26 Jul TEACHING OUT OF THE BOX: Q&A WITH THE FAMOUS “RAV GAV” FROM AISH HATORAH
Originally from New York, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman has spent the last two decades studying and teacing in various Yeshivos throughout Yerushalayim. Rabbi Friedman a.k.a Rav Gav grew up in Woodmere, Long Island. He attended HALB for both elementary school & high school. His next stop was Eretz Yisrael where he spent 2 years learning at “OJ” – Ohr Yerushalayim, on the bucolic moshav Beit Meir. After that he studied at “Tomo” -Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem, headed by Rav Moshe Meiselman. He is currently teaching at Aish HaTorah Jerusalem, where his lectures highlight the entire gamut of Aish programs, including the Discovery Seminar, Jerusalem Fellowships, Executive Learning Center, and more.
Rav Gav has lectured in dozens of cities and locations around the globe, including South Africa, England, Canada, and throughout the United States. Over the past year, he was self-awarded a masters degree in “zoomology.” Rav Gav’s charisma captivates audiences of all ages and inspires men and women across the Jewish spectrum. Rav Gav currently resides in the Yerushalayiim Ir Hakodesh with his wife and children. His current pastime is to try and stay out of quarantine wherever he may find himself.
When I ask people about the famous “Rav Gav,” they all say that you are a hilarious rabbi, a comedian, and a great speaker. What do you think about that?
I would say that Bli Ayin Hara, the Ribono Shel Olam has given me a talent for speech. I wouldn’t say that I’m a comedian; I would say I’m funny, but not a comedian, I don’t plan out my jokes. I just teach and it happens to be that I throw in my little shticklach that come to mind.
What do you think is your specialty?
My specialty is to give people the ability to choose to be atheists. If they happen to choose along the way not to be an atheist, that’s their choice as well!
What is it about speaking in public that gets you on a high?
You would have to first have to start with “Does speaking in public get you on a high?” and when I say yes, then you ask me why. So I get on a high not davka about speaking, but about things that I enjoy. I get a high from learning gemara. I get on a high playing guitar. I get on a high eating a good steak. (Medium, but then put in again for another two minutes so that it’s between medium & medium-well) So I get a high on anything I enjoy. If I talk to a group that is interested and wants to learn, I enjoy giving over information that I feel is helpful. If I see the people are not interested, I don’t get on a high.
Who are great speakers that you look up to?
Number one on the list is Rabbi Paysach Krohn. Rabbi Krohn is a person who I very much look up to. That’s in terms of technique and speaking abilities and who he is as a person. I also really enjoy Rabbi Ephraim Waxman’s content.
The two most popular words right now in society are depression & anxiety. Between Covid & the craziness of this world, everyone is going through some sort of craziness in their lives. You are known as the comedian Rav Gav, the Rav that makes people laugh. What do you say to people when they are going through day-to-day hardships? How does one continue to have emunah in these turbulent times?
That’s not a pashut question; it’s very specific. It depends on what is going on. If people are talking to me, I just try to listen and empathize as much as I can. I don’t think there’s a message. It’s like asking if, chalila, a person lost a loved one “What do you say to them?” You say nothing. You go to the bais avel and you don’t say a word. For a person who is going through a very hard time, what is there to say to them? Nothing except “I hear you. I understand it’s hard.”
I’ll tell you in terms of going back to the comedian question. It used to bother me when people would say things like “Oh he’s so funny!” I felt like people were looking at me as the funny guy and didn’t get the content. But the more I look at the world, nothing to do with Covid just life in general, and people who are in pain, the fact that I can bring people some respite from their pain, that they can sit back and laugh, that’s a very good thing. I’ve had many people come to me and say “I haven’t laughed like that in a long time” and that’s pretty big to me. People are suffering and going through stuff. Forget Covid, life is hard. And when you throw Covid into the picture, it just exasperates the difficulties of life. So if I am able to bring joy to someone and help people take their minds off of their pain for a little bit, then that’s a job well done.
Teaching at Aish Hatorah, you are in constant communication with Baalei Teshuva. What do you think is the common thread between all of your students? What do you think brings people back to yiddishkeit? Rav Hillel Weinberg, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Aish Hatorah and Rav
Noach’s son, spoke one time and said he had gone on a trip around the world trying to figure out what the key to being mekarev people is, what the common thread is. He said I got the answer, you ready? Are you ready for the answer to what is the common thread that brings people back to yiddeshkeit? The answer is….there is no common thread. You have certain people who come back because they have an experience. You have certain people that are intellectually inclined. You have people that meet a certain person that gave them an idea and they are curious. There is absolutely no common thread. That is the common denominator that I find. I wouldn’t say it’s the only one, but it’s common. It is an individual thing. People seek the truth. That is a common thread.
