Friday, March 7, 2008

Campus Outreach Program Holds Shabbaton in Monsey

Over 30 college students are expected for a Shabbaton this week, at the home of Rabbi Dov & Shevy Oliver and in the new home of Beis Menachem. For more information please call Rabbi Dov Oliver at 845-659-2388.

Beis Menachem of North Monsey Moves Into New Home

This shabbos, K'hal Beis Menachem of North Monsey will move into a new beautiful shul located at 360 Route 306 in Monsey (formerly Rabbi Kantor's shul).

Cheder Chabad Mishloach Manos

To use the online ordering system for the Cheder Chabad Mishloach Manos campaign please go to monseychabad.com/purim.htm.

Interview With Rabbi Lesches Translated

As was previously posted, in honor of the Yarzeit of Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach z”tl, on Chof Adar, Kfar Chabad Magazine interviewed 3 Lubavitcher Rabbonim who had learned in Kol Torah including our dear Rav, Rabbi Lesches. The following is a translation of Rabbi Lesches’s interview. A tremendous yasher koach goes to Reb Amichai Weinberg for the translation.

The article in Hebrew can be found here.


“That fact is that for any student of Rav Shlomo Zalman, the transition to Chabad came quite naturally when you consider that he embodied the qualities that Chasidim always emphasized.

Firstly, like Chabad, he was an absolute man of truth who would always admit and acknowledge the truth of the matter wholeheartedly. On a few occasions when asked certain questions in a shiur, he agreed that he was incorrect if it was the case, even if it meant the whole premise of the shiur was disproved. Trying to cover up or hide mistakes was not an option for Rav Shlomo Zalman.

I remember one time when Rav Shlomo Zalman was giving his weekly general assembly shiur which was always on Tuesdays from 6:00 to 6:45. Someone questioned his understanding based on a Rashba in Baba Kama. After verifying the Rashba, he said to the students, “I apologize. I made a mistake. I don’t have anything else on which to continue”. He immediately stopped in middle of the shiur and ended it by going to daven Maariv.

Secondly, his Ahavat Yisrael, love for the Jewish people, was massive. Like Chabad, he was completely distanced from any semblance of politics. For this reason, the Rav refused membership on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Israel to avoid any political affiliation. He only agreed to act as Posek for the Vaad HaYeshivot, in the position previously held by his Rebbe, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer.

Thirdly, like a true Chassid, he was a remarkably humble man. There were times when students would ask for his opinion regarding shidduchim. He would always say to them, “Why are you asking me these kinds of questions? If I am wrong about a shidduch, people will (hold me responsible and) call me a liar! If you ask me basic understanding of Rashi and Tosafot, I am prepared to tell you that, but you need to ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe things of this nature. It’s a fact that he knows how to answers questions like these.”

Fourth, his learning style was based in simple and straightforward reason. His shiurim were propelled by healthy logic and focused thinking which gave no place for elaborate, erroneous and lofty extrapolations. This approach is very similar to the learning approach of Chassidut in general, and to the Rebbe’s learning style specifically.

Beyond all this, it is well known that Rav Shlomo Zalman had tremendous respect and Derech Eretz for the Rebbe. I’ll only give one example. Around the time of The Six Day War, some students from overseas asked him what should they do, go home or stay in Israel. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked them for the source of the question, and they answered that their parents want them to come home. Rav Shlomo Zalman said to them, “in that case, based on the obligation to honor one’s parents these students should go home.” The students then asked, “but the Lubavitcher Rebbe says that everything will be fine in The Holy Land!”. Rav Shlomo Zalman said, “then it is not even a question. The Rebbe certainly knows what will be, and if he says that everything will be fine, he clearly sees that there is no need to worry and you may rely on him completely. Therefore if you ask me as a Rav what you should do based on Shulchan Aruch, my answer will be that there is a commandment to obey your parents. But if your question is what will happen with the war, it’s clear that everything will be fine like The Rebbe said.”

WORDS OF THE LIVING G-D

Harav Lesches does not like when people point out that in his day he was known as the prodigy of Kol Torah, nor is he prepared to reveal the uniqueness of the relationship between himself and his Rav, the Rosh Yeshiva. He reluctantly agreed to mention one anecdote from his time by Rav Shlomo Zalman.

“Shortly after I entered the Yeshiva Ketana of Kol Torah, Rav Shlomo Zalman began to take me under his wing. Most likely, in some of the tests we took, my answers were of interest to him. He would occasionally come and speak with me. One time when I was still in the beginning of the first grade, he stopped me in the hallway of the yeshiva and told me sternly, “I heard from the Mashgiach that because you are learning so intensely you are not sleeping enough hours at night.” As he said that, he took hold of his beard, showed it to me and said, “You see? I have a completely white beard even though I am not that old. When I was your age I learned under Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and he told me that he heard that I am not sleeping enough, and he instructed me to sleep more hours. I, in fact, did not listen to him and this is the result – my beard has gone white before its time!” I said to Rav Shlomo Zalman, “as your student I must emulate you. If so, I too will not listen to your instructions and will continue doing things my way.” Rav Shlomo Zalman lovingly tapped my cheek and said to me, “Good. Continue in good health.”

Did your strong connection with him end when you went to find a new path through Chabad?

On the contrary - as I mentioned, for me learning Chassidus was simply a natural progression to everything I received from Rav Shlomo Zalman. My familiarity with him is what helped me easily absorb everything I heard in the Tanya shiurim. After learning under him, the switch to Tomchei Temimim was practically a given.

Despite all that, it’s a fact that in Kol Torah, learning Tanya was forbidden.

