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22 Av 5763 - August 20, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l: "Am I an Ehrliche Yid?"

Rabbi A. Chefetz

It is Easy to Do Tshuva

Maran the Ponevezher Rov ztvk'l told that prior to a fundraising visit to solicit funds from people he knew from Lithuania who had settled in South Africa, he asked the Chofetz Chaim what message he could bring to those Afrikaner Jews in his name. Said the Chofetz Chaim: "Tell them that it is simple to do teshuvoh, to show remorse and to make a resolution. What stands in the way? A person's evil inclination, which tries to convince him that it is difficult to do teshuvoh."

Who Can Keep on Going When the Going Gets Rough?

HaRav Yisroel Zev Gustman zt'l told that he had been a member of the Vilna Beis Din and that when the Nazis ym'sh came to Vilna, it was interesting to note that the secular Jews could not hold out. Some of them simply went mad while others disappeared, never to be heard of again. It was the chareidi Jews who firmly stood their ground.

Why was this? Because a chareidi Jew is accustomed to withstand difficulties and tests. When he is confronted with a harsh reality, he is able to bear it and carry on. This is not the case with someone unused to facing and passing the difficult tests of life.

We cannot say the same for this generation. It is unable to stand up to trials. I recall that when I learned in Yeshivas Mir, there was no such thing as a student not learning because he couldn't find a place to learn or to sleep, or because he lacked a chavrusa or something like that. On the contrary, if the situation was difficult, students would become strengthened by it; they would face the problem as best they could and surmount the difficulty. Nowadays, a bit of discomfort or hardship, a minimal fatigue -- and a student is unable to learn.

There was an amazingly strong man in Lithuania who was able to break the hardest iron bars. He looked abnormally muscular, but his strength was really in the realm of the norm. HaRav Yeruchom ztvk'l used to tell that when asked how he had acquired such prodigious strength, the man replied that he would exercise each day, increasing his load and taxing his strength just a bit more than the previous day, until he developed his present prowess. R' Yeruchom used to say that the same rule applies in the world of the spirit: everything derives from the power of habit and persistence. A person must persevere to do just a bit more each day.

The lesson to derive from this is that we must train ourselves and keep in shape, so to speak, so that we can withstand any test that comes our way.


I heard three things that were kabolos, from the grandson of HaRav Yehoshua Leib Diskin ztvk'l who heard them from HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld ztvk'l who had heard them from the former's grandfather, R' Yehoshua Leib Diskin ztvk'l.

1) Prayers have already been made that Moshiach ben Yosef not die. (I also heard this in the name of the Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh.) Also, that perhaps he will have a bitter end, which will be like death.

2) In the period of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 C.E., the king of Turkey, who ruled over Eretz Yisroel at the time, said to R' Don Yitzchok Abarbanel that he would allow him and six hundred thousand Jews to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel. He did not accept the offer for fear of violating the three vows stated in Kesuvos (111a). R' Yehoshua Leib said that had he accepted the offer, the Abarbanel would have been Moshiach ben Yosef and the Ultimate Redemption would have come.

3) The final war will take only three hours, during which no harm will befall the ehrlicher Yidden. In all previous wars our people suffered, but in this final war, they will not suffer. (When I told this to R' Aharon Kotler, he said that R' Yehoshua Leib must have had Divine inspiration to know this several years early. Now, every child knows that a nuclear war can last for only three hours.) R' Aharon trembled with fear and said, "Who knows if I can be considered an ehrlicher Yid?"

I heard from Kabbalists that the people living in Eretz Yisroel will be safe. Along the same lines, I heard one Kabbalist say to a person that he will gain nothing by leaving Eretz Yisroel [where the situation seems so dangerous] since here no one will come to any harm.

"There is No One Beside Him"

I heard from one disciple of R' Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik ztvk'l, who heard directly from mouth to mouth all the way back to R' Chaim Volozhiner who once said to a man, "Ein od milvado -- Nothing in the world happens without the direct involvement of Hashem."

Replied the man, "Well, I can also do something on my own."

R' Chaim asked him, "What, for example?"

The man pointed to a glass vessel resting on the table and said, "I can break that."

R' Chaim answered, "I'm not so sure about that."

The man insisted that he could break the glass dish if he so willed. Thereupon he seized it and flung it to the ground. It did not shatter. He threw it again with all his might, but it did not break, even after several tries. R' Chaim took it and let it drop to the ground from his hands, whereupon it broke instantly.

