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29 Sivan 5765 - July 6, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Giving The World An Idea Of What A Genuine Mussar Scholar Is . . .(from the Introduction to Ho'odom Biyekor)
Glimpses of the Mashgiach, HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, zt'l

by Rabbi H. Helman

Part Two

Rekindling Lives

The Mashgiach's Regret

In a shmuess HaRav Wolbe once gave in the Beis Hamussar on the topic of sharing others' burdens, he mentioned a regret that he still retained from his years in Sweden. It was during the period that he would travel the country between the various institutions in which thousands of Jewish girls were housed.

Those visits were extremely difficult. The girls were physically and emotionally shattered after their bitter ordeals in the camps and even the efficient care and attention of their Swedish hosts were not always enough to restore them to life and health. Sometimes, after visiting an institution for a couple of days, there would be nobody left to come back to for the girls had simply passed away in their grief and anguish. The atmosphere was unbearably grim.

"On leaving the institution and getting into the car that would take me back," recalled the Mashgiach, "I felt relieved. I regret that [feeling], for I hadn't sufficiently implemented the trait of sharing others' burdens . . ."

A Home in Lidinge

One day HaRav Wolbe learned that missionaries had visited one of the institutions and had been preaching their faith to the Jewish girls. He set out for the home, to try to save the girls from trouble. Upon arriving he met the persons in charge, who asked him what his intentions were. He replied that he wanted to speak to the girls and when they saw his determination he was allowed to do so.

When he began speaking, the girls' initial response was to smile. Then, when he started describing how their parents in Heaven were yearning and beseeching that they observe the mitzvos and strengthen their Yiddishkeit, all the girls arose and started singing Hatikvah. That was the only symbol of Judaism that they knew.

HaRav Wolbe once arrived to speak to the girls at one of the homes after a long and tiring day of traveling. He had a sandwich with him to still his hunger and when the girls approached him upon his arrival he asked them where he could wash his hands. He went and washed and made the brochoh, al nettilas yodayim. The girls watching him were hypnotized. He then took the sandwich and made a fervent hamotzi. This sent tears rolling down the girls' cheeks and brought expressions of powerful longing to their faces.

Later they told him that it was the first time since the war that they had seen an observant Jew who reminded them of their way of life before the war. They were gripped by a strong yearning for the life they had known.

HaRav Wolbe lost no time; he started talking to them, explaining their religion to them from scratch. When he saw the thirst with which they drank in his words he resolved to open a seminary where girls like them could absorb Yiddishkeit and prepare for future life. That incident provided the impetus for the opening of the school at Lidinge which HaRav Wolbe started together with his friend HaRav Jacobson zt'l.

To begin with, HaRav Wolbe would pay the seminary a weekly visit in the course of which he would teach the girls and guide the staff regarding the traditional and timeless instruction that they were to provide. Shortly thereafter, when one of the teachers had to leave for Eretz Yisroel, HaRav Wolbe began to arrive much more frequently.

In later years Rebbetzin Jacobson, who acted as the school's director, cited the hundreds of letters that HaRav Wolbe wrote to students and staff members as evidence of his dedication and strength of character. One letter might contain a detailed report on a girl who required particular attention, another on a girl to whom some brief words of admonition were to be directed. Other letters infused the recipients with spirit and gave them powerful encouragement in their efforts to set themselves squarely on the path of Torah and mitzvos.

One of the students later recalled, "A single Shabbos in Lidinge in the presence of the Mashgiach reminded us of all our Shabbosos at home and of all the mitzvos and obligations. Together with HaRav Jacobson, HaRav Wolbe created all our Yiddishkeit. We were like lost sheep. Even I, who came from a chassidishe home, had no idea what would become of me after the Holocaust. It was enough to simply look at him for one's yiras Shomayim to be strengthened. His shiurim on Tehillim provided a firm foundation for our [spiritual] development. We would all sit in a circle, listening carefully . . ."

It was HaRav Wolbe who succeeded in igniting the spark of life in girls over whom the shadow of death still hovered even after their emergence from the camps and furnaces. His shiurim and guidance imbued them with renewed faith and trust, enabling them to learn how to smile once again.

