Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Iyar 5765 - May 25, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, zt"l, at the end of the Sheloshim, 17 Iyar

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

On the Sheloshim of the Mashgiach, we present this selection of the thoughts of the Mashgiach himself: the last shmuess he gave in Yeshivas Giv'at Shaul, an interview he gave to Yated Ne'eman almost exactly five years ago, some short thoughts that he expressed on various occasions, and finally a short but powerful and important piece about what the world can become chas vesholom if someone becomes estranged from the truth of Hashem and Torah.

Change and Development in a Ben Yeshiva's Life — HaRav Wolbe's Last Shmuess

HaRav Wolbe delivered this last shmuess to the bnei hayeshiva in Yeshivas Giv'at Shaul on Shabbos kodesh parshas Vayikra, approximately thirty days before his petiroh.

The subtitle he gave to his magnum opus, the two volume Alei Shur — Guidance for the Contemporary Ben Yeshiva — was also the thrust of his life's work. It thus seems amply justified to read this shmuess as a parting message of sorts to all young bnei Torah, searching for the firm, straight path that will lead them ever upward.


A special process is at work within Klal Yisroel that produces gedolei Yisroel in every generation. A youngster enters yeshiva to learn, knowing nothing. What greets him there?

He sees those who are greater than he, who have already attained some level of [proficiency in] Torah and he comes to the realization that there is something greater, something different from the type of life to which he has hitherto been accustomed. The desire to become closely acquainted with that special life that he discovers upon entering yeshiva, awakens within him.

Our youngster begins learning. He toils and probes and attains the traits through which Torah is acquired. He gains profound understanding of Torah and, in time, becomes an acknowledged scholar, something like the great talmidei chachomim who can formulate halachic rulings and derive halochoh through their learning process.

He also adopts fine character traits. He acquires a Torah mindset and a new intelligence is discernible in all his affairs. Sometimes, he will develop the ability to guide the community in the entire range of new situations that arise to face Klal Yisroel, including those that stem from their dealings with the gentile nations.

By the time our youngster matures, he has discovered an entirely new type of life. He feels completely removed from his earlier, youthful life in all the above respects and at the same time he also sees within himself the possibility of drawing close to the Ribono Shel Olom. And he indeed draws ever closer. And again, the youngsters who arrive after him discern a more elevated type of life about him and they too, set out on the same journey.

So it has always been in Klal Yisroel. In every generation there have been gedolei Yisroel, men of Torah authority of exceptionally sublime character and of tremendous wisdom in leading Klal Yisroel, who are close to Hashem yisborach.

The root of all these qualities lies in the heart. Where does our youngster discover all these resources? From where does he draw them out? From his own heart. In other words, he discovers Torah attributes and fine traits, intellect and intelligence and closeness to Hashem [within himself]. All these forms of greatness were within him. He can see how new life starts to flow inside him, through which he himself becomes renewed and elevated in every respect.

Not everyone attains all these virtues. There are many grades and levels. It could be that one person shines more in straight understanding of learning, another in fine character and a third in cleverness. Nonetheless, each of them witnesses change in his life to the extent that his heart has absorbed Torah life.

At the same time, mussar can also open a person's heart and acquaint him with all those wonderful qualities of understanding that exist there and with his own unique fine traits, while arousing within him the desire for closeness to Hashem.

When, though, does the holy Torah have an effect upon the heart? Only when the individual seeks purity. Only then will his heart become refined and elevated; only then will he enjoy the Divine assistance that Chazal have promised.

All this comes about when it is his ambition to rise higher and become purer, to leave behind mundane life for the Torah life that he sees among his superiors. If however, he chas vesholom seeks defilement, if he absorbs things from newspapers and from the street in a different way, then even though he gains something as a result of his learning, he can never be a ben aliyah.

I bless everyone with attaining the level where his Torah gives rise to new life within him and with meriting the Divine assistance that is promised to all who come in search of purity.

