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18 Teves 5762 - January 2, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
How To Follow The Rosh Yeshiva's Derech

by Nosson Zeev Grossman

In the almost two months since our world was destroyed when the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l passed away, there has been a great deal of his'orerus and introspection, especially about our duty to continue and preserve the Rosh Yeshiva's heritage to our generation, which he received from his rabbonim, since he served as a link in the chain stretching back to Sinai.

Speakers at hundreds of hespedim held all over the world dwelt upon the Rosh Yeshiva's shining personality and inspired their audiences, reminding them of our duty to follow his example. Hundreds of stories and incidents have made the rounds orally and in print. However, we must not forget that in addition to our pleasure in hearing interesting stories, there are messages affecting each and every one of us, which have to be taken to heart.

The Rosh Yeshiva Taught Us To Think!

I would like to clarify one vital point.

Anyone who was fortunate enough to hear the Rosh Yeshiva's profound shiurim, mussar shmuessen or statements on topical issues conveying a pure Torah hashkofoh would have absorbed one central message, which was a common theme of all his shiurim and articles: not to be superficial! To keep away from shallowness and frivolity! He called on all of us to think things through properly and reflect upon them, to avoid the simplistic, superficial outlook of the masses, which has such destructive consequences.

For this reason the Rosh Yeshiva in many letters stressed our duty to study mussar. He held that the derech of Rav Yisroel Salanter zt"l was responsible for the continuous growth of the yeshivas, and really saved the last few generations.

In mussar study a person engages in a process of profound and unbiased reflection about himself and his environment. It is an in-depth study of pesukim and statements of Chazal and the Rishonim, which teach us about a person's duty in the world in general and about the correct approach to contemporary problems and temptations in particular.

The superficiality of the vulgar and instinctive attitude of the masses (whom the Rosh Yeshiva used to call the oilem goilem) are the antithesis of those of a ben Torah and yirei Shomayim. The source of all the generation's problems, all the distorted views and the confusion that have taken root even amongst observant Jews, is the failure to engage in an appropriate process of reflection.

The Rosh Yeshiva enlightened us with his pure daas Torah on every topic, teaching us to keep away from shallowness. Anyone who wanted to understand and who contemplated a matter properly understood the Rosh Yeshiva's views on any topic very well. Although the mitzvah of lo sosur also applies when a rov tells you "of right that it is left and of left that it is right," the Rosh Yeshiva was not interested in our obeying him only because of this mitzvah. He took every effort to explain his opinions and demonstrate that the Torah itself guides us to act and think in a certain way.

"Simple and Fundamental Matters"

Although in his pain he said that there were some things about which he would only be understood after he was no longer alive, "when there would be candles around his bed," we all know that already during his lifetime everybody realized how farsighted he was. There was never a situation where he demanded that we obey him or some irrational "laws" arbitrarily. There were no hidden, kabbalistic secrets or gilui Eliyohu. He would always introduce any shmuess on Torah hashkofoh as follows: "I want to tell you some simple, fundamental things, which should be the views of any Jew."

He demanded of all of us, each one according to his level, to reflect upon matters in such a profound manner that they would become as simple and obvious to us as they were to him.

In truth, even things which at first appeared to some of us as original ideas or exaggerated kano'us turned out, upon deeper reflection, to be cornerstones of a Torah hashkofoh. Eventually we all felt "dos shteit do" -- this is what it says in the divine Torah: we only needed the Rosh Yeshiva to open our eyes and demonstrate that this was what the Torah demanded of us in our generation.

Having been taught the correct approach in this uncertain area of appropriate private and public behavior in our generation, let us not renounce the Rosh Yeshiva's great legacy of the correct attitude to situations and problems facing our generation.

After all, his only demand was for us to think a matter over until it became obvious and clear even to our diminished intellect, so that we should not [be able to] exempt ourselves with unacceptable claims that these matters were beyond us. "I have come to tell you some simple, fundamental things," he would say again and again to stress to us that he was not conveying some esoteric ideas intelligible only to himself on his high level.

He derived his insight from the wellsprings of Torah by virtue of delving into the depths of halocho according to the traditions handed down to him, and this Torah, which he taught us, can be understood by and affects all of us. From the moment that he explained his daas Torah on contemporary issues, as soon as we were instructed on the correct approach to any topic, we become obliged to engage in a process of thorough reflection and to draw the necessary conclusions -- for it is not in heaven.

Once he has shown that dos shteit do, we are all [as it were] automatically obligated to act in accordance with this Torah truth: "For the matter is very close to you, in your heart and mouth" (Devorim 30,14).

Orphans With A Legacy

The biggest test for talmidim of the Rosh Yeshiva to see whether we are faithful to his fundamental demand of thinking for ourselves and keeping away from superficial views started from the day that he passed away, when we felt as if we were groping in the darkness, like orphans without a father. The only thing an orphan has left is what he has been taught by his father.

He does not think that as soon as his father has been buried everything that he has been taught by him becomes meaningless. Only a totally foolish orphan (who does not exist in reality) would tell himself after his father's death: Father taught me to speak, to read and write, get dressed, and behave properly, but now that he is no longer with us, perhaps everything I have learned from him is not worth anything any more. Who says that the alef, beis remains the same now that he has passed away? Who says that I should still eat breakfast like he taught me to? Who says that now that father is in the grave everything he taught me remains relevant and valid? Perhaps I should start everything again from scratch; maybe I should take a teacher, a guide or adopt a father to re-teach me everything?

