Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nisan 5766 - April 4, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Glimpses of the Mashgiach, HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt'l, the Eighteenth of Nisan 5766, his First Yahrtzeit

By Rabbi H. Helma

The title is taken from HaRav Wolbe's introduction Ho'odom Bi'yekor about the Mashgiach, HaRav Yeruchom.

Training Oneself and Training Others

His Written Legacy

HaRav Wolbe's seforim became basic works for every aspiring ben Torah. One of the visitors to the shivah told the family that although he hadn't known the Mashgiach he wouldn't have been able to make his way through life without the help of Alei Shor. He said that at the huge levaya on Chol Hamoed Pesach he asked a number of people how they were so well-acquainted with the Mashgiach that they felt they should accompany him. Most of them replied that they only knew him through his seforim, which had made a strong impression on them.

HaRav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron, said that many bochurim told him that Alei Shor transformed them and showed them how to approach avodas Hashem.

I Didn't Erase a Single Word

HaRav Wolbe's son R' Avrohom related that he once asked his father how he'd been able to write entire books using a typewriter (before the age of computerized word processing), with all the bother of erasing some sections and repositioning others. His father replied frankly, "I never erased a single word that I wrote in my books."

He once remarked to a grandson, "I want to tell you that the second section of Ho'odom Bi'yekor, which I have just been studying, contains all the fundamentals of mussar and it really ought to be studied in seder mussar. I can't say that to youngsters but I can tell it to you. I read it closely and I discovered that literally every one of the basic ideas of the Torah of the Mashgiach Reb Yeruchom appears there."

When his grandson asked how he'd been able to set everything down in writing he replied, "These are the Mashgiach's fundamental teachings that built the character and many worlds of greatness."

Mussar Study: the Elixir of Life

(1)He would prepare for whatever he had to do by taking out a mussar work and spending some time studying it. Only then would he announce that he was ready for the matter at hand.

Mussar Seder on a Street Bench

His son-in-law HaRav Y. Bamberger related that while on a visit to Switzerland they were walking one evening through the town streets when the Mashgiach noticed that it was seven o'clock, the time when the seder of mussar study began in the yeshiva. He took out a mussar work from his briefcase and sat down on a public bench to learn from it, just as though he was sitting at a shtender in the yeshiva.

In a similar vein, his son-in-law HaRav E. Schwartzman recalled that at his own wedding, when seven o'clock arrived the Mashgiach announced to all those present that it was time for mussar and everyone sat down to learn mussar.

During a shmuess he once commented revealingly: "I can testify about myself that were it not for the fact that I studied mussar each and every day of the eight years that I spent in Sweden I wouldn't be sitting here today."

Leaving the Forest a New Person

(2) His talmid Rabbi Lehman recalls what a tremendous servant of Hashem HaRav Wolbe was as a young man in Sweden. "One day he asked if I would agree to come with him and spend a little time in solitude, considering ascent and self-perfection in serving Hashem. He also wanted to train me. I had to go through a whole forest during the night but we emerged from that night different people!

The Most Precious Moments

He remained a thinker all his life. Everything he did was the result of forethought and consideration. He would often ask people around him, "Have you thought about what you're doing? Did you pay attention to the words of prayer that you just uttered?"

Once, while standing in line at the bank, someone ahead of him offered him his place in the line so that he wouldn't have to wait so long. The Mashgiach's response was, "Why do you want to disturb me? This is time when nobody interrupts me. It's my best time for thinking . . ."

The observation of his friend Rav Mordechai Zuckerman zt'l, that the Mashgiach controlled his thoughts throughout his life, was nothing less than the truth.

The Missing Pages

He was eager for every scrap of Yiddishe inspiration that he could find. When he heard about a mussar work that he hadn't known about his joy knew no bounds. His talmid Rav Y. Bernstein related that when he published a pamphlet in memory of HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, he sent HaRav Wolbe a copy. "A long time later, when HaRav Wolbe came to Bnei Brak to deliver a shmuess he met me and asked me to wait for him. He opened his briefcase and took out the pamphlet and said that through a printing fault there were several blank pages. He was interested to know what was on them and would I be willing to change his copy for another one, in exchange for payment?"

