Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Ellul 5761 - September 5, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








It is High Time for the Great Yeshu'oh for Klal Yisroel!

by Chaim Sher

A diary of one of the participants in the party of hundreds of rabbonim, mashgichim and avreichim who went to Lithuania this past summer. One of the main goals was to dedicate a new gravestone for HaRav Yisroel Salanter, ztvk"l. These were the events along the way . . .

Hashem merited me to be a part of the journey of rabbonon Roshei Hayeshivos vehaMashgichim to put up a matzeivoh on the grave of Maran HaGaon Yisroel of Salant, zt"l, and to visit the graves of Rabboseinu Shebelita. And even though it is difficult and virtually impossible to describe the events and the experience itself, I will try to write a bit, besiyata deShmaya.

In the morning after having left Minsk on our way to Volozhin we noticed that the police car accompanying us stopped on the side of the road, making all passing vehicles stop too. Some of them even drove to the side of the road to let our buses pass.

The talmid chochom sitting next to me, who was born in Russia, is amazed at this spectacle. He tells me that as a child of six he was sent by his father to the melamed to learn Torah. His parents warned him to always take a good look to his left and right to make sure that no one could see him going in or out. At the time he did not understand the significance of this, but when he grew up he realized that the Communists were persecuting the Jews and had banned Torah studies. And now rabbonim were coming on a visit and the local politicians were so excited about it that they were willing to shut down the traffic in the middle of town for their sake. "How fortunate I am to be able to witness this. Can there be a greater revenge against Communism?"

As we approach Volozhin the excitement builds up. Here stood the mother of yeshivos, where learning took place around the clock. Here the greatest roshei yeshivos pored over their gemoras. From the outside, the building still looks magnificent but on the inside it is totally destroyed. We expect the walls to relate what they have witnessed: that they should describe the shiurim of the Netziv and his grandson R' Chaim Soloveitchik; or the chavrusa between the bochurim Shimon Shkop and Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. We wait to hear accounts of the omol haTorah which they have witnessed, of the tikkun chatzos and of the tears shed by the Netziv when the yeshiva closed down. But all we hear is silence.

When it was suggested that the yeshiva be transferred from Volozhin to Vilna because of lack of space, the Netziv opposed this saying, "We can move the Yeshiva, but we can't take with us the spider's webs, which have become sanctified with the kedushas haTorah of this place."

Recollecting this saying makes us feel a special longing for this holy building.

For the first time since the yeshiva was closed down a shiur takes place in it. Everyone listens attentively to HaRav Yisroel Eliyohu Weintraub, who speaks about HaRav Chaim Volozhiner's contribution to the Torah world (see below). He stands not far from where the Oron Hakodesh stood once (we can tell because on the outside walls one can still see where the Oron Hakodesh was). Rav Chaim's apartment is downstairs, underneath the yeshiva. At nighttime it was dark here. How many chidushei Torah were written here by candlelight?

We next went to Volozhin cemetery on foot, passing the houses of the little town on the way. It was a shocking sight. Of all the towns we were to visit over the next few days, only Volozhin still looked the way it always did. It seemed as if nothing had changed there over the last two hundred years. No one there had heard about running water in private houses: their water came from an old well on the outskirts of the town.

One of the rabbonim mentioned the gemora in Avoda Zora (2b) that in the Time to Come the non-Jews will claim that they built bridges and towns for the Jews so that they could study Torah and Hakodosh Boruch Hu will tell them: "If it is true that you built bridges for the sake of those who studied Torah, you should have built them in Volozhin or Slobodka." Perhaps for this reason this town remained totally unchanged and undeveloped.

We reach the beis hachaim and the graves of HaRav Chaim Volozhiner and his son HaRav Itzele. A great his'orerus and tremendous tefillos take place here. HaRav Yitzchok Grodzensky reads out Tehillim, perek by perek. After private prayers everybody davens for the klal and the difficult situation of Am Yisroel during this period. Mention is made at this location of what the Netziv told HaRav Shimon Shkop when the latter asked him to explain a certain Rashbam in Bovo Basra: "Do you know how many heartfelt tefillos I said at HaRav Chaim's grave to understand this Rashbam?"

