European Jewry Comes out on En Masse to Celebrate Torah
and Undertake Daily Limud HaTorah
Major Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Siyumim in England, Belgium South Africa and Australia
“Rabbosai, THIS is the time!” said the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Ezrachi, shlita, his voice shaking with passion and emotion. “We all have to make a decision, a decision that will impact the rest of our lives! We have to decide, now, at this exalted maamad that we will learn Torah EVERY DAY. EVERY DAY!” And then Rav Ezrachi switched to French, “Tout Les Jour - Every Day!”
“YES!” the crowd erupted in unison.
The octogenarian Rav Ezrachi, so energized by the enthusiasm of the crowd, then exclaimed, “I want all of you to repeat after me and say: ‘I WANT TO LEARN TORAH!’”
The powerful response, three times, over and over and over again shook the rafters at the Les Dock De Paris Auditorium in downtown Paris.
That part of Rav Ezrachi’s drasha was one of the emotional highlights in a night full of climaxes and crescendos at the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Siyum on the machzor sheini and the siyum on Seder Moed of Daf HaYomi held last week in Paris.
There was something very unique about French Jewry that was very clear at the Dirshu Siyum where thousands came to participate. It was the sense of achdus, the unity of purpose and the true feelings of simcha and emotional joy at being part of the global Torah community and celebrating Torah accomplishments.
There was, however, another component. Not only was the gala siyum in France a manifestation of Chosson Torah, of celebrating the completion of a Torah milestone, but even more so, it was. Chosson Bereishis, a celebration of the many, many thousands of Jews from all over France to accept upon themselves the ol Torah of daily learning whether it be halacha or Gemara. That was a constant theme, not only in Rav Ezrachi’s keynote address but also very prominently in that of Dirshu’s Nasi Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita, and the many French Rabbanim who hailed from a multitude of communities including the larger communities of Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg and Nice.
The evening was also beautifully complimented by a multi-piece orchestra and the beautiful zemiros sung by Shlomo Cohen and Naftali Kempa. Indeed, Shlomo Cohen remarked that he cannot remember an event that possessed so much energy and enthusiasm as this Dirshu World Siyum in Paris.
Dirshu an Integral Component in the French Torah Revolution
For more than a decade, Dirshu has been investing tremendous effort in spreading Torah all over France. Hundreds of shiurim in halacha and Gemara have been established all over the country. Dirshu’s efforts are led, the menahel Rav Naftali Levi whom together with his staff were described by Rav Hofstedter as Dirshu’s faithful soldiers.
Among the leading Rabbanim of France who addressed the event was Rav Yechieh Tubal, Av Beis Din of Lyon; Rav Michoel Schmerla, Av Beis Din of Strasbourg; Rav Yehuda Toledano, Rosh Yeshiva Chazon Baruch; Rav Yitzchok Katz, Rosh Yeshivas Yad Mordechai; Rav Dovid Benisho, Rosh Yeshivas Nishmas Yisroel; Rav Michoel Benita, Av Beis Din Kehal Yereim of Paris; Rav Boruch Pargi, Rosh Yeshivas Ohr Torah; and tens of other distinguished Rabbanim.
Rav Hofstedter’s Pointed Questions and the Resounding Answers that are Still Reverberating
With that in mind we can understand why one of the remarakble emotional high points of the evening was when Rav Dovid Hofstedter, at the end of his speech which was given partially in French and partially in Hebrew, said in French to the thousands assembled, “I would like to ask you a number of questions and I would like you to answer out loud:
“Are we going to give in to the difficulties of the [Corona] period in which we find ourselves and neglect our ruchniyus?”
“NO!” reverberated the resounding answer of the crowd throughout the auditorium.
“Will we continue to neglect chayei Olam, eternal life, in favor of chayei shaah, temporal life?”
“Do we agree to continue in our old ways and forgo trying to change our ways?”
“Now,” Rav Dovid continued, “I would like to ask you some even more difficult questions.
“Do we REALLY want to live lives of holiness, lives of true attachment to Hashem?”