At Every Age

The Mashgiach continued his pursuit of perfection throughout his life. Talmidim recall his oft-repeated admonition to take heart and to toil at every stage of life to attain perfection. Not long before his petiroh he discovered the mussar work Divrei Emes written by one of Rav Yisroel Salanter's talmidim that is printed at the end of the first volume of Me'orei Oros Hamussar. He remarked to his grandson, "Se'iz a moiredikeh sefer — It's a tremendous work, [containing very] special mussar. It could be that it's a particularly good sefer for [someone of] my age . . ."

Toil in Torah

Throughout his life the Mashgiach remained firmly ensconced in the tent of Torah. He ensured that his talmidim thoroughly grasped that only through toiling over Torah study can one achieve the desired results in serving Hashem.

Speaking at a siyum on maseches Bava Metzia that one of his grandchildren was making, he said the following.

"A siyum maseches is a great event. When a person completes a masechteh he knows an entire masechteh of Shas. But there's more to it than that. The whole person is elevated as a result. His heart grows deeper. His intellect broadens and everything that he does is different; everything assumes a greater dimension. When someone finishes a masechteh of Shas he also finishes a stage [in his battle] with the yetzer hora which fades away. That is Torah's power; its effects on a person are indescribable!

"The gentiles had great men who lived in various ages. For a certain period the Greeks had great men but later on this passed. So it is with the rest of the nations. Only Klal Yisroel has continually had great men, from the time of Moshe Rabbenu until out own day — the prophets, the Tannoim, the Amoroim, the Rishonim and the Acharonim, down to our day. In our generation we also hope that great men will rise up, from among whom Moshiach will come forth.

"Through what power have we merited great men in every generation, without exception? Only though the power of the holy Torah, which is the power that these great men have. It is Torah that confers greatness on a person."

I'm Here To Tell You!

He often told his talmidim that a person is first required to learn all of Shas and know it, and only then can he learn the forty-eight ways in which Torah is acquired, which are listed in the sixth perek of maseches Ovos.

His talmid Rav S. Weiss related that once, an elderly, solitary talmid chochom was lying in hospital in Be'er Yaakov, about to die. Someone who used to visit him at home wanted there to be a minyan present at the moment of death. He went to the yeshiva and began speaking to the bochurim about the greatness of the mitzvah of visiting the sick. He asked them to come and visit the patient in hospital.

When they went to ask the Mashgiach he replied: "What he told you is correct but Hashgochoh has put me here to tell you, no! Toiling in Torah is more important and it must not be harmed even for other virtuous pursuits." (3)

Pathways to Disseminating Torah and Mussar

In the Mashgiach's opinion, successful education and guidance can only be provided where there is a bond and trust between teacher and pupil. Throughout his life he put great effort into loving and growing close to his talmidim, so that they would be able to absorb his instruction.

He knew the right approach for instructing every age and level. The gaon and tzaddik HaRav Dov Yaffe noted that it was the Mashgiach who decided that special meetings should be held for young mashgichim. Through these meetings he built many inner worlds.

The head of a yeshiva ketanoh once asked him what he should be checking when receiving a boy for an interview. "For one thing only," the Mashgiach replied. "Whether or not you can love him." (4)

He once interviewed a mashgiach who was seeking a position as mashgiach in one of the yeshivos. The interviewee asked the Mashgiach whether or not his position would give him the authority to expel a boy from the yeshiva . . . The Mashgiach ultimately refused to have him appointed. Anyone who could speak like that about expelling a boy was unfit to supervise young students.

Advice on Opening a Yeshiva

A certain Rosh Yeshiva once asked his advice as to what to do when opening a new yeshiva. The Mashgiach replied, "The talmidim should have a good place to go to, like they do at home, where they have a corner for eating and drinking."

Rav Mendelsohn Wants to Know . . .

The bochurim all loved him like a father and he lavished warmth and love on them as though each of them was an only son. His talmid Rav Ben Tzion Kugler related that he arrived alone at the yeshiva ketanoh in Be'er Yaakov from Moshav Kommemiyus.

