The Chanukah issue of the COLlive Magazine, published this past month, once again included the “8 Nights, 8 Lights” feature. This time it profiled 8 maggidei shiurim dedicated to teaching Torah, Halacha and Chassidus in Crown Heights. The project was done in conjunction with the Irgun Torah organization.
Rabbi Shraga Dovid Homnick
Two summers ago, R’ Avrohom Rotban, who expends time and effort expanding the shiurei Torah in Crown Heights, recruited me to start the Perek Echad Rambam shiur with the beginning of the new cycle. R’ Moshe Katzman and everyone else at the Rayim Ahuvim Shul were very supportive of the shiur.
Today I serve as the S’gan Rosh Kollel of the Kolel L’horaah Maasis founded by Rabbi Shloime Greenwald and led by Rabbi Sholom Ber Shuchat. I now give shiurim on various subjects to this select group of knowledgeable and motivated yungeleit.
The amount of time and energy that goes into preparing a shiur – whether it’s Rambam or an original halachic topic – surpasses what one might expect. With the number of possible points of interest within a single perek of Rambam, or the degree of detail in any halachic subject, there’s never really ever enough time to prepare everything.
I try to avoid giving a shiur in which all of the material has already been compiled and presented similarly in the past, so I’m always on the lookout for unusual points or sources. For example, for a shiur on the laws of Yom Kippur and how halacha regards medical opinions, I discussed how the Tzemach Tzedek cited the then-relatively new cowpox vaccine and factors it in with regards to questions of treifos and agunos. Ultimately, I hope that every shiur has at least one such highlight.
It is helpful to tease out the narratives behind many halachic subjects. There is often an actual episode from history or at least the internal halachic chronology of how an idea takes shape and gets developed over time and it can often be useful in making sense of what otherwise might just feel like a barrage of facts. I think the minds of Gedolei Yisroel automatically did this, and as they learned there were hundreds of disparate threads on a large range of subjects accumulating and building up in their minds (though in their case it could just be a theory as to how a certain halachic concept applies and operates), and that means that every detail learned fits into something larger. This might not come naturally for ordinary people, but we still benefit when we make an effort to organize the information around some central idea and narrative, and I believe this is very important for havana and zikaron (comprehension and retention).
While my shiurim delve into the halachic minutiae, I seek out subjects that feature a memorable episode or some other interesting narrative.
Chabad in particular has a range of unique yesodos and organizing principles, we cannot forget that there is no way around the centrality of limud haTorah in its classical sense to our lives. Everything else comes in addition to, and on top of, the foundation of Torah literacy, which simply put means proficiency in Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and other classical seforim. And while that isn’t to say that that’s sufficient in our Avodas Hashem, as the Rebbe said and wrote so many times, there can be no question about how large a percentage of the Rebbe’s output focuses on traditional Torah topics and the importance of Torah study.
I think we all need to be consciously aware of the need to boost our engagement with Torah and to involve family and friends in that pursuit. And we must thank, encourage and support those who are putting in the effort to raise the bar of Torah study in our community.