By
Chaim Gold
March 29, 2024

Unprecedented Achdus and Adulation as South American Jewry Participates in Largest Torah Event

Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi and Rav Raphael Abuchatzeirah Address Amud HaYomi Siyum in Buenos Aires

The floodgates opened!

It happened during the drasha of HaGaon HaTzaddik, HaRav Raphael Abuchatzeirah, shlita. Some seven thousand Yidden from Argentina packed into the Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires. The standing room only crowd, both the more than 5,000 men and the nearly 2,000 women in the ezras noshim, were listening as the venerated mekubel began talking about what is happening in shomayim. He said, “Chazal teach that when a large group of Jews gather in honor of Torah to make a siyum on Torah, the power of Torah coupled with the power of so many Jews coming together creates a tremendous, powerful eis ratzon, opportune time for tefillos to be answered.

“There are so many things that we need from Hashem. Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael are involved in a war against a cruel, implacable enemy. The Jewish people all over the world are in danger. So, so many people have their own personal difficulties. Even since arriving here in Buenos Aires, so many wonderful Jews have come to me begging me to pray for them. This one needs a child, the other needs parnassah, the third needs nachas from the children, the fourth needs a shidduch and the fifth needs shalom bayis. We all have so many things to ask from Hashem. NOW is the time to daven. It is an eis ratzon…”

At that moment, R' Shlomo Cohen began to sing Acheinu Kol Beis Yisrael and was joined by thousands as the tears began to flow from both the men’s side and especially from the women’s side. Rabbi Daniel Cohen-Talgam, Dirshu’s Director in Argentina, related, “So many people came to me afterwards to tell me that they have never before davened like that in their lives! They felt as if the gates of Heaven were open!”

This was one highlight during a night of highlights on a scale never previously experienced by South American Jewry. Earlier this month, the South American Jewish Community celebrated its largest Torah event in history with the inaugural siyum on Masechta Brachos in the Amud HaYomi. The event was graced by HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Ezrachi, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, HaGaon HaRav Raphael Abuchatzeirah, shlita, and Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita Nasi of Dirshu.

Wall-to-wall achdus permeated the siyum through the enthusiastic participation of Rabbanim and members of virtually every Torah observant kehillah of Argentina along with a large contingent from Brazil led by the Rav of Kehillas Mekor Chaim of Brazil, Rav Yitzchak Dishi, shlita.

“We Want YOU!”

“The feelings of elation and emotion, the feelings of closeness to Hashem elicited by this demonstration of the importance of limud haTorah and kavod haTorah were so powerful that I would say that even the night of the seder, couldn’t rival the outpouring of kirvas Elokim felt at the Luna Park Stadium,” proclaimed Rav Cohen-Talgam.

The powerful, pervasive message was that Dirshu is here for every person at every level. “We want to help YOU learn Torah! If you are someone who learned in yeshiva and have a background in learning, we have a program for you! If you are a beginner, we have a shiur and a program for you. If you want to learn halacha, we have a program for you at multiple levels. If you want to learn Gemara, we have a program that fits. If you want to learn works of mussar and ethics, we have a program and a shiur for you. And if not, we will make one!”

Rav Daniel Oppenheimer, Rav of Kehillas Achdus Yisrael, and one of the prominent, veteran Rabbanim in Buenos Aires, related, “There seemed to be an amazing feeling among the participants that they were part of something big! A global movement of Torah. They felt connected with the entirety of Klal Yisrael across the world. Without a doubt, this push for increased limud haTorah will bear fruit.”

Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi: “A Person Who Does Not Learn Torah is NOT ALIVE!”

Indeed, that was one of the main themes of the evening, encouragement for increased limud haTorah at all levels. This was especially evident when the venerated senior Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi, rose to address the crowd. The adulation was palpable. Everyone understood that this nonagenarian Rosh Yeshiva had traveled literally across the world and the hemisphere at his advanced age just to give them chizuk. Why? Because of his deep feelings of love and responsibility to his fellow Yidden.