After several weeks he felt unwell. "The Mashgiach said to me, `Rav Mendelsohn from Kommemiyus wants to know how you're feeling and how you are learning. He's expecting a reply from me . . .'

"The question, together with the feeling I got from the Mashgiach's loving look, gave me tremendous encouragement."

Fear of Heaven and Calm in the Same Breath

(5)With the petiroh of HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztvk'l, the weekly Tuesday night shmuessen that he used to give in Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim came to an end. Large numbers of bochurim began traveling each week to Be'er Yaakov to hear the Mashgiach's mussar. Later, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Beinish Finkel zt'l, asked the Mashgiach to deliver shmuessen in Mir.

The Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel discussed the special influence that the Mashgiach had on Mir. He pointed out the rare combination of yiras Shomayim on the one hand and pleasantness and calm on the other, that was discernible on the Mashgiach's face at one and the same time. Whoever watched him derived great encouragement.

Another Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Refoel Shmuelevitz, quoted his father HaRav Chaim zt'l as having said thirty years earlier that the concept of teacher and disciple had virtually ceased to exist. Budding scholars would learn on their own and would only occasionally listen to the Torah of others. The Mashgiach, in contrast, was the only person in the generation who had genuine disciples.

Rav Eliyohu Boruch Finkel recalled that when HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky zt'l asked him who was delivering shmuessen in Mir and he heard that HaRav Wolbe was doing so he remarked, "The Mashgiach is the only individual in our generation who is raising mussar disciples."

A Shmuess That Opened New Vistas

The Mashgiach was always able to touch his listeners, at any age or level. Rav Tzvi Steinharter related that nowadays it is usual to bring eighth grade cheder pupils to visit a yeshiva so that they can see what it's like and absorb something of the atmosphere. Thus one day three eighth grade classes converged on the yeshiva together. During the break they all came into the beis hamedrash and the Mashgiach delivered a shmuess. He discussed very sublime matters, mentioning the celestial bodies and such- like. Even some of the bnei yeshiva who were present didn't understand what he was saying.

"After the shmuess I asked the Mashgiach why he'd seen fit to discuss such lofty ideas.

"He replied, `What can I say to such youngsters? They won't understand a thing. I wanted them at least to have a picture of yeshiva govohah being somewhere that sublime things are spoken about, so that they'll want to come to yeshiva to listen and to understand.' "

One Shmuess, Three Levels

He was once asked to record his shmuessen for Kol Haloshon, the group that makes hundreds of recorded shiurim available through the telephone. He was told that many people were thirsting to hear his shmuessen and that it would provide tremendous encouragement. The Mashgiach's response was that he delivered his shmuess on three occasions each week, in Yeshivas Mir, in Yeshivas Kol Torah and in Yeshivas Givat Shaul — but they were not always identical. It depended on the atmosphere in each particular place. It would thus be correct, he said, to check which shmuess would be most beneficial to the listeners and make that one available to Kol Haloshon.

The Educator

Is Gemora `Subject Matter'?

(6)For many of the Mashgiach's talmidim, the guidance that he provided remained a source of instruction for life. His message was always calculated and was delivered with clarity and precision, hitting home forcefully and leaving a lasting impression.

For example, it was the custom in Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov that the bochurim were tested at the end of each zman on all that had been learned. The Mashgiach once noticed that a bochur was not coming in to take the test. He asked him why and the bochur replied that he'd not managed to review all the subject matter.

"How can you refer to pages of gemora as `subject matter'? exclaimed the Mashgiach. "They are the air that we breathe!"

Don't Kiss the Sefer Torah!

There was a talmid who refused to learn maseches Yevomos in yeshiva, arguing that it was too hard. While the rest of the yeshiva immersed themselves in Yevomos, he sat to one side learning Pesochim.

Some time afterward, when the shaliach tzibbur was taking the sefer Torah to the bimah, the Mashgiach noticed this bochur approaching to kiss the sefer. The Mashgiach placed his hand between the bochur's lips and the sefer Torah and said, "You should know that the sefer Torah contains parshas yibum as well."