In all the times that there was a Tanya shiur in Kol Torah, Rav Shlomo Zalman was aware of it, and seeing as the matter was up to him, he never openly opposed it. He understood that Chassidus was important to us, and he ultimately wanted to find a middle ground, where the faculty would not really be upset, and where the students that wanted to learn Chassidus would be able to continue forth with these shiurim.

What is it that actually drew you, a (yeshiva) prodigy to learn Tanya?

The shiurim of Rav Yosef Segel - which were completely unique. He knew how to clearly explain Chassidus and he knew how to give us the wonderful feeling that we were learning Words of the Living G-d!

Specifically someone who never learned in Chabad is capable of appreciating the newness of the concepts. We would occasionally travel to Kfar Chabad and would participate in Rav Shlomo Chaim Kesselman’s farbrengens which were truly exceptional. We also saw the excellent unity in the yeshiva, both between the students and between the students and Rav Shlomo Chaim. It [this unique bond] was a phenomenon without any natural explanation. Sometimes Rav Shlomo would even reprimand a student in middle of a farbrengen without even thinking twice because he felt so at home with all the students.

Every student knew that he could get advice from Rav Shlomo Chaim without any hesitation or embarrassment. Despite the fifty year gap that existed between him and the students, everyone felt that he, more than anyone else, understood the soul of the students.

Emotional encounter before his passing

Rav Lesches would like to emphasize that aside from everyone that actively switched during his period to Tomchei Temimim, when all was said and done it was due to the Tanya Shiurim of Rav Yosef Segal - that many tens of students participated in. Amongst them were boys from families that were Gerrer Chasidim, who of course had permission from their Rebbe, the Beit Yisrael, z’tl, to participate in these shiurim.

I am gently trying to ask Rav Lesches about the ‘witch hunt’ that took place in the yeshiva against the ‘sin’ of learning Tanya, but he adamantly chooses not to discuss that matter. The single detail that he is willing to offer on this topic is the following story:

“One of the better known students on the Yeshiva faculty called me over once and told me something interesting. “I must tell you that I have a small way of explaining why such a dear student of ours would want to go to Chabad. When I arrived in the Holy Land in my youth, I was together on the boat with a special Jew, Rav Moshe Leib Shapira (who served as the Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Torah Emet). He learned with me throughout the entire time we were on the boat together, works of Chassidus, and we formed a very strong connection to each other. For me it was a completely new world, and I enjoyed it very much. But at the end, despite everything, I did not continue in any practical way in Chassidus, instead I chose the Mussar movement. Since I acted this way towards someone who put tremendous effort in order to teach me Chassidus, I was punished; the same thing happened to me, but in the opposite way.” And in truth, when we came to his house on Purim, we found not just Tanya and Likutei Torah, but even Hemshech TRS”V and more Chabad books.

And what brought you to the decision to actively switch to Tomchei Temimim?

“I had periods of different dilemmas, mainly, is what people tell me correct - that I will surely be less successful in Tomchei Temimim with progressing and growing in learning? There was even someone, a higher up at Kol Torah who told me that it’s not worth going into Tomchei Temimim because the Heads of the Yeshiva see me as one of the Gedolim of the next generation, and if I go to Tomchei Temimim, the Jewish people will lose a great leader.

I asked The Rebbe about this, and the Rebbe answered me in his holy handwriting: in response to the question (accusation): ‘the wonder is that he accepted Loshon Hara and slander, etc., and we do not cry over the past, rather focus on the now and future.’ (The intention in this part of his answer was in connection to what I wrote The Rebbe, that I was told that they do not learn properly in Kfar Chabad). In response to my question of whether or not to switch to Kfar Chabad, The Rebbe answered me, “When it becomes clear in his (your) eyes that it is good to learn in Tomchei Temimim, then go there” (The Rebbe underlined the word “then” twice for emphasis. And so it was.”

For decades, Rav Lesches served as Rosh Yeshiva of Chabad in Sydney Australia, and graduated hundreds of students with deep Torah knowledge, and recently he moved to be the Rosh Yeshiva and Rav of the Chabad community in Monsey, New York.

The following fact is told by Rav Yosef Tzvi Segal: “I heard from someone who would frequent Rav Shlomo Zalman’s house that one day he got an envelope in the mail from Sydney, Australia with a full notebook of Torah Insights (Chidushim). These were Rav Baruch Lesches’s shiurim that were learned that year in Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in Sydney. Rav Leshes wanted Rav Shlomo Zalman to remember him (this was approximately 20 years after he left Kol Torah), and therefore he included two photographs in the parcel. One photo was of himself in yeshiva years earlier, and one photo was current. Rav Shlomo Zalman greatly enjoyed what he read, and was impressed by the depth of the Chidushim. At the time he said to those in his house, now I see that from going to learn in Chabad, he ascended many levels in learning and in his genius.

After that, did you keep in touch with Rav Shlomo Zalman?

“There’s a great story of amazing Divine Providence. In the winter of 1995, my father z’tl was not well and I came to Israel to visit him. One day I went to the Kotel, it was the night of Rosh Chodesh Shevat. When I finished davening and prepared to leave, all of a sudden I saw Rav Shlomo Zalman directly across from me accompanied by some students. He most likely came to the Kotel to daven the Yom Kippur Katan davening. I approached him and introduced myself by name, “Baruch Lesches”. He looked at me for a moment and immediately said, “You’re the one that went to Chabad thirty years ago. I am so happy to see you!” The students around him didn’t understand how he recognized me from 30 years ago. I said to them, “He has many good reasons to remember me…”

On the 20th of Adar, 1995 Rav Shlomo Zalman z’tl passed away, and my father passed away one day later. The astounding Divine Providence arranged for me to be able to reunite with Rav Shlomo Zalman, right before he left this world.”