HaRav Shimon internalized the message of these words, and they accompanied him throughout his life as a model of ahavas haTorah.

In the small cemetery of Volozhin many gravestones remain in their original locations. Others, on the other hand, are totally covered with greenery. On our way out we read some of the gravestones and suddenly notice one with some familiar names on it: "Here lies our dear father, an upright man, Rav Moshe Dovid, the son of Rav Michoel Yehuda Lefkovitch z"l."

We were told that this was the father of Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitch, the rosh yeshiva of Ponevezh Letzi'irim, who was born in Volozhin. (Incidentally, HaRav Mishkovsky related that there was another bochur in Chevron Yeshiva whom someone once called "the Volozhiner." HaRav Simcha Zissel Broida's zt"l response to this was that there was only one Volozhiner in Chevron: R' Michel Yehuda Lefkovitch shlita.)

As we left Volozhin it started to rain. Upon our arrival we had wept for what was and is no more. With our departure the walls of the Yeshiva cried, since they had thought for a moment that perhaps the days of glory had returned.


Next we make our way to Radin, which is about two hours away. During the journey from Volozhin to Radin our hearts are full of yearning. Traveling to Radin used to be an obligatory experience in the previous generation. Radin is not some geographical location: one has to make the requisite emotional preparations for such a visit.

HaRav Yisroel Marmarosh, the head of Breslav Kollel, gives a marvelous shiur on Mishna Berurah. This is followed by a shiur on the Chofetz Chaim by HaRav Moshe Mordechai Karp, rov in Kiryat Sefer. In his introductory comments he explains that the Chofetz Chaim, in compiling his book, was following the example of HaRav Chaim Volozhiner who was told by the Vilna Gaon that he would offer all the prayers he had ever uttered for the sake of one novel din derived from the gemora. That was why the Chofetz Chaim had created a comprehensive Shulchan Oruch on the laws of loshon hora, clarifying all the sugyas in the gemora and rishonim.

His voice broke several times during the course of the shiur. After all, it was no small matter to travel on the way from Volozhin, the mother of yeshivos, to Radin, the home and resting place of the Chofetz Chaim. Until just a generation ago, the hearts and minds of the whole Jewish world were turned towards this small town and the hut with its illustrious inhabitant.

We arrive in Radin, which used to have a Jewish majority. The whole town is just one big road. The yeshiva building stands out in its beauty from the monotonous array of single-story wooden huts. However, what greeted us on the inside was heart- rending. The yeshiva building has been divided up into two halls and is used by the municipal theater. This holy and awesome place, in which the Chossid Shebekehuno poured out his heart to his Maker, in which HaRav Naftoli Trop zt"l gave his penetrating shiurim, had become the home for their detestable culture!

As if on their own we heard in our minds those words we had recited just a day before at the end of the Kinos on Tisha B'Av: "Alei Armon asheir nutash . . . ve'al bi'as mechorfei Keil . . . Bewail the abandoned palace and its occupation by blasphemers . . . Bewail its sounds of music and dance, which have been silenced in its city, and the Vaad (the lishkas hagozis) which lies desolate . . . " Only its Sanhedrin has not been abolished. What was destroyed here was revitalized somewhere else. "For it shall not be forgotten from his seed."

We davened mincha inside the two Yeshiva halls. This was the first opportunity for such a tefilloh since the terrible Churban. After davening a shiur was given in the Yeshiva hall by HaRav Pesach Segal, the son of HaRav Yehuda Zeev Segal zt"l, who was devoted in his lifetime to the study and dissemination of the Chofetz Chaim. The next speaker was HaRav Uri Weissblum, the mashgiach of Nachalas Haleviyim Yeshiva in Haifa (see below).