Gazing at the massive crowd with love, Rav Ezrachi warmly exclaimed, “Look at this crowd! See how many people are here, in this corner of the world! See how many people here are serving Hashem with such fervor. We must understand, however, that this was not born in a vacuum. Decades ago, a few Yidden came here and refused to be deterred. All the naysayers said that one cannot keep Torah and mitzvos here… that one must compromise. They certainly made it clear that advanced Torah learning couldn’t have a place here. Yet, there was one tiny group of tenacious Jews who refused to give up. One tiny group that said, ‘NO!” and stubbornly held onto their Yiddishkeit and with blood, sweat and tears, built Torah here. Every one of you here are fruits of that labor!”

Then, with great emotion, Rav Ezrachi continued, “Every day we say ‘Asher bachar banu, that Hashem chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah. The reason we are chosen and the reason we are special is because we have the Torah.” Rav Ezrachi’s voice shook as he thundered, “Without Torah there is no life! There is nothing without Torah. Torah is our life. A person who does not learn Torah is NOT ALIVE! He thinks he is alive, but he really isn’t.

“Now it is time for the next step. Baruch Hashem there is Torah here, but Dirshu adds a unique framework. Everyone should join a program and learn Torah. There should be no Jew, not even one Jew from this community who does not have a daily learning seder. In addition,” Rav Ezrachi explained, “When you learn Torah, you are happy! ‘Pikudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev!’ Learning Torah makes you happy. You may think you are happy, but when you learn Torah, you will really be happy - ALIVE!”

The power of Rav Ezrachi’s drasha and call to action was further reinforced by the inspirational music that followed. Singers, R’ Motti Steinmetz and R’ Shlomo Cohen, not only inspired the massive crowd but drew the crowd in, arousing feelings of deep kirvas Hashem, closeness to Hashem.

An Outpouring of Gratitude for Dirshu

One of the unique qualities of South American Jewry is their enthusiasm and their profound gratitude to Dirshu and anyone who comes to their communities to strengthen limud haTorah and shemiras hamitzvos. The Rabbanim in these communities work tirelessly to inculcate limud haTorah and shemiras hamitzvos into their congregants. One can sense the tremendous amount of ahavas haTorah and value for talmidei chachamim that permeates the community.

The appreciation was felt everywhere, but perhaps at no time more than when Dirshu’s Nasi was asked to address the packed stadium. As he reached the podium, the entire assemblage burst into song. The love and enthusiasm were palpable as Rav Hofstedter waited to begin his words.

Rav Hofstedter’s words rang through the large hall, “Baruch she’asa lanu nes b’makom hazeh – praise be Hashem for granting us a miracle in this place!” Indeed, he deemed the massive gathering of Argentinian Jewry and so much of the South American Torah observant community to celebrate a pure Torah event as miraculous, something that cannot at all be taken for granted. “How did we merit to see this unique love of Torah and dedication to limud haTorah,” he asked, “in a locale so distant from the main Jewish centers?!”

He explained by citing pesukim and ideas from the weekly parshah. “The Torah tells us that Bezalel was selected to build the mishkan. What were his qualifications? The Jewish people until then had been slaves in Egypt, an oppressed people who barely had time to breathe, let alone to become expert craftsmen.

“The Ramban says that the greatest miracle was the very fact that an entire nation who for centuries had been oppressed slaves were somehow able to turn around and build a mishkan with the most detailed craftsmanship, gold, silver. How? How were they able? Hashem endowed them with this ability,” Rav Hofstedter said, “because He saw that they had such a deep visceral desire to do Hashem’s will. Yes, even a slave who has no talent but expresses a total ratzon, an absolute dedication to serving Hashem, Hashem endows him with abilities above and beyond the laws of nature.

“What I see in this community is the tremendous teshuka, desire to come close to Hashem, to engage in limud haTorah and cling to Hashem through Torah! When there is a deep ratzon even miracles are possible!

Rav Dovid Hofstedter: “What are WE Doing?!”

Rav Dovid then shared a deep personal recollection, “Both my parents, zichronom l’vracha, and yblch, my in-laws are Yidden from the she’aris hapleita. They lost everything and rebuilt from scratch.

“I was one of the few children of survivors who merited to have a grandfather who survived the churban. When I was a child, we would visit my Zeidah on Friday night. He would reminisce about the world of Europe that was no more. He would talk about the suffering during the holocaust and with great pain in his voice, would ask, ‘What did the Yidden in America do when they were killing six million Yidden?’