“YES!” was the resounding answer crowd that reverberated throughout the auditorium.
“Do we REALLY want to learn a daf of Mishnah Berurah every day and make sure to be careful about never missing a day?”
“Are we ready to accept upon ourselves the ol Torah b’emes? Are we ready to declare from the depth of our hearts, ‘Ki heim chayeinu v’orech yameinu u’bahem nehegeh yomam va’lailah’?!”
“YES! YES! YES, Oui, Oui, Oui!” was the answer that blew the roof off!
That unified kabbolas ol Torah was another one of the emotional moments of the evening. When one looked at the elder Rabbanim on the dais at that moment, one saw tears shining in their eyes. It was clear that the efforts they have been investing for so many years to elevate the ideal of Torah learning was reaping the sweetest of fruits.
From a Small Beginning 14 Years Ago to a Countrywide Movement
According to Dirshu’s Director of Public Relations, Rabbi Shlomo Rozenstein, the enthusiasm of the French Jewry for this event was unprecedented. He explained that many people travelled for many hours to participate in the event. Torah events such as these are rare in France, and they infuse thousands with chizuk.
“Fourteen years ago, when the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha began, was the fist time that Dirshu came to France. At that time, the great Gaon and Baal Machshava, Rav Moshe Shapiro, came with Rav Hofstedter to bring chizuk and encourage Torah learning in France. They were assisted by the unforgettable Chief Rabbi of France, Rav Yosef Sitruk, zt”l. Today, fourteen years later, more than 2,000 French Jews have been mesayem and many thousands more have joined the program!”
Rav Hofstedter: Hashem Gives Chochma, BUT! We Must Do Our Part
Rav Naftali Levi, Dirshu’s indefatigable menahel of operations in France, introduced Rav Dovid Hofstedter who gave a riveting address in a combination of French and Hebrew that brought the olam to its feet numerous times.
Rav Hofstedter was visibly emotional when he began, “What a zechus it is to be here with you! Hodu l’Hashem ki tov ki l’olam chassdo, after all that we have been through in the past two years, lockdowns, illness, uncertainty, and so much difficulty, we are back!”
He then addressed one of the purposes of the evening of celebration. “We are about to start a new machzor of Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. Perhaps there are some who think, ‘This is too difficult. How can I learn an entire daf of Mishnah Berurah every day and then review it enough times so that I can take a test?’ We are also beginning Seder Nashim in the Daf Hayomi Bavli. Some may think, ‘I can’t. It is too hard. How can I learn an entire blatt every day?’
“I want to ask you something,” Rav Hofstedter continued, “we are now learning the parshiyos of the Mishkan in the weekly parsha. Who built the Mishkan? Do you think those who built the Mishkan went to university and had degrees in engineering and architecture? It was the most beautiful building. The bigdei kehuna were the most royal and regal clothing. The Ramban explains that Bezalel was asked to build the Mishkan, to perform the precise work of an artisan with decades of experience working with pure gold and silver. Who helped him? Yidden who had spent their entire lives as slaves building bricks and mortar, lime and pitch… and they did it! The message is that Hashem gives chochma, BUT! We must do our part. We must invest every bit of effort possible and realize that if we really work hard, it is HASHEM Who gives us the ability to acquire Torah on a scope and level that we never imagined! We CAN learn a page of Mishnah Berurah every day and we CAN learn a blatt of Gemara a day. If we really want to and we think we can, Hashem will endow us with the siyatta d’Shmaya that we need!”
Aflame with Dveikus
What transpired after Rav Hofstedter’s emotional address defies description. All of a sudden, hundreds of Yidden spontaneously jumped out of their seats and began to sing the hallowed words of the song, “V’Taher Libeinu L’ovdecha B’Emes!” Within seconds the expansive dais with the Rabbonim of France led by the special guest, Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi grasped each other’s hands and began to dance. This further inflamed the enthusiasm as the entire auditorium experienced moments of simcha and dveikus that are hard to describe. The dancing went on and on and even when Rav Shlomo Elhadad, the master of ceremonies tried to go further with the program, Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi who was so deeply moved asked him to wait a bit more and then led the entire assemblage in singing the words “V’oseh nachas ruach l’yotzram.” Truly, French Jewry had never experienced such a deeply spiritual experience and during the ensuing days the chizuk that the Dirshu Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Siyum in Les Docks de Paris infused in the community was the talk of the town.