After a short rest in the yeshiva courtyard, some of the group went to see the Chofetz Chaim's house which is a short distance away from the Yeshiva. The house of the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Moshe Landinsky zt"l is in the Yeshiva courtyard itself. As we look at the Yeshiva building somebody mentions that HaRav Zalman Rotberg writes in his introduction to Mishnas Tuvia on Bovo Basra that when this building was under construction the Chofetz Chaim requested that all the windows should be higher than the height of a person so that you could not see what was happening outside from inside the beis hamedrash and the talmidim would remain undisturbed. Here we could see this in reality.

A Russian-speaking member of the group asked the non-Jewish head of the theater what had happened to the books and furniture which used to be inside the building. She replied that she heard from her father that at the time of the Churban, the non-Jews had taken all the furniture, seforim and sifrei Torah out of the building, and made a big fire in order to give vent to their wrath against the Jews. It was terrible to hear about this.

From there we proceeded to the cemetery which is several hundred meters removed from the last building of the town. Hardly anything remains of the cemetery, except a gravestone commemorating a communal burial site: "Here lie the 2130 holy martyrs of Radin and Eishishok." This was a physical reminder of the destruction of European Jewry. There are no other gravestones in the cemetery, since the Lithuanians used them to build a fence. But there is a renovated gravestone on top of the Chofetz Chaim's burial place.

Who could possibly recount and number the impassioned prayers offered by the Chofetz Chaim during his lifetime, especially the prayers for Klal Yisroel, since the Chofetz Chaim was devoted throughout his life to the klal? Let him act over there as he did here, let him beseech Hashem to save His nation from the difficult spiritual and physical situation in which it finds itself!

As in Volozhin, the area is full of curious onlookers from the town. Maybe because it has been so many years since they saw such a large group of Jews looking as they did "then." Perhaps they suspect that we have come to reclaim property.

Then there was a surprise phone call from Yerushalayim. At the other end was HaRav Mordechai Zukerman, one of the last surviving talmidim of the Chofetz Chaim and of the Kelm Talmud Torah. Everybody crowds around the transmitters-cum- loudspeakers to hear him speak.

He asked that the Chofetz Chaim who awaited the coming of Moshiach all his life should arouse the mercy of Heaven from underneath the Kisei Hakovod, that Hashem should send Moshiach in this difficult period when the Jewish nation is in such need of mercy. Holy Rebbi, create a commotion! It is high time for the great yeshu'oh for Klal Yisroel! Then he suddenly burst out crying.

End of Part I

What was the Innovation of Volozhin Yeshiva?

by Rav Yisroel Eliyohu Weintraub

A drosho given in Volozhin Yeshiva

We shall try to analyze what was new about Volozhin, and what led to the establishment of the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva as an institution already existed in previous generations: we find the yeshiva of the Maharshal and of the Maharam, for example. What then was new about Rav Chaim Volozhiner's yeshiva?

There is a well-known story about how Rav Chaim went in to see the Vilna Gaon the first time to suggest to his rov the idea of opening a yeshiva, and he did not receive a favorable response. After a while he went in to see the Gaon a second time. The Gaon listened to him and gave his haskomoh to the idea. Rav Chaim asked his rov for an explanation of his initial opposition and why he changed his mind.

The Gaon replied that the first time he had come full of enthusiasm and he had wondered whether there had not been an intermingling of some impure motives, and therefore the Gaon had not agreed to the proposal. But the second time Rav Chaim had come in a totally calm state of mind, demonstrating his totally pure motives, and therefore the Gaon agreed to the idea. We see from this that it is not a simple matter to found a yeshiva, since it requires a lot of preparation, and if there is the slightest impure motive, the whole venture may come to nothing. It is also well known that at the laying of the Yeshiva's foundation stone the cement blended together with the tears of Rav Chaim.

So we see that the attitude to a yeshiva has to be totally al taharas hakodesh. The Gaon writes that the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdosh was different in quality from that of the first. The second churban was like a death penalty for Klal Yisroel, a very heavy blow. There was a decline resembling death in the pillar of Torah.

