Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Cheshvan 5762 - October 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitch on Learning Issues

Excerpts from questions and answers from the book Imrei Daas. The answers are often taken from replies directed to those who wrote letters, and are printed as they were originally written.

Q. How should an avreich who is successful in his studies and also has a leaning towards mussar and hashkofo prepare himself for his task of disseminating Torah. Should he invest time in one or both?

Ans. I had the merit of hearing the Or Yechezkel, the mashgiach of Ponevezh, telling the bochurim in the Yeshiva during his shmuessen that everyone should devote themselves to the study of the yeshiva masechtos from seder Noshim veNezikin, to be immersed in understanding them in order to prepare themselves for obtaining teaching positions of whatever kind.

You write that you have a leaning toward mussar. This is an important aspect of perfecting oneself for a position in harbotzas Torah. Students need to hear shiurim from a rov with perfect middos, in which case his words are bound to be acceptable to them.

We can see from experience that the success of a rov with his talmidim is dependent on the extent to which the rov has perfected his middos.

Q. How much are we obliged to help others with their limud if we feel that this damages our limud?

Ans. To help someone succeed in his Torah studies is a real chesed shel emes which is not rewarded (in this world). But one has to plan this in such a way that one's own ruchniyus will not be affected. The rule is that although there is a duty to devote yourself to your fellow Jew's ruchniyus and gashmiyus, you have to be careful that your own ruchniyus will not be affected. There has to be a certain limit in order that someone who donates of his time will not get too involved in chesed and forget his own duty to be immersed in Torah and good deeds.

Q. Should an avreich teaching Torah in chutz lo'oretz who used to live in Eretz Yisroel come back to live in Eretz Yisroel to learn by himself in an undiluted chareidi environment, or should he prefer teaching Torah abroad even though this involves living in the secular goyishe environment of chutz lo'oretz?

Ans. This is a serious question. Upon reflection and in my humble opinion, to be mezake horabim by educating the younger generation to Torah and yiras Shomayim is also to be considered an accomplishment for oneself. Moreover, the whole Jewish population of that town is positively affected by his presence in all sorts of ways, whereas here in Eretz Yisroel he is only learning for himself.

However, the father and mother must pray constantly for the success of their sons' and daughters' education, that they should continue in the path of Torah and yiras Shomayim which is the foundation and purpose of our lives in this world, and to make sure that they do not chas vesholom become friendly with unsuitable neighbors and friends thereby becoming exposed to disgusting ways of talking, stories and information. They have to be educated by their parents and teachers in an atmosphere of kedushoh and taharoh.

Q. Why is the subject of emunoh not taught in yeshivas?

Ans. This is not even a question. Klal Yisroel has a tradition [on this] from our forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, and also the redemption from Egypt and matan Torah demonstrated to us in a tangible manner, the foundations of emunoh as handed down from father to son. The Ramban explained this at length in parshas Voeschanon 4:9; study it well.

. . . On the contrary, you cannot attain emunoh by talking about it directly because we are not able to understand even the simplest things, only tzaddik be'emunoso yichye. When we contemplate events in life we can perceive emunoh and hashgocho protis, and if we do not recognize this on our own, no explanation will be of any use.

We have to keep a distance from those who want to understand matters with their meager intellect, rather tomim tihiye and so on. We should not listen to their questions or argue with them. Happy is our lot that we have no doubts about yichud Hashem.

Q. I am used to applying the segulah of the Nefesh HaChaim (3:12) to contemplate Hashem's achdus and yichud, and have been used to experiencing wonders. Lately on one occasion it was not effective and my emunas chachomim became weakened.

Ans. Certainly a person is not always ready for the Nefesh HaChaim's wonderful segulah, and you should therefore not be perturbed if your wishes are not always fulfilled.

Q. What are the criteria to determine whether demands one makes on oneself are appropriate?

Ans. Every resolution should lead to practical results and to simchah. If this is the case, then you know that it comes from the good part and is a sound resolution. But if chas vesholom a self-awakening or resolution causes you to feel upset with yourself resulting in sadness and spiritual damage, then keep away from it and look for a way to improve the situation.

