[Video and photos below.] It was a Siyum Hashas that was anything but typical. Two talmidim of Yeshiva Kol Bonayich of Yerushalayim, The Jerusalem Therapeutic Yeshiva for the Mentally Ill. celebrated the monumental achievement of completing Shas this past Motzoei Shabbos, Parshas Naso, at Bais Faiga Hall in Lakewood, NJ.
Kol Bonayich, which is led by Rav Shalom Udwin, is a yeshiva that caters to bais medrash boys who suffer from various mental illnesses. Those who have visited the yeshiva have come away deeply inspired. It is truly an unbelievable sight to see. The success the yeshiva has earned the acclaim of numerous educators and Rav Udwin’s devotion continues to enthuse and inspire so many people.
Those present at the siyum on Motzoei Shabbos experienced that same inspiration as they watched the two talmidim – “heilige neshamos,” in the words of Rav Dovid Schustal – make a siyum on Talmud Bavli.
The program opened with words of chizuk from Rav Schustal, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah. Following remarks from Rav Udwin, the two bochurim made their siyum and the crowd then broke out into spontaneous singing and dancing.
A beautiful seudas siyum was served by the noted caterer and baal chessed, Reb Itche Meir Greenwald, and music was provided by Reb Yitzy Rosengarten.
Rav Udwin’s own background and history are fascinating sources of inspiration. He spent his early childhood in the wilds of South Africa and went to Eretz Yisroel in the 1970s. About 20 years ago, Rav Udwin embarked on a project to write a pirush on Shas that would explain the Gemara in a concise and understandable manner. After more than fifteen years of effort, Rav Udwin completed his pirush on Talmud Bavli titled “Birchas HaTorah.” The twenty-five volumes of Birchas HaTorah cover all 38 mesechtos in Shas.
Rav Udwin grew up in Graff Reinett, a small village on the edge of the Karoo Desert in South Africa. Growing up in Graff Reinett, his childhood became an inspiration. In this village, a minyan gathered most Friday evenings for Mincha and Maariv. Before going to shul, many of the residents would spend their Friday afternoons playing lawn bowls or tennis. He would dutifully follow his late father to his game of lawn bowls every Friday and afterwards they would go to shul together. One particular Friday, the game was tied and undecided.
Realizing that other members were expecting them in shul, they informed the non-Jews whom they were playing against that they concede the game and left. Rav Udwin was stunned. He tried to call his father back, but he and his friends headed off to shul.
After davening, his father turned to him and said, “Son, I have bought you a siddur in Port Elizabeth and I request that you daven from it one page a day.” He agreed.
Rav Udwin has said that this incident remains etched in his mind. It was that episode that spurred him on to finding out what Torah is, and eventually to being zoche to learn Torah and be marbitz Torah.
At the siyum held upon the completion of the last volume of Birchas HaTorah several years ago, Rav Udwin spoke of the importance of how each person, no matter where they are from, can reach a high level of yedios haTorah. He also related that he once received a bracha from Rav Elazar Shach zt”l that if he would teach the Torah diligently to his children, he would merit to speak divrei Torah in many places. Rav Udwin had approached Rav Shach with his idea of writing a pirush on all of Shas in a simple and easy to understand format so that anyone capable of reading Hebrew could study Gemara on their own and eventually finish mesechtos.
Rav Udwin showed Rav Shach his first glosses and how even the most complex subject matter was explained in terms understandable to one and all. Rav Udwin, however, stood before Rav Shach in need of guidance, as his sons had been diagnosed with an array of mental illnesses including Schizophrenia, Aspergers Syndrome, Autism and more. He needed astronomical sums to pay for the psychotropic drugs that Kupat Cholim didn’t cover and for special therapists. He was not ready to hand over his boys to the State mental facilities. “I know it means giving up my quest to write a commentary on Shas,” Rav Udwin told Rav Shach at the time, “but I have an even greater dream of being able to raise my boys to learn Torah at some level. How can I abandon them to what the State has to offer?!”
Rav Shach took Rav Udwin by the hand and made him a guarantee. “If you will fulfill Veshinantom levonecha and learn with your sons, then you will merit to see Vedibarta bom, that they will speak in Torah and accomplish much.”
The pirush on Shas, Birchas Hatorah, which began as an idea to open up Shas to the world, became the vehicle to bring Torah to the mentally ill. Rav Udwin opened Yeshiva Kol Bonayich, where dozens of young men learn and flourish despite their severe handicaps. Despite the responsibility to raise enormous sums to keep the yeshiva going, Rav Udwin tirelessly worked on his seforim and completed one mesechta after another.
Indeed, Rav Udwin has merited to be marbitz Torah and to touch numerous Yiddishe neshamos in a very special way.
Rav Udwin requires the community’s support for his yeshiva, so that he can continue in this holy and unique endeavor.
See below for photos from the siyum:
Click below for video clips (there is a brief break from minute 4:45 to 6:54 and 9:45 to 11:34): The actual Hadran can be seen at minute 15:20:
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