What Would Have Become of Me If I Hadn't Learned Mussar in Sweden? — An Interview With HaRav Shlomo Wolbe

by Rabbi A. Chefetz

Excerpts from an interview with the mashgiach, HaRav Shlomo Wolbe. The interview took place just before Shavuos 5760, five years ago, and the mashgiach knew that he was being interviewed for the readers of Yated Ne'eman. Several important topics were raised and discussed briefly.

YN: Mussar prevented the backsliding of generations and also indirectly fought against the Enlightenment. Nowadays, when the trials are different, involving withstanding temptation rather than enlightenment, is the need for mussar as great as it was? On the other hand, perhaps it's even more important nowadays?

HaRav Wolbe: (in amazement) Who told you that mussar only relates to haskalah? Mussar relates to and is connected to character traits and to desires — man must be man! Man must be a true ben Torah — that is mussar's task! Mussar can be of assistance today as well. It depends on the education; how it's taught.

YN: Will mussar raise and uplift a person even if he lacks a teacher who can lead him through its byways? Is it enough to open up a Mesillas Yeshorim or Chovos Halevovos?

HaRav Wolbe: Without mashgichim, educators . . . Mussar needs training! In precisely the same way that gemora study requires a teacher to teach the student how to learn a sugya. Certainly, mussar needs training, guidance and direction.

YN: Then what can we do in practice? Is a person who did not learn mussar properly, or an avreich who didn't receive this training in his youth, prevented from availing himself of mussar's remedy?

HaRav Wolbe: One must seek out a teacher! It requires guidance!

YN: It is said that the Mashgiach was in Sweden for many years (during the Second World War). Doesn't that suggest that if someone has already absorbed mussar (in yeshiva) he can continue on his own?

HaRav Wolbe: (Raising his voice) Oi ve'avoy! If I hadn't learned mussar in Sweden who knows what would have become of me?

In a place where even some of the rabbonim were ruined, in such a distant place . . . and if I wouldn't have learned mussar — Hashem yeracheim — what would have become of me?

YN: Were the trials of yesteryear different from those of today?

HaRav Wolbe: The trials used to be different.

YN: More difficult?

HaRav Wolbe: Trials are always difficult! They used to be different from what they are nowadays.

YN: There's a letter that was sent from Kelm to Radin, from Rav Hirsch Broide to Reb Yeruchom (who was then in Radin) concerning talmidim whom Reb Yeruchom had sent to learn in Kelm. "For I have pleasure from the precious bochurim that you sent. They are learning with wondrous application and be'ezras Hashem will also have success in yiras Shomayim. It seems that we can pin great hopes on the bochur Y. from Warsaw n'y (i.e. Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l). He has only been here a short while but has apparently come well prepared [lit. with great preparation] to succeed (the letter goes on to discuss other talmidim)."

If one may ask, what did the writer mean with the words "well prepared"?

HaRav Wolbe: I don't recall the language of that letter right now but it might mean that when he came to Kelm they saw that he was already prepared to absorb mussar. He, zt'l, was a great servant [of Hashem]. Already when he was in Radin, he was with the Chofetz Chaim; he attached himself to him and absorbed from him as well. As is known, Reb Yechezkel was a tzaddik whose righteousness supported the world. When he arrived in Kelm he was already equipped with the necessary tools for absorbing the lessons that Kelm imparted. That's clear.

YN: Ho'odom Biyekor (a book written by HaRav Wolbe about Rav Yeruchom zt'l) states that the first shmuess that Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, who was a bochur at the time, heard from Reb Yeruchom penetrated deep into his soul and from that moment on he began working on emunoh. He heard a shmuess from Reb Yeruchom in Radin, in other words, Reb Yeruchom was his rebbe. Yet the shmuessen of one differ from those of the other . . .

The Mashgiach gives a sweeping answer: "Everyone expresses his innermost self."

YN: We have heard it said that were Reb Yechezkel to return to life and speak to us, saying to us the things that he said in his lifetime, nobody would come to listen . . . Were his shmuessen indeed only relevant to a more elevated generation?

HaRav Wolbe: (in amazement) Not relevant to our generation?!

