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A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5766 - May 10, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








We Moved During Bava Kama

by Rabbi Rafael Berelson

In the first part, we discussed R' Abba Berman's younger years in Europe and America.

Sterling Character Traits

His pursuit of truth was no less intense when it came to interpersonal dealings than when seeking comprehension in learning. He once commented that he had never let a false word leave his lips, even in the specific situations where halochoh permits veering from the truth.

He never allowed himself to be swayed by regrets if he felt that a piece of Torah he'd composed did not have the ring of truth, and he would set it aside. He would repeatedly review discourses that he'd already prepared for publication, examining them with perfect objectivity despite the immense toil that he'd already invested. If, after all, he felt that they did not illuminate the topic in a true light, he would retract them or set them aside.

When the yeshiva ordered receipt books from the printer, he gave instructions that the design of the receipt incorporate the words of the Bircas Shmuel, namely, that each and every individual has an obligation to see that his sons and grandsons grow into great Torah scholars. When it was suggested that the receipts bear the sort of message that donors might be happier to see, he retorted, "But the words of the Bircas Shmuel are something that the donors have to know!"

He was not in favor of the yeshiva hosting a dinner at which the donors would be seated together with their families. He maintained his objection, insisting that this was not the way to further Torah even though it was clarified to him that many other yeshivos did so, relying upon a heter received from Torah authorities, and despite his own yeshiva's extremely precarious financial situation.

When he opened his yeshiva in America he took in several very fine bochurim indeed, but only a handful. It was explained to him that one couldn't run a yeshiva gedolah in America without also having a yeshiva ketanoh (high school) whose graduates entered the sister institution. Reb Abba would not hear of this however, because all the yeshivos ketanos in those days also taught secular subjects. For this reason, his yeshiva remained one of the only yeshivas in America that had no yeshiva ketanoh, though he could have found supporters who would have helped him open one.

Although he served as rosh yeshiva, Reb Abba refused to take a penny from the yeshiva and he drew no salary. When his rebbetzin needed to make a phone call from the yeshiva, she kept a record and he paid for it. He only allowed himself to take a salary when the yeshiva started receiving government support.

To Show That I Bear No Grudge

The family refrained from inviting a certain individual to the bar mitzvah celebration of one of Reb Abba's grandsons because the man had caused him problems on a number of occasions. When Reb Abba heard about this he gave instructions that the man should be invited and he was not satisfied until he'd called to check that the invitation had already been sent out.

For the wedding of one of his daughters, he wanted to honor a certain well-known person with saying a brochoh under the chuppah. When the chosson's side learned of this they asked him to refrain from inviting that person because he had caused their family much trouble. When Reb Abba heard what the man had done to them his response was, "You should know that he's caused me personally far, far greater trouble than that and that is precisely the reason that I seek to invite him to say a brochoh under the chuppah of all my daughters — to show that I bear him no grudge."

His daughter once told him about an older woman who had been her student, who wanted to receive a blessing from him. "Do I have pockets filled with blessings?" was his initial reaction.

His daughter explained that her student was already a mature woman and was very broken-spirited. She badly needed some encouragement, which his blessing would certainly provide. Reb Abba agreed to see her.

When the student arrived, Reb Abba spoke encouragingly and openly to her telling her, "There's nothing terrible about marrying at an older age. I myself married when I was thirty- two . . . It's not that getting married that is the main thing, so much as what one manages to achieve through the marriage."

He explained that the most important thing was to build a home of Torah. "If you undertake right away to help your husband develop into a great Torah scholar, you will already be taking a very important step towards achieving the purpose of marriage."

Later, Reb Abba's daughter told him that his words had greatly encouraged the woman and had transformed her whole outlook about her situation. He was very happy to hear this and it was evident that having been the means of helping a fellow Jew was a source of renewed vitality to him. It was not long before the woman established a home with a bochur with an outstanding reputation in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

Raising Talmidim

All his life he sacrificed himself for the sake of his talmidim and he was one of the very few of his generation who succeeded in fully shaping and molding talmidim. HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l, once remarked, "The only one capable of producing talmidim in this generation is Reb Abba" (repeated by his talmid, Rav M. Wolpin).

While traveling to Reb Abba's levaya, several talmidim were discussing how much time they had each spent learning with him. "I only learned with him for nine years," said one of them. "I only learned with him for fourteen years," said another. It was virtually unknown for someone to be his talmid for just a year or two. His talmidim were firmly attached to him and spent many years learning from him, during which they fully absorbed his approach, each on his own level.

His talmid Rav Chaim Z. Malinowitz relates that while the yeshiva was situated in Far Rockaway, Reb Abba would deliver three regular shiurim in the course of the week, besides Friday's shiur keloli.

The talmidim signed a petition asking the Rosh Yeshiva to deliver an additional regular shiur every week because they wanted to hear as much as they could from him.

Despite their firm attachment to him, Reb Abba encouraged his talmidim to hear shiurim from other maggidei shiur. He maintained that either way it was a good idea. "If you feel you'll have more benefit over there, then fine! Stay there! If you conclude that you have more to gain from me it'll make you value the shiurim all the more."

