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Go for the Gold

Malky Lowinger

Everyone’s a winner at the International Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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ame three mitzvos lo saaseh that are connected with going past the Mizbeiach.

What are some of the rules that Moshe Rabbeinu received at Har Sinai about the mitzvah of tefillin?

Which mitzvos involve details that are connected to a color?

Can you answer any of these questions? Don’t feel bad. Neither could I. But there are hundreds, even thousands, of kids who could rattle off the answers in minutes. Not because they are all super-geniuses, but because they studied the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos in order to prepare for the International Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos.


What is the Chidon?

Doing mitzvos is important, of course. But so is learning about them. Hundreds of years ago, the Rambam wrote Sefer Hamitzvos, which lists all 613 mitzvos of the Torah.

About five years ago the Lubavitcher community decided to organize a Chidon, similar to a game show competition, in which students from different schools would participate. It would include kids from all over the world who studied the mitzvos and did really well on their tests. They would enjoy a beautiful shabbaton in Crown Heights and then join together at a major Chidon competition on Sunday morning.


Where does the Chidon take place?

This year’s Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos was held at the Kings Theatre on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and I was thrilled and honored to attend. When I got there, my driver didn’t even have to tell me that we’d reached our destination. I could tell by the many school buses parked outside, and the general buzz of excitement in the air that we’d arrived.

Meet 11-year-old Yirmiyahu Gourarie, the sixth-grade-gold-trophy winner at this year's Chidon

How to describe the Kings Theatre? All I can say is, wow! I’ve never been to a palace or a castle, but I can imagine that this is what it might look like. Majestic, soaring ceilings, rows of antique gold pillars, miles of carved moldings, rich red velvet curtains, deep plush carpeting, and a soaring domed ceiling. In other words, it’s the perfect location for a Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos where I’m about to witness an amazing battle of wits between teams of bright, confident, and very knowledgeable youngsters.


Who participates in the Chidon?

Once I’m comfortably settled in my seat, I find myself surrounded by a huge cheering audience. But my attention is riveted to the stage which practically shimmers in bright lights and looks really awesome. There are four teams of boys on stage, and each team has contestants ranging from fourth to eighth graders. Each grade studied a different set of mitzvos, adding up to 613.

The boys onstage are sitting in rows on different levels. The fourth graders are on the lowest level and the eighth graders on the highest. They’re also divided into teams with names like Morah Nevuchim, Igeres HaRambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, and Yad HaChazakah. Rabbi Yehoshua Lustig is the emcee, and he asks different questions to each grade. If a team knows the answer, they press a buzzer. If they answer correctly, they earn 100 points! If not, they lose points. Each round of questions is followed by a bonus round where each grade answers an open-ended question connected to a specific category. There’s a panel of four judges who make sure that everything is fair.

I’m pretty sure it’s not easy to study these long lists of mitzvos, but these kids know so much! Rabbi Lustig barely has a chance to ask his questions before the boys start beeping their buzzers to give their answers. Amazing! 

“Name one action with which you are transgressing two mitzvos lo saaseh,” says Rabbi Lustig. Team Moreh Nevuchim rings the buzzer, but the judges are not satisfied with their answer so the team loses 100 points. Oy.

I didn’t have to worry for long. They quickly recover those points just a few minutes later when the seventh graders answer another question correctly.  This Chidon is so full of suspense and excitement that most of us in the audience are sitting on the edge of our seats. You never know when a team may come from behind and win. I’ll bet every kid in the audience today is wondering if he could be one of the participants on that stage at next year’s Chidon. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 710)


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