva Beer Shmuel, where he had learned as a child and young bachur. “In my early years as a Rebbi, I asked Harav Shalom Schwadron for chinuch advice, and he told me, ‘Men darf zei ein-bombadiren mit ma’aselach — You must bombard them with stories.’ He felt that the children of this generation are missing emunas tzaddikim, and by describing the lives and actions of tzaddikim I would infuse them with this vital component of Yiddishkeit. I did research to come up with interesting and exciting stories.”

After a few years in chinuch, Rabb Langer was asked by Torah Umesorah to speak at the annual TU convention to a group of fifth grade Rebbeim. “I walked into the room, and I froze when I looked around and saw that I was the youngest person in the room,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘They must have made some sort of mistake when they asked me to speak to such experienced Rebbeim. I’m just not the right candidate for this speaking engagement! I stumbled my way through the workshop, and I hurried to my next assignment, which was to speak about Historia, a topic which I enjoyed and had researched quite a lot.

“Lo and behold, I found myself once again standing in front of experienced teachers of Historia, and I panicked at the thought of lecturing them on a subject which they probably knew more about than I did. I struggled to compose myself, and began speaking elusively on an esoteric topic, and somehow, I managed to pull through the lecture.

“This taught me an invaluable lesson. No matter how difficult something seems, you can exert yourself and pull through and end up successful.”

One of the speaking engagements for which Rabbi Langer is most well-known is the time he told the story of Harav Yossele Slutsker (Feimer). “I originally heard the story from Harav Shabsi Yudelevitch, and I used all my youthful exuberance and imagination when telling the story. My goal was to captivate the audience and get them to enjoy it,” Rabbi Langer recalls. “Rav Yossele was very wild when he was a young boy, and the children identified with the protagonist of the story. Someone recorded it without my knowledge, and before long every Chassidish kid had heard that tape and it became very popular.

“Years later, I heard from grown-ups, some who were already married how they were affected by the story. I once spoke at Chessed Car Service in Williamsburg and two boys, yesomim, wanted to speak to me afterwards. I said there was a car waiting to take me home, but they told me it was urgent. ‘I am a chassan now,’ one boy said, ‘and I would like to ask you to come to my wedding.’ I told him it was kind of him to invite me, but I did not know who he was, and why would he want me to come to his wedding?

“I was a yasom and was very depressed and bitter,” he began, “I sat at home all day and I couldn’t go to yeshivah. One day, I listened to the tape where you told the story of Yossele Slutzsker. I listen to it over and over, and it made me happy and gave me confidence.”

“I ended up attending the wedding,” Rabbi Langer reports with a genuine smile. “I heard from many boys who were on the fringe that they were turned around by the impact made by that story. Before long, many mosdos asked me to address their talmidim at a variety of their programs.”

Rabbi Langer’s transition to speaking for adults began approximately 15 years ago, when the Raleigh Hotel in South Fallsburg in upstate New York asked him to come as a guest for their Chanukah interlude.

“I asked them how long they would like me to speak for, and they responded, ‘As long as you could.’ I told them, ‘You may regret that.’ The discussion went on until 2:00 a.m. as I told the story of Chanukah with all the Midrashim and historical background,” Rabbi Langer says with a wistful smile. “I guess they liked it because the hotel asked me to return for Shavuos. That was my start in speaking for adults, and I went on to be invited as a guest speaker at melaveh malkahs and other functions for different organizations. Over the years, I have spoken for special needs children in Hamaspik as well. Baruch Hashem, I am versatile, since I speak fluently in both English and Yiddish, and I can speak to both Chassidish and Litvish-Yeshivish audiences.”

Rabbi Langer insists that he didn’t plan on becoming a public speaker, but he feels that if you see that Hashem has given you a talent, you have no right to keep it for yourself. “It’s a matanah that the Ribbono shel Olam gave you, and you must share it with Klal Yisrael. If you do for the klal, the Eibershter always pays back. “With all the requests I get these days, I cannot accommodate them and I am happy that the younger generation is taking up the slack. Many of the present-day storytellers went through Tiferes Yonah and they picked up the talent, and they in turn are sharing it and inspiring the next generation,” Rabbi Langer muses. “I guess you, too, now have a something to tell, and you should share this with the klal as well.”