Sowing Barren Land

From the day he arrived in Eretz Yisroel the Mashgiach became involved in guiding and strengthening Torah institutions on a fundamental level. He was something of a novel character in the country's fledgling Torah world of those days, but his activities and guidance laid the foundations for many Torah centers.

The Chazon Ish and the Birth of Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov

Following his marriage, HaRav Wolbe settled in Petach Tikva and devoted his entire day to Torah study. He was offered a position as head of an educational institution for olim founded by the Ezra movement, but he hesitated to accept. Was he suited to head an institution, he wondered, and an Ezra institution at that?

He resolved to consult the Chazon Ish and abide by his advice. The Chazon Ish told him to accept and, when a puzzled HaRav Wolbe tried to elicit some explanation, the Chazon Ish declared, "You'll turn them into bnei yeshiva . . ."

Indeed, it was not long before the governors of the school and the officials of Aliyat Hano'ar realized that there had been a gross misunderstanding in engaging HaRav Wolbe. The students whom they had expected him to train according to their movement's outlook, were instead swiftly finding their niche learning Torah in holy yeshivos.

One day, his employers paid HaRav Wolbe a visit and informed him that he was being given notice. They took every bochur that they found away with them except for three whom they were not supporting and a fourth who had become so firmly attached to HaRav Wolbe that he removed himself from their authority. With determination uncharacteristic for one of his age, he told his rebbe that he wished to stay with him wherever he went.

Once again, HaRav Wolbe went to consult the Chazon Ish, who had originally urged him to accept the position.

The Chazon Ish was unequivocal. "Open a yeshiva for them," he said.

"How on earth?" the Mashgiach wondered.

To begin with the Chazon Ish negotiated an agreement with Ezra whereby they left HaRav Wolbe with a Shas, ten beds, ten plates and ten sets of cutlery. Then he personally visited several well-to-do individuals, and succeeded in raising an initial amount of fifty lirot. Giving the money to HaRav Wolbe he said, "Take this sum. With it, you'll be able to continue putting the yeshiva together."

That was the beginning of Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov, which went on to produce legions of talmidei chachomim who owe HaRav Wolbe their legacy of Torah and mussar, which is so unique in the Torah world.

Despite early difficulties in finding a suitable building, the bochurim began learning in the beis hamedrash. Looking back in later years the Mashgiach observed, "One can build a yeshiva once there are a rosh yeshiva and a mashgiach. One rents a beis haknesses or, if there is no choice, one builds the yeshiva its own building. If, though, one first builds the building and then expects to establish a yeshiva — no siyata deShmaya has been experienced doing it that way."

During the yeshiva's initial period the Mashgiach was asked to accept a group of bochurim who had come from Teiman, and who were interested in joining. Fearing that their lack of proficiency in learning could jeopardize their chances of being accepted, they first approached the Chazon Ish and asked him to recommend them. The Chazon Ish did so, sending explicit instructions that they were to be accepted into the yeshiva.

The rosh yeshiva who was serving alongside HaRav Wolbe at the time was reluctant to comply. He expressed his doubts as to whether it would be to the yeshiva's benefit. The Mashgiach could not understand what room there was for discussion. They had received a ruling from the Chazon Ish telling them what to do and he, for one, had no remaining doubts whatsoever on the matter. In consequence, that rosh yeshiva left and his position was filled by HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro.

The Mashgiach's talmid, HaRav D. Breuer, related that when he wanted to join Be'er Yaakov he was turned down because shiur alef, the level that he needed, did not yet exist. He turned to the Chazon Ish who gave him a note for the yeshiva's leaders instructing them to open a shiur alef. The shiur duly opened with a handful of bochurim. However by the beginning of the following zman, the number was much greater.

In Time of War

Rav Shabsai Weiss was learning in Be'er Yaakov during the Six Day War. He recalls, "When the war began many people were deeply worried. Many thought that it spelled the end of the state that had only recently been established in Eretz Yisroel. During those days we all sat together in a shelter in Be'er Yaakov. I asked the Mashgiach what we should be thinking at such a difficult time. He told me that we ought to realize that we should be preparing to sacrifice ourselves for the sanctification of Hashem's Name that would come about through the shattering of the deception that the Zionists had perpetrated in relying on their own power and their ability to establish a state and take their destiny into their own hands.

