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12 Iyar 5763 - May 14, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








A Time to Fight
Lev L'Achim's Annual Convention a Source of Inspiration, Chizuk and Guidance

by M. Schapiro

The Lev L'Achim convention held two weeks ago in Bnei Brak was permeated with the kind of mix of joy and trepidation that often emanates from true avodas Hashem. Joy at the achievements of the year gone by, and trepidation in the face of the giant challenges that lie ahead.

Convinced that even the most estranged Jewish heart harbors a shining soul, Lev L'Achim has once again mapped a course to reach out to every lost Jew throughout Eretz Yisroel.

The Greatest Mitzva

On Wednesday afternoon, 28 Nisan/April 30, thousands of Lev L'Achim employees and volunteers flooded the stairs and hallways of the Malchei Dovid Conference Hall in Bnei Brak. It was heartwarming to watch as the vast main auditorium slowly filled with avreichim who have dedicated at least one night every week to knocking at the doors of non- religious Jews, often braving insults and disparagement, thereby taking an active part in Lev L'Achim's vital activities.

I glanced at the evening's program and took note of the two primary goals of the convention: to hear the word of Hashem from the mouths of the gedolei hador, and to make a public accounting of the past year and plan for the future.

Also printed on the program was the Chofetz Chaim's urgent request in his sefer Chomas Hadas, a request that Lev L'Achim is doing its utmost to fulfill now, a century later:

"The Rambam rules," wrote the Chofetz Chaim, "that the mitzva of loving Hashem also includes the obligation to call upon other people to serve Hashem and to believe in Him. Therefore, in our time when there are breaches on every side, it is a great mitzva for every town to have an association of G-d-fearing men to strengthen the faith with all their might, and this is a shield against every tribulation."

HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv echoed this message just before the recent American-led war against Iraq, when HaRav Mattisyahu Solomon, Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, flew to Eretz Yisroel for one day and asked him how American Jewry should spiritually fortify itself in the fearful days ahead.

"Go and tell them to give support to Lev L'Achim," replied HaRav Eliashiv. "If they want to be saved from the chavlei Moshiach they should give to Lev L'Achim."

Mi Lechaim Umi Lemovess

Outside the auditorium I seized the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Ephraim Paktor, Lev L'Achim's supervisor in the center of the country. He told me about Lev L'Achim's renowned annual school enrollment campaign.

"Each year, hundreds of thousands of Israeli children start school for the first time or change schools, and this year we are in a race against time," he said. "By the first of September it will be decided Mi lechaim umi lemovess, Who is destined for life and whom for death -- which children will be enrolled in schools that teach heresy and which ones will enter schools that teach the age-old ways of Yiddishkeit.

"Last year," he continued, "we pinpointed ten thousand families that were vacillating between the two alternatives and made sure our volunteers reached them in time to nudge them in the right direction. We had astounding success and out of those ten thousand families, eight thousand sent their children to Torah- true schools!"

Our chat was suddenly interrupted by the strident ringing of Rabbi Paktor's cell phone. He pressed the OK button and listened intently.

"Yes! One pair of tefillin? No problem. I'll get it to you by tomorrow. Good-bye."

"That call was about another of our projects," Rabbi Paktor explained matter-of-factly. "After helping people back to their roots we don't leave them alone in the deep end. We provide financial help for families that cannot afford the expenses their new lifestyle entails, and hundreds of tefillin are provided free of charge each year."

I asked Rabbi Paktor to tell me more about Lev L'Achim's other projects, and he directed me to the evening's program. There I saw descriptions of its many programs and services, including the school enrollment division, the Door-to-Door Program, the evening kollelim, the Lev Shomeia division for at-risk youth, the midrashot for women, and the anti- missionary division. The list went on and on. As I scanned the list, it dawned on me that each of its items easily deserved an organization all to itself.

$10 for Shema Yisroel

By then the vast audience was seated and a hush fell over the audience as Rabbi Menachem Cohen, the General Director of Lev L'Achim, strode up to the microphone. He began talking about two subjects that set the theme for the entire evening: facing the challenges presented by Israel's new ultra-secular government, and the infinite patience and dedication that kiruv work demands.

Rav Cohen said that people fail to realize just how far many Israeli Jews are from their roots.

