Hillel teaches “He who seeks renown loses his reputation. He who does not increase (his Torah learning) decreases it. He who does not learn (Torah at all) deserves death. He who exploits the crown of Torah will fade away” (Pirkei Avos 4:13).
It appears to me that Hillel’s teaching should be applied to a person who was mesiras nefesh for the Torah, and at the same time we as careful regarding public recognition.
Few people were as careful in this regard as Rabbi Tuvia Yisroel Mayer Scher, Z”L. Many people knew Rabbi Scher for his depth of Torah knowledge, avodah and chessed.
What many people did not realize was that Rabbi Scher was one of the founding board members of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. He was instrumental in much of the organization’s policies, procedures and culture.
He was niftar a year ago, on the first day of Pesach.
Out of great humility, it was requested that this interview wait until now to be publicized.
Learning Mishnah l’Ilui nishmas (for the sake a soul after their passing) is a widely accepted custom around the world. Many Synagogues, yeshivas and kollels can learn mishnayos. Why did you see the need become part of a new organization for this purpose?
Rabbi Scher: “Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah was established because of a growing need for an organized system to have Mishnah studied. Many people came to us after approaching their local shul or yeshiva. These institutions have their own learning schedule, and many times they were not able to dedicate time to study l’Ilui nishmas – especially in time for a shloshim or yahrtzeit.”
In a sense, you could say that Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah is meeting a spiritual ‘supply’ and ‘demand’?
Rabbi Scher: “In a certain sense, yes. People have come to us in desperation when they realized that their shloshim was coming up, and the people they were hoping would help were doing all that they could do, but it would not be enough to complete all of Mishnah.”
What kind of people reach out to you for assistance?
Rabbi Scher: “We help Jews from all walks of life. We can get a call from a ‘frum from birth’ Lakewood BMG alumni, and five minutes later we can speak with someone who just began keeping kosher. Some people may not be outwardly religious at all, but they want to honor their parents.”
It’s interesting that you mention someone who might not identify as being religious as wanting to honor their parents with Mishnah study. How does that work?
Rabbi Scher: “Every Jew wants to connect to the Torah. Mishnah has a special power that works across the board.”
What goes into Mishnah study? Is it difficult?
It’s important to remember that Mishnah study is a serious endeavor. To study Mishnah in the best way requires knowledge of the texts, deep concentration and time.”
How do you find people to learn?
Rabbi Scher: “We have a network of rabbis who help us select highly qualified scholars. For some of the more challenging mishnayos, we have an elite vaad (committee) of senior scholars.”
Some people may say that since this is such an elevated endeavor, it should be done without ulterior motives. Why do you charge a fee?
Rabbi Scher: “This is a very good question. It is a question that has been addressed by some of the greatest rabbis through the generations. A brief answer is that we are not paying the scholars to benefit from their Torah study. We are compensating them for the time that they could have been working in a regular profession. This is similar to how the rabbi of a synagogue or a rebbe in a yeshiva can take a paycheck for their time.”
Which Rabbaim have supported your work?
Rabbi Scher: “We have been blessed to be endorsed by rabbaim including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, The Rosh Yeshiva, of The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) New York, Dayan Rabbi Yaakov Forchheimer in Lakewood, Rabbi Avrohom Spitzer of Congregation Toldos Yaakov Yosef in Lakewood, and Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, Senior Lecturer at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, as well as many others.