Rabbi Binyomin Zimmerman — Path of a Mohel

Rabbi Binyomin Zimmerman

“There are numerous steps a person needs to take on the path to become a mohel, and despite the fact that my zeide, Harav Mordechai Zimmerman, zt”l, was a renowned mohel, it was extremely difficult for me to break into the field,” says Rabbi Binyomin Zimmerman, who has served the Lakewood area for many years.

Rav Binyomin relates that he is the oldest in his family, and from a young age his father, who did not go into the field, always encouraged him to take up the vocation of his zeide. “There was a joke in my family that he wanted so much that I become a mohel that when I was born, he wanted me to perform my own bris,” he recalls.

“From a young age, when I was still a bachur, I began learning the halachos of milah. I spent one bein hazmanim learning with my zeide in the Lakewood Minyan of Boro Park, and we went through the Shulchan Aruch together. Eventually, he taught me the skill of milah, but in his inimitable manner he told me, ‘Go learn from others as well.’ He did not claim to know everything, and insisted that I learn from other mohalim and pick up pointers from them as well.”

Rav Binyomin with his zeide, Harav Mordechai Zimmerman, serving as the sandak.

As time went on,  Rav Binyomin began assisting his zeide in some of the tangential tasks, including checking the baby, doing the priah, and bandaging the baby. Nevertheless, it was hard to find someone who would trust him to act as the mohel for his child. “My zeide was the mohel for my brothers, and my father would do the chituch, the actual cut. When my youngest brother was born, my father asked me to be the mohel, and he served as the sandik. This was my first bris.”

He eventually received certification from the Initiation Society in London, an organization founded in 1745 to ensure the highest medical and religious standards for bris milah. The society’s process includes a bechinah of the halachos by the London Beis Din, training with mohalim and a performing a bris in the presence of two doctors.

While learning in kollel in Yerushalayim, Rabbi Zimmerman lived across the street from Beis Yisrael, where there were daily brisos. “I would observe the mohalim in the mornings after davening, and at times during bein hasedarim as well,” he remembers. “Harav Yossel Weisberg, zt”l, one of the most proficient mohalim in the world, would do many brisos there, but it was hard to watch him because he acted quickly and often out of sight of the onlookers. I maneuvered to watch him, and I was able to see how he performed the bris. At times, I would join him as he checked the baby immediately following the bris, and he told me, ‘Tell your zeide that Yossele does it b’seder.’”

Yet despite his training, it was not easy to get others to agree to use him as a mohel. “I once got superb advice from a well-known mohel, who told me not to have complaints if someone, even a good friend or relative, does not allow you to serve as the mohel for his child. ‘Keep in mind that besides your friend or relative, who is the avi haben, there is his wife and possibly other family members, including parents, who may not acquiesce to allowing an inexperienced young man to be the mohel. You do not want to be the cause of shalom bayis issues.’

“Indeed, my own zeide gave me golden advice: ‘In a case where a friend or relative does not use you, it is best to imagine that he had a baby girl, not a baby boy, and this will help you compartmentalize your feelings and not take it to heart.’ This was wonderful advice which helped me forge ahead as I tried to gain a foothold in this field. I once asked my zeide if I should do some hishtadlus to try to get people to use me as a mohel. Instead of advice, I received a mussar shmuess how it is all in the hands of Hashem.”

When asked about his most memorable brisos, Rav Binyomin relates that the ones he performed during COVID stand out as being special. “The avi haben was not preoccupied with guests or the caterer, and he was able to concentrate on the mitzvah and on Eliyahu Malach Habris, which made those brisos special occasions. They were derhoiben! One father, who made one bris during COVID and another one afterward, told me that the second bris was somewhat of a letdown from the first.”

Rav Binyomin’s father derives much nachas that several other of his sons, including Rav Shabsi in Eretz Yisrael, as well as Rav Chaim and Rav Yehudah in Lakewood, are now walking in the footsteps of his own father, Harav Mordechai Zimmerman.