Postponing Punishment

His talmid Rav Meshulam Sheinker, one of the roshei yeshiva of Kehillas Yaakov, recalled the time that one of the bochurim committed a gave misdemeanor in the yeshiva. In order to ensure that he wouldn't be rebuking him in anger the Mashgiach waited for three days before approaching the bochur.

His son Rav Avrohom added that on one occasion his father punished him two weeks after he'd done the deed that earned him the punishment.

Crystallizing the Effects of Rejoicing

He would not forgo any of the necessary steps to self- improvement and demanded that his talmidim do whatever lay in their power to elevate themselves to ever higher levels. On Simchas Torah he insisted that all the bochurim dance in the beis hamedrash wearing their jackets and hats, as befits the Torah's honor. "Think about the words of the song," he told them. "They're songs that contain wonderful pesukim. It must make an impression on everyone."

After Yom Tov he requested that each of the bnei yeshiva note down what effect Simchas Torah in yeshiva had had on them and was interested to know whether they'd got anything from doing so.

During the last hakofoh he asked the bnei yeshiva to sing the tune, "Vaharikosi lochem brochoh ad beli dai." When his grandson asked him why he always chose that particular song, he explained, "In all the other hakofos we sing songs of avodas Hashem. Now, for the last hakofoh it's fitting to ask that blessing should be extended all year long, without limit."

After the hakofos his talmidim asked him to say something. He responded, "One can take enough away from Simchas Torah to speak about for half a year."

The Difference Between Shavuos and Simchas Torah

On Shavuos morning, after a night wholly devoted to learning followed by the Yom Tov prayers, the Mashgiach told his talmidim, "We have just received the Torah; it's a fitting time to dance." He rejoiced and celebrated with them for an entire hour. For a long while he stood guard at the doorway and wouldn't allow anyone to sneak away.

He once said in a shmuess, "There are two days when we rejoice with the Torah: Shavuos and Simchas Torah. What is the difference between them? Shavuos is the festival of the wish to receive the Torah and to attain ever-greater proficiency in its knowledge, while predominating on Simchas Torah is our joy at the Torah's encompassing our entire lives."

In Your Presence

Following the tefillos on Yom Kippur he commented to those close to him that a wonderful thought had come to him and he couldn't think about anything else. In the viduy we say, "for the sin of . . .that we have committed before You." It is amazing that we openly declare that our sin was done "before You." Wouldn't it seem less brazen to say that we sinned without realizing the full import of what we were doing?

Evidently, the main point of our confession is that Hashem is present in this world and sees everything — yet we failed to pay attention to this and sinned before Him. Throughout the entire viduy we therefore stress that we have "sinned before You."

Possibly this is the key to understanding our joy on Succos. The tremendous closeness to Hashem that we saw and experienced in the course of our prayers over the Yomim Noraim is a fount of freshness and special joy. We therefore go out to a temporary dwelling, to begin the year again in joy and innocence.

Yeshiva is Like a Hospital

Once, while he was in the hospital following a major operation, he told a grandson to whom he was close, that he'd learned a lesson from his hospital stay. Before an operation is performed there are extensive preparations, tests, X-rays etc. The operation itself might take no longer than a few minutes but the preparatory procedures take a long time.

"I remember," he said, "that there was a bochur in Be'er Yaakov who wanted to be moved to a higher shiur and I didn't agree. He asked the Chazon Ish to instruct me to move him.

"The Chazon Ish asked me, `If it was your own son what would you do?' and I answered in the negative. The Chazon Ish told me, `You should realize that a yeshiva is like a hospital. The patient should be treated according to how he feels. If he feels that he should be raised, it should be considered.'

"If the Chazon Ish compared yeshiva to a hospital, what extensive preparations are necessary before dealing with each bochur! Where is he coming from? How does he learn and how is he progressing? Only in this way can we attend to him."

In his yeshiva he gave instructions that the yeshiva's staff should meet during Elul to consider each of the new arrivals and follow their progress.

What Happened to the Desire to Learn?

A bochur from Ponovezh arrived in Be'er Yaakov one day and told the Mashgiach that until then he had always had a strong desire to learn but that it had suddenly disappeared. The Mashgiach asked him if he had hitherto been fully applying himself to learning and he replied in the positive.