"A delegation of American rabbonim visited Eretz some time ago," he said, "and as we were traveling up north I started describing the dire situation in this country. One rov complained that I was being motzi sheim ra; things simply couldn't be that bad.

"Then, we arrived at the public school in Migdal Ha'emek and in one class I asked if any child knew how to recite Shema Yisroel. The response: dead silence.

"`Ten dollars to whoever knows Shema Yisroel,' I promised. Still, complete silence. Tears began trickling down that rov's face.

"And I'm not sure if the teachers of those children knew much more than their students," concluded Rav Cohen.

The next speaker, Rabbi Yonoson Haber, addressed a problem that is common within an organization that believes in appealing to people's inner souls with a "kol demomoh dakoh," rather than with quick, knee- jerk formulas.

When results are long in coming, said Rav Haber, a volunteer's initial "bren" begins to fade. Rav Haber discussed techniques to combat this problem, which many in the audience found quite useful.

Boring a Hole in the Toughest Rock

I took the opportunity to get some fresh air and investigate a little more about the details of Lev L'Achim's work. At the auditorium exit I brushed past a neighbor of mine, Naftoli S., who is an unassuming type and not someone I imagined would be suited to storm people's private fortresses in the dead of night and offer to learn Torah with them. True to his nature, Naftoli played down his involvement in Lev L'Achim's activities.

"I've been visiting a family for the past six months," he told me, "but not too much has happened yet."

"Have you achieved any concrete change?" I asked him.

"Well," he replied, "they did send one of their daughters to a Torah school."

"Is that all?" I asked.

"Well, they also decided to send three of their sons to frum schools."

"That's what you call `not too much'?" I laughed.

Another volunteer, Yerachmiel D., told me that the father of the family he regularly visits didn't even bother to wear a shirt during their initial meetings. Although the man was happy to discuss Yiddishkeit, weeks passed with no discernible difference in his behavior. Then one day out of the blue he announced, "I'd like our son to switch to a frum school."

"Maybe you should start doing something, too," said the man's wife with a smile.

After listening to Yerachmiel's story, I began to understand that Lev L'Achim's work is often like the steady dripping of water. It may take a while, but eventually that water will bore a hole in even the toughest of rocks.

Back in the auditorium, HaRav Menachem Stein, rosh yeshivas Nachalas Dovid, was addressing the audience on just this subject. He emphasized how vital it is for the volunteers to retain contact with newly frum families and help them continue to make the choices that will most enrich their lives.

Time for Halacha

HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein, the noted posek and son-in- law of Rav Eliashiv, then took the podium and in his inimitable style proceeded to answer a number of halacha shailos that had cropped up in the course of Lev L'Achim's activities over the past year.

The vast audience was fascinated by his deep insight and the effervescent tales that illustrated his answers to shailos, such as whether a worker can exchange his Shabbos shift with another Jew who is not religious, and what happens if a convert admits that his conversion was not lesheim Shomayim but only in order to marry a Jew.

Even after HaRav Zilberstein's droshoh came to a close, members of the audience were still having a lively debate with him concerning some of the various points he had mentioned.

Then, the excitement in the auditorium rose to fever pitch as whispers went around that the gedolei hador were about to enter the room. It took the gedolim 15 minutes to reach their seats as the crowd pressed forward.

Now began the highlight of the evening, for which hundreds of people had traveled from throughout Eretz Yisroel -- from Beer Sheva in the south and Tzefas in the north -- to see the gedolim and hear their words of guidance and encouragement. Even after the gedolim finally took their seats it took several minutes for everyone to quiet down.

The Gedolim Speak

Each year HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner opens the Lev L'Achim convention with divrei brochoh. This year he wasn't able to attend, but he sent the following greeting: "With joy in my heart I hear that Lev L'Achim, the pursuers of mitzvos par excellence, are once more gathered together for mutual chizuk and kiruv levovos with gedolim and tzaddikim at their head.

"May all their yearning and efforts in honor of the Torah bear success, for greater is he who influences others to do mitzvos than he who merely does them himself. May you be blessed with every success."

HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz then rose to the podium. He began his address by quoting the famous Chovos Halevovos that few are those who deserve perfect reward for their Torah and mitzvos alone, because who is the person whose mitzvos have been done with the pure perfection deserving of eternal reward?

