It happened on Shabbos morning during kriyas haTorah at the Heythrop Hotel and Resort near Oxford, England. From my spot in the middle of the beis medrash, I noticed something out of the ordinary going on next to the sefer Torah. I couldn’t, however, figure out what it was. Suddenly, I heard a resounding “Amen.” The faces of those close to the bimah showed a combination of surprise and emotion. I knew I had to find out what remarkable incident had just transpired.
What I heard sent shivers up my spine.
Shabbos Parshas Vayechi was the Dirshu Shabbos for European Jewry that culminated in the Dirshu Europe World Siyum held on Moetzei Shabbos. The venue was a beautiful hotel near Oxford. Perhaps to the rest of the world, Oxford is the center of academia, but on Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, British Jewry realized that the center of true “academia,” of comprehensive knowledge of Torah sheb’al peh, was a few miles away from Oxford at the Heythrop Hotel.
What happened at the bimah? A Yid who was there asked that a unique mishebeirach be made. That Yid was facing the tzarah of his life. His wife was ill, very ill, with a dreaded illness. He came to the bimah and requested that the gabbai make a mishebeirach for her. In the mishebeirach he begged Hashem to send her a refuah, and promised that as a zechus to invoke Divine mercy for her refuah he had undertaken to learn and take Dirshu tests on the new machzor of Daf HaYomi on the entire Shas! The resounding amen and the tear-infused amen from his wife in the ezras nashim could not leave anyone unmoved.
This is the power of Dirshu.
The Power of Bracha
of the Chafetz Chaim in Oxford
At shalosh seudos, Rav Avrohom Ehrentrau, a rav and rosh yeshivah from Antwerp, put that incident into context in his rousing drashah when he related a story that transpired with his grandfather, Rav Yehuda Zev Segal zt”l, famed Manchester rosh yeshivah. He said that in the late 1980s when the rosh yeshivah was visiting Boro Park, a Yid came and told him that doctors had predicted that he did not have much longer to live, and he sought a bracha. “My Zeide told him he should go to Williamsburg for a bracha from Reb Hershel Kaufman. Reb Hershel Kaufman was a fine baal habayis, not known as a great rav or tzaddik, and the person couldn’t understand why my Zeide had chosen him. The rosh yeshivah explained, ‘Reb Hershel paid to reprint and newly typeset all of the sefarim of the Chafetz Chaim and distributed the sefarim virtually for free. Someone who encourages so many people to learn the sefarim of the Chafetz Chaim has the power of bracha that the Chafetz Chaim had!’”
In a thunderous voice, Rav Ehrentrau exclaimed, “Who in this generation has promoted the learning of the sefarim of the Chafetz Chaim more than Rav Dovid Hofstedter and Dirshu??! Mishnah Berurah, the mussar sefarim of the Chafetz Chaim... Tens of thousands are learning these sefarim because of Dirshu! Certainly this carries with it the koach habracha of the Chafetz Chaim!”
Experiences Unforgettable Shabbos
Shabbos Parshas Vayechi will go down in history as a unique, incredible Shabbos the likes of which European Jewry has never before seen. The chizuk in Torah, the recognition of colossal Torah accomplishments of Dirshu learners and their wives, the deeply inspiring drashos and speeches for both men and women gave tremendous chizuk to the lomdim and their wives and served as a clarion call to the rest of European Jewry to become ‘Dirshu Yidden’, to join the ranks of those whose days and nights, and everything they do, are permeated by Torah.
The Shabbos culminated in a gala melava malka siyum where hundreds of additional Yidden made the journey to participate in the siyum, which featured special guest addresses from the Limanover Rov, HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Shlomo Meisels shlita of Williamsburg, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of London, HaGaon HaRav Aharon Hager shlita, and the Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter shlita.
Shabbos featured shiurim from HaGaon HaRav Gavriel Knopfler shlita, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivah Shaarei Torah of Monsey, on the sugya of milah on Shabbos; a pesichah shiur on Masechta Brachos by Rav Dovid Hofstedter; and drashos from HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Druk shlita, well-known maggid from Eretz Yisrael, and Rav Gershon Miller shlita, mashgiach of the Gateshead Yeshivah.
Another deeply gratifying aspect of the Shabbos was the tremendous achdus. It is so rare to see Chassidim of all kinds, Litvishe Yidden, Sephardic Yidden, ba’alei batim and rabbanim, sitting together, davening together, talking in learning together and singing together. Dirshu, like Torah, is the ultimate unifier beause Dirshu Yidden are so saturated with and permeated by Torah that all of the external differences are simply unimportant.
Rav Gershon Miller, chaired the evening. After divrei pesichah from Dirshu maggid shiur, Rav Yosef Weinberg, Rav Tiferes Yisrael Golders Green, Rav Mordechai Austerlitz shlita, a Dirshu maggid shiur from Antwerp who has already taken tests on the last two machzorim of Daf HaYomi, was honored with making the siyum. Kaddish was recited by HaGaon HaRav Lipa Rackov, Rav of Kehal Heichal HaTorah.
Rav Shmuel Aharon Singer of Antwerp was then asked to make the haschalah of Masechta Brachos. Rav Singer is a ba’al habayis, a working man who has just completed his third siyum haShas and his second siyum while taking monthly Dirshu tests.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter: “The Essence of a Dirshu Yid – Total Immersion in the Mikvah Taharah of Torah!”
The heartfelt drashah of Rav Dovid Hofstedter and its practical message was a catalyst for growth.
“The galus of Mitzrayim is the paradigm for all galuyos including ours. The only way to combat the difficulties of our generation is to become so attached to limud haTorah that we don’t allow a crack or crevice for outside influences to enter.
“That is the idea of a Dirshu Yid. He is totally immersed in the mikvah taharah of Torah!”
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe of London said, “I remember when the Klausenberger Rebbe came to ask my father to sign a kol korei encouraging people to join Mifal HaShas. My father replied, ‘Does one need to sign a kol korei telling people to live? Torah is life!’ The same applies to Dirshu. They enable people to learn Torah with a goal, with accountability. They give life itself!”
The Limanover Rav: “Du Voint a Dirshu Yid - A Dirshu Yid Lives Here!”
The final speaker of the evening was HaRav Yaakov Shlomo Meisels, the Limanover Rav. Rav Meisels wove a beautiful tapestry, holding the massive crowd spellbound with his depiction of the transformative impact that learning in Dirshu’s programs has, not only on the learner but on the entire family.
Rav Meisels explained, “When a person takes upon himself to learn and take tests with Dirshu, his entire essence changes. He becomes a Dirshu Yid and his home becomes a Dirshu shteib. If it would be up to me,” Rav Meisels continued, “I would design a special nameplate for the front door of a home. Just like so many homes have nameplates that say ‘Mishpachas Meisels’ or whatever the family name is, I would design a nameplate that says, ‘Du Voint a Dirshu Yid’ - A Dirshu Yid Lives Here’!”
By Chaim Gold