Interviewing Rosh HaYeshiva Hagaon Harav Ahron Walkin, Shlita
We are a unique people, the Jewish people, the People of the Torah. The Torah has always been the common thread, the inner-chord linking the Jew in Western Europe to the Jew in Central Asia. Significantly, the harbor and ultimately the bastion for our way of life has always been the yeshiva. Without yeshiva, there are no teachers and their students, and without teachers and their students, the Jewish People and their way of life would have dissipated a long time ago. Ironically, our nearly two-thousand-year Diaspora demonstrated, and perhaps facilitated, our nation’s eternity. For every road we took and every path we travelled, we left halls of higher knowledge and books of great scholarship. At the heart of darkness and in the depth of our exile, the Torah could always be heard in our yeshivot. The following interview with the Rosh HaYeshiva of Beis Medrash Gedolah of Queens, Hagaon Harav Ahron Walkin, Shlita, describes the wonderful properties of our tried and tested system of learning, and explains why it continues to be pertinent especially in our times.
BJL: Can you please define the function and importance of the Yeshiva and the Olam Hayeshivot (yeshiva world)?
Rav Walkin: The “Olam Hayeshivot” is a term and a title phrased by all the people who are in and are a part of this small world. It is a self-contained world, or better said, a world within a world. It is Hashem’s World, a sanctuary from the vast and emotionally turbulent world people term “reality.” Only here can the Jewish person find respite, an oasis from the spiritual desert of worldly opinion. In order to better identify with the Olam Hayeshivot, we need to explore and properly define the fundamental function and goal of a yeshiva.
Maran HaRav Baruch Ber Leibowitz, zt”l, the famed Birchas Shmuel Kamintzer Rosh Hayeshiva, used to refer to and call Bnai Yeshiva as “mevakshai Hashem,” those who seek out Hashem. The fundamental goal of a yeshiva is to provide a place where the sincere student can earnestly search for Truth and nurture his spirituality. Chazal state, “Ein lo Hakadosh Baruch Hu Elah Daled Amot Shel Hatorah”- Hashem has no place in the world except for the place in which people engage in His Torah.
The importance of the yeshiva is evident in all areas of our life, including our people’s social system and our youth. The Medrash tells us that when Yaakov prepared his family for descent into Egypt, he sent his son Yehuda ahead to secure land for a yeshiva, a place of study and spiritual enlightenment. Yaakov also hoped that the yeshiva would serve as a security and fortress from the “outside world” and the turbulence and influence of galut. The yeshiva would also serve to unify his twelve sons, since when people endeavor together to study the word of Hashem, they unify themselves and consequently their entire community.
The Chazaq organization understands this, which is why the Menahel of the Yeshiva, Rav Ilan Meirov, Shlita, a tremendous talmid chochom and author of the sefer Pri Ilan, and Executive Director Reb Yaniv Meirov have expended so much effort into making our yeshiva what it is today. Our Yeshiva also would not exist without the kindness, generosity, and vision of Reb Noach Duetch from Australia, who founded the Yeshiva upon the behest and charge of the mashgiach, Rov Nosson zt”l. We in the Yeshiva and the entire “Olam HaTorah” owe Reb Noach Duetch a lot.
BJL: What is your yeshiva background and how has it shaped your plans for the Beis Medrash Gedolah of Queens?
Rav Walkin: I attended the Yeshivas of Staten Island, Long Beach, Torah Temima, the Mir Yeshiva of Yerushalayim, and also Lakewood Beit Medrash Govoha.
“On paper,” we are not a Lakewood yeshiva. But you need to understand that, in our roots, we “stem” from Lakewood Yeshiva. The “Olam HaTorah” is all one family; Lakewood Yeshiva is the father and we, who emulate its ideals, are the child. I personally consider Lakewood Yeshiva to be “my home.” My heart is in the Yeshiva and with all the Roshei Yeshiva; my days there were amongst the best of my life… I hold every aspect of the Yeshiva in the highest esteem and I am extremely privileged to be close to all four of the Roshei Yeshiva.
BJL: Can you point to specific factors of Lakewood Yeshiva that continue to influence your teaching methods?
Rav Walkin: Yes. The Roshei Yeshivos taught me so much by showing me how they gave the most selfless devotion to all the b’nei Torah in general and their own talmidim in particular. They have no day or night schedule. The doors to their houses were always unlocked; all you had to do was knock and walk in. It was very common and even expected to find students in their Roshei Yeshiva’s houses in the a.m.
I also gained so much from them in learning. The students there have the unique opportunity to drink in not only from the deep wellsprings of their Torah, but also a chance to study and emulate the beautiful qualities constantly on display by the Roshei Yeshiva who are giants of Torah who give all their heart and soul.
The olam of b’nei Torah there are the most pure, devoted, heiligeh people who are completely devoted and moser nefesh to learn. Every time I walk in to the beis medrash, I am humbled. I truly feel as though I am walking in the Beis Hamikdosh.
BJL: Did you have a special relationship with the Roshei Yeshiva of Lakewood Yeshiva?
Rav Walkin: My own grandfather, Harav Shmuel Dovid Walkin, zt”l, was close to Rav Ahron and Rav Schneiur Kotler, zt”l. I was also extremely close to the mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, which is one of the reasons we named our yeshiva, Beis Nosson Meir, after him.
BJL: What was life like in the famous Lakewood Yeshiva atmosphere?
Rav Walkin: Well, learning in the Lakewood Yeshiva is a whole package deal. Their hashkafah (outlook) itself speaks volumes, even without verbal expression. The entire environment is conducive to student growth because the overarching approach is about living the life of a Ben Torah. Rather than mere intellectualism, the curriculum markedly molds the personality as well.
Another unique aspect was the high chance of meeting Torah luminaries from all over the world, at any given time. They could be spotted at Mincha, Maariv, or Shacharis, or visiting and giving a shiur or a schmooze. The Yeshiva is a central Torah nucleus, and always attracted the world’s Torah giants whenever they visited the States.
BJL: What closing message would you like to share with or readers?
Rav Walkin: I want your readers to understand that being invested in the Queens community enables me to give this wonderful experience back to the students I oversee in our Yeshiva. I want them to feel what it means to be part of the Olam haYeshivos. Our students have the same Torah heritage and the same great potential as the students who call Beis Medrash Gevoha their home. This is what we are all about. Be’ezrat Hashem, this is what we will achieve here in Queens.
Yeshiva Gedolah Beis Nosson Meir and Kollel Zichron Moshe is located in Cong. Od Yosef Chai (141-56 73rd Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills). Shacharit is at 8 a.m. and shiurim are open to the public from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. They offer classes for all levels of learning in the Beis Medrash shared by a full Yeshiva and Kollel that learn under the Rosh HaYeshiva.
By Adam Suionov
The World Of Torah And An Authentic Yeshiva Experience Here In Queens
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