YN: Perhaps so, because of our generation's weakness . . .

HaRav Wolbe: In that case, he would indeed speak differently; he would say what had to be said to our generation!

YN: In Mir, it is known that shiurim on Chumash were given for talmidim from Europe and America. We have heard Rav Yosef Liss quoting the mashgiach Reb Yeruchom as describing the benefit of these shiurim in the following way: "They get from the shiurim in Chumash what a child in Poland absorbs naturally by arguing with his friend over who will hold the cover of the sefer Torah while it is being raised in the beis haknesses." Is that an accurate portrayal of what happened in the shiur?

HaRav Wolbe: Bochurim who came from France, Germany, England and America to Mir, heard that our master, the Mashgiach, delivered special talks to smaller groups of talmidim, so they also asked for a vaad. The Mashgiach spent much time deliberating over their request and arrived at his conclusion. Who knew whether these bochurim had learned Chumash? They certainly hadn't learned in cheder. So he decided to deliver a shiur in Chumash . . . the Chumash lernen literally revived our souls! The shiurim have been published, in six volumes (Daas Torah).

YN: Were these shiurim delivered differently from the shmuessen in the yeshiva?

HaRav Wolbe: No! There were three vaadim a week on Chumash and they had no connection to the shmuessen. The shmuessen were one thing and this was something else. (After a moment's silence HaRav Wolbe continues.)

On Friday night the Mashgiach would deliver a shmuess in the yeshiva before ma'ariv and then at ten o'clock he'd give us a Chumash shiur.

YN: For an hour?

HaRav Wolbe: For however long it was.

YN: And that was in his house?

HaRav Wolbe: Yes.

YN: Is there any way that we, of Yated Ne'eman's Shabbos supplement, can encourage the public to learn mussar? There are many topics that can be encouraged by way of the media. Shemiras haloshon is one example of something that has come to the forefront of people's awareness through chareidi publications, street notices etc. Can the same be done for mussar study? Or is mussar's place the beis hamedrash, by the shtender and the aron hakodesh?

HaRav Wolbe doesn't reply. When he breaks his silence he explains: Everything that a mashgiach says today must be worked through for days and days. I can't easily tell what is good and what isn't.

(He tells the following story.) One of the greatest talmidim in the yeshiva resolved a difficult Rambam with a wonderful solution. His answer spread throughout the yeshiva. The Mashgiach Reb Yeruchom asked him to repeat his chiddush to him and the bochur complied. The mashgiach asked him, "How many hours did you toil over this chiddush?"

"Five hours."

He asked, "Did you hear the inyan that we discussed yesterday?" (In Mir, a shmuess was called "an inyan.") Yes, he'd heard it. "How long do you think I worked on it?"

The talmid replied, "Probably also about five hours."

"No, more."

"Ten hours?"

"No, more."

"A whole day?"

"No, more." And so it went on until the Mashgiach disclosed that he'd worked on his talk for half a year.

(Silence again. Suddenly the Mashgiach continues.) Do you mean that people will start to learn mussar because of your articles? Mussar is a matter of training! One draws closer to mussar by learning in a yeshiva where there are shmuessen, where mussar is studied and where the talmidim receive mussar training.

You ask if it's possible? I don't know (in a low voice).

He thinks again for a long moment, shrugs his shoulders and repeats pleasantly, "I don't know."

The Mashgiach's "I don't know" is answer enough for us.

Nuggets of Insight Gleaned From HaRav Wolbe's Teachings and His Seforim

Finely Tuned

I remember clearly the Chazon Ish saying to me that someone who learns gemora doesn't need to make any effort for his mind to grasp what he learns, because Hakodosh Boruch Hu, who created the mind, attuned His creatures perfectly to an understanding of Torah. Thus when he embarks on gemora study he easily grasps things and realizes their meaning.

The Yid Within

Each animal and bird keeps the constant company of its own kind. But how do they recognize their own kind? They never see themselves and do not know what they look like. Even when birds are reared in isolation from birth and have never seen another bird of their type in their lives, when released, they always seek out their own kind.