To Buy Emunoh

R' Yeruchom, the Mashgiach of Mir ztvk'l, used to deliver a talk on Chumash to the foreign students studying in Yeshivas Mir in Europe. Coming from Canada, I attended this talk which took place twice a week, on Friday night and motzei Shabbos. He would review the Chumash with Rashi in its simple meaning, while adding short comments of his own. He once told us how he came to place such emphasis on this elementary type of study.

As a youth, he enjoyed reading a lot. Once, he came upon a work by a maskil and after glancing through it, felt his mind in turmoil. He went to R' Naftoli Amsterdam ztvk'l and wept before him. R' Naftoli advised him to read through Chumash with Rashi to find relief.

From that time on, he always took time to study Chumash with Rashi, which is why he decided to make a special lesson for the students from abroad who, likewise, may have come across works of heresy and become confused.

Nothing was more conducive to acquiring solid emunoh than sitting down and reading through the entire sidra, for this gave one a healthy perspective on the course of events and the order of things.

"In Three Years' Time"

It is written that the reason the Spies did what they did was because they knew the prophecy that "Moshe is destined to die and Yehoshua will lead the people into the Land." Since they were the disciples of Moshe, they did not want to submit to the leadership of Yehoshua and sought to remain in the desert together with their leader, Moshe Rabbenu.

When Maran R' Yeruchom passed away, the yeshiva heads sent for Maran R' Yechezkel Levenstein ztvk'l, who was then Mashgiach in Yeshivas Lomza (in Petach Tikva) in Eretz Yisroel, to succeed him as mashgiach in Mir. Several people advised R' Yechezkel to decline the offer since this office was deemed particularly difficult as there were devoted students of R' Yeruchom who would refuse to accept his leadership.

R' Yechezkel then divulged that three years prior, when he had been in Mir, his financial circumstances had forced him to accept a position as mashgiach in Eretz Yisroel. R' Yeruchom had begged him not to leave, saying, "In drai yohr arum vell ich dir opgeben mein positzia -- In three years' time, I will bequeath to you my position." And so he felt obliged to obey R' Yeruchom's request.

But, as had been predicted, he found the position most difficult. Those rebellious disciples did not know the fundamental principle of the Chiddushei HaRim zt'l:

After the passing of his master R' Bunim of Pshischa zt'l, a chossid came to seek the leadership of the Chiddushei HaRim. But the latter's approach was entirely different from his previous mentor's. This chossid could not make peace with that difference and was greatly displeased. Said the Chiddushei HaRim to him, "A Rebbe is like a sefer. When one has finished reading it, one lays it respectfully aside in a good place and begins another one."

He meant to say that one cannot reconcile two works into one volume; one must lay aside the practices and lessons from the previous Rebbe and put them away for safekeeping, so to speak; not to forget them, G-d forbid, but to give them their due respect. Nevertheless, one should accept the different practices and outlook of the new leader on a new footing. This, then, was the error of the disciples of R' Yeruchom, who sought to carry on his ways in opposition to the differences in the approach of R' Yechezkel.

This, too, was the error of the Spies. Even though "Moshe's countenance resembled the sun, while Yehoshua's face was like the moon," that is, a pale reflection (Bovo Basra 7a), still, each leader deserves his own place in his own time. There is a time for Moshe Rabbenu's leadership, and a time when one must submit to Yehoshua's leadership.

Kano'us is Preferable!

The reason why Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler had the privilege of building up Torah in America is not merely because of his greatness in Torah but because he was a kano'i and he fought the wars of Hashem. It is known that even within the Agudas HaRabbonim there were people who fought against him, but he would not capitulate and was eventually even appointed nosi of that organization.

I recall him once railing vehemently against the draft for women into the Israeli army and against the State of Israel in general. At that time, the Mizrachi newspaper threatened to stop all funding to yeshivos. The Rosh Yeshiva then summoned several of his close disciples in Lakewood Yeshiva, showed them the article, and said, "We are prepared to subsist on bread and water, but never to abandon the fight."

I also remember a prestigious rabbi from the Agudas HaRabbonim once speaking at a seuda shelishis in Lakewood and saying, among other things, that the Eitz Chaim yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel needed R' Aharon. Afterwards, the Rosh Yeshiva said to me, "Du zeist, men vell potur verehn von mir, You see, they want to get rid of me."