“As a child, I remember contemplating the suffering of the Yidden during the holocaust and feeling sorry for those Yidden who could have done something, and lived the rest of their lives with the knowledge and pain that perhaps they didn’t do as much as they could have…”

Rav Hofstedter reached the climax of his drasha and passionately asked, “I ask with koved rosh and pain, ‘What are WE doing, when r”l, thousands of our fellow Yidden are being slaughtered and killed?! What are we doing when there are so many fresh widows and orphans, children crying for their parents and parents crying for their children, wives crying over the loss of their husbands and mothers crying over the loss of their children??!’ What are we doing when rabid antisemitism is bursting forth throughout the world. It is our responsibility to learn from history!

“There is so much that we CAN do! Let us take some responsibility upon ourselves. Let us here and now declare b’lev shaleim that we will invest every ounce of our strength, our neshama, our hearts and accept upon ourselves to learn the Amud HaYomi!”

The Great Miracle in This Place!

Indeed, the mention of the Holocaust brought to mind another reason to give thanks to Hashem and recite “Baruch she’asa lanu nes b’makom hazeh – praise be Hashem for granting us a miracle in this place!” That exact same stadium, the Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires, has an infamous history. In 1938 Nazis and Nazi sympathizers held a massive rally in the Luna Park Stadium. At the rally, massed choruses of “Deutschland über Alles” and the party anthem “Horst-Wessel Lied”, were sung. There was a high podium backed by Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer blazoned in giant Gothic letters on an enormous blood-red backdrop. And now in 2024, at that same stadium the greatest and largest Torah event ever in South America was held. Songs of achdus, and love of Torah were sung instead. The murderous designs of the Nazis and their sympathizers were not realized. Instead, thousands of Yidden celebrated limud HaTorah. The message is clear. The heirs of the Nazis still want to destroy us. They are not ashamed to declare their intentions openly. Our task is to neutralize them and the best way to nullify them is by utilizing the power of Torah. That was the symbolic message inherent in the Dirshu Siyum at the Luna Park Stadium in downtown Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the Past as a Jumpstart to Future Growth

The event began with the grand entrance of the Rabbanim. The crowd stood on its feet with tremendous honor and adulation with the song of ‘ki orech yamim’ echoing throughout the room. The chairman, Rav Shlomo Antebi, then called upon Rav Ariel Dorah, one of the prominent Rabbanim in Buenos Aires, to be mekabel ol malchus shamayim together with the tzibbur. Thousands stood up and said Shema Yisrael and Hashem Hu Elokim seven times. It felt as if the roof would blow off. The emotion, the power of that kabbalas ol malchus shamayim in Argentina was one of the grand moments of the night! Immediately following that, the entire tzibbur sang Acheinu kol Beis Yisrael followed by Ani Maamin. This deeply moving opening penetrated everyone’s heart creating receptacles open to receiving and absorbing the messages of the Gedolei Yisrael and local Rabbanim regarding the paramount nature of limud haTorah that followed. 

In the immediate aftermath of the siyum, tens of new shiurim have opened across Argentina, Brazil and beyond. There are also many new online shiurim in Spanish that have become very popular. Dirshu’s staff in Argentina relates that wherever they go, two sentiments are being heard repeatedly. First and foremost, “Thank you for endowing us with a spiritual experience, a profound spiritual awakening like never before.” The second is, “How can I get involved in a Dirshu program? Please establish a shiur in my shul. Please tell us how we can get chavrusos to learn the Amud HaYomi, the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha.”

“Indeed,” said Rav Cohen-Talgam, “the ultimate purpose of the siyum wasn’t just to celebrate the past, the fact that we had completed Masechta Brachos with the Amud HaYomi or Masechta Bava Kama with the Daf HaYomi. It was about the future. It was about how many more people are going to incorporate meaningful and consistent limud haTorah into their lives.”

Rav Raphael Abuchatzeira: When We Cling To Torah, Amalek Just Melts Away!”

Undoubtedly, the very presence of Rav Raphael Abuchatzeira filled the community with a deep sense of awe and yiras hakavod. A large percentage of South American Jewry are Sephardic. This scion of a family of exalted Gedolei Torah and Gedolei Yirah who have inspired Sephardic Jewry for generations was received with tremendous honor and yiras hakavod.