No orphan would say such things. Nor would any orphan say to himself that he is only "halachically obliged" to do everything his father taught him in his daily routine because he is obliged to honor him even when he has died. Everyone realizes that once his father has taught him how to read and eat -- and everything else -- he will continue to behave in the same manner not as part of kibbud av but because that is how a person has to live. As a baby he was dependent on his father's guidance on how to live, but from now onwards he will do it as something self-understood like any other reasonable person.

We have been orphaned from our father, but our father taught us how to live and how to think so that even on the day after we would not lose the ground from underneath our feet. We must pay special attention to this point. Our duty to remain faithful to the Rosh Yeshiva's teachings does not stem from kvod hameis. This is beside the point!

We had a father who is no longer with us, but he taught us to read and to live. He taught us not to play with fire or cross the street without looking out for cars. Only someone who wants to commit suicide would say, "Father has passed away, so maybe now I'm allowed to go close to a dangerous fire or cross the road without looking left and right."

Obedience To Torah, Not To A Teacher

The Rosh Yeshiva spoke about this fundamental point in one of his shmuessen (published in Lechoshvei Shemo, Adar II, 5738-1978). He spoke about the need to consider matters from a correct perspective, since in our generation everyone is faced with the terrible danger of acquiring distorted opinions, even without the presence of the strong negi'os which misled great philosophers of former generations.

"Whereas Rabi Saadia Gaon stated that the philosophers were attracted to heresy because of their personal interest in throwing off the yoke of halocho -- in other words, if it had not been for this point, they would have attained emunoh -- we are so weak-minded that even the smallest thing is enough to distort our perception, which is in any case so inadequate, and to remove us from the Torah path.

"To counter this we must follow the advice of rabbonim of previous generations who stated that a person has to set aside time to consider matters relating to yiras Hashem lest he be like a horse swept away in war, as Rabbeinu Yonah says in Sha'arei Teshuvoh. A person must constantly engage in introspection and contemplate matters of yiras Hashem. This is a personal duty incumbent on every individual without exception, because it is essential for everybody to establish foundations for his life based on Torah and yiras Shomayim, whatever his position in life. Whether he is a ben Torah or a businessman, he must have a basis of Torah and yiras Shomayim, and if a person contemplates these matters, he will be assured of having such a basis."

In that same shmuess the Rosh Yeshiva talked about another point, which should always guide our thoughts and which is of great relevance to us currently when the importance of continuing the derech haTorah of the Rosh Yeshiva is being stressed in every beis hamedrash and Torah home:

He said the following: "Although a person by nature wants to throw off restraints, we are witness to an amazing phenomenon to the contrary within a person, a contradictory combination of spiritual tendencies, which is one of the marvels of the Creator: a person will sometimes accept a yoke upon himself voluntarily without having been commanded to do so, as it says, `You shall not make other gods.' The acceptance of such a yoke is a consequence of discarding the yoke of malchus Shomayim. The acceptance of this [alternative] yoke even includes mitzvos and good deeds. In other words, a person is willing to observe the Torah's commandments not as part of the acceptance of ol malchus Shomayim, being willing instead to give someone the title of a gaon and tzaddik, to accept his yoke and observe the mitzvos because he commands him to and not because of the Torah's command.

"This is not the Torah's way. Do we observe the Rambam's rulings in the Yad Hachazokoh because the Rambam told us to? Do we obey a psak of the Mishna Berurah because the Chofetz Chaim told us to? This is not the right way: we have to observe the mitzvos only because the Torah commanded us to, and it is this yoke, which obligates us. If a person keeps the mitzvos because he has taken upon himself the yoke of a human being, there is a danger that even his best deeds will not attain their desired goals, since they do not stem only from the acceptance of ol malchus Shomayim. This is because such a person has a negia of perikas ol bordering on a violation of the prohibition of Lo sa'aseh elohim acheirim."

Only Tradition Connects Us To Kabolas HaTorah MiSinai

We are currently being put to the test to see why we followed the Rosh Yeshiva's path during his lifetime. Why we stuck to the derech ho'emess was not because the Rosh Yeshiva told us to, or for the sake of his honor. We knew that he was transmitting to us the derech haTorah miSinai and not his private Torah. Every thinking ben Torah knew that the Rosh Yeshiva received the correct derech for all our conduct from the transmitters of Torah, and that this was our only connection to those who received the Torah at Sinai: via the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, the Vilna Gaon, the Rashbo, the Rambam, Abaye and Rovo, Rabi Meir and Rabi Yehuda, all the way back to Moshe at Sinai.

One cannot talk about a group or school of thought of followers of Rav Shach (terms that are used in this context in the secular media), but only of a Torah world, which in its entirety follows the path transmitted to us from generation to generation, and which recognizes that the Rosh Yeshiva was a link in the chain connecting between "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and handed it to Yehoshua . . ." and our generation.

Anyone who chas vesholom turns his back on this derech of transmission of the Torah from generation to generation, alienates himself from our eternal tradition.

Since even during his lifetime we acted in accordance with the tradition transmitted by the Rosh Yeshiva, not because of the acceptance of a personal yoke or as members of a sect in the thrall of a personality cult, but out of a profound recognition that he was a transmitter of the derech haTorah to us, there is no change in our outlook even after his petiroh.

We have been orphaned from our father, but we were fortunate to receive the Toras Chaim from him. He left us the legacy of contemplating everything in life from a Torah perspective, in accordance with the guidance of the gedolim shlita from whom we will continue to receive Toras Chaim and a Torah hashkofoh with respect to all aspects of life. They will illuminate for us the correct derech, which has been transmitted from generation to generation, from the Rishonim to the Acharonim, and which the Rosh Yeshiva ztv"l transmitted to our generation and its gedolim.

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