To achieve this you should make yourself happy by intensifying your limud haTorah because "Hashem's mitzvos are straight, rejoicing the heart," and in Shabbos (30b) it says on the posuk, "And I praised happiness" that this is referring to simcha shel mitzvah and also to a dvar halocho. You must specifically learn with a chavrusa and say all your thoughts out aloud.

Amongst Hashem's kindnesses is the fact that He accepts every positive thought which comes to amend past actions, both bein odom lechavero and bein odom laMokom.

You must be careful not to make any resolutions which are easily broken. Everything has to be bli neder because breaking a neder and shevu'oh is very severe, especially if it is for a dvar mitzva, since one cannot make hattoras nedorim for such a neder. Caution is therefore obligatory.

Q. Sometimes it happens that bochurim in yeshivos gedolos are asked for their opinions about friends from yeshivos ketanos who have applied to be accepted into their yeshiva. Is it worthwhile to answer these inquiries and testify who are the best bochurim?

Ans. It is certainly not correct and proper for a young man to determine who, in his opinion, are the best bochurim in a shiur, and -- by implication -- who are the weak ones, thereby damaging the latter. Even if some bochurim really are not amongst the best, they are still worthy of being accepted to yeshiva. Moreover, a young man's judgment should not be relied upon, and sometimes he is totally wrong, causing great and irreparable damage. Consequently, it is wisest not to say anything.

Q. How should a bochur in yeshiva gedoloh learn halocho lema'aseh?

Ans. You can only fulfill the Will of the Creator in keeping the mitzvos by knowing the halocho according to the rulings of the Shulchan Oruch, and on Orach Chaim you have to learn the Mishna Berurah. It is preferable to learn with a chavrusa and to study the Mishna Berurah in depth, perhaps adding the Chayei Odom, because a lot of mussar matters connected to those halochos are to be found there. However, one should not study pamphlets and summaries of halochos.

The amount of time to be spent on halocho depends on how much you can manage to fit into your schedule during the day. The main thing is that it should not disturb your in- depth studies of masechtos.

Q. What is the correct way of improving one's character traits?

Ans. It is obvious that those who are immersed in limud haTorah and also have a fixed time for learning mussar will certainly acquire every good character trait, but to work directly on improving a specific trait, you need a rav muvhak to show you the way.

Q. Is it advisable for a yeshiva bochur to listen to cassettes of outreach lectures given to a non- religious public?

Ans. One should only listen to mussar shmuessen given in the yeshiva derech by roshei yeshiva or mashgichim, and not to look for things from faraway places, which are of doubtful value.

Q. How can one remember gemoras that one studies?

Ans. To learn the gemora at least four times slowly and aloud, explaining it to yourself fully as if you are teaching someone else, then to learn again, even the gemora on its own, many times inside, repeating the material by heart, and then from time to time to summarize the sugya yourself even without Rashi, just explaining it clearly. I think that this way your powers of understanding and your memory will improve.

Q. Would it be worthwhile in order to strengthen the sedorim in yeshivos on Fridays and Shabossos to learn a different masechta then?

Ans. It is a great and important matter to strengthen the studies on these days, on which the level of limud haTorah is unfortunately very weak in the yeshivos. To learn a masechta not being learned in other sedorim is a good idea, but this should be done with a chavrusa, and the sugya has to be studied carefully and clearly according to the Rishonim and you must try to go over it several times until you feel that your memory has absorbed the material. It would seem a good idea to learn the second part of the masechta being studied in the yeshiva, but if you feel like learning a new masechta, you will probably study it more eagerly, and the principle that "A person should always learn what his heart desires" applies here. This way you will succeed.