During the churban we were like a body without a soul when we were dispersed amongst the nations. This was equivalent to the stage of our flesh being eaten by worms. Then our bones existed but our bodies were decomposed, the bones being the yeshivos. The reference presumably is to the yeshivos of the Geonim in Sura and Pumbedisso. Then the bones started to disintegrate -- the yeshivos became dispersed. Next the bones started to decompose.

The Gaon concludes that in his generation the decline reached the situation where the earth of preceding generations became decomposed. He adds that we now hope for techiyas hameisim, as it says, "For our soul is bowed down to the dust!" "Arise from the dust, arise." This means that in his generation there was such a terrible decline in Torah that the churban had even destroyed the guf.

We have to understand the Gaon together with Medrash Rabba cited by him in his commentary on Shir Hashirim. There was once a king who had one son, who misused his good graces with his father and made him angry. His father punished him but the son continued in his evil ways, until in his anger the father swore to smash a rock on his head.

After he had calmed down, he thought that if he would throw the rock on his son, he would kill him. He asked his wise men for advice, and they told him to break up a rock into hundreds of pieces and then throw it at the son stone by stone, in order to keep his vow.

If the gezeiroh of death, which had been decreed at the time of the churban would have been implemented at one time, it would have been terrible beyond description. Therefore the rock was broken into small stones and thrown stone by stone. That is what the Gaon means that in his generation the nation declined from its state as a complete "body" and became dust. His generation marked the beginning of a new period.

The Torah reached the stage of dust, and in such a situation -- the Gaon writes -- there is a danger of "you shall bruise the heel." In the final generations of the golus the Jewish nation resembles Odom Horishon, and the culmination of golus is his heel. The danger exists that the snake will bite Odom's heel.

The Gaon explains that the gemora at the end of Sotoh, which states that when we hear the "footsteps" of Moshiach there will be a profusion of chutzpah is referring to a confusion in life. This is not only a bad character trait but also a new method. The Gaon says in passing that the nochosh was responsible for the deviant methods and sects from which his generation and the preceding ones suffered (this is well-known). Although this period was the beginning of the end of golus, it was marked by a novel type of confusion.

On the simplest level the sin of the golden calf was avodoh zora, and the Ramban explains that it was approximating that cheit, but the Gaon explains that "kol anos onochi shomea" refers to the sins of bitul Torah and throwing off the yoke of Heaven.

Chazal tell us that the cheit hoegel set Golus Edom in motion. This means that golus Edom came about because of bitul Torah and perikas ol malchus Shomayim. Until the time of the Gaon it was because of bitul Torah, and in his generation the haskalah started, which stood for perikas ol malchus Shomayim. We paid for the sin of bitul Torah until the Gaon's generation by learning Torah until then, but perikas ol is a new test.

Rav Chaim once burst out crying after a tefilloh, and one of his students asked him why he was so upset. He replied that he sees the Torah descending to the lowest part of the Earth. Then he burst out crying again and added that he did not know if the Torah would be transferred to the lowest part of the world with its purity intact as at the time it was given. He was worried about the Torah being transmitted in a confused manner.

We must preserve the Torah in its purity as at the time it was given. Because of this confusion Rav Chaim established yeshivos to transmit the Torah in its pristine state until the days of Moshiach. They are like a teivas Noach amidst a flood of confusion. Rav Chaim laid the foundations and others followed his example: for this reason he is called "the father of the Yeshivos."

The first time Rav Chaim went to see him, the Gaon was afraid of Rav Chaim's excitement, because you can never be sure how much imagination is intermingled with this emotion, and so he did not give his consent. Only the second time when Rav Chaim gave a simple exposition of his plans did the Gaon agree to them. This is the Gaon's legacy.

Yeshivos have always existed, and their purpose was Torah study, but to learn with the attitude that if chas vesholom the learning stops, the world may be destroyed, that is another concept.

