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Turn the Days Around

Rabbi Breyer calls summer vacation “an unfortunate work accident between parents and children.” He says it’s really a matter of matching expectations

 

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Photos: Elchanan Kotler, Flash 90

“I

 

did teshuvah when I was around 25, and it’s been an ongoing process ever since,” says Rabbi Pinchas Breyer, one of the most sought-after educators in Israel today and a star among bochurim, from the most insular and chassidish to those spiraling down to the fringe. Only thing is, he was already a maggid shiur in the Belzer yeshivah at that age, engaging talmidim and drawing questioning souls back to their Source.

He was certainly not a baal teshuvah.

“Sure, I was born frum,” says Rabbi Breyer, “but I also did my own personal teshuvah along the way. You know, one of the great mashpi’im of our times, a baal teshuvah himself, once said he feels sorry for those born frum. Many of them, he said, are like tinokos shenishbu and never had the opportunity to do teshuvah properly. They don’t know what it means to strive spiritually. They were just born into it.”

Rabbi Breyer’s knack for conveying deep concepts in relatable terms has given him tools to connect with both streams, those born frum and those who’ve discovered Yiddishkeit on their own. But that’s only part of his story: This Belzer chassid has also composed some of the most popular songs in the Jewish music world today, including “Hishbati Eschem” and “Yadati.” That happens to be a family thing — his brother Ahreleh collaborates with him, and his father, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Breyer, is the venerated composer of the Belzer court with hundreds of songs to his credit, some of which have become classics — and not only in Belz. Perhaps his most famous is the Bircas Hamazon niggun sung by Jewish children around the world — it was actually a mandate from the Belzer Rebbe himself to create a new bentshing tune that would capture children’s hearts.

“My father saw music as a tool for chinuch,” says Reb Pinchas, “and I’m just carrying that forward.”

Rabbi Pinchas Breyer doesn’t let his distinctive Belzer garb and accent interfere with his invitations to speak and sing in front of a wide range of audiences, from litvish to Chabad to right-wing national-religious. And especially now, with summer and vacation mode upon us — a potentially challenging time for parents of teens — the messages he delivers are more important than ever.

“With just a little awareness and context, it’s possible to turn such times into days of positive energy instead of strife,” he says.

Rabbi Breyer calls summer vacation “an unfortunate work accident between parents and children.” He says it’s really a matter of matching expectations. “On the one hand we have the yeshivah bochur, who spends the whole year in a pressure cooker. Think about it: He’s generally far from home and in an atmosphere of intense competitiveness — in the dorm, the beis medrash. He’s constantly under the watchful eye of the mashgiach, and you know, in today’s yeshivos, there are also surveillance cameras. As the zeman starts to wind down, this bochur is already crossing out pages on the calendar, counting the days until summer break. Even the really good boy who’s been shteiging the whole zeman is probably looking forward to a little freedom, a little breathing space.