A conversation with the famed Rosh Yeshivah Harav Shimon Baadani, shlita
Chinuch: A Lifelong Obligation
Harav Baadani received us and agreed to be interviewed by Hamodia. “What would you like to hear?” he asked. We told him that we would like to hear his views on the concept of v’higadeta l’vincha, the central theme of the Seder night.
“First of all,” the Rosh Yeshivah began, “the mitzvah is exactly what the words imply — parents are supposed to tell their children about our history and what we have been through. Each Jew is obligated to pass on our traditions to his children… the things that he saw from his own parents. V’higadeta l’vincha means that parents must place their children in a good school and care that they are learning well. [They] must see to it that the children are continuing in the ways of Torah tradition.
“Sometimes the halachah demands that a parent go out of his way for the sake of his child’s Torah education. For example, if the child speaks a language with which the father is unfamiliar, the father must learn to speak that language. He must be able to have influence over his child’s Torah education… If you really want to be able to have influence on your children, you have to speak their language. You have to understand their thinking and their habits. Put yourself in their shoes so you can understand their feelings. Then you will be able to influence them.”
When asked up to what age parents are obligated to supervise their children’s activities, he responded, “The passuk states, Ask your father and he will tell you; [ask] your elders and they will speak to you. There is no age when a parent can stop working on his child’s education. As long as it is possible for him to have some influence on the child, he must continue with his input. If you invest well during the child’s youth, you will be able to continue influencing him even when he is an adult.
“Some fathers say, ‘I placed him in a good yeshivah where he has a good chavrusa, so I can relax.’ Absolutely not! The fact that you placed him in a good yeshivah does not at all diminish your obligation to work on his chinuch!”
From Novardok to Porat Yosef
Harav Shimon Baadani was born in Hadera to wise and G-d-fearing parents who came from Yemen to Eretz Yisrael right after World War I. Life in Yemen had not been easy for them; ten children were born to them, but only two sons and a daughter survived.
Arriving in Eretz Yisrael, Mori Dawid and his wife, Haviva, set up a household in the new Yemenite community of Nachaliel in Hadera. Into this home, suffused with the love of Torah and deep yiras Shamayim, Rav Shimon was born.
As they were not familiar with the yeshivah system in Eretz Yisrael at the time, it was some time before people were able to persuade the parents to send young Shimon to the Novardok yeshivah, which had opened a branch in Hadera. The youngster did very well there, and he was then sent to the Novardok yeshivah in Yerushalayim, headed by Harav Ben Tzion Bruk, zt”l, while Harav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach, zt”l, served as a Rosh Yeshivah. Rav Shach was very impressed with his new student, and the two developed a warm and close relationship that continued for the rest of Rav Shach’s life.
Several years later, Rav Shimon left Novardok for Yeshivat Porat Yosef, which was headed by Chacham Ezra Attia, zt”l. Rav Shimon wished to learn the traditional sephardic approach to Torah study. He found it not very different from the Lithuanian approach he had been exposed to until then, but Harav Ezra was unique in that he did not focus his learning on the sefarim that form the bulk of the study in other yeshivos. He concentrated on meforshim like the Maharsha and Maharam and commentators on the Shulchan Aruch.
During Israel’s War of Independence, Yeshivat Porat Yosef in the Old City was destroyed, and it was several years until the new yeshivah building in the Geulah neighborhood was constructed. In the meantime, huge waves of immigrants were arriving from all over the Middle East. The directors of Porat Yosef decided that they needed a yeshivah for the children of these immigrants. The heads of the yeshivah charged Rav Shimon Baadani with establishing a branch of the yeshivah in the Katamon neighborhood with a dormitory for out-of-town students. Eventually, this became an independent yeshivah, headed by Harav Baadani.
The Rav still keeps a close connection to Yeshivat Porat Yosef. He joins the yeshivah for Yom Kippur each year and serves as chazzan for some of the tefillos. The Rosh Yeshivah, Chacham Shalom Cohen, shlita, is known to say that when Rav Baadani is the chazzan, everyone in the beis medrash davens with him.
We asked Harav Baadani if he learned together with Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, in Yeshivat Porat Yosef.
