by Leon Weisberg
“Meah achuz,” “mitzuyan,” “osser geveynlich” and “outstanding” are just some of the words that participants described Online Smicha’s Yarchei Kallah 5778. Bringing together some of the foremost scholars among the Lubavitcher Chasidim is an understatement to the caliber and level of presenters we had the privilege of listening to, engaging with and learning from these four days.
From the onset, Rabbi Nachman Wilhelm had the foresight to plan a conference whose theme revolved around life: birth, bar-mitzvah, marriage and reaching for the heavens.
We were first welcomed by Rabbi Asher Zeilingold‘s warm and embracing words, which lead up to an amazing recounting of stories of the Rebbe regarding shlichus by Rabbi Moshe Feller, which gave us incredible insights into the remarkable persona of the Rebbe. These accounts gave us the impetus to daven mincha with a renewed sense of zeal and purpose in what is ordinarily just an afternoon davening.
The opening salvo of the first day continued with all the guns blazing, with an awesome presentation by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin on pregnancy and birth in halacha. His lessons, examples, and stories led us to appreciate the miracle that is the creation of another human being. Trying to wrap our heads around the ideas presented in this shiur, we were exposed to the conceptual framework behind the Bris Milah in halacha by Rabbi Moshe Weinberg, a mohel whose insight into the machinations of the bris and its relevance in halacha and Chasidus was inspiring as well as enlightening.
A delightful and tasty supper gave us all some breathing room and an opportunity to talk and get to know one another, even as we tried to process the thoughts and ideas we had learned that day. To make our meal even tastier, we were privileged to hear Rabbi Moishe Kasowitz read and translate in the most magnificent way the maamar for Yud Sh’vat of the Alter Rebbe as they were revised by the Previous Rebbe and expounded by the Rebbe.
If that wasn’t enough for only half of a day of learning we joined Rabbi Chayim Friedman at a fabrengen for Yud Sh’vat where we offered a number of l’chayims after each one of Rabbi Friedman’s impressive accounts, which of course were interspersed with beautiful Chassidishe niggunim. The fabrengen lasted well into the evening until finally, it was time to call it a night and try to get some rest in order to be prepared for what awaited us on Friday and Shabbas.
Early enough on Yom Shishi, before davening, we learned the meaning and depth of Basar Legani with Rabbi Menahem Piekarski. For some of us this was a totally new idea which enwrapped us in the words of “coming back to my garden,” while for those who have had the exposure it was taking it to another level of binah, understanding. Once again this learning became an inspiration into our davening Shacharit with koyach and ruach. Breakfast with a continuation by Rabbi Friedman of the next perek of the maimar, fortified us for the next session on Shalom Bayis.
Rabbi Dr. Yosef Shagalow, a successful psychologist in the community, offered insight into the halachic understanding of what Shalom Bayis implies and the responsibility of the husband to create an environment of Shalom Bayis that permeates his life and the lives of those in his family. An incredible and engaging question and answer sessions followed this meaningful discussion.
The apex of our weekend approached with our introduction to Rabbi Yossi Paltiel, who offered us his understanding of the uniqueness of the Jew, intertwined with the uniqueness of the Chassid beginning with the idea of Bar Mitzvah. What stories, what a presentation, what remarkable thoughts and insights! His presentation encapsulated an amazing idea: “Being Jewish is not a race, culture, politic, religion; it’s a Nashama. It’s impossible to understand, it’s beyond logic. We try to make sense out of what it is to be a Jew.” He proceeded to take us into the realm of the Nashama, with masterful story telling of accounts of the Rebbe, making us feel the essence of the Rebbe through the articulation of Rabbi Paltiel’s words.
One of his most inspiring thoughts was that “The core of being a healthy Jew is the connection to G-d. Faith for a Jew is very important and yet doesn’t make sense and is not rational. Having faith takes courage. Faith is a word that makes most Jews uncomfortable. It is the equilibrium that creates a balance. Torah is what balances us. When rachmonis is needed and when gevurrah is needed the Jew is there.”
We couldn’t believe how fast his session flew. It was like being on a roller coaster and not seeing the end. No one watched the time during his shiur. Lunch and preparing for Shabbos was upon us. Rabbi Wilhelm could not have given us a more inspiring way to prepare for Shabbos. Our minds were racing with ideas, thoughts, and revelation.