Rabbi Yaakov Michael — Putting “Houses” in Order

Rabbi Yaakov Michael

“There is a tremendous shortage of people who fabricate and repair battim — casings — of tefillin, but it still was not an easy field to enter,” says Rabbi Yaakov Michael. “While probably 90% of battim are made in Eretz Yisrael and not in America, it still took quite a while until I established myself.”

Working with the battim of tefillin requires much skill, and the learning process along with developing a reputation as a competent battim macher may prove difficult. Fabricating battim includes: preparing the hides; molding the battim; milling them into a perfect ribu’a — square; painting them black; and machnis — placing the parshiyos — texts written by a sofer on klaf — parchment — into the battim. Most battim machers specialize in one or some of these steps and leave the rest of the process to others skilled in the remaining steps.

Rabbi Michael began his quest to learn a trade by studying safrus. “I was a young bachur of 17 or 18 years old learning in Yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim, and I learned under Harav Menachem Davidovitch, zt”l, considered by many to be the world’s top sofer,” Rabbi Michael recalls. “However, since I am left-handed, it was difficult for me to continue. I met a battim macher who taught me the skill of repairing and painting tefillin, and I decided to pursue this field. I was encouraged by sofrim in America, who told me that when they needed to have repairs made on battim, they had to send them to Eretz Yisrael to be fixed.”

Rabbi Michael returned to the Mirrer Yeshiva in America and began fixing battim late at night, working for two or three hours after 11:00 p.m. “At that time, the sofrim discovered that many pairs of tefillin had devek — glue — which invalidated them, and I was quite busy removing it and making repairs,” Rabbi Michael said. “When I got married, we moved to Eretz Yisrael for a year, and I spent some time learning more about producing battim.

“When we returned to New York, I wanted to work on preparing the oros — hides —  which entails soaking them in sid — lime —  to remove the hair from the skin. I knew someone who could get me hides from a shlochthoiz — slaughterhouse — and he delivered them to my home. Unfortunately, the plastic bag they were in tore, and it created a huge mess. I transported them to my workplace and carefully layered them in a garbage can: a skin, some lime, another skin, and some more lime, until they were all lying there, nice and neat. After working on it for about a quarter of an hour, it hit me that I had forgotten to say, ‘l’sheim kedushas tefillin’ — that it was being done with the intention to use the hides for tefillin. I quickly removed them from the sid and started over, this time saying ‘l’sheim kedushas tefillin,’ and then I asked a she’eilah if they could be used.

The ribu’a regel machine.

“The Rav recommended that I not use them. Although I later learned that they were indeed kosher, since the few minutes that they were in the sid would not have altered them substantially, it was not the way to begin a career. “This mishap was a setback that steered me away from undertaking what is called the naseh arbit — wet work —  and I concentrated on the other parts of being a battim macher, namely perfecting the ribu’a and painting them.”

A visit to Rabbi Michael’s workplace in Flatbush will bring you face to face with a contraption that he calls a “ribu’a regel machine.” Rabbi Michael receives a bayis that has already been shaped in a mold (a process that can take months). This unfinished bayis, called a golam, needs to be milled into a perfect square. Since the work must be powered by a human, Rabbi Michael purchased a milling machine and had it custom-altered to be powered by pedal power, somewhat like a bicycle. “The milling machine costs in the range of $5,000 and customizing it can cost an equal amount,” Rabbi Michael informs me. “Perfecting the ribu’a on this apparatus can take two or three hours.”

Rabbi Yaakov Michael working on the ribu’a of a shel rosh.

Today, Rabbi Michael works mainly on the ribu’a and painting, as well as on repairing damaged tefillin. “Most repairs involve corners that are damaged or warping that can happen if the tefillin get wet. Depending on the amount of work needed, the repairs can take up to several days, since I do not take shortcuts.

“Today, if someone wishes to become a battim macher, it is a bit easier than in the past. There is a shortage of competent people, and there is certainly a need for more battim machers just to repair tefillin. There are only about three people in Lakewood who actually produce battim from scratch and I think there are just a few in Monsey and Kiryas Yoel as well. So for someone who wishes to be involved in this meleches hakodesh, there is ample room to take up this work.”

Vehayah reishischa mitzar v’acharischa yisgeh me’od — Your beginning will be restricted, and your end will be spacious.

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