Q. Should a talented seventh grade pupil jump to yeshiva ketanoh?

Ans. He would certainly feel the loss of what he missed in eighth grade throughout his days in yeshiva, causing irreparable damage chas vesholom. In addition, he would have to get along in a dormitory, whereas it is in any case not advisable to sleep there. Therefore it would be better for such a person to continue on to eighth grade.

However, make sure that the chavrusas and friends are serious students who desire Torah and yiras Shomayim.

On the Derech Halimud -- The Cause of the Current Situation: Arrogance

About the unsatisfactory situation which has arisen in our times amongst students of both yeshivos gedolos and yeshivos ketanos where the original derech halimud followed by all the gedolim of previous generations has been forgotten. They devoted themselves to toiling in the acquisition of the mehalach of the sugya according to Rashi and Tosafos. It requires a lot of labor and patience to pay attention to every expression of the gemora and to learn Rashi slowly, because it takes more than one or two readings to fathom the depths of his intentions like a lost object, utilizing the words of the Rishonim to see how they understood him and commented on him.

Nowadays the genuine derech halimud has been abandoned, and bochurim immediately jump to make their own unfounded sevoros. After a while the more honest bochurim realize themselves that they have remained totally static in their level of Torah.

I am not coming to teach the correct derech. The kuntres being published by you already contains many letters by the gaon of our generation, the Prince of Torah, HaRav Eliezer Menachem Man Shach shlita explaining how one should learn, as well as letters from the Kehillos Yaakov zt"l which everyone should read and attempt to fulfill.

I would only like to add that the root cause of the current situation lies in the trait of arrogance, which makes people think that they have reached the stage where they no longer need the assistance of a rov to teach them the derech halimud and the correct and true way of understanding and explaining the Rishonim. Due to this they have stopped going over the rov's shiurim as a result of which the significance of the Tanna's directive to "make yourself a rov" has been undermined, because it is incumbent upon the talmid to make himself a rov, and not sufficient for the rov, for his part, to be a godol.

Many pitfalls result from this attitude, one of them being that talmidim leaf through all sorts of books without understanding them. Earlier generations already objected to this. The Chossid Ya'avetz says on Ovos (6:6) that one of the 48 means of acquiring Torah is to learn from a rov, as Chazal say, "From sofrim and not from seforim" (see also Kuzari 2:72), because books contain many mistakes which a rov corrects for his students, and on many occasions a wise man will misunderstand the intention of a book which is not the case with the statement of a rov.

In order to merit success in limud haTorah a person has to follow the advice of Chazal in Nedorim (55a) on the posuk, "mimidbar matonoh": "When one makes himself as the wilderness, which is free to all, the Torah is presented to him as a gift." This gift grants him more understanding than he would have using his own intellectual powers, all in accordance with the degree of his anovoh. It also says in Horayos 12: "Rav Mesharsheya said to his sons, `Whenever you intend on coming in for your lesson with your rov revise the subject first and then enter his presence . . . and rather sit on the garbage heaps of Massa Machsiyo than in the palaces of Pumpediso." (Rashi: where there were talmidei chachomim worthy of teaching and they had a beautiful educational system).

May you have the merit of being among the mezakei horabim through lots of people being encouraged by this booklet to revert to the original derech halimud based on the 48 ways through which the Torah is acquired.

On Mixing Torah and Secular Studies

. . . The holy and the profane cannot be mixed, and secular studies have a harmful effect on students' Torah studies.

We only have the derech which has been transmitted from generation to generation from the time of matan Torah by Moshe Rabbeinu. In all ages and places the system has always been according to the words of the Tanna, "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and handed it to Yehoshua . . ." which is Torah untouched by secular studies.

As HaRav Yaakov Emden in the introduction to his siddur writes: "When I contemplate the miracle of the continued existence of this nation, it is equal and greater in my eyes than the Exodus from Egypt and all the miracles performed by Hakodosh Boruch Hu, because the miracle of the nation's continued existence is not a time-based miracle but a permanent one. In every generation they rise against us to destroy us and only Hakodosh Boruch Hu saves us from them, only because of Torah study, because throughout the generations in the Diaspora the Torah has never ceased from the Jewish nation, as it is expounded in Medrash Tanchuma, parshas Noach (3) at length: `Therefore Hakodosh Boruch Hu fixed two yeshivos for the Jews where they would study Torah day and night,' see there at length. This is due to Hakodosh Boruch Hu's promise, `This song shall testify before them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten from the mouths of their descendants.'"

