The Yeshiva Regimen
There is one thing that is vital to all yeshiva students:
reinforcing their strict adherence to the yeshiva time
schedule. This is a guarantee for success.
Maran HaGaon R' Shach insisted on this very firmly. With the
very last vestiges of his strength, he would ascend from his
home and go to the yeshiva to study mussar, even in
his very advanced age when every effort required a summoning
of all his powers. He knew the importance of mussar
study and appreciated the importance of yiras
Shomayim which this provided and he would declare that
coming late for this was a terrible breach.
He once told me that one who does not study mussar
during the time allotted for it, simply does not know
what yeshiva means, what it represents. This teaches us to
appreciate the significance of Torah, of the study of
mussar, and of yiras Shomayim. The yetzer
hora also appreciates it, for he exerts tremendous effort
to stymie that study. These are, after all, very fundamental
things, and the yetzer hora puts up great resistance
to the study of mussar, as Maran the Rosh Hayeshiva
was well aware, and which is why he placed such strong
emphasis on it.
Attending Torah Scholars in Yeshiva
Another most important facet leading to success in one's
Torah studies is shimush talmidei chachomim, the
services one provides in attending to the needs of Torah
scholars. Many young students make light of this, these days;
they think that they can proceed and grow without it; they
[think that they] are already men of intellect and need not
go in for `that sort of thing.' They feel they are on a level
of innovating their own chiddushim. They are mistaken
however, for without being in close proximity to Torah
leaders, one cannot know what is a straightforward manner of
thinking and what is erroneous.
Shimush chachomim includes observing the daily
practices of Torah scholars, how they conduct themselves, and
deriving lessons therefrom. This can only be gained through
extended attendance upon them; only thus can one strive for
Someone once came to yeshiva and reminisced about the olden
times in Slutsk, when Maran, R' Shach, had been studying
under HaGaon R' Isser Zalman Meltzer ztvk'l. "I had no
idea that he would some day become the godol hador,"
he confessed, "but I do remember something outstanding about
him then. He spent all his time in the proximity of R' Isser
Zalman. He followed him around and literally did not budge
from him. The same was repeated when he came to Eretz
Yisroel: he doted upon the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov
and was in constant contact with them. With this degree of
shimush chachomim, it is small wonder that he turned
out a godol hador, himself."
This closeness contributes a great deal towards building up
someone's character, his outlook, personal conduct, his
This applies to young men as well. When they are in yeshiva,
listening to shiurim, they must review those lectures;
it is not enough to understand them. One must internalize and
review them constantly. There is a marked difference between
one who reviews and one who doesn't review.
Auditing a shiur can be compared to reading a book,
while reviewing a lesson adds immeasurably to one's
comprehension in general and to his comprehension of the
shiur itself. Having understood it after review raises
the hearer to a higher level of understanding, specifically
It should be noted that without a master-teacher, a rov, one
cannot attain a proper level of understanding (except when
one has special siyata deShmaya through some special
merit). One who lightly dismisses the value of shimush
chachomim will surely not benefit from special merits,
under natural circumstances.
Observing the conduct of Torah scholars provides one with
clear thinking, straightforward logical processes. There are
today some scholars who did not serve this vital
`apprenticeship' and are heard spouting ideas that are not
grounded in good sense.
Mussar Study in Yeshiva
Once, during the period after Yom Kippur, on Parshas Lech
Lecho, Maran R' Shach said that he did not understand
something: only a month had elapsed since Yom Kippur; during
Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh and on Yom Kippur everyone took himself
in hand and strengthened himself spiritually. Everyone
devised all kinds of resolutions and strategies to improve.
And now, sadly, it seemed that everything was forgotten and
the arousal, the impact of those days, had dissipated . .
He explained that the blame was to be laid upon the
environment. One did not see yiras Shomayim, and if
this was lacking, one forgot everything, for a person is
inevitably influenced by his surroundings.
He further said that we could verily see this from the
parsha: "Go forth from your land." Distance yourself
from idolatry, from the diaspora mentality. Go to Eretz
Yisroel. At that point, Avrohom Ovinu was already on an
exalted level; Hashem had appeared and spoken to him.
Nevertheless, it was still necessary for him to leave his
land and his father's house. For there, he would not be able
to rise any further spiritually.
