Uniting in learning for a common goal
By Chandrea Serebro
The Talmud says that the study of Torah is equivalent to all of the other mitzvos because it leads to them all. This sentiment inspired Rabbi Dov Connack, Executive Director of Shaarei Torah Schools, to set out, together with the boys and the fathers of his community and beyond, on a mammoth goal: to learn together the six tractates of the Mishna (known as Shas Mishnayos) in their entirety in a single day.
Rabbi Connack recalls, “Rosh Hashanah was approaching. There are two special families in our community facing serious illness. In their time of need, we asked ourselves, ‘What could we as a community do?’ And, as the best answers often are, the answer to that was another question: ‘Could the Shaarei Torah community, men and boys together, learn the entire Shas Mishnayos in one morning?’ To do this, we decided that we would need 275 dedicated learners, and a meticulous schedule; but that it could be done,” says Rabbi Connack. “So the message went out. Be a part of it. Bring your fathers and let them be a part of it. Unite, in Torah learning, with a single, common goal. A morning of Torah, tefillah, and zechusim (merits) for a full recovery for Tuvia ben Rivka and Yedidya Eliyahu ben Bracha.”
And it was truly something to be a part of. “The response was nothing short of amazing,” Rabbi Connack recalls, with a resounding sense of excitement and enthusiasm, both for the Torah learning taking place and for the desire to be part of this remarkable event. “The energy in the room was palpable, the joy of performing the task, tangible. I felt proud to be part of such a special event.”
“The principals and rabbeim of Shaarei Torah worked tirelessly to ensure each and every detail was in place,” explains Eli Karp, who chaired the event. The progress of the learning was monitored on screen, keeping everyone motivated and determined to complete the objective in good time. It was well-structured and orderly. Breakfast was delicious, the refreshments kept coming. The result? “A world-class function with an ambiance serious enough for the purpose of the event, but also exciting enough to keep young and old occupied for a full Sunday morning,” says Eli.
And, says Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, not only was the event “absolutely inspirational”, the “remarkable achievement of completing Shas Mishnayos was made possible by the power of team work,” something the South African community does well.
“There was a palpable sense of unity as we were all bound together by the common goal to complete more than 4000 mishnayos in one morning,” says Brandon Blumenau, who wanted to be a part of the project when he heard about it, despite not being part of the Shaarei Torah parent body. “The experience was nothing short of inspirational.”
The basis of the event was pure, inspired, organised Torah learning, but the deeper meaning behind it is clear, says Rabbi Connack. “The only way to understand Hashem is through Torah learning.”
We are taught, explains Eli, that Torah learning is a “strong way to connect to Hashem” and that “achdus (unity) among fellow Jews, all learning Torah simultaneously, is a powerful tool when beseeching Hashem for mercy”. “When Hashem sees us, coming closer to Him, connecting to Him and to each other, He wants to be a part of it,” says Rabbi Connack.
And so did everyone else. When the day arrived, men and boys alike rushed in to get started – from Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein to Primary School students, High School students, bochurim, rabbis, fathers of students, and friends of the Shaarei Torah community – all coming together in an unprecedented way, in solidarity for those so desperately in need of a refua shleima.
When Moshe Miller, the father of Yedidya Eliyahu, one of those in whose merit the learning was for, arrived at the hall to the scene of over 300 fathers, grandfathers, and sons learning together, he was “blown away”. “To think that they were all there on a Sunday morning to learn for the refuah for my child was just amazing. So much so that it was hard for me to even focus on my own learning, as it was a very emotional experience that I was so proud to be a part of.”
“It is said that the learning of young children has a special power in heaven,” says Moshe, “and it is the hope that this fervent, inspired, mass learning will go up and help bring a refuah shleima not only to my son Yedidya, but all other Jews in need of it too.”
The project was also an impressive example of just how dedicated these boys are to learning Torah and the deep commitment of the rabbeim who teach the boys, imparting a love for it despite the many distractions facing today’s youth, says Eli. “As a parent, I was impressed by my sons, their friends, and classmates who spent the entire morning studying their allocated mishnayos diligently,” a task not easily sold to boys these days.
“I think there is a big challenge to engage young people in the learning of Torah,” says Brandon, yet when he surveyed the room, he was met with the vision of hundreds of students and their fathers and grandfathers, completely captivated by topics and discussions of Torah, engaging with each other, discussing, debating. “It was particularly poignant that some pupils were learning with their fathers, and therefore father and son were together connecting to our timeless heritage in a very rich and meaningful way,” in a way still relevant in today’s modern world.
The morning ended with Tehillim and with the men and boys dancing together and singing with joy at having completed their task and at the fresh ideas they had learned. This was important, says Moshe, and significant for the Shaarei Torah community, because it showed the boys and everyone there that learning is not simply an intellectual exercise, but something we do out of happiness and joy. And having completed the task, bringing together over 300 people in a morning dedicated to Torah learning, gave everyone involved the feeling that even here, in South Africa, we have got what it takes. “We are a model community that qualitatively can match any Torah community world-wide,” says Eli.