Several times at the beginning of the establishment of the yeshiva (Beis Medrash Govoha), R' Aharon found it necessary to go out to recruit students from here and there. I then suggested several times that we establish a high school from which to draw students for the yeshiva. He did not respond to me. His Rebbetzin told me that the reason he did not want a high school [which would include secular studies] was because he desired one corner of pure, holy oil.

A Person Must Believe in Himself

The following words were said by the Mashgiach of Lakewood when one of the members of the Kollel was seriously ill:

It is told that when the Ksav Sofer was only two years old, he became very ill and the doctors gave up hope for his recovery. His father, the Chasam Sofer, secluded himself in the room and began praying fervently. Later, he announced, "I succeeded in securing for him a jubilee of years." And indeed, the Ksav Sofer lived until the age of fifty-two.

Our fault is that each of us says to himself, "What will my prayer avail?" But R' Tzodok Hakohen already said (in Tzidkas Hatzaddik 154) that, "Just as a person must believe in Hashem Yisborach, so must he believe in himself." Similarly did Chazal say (Mishna Sanhedrin 37a): "Therefore must each and every person declare: For me was the world created." We also find that Eliezer, servant of Avrohom, did not rely on anything ultimately except for prayer.

When I was in Eretz Yisroel three years ago, I met HaRav Leib Bakst shlita who told me that he was just now returned from R' Yechezkel in Ponevezh. He told me that the Mashgiach was upset with him for some reason. He said to R' Yechezkel, "Why must you be concerned for the whole world? You are not responsible for the entire world!"

At that time, R' Nochum Lessman, one of the excellent students of Yeshivas Mir, had passed away. R' Yeruchom had appeared to the Mashgiach in a dream, demanding, "Farvos host du gelosst Nochum avekgeien? Why did you let Nochum leave this world?"

"So you see," said R' Yechezkel, "I am being held accountable. This means that by my prayer, I could have extended his life."

There is another story told of R' Yechezkel during the period that Yeshivas Mir was in Shanghai. One of the students had become critically ill to the point that the doctors despaired of his life. R' Yechezkel took a stand in front of the Oron Kodesh and recited the gemora in Shabbos 32a: "Our Sages taught: When someone is ill and about to die, he can still be saved if he has a great advocate. If not, he is not saved. And what is considered a great advocate? Repentance and good deeds. And even if there are 999 prosecutors bearing testimony against him and only one advocate pleading in his favor, he is saved, as it is written (Iyov 33:23), `If there be a single angel testifying in his favor out of a thousand, to tell of the man's probity, then He is gracious to him and says: Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom.' "

And that selfsame youth recovered and is today a rosh yeshiva, himself.

Revival of the Dead

I heard this from a distinguished rabbi who heard it twice from HaRav Meir Shapira ztvk'l when he was in Vienna for the Knessiah Gedola. This story was discovered in the Maharshal's own handwriting in the Gerrer Kloiz, which boasted a huge library which they succeeded in burying before the Nazis invaded. This is the tale:

There was a raging controversy between the rabbis in the city where the Maharshal officiated concerning a certain agunah. The Maharshal ruled that she be permitted to remarry and, relying on this ruling, the woman went ahead and got married. A short time after the wedding, the second husband, a young man, suddenly died. People began intimating that this was because the Maharshal's ruling had not been halachically valid.

The Maharshal was told what people were saying behind his back and was advised to issue some public message defending himself and the honor of the Torah. The Maharshal then wrote a letter addressed to the Minister of Heaven, describing the entire episode and his halachic rationale in ruling this woman to be permitted to remarry. He concluded that on these grounds, he ordered that this man be revived from the dead. He gave the letter to his shammash, telling him to lay the letter upon the grave of the second husband, after which this man would return alive to his home. He meanwhile sent a messenger to the widow preparing her for the arrival of her late husband. And so it was.

A short while later, the woman came to the Maharshal expressing a fear of living together with a man who had come back from the dead. Thereupon, the Maharshal prayed that people forget the entire incident, and this also came to pass. In his handwritten account, the Maharshal notes that the second miracle, of people forgetting the episode, was even greater than the first, of the man being resurrected!

The main lesson for us, that we see from this story, is that in olden times, when something supernatural took place, like a person dying prematurely, people automatically attributed it to some sin or irregularity. We must infer that it behooves a person to take stock of everything that happens and to ask himself why Hashem did this to him.

The above are excerpts from the sefer Noam Hamussar, based on vaadim of the late mashgiach of Lakewood, HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt"l.

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