"In that case," the Mashgiach told him, "sit alone and think what the reason could be for this having happened. When a person knows the reason that he is slipping, it's a highly effective educational tool!"

Approaching the End of His Days

Some time before his petiroh he was discussing the transition to the other world, to which he felt he was close, with a confidant. When this person asked who the Mashgiach wanted to eulogize him at his levaya the lucid reply was, "Who says that it will even be possible to eulogize?"

And indeed, he passed away on Chol Hamoed.

During his final years he was continually preparing himself for that day and viduy was frequently on his lips. On his last Chol Hamoed Succos he fell from a step onto the floor. His grandchildren rushed to raise him and they heard him saying viduy, despite his shock and confusion. One night, one of the members of his household heard the sound of loud crying. She arose to see what had happened and she found him in his room saying viduy and weeping copiously.

May This Thought Arouse Us

Following the petiroh of his close friend Rav Mordechai Zuckerman zt'l, the Mashgiach visited his home to comfort his family. When he heard the wonderful stories that were being told he said that a book should be written about Rav Mordechai containing all the stories about him. He emphasized, "It will be a genuine mussar work, with its portrayal of a man who worked on his character and attained perfection."

In his work on Reb Yeruchom, Ho'odom Bi'yekor, the Mashgiach wrote, "May this thought arouse us to follow his path and may this serve to clarify to the world the genuine nature of a master of mussar" — a sentiment that can just as fittingly be applied to the disciple as to the teacher.

A Talmid Remembers: Learn Mussar Like Gemora

HaRav Moshe Samsonovitz, menahel ruchani of Kollel Beis Abba in Kiryat Sefer and a close talmid of HaRav Wolbe, recorded some of his recollections of Be'er Yaakov under the Mashgiach's stewardship. Several of them have accompanied previous articles published last year, and some others appear here.

The Mashgiach would arrive at the beis hamedrash at seven o'clock sharp and would take his place to learn mussar. He would stand up a few minutes later to look around and to get those who were engaged in discussion outside the beis hamedrash to go to their seats. He usually learned quietly, to himself. On rare occasions I heard him [learning mussar] in a voice that was actually loud.

The Mashgiach said that he asked his teacher, the Mirrer Mashgiach, how to learn mussar. His response was "Exactly like gemora! Until you know what it says there's no purpose in learning with emotional arousal. Only after you know what is written and you are acquainted with the idea and you want to proceed to the stage of "bringing it into your heart," can you start [learning] with the "stormy spirit and fevered lips" which our master Rav Yisroel Salanter zy'a, recommends.

A Talmid Remembers: You Were Afraid of Yourself!

Another topic dealt with in the vaadim was concentration. The Mashgiach set a mental exercise — to go out walking at night in the surrounding area. At the time, the yeshiva was surrounded by orchards and on a nighttime walk to the town [of Be'er Yaakov] one wouldn't meet a soul; one would only hear bats, dogs or a train. It was pitch black; the only light was starlight. "Raise your eyes and see Who created these" . . .(Yeshayohu 40:26)

On occasion the Mashgiach would mention in the vaadim that one ought to spend at least half-an-hour each week on one's own. He related that he once told a bochur to go walking and a few days later asked him if he had been walking at night. The bochur replied that he'd tried but he hadn't managed. The Mashgiach probed further to find out what he meant by "hadn't managed" and the bochur said that he felt afraid.

"You were afraid of yourself!" the Mashgiach told him. "All of a sudden you discovered someone with whom you are unfamiliar — yourself — and it shocked you. It was uncomfortable for you to get to know him and you preferred to return to the yeshiva where the crowding and bustle drown out introspection and let you forget yourself."

At that time I discovered an important factor in avodas Hashem: the ben Torah's inner world. Those moments when nobody else knows what you are doing but you are aware of yourself see the formation of a firm bond between yourself and your Creator.

A Talmid Remembers: Why Reb Yeruchom Didn't Eat

I asked the Mashgiach, "Do mussar scholars have to work on meticulous observance of halochoh? Rav Yisroel Salanter builds his approach on mussar and halochoh together, [yet] the latter mussar scholars did not make a special point of halochoh."