Scientists have concluded that every living creature has an image of itself that is imprinted within it, at its formation. Through this image it is able to recognize other creatures of its type.

This wonderful revelation reveals the existence of a spiritual characteristic of living creatures that we can extrapolate to humans.

If it is so with animals, how much more so is it true of a Jew. Within every Jew there is an image of the essence of a Yid, by virtue of which he knows how to do teshuvoh and to Whom he needs to return and what to return to. This is the meaning of the Torah's words, "For the matter is very close to you; within your mouth and heart to do it" (Devorim 30:14).

The Meaning of Kiddush Hashem

In his introduction to Igeres Hakodesh, the Ramban writes the following wonderful idea.

"The conduct of all of Yisroel is based upon the unity of Hashem the great, yisborach. They therefore emulate Him in all that they do. Since all our deeds are a reflection of the deeds of Hashem yisborach, whenever we do something good and upright we sanctify Hashem's great Name . . . and whenever we do not behave correctly and our deeds are corrupt, we profane Heaven's Name, since we are not behaving like Him."

The idea of Kiddush Hashem and Chilul Hashem does not, therefore, mean acting in a way that brings other people closer to serving Hashem or that drives them away from it, as is commonly understood. A deed that has no comparison to the traits of Hashem yisborach profanes Him and a deed in which His traits can be discerned sanctifies Him . . .

This is the essence of the Jewish nation. "Elokei Yisroel" — meaning, the revelation of all His traits, to the degree that He wants to reveal them — within Klal Yisroel. Thereby, His Name rests upon us.

With this, we can understand what Rabbenu Yonah writes in Shaarei Teshuvoh (Shaar 3, siman 27) about the prohibition against forgetting Hashem. "For the zera kodesh attains every positive form of conduct, the kind of conduct that adorns its doer, by remembering Hashem yisborach . . .." Were it not for the fact that we have merited "Elokei Yisroel" and the revelation of all the traits within Klal Yisroel, we could not attain "every positive form of conduct" simply by remembering Hashem. We are not speaking here about following His ways or the command to "be like Him" but simply about remembering Him. This is truly only a property of zera kodesh, the holy seed, the seed of Yisroel.

Love and Fear

There is Torah and there is the Mikdosh.

Torah is all love. The blessing about Torah in davening begins, "You have loved us with a great love."

Chazal (in the Sifrei) comment on the posuk, "And you shall love Hashem . . ." (Devorim 6:5) `What is that love? [The following posuk] "And these things [i.e. Torah] shall be on your heart." '

Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, "I have sold the Torah. But I am unable to part from it . . ." (Shemos Rabba parsha 33). Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves Torah. Our love for Hashem is expressed through our occupation with Torah.

We are commanded, on the other hand to, "Fear My Mikdosh" (Vayikra 26:2). Chazal say, "You do not fear Shabbos, but the One who commanded you about Shabbos; so too with the Mikdosh. It is not the Mikdosh that you have to fear but the One who commanded you about the Mikdosh" (Yevamos 6).

We speak about "love of Torah" and about "fear" or "respect for the Mikdosh." We don't recognize such ideas as "fear of Torah" or "love of the Mikdosh." This is a point worth considering!

Torah is Divine wisdom. Whoever is occupied with Torah derives pleasure from it and by studying it he becomes acquainted with "the One Who spoke and brought the world into being." How could we not love Torah? Hashem kept the Torah for 974 generations prior to the world's Creation, and when He wanted to create the world, He looked into the Torah and did so (Bereishis Rabba, parsha 1). How could He, yisborach, not love Torah? Torah's essence is love, attaching Klal Yisroel to Hashem and Hashem to Klal Yisroel.

The Beis Hamikdosh is the place where His Presence resides among us. The Shechinah is always with us. It even accompanies us in exile. But it resides openly only in the Beis Hamikdosh. Every visitor to the Beis Hamikdosh felt that his faith had become utter certainty.

