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Night Shift

Pretty soon, we were down to three, and as the clock hit two, it was just me and one New Zealand bochur


Shavuos is a difficult time for a rav, as he’s expected to lead the shul in learning throughout the night. But as difficult as learning the entire night may be, preparing for the night’s learning is harder. Questions on Yom Tov are numerous, and people’s challenges never take a day off, even on Yom Tov. Even being able to rest and have the energy to stay awake the entire night is challenging.

Yet one memory from learning on Shavuos night years ago helps keep me going.

The year was 1979, and I was learning in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. Even then, 45 years ago, the prospect of learning the entire night was a daunting challenge, and I was considering sleeping the night away as I hadn’t succeeded in arranging chavrusas and was facing the daunting possibility of flying solo.

Then the mashgiach approached me.

A group of boys from New Zealand (yes, New Zealand!) were planning to spend Shavuos at the yeshivah, and they needed someone to learn with them. Was I interested?

I tried the “Who am I to give a shiur?” attitude, but the mashgiach wasn’t having any of it. If I didn’t have a chavrusa, I should learn with the New Zealanders. And so began a five-hour journey that would bring me very unanticipated results.

I began the night with five uninterested 15-year-old high school boys.

Pretty soon, we were down to three, and as the clock hit two, it was just me and one New Zealand bochur.

We began with a gemara in Berachos, and from there traveled to wherever his inquisitive mind led us.

Before long, we were exploring difficult passages in the Rambam.

We delved into fascinating aggados in Shabbos and began plumbing the Navi Yechezekel’s secrets, which, of course, is the haftarah for Shavuos.

Before we knew it, it was almost five in the morning, and Shacharis was about to begin. We had literally learned the night away.

Exhausted, we both went to sleep after Shacharis. I returned to my dorm, and he returned to his New Zealand buddies, and we didn’t see each other again.

Shavuos ended, and eventually, I returned to the States, married, had a family, and became the rav in Passaic.

And every Shavuos — as I struggled to stay awake, sometimes successfully and sometimes not — my mind would wax nostalgic, thinking back to Shavuos 1979 and Noah Greenbaum.* I had never heard from him again, but I always wondered.

That was until last year, a few days before Shavuos.

I guess you can call it a Mishpacha miracle, as only through this column was the mystery solved.

Last year, as I struggled with my annual pre-Shavuos “to stay up or not to stay up” challenge, I received an email from a RavNoach@_____.

Rav Noach wrote:

I saw your column in Mishpacha and realized I must contact you before Yom Tov.

I wanted you to know that I am 60 years old, live in Beitar, am a rebbi, and have a wonderful family of bnei Torah. My oldest grandson will become a bar mitzvah on Shavuos. And I must tell you that that Shavuos night, 45 years ago, changed my life. I never did return to New Zealand. I stayed in Israel, learning.

When I saw your column, I had to reach out to you to tell you: Thank you.

Who knows what direction my life would have taken without that night of Torah?

And to think I almost slept through it.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1015)

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