(lubavitch.com) Five million minutes. That’s how much time users have logged joining an online broadcast hosted by a Chabad rabbi as he delivers a daily dose of Torah and Tanya simply, entertainingly and with healthy doses of humor.
After just six months on the web, on Encinolive.com, Collive.com and Chabad.org, Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon, executive director of Chabad of the Valley, is still a net newbie, but 40 years of Torah teaching experience have polished his delivery. His knack for communication also helps explain how a boy from Newark, NJ grew up to head a network of 24 Chabad centers in the San Fernando Valley, a freeway hop north of Los Angeles.
Classes delivered over the computer are no novelty, ditto those that get a lot of views. But the commitment of the viewers, and the sheer number of comments they leave (and their passion for his) class are a standout.
His topic is basic. Rabbi Gordon reads the few lines of the Torah portion that correspond to the day of the week. First portion on Sunday, second on Monday and so on, along with Rashi’s commentary. Then he reads the daily portion of Tanya, the core text of Chabad Chasidic philosophy. With these he covers two of the three components of the CHITAS, a cycle of daily study and prayer promoted by the past two Lubavitcher Rebbes.
German Zeidner grew up in Tel Aviv and never studied Torah formally. He learns with Rabbi Gordon daily now, via the web in his living room or in person each day.
“Listening to Rabbi Gordon is like hearing your father or grandfather tell you a fairy tale. He uses modern terminology, examples from everyday, so you can really absorb what he is saying,” Zeidner told Lubavitch.com from his Encino home. Before meeting Rabbi Gordon Zeidner tried other classes, “but they were uptight. They spoke to your brain, not to your heart.”
For years, Rabbi Gordon brushed off requests to broadcast his class on the web. What would be the point if his teaching style, fast and funny, suffered major self-censorship before the camera and the knowledge that all would be archived?
Then, about a year ago, community member Daniel Aharonoff dropped a bombshell. With a pocket digital recorder, he had been taping Rabbi Gordon’s class for a year and had a hard drive to prove it.
“I had hit a hard patch business-wise and I was depressed. I asked Rabbi Gordon what to do, and he challenged me to attend his class for three months.” Aharonoff recalled. Despite being a yeshiva high school graduate, the thought of committing to study again was “torture.” But “I couldn’t get my head on straight” and he was willing to try anything.
To his surprise, “Going to class kept me centered and gave me food for thought. I cannot explain how much it helped me. Given the state of the economy, it is even more important to align yourself with the constant that is Torah,” Aharonoff said. More people, he decided, beyond the 25 present each morning after services needed Rabbi Gordon’s class, hence the covert recording.
Aharonoff broke the ice with the audio archive and just as Rabbi Gordon celebrated his 60th birthday, he went online with his classes.
“On my birthday, I committed to undertake a mitzvah I had never done before,” said Rabbi Gordon.
The leap to teaching the world via internet became Rabbi Gordon’s birthday mitzvah.
“What I am doing is very much my father’s legacy to the family.” His father, Rabbi Sholom Ber Gordon was among the first Chabad representatives in the United States. Known for his brilliance, warmth and way with words, he taught his son that “No Gordon goes through a day without teaching. It is from him that I inherited my humor and my passion to teach.”
Before each class, Aharonoff or another community member sets up the lights, checks the camera, the software, and the audio and drops a clip-on mike at Rabbi Gordon’s spot at the u-shaped table. Hollywood lights and California sunshine filtering in through the French doors light the spacious room. The daily class attendees remain off camera, and very quiet throughout the class, some munching on the scrambled egg and bagel breakfast served most days.
Those who attend in person say that Rabbi Gordon’s off hand remarks have been toned down to suit the web, but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend 45 minutes to an hour each morning.
They also take pride in the veritable United Nation of viewers who download class. The live and archived lesson has no fancy name, no catchy bumper music, but he has fans from Buenos Aires to Germany, from Down Under to high up in the Rockies. Zeidner’s wife Anava tunes in from Taiwan. Thank you notes come from Laredo, TX; Maiden, N,C; Toronto, Israel, and beyond, and Rabbi Gordon personally answers questions left in the comment section.
Jayne Shapiro, president emerita of World Alliance for Israel Political Action Committee and a member of the national executive committee of AIPAC, joins Rabbi Gordon from her Beverly Hills home or wherever she finds a computer when she travels.
“I had a Tanya for years at home and was very frustrated. I couldn’t grasp it. Rabbi Gordon’s explanations really open up the Tanya and the Torah. He has an incredible way of bringing it all right to you.”