Zalman Tzorfati, Beis Moshiach
An ordinary Tuesday at 7:30 in the evening. Dozens of people arrive at Nosson’s Shul in Crown Heights for an hour and a half of in-depth learning of Hilchos Taaruvos. At the front of the shul sits Rabbi Zushe Wilhelm. Behind him is a giant screen. He begins the shiur with an introduction about the new siman in Shulchan Aruch which they will be learning over the next hour and a half. On the screen is a slide presentation to explain the machlokes between the Taz and the Shach. Within minutes, the participants are immersed in the learning.
News of the Machon Lemaan Yilmedu is nothing less than a revolution and that’s no cliché. This is a school for the study of halacha with an emphasis on semicha l’rabbanus. Unlike other semicha institutes, the talmidim here are not bachurim but Anash, businessmen, working people, shluchim and those who work with the public. The common denominator is their desire to fulfill the Rebbe’s wish and earn a certificate of semicha l’rabbanus. About a hundred people began this year’s program, some of them in classes in Crown Heights and some elsewhere who participate via zoom.
The idea for Lemaan Yilmedu is one of those that leaves you wondering, why wasn’t this thought of sooner?
“The idea is simple,” says R’ Wilhelm. “The Rebbe wants every Chassid to be proficient in halacha. On numerous occasions the Rebbe spoke about learning practical halacha in addition to his request that bachurim try and complete learning for semicha before they marry.
“It wasn’t possible for everyone and this is not only the case for baalei teshuva. Our idea is that it’s never too late to start learning and you just need to make the material accessible and clear while including everything necessary to receive semicha l’rabbanus. That is what we have done.”
MASTERING THE MATERIAL BETTER THAN BACHURIM
“When I tested the students of Lemaan Yilmedu, I was impressed by their enormous knowledge,” says Rabbi Yochanon Gurary, rav of Cholon and member of the semicha certification committee.
“We test many bachurim for semicha, tmimim who learned in yeshiva who have learning experience and plenty of time to put into it. However, although these are members of Anash, those who work for a living, the students of Lemaan Yilmedu demonstrated greater mastery of the material than yeshiva bachurim.”
R’ Gurary has been with the machon from when it was founded a few years ago in Eretz Yisrael and he extols the emphasis the machon places on practical application of the halachos.
“Semicha l’rabbanus is like studying medicine,” says R’ Gurary. “You cannot just learn it in the abstract and get a degree. True, the degree reflects what the student studied but you must have real-world learning as well. In halacha, this means knowing the actual practical rulings all the way to the latter day psak of Chabad rabbanim in the field.”
IT’S GOOD TO KNOW
“Our goal is to give every Lubavitcher yungerman who wants to learn Torah the possibility to do so. We do everything we can to help,” says R’ Wilhelm. “That’s it; there are no more excuses: I can’t learn, it’s not for me, I’m very busy, I have a hard time reading Rashi script, I never learned in a yeshiva framework, I need a program in order to learn – all these excuses are over; we provide a solution for all of them.
“What motivated us is the Rebbe’s wishes. The Rebbe wants every bachur to learn and complete semicha before marriage so that when the time comes, he can run his home according to Shulchan Aruch and without the constant need to ask a rav every simple question that appears in the written texts. The goal in founding the machon was to enable those who did not take the tests, for whatever reason, to be tested and receive a certificate.
“Aside from that, it’s Torah study. The Rebbe wants every person to learn Torah on a regular basis with an emphasis on learning practical halacha, because a Chassid-yerei shomayim cannot live properly without a broad knowledge of Shulchan Aruch, at least of the halachos pertaining to daily life like issur v’heter [i.e. laws of kashrus in the kitchen] and Shabbos.”
SECRET OF SUCCESS
The first hundred students have been tested and have shown impressive mastery of the material. The machon’s excellent reputation is spreading.
“We have students from Crown Heights and Florida, England and Canada,” says R’ Wilhelm. “They know that they have two evenings a week when they drop everything and study Torah. It’s not just another shiur between mincha and maariv where sometimes it can be hard to remember what the topic was. This is serious, yeshiva learning and yet, it’s understandable and broken down very well without the need for a yeshiva background.”
A hundred students in the first year, most of them out of yeshiva for a long time and they are tested like bachurim coming out of a machon semicha. What is the secret of your machon’s success?
“It can be divided into two parts,” says R’ Wilhelm. “First, there is an understandable, organized curriculum which includes everything a student needs to learn and succeed. There are shiurim, a website where you can watch recordings of all the shiurim to review, and tests to check your knowledge.
“Second, the high quality of the learning materials should be noted; Shulchan Aruch translated into English with summaries of the Shach and the Taz along with a booklet that summarizes all the material; a professional staff that writes up the shiur and charts, summaries and the rest of the learning aides.
“However, it seems that the crowning achievement of the machon is the ‘visual approach’ that is in use in many schools today. The idea is to bring the subject alive through graphic slide presentations which are prepared by a special professional team that works on preparing all the materials. Every student is given, in addition to the Shulchan Aruch and summaries, a separate booklet of the graphics depicting all the halachos, the disputes and differences between the various situations in the material that is being studied.”
SOON: A COURSE IN HILCHOS SHABBOS
When he was asked about plans for the future, R’ Wilhelm said that next Elul they will be opening a new track for Hilchos Shabbos.
“This track is meant for Chabad Chassidim and focuses on the laws of Shabbos, practical halacha, based entirely on Shulchan Aruch HaRav. There are many sefarim out there on Hilchos Shabbos; the uniqueness of what we will be offering is that the material is entirely based on the Alter Rebbe, exacting and detailed in a comprehensive manner. This too, will be taught with the machon’s new visual approach along with tables, charts, summaries and graphic slides.
“Everyone knows that the laws of Shabbos are complicated,” says R’ Gurary. “There are so many of them! The Rebbe says that being a rav is not only as the rav of a kehilla but being a rav of your own home, to know what to tell your wife, to be able to tell your children what to do. I have a kehilla and they ask me, is it permissible to take the pot off, can I put the pot down, what are the halachos concerning a microwave and there are so many laws. This is why the next topic at the machon is Hilchos Shabbos. Hilchos Shabbos are a world onto themselves which is why I advise all those joining the ranks of the students of the machon, to learn Hilchos Shabbos. I would say that if you know Hilchos Shabbos, you know the entire Torah.”
“Beyond that, we have plans to open courses on every halachic topic, expand and add new tracks in other important subjects, and to expand the curriculum to include mesivtos and elementary schools with age-appropriate, interesting material,” says R’ Wilhelm.
“The Rebbe wants Chassidim to be lamdanim,” concludes R’ Gurary. “When the Rebbe sent a letter to a child, he blessed him to be a Chassid, yirei shomayim and a lamdan. Just as a ganav is not someone who knows how to steal but who actually steals, a lamdan is not someone who knows how to learn but one who actually learns.
“There is a story about an American community who hired a new rabbi. After a few days, the gabbai told the rabbi that he’s fired. The rabbi asked why and the gabbai said, we caught you sitting and learning.
“The rabbi asked, so what’s the problem? The gabbai said, we want a rabbi who learned it all already, not someone who still needs to open the book and learn …”
To learn more about Lemaan Yilmedu click here.
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