Shabbas began at Adath Israel Synagogue with all of the participants being provided with home hospitality near the Shul. The fear of bitter Minnesota cold walking to shul did not materialize. It was cold but quite tolerable, especially for those of us from Florida. A beautiful davening ensued, dancing around the bima after L’cha Dodi, and wishing one another a “git Shabbas.” We were all invited to Rabbi and Mrs Wilhelm’s home for a leibidik, delicious Shabbos Seudah.
This had to be one of the major highlights of the Yarchei Kallah, for a fabulous home cooked meal, served by the Wilhelm’s wonderful children and for the opportunity to go around the table and get to hear a brief bio of each of the participants. This is something you don’t get to do online, only panim l’panim over a dinner table and a few l’chaims provide such interactions. The Fabrengen went well into the night with incredible discussions led by Rabbi Paltiel. Topics ranged from alef to tav with everyone offering questions and thoughts. A few more l’chaims and the evening ended knowing that we have a shiur with Rabbi Paltiel before Shacharis.
Hosted by different families we were all made to feel like part of the family – so menchlichkeit, so warm. Shabbas morning we dressed, some took advantage of the heated mikva before Shul and then a cup of coffee and a vort from Rabbi Paltiel. His talk led us through the 13 dimensions of Basi LaGani.
He opened with a story of the Rebbe’s editing of these pages and explained to us why the Rebbe understood the translation of the first line to be “I have come [back] to my garden, my sister my bride.” It was like riding a magic carpet through the air as he effortlessly broached this simple verse into a deep understanding of Hashem’s intent to explain his relationship to us. The scheduled half hour shiur lasted over an hour because no one could move from his place until the Rabbi decided to stop. It was uplifting and certainly set the tone for Shabbes shacharis.
The service moved fluidly with a wonderful D’var Torah that once again utilized the ideas of the Basi LaGani for Yud Sh’vat. The Shul prepared a lovely kiddush with a delicious chulent followed again by our Scholar-in-Resident in another fabrengen. It just never stopped. This time he shared various stories of the remarkableness of the Rebbe, his mother and grandmother which is always inspiring. Finally, time was found for a little reprieve from all of this thinking and processing with an afternoon rest.
We returned for mincha and a seder nigunim leading us into the end of Shabbos with more spirited discussions. Later that evening we returned to the Shul for a Malavah Malkah which provided us with an opportunity to hear, on a video, the words of the Rebbe expounding the virtues of being Jewish, followed by another shiur with Rabbi Paltiel. We bid him farewell as the evening ended and retired back to the Chabad House.
Sunday morning, our last day started off with learning by Rabbi Gabriel Levin on Chassidus and Tanya. He focused on Tanya 26,27,28,29 indicating that Tanya provides all answers in the study of G-d. The Alter Rebbe instructed his Chasidim that if anyone comes to them with questions they should find the answers for them and for themselves. Most of the Tanya is ways of reaching Hashem. Two general complaints of people are depression and lack of interest. He explored the four components of the depression and lack of interest. Quite stimulating before davening. One thing for sure, after his talk the focus on davening was very succinct.
A delightful breakfast ensued which was then followed by the last shiur on the mysteries of the Jewish Wedding. Once again new information, new insight, new ideas to better understand the construct of the Jewish wedding from kedushin to nesuin. Our last shiur led by Rabbi Yosef Posner on the history and understanding of the legal implications of the Ketubah. His presentation generated so many questions about legal spelling of names and cities and what can be and cannot be included in the marriage contract. This session was so stimulating that it clearly went beyond the designated time.
The shiur ended leading us into mincha and then a quick lunch for everyone, farewells to one another and an exuberant Yasher Koach to Rabbi Wilhelm for putting together a Yarchei Kallah worthy of our time and expense to be a part of this journey into Yiddishkeit.
The reactions by various participants included Shmuel Helinski, “the Yarchei Kallah has been a meaningful retreat with incredible access to the most wonderful scholars from around the world.” And from Akiva “it was great to finally be able to meet one another and see just what kind of mensch are involved in Online Smicha”. Or another comment that said “it’s insane not to be here if you’re part of Rabbi Wilhelm’s learning.”
Another unsolicited comment by Leon Weissberg was “Getting to know one another on a personal level, learning about each of our own individual journeys that have led us to Rabbi Wilhelm and Online Smicha was the icing on the cake.”
May we all continue to be blessed to have Rabbi Wilhelm as our teacher and mentor leading us to the inevitability of the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.