Relevant to us are two points. First, we have to analyze What is Torah mussar? What is meant by the transmission of the Torah? Second, how should the receiver accept this transmission? Just like there are strict requirements with respect to the transmission of the Torah, so are there strict guidelines about the makeup of a ben Torah. In Rav Chaim's time there was no need to speak about the concept of a ben Torah, only about the proper transmission of Torah: that was Rav Chaim's chiddush. The yeshivos, which were set up subsequently did what they could to continue in his path, but the character of a ben Torah was almost not an issue in the yeshivos until the Second World War.

Today everybody wants everything to come easily: to have an easy time shteiging, to become a godol easily, everything has to come easily. We are living in a period of unprecedented confusion, as we can see during the current bein hazmanim period for example, when people look for entertainment and other things. Our main obligation in this generation is to preserve the character of a ben Torah so that we can, at least to some extent, continue in his path.

The Gaon on the posuk (Tehillim 106:35), "They mingled themselves with the nations, and learned from their deeds" explains that the basis of the erev rav's sin is assimilation with the non-Jewish nations, as a result of which they learn from their ways. This is an old-new method of confusion. We must realize that even though we live in Eretz Yisroel we are not isolated from this situation, and by preserving the character of a ben Torah we shall merit that Hashem should help preserve the fire lit by Rav Chaim and which is still burning in the Yeshivos until bias Moshiach Tzidkeinu bb"o.

The Awesome Power of Speech

A drosho given by Rav Uri Weissblum in Radin Yeshiva

It is exceptionally difficult to speak in front of such an audience at such a holy place. As we all know, the Chofetz Chaim dedicated himself to spreading the message of the sanctity of speech.

A point occurred to me, which we do not think about very much. It says in the posuk, "And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Rashi says, "Animals are also called `living souls,' but man's soul is the most `alive', because it has intelligence and speech attached to it." Rashi is explaining why the human being is called a living soul (nefesh chayoh) when the animals were given the same appellation by the Torah.

Rashi's explanation contains a big chiddush. We are used to thinking that all living things, both animal and man, have a common vitality, man just having been blessed with the additional advantages of intelligence and speech. From Rashi we see that this is not the case: everything is considered to be alive. We say every morning in Vayevorech Dovid, "You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens and all their hosts, and You give life to them all." This includes inanimate objects: everything in existence is alive, although some created objects are on a lower level of life. The real meaning of life is: "And you that cleave to Hashem your G-d are alive every one of you this day."

The very existence of an inanimate object is a sign of its "life," for as soon as Hashem removes His will from it, it will vanish. Therefore it is also called a living being. An animal possesses a higher level of life, because it cleaves to the Source of Life. Vegetation is also considered to be alive, since it grows, and is thus even more connected to life.

Then you have the category of the "speaker." We think that he is alive in the same way an animal is alive, only that he possesses the added advantages of intelligence and speech. The truth is that this ability constitutes his very vitality. This is what Rashi means: "Man's soul is the most `alive'" -- man's soul possesses a more powerful vitality, because it was blessed with intelligence and speech.

Yaakov Ovinu said, "You have revitalized your father," on which the Targum writes, "You have restored the spirit of prophecy to Yaakov your father." We understand that this is the same person with the additional advantage of nevu'oh, but here we see that "You have revitalized" is the equivalent of prophecy. In other words, Yaakov attained a more powerful vitality, which expressed itself in prophecy.

We know about the Chofetz Chaim who dedicated himself to shemiras haloshon, and expounding the severity of the prohibition of speaking loshon hora, but we do not think enough about the power of speech itself. The Kuzari says that people do not think about the wonder of speech. A person recites a posuk, say Bereishis boro Elokim. Have we ever thought about how many movements we make when pronouncing such a posuk? I counted it once, and I think there are 24.

Take the word Bereishis. The beis is pronounced with the lips, the reish with the palate, the shin with the teeth, and the sof with the tongue. A child of four years old who says this posuk in three seconds has made 24 movements alternating quite unconsciously and with amazing speed between the lips, the palate, the teeth, and the tongue. The Kuzari says that we have no concept of the power of speech, which is a wonderful revelation of divine wisdom, over which we have almost no control.

