Rare is the occasion when history is celebrated and history is made at the same moment, but this past Sunday, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath accomplished that feat.
The walls of the yeshiva are saturated with rich history, and the legacy of Torah permeates every sefer, every shtender and every floor tile in the bais medrash.
Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, known as “America’s Yeshiva,” opened its doors in 1919. Rav Binyomin Wilhelm walked the streets of Williamsburg, convincing parents to send their children to his new yeshiva, where they would continue the age-old talmud Torah on these foreign shores. Since then, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath created a legacy of Torah, educating thousands of American talmidim, some growing to be gedolei olam, and many serving later on the hanhalah in the very same yeshiva that taught them their way of life. Many of today’s gedolim have spent years learning Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, steeped in Torah and chinuch. The richness of Torah learned over the last century remains until today, as Yeshiva Torah Vodaath boast a world-class yeshiva ketanah, mesivta, bais medrash and kollel, educating close to one thousand talmidim.
This past Sunday, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath welcomed and inaugurated its new rosh yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Lichtenstein.
“We were searching, waiting to see who the Ribono Shel Olam had in store for us, someone who will live and breathe Yeshiva Torah Vodaath,” Rabbi Yitzchok Gottdiener remarked. “With much siyata diShmaya, we are honored to have Rav Lichtenstein join our hanhalas hayeshiva to serve as rosh yeshiva.”
Following the petirah of the late roshei yeshiva, Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l and Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l, a search was initiated for an individual to join the current roshei yeshiva, Rav Yosef Savitsky and Rav Yisroel Reisman. Rav Lichtenstein joins Yeshiva Torah Vodaath with notable commendations and an illustrious background. A talmid of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik and a tremendous talmid chochom proficient in many miktzaos haTorah, Rav Lichtenstein embodies mesoras haTorah while possessing the ability to understand the challenges of and to connect with today’s bochurim.
The day began with a private breakfast reception for the Board of Directors and supporters of the yeshiva, the backbone of the yeshiva’s financial stability. These dedicated baalei batim live and breathe Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and were excited to meet the new rosh yeshiva and hear of his visions for the future. The Chairman of the Board, R’ Chaim Leshkowitz, formally welcomed the rosh yeshiva and echoed everyone’s sentiments for hatzlocha as he helps begin the second century of Torah Vodaath.
Rav Lichtenstein thanked the board for devoting themselves fully to the yeshiva. He spoke about the partnership between Yissochor and Zevulun and thanked everyone for inviting him to be part of the yeshiva.
Following the reception, hundreds of talmidim, alumni, parents and friends joined the hanhalah and rabbeim of the yeshiva in the bais medrash to hear the inaugural shiur kloli from Rav Lichtenstein. Every seat in the bais medrash was taken, and the overflow crowd was standing in the back, in the ezras noshim and in the vestibules.
Rav Lichtenstein, son of Rav Aron Lichtenstein zt’’l and grandson of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik zt’’l, hails from a long line of gedolim. A great-great-grandson of Rav Chaim Brisker, Rav Lichtenstein has not only immersed himself in understanding his zaide’s Torah, but has toiled for many years over the kesovim of Rav Chaim and is known as an expert in Rav Chaim’s Torah. He has published many seforim, mostly containing the shiurim of Rav Chaim, as well as the shiurim of Rav Moshe Soloveitchik.
Rav Lichtenstein previously served as rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Nesivos Hatorah in Staten Island, building and connecting with talmidim in an exceptional manner. He possesses a unique blend of gadlus baTorah and approachability, availing himself to connect with his talmidim on their level, while remaining in a league of his own in gadlus baTorah. He currently serves as rov of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, while being marbitz Torah at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Monsey, Agra D’Pirka, the Bialystoker shul, and various other venues.
A talmid muvhak of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein lives and breathes the Torah of Brisk. “But the Brisker mehalech is not exclusive to any specific group, or any specific bais medrash,” Rav Lichtenstein explains. “Rav Chaim was not a private person. He was a yochid, and his house was hefker to anyone, but he was able to change the world. He elevated the ramah of limud haTorah in the world. Ameilus baTorah is all the same. Within the bais medrash, the future and the past intertwine. The Torah goes from Moshe Rabbeinu ad sof kol hadoros. There does not have to be any change to anything we have been learning for thousands of years.”
Before beginning his shiur kloli on Maseches Kiddushin, Rav Lichtenstein wondered aloud why he was zoche to this role. He answered his own question by pointing to the zechus of his fathers and grandfathers, illustrious gedolim and leaders of the dor. He mentioned his father-in-law, Rav Chaim Grozovsky, son of Rav Reuvein Grozovsky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Beis Medrash Elyon, and the impact that he made on his life. Rav Chaim Grozovsky lived and breathed Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, and Rav Lichtenstein attributed his current role to his zechus.
He modestly acknowledged the honor he has to sit alongside the present choshuve roshei yeshiva, Rav Yosef Savitsky and Rav Yisroel Reisman; the menahel habais medrash, Rav Elya Katz; and the rosh kollel of Kollel Nachlas Dovid, Rav Leibel Wulliger; and noted how appreciative he is for the opportunity to be a part of the renaissance of Torah that will take place in this very bais medrash. He then proceeded to deliver an elaborate shiur, explaining many complex nuances in the Rishonim regarding the halacha of amirah b’kiddushin.
The crowd was left spellbound and in awe. As the rosh yeshiva finished his shiur, a large crowd came forward to greet the rosh yeshiva personally and attempt to get some clarification of one of the points covered in the shiur. Many former talmidim used this opportunity to reconnect with the yeshiva, allowing themselves to once again soak in the hashpa’ah of their beloved yeshiva.
The simcha continued with a hachnosas Sefer Torah of a Sefer Torah dedicated by the Lazar family. During the procession, the talmidim danced with Rav Lichtenstein and Rav Reisman. It was an opportunity for many guests, as well as the new rosh yeshiva, to see the vastness of the student body of the yeshiva, as the hundreds upon hundreds of talmidim filled the street outside the yeshiva. It was an appropriate way to honor the installation of a new rosh yeshiva.
Yeshiva Torah Vodaath has a rich history, saturated with years of harbotzas Torah, led by gedolei Yisroel. This pivotal moment is the beginning of a new era. The yeshiva is about to embark on a glorious new era of malchus haTorah with the new rosh yeshiva. Today, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath is not only celebrating its history, but creating history.