By Rabbi Eliezer Sandler
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a: These are emesdike (true) Shas Yiden.
The Sanzer Rebbe, shlit”a: When the Shas Yiden Kollel opened, all thought that even with its lofty goal, it would only be able to produce a few individuals proficient in the entire Shas. Today, to our joy, we witness a significant and tremendous Torah institution. Its founder, the Pozna Rav, is certainly fulfilling the shelihut (mission) of Klal Yisroel.”
When the Boyaner Rebbe, shlit”a, left the hall, he grabbed the hand of the founder of Shas Yiden, the Pozna Rov, and broke into an emotional rikud (dance).
Reb Elimelech Biderman, shlit”a: “At this time, the ministering angels on High are dancing in honor of the Shas Yiden avreichim….
The Torah world has closely followed the exciting annual gathering at which the geonim (prodigies) of the Shas Yiden kollel study program once again celebrate the completion of the study of the entire Shas.
Before the siyum, they were publicly tested on the entire Shas, which, in the last year alone, they have each covered a minimum of five times. As in previous years, the gathering was graced by the presence of our generation’s leading Torah sages, who came to honor and recognize the accomplishments of the avreichim (young kollel students) of the Shas Yiden network.
Founded 13 years ago by the Pozna Rav, HaRav Avrohom Eisen, shlit”a, of Brooklyn, Shas Yiden has brought about a worldwide Torah revolution, producing outstanding scholars who have mastered the entire Talmud with its commentaries. It currently runs six kollelim, situated in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Beitar, Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, and Stamford Hill in London, UK. The organization’s motto is “Lo bashomayim hi – It is not in heaven” (Devarim 30:12), expressing that through hard work and devotion, in-depth knowledge of the entire Shas is attainable, and belying the myth that comprehensive knowledge of Shas is something of the past.
Beyond honoring the young luminaries, the magnificent gathering also provided an opportunity to recognize the rapid expansion of the Shas Yiden network. The dais seated some 94 avreichim geonim, all of whom have achieved comprehensive knowledge of the entire Shas, putting on public display the fulfillment of a blessing given years ago by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, Nasi of Shas Yiden. For over a decade, Kollel Shas Yiden consisted of a mere minyan of avreichim in a small room in Beit Shemesh, but Rav Kanievsky blessed the Pozna Rav and encouraged him to establish additional branches of Shas Yiden. To many it appeared to be a distant, and perhaps impossible, vision, but today it is clearly a vibrant reality.
The “Nahshon” of Our Generation
Rav Kanievsky was so enthused by the great growth of Shas Yiden that he did not just attend the event, but also brought his personal letter to be read aloud at the event on his behalf by his illustrious study partner, HaRav Yisroel Meir Druk, shlit”a. In the letter, Rav Kanievsky wrote, “Praiseworthy are these talmidei chachomim [Torah scholars], outstanding in their great knowledge of Torah, of the entire Shas Bavli in breadth and depth. These are emesdike [true] Shas Yiden, whom I have personally tested, and I found them beki’im gedolim [exceptionally proficient] in the entire Shas.”
Rav Kanievsky also noted the great revolution in the Torah world that the Pozna Rav began 13 years ago, how it has inspired other efforts in the Torah world to learn the entire Talmud. He also highlighted the fact that the Shas Yiden students not only know the Shas, but also constantly review all the Gemara and commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot throughout the year to commit all this material to memory.
“Praised is the Pozna Rav who has been privileged to be the ‘Nahshon’ [pioneer] with this idea to establish such kollelim, and to produce incredible scholars who are privileged to study Gemara, Rashi and Tosafot, and to make a siyum of the entire Shas each year, through great effort and with great clarity.”
When he concluded reading the letter, Rav Druk noted that Rav Chaim’s son, HaRav Yitzchak Shaul, described to him how much his father enjoys and looks forward to the visits of the Shas Yiden scholars when they come before him to be tested.
A Father’s Tears
It is difficult to find the words to adequately describe this incredible gathering. Throughout the event, the atmosphere was electric.
Prior to the exams, the 94 geonim entered, took their places, and were rocking back and forth, each holding a Gemara in his hand. Every minute of the day, they have the sacred words of the Shas with them, and the moments before the exam were no exception. Indeed, the Shas Yiden program is not confined to any specific time frame. These avreichim are not in kollel – they are the kollel, devoting themselves to learning at all times. Each weekday, they must cover nine blatt (double pages) and review the material four times. On Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov, and on Shabbat and Yom Tov, they are required to complete four blatt and review the material four times – so that they complete the Shas – a total of 13,555 blatt – five times every year.