When people talk about the severity of loshon hora I sometimes wonder what effect it would have on us if we internalized the power of speech, which makes man's soul the most "alive," and which demonstrates that we are closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. If we would have a closer appreciation of the power of speech, and realize what happens when a person speaks a sentence, we would have a different attitude to loshon hora, for we would be living with an awareness of the supreme wisdom hidden in one sentence, of the immense divine power inherent in parts of speech alternating with electronic speed under the coordination of the brain. We would not dare to waste this ability on loshon hora!

Someone who internalizes the profound implications of this will have a different attitude to his speaking abilities and verbal communications. As we stand here in this holy place of the holy Chofetz Chaim, who dedicated himself to shemiras haloshon, this thought should jolt all of us into a different attitude to the power of speech, and then his merit will protect us.

The Purpose of Mussar: To Make You Feel a Hatred and Aversion of Sin

A shmuess given by Rav Yitzchok Peretz at the old Kovna cemetery

I am filled with fear and apprehension as I speak in such a holy place in which giants of Torah are buried, especially in the presence of gedolim in this holy city of Kovna, the birthplace of the mussar movement.

Since our main aim in this trip is the erection of a tombstone on HaRav Yisroel Salanter's grave, I would like to convey some thoughts I heard from my rov, HaRav Meir Chodosh zt"l.

The story goes that Rav Yisroel had a conversation with one of the gedolim of his time. He was explaining the importance of learning mussar and that godol claimed that this might be essential for the spiritually sick but could only harm bnei Torah, because a medicine is likely to harm a healthy person. Therefore people who spend the whole day learning Torah do not need to learn mussar, especially considering the fact that they have a medicine of their own: "I created the yetzer hora and I created the Torah as its antidote."

HaRav Meir Chodosh explained that the opponents of mussar thought that it was a means for kiyum hamitzvos, and talmidei chachomim do not need this, because "learning leads to action." This attitude is also cited in the Mesillas Yeshorim's introduction, where he says that people in his generation thought that mussar was for simple people who could not fathom the profundities of Abaye and Rovo. The Ramchal writes that as a result of this mistake the study of yiras Shomayim is flawed amongst both groups.

HaRav Chodosh said that Rav Yisroel Salanter held that Torah has an effect in two different ways. One is the actual study of Torah, but when you learn the laws of loshon hora this is more likely to prevent you speaking loshon hora than learning shor shenogach es haporo. Therefore the study of mussar, of the laws of yiras Shomayim, which directly relate to a person's character traits, is a natural remedy for these diseases, and is consequently most effective. The study of Torah, on the other hand, although it elevates the whole person, and its light makes you repent, is a seguloh type medicine.

HaRav Chodosh brought a proof from Rabbeinu Yonah (3rd part):" `To know wisdom and instruction; to comprehend the words of understanding' -- wisdom is the art of correct behavior and abandonment of sin, as it says, `And you shall observe and do for it is your wisdom and understanding.' Wisdom consists of observing mitzvos and refraining from sin." Rabbeinu Yonah continues: "After a person has studied and knows about the mitzvos and aveiros, he must learn about the disgrace of a sin and how damaging and destructive it is, in order that he may keep a distance from it. A person should rebuke himself by recalling punishments; this is called mussar."

The mashgiach said that we see from Rabbeinu Yonah that mussar is not a means for getting a person to observe mitzvos. The role of mussar only starts after that stage: it is to get a person to develop in himself a hatred and aversion of sin, and the more a person distances himself from sin, the greater the yiras Shomayim that he acquires, as it says, "Those who love Hashem hate evil."

May we all be successful in our endeavors to improve our interpersonal behavior, and to fill our hearts with love of our fellow man. The Mashgiach would say: "Even if you see a shortcoming in your friend, it is only an external one, since righteousness is the real essence of every Jew."


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