The chief way to remedy this, the Chovos Halevovos says, is to influence others to go in the ways of Hashem, as it says, "Umatzdikei horabbim kekochovim le'olom vo'ed, Those who bring to merit the many are like the stars forever." However, even then it is only through Hashem's chesed that one reaches the World to Come.

HaRav Lefkowitz also cited the gemara that says, "Any talmid chochom who learns with great effort (mitoch hadechak) will merit that his prayer is heeded" (Sota 29).

"Nowadays," said HaRav Lefkowitz, "this concept of learning mitoch dechak is largely forgotten. What is the connection between learning mitoch dechak and one's prayers being heeded?

"It is an important rule that this World and the World to Come are diametrically opposed. The World to Come is acquired in this World by enlisting the body to serve Hashem, and the epitome of this is learning Torah mitoch dechak. But when Torah is, chas vesholom, not learned mitoch dechak, it means that the body is being pandered to and the body is an absolute barrier of steel between us and Hashem. Learning mitoch dechak leads to one's prayers being heeded because Hashem yearns for the prayers of the righteous."

HaRav Lefkowitz concluded his remarks by saving that Klal Yisroel is now living in "a time of war against the Torah and Hashem.

"Our salvation," said HaRav Lefkowitz, "lies in beginning to learn Torah mitoch dechak as we have been told by Chazal. May Hashem inspire us with sanctity and purity and may we soon dance together in the joy of Torah and redemption."

HaRav Lefkowitz was followed by HaRav Nissim Karelitz, who quoted the Torah's curse, "Orur asher lo yokim es divrei haTorah hazos la'asos osom, Cursed is he who does not uphold the words of the Torah to do them," and pointed out that the opposite is also true: those who uphold the Torah will receive the Torah's blessing.

"The Yerushalmi," said HaRav Karelitz, "says that King Chizkiyohu declared concerning this verse, `It is upon me to uphold it.' In other words, someone who personally keeps the Torah still has the responsibility to uphold it and ensure that it is kept by others. In our time, when there is no king, it is up to each individual to do everything in his power to influence others to be shomer Torah and bring back children to Yiddishkeit.

"Lev L'Achim," he concluded, "is the paradigm of the fulfillment of this mitzva."

No Greater Kiddush Hashem

Next to speak was HaRav Aharon Feldman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel of Baltimore.

"I cannot imagine a greater kiddush Hashem than this convention," said HaRav Feldman, "because kiddush Hashem means preventing chillul Hashem, and there is no greater chillul Hashem than the situation of our time where the majority of Klal Yisroel knows nothing of Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, the fight against this phenomenon is the greatest kiddush Hashem."

HaRav Feldman added that three things must be taken into account when one is trying to be mekarev others: The person one is trying to reach, the means of persuasion, and the actions of the person himself who is doing the kiruv.

"Concerning those we are trying to influence," he said, "every Jew deep down wants to be close to Hashem, as it says, `Vayorach Yitzchok es rei'ach begodov vayevoracheihu,' and the midrash explains, `Vayorach es rei'ach bogdov, he smelled the odor of his traitors.' Sensing that even the most traitorous Jews were but one step from repentance, Yitzchok included them in his blessing to Yaakov.

"Concerning our means of persuasion, the Torah, I heard from a certain godol that the Chofetz Chaim once quoted Yeshaya's verse that just as the rain does not return to the heavens without making things grow, so Hashem's Word does not return until it has done its task. He said that this means that words of Torah automatically influence whoever hears them, and therefore one should never be discouraged because every word of Torah taught has its effect."

HaRav Feldman pointed out that the Chofetz Chaim even added that because of the inherent sanctity of Torah, one should quote the words of Chazal verbatim and only afterwards translate and explain them.

According to HaRav Feldman, in the third category -- the actions of the person doing the influencing -- the greater the strength of his belief and faith, the more effective his influence will be.

To illustrate this point, HaRav Feldman told the story of a Jew in Radin who suddenly began opening his shop on Shabbos. The Chofetz Chaim wanted to meet with the man to discuss the matter with him, but he repeatedly refused.

"Tell him I just want to say two words to him," said the Chofetz Chaim.