[By way of reply] he told me, "The Mashgiach Reb Yeruchom was stringent about chodosh [the prohibition on eating grain that has not passed the seventeenth of Nisan]. Once he attended a tisch of Gerrer chassidim and he didn't eat because there was a doubt about chodosh. The Mashgiach then, was meticulous about halochoh."

As for the Mashgiach [HaRav Wolbe] himself, in the early days of Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov he would deliver a shiur on Shulchan Oruch with Mogen Avrohom. In his home he was very stringent about [using the general supply of] electricity and water on Shabbos. Also, when the Beis Hamussar was established in Yerushalayim there was a halochoh shiur on Choshen Mishpat delivered by HaRav Nosson Kopshitz.

A Talmid Remembers: Responsibility until the Chuppah

On several occasions I heard the Mashgiach say that accepting a bochur into yeshiva involves undertaking responsibility to bear with him through all his ups and downs, until he is taken under the chuppah. "If I feel that I won't be able to bear with him and tolerate him, I ought to refrain from accepting him since he is not suited to me. Woe to the bochur who doesn't have a Mashgiach who respects and loves him."

He also said this at a meeting for mashgichim.

Once he said, "I used to think that once a bochur is married, his training has ended. But I see that today's bochurim are still immature. They come after their wedding seeking advice on every minor detail, even after they already have children. One feels that they will never become independent. This is a weak generation that doesn't know how to stand on it's own feet."

In the Mashgiach's opinion, part of a bochur's training in yeshiva included "going to the omud" to act as shaliach tzibbur. He wouldn't accept a bochur's refusal to do so and compelled him to go.

A Talmid Remembers: My First Shabbos

My first Shabbos in Be'er Yaakov is engraved in my memory and I'll describe a little of what Shabbos was like in the yeshiva. As soon as you stepped into the yeshiva's dining room you noticed the nobility and the refinement on the faces of the bochurim. The climax of Shabbos came after Seudah Shelishis when everyone went to take places in the beis hamedrash for the Mashgiach's shmuess. There were fixed places. The Mashgiach would arrive from home, seforim under his arm and deep in thought. He remained standing throughout the shmuess.

He would start in a very low voice, something he had adopted from Reb Yeruchom in order to attract the listeners' attention and get them to concentrate on the shmuess. (When he moved to Yerushalayim he told us that in Mir and Kol Torah he started straight away in a loud voice because there were large audiences.)

The Mashgiach would prepare the shmuess very well. Every sentence was carefully weighed. The ideas were well constructed and he would read out excerpts from seforim. Sometimes he couldn't read from them because of the darkness in the beis hamedrash. After the shmuess there was a ten-minute break before ma'ariv. The bochurim would discuss the topic of the shmuess and some would approach the Mashgiach himself.

When Shabbos ended I [literally] felt, "Woe for the loss of [the additional] soul," [at the prospect of] returning to Bnei Brak. It made an impression on me that will never be erased.

Chinuch Gems

Rav Y. Karlinsky related: "During the period that he used to wait for the bus, he noticed an avreich who would regularly arrive at the last moment, running to catch the bus that he needed. On one occasion the Mashgiach went over to him and said, "How can one spend all one's life `on the run'? Can't you come a few minutes earlier and live calmly?"

Someone approached him and expressed his concern over his son, who would steal things. The Mashgiach responded, "It's known that when a child steals it's because he suffers from a weak bond to his parents. If you give him love and warmth, it'll stop by itself." And it did.

An avreich who lived in an irreligious environment told him that it was hard for him to step out of his front door without witnessing immodesty. The Mashgiach told him, "Don't go out without thinking about something. When your mind is occupied, these sights won't disturb you."

A concerned father once told him about his son who, while at yeshiva behaved correctly and observed mitzvos but at home threw off the yoke of Torah and decent behavior. How should the problem be handled?

The Mashgiach referred the parents to a psychologist for assistance. The father repeated that they were having a problem with their son but the Mashgiach was insistent, "I know, but the parents still need to go."

The Mashgiach's response to a bochur who asked him what he should think about under his chuppah was, "To bear the responsibility of your wife until the age of a hundred and twenty"! [B.R.]


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