What is the secret to doing kiruv? Can anyone do Kiruv?
Anyone can do kiruv. Allow me to define the word kiruv: Kiruv means “to bring close”. It is not particular to someone who is secular, nor is it particular to someone who is frum. “L’karev” means to bring close. Can anyone bring someone close? The answer is that it is all about building some sort of a relationship and a connection. If you care about somebody, if you want to help them in some way shape or form, you are already m’karev them, even if it’s a little bit. We need to care, and try to emulate the middos of Aharon HaKohein: “Ohev shalom v’rodef shalom. Ohev es habrios um’karvem l’torah.” Sometimes I get in the mood and want to do kiruv, but I’m worried that the person I’m trying to do Kiruv with is going to ask me a question I don’t know the answer to. I’m scared to say I don’t know because I don’t want them to think that there is no answer. I know there is, I just don’t know the answer myself. What should I do? That’s a classic Project Inspire shtickle right there. Being m’karev someone just means you care about them, that’s it. So why is there a “hava mina” that I have to be able to answer their questions? Why would you get close to anybody? One might ask you a question about plumbing that you don’t know. What are you going to do? You’re going to say I don’t know, but I might know someone who might know the answer. You’re not their rebbe, you’re a yid, that’s the bottom line. You’re a yid who cares about them. Most of the things they’re going to ask you, they’re not coming to drill you. They’re just curious about things. 99% of people are the same. They just talk about their lives. They’re not going to be like “Oh you’re frum? Can you explain shatnez to me?” Most of the time you’ll be familiar with it. Maybe you won’t know the answer to certain intricate questions and you’ll show that you care. You’ll say, “What a good question. I never thought about that, let’s look into it or let me check for you.” It’s not a big deal. I’ll tell you the biggest deal. If you tell someone you’re going to get back to them, get back to them! Don’t tell them you’ll get back to them and then not get back to them. That can cause a big Chillul Hashem.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn gives a vort every year on Pesach from the Chida. He says that every year at the seder we say the words b’chol dor vdor omdim aleinu l’echalosenu-someone is always going after us. The Chida asks if there are times in history that there weren’t people that wanted to destroy us. How can we say b’chol dor vador then? So he answers yes, maybe not with the sword but with a smile. Right now, the biggest problem Klal Yisrael faces is assimilation. The Beis Halevi says that the smile is assimilation. I know someone who has a Jewish child who recently went to a secular university & is now going out with a goy. The parents are very upset & don’t know what to do. What do you say to that child? What do you say to the parents? How do you keep that child in the fold?
I get a lot of questions like this; it’s not pashut. I get a lot of parents calling about their children. It’s not the norm that someone from a frum home just randomly goes out with a non-Jew. It could happen for a few reasons. Sometimes something happened in their family life. For example, they were raised in a way where there was a lot of mixing between Jews and non-Jews and no boundaries, or they went to a secular college. (Certainly there are more reasons, but that’s beyond the scope of this small conversation.) Once you have the person in that matzev, what exactly do you expect to say to them? What should I say, don’t date them? They’re already emotionally involved. It’s so sad that people come to me after the fact; what am I supposed to do? The answer is, not really much that I could tell you. It’s sad. I’m not saying that the following is true for everyone, however there is a line that I tell parents a lot: Don’t be surprised if your children turn out the way you raised them. What do you want to do after 20 or 30 years of educating them in a way that it’s ok. They’re watching secular videos, hanging out with Jews and non-Jews, you send them to secular college, and then you’re shocked that they would be involved with a nonJew? Why wouldn’t they be? So what exactly is there to say? A good scenario is if the child themselves is interested in having the conversation, to try and get them to think long term and understand that the choices that they make now, will have ramifications for life.
What should someone look for when looking for a shidduch?
There are 3 criteria: There has to be some sort of physical attraction just like the gemara says in Kedushin, there has to be compatibility in terms of personality, and the most crucial is life goals and life aspirations. Where you’re headed, what you’re looking for, and what is important to you. That is the most difficult because people don’t really start to think about what their own goals are let alone if they match someone else’s. A lot of that has to do with the way you are raised, which is why it makes sense that people end up marrying people of similar backgrounds because you have similar hashkafas.
What middah is the first middah someone should look for when looking for a shidduch?
That’s a great question! The answer is, good middos. Hatzlacha with that.