“He sends his assistant to buy a tie, races over [to the nursing home] by car as fast as possible, presents it to his elderly father and says ‘You see? Since today is Father’s Day and I am obligated in kibbud av, I bought you a beautiful tie as a gift! Have a good day!’ Until the next year [when he will visit him again] with a different color tie! ”
There is a tragic misconception in modern society that as people advance in age they need to slow down. Once men and women have reached a point in life that their physical strength starts waning, they are encouraged to retire, even forced out of career positions and their sources of income. This fosters a debilitating feeling of inferiority by the elderly. They begin to feel unwanted, unhelpful and unable to continue accomplishing good things. Gradually they start feeling like a burden to their families and society at large and the many daytime hours that had been previously well spent in the workplace become empty and lonely.
According to Torah the very opposite is true. Despite their decline in physical prowess, the elderly posses the invaluable asset of experience. Iyov years many—ורוב שנים יודיעו חכמה states impart wisdom. The Gemara teaches that talmidei chachamim become wiser with age. Even the unlearned have the unmatchable wisdom acquired through life experience. This is the reason the Torah commands שיבה מפני תקום—You should rise before the elderly.
In reality, as their physical abilities gradually diminish, their wisdom and ability to mentor and inspire become ever stronger. Every industry would benefit greatly from keeping their elderly engaged in some capacity so that the younger generation can grow from the knowledge they have accumulated over the years.
Alas, the fact is that there are growing numbers of elderly leaving the workforce while they still have many years to be productive members of society. When there is a weakening of the body it is a sign that the neshamah must become stronger and more active. This is an opportunity to channel their ambition, which had until now been expressed in their enthusiastic pursuit of a livelihood and career, into unprecedented spiritual growth.
During the farbrengen of Shabbos, Chof Av 5740 (yahrtzeit of the Rebbe’s father Harav Hagaon Hamekubal R’ Levi Yitzchok), the Rebbe announced that the time had come to place a special emphasis on encouraging the elderly to increase in Torah learning with public shiurim. A hachlata made in connection with many people has greater chances of succeeding, and establishing an official organization to facilitate these classes (to be called Kolel Tiferes Z’keinim) would ensure success in a much greater measure.
On Motzei Shabbos, the Rebbe held an additional farbrengen in connection with Chof Av and spoke at length about the brand new campaign. In light of the unfortunate emotional circumstances so many elderly are forced into, providing them these opportunities is a great expression of ahavas Yisrael.
Therefore, the Rebbe said, it would be appropriate to establish an official kolel in every city and every shul, with set times for public shiurim; and participants should receive a monthly stipend (in amounts of 18 in the local currency) so that they are motivated to participate consistently and punctually. This is the responsibility of the local rov and it would be best for the shiurim to have at least 10 participants.
To unite all of these kolels, they should learn the same topic and have the same name. Since the weekly parsha is relevant to all, it would be best to learn the daily portion of the parsha at these classes.
The Rebbe then introduced the unifying name of these shiurim:
“Kolel” is a common name for Torah establishments. Besides, it is most frequently associated with the setting in which young newly married men learn and would therefore be more comforting for people uneasy with being associated with old age. The word ‘kolel’ also connotes the idea of actively including and involving others, so the expectation is that the participants will encourage many others to join the shiurim as well.
“Tiferes Z’keinim—Beauty of the Elderly” is associated with the iconic “Tiferes Bachurim” organization which thrived until recently in Communist Russia. This organization was established by Chassidim to provide learning opportunities for single and newly married men who were forced to work many hours each day to make a living. The shiurim were a spiritual lifeline for them.
“Invoking the memory of the excitement and commitment of those young men, who learned Torah under impossible conditions, will motivate the elderly to be committed to their current Torah learning in a their current relaxed and upbeat environment.”
Then the Rebbe made the new campaign very personal, first prefacing: “The following is a personal request to those who feel a special closeness and friendship and are aware of the great hardships the leaders of the yidden in Communist Russia endured with great mesiras nefesh.”
Since the establishment of these kolels was introduced in connection with Chof Av, the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe’s father, who endured unbearable suffering and imprisonment, and ultimately was nistalek in galus due to his heroic efforts to maintain Yiddishkeit under the evil communist regime, it would be proper to add the name “Levi Yitzchok.” (See more about this in the sidebar “Levi Yitzchok”)
“This will certainly be a source of great nachas for his neshamah,” the Rebbe concluded.
“As it is customary to make a magbis (appeal) every Chof Av for Keren Levi Yitzchok, the proceeds will be committed to an official financial participation in every new kolel that will be established. Those that will be named “Kolel Tiferes Z’keinim” will receive a token $18 participation and those called “Kolel Tiferes Z’keinim Levi Yitzchok” will receive a $100 participation.”
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, the Rebbe announced that special shiurim for elderly women should be established under the unifying name “Beis Chochmas Nashim.”
Shluchim throughout the world immediately opened the kolels in their respective cities and increased the general mivtzoim and hafatza work in old age homes and similar facilities for the elderly. This was done with a unique geshmak, since this was a mosad the Rebbe closely associated with a nachas ruach for his father Harav Levi Yitzchok.
Rabbi Aharon Wolf, newly married and learning in kolel at the time, lived in the apartment building on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Brooklyn Avenue.
“There were many elderly Jews living in that building, spending most of the daytime hours sitting in the hallways and outdoors. Together with another yungerman, we arranged a shiur for them in a small shul nextdoor and established a Kolel Tiferes Z’keinim Levi Yitzchok for our building. We notified the Rebbe of our project and received a $100 bill from mazkirus.”
