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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Lakewood’s Ark

By Rabbi Sender Haber

I hope that Shalom Mordechai Levine never reads this blog.

Shalom Mordechai is a close friend of mine and was my Chavrusa in Lakewood. We learned together right in front of the Aron Kodesh in the main Beis Medrash. When I left Lakewood for Norfolk, Shalom worried that my learning might be affected. He undertook to check on me every month.

Shalom was relentless, he called me every Rosh Chodesh for an update on my progress. He wouldn’t accept vague answers and he challenged every decision that I made. He made sure that I stayed in touch with my inner Yeshiva Bochur and made me answerable for my learning schedules and priorities.

I love talking to Shalom but it wasn’t a walk in the park.  Shalom is hard to impress. He is a man on a mission. When I made a siyum he asked me what else I was learning, When I began giving a class early in the morning, he asked if I learned at night. When the President of Hebrew Union College and the Mayor of Virginia Beach spoke at my Siyum on Krisos, Shalom didn’t care. He wanted to know if I had learned every Tosfos.

As I took on various rabbinic responsibilities and teaching positions in the community, Shalom wasn’t impressed.  He was no less demanding. When I joined the Harley Davidson Club and enrolled in Norfolk State University, Shalom didn’t blink. Shalom just wanted to be sure that I was learning.

What right did Shalom have to be so demanding? Who appointed him as my personal Mashgiach and Drill Sergeant? I often wondered but never complained.

Last year, my wife and I took advantage of some time in Lakewood to return to our kollel days. The plan was for me to spend a week learning in BMG. This was not a social visit and nobody in Yeshiva was expecting me. I strode into the Beis Medrash bright and early, took a seat twenty rows back from the Aron Kodesh and opened my Bava Basra. I saw Shalom in our old seat with his new chavrusa learning Bava Kama. He never saw me.

I learned in Lakewood for a week and Shalom never took his head out of his gemara. He came earlier than me, left later than me, and never stopped learning.

Shalom truly does live the Lakewood life. His entire life is about Torah and he will never look out of his Gemara. He doesn’t care about mayors, presidents, prestige, or motorcycles.

Torah is his life. Torah is our life. Shalom refused to let me forget that.

Would I have continued to learn even without Shalom’s monthly phone calls? I like to think so. Did Shalom have the license to call and remind me that learning is important? Absolutely.

Watching Shalom Mordechai learn convinced me of this more than a thousand phone calls. Shalom passed the test of time and withstood the pressures of ‘the little world out there’. Shalom is what Lakewood and all Bnei Torah should represent. They are our reminder that everything is in the Torah and that we are nothing without it. They affirm that Torah has the depth to captivate us for a lifetime.

More than ten years have passed since I left Lakewood. Shalom and I still pick up a phone every now and then to talk about Torah and Life. I never told him that I visited Lakewood without saying hello.


On Parshas Noach:
Nimrod the Orwellian

On living out of town:
By Invitation Only

Summary of Parsha:
Parsha Summaries For Bereishis

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