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17 Elul 5765 - September 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
A Talmid Remembers: Elul and the Yomim Noraim in Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov

by HaRav Moshe Samsonovitz

In the yeshiva world, the month of Elul is a period of special [spiritual] grace. This was especially true in a yeshiva whose leader was one of the greatest mussar personalities.

In Be'er Yaakov the atmosphere in Elul was different from the whole year — serious and genuine. There were two sedorim of mussar, one before minchah and another before ma'ariv. The Mashgiach delivered shmuessen three times a week, usually on the same theme for the entire month of Elul. He would develop the topic, going into it deeply and expanding it.

During the days of Selichos the atmosphere in the yeshiva grew even more serious. His fundamental lesson for the Yomim Noraim was that the Day of Judgment focuses on every individual's relationship with the broader community. What is he contributing to the community? How does he relate to the wider group? Is he a person "whom the group needs" — "life for Your sake, Hashem"?

I remember well his explanation of Chazal's teaching, "All the world's inhabitants pass before Him like bnei morone and they are all surveyed in a single glance (Rosh Hashonoh 18). He would explain in Reb Yeruchom's name that while the judgment focuses on each individual separately, it examines his relations to the entire klal. In a single glance, his connection to the group as a whole is surveyed.

In a shmuess on Rosh Hashanah he once explained that bnei morone alludes to a high place where there is a narrow passage with a drop on both sides, where it is impossible for two people to walk side-by-side (Rashi). In the same way a person is brought in for his judgment alone — without his roommate, without his close friend — without having anyone else to blame. Alone and on his own he approaches the Heavenly court. That instills awe of judgment!

The shaliach tzibbur for musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah was [the rosh yeshiva] HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira shlita. On the second day lhbc'l the Mashgiach led musaf. [Listening to him] one could feel the `service of the heart' that he put into his prayer and his concentration on [the meaning of] each and every word.

At the Yom Tov tables in the dining room, only divrei Torah were spoken and everyone was very careful to avoid idle chatter on this day when the Mashgiach had said the seeds are sown for [what] the entire year [will yield]. They were two strained days — but well worthwhile.

As Rosh Hashanah drew to a close, the Mashgiach delivered a shmuess. On Rosh Hashanah itself there was no shmuess, a practice that the Mashgiach had received from his teacher, Reb Yeruchom zt'l.

Towards sunset on the second day he delivered a shmuess that revealed what had transpired in the Mashgiach's inner world during musaf on the second day, while he led the prayers.

On erev Yom Kippur before minchah the Mashgiach would deliver a shmuess on purity, on the meaning of the words, "we have sinned before You," on the idea of forgiving, which is not just a trite formula [to be summarily exchanged between friends]. If one genuinely feels the need to ask someone else for pardon and forgiveness, the right time to do it is not a few minutes before Yom Kippur begins. That is the time when one is meant to say Tefillah Zakah, which according to the Ramban is the main time for confessing, before sunset.

In the vaadim prior to Yom Kippur, the Mashgiach used to say that there are five areas in which a ben Torah needs to improve, by doing which he satisfies all the demands of teshuvoh. These are: prayer, iyun (learning in depth), bekiyus (covering ground), mussar and halochoh. In yeshiva, the opportunity to succeed in each of these areas is open to him.

HaRav Moshe Samsonovitz is menahel ruchani of Kollel Beis Abba in Kiryat Sefer and a close talmid of HaRav Wolbe, zt'l.


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