His talmid Rav Refoel Wolpin, a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Kol Torah, relates that when listening to one of Reb Abba's shiurim the participants felt at first that "darkness covers the earth" (Yeshayohu 60:2) — the questions that he asked and the problems that he found in the sugya seemed insurmountable. Once he revealed the underlying principles though, they felt a bright light illuminating everything — now the sugya beamed and sparkled on its own.

The depth and strength of the bond that his talmidim felt with him arose from the fact that together with him, they forged another link in the chain of Torah's transmission. Many of them tore keriah when he passed away. His foremost talmidim, among them Rav Yisroel Eliyahu Weintraub, are saying Kaddish for him (Reb Abba only had daughters). Talmidim say that when he was niftar, they sat on the ground in mourning, feeling that his loss surpassed even that of parents.

Reb Abba also had talmidim who never saw him — those who learned from his seforim, especially the volume on Kodshim. Preparing his seforim for publication was a special task. His son-in-law Rav M. Altusky did the editing and Reb Abba reviewed each and every word. There were scores of shiurim that he left out because he felt that only those that conveyed a distinct approach to learning a sugya in depth ought to be included. The work of publishing his writings is still at an early stage. He left a huge legacy of written chiddushim, besides the notes that his talmidim made.

A Home Whose Heart Beats to Torah

Reb Abba invested a great deal in raising and educating his daughters. Although the family lived in the America of two generations ago, in a far weaker Torah environment than there is today, the girls were raised as if they had still been living in Lodz. The atmosphere in the home was suffused with love of Torah and yiras Shomayim, which the family absorbed. Important events were remembered according to the masechteh that the yeshiva had been studying when they took place: "We moved during Bava Kama," "That happened during Kiddushin."

He was very particular about his daughters' modesty. In those days, there were many observant homes where a TV. could be found. Reb Abba's daughters were not allowed to visit such homes. So long as he had unmarried daughters he refrained from inviting talmidim to his home. While the yeshiva was in the mountains during the summer months, the girls only left the house while their father was delivering shiur.

He had his daughters educated in Yiddish because, he said, Yiddish protected the Jewish nation throughout the exile. Reb Abba's daughters studied in Eretz Yisroel and upon returning to America found positions as teachers in Bais Yaakov. One of them was offered a job in an office but Reb Abba would not allow it, although the family's financial situation was precarious. She eventually found work in teaching.

While Reb Abba prepared shiur in the morning, his daughters knew that there had to be absolute silence so that his deep concentration should not be disturbed. When they heard him clap his hands in joy, the sign that he had fathomed the profundities of the sugya and had attained clarity, his delight was felt throughout the home.

One rainy day, his rebbetzin arrived home to find their youngest daughter, who was then in seventh grade, sitting outside the house. The girl explained that the door was locked. "Why didn't you knock for someone to come and open it?" her mother asked.

The girl explained that Father was busy preparing shiur — "How can I disturb him?"

Guidance for Maggidei Shiur

Reb Abba provided a great deal of guidance as to how to learn and compose novel insights, especially to maggidei shiurim. This is what he would tell them:

When starting a new perek, rather than just learning the first topic and spending a long time on it, it's more worthwhile to learn through the entire perek in the ordinary way. Whenever there's some comment or difficulty, one should pause and spend five minutes thinking about it. If one finds an answer — well and good. But if not, one should make a note of his thought and continue. The entire perek should be learned this way.

After that, one should start to learn the perek once again, stopping wherever there were difficulties the first time. New points will undoubtedly present themselves because one is approaching it from a different angle and with new ideas, as a result of having learned through the whole perek. The entire perek should be learned that way and then it should be learned again — all in all, several times over.

The first few times it is preferable to engage in minimal reflection, rather than probing deeply. In fact, all the questions that one has already noticed will point in the direction of solutions and make it possible to discern some of the underlying concepts.

After learning through the perek a number of times with gentle reflection, one should apply one's mind fully to the topics that need further clarification.

Another piece of advice, which Reb Abba gave his son-in-law when he started delivering shiurim in the yeshiva: it often happens that in the middle of giving a shiur, one has a flash of inspiration and a new idea or approach suddenly presents itself. Be aware that the yetzer hora is at work! Under no circumstances should you share such an idea with your talmidim. One should not repeat any idea until one has turned it over a number of times in one's mind!

Advice for Aiding Memory

Reb Abba would advise his talmidim as to how they should review their learning in order to remember it. He told them that while in Shanghai, when the doctors forbade him to engage in strenuous learning, he read a research paper on the subject of memory, from which he learned that the major proportion of what one forgets is forgotten immediately after learning.

For example, one day after learning something, a person will have forgotten thirty percent of the subject matter. A day later, he won't have forgotten another thirty percent but much less than that. It is therefore important to review what one had learned straight after learning, in order to prevent the first, major bout of forgetting.

He advised his talmidim to review what they had learned as soon as they finished learning it, to review again at the end of the week and again at the end of the month and at the end of the year. They would thus retain their learning well.