"On Thursday, rumors arrived from the front that they had been successful in capturing the Kosel Hama'arovi, an event for which some wanted to offer thanks and praise to Hashem. I went over to the Mashgiach and asked whether we ought to do so.

"He replied, `Certainly, certainly one should. We should say Tehillim chapter 79: " . . . Hashem, nations have entered Your inheritance . . . they have defiled Your holy chamber . . ." ' "

The following morning, Friday, the instructions were still to stay in the shelters. Reb Shabsai asked the Mashgiach about the electric bulb at the entrance to the shelter that was not connected to the special Shabbos generator that provided the yeshiva with its own non-chilul Shabbos electricity supply. What were they to do under the circumstances?

The Mashgiach replied that they should think of what the Chazon Ish would say. He felt that the Chazon Ish would not permit the use of the general electricity supply for an emergency of that sort. Later on, word arrived that people could leave the shelters.

Rav Y. Leitner remembers the Mashgiach posting bulletins of war news on the yeshiva's notice board so that the bochurim would have no need to listen to the radio.

All the talmidim felt a bond with the Mashgiach. At the levaya, HaRav Sariel Rosenberg met a friend who asked him if he'd had a connection with the Mashgiach. He replied, "In Be'er Yaakov there was no such thing as an ordinary talmid not having a relationship with the Mashgiach. Some had a closer connection than others but everyone had a relationship with him."

On the Threshold of an Era

HaRav Wolbe had been working since his youth at drawing estranged Yidden closer to our Father in Heaven, which he always saw as an endeavor of the first priority. He recognized the irreligious public's potential for return to their ancestral faith and held out constant hope that the day would yet arrive when it would become reality.

He seems to have been among the trailblazers of the "teshuvoh revolution" that got underway in Eretz Yisroel following the Six Day War. Well in advance, he saw that times were approaching when many would seek to return to the embrace of faith and observance. He laid the groundwork, in order that the process, when it got underway, would produce a bountiful yield.

A talmid recalls that following the Six Day War HaRav Wolbe started to implement his master plan, that included the opening of new institutions and frameworks, publishing literature and holding lectures to attract the irreligious public.

He opened a nonprofit organization through the proper legal channels to raise funds for the work. At the time, Israeli law required all new organizations of this type to notify the public of their opening through notices in two national newspapers. One of the talmidim in the yeshiva worded a notice in Hungarian, which the Mashgiach placed in the Hungarian language Ujkelet, while a second one was placed in the irreligious Al Hamishmar.

A great talmid chochom who heard of the Mashgiach's program expressed his surprise at its accommodating orientation. He remarked that if the day indeed arrived when baalei teshuvoh would seek to join us, they would have to work long and hard on their own in order to find a way of penetrating our spiritual world. He even sent one of his talmidim to inform the Mashgiach that he was unhappy about the program being advertised in an irreligious publication and with the whole idea of opening institutions for baalei teshuvoh.

The emissary put his teacher's viewpoint to the Mashgiach, who replied with his customary straightforwardness that his opinion was quite justified in former times when only a few individuals would try to rejoin the religious public. Now however, he maintained, many thousands of baalei teshuvoh were about to join our community. Were sufficient preparations not to be made and we found ourselves unprepared, the results would undesirable for both them and ourselves, for they would chas vesholom have a negative influence on us.

Someone asked the Mashgiach, "So where are all those thousands today? Why don't we see them crowding at the doors of the yeshiva?"

HaRav Wolbe replied, "Now they're in India or involved with Buddha, roaming around trying to `find themselves.' They'll discover nothing there that will satisfy them and after another year of seeking themselves they'll come to try and join us and get to know what Judaism is all about."

Shmuessen in Degania

Together with HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l and HaRav Chaim Brim zt'l, HaRav Wolbe traveled to the kibbutzim in Degania and to other places to lecture to a public that was thirsting for some genuine spiritual content in their lives — in so doing they launched the teshuvoh Movement. These talks in irreligious educational institutions and kibbutzim had a powerful effect on the listeners.

