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8 Tishrei 5762 - September 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Making Every Tenth Day Holy

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

"Whoever wants a long life, should give one tenth of his days," writes the holy Sheloh, about the practice of devoting every tenth day to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt'l kept every tenth day holy, and other gedolim down the generations marked it by fasting. The Alter of Kelm introduced the practice into the Talmud Torah of Kelm. This article, which surveys how this custom was kept by different gedolei Yisroel and calls upon us to follow in their footsteps, is based on Kisvei Hasabbo MiKelm, (The Writings of the Alter of Kelm) and on the booklet Asiri Kodesh, published in Elul 5748 in Bnei Brak. It is not presented as a panacea or something that everyone must do, but it is an important idea that can be inspirational for everyone.

A Voice from the Past

"My beloved and precious son . . . "

Your uncle . . . has already spoken about this, the great mistake which students of Torah also fall into, whereby they say many selichos and cut down on their learning in the month of Elul, and also take a little more care than usual over their conduct. But they only mean this to last for this single month and straightaway, on motzei Yom Kippur, they all go back to their old ways . . . " So wrote Reb Aryeh Leib zt'l, the brother of the Alter of Kelm, to his son.

Reb Aryeh Leib added that, "This however, is a blatant error, because the earlier sages designated Elul for us to prepare for the Day of Judgment. What does that preparation consist of? Embarking on a process of teshuvoh, regretting the past and resolving to do better in the future. Obviously, this resolution has to be to behave better in the coming year than one did in the past one. If a person knows that even the little that he is now adding to his avodoh is only meant for the month of Elul, where is his regret and his resolve for the future, and with what can he approach the Day of Judgment?" (Teshuvas Yisroel, Appendix)

If, back then, in a generation of such stature, this "blatant error" was already being made "by students of the Torah," then in our impoverished times it is certainly the case. Right after Yom Kippur, on the very next day, all the exalted and uplifted feelings that we experienced during Elul and the Yomim Noro'im which followed, calling to Hashem "while He is close," all but dissipate and vanish.

This, of course, is bad enough. But what is even worse is that we are aware of this being the case even at the height of the Yomim Noro'im themselves, and this knowledge itself weakens us. Seeing no prospect for any long term results from all our toil and efforts makes it very difficult to continue.

A Universal Problem

There is no clear-cut solution to this problem. All we can do is to continue increasing our avodoh even more, for this -- sustained application and dedication -- is the way that has been shown to us in order to hold on to spiritual acquisitions. In Mesillas Yeshorim (perek 25, "The Way To Acquire Yir'oh") the Ramchal writes, "Since this is something that is far from our senses, our minds can only give it shape after much contemplation and reflection. And even after we have built ourselves an image, that image will move away from us easily if we do not apply ourselves assiduously to it."

This then, is the only clear answer that can be given: sustained, consistent application to avodas Hashem, taking ourselves repeatedly through the steps we followed to make our gains, over and over again, until we have fixed them in our hearts. This principle operates in all areas of our spiritual lives.

With regard to the particular problem of maintaining the extra care and heightened sensitivity of the Yomim Noro'im, throughout the year, when the distractions surrounding us multiply and threaten to drive away our awareness of our true purpose in this world, the only answer we can give is, "Go out, following the tracks of the flock" (Shir Hashirim 1:8). Although we do not have the power to innovate, we can examine the practices of gedolei Yisroel of past generations who attained great spiritual heights. By following them, we too can hope to put ourselves on the correct path.

The Practice of Gedolim of Past Centuries

Even today, we have had the privilege of witnessing the conduct of the surviving members of the last generation of alumni of the Talmud Torah of Kelm. Their practice in this respect was, "asiri kodesh (every tenth one is holy)"! Ten days were counted from Yom Kippur and that, and every subsequent tenth day, were devoted to strengthening avodoh and working on the undertakings made on Yom Kippur. On these days, extra care was taken in all areas of avodas Hashem, in dealings with others and in being careful not to waste time that could be used for Torah study. This custom thus affords an opportunity to retain and to reinforce one's connection with the spiritual level experienced during the Yomim Noro'im.

This is actually a custom that was followed by earlier authorities. The Sheloh (in maseches Chulin, at the end of the chapter entitled "Ner Mitzvoh") quoting an even earlier source, writes, "A person's lifetime should be tithed, and a tenth devoted to Hakodosh Boruch Hu." The Sheloh describes at length how one should conduct oneself when the tenth day falls on Shabbos, on Yom Tov, or on a fast day. He writes, "It appears to me that in this instance, the day should not be delayed and it is certainly so . . . for the main factor in the day's holiness is its being a day of repentance: of examination of one's ways, of contemplating repentance, of holy resolutions and of reflection on how he can mend his ways."

