Rabbi A. Chefetz
Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l: "Am I an Ehrliche
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.