Rav L. Zaitchik related that a young man once came to the yeshiva from the prestigious Haifa Technion asking to hear one of the Mashgiach's shmuessen. After the shmuess he commented, "I've heard hundreds of lectures from many different speakers but never have I heard such a well-organized and instructive talk."

After a time Rav Boruch Horowitz came to consult with the Mashgiach about opening a yeshiva for baalei teshuvoh. HaRav Wolbe encouraged him, strongly recommending that the Torah community ready itself for a large-scale return to its ranks. He also transferred the organization that he had set up to Rav Horowitz, together with the forty thousand lirot that he had collected for working with baalei teshuvoh. Thus, Yeshivas Dvar Yerushalayim, the first yeshiva for baalei teshuvoh, was opened. To this day, the Mashgiach's organization serves the yeshiva's important work in his field.

Rav Mordechai Krashinsky relates that when he was young HaRav Wolbe would deliver talks for irreligious pupils who were living in the makeshift transit camps in Be'er Sheva. With his friendliness and warmth he would kindle the Jewish spark in the children.

He once asked them, "Do you know what the difference is between a school and a yeshiva? A father who takes an interest in his child's progress in school asks whether his son is `making progress.' But if the son is in yeshiva the father asks whether his son is becoming `worthier' — that's the difference."

A grandchild asked HaRav Wolbe one Isru Chag Pesach whether he would be traveling that year to Bnei Brak for the annual gathering of Lev L'Achim as he usually did. He replied that he certainly would, for there was much that he needed to do for the sake of estranged Yidden. He then added, with a tinge of regret, "In the past I did a great deal in order to draw people closer but now I can't."

"It sometimes upsets me greatly that I'm not involved in meriting the estranged," he remarked to a grandchild on another occasion. "Nu, what can I do about it? At the moment I'm busy drawing those who are already near even closer. Yet one can always do more . . . There's no doubt that anyone involved in kiruv today is an emissary of Moshiach . . ."

What About the Children?

Rav Benzion Kook was close to him and once asked him whether his involvement in raising his own family exempted him from working to draw others closer. Raising children is also a form of kiruv!

The Mashgiach's answer was clear. "It doesn't exempt you, it makes your obligation all the greater," he said. "When children see their father go every week to draw others closer and he comes home and tells them about it, it adds a lot to their education."

An avreich once told him, "Chilul Shabbos is visible from the windows of our home. I am unsuccessful in preventing my children from seeing it. What shall I do?"

The Mashgiach replied, "Tell them, `These are Jews who have left the path and do not know how sublime Shabbos is. With siyata deShmaya when you are older you will help draw them closer to Torah and mitzvos. Then everyone will do teshuvoh and there won't be anyone driving here on Shabbos.' "

In Reply to Your Letter . . .

by R. Re'eim

One day in Be'er Yaakov, the Mashgiach received an unsigned letter complaining about how he filled his role. Since he did not know who the writer was, he posted his reply — in which he set out his view of the functions of the yeshiva and of the mashgiach — on the notice board. One of the bochurim copied it down at the time and has submitted it to us.

Erev Shabbos parshas Shemos 5728

To the ben yeshiva who wrote to me [without] signing his name,

Greetings and abundant blessing!

I would like to reply to you but since I don't know whom to send my reply to I have chosen this way [of responding] and the subject is of general concern anyway. By the way, I want to point out that it does not befit the Torah's code of general conduct to write a letter without signing one's full name. Gird yourself like a man and say what you think in a straightforward manner without being afraid!

You ask a question that many have asked, "Why doesn't the Mashgiach approach the bnei yeshiva, when so many of them are in low spirits and need [to speak to] him?" You write that the reason that I gave on erev Yom Kippur, that for technical reasons it's impossible to come over, is insufficient.

Let me then give a more detailed reply to the question, "Why doesn't the Mashgiach come over?"