Furthermore, Yaakov declared: "I sojourned with Lovon [the
wicked], and still kept the 613 commandments." This was no
mean feat, even for Yaakov Ovinu, at his level of holiness.
He had to fight a constant inner battle to maintain his own
against the evil influence of his environment by Lovon.
We see this further in this portion: "And Hashem said to
Avrom, after Lot separated from him . . . " Lot, already at
that point, was bad, and this exerted an effect on Avrom to
the point that Hashem would not appear to him and this, in
turn, reduced him from the spiritual level he had already
Maran said that the only counsel to counter a bad influence
is the study of mussar, to receive the influence and
impact from mussar works. A person must buttress
himself through this study. He also said that HaGaon R' Chaim
Ozer always kept a copy of Mesillas Yeshorim on his
table — he, with all of his brilliance, righteousness
The study of mussar is an absolute obligation, as we
find by all the poskim (Mishnah Berurah 61). Why?
Because if a person does not constantly rouse himself and
prod himself to improve, he cannot even hope to attain
perfection, for this is man's nature.
We saw this by Maran R' Shach, how he would exert himself to
the utmost to study mussar even in his latter period
of life, even though walking [to the yeshiva] took him a
long, long time. One step after another, so long as he could
arrive for the yeshiva mussar session. In his will he
asked that people devote at least: " . . . one thought to
The Study Approach in Yeshivos
Maran R' Shach spoke a great deal about the study approach in
yeshivos. He focused on it, for example, at the funeral of
Maran R' Shmuel Rozovsky, insisting that the present method
was all wrong. This theme repeats itself throughout his
letters. He claims that the yetzer hora is active here
in particular. Why? Because it knows that the main avenue to
success in ruchniyus is through Torah and mussar,
and the yetzer hora redoubles its efforts to
counter [success in Torah].
One of the ways to acquire Torah is beyishuv, in
equanimity, that is, through yishuv hadaas. Without a
sense of emotional pressure.
There was a time when I did not recognize this problem
altogether. Today, we see people who do have positive
aspirations but these goals drive them and pressure them. But
this pressure is not positive; it is damaging in every
aspect. The Vilna Gaon writes in his famous Letter, "For
study is only affixed in a person's heart through serenity
Today, there are many who do not study with serenity and with
equanimity. Here is a simple example from the way they
approach their study. When they learn a gemora for the
first time, they already want to understand the pshat
completely. And if they cannot grasp it right away, they try
and they exert themselves more and more, and they begin to
feel increasingly pressured and in the end, they don't even
achieve a properly organized pshat.
The traditional, simple and accepted approach had always been
that if one does not understand the entire text on the first
encounter, one does not dwell on every difficult point, but
continues on learning. On the following day, one begins all
over from the beginning and [very often] what was difficult
previously, suddenly becomes clear and falls into place. One
must sometimes review a third time.
Nonetheless, in this manner, one does not feel pressured, and
one also does not waste time. Maran R' Shach wrote in one of
his letters not to become bogged down on explanations right
from the beginning.
Of course there are other [kinds of] students who never feel
pressured; they always seem to have plenty of time and are in
no rush — but in the end the accomplish nothing.
But those who truly wish to advance and they do exert
themselves — should know that the right way to study is
through tranquillity and composure.
In his letters, Maran says that this is how he studied. What
he did not initially understand, he would skim over, and not
dwell upon, but proceed onward. Afterwards, he would review
time and again. Repeatedly.
He once warned a young student and told him, "Don't learn
slowly. Don't look for complex explanations and
sevoros. Don't do what they call iyun, in depth
study. Study to cover ground and review a great deal. I know
that you won't listen to me (for he knew that his approach
was not accepted), but nevertheless, I am telling you this so
that you won't come to me later with complaints as to why I
didn't tell you this before. The time will come when you will
understand what I am telling you, and will regret not having
listened to me."
That very person told me, confessing, "Now I really
understand what he was saying. But it is too late . . . "
Maran HaRav Shach wrote about this in many letters and used
to speak about it frequently, and was painfully aware that
the popular approach to learning was not what it should be.
But, he admitted, people were blinded to his view; they were
bribed by self-serving interests. They thought their way led
to success, but did not realize that it was all wrong.