When the meeting finally took place, the Chofetz Chaim seized the man's hand and said, "Oy, Shabbos!"

Those two words were so powerful that from then on, the man never again opened his shop on Shabbos.

"The greater our unity and kabolas Ol Malchus Shomayim," concluded HaRav Feldman, "the more will we be able to influence others."

HaRav Yechiel Michel Feinstein then took the podium and praised Lev L'Achim's workers and volunteers for their dedication to saving their brothers from the be'er shachas and bringing them and all their future descendants under the wings of the holy Torah.

"May you go in this strength and enroll ever more souls to Torah schools," he concluded.

Greetings from HaRav Chaim Kanievsky were then read: "Now especially, when our enemies are forging decrees against Torah study and endangering the dwellers of the Holy Land by weakening the Torah that shields and saves, the merit of Lev L'Achim, the emissaries of the Torah sages, is greater than ever. May Hashem reward you with life, progeny and sustenance."

HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, was too ill to attend the event, but he also sent his blessings for every future success.

A Gift We Can Give Hashem

The next speaker, HaRav Yaakov Hillel, rosh yeshivas Ahavat Shalom, quoted the Chasam Sofer who says that the greatest proof that Avraham's deeds were for the sake of Hashem was that he was willing to leave the Shechina that had come to visit him in order to attend to the needs of his three visitors.

Similarly, said HaRav Hillel, those who give up their time to help others return to the Torah "will be blessed with spiritual success and their learning will rise from strength to strength."

Rav Boruch Shapira, one of Lev L'Achim's managing directors, then read the blessings of HaRav Eliashiv, who wrote that in our time when decrees are being made to weaken the Torah, it is especially vital to publicly make a kiddush Hashem.

HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, rosh yeshivas Be'er Yaakov, then rose to the podium. He discussed the Chovos Halevovos that says that a person who does mitzvos himself is like a peddler who sells things one by one. How much profit can he make? Someone who encourages other people to do mitzvos is like a wholesaler who can swiftly make a fortune.

The final speaker was HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman.

"So many Jews were killed in the recent past," he said, "but after everything, Hashem has not deserted us and lomdei Torah have increased by leaps and bounds. What can we give Hashem in return? Chazal say that everything is in the hands of Hashem except the fear of Heaven. That alone is the gift we can give Him.

"To this end Lev L'Achim is striving with all its might and may they merit to bring back thousands and tens of thousands to the Torah."

The vast crowd stood in silent respect as the gedolim filed out of the hall. During the intermission that followed, I solved a problem that had been nagging at the back of my mind all evening. Where were all the baalei teshuva drawn back to Yiddishkeit by Lev L'Achim?

After I was introduced to HaRav Dror Sasson, I discovered that they'd been surrounding me all the time.

Lev L'Achim's Fruits

Before me stood an avreich exuding an air of humility and wisdom befitting someone who spent his earlier years in cheder and never set foot out of the beis midrash. But what I quickly learned was that Rav Dror had never attended a shiur in his life until the evening "two angels," as he now calls them, knocked at the door of his fourth-floor apartment in French Hill, Yerushalayim.

"I felt bad refusing to let them in after they'd walked up four flights," Rav Dror told me, "so I reluctantly let them in. We began talking and for the first time in my life the idea entered my head that perhaps the Torah may have meaning for me after all. Not that I was absolutely convinced by any means. After six months of weekly visits I'd still hardly budged an inch. But I was very interested in continuing the dialogue.

"When I got a weekend's leave from my high-tech job, my wife and I agreed to spend a weekend at an outreach seminar. `It'll be a good opportunity to catch up some sleep,' I told my wife, `and we can skip most of the lectures.'

"But things didn't turn out that way. We were so captivated that we stayed to hear every one of the lectures, and back home I began putting on tefillin when I had the mornings off after night shift.

"Mitzva goreres mitzva. A few years ago I started learning full time, and I see that Hashem is helping me every inch of the way because I have fewer debts now than when I was working double shifts in my high-tech job."

We Are At War

After the intermission I was nervous that things would be anticlimactic because the gedolim had already left. But I was in for a surprise. HaRav Chizkiyohu Mishkovsky, mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivas Gaon Yaakov and Orchos Torah, took the podium and delivered a fiery droshoh reminiscent of that of a decorated general exhorting his troops on the eve of a great war.