Gala Siyumim All Over Europe Having Transformative Impact
Although the siyum in France was the largest siyum in Europe it was by no means the only siyum. Beautiful Daf HaYomi B’Halacha siyumim on the entire Mishnah Berurah that were addressed by leading Rabbanim in their respective communities were held throughout Europe, with each major community holding its own siyumim. There were siyumim in London, Manchester and Gateshead in England, as well as a siyum in Antwerp, Belgium.
The siyumin in England began on Thursday, 16 Adar I/February 17 with a beautiful siyum held in Gateshead, the Ihr HaTorah of England.
On Sunday, 19 Adar I/February 20, the beautiful siyum and seudah in Manchester was held at the large Queen Elizabeth Hall in Oldham. Originally, the siyum was scheduled to take place in a smaller venue but when the Dirshu askanim from Manchester realized the overwhelming response of so many Daf HaYomi B’Halcha learners and their families (there are over sixteen regular Daf HaYomi B’Halacha daily shiurim in Manchester alone), they secured the Queen Elizbeth Hall.
The climax of the siyumim in England was the massive event in London on Monday night, 20 Adar I/February 21 at the posh Meridian Grand. The siyum featured London Jewry in all its varied subcommunities joining together for a magnificent seudas mitzvah.
On Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Ki Sisa, the citywide Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Siyum was held in Antwerp. In advance of the Siyum, in a rare occurrence, Rav Aharon Schiff, Rav of the Machzikei Hadas, the umbrella-Charedi community of Antwerp that encompasses the entire Charedi community of more than thirty shuls and kehillos wrote a letter to the community encouraging them to join Daf HaYomi B’Halacha.
The tremendous popularity of the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha in Europe has been most gratifying for hanhalas Dirshu and today there are some 75 shiurim in the collective communities of Europe that include many cites in France, many cities in England, Belgium, Holland and even Gibraltar!
South Africa and Melbourne Hold Joyous Siyum Celebrations
The Worldwide Siyumim also had ample representation on the other side of the equator with community wide siyumim held in Australia and South Africa at the beginning of the week and a large
siyum slated to be held in Argentina next month.
Over the last few years, Dirshu has taken off in South Africa with an abundance of new learners and new siyumim. This is especially so with the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha that has become very popular. The event held on Wednesday, 15 Adar I/February 16, at “The Deck” a large venue in Johannesburg, was attended and addressed by many of South Africa’s Rabbanim.
A major highlight was the presence of the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein who was honored with beginning the third Machzor of Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. Rabbi Goldstein also graced a Daf HaYomi B’Halacha Siyum in Cape Town accompanied by Dirshu’s South African Director, Rabbi Ari Tabak.
On Sunday night, a beautiful citywide siyum was held in Melbourne, Australia at the Adass Hall. The Rav of Adass Yisroel, Rav Shlomo Kohn addressed the assemblage. In advance of the Siyum, Rav Kohn also wrote an open letter to the community urging them to join the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha for the next machzor thereby bringing halachic observance into everything they do throughout the day.
Perhaps Rav Dovid Hofstedter’s remarks to the communities of Australia and South Africa delivered via video due to the ongoing difficulty of travel to those areas offered chizuk, perspective and the charge for the future. He said, “We have been through a difficult period. The corona virus, the illness, the uncertainty and later the difficult regulations have made it very challenging to learn, to take the bechinos and to persevere as there was so much difficulty and uncertainty in the world.
“However,” Rav Hofstedter continued, “all challenges are tailormade for us by the Ribbono Shel Olam to serve as a springboard to go higher and higher and for us to carry forth our Divine mandate to become a mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh and rise above our challenges to continue to learn Torah, acquire Torah and serve Hashem.”
By Chaim Gold