The faces of these avreichim shone with purity and Torah knowledge. Like the Torah (Bamidbar 14:24) says about Kalev, these outstanding men possess a “ru’ah aheret – a different spirit.”
When the exam was about to begin, an older member of the audience was seen with a tear rolling down his cheek, which he tried brushing away. It turned out that he was the father of two Shas Yiden. Two towering scholars from the same home.
“Yes, my boys are learning Gemara, Rashi and Tosafot every day and night,” he said. “Baruch Hashem, they really know Shas. As soon as the test starts, you will understand why I am so emotional and excited. Even though you don’t have a son here, you will be just as excited.”
Somebody turned to the father and asked, “Are both your sons iluyim [geniuses]? After all, this program is for iluyim, isn’t it?”
“Actually, no,” the father replied. “This kollel is for those who are serious about their Torah. It’s for those who learn with all their might, day and night. Being an ilui has never been a condition to becoming a Torah giant.”
A Torah Tidal Wave
Finally, the moment that the avreichim have been preparing for all year arrived.
Two exams were conducted. Like all the previous exams they had taken, there was no way to anticipate the questions, which could be asked about any line of Gemara, anywhere in Shas. Every question was asked by an eminent, distinguished Torah sage.
The head of the kollelim, Harav Moshe Isaac Samet, shlit”a, opened the gathering by saying, “We are again entering an awesome gathering that is unique in its combination of yir’ah [trepidation] and rahamim [mercy], a holy gathering before Gd. Lift your eyes and look about you, how our avreichim have gathered from across the Land of Israel and from as far as London – the scholars of Shas Yiden. May the pleasantness of Hashem our Gd rest upon us…”
The first rav to pose a question to the avreichim was HaRav Chaim Freund, shlit”a, Rosh Kollel of Yeshiva Nachalas Moshe in Bnei Brak, and rav of Kehilas Lomdei Torah in Rechovot. After delivering his blessing to the young scholars, he began to challenge them with a barrage of questions. Each avreich had a microphone, and the immediate responses sounded like a tidal wave of Torah, quoting sources from all over Shas and its commentaries. It was a battle of Torah titans.
The second examiner was HaRav Avraham Direnfeld, Rosh Kollelei Iyun of Belz, rav of Kehillot Belz in Tel-Aviv and Beit Shemesh, and a member of Badatz Machazikei Hadas. In a fascinating “plot twist,” one of the avreichim being tested was Rav Direnfeld’s son. Once again, “no quarter was given” as the mighty scholars squared off. Everyone in attendance was awestruck, wondering how these young men could absorb so much material and commit it all to memory.
The audience included many American yeshiva students whose parents are supporters of Shas Yiden. They could not believe their eyes, and immediately following the exams, they were on their phones calling their parents to tell them about the awesome gathering that they had just witnessed.
After the exam, HaRav Direnfeld reflected, “After so many tragedies that occurred over this last year, we are fortunate to witness such a simcha as this – that in our midst are great geonim who know the entire Shas. This is an amazing kiddush Shem Shamayim [glorification of Gd’s Name]!”
Completing the Shas 470 Times
The gathering moved to the adjoining hall for a seudat mitzvah (meal which fulfills a mitzvah), celebrating the completion of the Torah She’b’al Peh (Oral Law). The Shas Yiden geonim were surrounded by their families – including their parents and their children, all basking in joy and nahat (pride). They had all concluded a year of hard work and toil to master the Torah. Each family member is a full partner with his or her Shas Yid gaon. Once again, as in past years, the wives were each presented with a gift, a generous cash-filled envelope, and a personal letter from the Pozna Rav.
The participants also included the selfless supporters of Shas Yiden, who were overcome by emotion witnessing this special occasion. The excitement and awe intensified as the honored guests began to arrive – the generation’s leading Torah sages and Hassidic figures. Their presence testified to the deep impression the Shas Yiden geonim have made upon our Torah leaders, a result of the exams held every several months conducted by scholars spanning the Torah spectrum. The emotion peaked with the arrival of the Nasi of the Shas Yiden network, Rav Kanievsky. The room erupted in festive singing and dancing, and it was a sight to behold. Rav Kanievsky was joined on the dais by numerous outstanding Torah sages, including Harav Boruch Dov Povarsky, Harav Shimon Badani, the Sanzer Rebbe, the Boyaner Rebbe and Harav Shimon Galai.
As each of the avreichim had completed the Shas five times over the course of the year, the total number of Shas completed by the avreichim geonim was 470! These were all combined into one grand and inspiring celebration.
“There is No Greater Yom Tov Than This!”