It is well known and we have seen with our own eyes that wherever there is a yeshiva and Torah is studied al taharas hakodesh with toil and yiras Shomayim, the whole surrounding environment absorbs the taharoh and kedushoh. This is the great and only protection from assimilation. Those places which had no yeshivos deteriorated rapidly, because the only source of yeridas hadoros is the fact that people are educated without Torah and yiras Shomayim. This is therefore an unruly education without Torah and emunoh, it is debauchery and anarchy.

And so my brothers do not act wickedly. It is a holy duty to stand in the breach and amend your deeds by establishing yeshivos gedolos and ketanos for young men without secular studies, so that Torah will emanate from them to illuminate the whole nation.

On the Education Of Girls

. . . Even girls who have no mitzva to study Torah still need to be educated according to a Torah outlook and one of yiras Shomayim and middos tovos, for the foundations of the Jewish home depend on them. They need to be watched carefully and educated according to the traditions we have received from our fathers. On the contrary, in our times we are faced with more difficulties in their education, and we have to be on our guard even more, for the dangers to our souls both inside our camp [houses?] and outside are very great.

Chazal said (Avoda Zora 27) that people are attracted to heresy, and (ibid. 16b) that Acher was attracted to minus when he heard a min making a permitted statement because he had infringed the Torah's command to keep a distance from minus. This Torah shall not be replaced.

How to Learn Torah Shebichsav and Write Chiddushim

To learn Torah shebichsav with Rashi's commentary in depth and to put one's chiddushim into writing is a very important thing. This applies to the halachic aspect as well as to the ma'asei bereishis and ma'asei ovos aspect, because you can attain important knowledge regarding every Torah topic, mussar, yir'oh and the perfection of character traits from such study. However, Torah shebichsav is different, because we do not have any traditions from our rabbonim about a correct derech halimud.

You also need to have a proficiency in pesukim of Tanach as they are expounded in midroshim and Yalkut Shimoni. It is advisable to study the commentaries of the Ramban, the Sforno and the commentaries of other Rishonim on the Torah, such as that of Rabbenu Bechaye, which includes three levels of explanations of the pesukim, because the foundation of emunoh is connected to midroshim on pesukim. Since, as we said, we do not have a thorough tradition from a rov on the correct way to understand Tanach, we must be careful not to stumble in our study of Tanach.

Moreover, one should not spend too much time on this study, making sure that the toiling in sugyas haShas does not become affected by it. Everything should be in an appropriate measure with a view to making progress towards greatness in Torah.

Happiness Through Torah

From a letter written to a friend in 5700 (1940) when he was learning in Chevron Yeshiva, Yerushalayim.

We too in the yeshiva are busy with our unlimited avodoh, which encompasses a person's whole life: his elevation in personal greatness by feeling the pleasure of life -- real, eternal pleasure. This is the exaltation resulting from greatness and depth in Torah, which teaches a person the correct path in life.

We also have to recognize the exalted status of a person who is capable of attaining the highest levels, which Hashem in His mercy has imparted to the world. Everybody who has been created in the image of Hashem has a duty to attain those levels and live in accordance with them, and they can only be attained by toiling in our holy Torah.

Once this is understood, we need not be amazed at all the hard work a ben yeshiva invests in his studies. He dedicates his whole being and energy to it to the extent that he literally lives in a spiritual world, almost forgetting worldly affairs. He only yearns for progress and growth, for in truth this entails a lot of labor, and it is his whole life. How great is the happiness of someone who has attained happiness in life!

I conclude with greetings wishing you all the best,

Michel Yehuda Lefkovitch.

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