Many years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was asked what he would like his Chassidim to give him on the 11th of Nissan as a birthday present. The Rebbe responded that he would like people to add in learning Torah, in both the Nigleh (i.e. the Mishnah and the Talmud) and in Chassidus (i.e. Tanya).
Ever since, Chabad schools have encouraged their children to give the Rebbe a “birthday gift” in a “Mishnayos Baal Peh” contest during which students learn Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, and Chassidus by heart.
This year, the Lubavitch Yeshiva of Montreal held their contest from Purim Koton until Yud Alef Nissan, a period of roughly two months.
Twice a week older Yeshiva students from “Zal” would spend their lunch break testing the boys on what they knew by heart, be it Mishnayos, Gemara, Tanya or a special “Yediya Klolis” (general knowledge) booklet covering many topics that all children should know by heart (for example the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, the 39 Avos Melochos, or names of all the Mesechtos in Shas).
As excitement built, the older students would arrive to find a lineup of children waiting to be tested. Momentum grew, as each week a list of what has been accomplished so far by each boy was hung up in Yeshiva and sent home to the parents.
On Sunday, a special prize giving gathering was held in front of the entire school, the teachers, and many parents and grandparents.
Rabbi Yosef Charytan, principal of the Lubavitch Yeshiva, opened the program. “Memory is the lowest form of learning,” he said. “Nonetheless, it’s still a base that every child must know before continuing their studies since memory helps us retain what we’ve learned, and allows us to move through all the other aspects of learning.”
Rabbi Charytan then congratulated all the children who had participated in the Mishnayos Baal Peh contest, which had been sponsored by Josh Baazov in memory of his father Yosef Ben Yehoshua z”l. He also thanked Rabbi Shmuel Vaisfiche who coordinated the program, and the Yeshiva students who had acted as testers.
Rabbi Vaisfiche then pointed out that with Hashgacha Protis (divine providence), the HaYom Yom (a booklet written by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rayatz, with a thought for every day of the year) of the previous day spoke about the concept of studying portions of the Torah by heart. He read the HaYom Yom, and then shared the amazing statistics the Yeshiva students had accomplished.
A total of 50,749 lines of Mishnayos, 12,467 lines of Tanya, and combined with the rest, a grand total of 77,863 lines were learned by heart!
The Lubavitch Yeshiva participated in this program with many other Yeshivas around the world. Altogether, over 224,000 lines of Mishnah and 224,000 lines of Tanya were learned by heart, and Montreal’s Yeshiva had one of the highest amounts of lines learned in the entire world!
The top prize winner was a student from grade 6, Velvel Reichman, who learned 3 Sedarim of Mishnayos by heart – the entire Zeroim, Moed and Nezikin, plus several chapters of Tanya – a total of 13,091 lines by heart. He was awarded a complete set of Igros Kodesh. Five second-place winners took home a complete set of Talmud Bavli, and the rest of the students also received Sefarim (books) based on the number of lines learned.
“As a parent, it was really nice to see the whole Yeshiva involved, the Rebbis, Bochurim, parents and kids were all enthusiastic about it,” said Rabbi Danny Erdvin. “My son was really energetic and worked really hard on it, and I’m happy not only that he now knows Tanya Baal Peh, but that he actually got a prize that recognizes his hard work, and I hope this will strengthen his desire for more learning.”