The chavrusas: Rav Dov Freund and Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Zupnik
The location: Kiryat Sefer
The limud: Gemara
When the phone rings late at night in Yaakov Yitzchak Zupnik’s Kiryat Sefer home, he knows the likely reason: his chavrusa has finally found a teirutz to a knotty issue they discussed a few hours earlier. Within seconds, the grogginess will fade and he’ll be fully immersed in a spirited back-and-forth with his chavrusa.
In this case, however, the chavrusa is not another young father from a similar background. Yaakov Yitzchak is American-born (his family made aliyah when he was a baby), and he learned in Tifrach. Yet he spends hours of his day learning with the rosh kollel of Kiryat Sefer’s trailblazing Kollel Beis Abba, Rav Dov Freund — a man decades his senior.
“I’ve been learning with the Rosh Kollel for five years now,” he says. “Our backgrounds are completely different. But as soon as we began learning together, it just clicked — I felt like he really spoke my language. The Torah connects us.”
Yaakov Yitzchak describes their learning sessions as sometimes stretching until 3 a.m. They can also traverse immense geographic distances; when Rav Freund is overseas raising money for his kollel, he picks up the phone to share new insights into the sugya with his faithful chavrusa back home.
“It took some courage for me to ask the rosh kollel to learn with me, but after five years learning in his kollel, I dared ask, and Rav Freund invited me to come learn with him,” Yaakov Yitzchak remembers. “That first time we sat together, he started yelling, roaring like a lion. Honestly, I was a little startled — but then I realized he was waiting for me to roar back! At this point, I don’t know who yells louder.”
It’s certainly not a typical “shidduch” — the Rosh Kollel could be Yaakov Yitzchak’s father, almost his grandfather. His background is in Brisk, and his approach to learning is different from what Yaakov Yitzchak absorbed in Tifrach. “But we’ve bridged the age and style gaps and are able to learn together easily,” he says. “The Torah connects us, and it makes the age difference irrelevant. When we learn together, we’re like friends.”
(Originally featured in 'One Day Closer', Special Supplement, Chanuka/Siyum HaShas 5780)
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