Bnei Brak, Israel - Yeshiva Student Suffering from Schizophrenia Finishes Shas and Receives Semicha
Bnei Brak, Israel - No one can say that he can’t study Torah. Hillel obligates the poor, Rav Eliezer bar Charsum obligates the rich, Yosef Hatzadik obligates the good-looking…. and now a bochur in Bnei Brak obligates the mentally ill.
B., a 32-year old bochur from a Bukharian background who has been living in one of Marpeh Lanefesh’s 11 hostels and 8 protected residences, made a siyum on the entire Shas. He persevered the past 7 years ,studying from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in a small Bnei Brak kolel until he was finally able to announce that he had completed the goal he set out for himself. In addition to finishing the Shas, he also passed the Chief Rabbinate exams on issur and heter, and received Semicha for his impressive accomplishments. B. has also been teaching Tanya to a small group of students with slight mental disabilities.
“Without a doubt, he is extremely talented and has an amazing memory,” says Asaf Atzur, the general director of Marpeh Lanefesh. “He utilized his abilities to achieve his goal, with much sweat and siyata dishmaya. Every success helps a person with his individual struggles. He put his efforts into in-depth learning and this helped his rehabilitation. We decided to make a big event celebrating his accomplishments to show our other patients what they are capable of achieving despite their disorders.”
B. began to suffer from schizophrenia at the age of 17-18. He claimed to hear people talking to him, and other symptoms typical of the illness. Pronounced a difficult case, he was at first hospitalized and treated with heavy drugs. Afterwards, he was discharged to a Marpeh Lanefesh hostel, where the staff spent two years working to stabilize him with medications and psychological treatments. When he was 20, he was finally ready to enter a protected residence with another 6 men.
Rav Shmuel Pollack, the chairman of Marpeh Lanefesh, says, “We did everything we could to help him. He was very ill and several times had to be hospitalized. It took him 5 years to stabilize, but he has been doing well since. He himself decided he wanted to undertake a serious challenge and began learning Shas. Because he is very bright and a masmid, he was able to follow through on his goal. The result is the impressive Siyum Hashas that we celebrated this week.”
A distinguished roster of rabbonim and askanim attended B.‘s Siyum Hashas including former Chief Rabbi Yisroel Lau, Rabbi of west Bnei Brak and member of Rav Nissim Karelitz’s beis din, Rav Shmuel Elazar Stern, Rav Elchonon Cholk of Ezer Mitzion medical association, and many Health Ministry officials including high-ranking executives, psychiatrists and the head of the Tel Aviv District who wanted to see the special event with their own eyes.
Rav Stern said at the occasion, “I was many times in a Siyum Hashas but I’ve never attended a Siyum Hashas like this.”
During the Siyum, Rav Lau told B. that after finishing Shas, one should right away start again at the beginning. To the surprise of everyone present, B. stood up and began to recite by heart the beginning page of Brachos. When tested further, he revealed that he knew a sizable portion of Shas by heart.
Despite B. requiring medication his whole life, Rav Pollak says that Marpeh Lanefesh’s administration believes he is ready for a shidduch seeing the great advances he has made. “We have couples like this who suffer from mental illness but were able to marry and found their own homes. There is potential after they have advanced as B. has.” Rabbi Pollack says that B. is planning to continue learning his whole life, and he fully expects that the public “will hear of him” in 5-6 years. “He invested huge efforts, and can take pride in having what to show for it,” he says.
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