Apart from serving as an incubator for growth in Torah and in fear of Heaven, a yeshiva should also prepare its students for future life. Those at the helm of a yeshiva, especially a yeshiva gedolah, must be very careful to avoid giving the bnei hayeshiva a false impression of what life is like. How can someone who has been trained with faulty ideas make his way in life?

What happens in real life?

If someone is sick and in need of a doctor, does he writhe on his bed in pain moaning, "Why doesn't the doctor come over?" No! He must either approach the doctor himself or call the doctor to come to him. A doctor doesn't approach a patient by himself.

When someone has a court case he approaches a lawyer. Someone with an halachic query approaches his rov. The rov doesn't go over to a householder to ask whether any shailos have cropped up in his chicken. The lawyer doesn't approach people to find out whether they have cases pending. However painful or embarrassing it might be, the person [in need of their services] must approach the doctor, the lawyer or the rov and explain the situation fully to enable them to consider it and give their advice.

The mashgiach of a yeshiva is exactly the same. If the mashgiach of a yeshiva gedolah were to go over to everyone it would give the misleading impression that in life, someone will always come over to them to offer help just at the right time without them having to make the slightest effort.

Moreover, a child is unable to articulate what bothers him, so he stands and cries. On seeing a child standing in the street crying, anyone with a heart will go over and ask him why he's crying.

The older a person gets the better he gets at finding the right words in which to express himself. This is something that it is vital that a person learn for the sake of his development. Let's grant that in yeshiva ketanoh a youngster hasn't always learned to express himself fully. There, the mashgiach's coming over when he sees the signs of inner turmoil is still justified. In yeshiva gedolah a bochur is mature (even if he's not yet a senior bochur) and if he hasn't yet learned how to express himself and approach me when he feels an inner urge to come over, to chat, or to ask something, when will he learn to do so?

It thus appears to be a disservice to bnei yeshiva, quite apart from the technical problems involved, to save them the bother of coming over to the person who is at their service and is ready to see them when the need arises.

Let me take this opportunity of saying something else that is relevant. A rov doesn't possess ruach hakodesh and he can't know the innermost thoughts of bnei yeshiva if they haven't revealed them to him. It is not his role to make demands of each of the bnei hayeshiva. Even when he spies faults in someone it doesn't mean that he "doesn't value him." Valuing someone or not is how much one values or esteems him. A mashgiach tries to ascertain the level and character of a ben yeshiva but he is extremely careful about according them esteem. All the guesses about whether the mashgiach does or doesn't "hold of" this one or that one are extremely immature — how much more so engaging him in "politics" . . .

With regard to mussar shmuessen, in our sins the wellsprings are at present blocked, maybe on account of other troubles. Be'ezras Hashem, whenever I have something to say I will say it. However, since last Elul I feel that there is such apathy on the listeners' part that I am wondering whether it might not be necessary to change the whole pattern of the shmuessen. This apathy was not the cause of the cessation of the shmuessen but it provided no encouragement to go on with them and, "If a sage expounds and his words are not as precious to the listeners as a bride under the chuppah, it were better had he not said them."

From one who awaits Heaven's mercy


An Approach to Avodas Hashem is Literally a Way of Life

To mark the sheloshim, a booklet was printed containing letters that the Mashgiach wrote in reply to questions that people put to him over the years. He would respond to everyone who wrote him. The following letter concerns the differing approaches to serving Hashem that exist in Klal Yisroel.

To Mr. . . .,

Greetings and blessing!

I received your letter a while ago but only now during bein hazmanim am I able to reply, so please forgive me. In fact, even now I'm unable to reply to your actual question — what are the differences between the various paths and approaches to avodas Hashem?

The reason is that my teachers zy'a trained me not to seek the differences between the approaches. Every such approach involves life itself; who can discuss the hidden secrets of life in writing?

Every person should follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and teachers and serve his Creator wholeheartedly, so long as he is, "a disciple who has studied thoroughly" and takes on the path that he has received with understanding and in its entirety. In the course of his personal avodoh he will discern the differences between himself and those who serve according to other approaches. He will also see that those who are genuine servants are very similar in spirit.

May Hashem yisborach grant you great success in becoming one who truly serves Hashem!

With Torah blessings

Shlomo Wolbe


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