Rabbi Zalman Deitsch, Rabbi Yosef Deitsch and an anonymous donor formed a committee to establish the Kolel Tiferes Z’keinim Levi Yitzchok in Crown Heights. Rabbi Sholom Ber Brod was hired to coordinate groups of volunteers to visit old age homes throughout New York City to give shiurim and to do mivtzoim. Through these activities, thousands of elderly Yidden were reached and afforded the opportunity to learn Torah and perform many mitzvos.
In the spring of 5743, when Rabbi Menachem Gerlitzky was hired to lead the organization, it was decided to open a kolel for retired anash, to learn on a regular basis in one of the rooms of 770 and to be paid on a monthly basis.
In reply to their notification of the plans for this kolel the Rebbe instructed: כפשוט שייך להגבאים שיחיו
Obviously, this is the responsibility of the gabaim [of 770].
Since the kolel was an integral part of the shul, the Rebbe instructed that it should be the financial responsibility of the gabaim of 770. In addition, a “Chochmas Nashim” branch was also established and shiurim were arranged for elderly women in the women’s section of 770.
This campaign merited great attention and affection from the Rebbe throughout the years. “In the Summer of 5744,”
Rabbi Gerlitzky relates, “there was an idea to bring the elderly participants of the Tiferes Z’keinim programs throughout New York City to the Rebbe. I approached Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht (who arranged all the children’s rallies with the Rebbe) and asked him how one could be sure if the Rebbe will speak at a kinus in 770.”
Rabbi Hecht explained that he never knows whether the Rebbe will participate or say a sicha to the children. In general, when large groups of guests were in 770 for a tefillah, the Rebbe would daven in the main shul. “I bring the children for mincha, and every time the Rebbe speaks to them it is a surprise for me.”
The organizers decided to invite the hundreds of participants to 770 for a special event, complete with a children’s choir, video, and refreshments, and sent in a duch to the Rebbe with their plans. The date was set for 23 Menachem-Av.
To everyone’s delight, the Rebbe joined the large group for mincha, holding the schedule of the event in his hand, and addressed the crowd with a special sicha that included, among other themes, the connection of the day’s porton of Chitas to the name Levi Yitzchok (see sidebar “Levi Yitzchok”).
Following the sicha the Rebbe personally gave bundles of dollar bills to the organizers to be distributed to all the participants.
In light of the Rebbe’s noticeable satisfaction from the event, these kinusim were arranged annually on Chanukah and during the summer.
Chanukah 5746 was during the painful era of the court case of the sefarim. At the time, the Rebbe was going to the Ohel every weekday. A kinus for the elderly was being planned and the Rebbe responded to a duch about the upcoming event: כדאי לבוא כל הקבוצות ביחד, ובאם יש צורך בתיווך רבני אנ“ש שי‘.
It would be good for all the groups to come [to 770] together, and if there is a need, it should be arbitrated by the Lubavitcher Rabbonim.
Rabbi Gerlitzky recalls: “Initially, when I received the above answer from the Rebbe a few weeks beforehand, I did not understand what the Rebbe was referring to. Who was planning an event for the elderly in 770 without coordinating together with Tiferes Z’keinim? We finally realized that since the Rebbe started going to the Ohel every day since the beginning of the court case (which started on Yud Tes Kislev), he would remain in 770 only one day during Chanukah to address the traditional kinusim, and that he was referring to the Tzivos Hashem rally for the children.”
After intense discussions with the organizers of the two kinusim, the rabbonim and another answer from the Rebbe, it was decided that all the participants of both kinusim would be present in the main shul for this gathering.
The main shul was packed to full capacity with children and adults of all ages and the Rebbe opened the sicha by emphasizing the fact that this gathering was special and unique in that it unites all age groups.
Rabbi Gerlitzky remembers another amazing occurrence in connection with these kinusim. In the summer of 5747, the date chosen for the Kinus Tiferes Z’keinim was 16 Av.
The morning of the kinus, I was in the office making last minute arrangements for the event and someone notified me that Rabbi Groner was looking for me. When I arrived he told me that the Rebbe wants to see me. He knocked on the Rebbe’s door and left the room so I was alone with the Rebbe.
The Rebbe stood at the doorway of his room and started to speak to me for several minutes. “Since I will be going to the Ohel this afternoon, please pass on to the participants of the kinus my brachos to them…” After finishing, the Rebbe walked back into his room and handed me bundles of dollar bills to be distributed to the participants, and said, “You will certainly submit a report of the kinus.”
The experience was so shocking for me that I had almost no recollection of what the Rebbe said. Thankfully, Rabbi Groner and Rabbi Klein listened in and together they wrote up the Rebbe’s message, which I immediately brought to Hanachos Hatmimim to prepare for editing. The Rebbe edited the entire sicha and I read it to the participants in the kinus that afternoon.
In the summer of 5748, the Rebbe was davening in his home on President Street and the kinus was arranged for 17 Elul in 770. The elderly men were present in the Rebbe’s home for mincha and Rabbi Groner told me to approach the Rebbe after davening. The Rebbe gave me a bundle of dollar bills and said a short bracha for the participants. Immediately afterwards, Mr. David Chase approached the Rebbe regarding the groundbreaking ceremony in front of 770, which the Rebbe joined later that day. •
“The purpose of establishing this kolel is not to increase the amount of organizations in the world. The goal is to increase the amount of Yidden learning Torah. The details are irrelevant, so long as Torah learning spreads.
“Flooding the world with limmud haTorah will be a proper preparation for the imminent era of yemos haMoshiach, when the world will be ‘flooded’ with the knowledge of Hashem.”