If you have recently seen the familiar red and black logo for “The Shmuz” on the bumper of someone’s car and asked yourself, “What is it?” then you’re in good company. It seems that these car magnets now appear on thousands of cars throughout the tri-state area, in communities as diverse as Lakewood and Teaneck, Scarsdale and the Upper West Side, on vehicles as varied as beat-up yeshiva klunkers to fiery red sports cars. But for many, the question remains: What is the Shmuz?
As it turns out, the answer is not that simple. It’s a cross between an old-fashioned mussar shmuz, an inspirational seminar, and an advanced science class. The Shmuz never fails to amaze it’s audience with its depth and breadth. As listener David B. exclaimed, “The Shmuz is amazing! I come out with new ideas, interesting facts and stories.” Listener Shlomi B. said, “I am learning so much. It has changed my life. I look at the world differently, I speak to people differently, and I have become a better husband and father. The Shmuz reached into my soul and gave it a jump start.”
Part of the secret of the Shmuz’s success is the topics that it deals with – real life issues, ranging from “working on anger” to “learning to be a better spouse, ”,” from “understanding the reason behind davening” to “what is my purpose in this world? ”?” Other titles include “Making a Marriage Great,” “Where was G-d During the Holocaust?,?” “Does Evolution make Sense?,?” and “Shabbos: The Base of Our Emunah.” The Shmuz covers the gamut of the issues that we as frum Jews are supposed to fully know, yet strange as it seems, may never have properly focused on.
While the array of topics is impressive, it doesn’t answer the key question: why is the Shmuz so popular? The answer to this requires understanding the story behind how it came about.
The Shmuz is given by Rabbi Shafier, a long-time high school Rebbe who studied under Reb Henoch Lebowitz ZT’l, the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshivas. When asked about how the Shmuz began, Rabbi Shafier answers, “It wasn’t really a planned thing. It just sort of happened. As a high school Rebbe, I put a lot of focus on the Mussar Shmuz as a way of conveying a different perspective on life to the talmidim. I never thought much would come out of it. It was a small part of being a Rebbe.”
And that’s what it would have remained, had it not been for a chance meeting one Shabbos afternoon. Rabbi Shafier continues, “I was walking home from shul, and I met an old talmid who was married and in the workforce. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked innocently, “So, how’s the learning going?” And this fellow just sort of looked down and said, “It isn’t.” “What can we do about it?” I asked him. And that is when he caught me off guard. He said, “Rebbe, if you give a shiur, I’ll come.”
“So we made up to start a shiur. At first, we had fourteen guys on Wednesday nights, and no one really knew where it would go. I remember mentioning it to a known mechanech at the time. He said, “Give it about four weeks. It won’t last longer.”
Well…Boruch HASHEM, the Shmuz has lasted a bit longer. Rabbi Shafier has been saying the Shmuz for over five years now, and it has taken on a life of its own. Hundreds of people now attend the Shmuz at its different locations — weekly in Queens and Monsey, and once a month in Lakewood, Bergenfield, and Passaic.
The most startling part of it all is the range of people who have been affected by the Shmuz. From young children to senior citizens, from Satmar Chasidim to non-religious college students, all come away with a fresh sense of inspiration and understanding. Dennis S. remarked, “I am 64 years old and not observant. I am trying to come back to my faith and owe my coming back to your tapes. Thank you.”
When asked about the goal of the Shmuz, Rabbi Shafier says, “The real goal is to refocus our thinking. The Torah has a very exact way of approaching life, values, and issues. Much of the difficulties that we encounter, whether in relationships or in questions on the way Hashem does things, comes from the lack of answers to basic questions. When we get our values in line with the Torah, then things start to make sense. Life makes sense. My relationship with Hashemmakes sense. To me, this is the key to growth.”
But important as the actual content of the Shmuz is, the way it is given over is what seems to make it so appealing. Every Shmuz gives practical advice from a Torah perspective, interspersed with real-life vignettes, humor, and fascinating facts from the natural world, from history, and even from sports. As one listener remarked, “I hear the messages resonating in my mind at the strangest times. When I want to eat an extra helping of something, I hear a voice saying, “Don’t be a wimp! Have self-control!” When I make a bracha too quickly, I laugh at myself for doing the mandatory ‘mouth twitch’ before eating. Purim time, I found myself sitting in the driveway long after I turned the engine off because I had to ‘find out what happened next’ in the Megilah.”
About four years ago, “The Shmuz” website was developed. At theshmuz.com, over 180 shmuzin are available for listening, downloading, or podcasting FOR FREE. The website currently hosts over 7,000 members, with 4,000 downloads occurring weekly in twenty-nine different countries. Recently, the Shmuz became a regular show on Israel National Radio with a new segment being broadcast every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM. The Shmuz is also available on Kol HaLashon.
Until now, the Shmuz in Monsey was given on Thursday nights to men only. First it was held in R’ Rudinsky’s shul, and more recently, it was given at Rabbi Levitan’s shul on Olympia Lane. It has enjoyed a very strong following, but beginning on February 14, 2009, the Shmuz will be given on Motzai Shabbos at Ohr Somayech for men and women. When asked the reason for the move, Rabbi Shafier explained that Ohr Someach allows many advantages, “Many guys complained that Thursday night was a very rough night to leave the house, as their wives need help preparing for Shabbos. And at the new location, the Ezras Nashim is open so that women now can attend. I am very excited about the possibilities that this opens for the Shmuz.
To experience this life-changing shiur, please join us every Motzai Shabbos, beginning February 14, at Ohr Somayech in Monsey, at 9:00 PM. We look forward to greeting you there. For more information, please call 1-.866-613-TORAH.
(Ben Nechamyah-Matzav.com Newscenter}