“Actually,” he responded, “Harav Ovadiah had already left the yeshivah when I began studying there. We occasionally spoke in learning, however. At one point, Maran opened an evening halachah kollel, and Chacham Shalom Cohen and I learned together in that kollel for some time, until I started the yeshivah’s branch in Katamon.
“Everyone knows that Maran was the prime example of ‘whoever fulfills the Torah through poverty will in the end fulfill the Torah through wealth.’ I remember the extreme poverty that was his lot… He lived in a tiny apartment in the Beis Yisrael neighborhood and he rode public buses to the places where he delivered his many shiurim. He learned every moment that he spent on those buses.
“Rav Ovadiah sacrificed his time, his honor, and his health for the sake of Klal Yisrael. He wept over the sorry spiritual situation in Eretz Yisrael, saying repeatedly over the years, ‘There are a million Jewish children here who don’t know how to say the passuk of Shema Yisrael. Our mission is to teach them.’ Whatever improvements we see today are thanks to his tremendous sacrifices. Before that, we had absolutely nothing, and look how much we have today.”
Every Jew’s Obligation
“Is every individual obligated to bring others closer to Torah?” we asked.
“Of course!” replied Harav Baadani emphatically, his eyes sparkling. “Anyone with talent and wherewithal must do what he can to bring others closer to Torah and mitzvos. You cannot withhold this from others.
“The holy Zohar gives profuse praise to those involved in these activities. It states that if we would be aware of how much pleasure this brings to Hashem, we would go out into the streets and seek Jews whom we could influence to come back to their roots and come closer to our Father in Heaven.
“Today, in the yeshivah world, there is an epidemic. Many are quick to expel bachurim. Many years ago, I asked the Steipler Rav what to do with a boy who is slipping below the yeshivah’s standards. He told me, ‘If the issue is that he disturbs the yeshivah staff, it is forbidden to expel him. If he is dragging down the other boys, however, he must be sent.’
“As I turned to leave, the Steipler Rav added, ‘You need a beis din.’ That is, even when dealing with a bachur who must be expelled, don’t act so quickly. You need to sit on the case and check it out thoroughly, just like a beis din where someone is being tried for a serious crime. This is considered dinei nefashos, and we must be very, very careful.”
Available for the Klal
Harav Baadani did not stay with the yeshivah in Katamon for very long. Once it was established, he left for Bnei Brak, where he founded with Harav Moshe Pardo, Kollel Torah Vachaim. Today, despite his advanced age, Harav Baadani still spends several hours each day learning in the kollel, which has since spawned a large shul.
His day begins at 6:45, when the Rav arrives at the kollel for Shacharis, following the halachah recommending that one daven where he learns. At 9:15, he arrives again for the morning seder, where he learns Gemara until 1:00 in the afternoon. Often, talmidim arrive from all over Eretz Yisrael for the final hour of the seder to be tested or to listen to a sichas mussar. After seder, Harav Baadani davens Minchah and goes home for lunch and a short rest.
At 3:45, he receives visitors and answers telephone calls, giving advice and answering halachic queries. At 4:30, he goes back to the kollel for the afternoon seder. At 7:00, he learns Chovos Halevavos for half an hour, and then he davens Maariv. After returning home and eating, he continues his Torah studies and receives visitors until midnight.
Harav Baadani is very careful to recite Krias Shema before midnight and Tikkun Chatzos after midnight. He says, “A great reward is in store for those who recite Tikkun Chatzos. That is when Heaven is most amenable to accepting our prayers.”
Our interview was suddenly interrupted by a number of bachurim knocking on the door. “We want a brachah from the Rav,” the bachurim said excitedly as they filed in. Harav Baadani blessed them warmly with success. One boy asked specifically, “Can the Rav bless us to succeed in learning?”
“Of course I mean success in learning,” the Rav replied with a smile. “What other success is there in life?”
How to Succeed in Torah
Upon hearing this exchange, we took the opportunity to ask Harav Baadani how one succeeds in Torah.
