Allowing us a glimpse not just of what Torah is, but what it does
Ifeel bad for the party planners and production teams who organize dinners and events these days. They’re forced to contend with dinner attendees in whom snowballing distractions and shrinking attention spans converge.
The ones who hire them don’t just want good food and pleasant entertainment, though — they also want the planning team to give each event personality, character, and heart.
And so it sometimes seems like we’re doomed to a diet of faux-hartz, synthetically produced emotion.
The production teams do their best, but what they are being asked to do is nearly impossible. You see, due to a feature in the way that the Manufacturer created the heart, it cannot be pre-programmed, and you never know what people will find moving or meaningful. If the schedule calls for three minutes of spontaneous anything — singing, dancing, cheering, reflection — then it is not spontaneous at all, and the people sense that.
This makes what happened at this year’s Adirei HaTorah celebration all the more remarkable.
There were all sorts of high points, moments when the attendees were lifted beyond their immediate surroundings and able to feel parts of themselves they sometimes forget are there — because being in a room with over 20,000 Yidden and singing “Ashreinu” will do that. There is an energy created by being in a tzibbur, and the larger the tzibbur, the greater the energy. And when the cause that unites them is the most central, important, relevant cause of all, when they are celebrating the core of their identity, there will be pure hartz, moments that linger and warm us for days, or even weeks.
Still, everyone expected that. To have delivered an unscripted moment of pure emotion was a feat.
IT was the sort of moment that could only have been created by one whose heart ripples and pulsates with genuine love of Yidden, compassion and concern not just for a crowd of 20,000, but for the 20,000 individuals in that crowd.
And in the keynote address at the event revolving around Torah, Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman spoke not just about Torah, or even hachzakas haTorah. He shifted away from Yiddish, the language of the evening, and spoke a laborious English, clearly determined that he be not just heard, but also understood.
He wanted to reach the people.
There was no small amount of drama surrounding his speech. The elderly rosh yeshivah, who has felt too weak to come to America for the last several years, pushed himself to accept the request to come honor the Torah. When he landed in America, he received the bitter news that, during his flight, his son had suddenly passed away.
That night, he started to sit shivah, alone — not with his wife in the next room and his children around him, not surrounded by devoted talmidim, but in faraway America, in someone else’s house.
His mid-shivah visit to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia came with strict halachic limitations, an unusual allowance meant purely to bring honor to the Torah. The rosh yeshivah entered the arena to a resounding silence, his frock torn, wearing slippers; his face was lined with the agony of a bereaved father.
He spoke in honor of the Torah, of those who cherish its every word, delivering a beautiful derashah.
Then came the moment. The rosh yeshivah removed a folded-up piece of paper from inside that ripped frock. And this is what he said:
There is something weighing on my heart. The matzav in Klal Yisrael with the amount of Yiddishe techter struggling with shidduchim is heartbreaking….
This was a moment. It was played and replayed, forwarded and watched again. His suggestion — to recite Bircas Hamazon from inside a bentsher, advice that his father-in-law Rav Shach used to give — would have an immediate effect. The next week, after the completion of shivah, Rav Bergman shared his message directly with several thousand single girls in a Lakewood auditorium, with hook-ups to seven different cities, and elaborated on the concept.
(The first brachah of Bircas Hamazon fulfills the mitzvah d’Oraisa to express thanks that we have food. But, the rosh yeshivah explained, when one is forced to express gratitude for what he has received, it can ring a bit hollow. Choosing to say it properly by reading from a printed text — going beyond mere obligation — is how a person shows that his appreciation is heartfelt, that his “thank you” truly comes from the heart and not just from obligation. When thanked properly, the Giver wants to give again, and so the flow of tefillos that follow that first brachah of Bircas Hamazon are that much more effective.)
The rosh yeshivah’s idea was well-received, and let us hope that in the very near future, we see the realization of his brachos.
But along with the direction, he gave us something else.
A pure moment and a reminder of how those moments are created.
IN the midst of the most complex sugyos of Shas, Hashem is referred to as “Rachamana,” the Merciful One. It is all one: this Torah, these sugyos, and His compassion. Those who have mastered the intricacies of His law also become suffused with that Divine mercy.
In Rav Bergman’s speech at a Torah gathering, in tribute to Torah, that compassion burst through — and it was profoundly moving.
Later, Rav Bergman told me that from the moment he arrived, so many people had asked him for brachos for shidduchim — for their daughters, sisters, themselves — that the pain settled in. When he spoke in Philadelphia, that pain burst forth.
There is a holy song they sing in yeshivos that tells how Hashem gathers His heavenly entourage to watch His children learn the Torah. “Chazu, chazu banai chavivai… — See My precious children, who rise above their own pain to immerse themselves in My delight.”
On that night, the words were a bit different. An elderly rosh yeshivah, a man who has toiled in and taught Torah for over eight decades, had arrived in America, only to be greeted by the most devastating news possible.
He was sitting shivah alone, far from his family, mourning a son.
But on that night, he rose from the shivah chair and spoke to his people. Chazu, see what he did, the rosh yeshivah.
D’mishtakach b’tzarah dilei, he rose above his own suffering, v’asak b’tzarah didhon, and immersed himself in the suffering of others.
He showed the world how the heart of a talmid chacham works, and in doing so, he gave us — from the dais of the dinner of all dinners — an all-too-rare moment that touched our hearts.
If the evening was meant to bring glory to the Torah, it succeeded beyond expectation, allowing us a glimpse not just of what Torah is, but what it does.
It creates people. Real people, the kind who can create real moments.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 966)
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