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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.