Rav Raphael began his remarks by citing the difficulty facing our mother, Rivka. Rivka was carrying a child and whenever she passed a place of idol worship, she felt tremendous pain and whenever she passed a yeshiva she felt tremendous pain. Something was going on and she had no idea what! The passuk tells us, “Vateilech l’drosh es Hashem.”

“Yes, Rivka went to the yeshiva of Shem V’Ever to ask Shem, the gadol hador, what it all meant. The lesson we must learn from this is that when a person has a problem the first thing he should do is go to the Gedolei Torah and ask. The Torah has answers to everything. Shem’s power came through the Torah. We too, whatever is happening in our lives, the first thing we must do is vateilech l’drosh es Hashem. We must seek out Hashem, we must be doresh Hashem. This is what Dirshu wants. Dirshu led by my dear friend and the friend of Hashem, Rav Hofstedter, just wants you to be doresh Hashem to learn Torah.

“We will soon be reading Parshat Zachor. What is Amalek? Why is he so bad? Why does Hashem say that ‘My name and throne will not be complete as long as Amalek is here?’” Rav Raphael explained that “Amalek exists to distance us from Hashem. That is his job. The passuk says that when Bnei Yisrael slack off in learning Torah, Amalek comes. So, what is our job? Our job is to strengthen ourselves. Defeating Amalek means increasing our limud haTorah and our mitzvos. Hashem is giving us the opportunity to finally erase Amalek. It is in our hands. When we are davuk in Torah, when we cling to Torah, Amalek just melts away!”

Rav Abuchatzeira concluded by expressing his profound admiration for the Rabbanim of South America who so encourage and guide their flocks to reach higher in matters of spirit. “I am just amazed by what I have seen here in a community so far from the centers of learning. Look what has been accomplished here. It is just amazing!”

Even after the drashos had ended, the night did not end. The thousands just couldn’t leave and expressed their feelings and deepest yearning of the neshama for ruchniyus in an explosion of singing at a moving kumzitz with R’ Shlomo Cohen and R’ Motti Steinmetz.

Witnessing the Thriving Resurgence of Yiddishkeit

During the visit to Argentina, Rav Hofstedter and other members of the hanhala of Dirshu had the opportunity to visit numerous mosdos of Torah in Argentina and witness the thriving resurgence of Yiddishkeit that is transpiring there. Rav Hofstedter visited Kehillat Ohr Torah, a historic shul that is led by Rav Raphael Preva.

As the Dirshu delegation passed by the billboard at the entrance to the shul with all of the announcements, it was deeply gratifying to see the many signs featuring various Dirshu shiurim and programs in the shul including two separate Amud HaYomi shiurim.

The delegation then went onto the yeshiva and the Kollel, where Rav Hofstedter met with the Rav, and was given a detailed update about the kehillah and the various mosdos.

During the visit, Rav Dovid also visited the mosdos of Shuva Yisrael where hundreds of children being educated there, came to meet the Nasi of Dirshu. Rav Hofstedter gave over divrei bracha to the children and then there was a beautiful outpouring of singing together. One could feel the tremendous ahava and simcha in the air.

Following the visit to the school, Rav Dovid went to the girls’ school where he addressed the students. He spoke about the kior in the mishkan that was constructed from the mirrors that were donated by the Jewish women. Why did the kior have to have mirrors on it? He answered that before the Kohen goes into the holy mishkan to perform the avodah he needs to look at himself. He needs to take stock of where he is holding and see if there is anything that he can improve before doing the avodas hakodesh. He explained that every person should emulate the Kohen and try to take stock and see if there is anything that they can improve.”

The aftermath of the siyum, more than anything else, has attested to the fact that Dirshu has succeeded! There has been an exponential increase in limud haTorah, in new participants throughout South America and that is ultimately the greatest nachas ruach that can be given to Hashem!  

The clear response to the evening was a manifestation of the words of Mr. Dayan who said, “We don’t want to be Torah fans, we want to be players!”