He replied, “In one of his letters, Rav Shach relates that he has seen many people who learn Torah, and he can tell you from his experience that ‘Torah wisdom remains only with those who kill themselves over it,’ as Chazal have taught us. He saw many talented, brilliant students who could have become prominent talmidei chachamim, but since they did not work hard enough, they did not succeed. Only those who invested toil and sacrifice became real talmidei chachamim.
“You cannot love Olam Haba if you love this world. You have to feel the sweetness and flavor of Torah and mitzvos, and you have to cut down on the unnecessary pleasures of This World. During the Chofetz Chaim’s hesped for his son, he told the story of a widow with an only son who feared that the Russians were going to kidnap him for the army. When the Russians knocked on her door, she covered the boy with a sheet, lit candles around him, and sat weeping incessantly. When the Russians saw this, they left. When she uncovered her son, she discovered to her horror that he had died from fright. The poor woman raised her hands to the sky and declared, ‘Ribbono shel Olam! Until now, my love was divided between You and my son, but now all my love is completely directed to You!’
“We see from this that love for one thing detracts from love for another. The mother’s love for her son detracted from her love for Hashem. For this reason, the halachah states that it is forbidden to kiss one’s child in shul, because there our love is directed to Hashem alone.
“It is the same with all worldly pursuits. Our bodies have many material desires, but we must realize they all detract from our love for the Torah.
Fight the Real Battle
“This is a wonderful time for our yeshivos,” Harav Baadani insisted, when we implied that it was a time of crisis for the community. “Their power and numbers are continually growing. What’s more, we have people who fight on our behalf… to protect all that is sacred to us, be it Shabbos, the exemption of talmidei yeshivos from military service, and more.”
We then asked what we can tell Jews in the Diaspora who are concerned about events in Eretz Yisrael.
“I really don’t know what is going on in the north and whether there is any imminent danger. But one thing is for sure — the real battle is in our own streets, and it is the same everywhere, including America and Europe. Parents and teachers have to employ every possible strategy to protect their children from the enticements of the outside world.
“We can understand Chazal’s teaching that one’s Rebbi has precedence over his father because the Rebbi brings his students to Olam Haba. Whoever is capable of saving the youth from the dangers of the street is literally giving them Olam Haba.”
When we inquired whether people outside of Eretz Yisrael should be encouraged to settle there, he responded, “According to a number of Rishonim, it is forbidden to reside outside Eretz Yisrael. In fact, Ramban’s opinion is that the Torah obligates us to live in Eretz Yisrael. People rely on the fact that they need to live elsewhere in order to make a living. If we cannot show them that they can make it here in Eretz Yisrael, we will not be able to demand that they move here.”
And, when asked for a final message for Jews in chutz laAretz, the Rav responded, “Tell them to take care of their children. The world is filled with challenges and enticements, and we are barely able to withstand them. It is vital, especially in these times, that every Jew have some Rabbinical authority on whom he relies and whom he obeys without exception. This is our generation’s obligation, but it is also our generation’s main source of merit.”
Along with his activities on behalf of the community in Eretz Yisrael, Harav Shimon Baadani, shlita, has much influence overseas as well. The talmidim whom he taught back in his years in Porat Yosef have maintained their close contact with him and still consider themselves his disciples, despite many having attained prominent positions themselves.
Each time Rav Baadani comes to the United States, he visits dozens of shuls in Flatbush, Boro Park, Deal and the Five Towns, delivering shiurim and sichot. Many of the Rabbanim of those congregations are his talmidim who consult with him for advice and encouragement.
However, Rav Baadani is most closely connected with the Jewish communities of Latin America. Some 50 years ago, the spiritual level of the Jewish community in Mexico had reached an epic low. Rav Baadani met Harav David Kassin, an officer in Congregation Keter Torah in Mexico City, who persuaded Rav Baadani to send his disciple Harav Chaim Harari to found a local yeshivah there. It eventually grew into the prestigious chareidi community of Keter Torah that graces the city today.
Some 25 years ago, Rav Baadani visited Argentina, and he did his best to unite the disparate communities he found there. Moreover, he persuaded people to send their sons to learn in yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael. When those talmidim returned to Argentina, they were armed with the tools to build true Torah homes, resulting in a blossoming chareidi community today there as well.