"The battle still lies before us," he shouted. "The Chofetz Chaim once declared that World War I was child's play compared to another great war that lay ahead, and that that second war would be child's play compared to a third war to follow. HaRav Elya Lopian said that this third war would be a war not of guns and missiles, but a spiritual war against Yiddishkeit.

"This war," continued HaRav Mishkovsky, "is the war we are fighting today. People go to Europe to see the rusting ovens where thousands of Jews were incinerated, while here in Eretz Yisroel thousands upon thousands of Jewish children's souls are being incinerated. Their bodies indeed remain untouched, but Chazal have taught us, `Worse is the person who makes someone sin than the person who kills him.'"

HaRav Mishkovsky then described how Moshe Rabbeinu called out to Hashem after seeing Jewish children being used as bricks in Egyptian walls, "Hashem, my G-d, why have you sent me?"

"Yet in our time," cried HaRav Mishkovsky, "we see children stifled to spiritual death. How can we stand by unmoved?"

He recalled how the Chofetz Chaim once declared, "If I had fifty Jews with me I'd go and attack Russia."

When someone objected that the Chofetz Chaim would be killed immediately, the Chofetz Chaim replied, "I know that. But only through mesiras nefesh can the Russian Satan be destroyed."

"The body can survive without many of its limbs," concluded HaRav Mishkovsky. "A person without legs or eyes is still alive. But once the heart stops beating everything is lost. Lev L'Achim is the heart of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisroel. And when Moshiach comes each child we failed to reach will cry out, `Why did you neglect me?' and then it will be too late. `Mi laShem eileinu!'"

Lev L'achim's Commandos

By the time HaRav Mishkovsky had finished his inspiring address it was already 10:15 p.m. Yet the crowd grew even more enthusiastic when HaRav Uri Zohar, Lev L'Achim's Kiruv Director, strode up to the podium. His first message was that the masses of secular Jewry are actually yearning for Torah.

"This evening," he said, "a bochur came to me with tears in his eyes. `I yearn so much to repent,' he cried, `but I am entrapped in tumah.'"

HaRav Zohar proceeded to describe one of Lev L'Achim's more unusual kiruv programs, "Kollel Pub," which is situated on one of Tel Aviv's busy thoroughfares. The most alcoholic drink served there is Coca-Cola, and video action there comes in the form of HaRav Amnon Yitzchok's rousing Torah lectures.

"Teenagers come to play cheap games of pool," said HaRav Zohar, "and stay to hear Torah shiurim."

HaRav Zohar then introduced HaRav Sagiv Dayan, who came to the event to share his life story. HaRav Dayan began by explaining how his family became frum as a result of Lev L'Achim's efforts, and how he subsequently learned in a Torah high school.

"After graduating," said HaRav Dayan, "I had two choices: either to combine yeshiva learning with army service or to become a fighter pilot. But in the end I took a third option and went to study Torah full time. After a number of years I opened my own yeshiva in Kiryat Malachi and there I have about thirty bochurim, including many who have become frum through Lev L'Achim."

HaRav Zohar then introduced Yoram Azuz, who learned in HaRav Dayan's yeshiva for a year-and-a-half and was then accepted into a top-level yeshiva. Yoram conceded that he was originally attracted to Lev L'Achim's afternoon shiurim more by the candies and cakes distributed at their end than by their content. It took some time for him to appreciate the lectures, but then he "fell in love" with the Torah itself.

Finally, HaRav Zohar introduced a group of men whom he referred to as Lev L'Achim's "commandos."

One of them, HaRav Goldman, told how he started a shiur in Ohr Yehuda simply by putting up a sign in the local shul. The shiur quickly became popular, and he now has a yeshiva in that town with 30 bochurim.

Another "commando" created a community of 100 families in upscale Neve Savion, the Israeli equivalent of Long Island. A third avreich spoke of how he recently built a school of 200 pupils for newly frum families in the Galil.

The hour was approaching midnight and still the stories went on and on. I left on this triumphant note, confident that Lev L'Achim, despite the many challenges it faces, will also have a year of greater success than ever before.


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