It's like diabetics who allow themselves to eat sweets,
deluding themselves that no harm will come but are blind to
the eventual outcome. And even if those students heard and
knew, still, conflicting interests got in the way. Even in
[deciding on] the approach to study, one encounters
deceptions and bribery which we cannot go into here.
Maran spoke a lot about good character traits and would
mention the words of R' Chaim Vital, which we also always
say, that the reason why the Torah does not dwell upon good
middos is because this is the very preface to the
whole Torah; without this, a person is not a mensch,
and there is no point even talking to him . . .
The Torah does exhort us: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
One must think about one's fellow man; try to empathize with
his feelings and see if he lacks anything that you can
By R' Shach, one continually saw his pursuit of
chessed. He once circulated in the yeshiva asking if
there was anyone in need of a favor, of help in any way. If
one did encounter someone who lacked something, he said,
surely one should feel obligated to come to his aid.
Chessed is an inborn trait unique to the Jewish people
and the way to incorporate it is by cleaving to the Torah,
for this provides a person with the degree of perfection he
is capable of attaining.
Maran mentioned in his will a plea for "one thought of
mussar," one thought of yiras Shomayim. By a
`thought,' he meant something emerging from the inner
chambers of one's heart. It is more than deeds; it is
something internal, buried in the heart, whose value —
the extent it contributes to a person — we cannot
A thought of mussar, is what he sought to evoke, of G-
d-fear, a self-accusation, self-reproach, introspection of
how one has spent his life and self-criticizing his own ways.
He knew how to value this; we do not. But what we are
obligated to do here and now is to strengthen ourselves, and
because we now lack the influence we had [from him]; we must
take advantage of our arousal to fortify ourselves in Torah
and yiras Shomayim.
It is the Fear of G-d that Accounts for Hashem's Words to
In Brochos 6b, R' Chelbo states in the name of Rav
Huna, "Every person who possesses yiras Shomayim is
listened to." And conversely, if a person's words are
accepted [by the public], this is a sign that he possesses
yiras Shomayim. If only some of his words are
accepted, this shows that he lacks a measure of G-d-fear. But
this is also something important. And the more his opinion is
generally acknowledged and recognized, the more G- d-fearing
he surely is.
Maran's words had a universal effect; in the end, everyone
bowed to his opinion and obeyed his words. The whole world
unquestioningly accepted what he stated. This shows that he
possessed a level of yiras Shomayim which we cannot
even grasp — it is far beyond our comprehension.
It has been mentioned how the Brisker Rov greatly valued the
Torah study of Rabbenu, and we even find him according a
[rare] approbation to his second work. Before even mentioning
his greatness in Torah, he prefaces it with, "For this man is
indeed very great." "The man" — aside from his Torah
proficiency — "is indeed very great." He first begins
by writing, "And the truth is . . . that this man is truly
great." This is the "truth."
By the Brisker Rov, the attribute of emes was supreme,
the ultimate yardstick; every word was scrutinized by this
measure of purest clarity. And by his affixing that word, he
wished to signify that we cannot fathom Maran's greatness, we
simply cannot grasp its extent. And this was written of R'
Shach back in 5715 (1955), over fifty years ago! Already
then, he was able to attest to this attribute which he
It is brought in Bovo Basra 10b, that the reputation a
person acquires in this world is reflected in his reputation
in the World of Truth. It means that Klal Yisroel
possesses a sixth sense to distinguish Truth, and what
[whom] they value and honor is also taken into account in
Heaven as being valid and reliable.
We see that the world held Maran in great esteem; he was the
acknowledged godol hador. All the other Torah leaders
bowed before his opinion and his word. And if they recognized
him as the ultimate authority, he must truly have been so;
this was a definite sign of his greatness.
Klal Yisroel held Maran in esteem for his Torah
knowledge, yiras Shomayim, leadership of the public
and leadership of each type of yeshiva, each type of
community. People came from afar to consult with Maran, as
did individuals come from distant lands for help and advise,
and he was able to help each one through his wise guidance
and concrete assistance. His door was open to one and all, as
is widely known.
(From the eulogy delivered by HaGaon R' Gershon Eidelstein at
the conclusion of the Shiva in the Yeshivas Ponovezh
(Compiled by the Vaad Lehotzoas Shiurei R' Gershon)