The Sheloh concludes, "The proper arrangement is as follows: throughout one's life, one should begin counting from Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur . . . the twentieth of the month should be holy. He should do this every year and at the end of the year, when less than ten days remain, he should make all the days after the last tenth day holy, so that the counting starts from Rosh Hashonoh. He should continue doing this all his life."

The author of Hogein Vederech Moshe, a work which the Mogen Avrohom quotes a number of times, writes, "And now I will write about a medicine for long life. Whoever wants to live long, should give a tenth of his days . . . from Rosh Hashonoh, at the beginning of every year, he should count ten days until Yom Kippur . . . and from then on he counts nine days and the tenth one should be holy, with Torah study or some other mitzvoh, so that he remember that this day is more holy and pure than all the others. In this way, his days will multiply and he will have a long life . . . "

This custom is compared to that of ma'aser kesofim, as we find in Or Tzaddikim by the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Meir Papiresh zt'l (Amud Hatorah, perek 17): "In the same way that a person is obliged to give a tenth of his money, he is also obliged to give a tenth of his days . . . every tenth day from Rosh Hashonoh should be holy with fasting, Torah and prayer, spending a little more time in solitude than on other days. On days when he cannot fast, this day should still be holy with Torah and tefilloh."

Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt'l also kept this custom, as we find in the work Chut Hameshulosh (pg.188), where the author records how he ordered his avodoh: this was how he arranged his daily avodoh, maintaining this order for twenty-five consecutive years . . . on Shabbos Hagodol, on Shabbos Shuvoh, on the fourth day of selichos, on erev Rosh Chodesh and at Kol Nidrei, he addressed the community. On every tenth day he remained in solitude, allowing nobody to approach him on any kind of business, occupying himself solely with matters between himself and his Creator.

"In Posen, there lived an elderly man whose grandfather had instructed him to give the sum of six thousand reichsthaler to some worthy cause. In his will, the man wrote that this sum should be given to Rabbi Akiva Eiger. The money was handed to my grandfather zt'l, who used it to build a hospital with an adjoining beis hamedrash and also a small room inside it, where it was his custom to seclude himself every tenth day. He sat there from morning to night so that nobody would interrupt him, for it was difficult for him to be alone at home because of the disturbance of people coming and going, each with his own affairs. There, however, he sat securely, for they knew that on that day, he did not want to be disturbed with anything else at all" (Chut Hameshulosh, pg.212).

This custom is also mentioned in the list of "Worthy Customs from the writings of HaRav Moshe Cordovero z'l" (brought in Inspiration for Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh in the siddur of the Vilna Gaon Ishei Yisroel pg. 431, number 16). It is also mentioned in the work Yorim Moshe (by a member of the Ramchal's circle), where stress is laid upon fasting on the tenth days.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the Alter of Kelm introduced this practice into the Talmud Torah of Kelm, and great disciples of that institution from the Alter's day down to most recent times kept it throughout their lives. The custom was also kept by the well known groups there, such as the Chevras Devek Tov and Chevras Tikun Hamidos. Further information about the practice can be found in Kisvei Hasabbo MiKelm, in the note on page 140.

A Cautionary Note

It should be pointed out that keeping this custom requires the utmost caution -- as does every kind of vow and voluntary undertaking -- against taking too much upon oneself. In Ordinances of the Tenth [Day], that were put out in Kelm (and are quoted in the aforementioned sefer), we find that there were three levels of difficulty in adopting the custom.

By devoting even a little time during the tenth day to reflection and self-examination, or doing even one extra thing, such as praying one of the day's tefillos, or saying bircas hamozone with special concentration, one makes the day holy. Experience bears out the assertion that from a modest beginning one can gradually add more and more until, with siyata diShemayoh, one is truly achieving a lot. This was how great and holy men of past generations conducted themselves and by so doing, they attained the heights that they attained, accruing merit for themselves as well as for future generations.

"Go out, following the tracks of the flock," is the directive for our spiritually impoverished generation. Today, the breaches outnumber the areas that remain fenced in, distractions surround every one of us and our day to day affairs force us into contact with the crowds in the street, who wallow in a mire of materialism. How can we maintain our spiritual equilibrium in the face of all of this? How can we guard the undertakings that we make during the Yomim Noro'im and Succos -- and who does not truly want this, to be able to do so?

What are we worth compared to the gedolim of earlier generations? "If they were like man, we are like donkeys . . . "

Yet they needed such a practice, and if they did, we certainly do!

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