In line with my work at my School Management Software company, InfoGrasp, I had the privilege of attending the Torah Umesorah convention at the Split Rock Resort in the Poconos this past Shabbos. It was a wonderful experience of learning, shmoozing, sharing meals, davening and spending Shabbos with 1,800 Torah-first Jews.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Rabbi Horowitz, one of Beyond BT’s Rabbinic Advisors, who mentioned that the second volume of the Bright Beginnings series was just released. Among the many hats that Rabbi Horowitz wears, is his dedication to help Jews learn Torah, by giving them tools for skills based learning. He related an anecdote of a BT who had tried to learn Hebrew for many years and was helped tremendously by the first Bright Beginnings sefer. Although the BB series is geared for children in the younger grades in Yeshivos, there was a special sparkle in his eye in the fact that these efforts were also helping BTs thirsting for Torah.
The whole convention is focused on helping Jews learn, understand, embrace and live a life of Torah. The majority of participants are Rebbeim and Morahs who are constantly looking to improve their learning, avodah and chinuch. Many of the the leading Roshei Yeshiva of America, including Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin and Rabbi Dovid Harris addressed the critical issues of the day including teaching reponsibility, individualizing chinuch, showing love, being careful when rebuking, and just about every other chinuch issue you can imagine.
To highlight the fact that today’s students have to be treated much more carefully then in the past, a well-respected Rabbi and Teacher related a story about his high school graduation. The valedictorian was the student with the best grades who gave a serious dvar Torah. The salutatorian was chosen by his peers and gave a humorous portion followed by a dvar Torah. The speaker, who was the salutatorian, related that in the middle of his humorous section the Rosh Yeshiva shouted out, “Smith, I had higher expectations for you”. Can you imagine the effects of such a comment today? He finished his salutatorian speech with a strong Dvar Torah to which the Rosh Yeshiva gave a hardy Yasher Koach.
This year the guests from Eretz Yisroel included Mrs. Rena Tarshish, a former American, who is now the head of the Mesores Rochel Seminary in Yerushaliyim. My wife said she mesmerized the women with her explanations of how to approach Medrashim and how to properly channel your emotions, among other topics.
Another guest from Eretz Yisroel was Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, one of the leading Kabbalists of our generation. Rabbi Hillel has written Faith and Folly: The Occult in Torah Perspective, a clear and concise guide explaining Kabbalistic practices and what is sanctioned and what is forbidden today. He also has a sefer, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, which has essays on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Prayer, Teshuvah, Torah Study, the Jewish home and the Wisdom of the Kabbalah. It’s a personal favorite, so it was a special treat to hear him speak.
He included a thought, that he had related at the Siyum HaShas, from Rabbi Chaim Voloshin. It says in the Chumash that at the giving of the Torah the Jewish people heard what was seen and saw what was heard. Seeing refers to what we can experience through our senses, while hearing refers to what we can’t sense, but can only understand by way of a moshol. Normal we can physically sense and see the physical world, but we can only understand the spiritual world through mosholim. At the giving of the Torah, there was a reversal and the Jewish People could sense the spiritual world as if it was physical, and could only understand the physical world through mosholim. He stressed that one of the things we need today, is to try to view the world through a spiritual lens, and we need truly learned people to guide us on that path. We must be careful to not fall prey to the Pop Spirituality that is prominent in our time.
As BTs we gave up many secular pursuits to live a Torah-first life. It’s encouraging to know that there are thousands of students, teachers, Rebbeim and Roshei Yeshiva who are focused on a Torah-first life of growth, learning, teaching and serving Hashem, like we are. And they’re available here to help us and our children live a life of Torah and Mesorah.