The Sanzer Rebbe recited the Hadran (traditional prayer recited at a siyum) and delivered an emotional address. He remarked that even if just one individual completes the study of a single tractate of Talmud, a celebration is held, and here, at this event, nearly 100 geonim have completed the entire Shas, reviewing it several times, committing it to memory, and delving into its intricacies.
“There is no greater Yom Tov than this!” the Rebbe exclaimed, adding that everyone in attendance was witnessing the fulfilment of the divine promise that the Torah will never be forgotten.
“What in yesteryear was the inheritance of the few, the Pozna Rav, shlit”a, has made into a gigantic revolution,” the Rebbe marveled. He added, “We see the Shas Yiden network growing exponentially. It must be a gift that the Pozna Rav was granted from Heaven, for he is certainly doing the shelichut (mission) of Klal Yisrael [the Jewish Nation].”
The Sanzer Rebbe pointed out that he knows some of the Shas Yiden avreichim personally, and their faces reflect their fierce love of Torah. He said that the “charm” which these students attain through their rigorous Torah study “clearly negates the power of the evil inclination, hastens the redemption, and is a source of salvation for all of Klal Yisrael.”
The honor of reciting the kaddish on behalf of all the geonim was given to HaRav Yisroel Moskowitz, shlit”a, of London, patron of the London Shas Yiden Kollel. His son-in-law, HaRav Avrohom Dovid Olevsky, shlit”a, was one of the leading scholars of the Shas Yiden kollel in Jerusalem, until being appointed to serve as the Rosh Kollel of Shas Yiden, London. A second son-in-law, HaRav Yisroel Shvirtz, is one of the avreichim geonim learning in the Jerusalem branch of Shas Yiden.
One of the most memorable and emotional moments of the evening came when the Boyaner Rebbe, shlit”a, was about to leave and the Pozna Rav escorted him to the building entrance. Unexpectedly, as they exited the hall, the Rebbe grabbed the Pozna Rav by the hand and began dancing with him in a spontaneous outburst of joy, as the Rebbe celebrated and expressed his amazement at the Torah revolution wrought by Shas Yiden.
The Angels are Dancing!
The participants were privileged to hear the inspiring and warm words of the great tzadik HaRav Elimelech Biderman, shlit”a, who has a special and close connection with Shas Yiden. In a dramatic speech, he described how the vision of the Pozna Rav some 13 years earlier developed “skin and bones, veins and sinews” in such an amazing manner that there are now almost 100 Shas Yiden, an almost unfathomable achievement.
“In the beginning, I thought that this developing of emesdike (true) Shas Yiden was an exaggeration,” Rav Biderman said in an interview. “Perhaps the avreichim don’t really know Shas, never mind the entire Shas. Who had ever heard of training large groups to know the entire Shas? However, after I personally sat with them and tested them, I saw that this was no exaggeration. Each of them knows Shas from beginning to end – the words of Shas are on their lips!”
Rav Biderman noted the hymn traditionally sung on Friday night that refers to Shabbat as “me’en Olam Haba – a taste of the World-to-Come,” and said, “Now, here at this time, the ministering angels in heaven, in honor of the Shas Yiden geonim, must be dancing and singing: ‘me’en olam hazeh – a taste of this world.’ These Shas Yiden have shown how it is possible to really rejoice with Hashem in this world. Even now, just to sit under the same roof with the Shas Yiden avreichim is to experience this world in the fullest sense of what this world could and should be.”
Other sages in attendance included: HaRav Shimon Badani, a member of Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah, and HaRav Binyamin Finkel, Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, both of whom addressed the gathering; HaRav Yerachmiel Ungarisher, Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Elyon; HaRav Moshe Shimon Edelstein, rav of Neot Yosef; HaRav Moshe ben Shimon, rav in Bnei Brak and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Or Elitzur; HaRav Chaim Peretz Berman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh; HaRav Shimon Galai of Kollel Taharos; HaRav Itamar Garbuz, Rosh Yeshiva of Orchot Torah; HaRav Chaim Feinstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Shlomo; HaRav Shevach Tzvi Rosenblatt, rav in Bnei Brak; and many others.
After spending many joyous hours together, the talmidei chachomim and geonim began dancing, expressing the genuine joy of Torah which is absorbed within the fiber of their beings. The prayer in the hearts of the Shas Yiden avreichim was, “Master of the world! Just as you enabled us to complete the Shas this year, so may You allow us to do so this coming year, and beyond. May the sacred words of the Torah never cease from our mouths and from those of our children, through all generations.”
To watch the dynamic exam, receive more information about Shas Yiden, or to donate, please visit www.shasyiden.com, call 718-702-1528, or send a letter to 1274 49th Street #562, Brooklyn, NY 11219.
London: UK Registered Charity # 1191225 – 2 Timberwharf Road, London N16 6DB, England