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Planting Seeds of Chesed in Motza
By Gavriel Horen
The mishnah in Succah (45) describes how the Kohanim used to travel down to the Motza valley, just outside of Jerusalem, to gather aravos, willows, for the Beis HaMikdash.
Many years ago, a wealthy talmid of Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin bought a farm in Motza, hoping to become the supplier of aravos to the Beis HaMikdash, when it would be rebuilt speedily in our days. R' Yitzchak Kitay, a student of Rav Aryeh Rottman, rash yeshivah of Mercaz HaTorah in Jerusalem, was helping this man do some carpentry and electrical repairs. Hearing that R' Yitzchak had to travel to the United States each summer to earn money to continue living in Eretz Yisrael, he offered him an unused chicken coop where he could set up a carpentry workshop, and earn money that way instead.
Overcome by this tremendous chesed, Kitay, on the advice of Rav Rottman, decided to turn the workshop into a chesed organization to teach carpentry to religious new immigrants who needed a way to make a living. The program, called Birchas Rivkah, has trained over 100 yungerleitin the past ten years. "The Rambam explains that the highest form of chesedis to help a person help himself," Kitay says. "We are opening the door for people to be self-supporting."
To Join the program, which trains around ten men each year, one needs to have a directive from daas Torah that one should leave kollel and go to work; one needs to daven with a minyan three times a day, and to have a daily learning session.
Additionally, each apprentice must say a tefillah each day when he starts working, having in mind that he's working in order to have a peaceful home, to properly educate his children, to learn Torah, and to settle the Land of Israel. They pray that the money they earn be used to do Hashem's will and that they should be able to keep Torah and mitzvos. Taped Torah lectures are heard over loudspeakers throughout the day. The shop also has a branch at Yeshivas Ohr Chadash in Telzstone, where students learn a regular morning Torah session followed by optional classes in various vocations.
Apprentices in Birchas Rivka receive salaries, even as they're being taught to make extremely high-quality furniture. R' Goldberg provides the money for materials, R' Kitay fundraises to pay for the labor, and the furniture is then donated to needy families. Each year, around 200 beds and closets-worth $500 and $1,200 respectively-are donated to families whose children have been sleeping on the floor and who lack storage space for their clothes. "We go down to the houses to see what they need. And we have the family get involved in planning the furniture, choosing the paints and the sizes. It makes them feel warm and happy that they're part of it."
Birchas Rivka built several items of furniture for a family that didn't have enough beds. The mother used to sleep all night on a chair until her kids got up for school in the morning. Only then could she lie down. The parents were unemployed. After the family received beds, the mother got a job.
In return for all the work, Rav Kitay explains, he has an unwritten contract with the recipients that they try to daven for the members of his school. "When you show people that you care, that you're interested in helping them, and everyone davens for each other, it's a whole different ball game. We all have chizuk together!" he says.