Outpouring of Simcha at Amud HaYomi Siyum in Brazil

A very distinguished delegation from Brazil, led by HaRav Yitzchak Dishi, Rav of Kehillas Mekor Chaim, and a senior Sephardic Rav of the Kehilla, flew to Argentina to attend the siyum. Still, there were many from that community who could not attend in person and thus Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu, journeyed to Brazil to participate in the inaugural siyum held at the large Safra Shul in São Paulo. The siyum, a pure Torah event, was attended by virtually all the Rabbanim in town. More than 200 participants flocked to the shul for the beautiful seudas siyum.

One of the beautiful things about the São Paulo community is its diversity, a diversity that was on display as Sefardim and Ashkenazim, bnei yeshiva and kollel yungeleit joined together with baalei battim of all types and stripes. Most striking was the outpouring of simcha that permeated the event and was especially evident after the siyum was made and the dancing began. The community members just couldn’t get enough, seemingly infused with an other-worldly energy, dancing on and on, the simchas haTorah palpable as they celebrated their kesher with Torah together with Rav Hofstedter.

The next day, Rav Hofstedter visited several mosdos haTorah, schools and yeshivos and wherever he went, there was an overflowing fountain of thanks and recognition of the fact that Dirshu was there, wanting nothing more than to help increase the Torah learning in the community.

Indeed, Mr. Rony Dayan, a prominent member of the community of São Paulo, who has been at the forefront of advocating for more Torah learning in the community related that when it comes to learning Torah, the community has come very far from where it was decades ago when he was growing up. “Nevertheless,” he concluded, “there is still much to be done. The fact that Dirshu has come to Brazil with a myriad of different programs at various levels and is even offering tests so that learners can be accountable is a tremendous boon for the community.

He said, “I was deeply inspired by the siyum in Argentina. The event was truly a milestone in motivating South American Jewry to bring daily Torah learning into their lives. For those who are already learning, it strengthened the lesson that there are always more opportunities and goals when it comes to Torah learning. For those who have not yet incorporated daily Torah learning into their schedule the words of Rav Ezrachi rang in our ears.  ‘Without Torah there is no life! There is nothing without Torah. Torah is our life. A person who does not learn Torah is NOT ALIVE!’”

Mr. Dayan who has a compelling personal story addressed the siyum in Argentina where told the crowd that he started learning Gemara eighteen years ago. He didn’t know Hebrew, he didn’t know Aramaic, he could not read Rashi.

“I pushed myself to try to understand and when I didn’t, I asked my Rabbi to clarify. Slowly but surely, I began to understand and with understanding, I began to taste the sweetness of Torah. I want to tell everyone here, you can all do it! First and foremost, you need consistency. You can’t miss a day. Ever. That hour or two hours that you set aside must be consecrated no matter what. Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing can push it off. When you are home, when you are on vacation, on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The second thing you need is perseverance. Never, ever give up!”

With heartfelt passion, Mr. Dayan continued, “I want to address the kollel yungeleit and bachurim. I want you to know that you lack nothing outside of the four amos of halacha. I have seen the world, I have experienced it all, but I can tell you - the Torah contains EVERYTHING. Outside of Torah everything is hevel havalim. Empty!”

Mr. Dayan then pivoted to address those outside the beis medrash who spend most of their days engaged in commerce or employment. “I must tell you, there is no greater pleasure than learning Torah. At first, it may be difficult, but if you just persevere, you will feel that pleasure very soon!

“Look at me!” Mr. Dayan said, “Eighteen years ago, I decided that I had had enough with just being a fan, with just supporting Torah and holding Torah in high esteem. I decided I want to be a PLAYER, not just a fan! It isn’t enough just to support talmidei chachamim, you must also be a talmid chacham!”

Mr. Dayan then went on to encourage every single person to incorporate limud haTorah into their life, to join a framework such as Dirshu and he promised that they would never regret it!

He concluded, “Brazilian Jewry has really come a long way, but it is still important to highlight to every member of our community that Torah learning is not just for rabbis! Torah learning is not just for those in yeshiva or learning in kollel. No! Everyone, every single person, needs to learn Torah and have a real connection to Torah at some level. Programs like Dirshu that offer more shiurim, tests and motivational structure are a critical component in this.

“I am certain that in the coming years we will see even more tremendous, positive, spiritual changes in the Brazilian community as a result of the bond with accountable limud haTorah!”

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