While the Beis Hamikdosh stood, Eretz Yisroel was blessed with an abundance of good and the entire world was blessed as a result. The Mikdosh thus represents the Shechinah residing in a discernible way and the revelation of faith in people's hearts. The Shechinah's presence makes fear mandatory.

An Untainted World

When the astronauts returned from the moon they were held in quarantine for twenty-one days, in case they were carrying germs or viruses from the moon that could cause an epidemic on earth.

If there were spiritual overseers on the moon who could speak and force men to do their bidding they would have kept the astronauts who arrived there in quarantine for a long time to make sure that they hadn't brought the germ of "no fear of Hashem" to the moon!

Imagine if the Chofetz Chaim were to have been the first human on the moon, a place where no human being had ever before set foot and sullied with the germ of "no fear of Hashem." On that day the moon would have been at the same level of holiness as it was at its Creation, as it left Hashem's Hands at the Creation. There, the Chofetz Chaim would have witnessed Hashem's rule without any screen of obscurity, just as Odom Horishon witnessed it in Gan Eden! Perhaps he would have merited attaining prophecy there. There may be an abundance of it there like there was in Gan Eden, where they were unable to hide from it ("And the man hid . . ." — Bereishis 3:8). A holy man like the Chofetz Chaim would have attained prophecy straight away, who knows?

But others arrived there, and as soon as they arrived they brought all the impurity of the germ of "no fear of Hashem" there too. If the Chofetz Chaim were to have gone there after them, he would have felt that the atmosphere was poisoned by the "no fear of Hashem" germ, just as it is on the Earth!

This example can help us consider the implications of the concealment of Hashem's rule in this world. In and of itself, Hashem's rule is openly revealed without anything obscuring it. It is men's hearts that are the source of the many screens that presently separate us from the Creator. Is His Presence in the world not discernible even today, in every plant, in every tree, in every living creature and in the sky? That kind of vision is obscured from us because of the existence of Amolek! That is why the revelation of His rule is contingent on the eradication of Amolek.

The Cruel World of the Yetzer Hora

The gemora (Shabbos 105) says, "A person who smashes objects, rips his clothing or scatters his money in anger, should be like an idol worshiper in your eyes. For such is the craft of the yetzer hora. Today he tells a person `Do this.' Tomorrow he tells him, `Do that.' Until he tells him, `Go and worship idols,' and the person goes and worships them. What posuk is this learned from? "There should be no strange god within you and do not bow down to a foreign god' (Tehillim 81:10). What strange god resides within a person's body? I surmise that it is the yetzer hora."

From here we learn the essential nature of the yetzer hora's control that leads a person to bow down — that is, to negate himself — to a strange god, through which he becomes completely estranged from himself, from his fellow men and from his Creator. The term avodoh zora, foreign worship, does not only denote worship of something other than Hashem yisborach. It denotes worship whose essence is foreignness or estrangement. "A person who rips his clothing in anger," is estranged from himself to the point where he damages himself. He thus becomes a stranger to his fellow man and does not consider him at all. He also becomes estranged from Hashem yisborach and does not discern His Providence in the events around him assigning them instead to chance, as the Rambam writes at the beginning of Hilchos Taanis.

A person who lives under the yetzer hora's control lives in a cruel world that is built out of the negative traits of pride, anger and love of pleasures. Chazal likened submission to the yetzer of anger not only to idol worship. In Niddah (13) we find the same comparison made to a different unbecoming trait. There is but one foundation to the yetzer hora's world — estrangement. It is a world of cruelty.

Someone who lives in a cruel world of that kind discerns nothing whatsoever of Hashem's rule. For him, the entire world is one great entity of concealment. This concealment is not rooted in anything that actually exists in the world. Its source is the estrangement within our own hearts, in the "strange god that resides within a person's body" and controls him.

Therefore, if someone finds himself surrounded on every side by concealment and wherever he looks sees only divisions between himself and his Creator, he need only search within his own soul for the bad traits that nestle there, whether they be pride or desire, frivolity or depression. For if he lives under the control of a strange god, that is the very thing hiding and concealing every realization and every truth from him.


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