08/01/2015 17 Tevet 5775
I was one of those who were there, among the Rabbanim who attended the RCE’s third seminar, this one on the procedures for officiating at weddings. Like almost all those attending, I thought, “I already know how to do this”; “I’ve already officiated at a number of weddings”; “There won’t be much for me to learn.” And like almost everyone else, I needed some convincing before I decided that it would be worthwhile to pay the fee and attend the seminar. After all, a rabbi can’t be always giving to others. He needs to take some time to recharge his own batteries as well.
We were in for a big surprise at that seminar; it changed our entire way of thinking. We can’t help but say a giant “thank you!” to the RCE. So I took up my pen to declare in the name of all those who attended, “You were right!” A rabbi really can’t do his job properly without the knowledge that we gained at this seminar. Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, the RCE’s tireless deputy director, persisted and persisted and persisted. He wouldn’t give up and wouldn’t rest until he made this seminar happen. And Rabbi Mordechai Bitton, who is in charge of these seminars, organized everything and wouldn’t stop urging us, “Come to learn!”
There were 23 of us there, representatives of every European country – from Switzerland and Holland, from Belgium and Romania, from Lithuania and Ukraine, from France and Spain – literally a 23-man “Sanhedrin ketanah.” Everyone there was a community rabbi, and each one “already knew everything.” Then along came this experience of four straight days of learning, from morning to evening, and all at once we understood that only now can we say that we know something; and suddenly it’s crystal-clear to us that we need to keep learning more and more and more….
This learning experience brought us back 20 years, to our yeshivah days, when we learned all day until the wee hours of the morning, with the fervor and enthusiasm of youth. Suddenly we were transported to a place far away from our own cities, and we were drawn into the learning. The sugyos and machlokos inspired and invigorated us, and when we were done we were intoxicated with the joy of Torah learning.
The maggid shiur, well-known author of the series “Mishpat Haketubah,” Harav Eliyahu Bar Shalom, sweetened our lives. We sat from morning to night, completely enthralled, in the “Center” shul in Brussels. We learned, we asked and we clarified, moving from one halachah to another in learning the halachos of siddur kiddushin, chuppah, nisu’in, witnesses, the ring, family lineage…and then we truly understood why Europe needs the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. Dozens of questions, regarding all sorts of situations that we weren’t sure how to deal with, were suddenly perfectly clear to us. For dozens of other issues that we would likely encounter in the future, we received clear guidance. These concentrated shiurim, from morning to evening each day of the seminar, were packed with helpful content, delivered in such a clear manner that we all had that feeling of “even the walls understand.”
During the elaborate meals we were served, there were no flowery speeches or drashos. Everyone was involved in discussing and clarifying the material and absorbing the fundamental information covered in the lectures. There was a special joy in coming to an ever clearer understanding of the subject matter. We were all overcome by an intense love of Torah, and all we wanted was to keep learning more.
Security considerations in the Jewish Center there required that the building be closed at 10 p.m., and we had no choice but to return to the hotel. It was not a Jewish hotel, and there was certainly no beis medrash there, but we gathered in the lobby spontaneously and began learning as chavrusos. The non-Jews in the hotel were astonished. Other hotel guests looked on in amazement at the impromptu beis medrash, and the hotel staff was intrigued, and showed us great respect. Without being asked, they lowered the music and turned up the lights, as they stood transfixed, watching these rabbis reading in very large books filled with very small letters, learning and debating, their faces shining. Such a kiddush Hashem had never before been seen in this hotel! We stayed there until 2:30 a.m. It was beautiful, thrilling and inviting. Everything about it was simply good!
Then there was another surprise waiting for us – and we came to realize the true quality of an RCE seminar. After we had learned and prepared ourselves before the course began (we had to first learn on our own all the material to be covered as a prerequisite for being accepted into the course), and after we had learned everything in so much more depth in the seminar lectures, it was time for a test. At this point, all those of us who were attending knew each other well enough that our first reaction was, “We’re doing fine.” We all knew the material, and we’d all be certified. “This is just so they can take photos of us being tested,” we thought.
As soon as we entered the room, though, we realized that they were taking this very seriously. There were 22 questions on the test, covering a wide variety of cases and issues, and we had to answer every one of those questions. They weren’t letting anyone off the hook. We were surprised when, before the test, the lecturer came around and cleared all the desks. “Nothing can be on the desk other than a pen and paper,” he announced. We all chuckled when we saw that he wouldn’t even allow anyone to bring a cell phone along when he went out to the restroom; but we realized how serious this was.
But we were even more surprised when we saw that we were able to answer every one of the very challenging questions on the test easily. At this seminar we had received the tools we needed to help us deal with any situation we would encounter. All our efforts had borne fruit!
Afterward, Harav Yaakov David Schmahl, Dayan of Antwerp’s Shomrei Hadas community and member of the Rabbinical Council of Europe, came and presented us with many halachic queries that he had dealt with in the past. He asked us to respond to them, and indeed, we were able to come up with the correct answers!
I have not yet seen my own test results, but one thing is clear: It was certainly worthwhile to attend this seminar! Not only was it helpful, it was absolutely necessary! I hope there will be many more such seminars. Thank you very much!
—By one of the talmidim, who was expressing his deep appreciation to the directors of the RCE – Harav Menachem Margolin and Harav Aryeh Goldberg