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Pretoria rabbis ordained after challenging year

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In terms of learning, it was a regular year for Yeshiva LeRabbonus Pretoria, which in late August conferred semicha (ordination) to 11 students from the class of 5780/5781, but in many other respects, it was very different. Due to complications with travelling to South Africa, the final-year rabbinical students began their year over Zoom and their dormitory life in Namibia before finally being allowed to travel to the yeshiva in Pretoria to begin the year in earnest. Two graduates had to return overseas prior to the semicha ceremony, watched on Zoom by family and friends across the globe.

Open hashgocha protis (divine intervention) brought the bochurim through flight paths wrapped in serious red tape, and the rebbe’s brocha to the bochurim was felt, making the students more determined to learn Torah and work towards smicha.

More remarkable was the way the bochurim who finished their pre-smicha year over Zoom were able to return to complete the smicha year.

At the tekes (graduation ceremony), Dayan Rabbi Gidon Fox, the menahel (principal) of the yeshiva, exhorted the bochurim to dig deeper into themselves than in past years to realise that shlichus (being an emissary) is built on bringing out the best in others, even if it means suffering discomfort to do so.

The academic year took place during the months when South Africa was under lockdown, making interaction with the wider community difficult, which is in itself a tutorial in shlichus! Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein cited various sources that “Torah learned with deep devotion at a time of harshness within the universe is the ultimate connection to the Aibeshter (uppermost) and the ultimate refinement of the nefesh habehamis (the human soul).”

The ceremony marked the 19th graduation class of Pretoria’s yeshiva, starting in October 2001 as Yeshiva Mahon L’Hora’ah under Rabbi Levi Wynberg. Five years ago, the name was changed to Yeshiva L’Rabbonus Pretoria under Finkelstein, who was born in Pretoria, coming full circle. The yeshiva is hoping to have 20 graduates in its 20th graduation year.

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