He also used to say: "Memory favors brevity." It is important to condense what one has learned and review it in that form. He would also say that whatever a person thinks about directly before falling asleep remains in his memory. He therefore advised talmidim to briefly review the day's learning before falling asleep. Some of them attest to remembering things they'd learned forty years earlier, thanks to Reb Abba's advice.

Tzaddikim Are Still Called Living Even After Their Deaths!

The last shmuess that HaRav Abba Berman zt'l, delivered

Isn't Torah Study One of the Mitzvos?

"If you proceed [by following] in My laws and keep My commandments and fulfill them . . ." (Vayikra 26:2).

Rashi (quoting Toras Cohanim) comments, " `If you proceed in My laws' — maybe this refers to keeping the mitzvos?

"When it says `and you keep My commandments,' keeping the mitzvos is already discussed. So to what do the words, `If you proceed in My laws' refer? That you should toil in Torah."

At first glance this answer is astonishing. Rashi asked that observing all of the Torah's mitzvos is covered by the words `and you keep My commandments,' leaving the posuk's opening words seemingly redundant. How does his answer help? Isn't toiling in Torah part of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos that are already referred to?

On the mishnah's words (Pe'ah 1:1) "And Torah study equals all of them," the Yerushalmi brings the following difference of opinion. "Rabbi Berechyah and Rabbi Chiya of Kefar Techumin [disagreed]. One said, `Even the entire world is not equal to one piece of Torah knowledge' and the other said, `Even all of the Torah's mitzvos are not equal to one thing from the Torah.' "

How are we to understand this? The entire Torah, all of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos are unequal to a word of Torah?! What about the mitzvah of milah, over which thirteen covenants were made? What about Shabbos, "a sign between me and bnei Yisroel" (Shemos 31:17), the equivalent of the entire Torah, whose observance is powerful enough to earn pardon for someone who "serves idols like the generation of Enosh" (Shabbos 118)? What about Yom Kippur? How can it be that all of the mitzvos together are unequal to a single word of Torah?

Were the Yerushalmi to have said that Torah is the greatest mitzvah out of all six hundred and thirteen, we could understand. But how can it be that all the mitzvos together are unequal to a single word of Torah? How are we to understand such a statement?

Cleaving to Hashem

The explanation seems to be based on the posuk, "For a mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23). A mitzvah is compared to a lamp which is a means of producing light, while Torah is compared to the light itself (see also the Zohar, Terumah 166 — ed. note). This too requires explanation. How are we to understand that all the mitzvos are simply the means to attaining an end, rather than an end in themselves?

We have to consider the nature of the light that is Torah. It's not illumination like the sun's light or some similar kind of light. It's "the light of Your countenance" — the light of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Chazal tell us that "Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Yisroel and the Torah are one unit." The Torah's light is the light of Hashem shining in this world. The only way to attach oneself to Hashem is by cleaving to the light of Torah, for it is one and the same as cleaving to Hashem — thereby, Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Yisroel and the Torah are one.

This is the purpose of the world. The purpose of all the mitzvos is to render those who fulfill them fit to accept the light of Torah. This in fact shows us how sublime Torah's light is. In order to become worthy of receiving the Torah's light one must fulfill all six hundred and thirteen mitzvos. If some of the mitzvos are missing it affects a person's ability to serve as a vessel for Torah's light.

This is the meaning of the Yerushalmi's comment, "Even all of the Torah's mitzvos are not equal to one thing from the Torah." For all their exalted level, the mitzvos are only a means to rendering a person capable of absorbing Torah.

I remember my father and teacher, the gaon Rav Shaul Yosef ztvk'l (who was rosh yeshivas Toras Chesed in Lodz) telling me about when he was with his master and teacher the Chofetz Chaim zy'a. One of the rabbonim of the Mizrachi had come with complaints that the yeshiva bochurim weren't coming to settle in Eretz Yisroel to strengthen the yishuv. Settling Eretz Yisroel is a very great mitzvah, he argued, equal to all of the others.

The Chofetz Chaim expressed himself very sharply and said, "All the mitzvos are blotte (mud) next to the Torah. Even the greatest mitzvah is not worth any weakening of Torah study, choliloh."

This accords with what we have said, namely, that all of the mitzvos are a means to facilitate Torah study.

Mitzvah Merits and Torah Merits

The gemora (Brochos 17) asks, "What merit do women have? That of their sons who learn to read in the beis haknesses, of their husbands who learn in the beis hamedrash and of waiting for their husbands to return from the beis hamedrash."

There is a commonly asked question on this gemora. Do women lack mitzvos to keep, to the point where the gemora has to ask what merits they have? There are many mitzvos that they fulfill: believing in Hashem, loving Him, fearing Him, Shabbos, Pesach as well as all the positive mitzvos that are not time-bound. Why is it a problem to find merit for women?

According to what we have said, the explanation is that while women are of course filled with mitzvos, mitzvos without Torah are like an empty vessel. We could not say such a thing on our own unless the posuk said it but it is written explicitly: "For a mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light."

Now the gemora's question makes sense. Women have no obligation to study Torah — in fact it is forbidden for a father to teach his daughter Torah. What merit do they have without Torah? The gemora answers that they are partners in the Torah study of their husbands and sons.

The Light of Torah — Separate from the Mitzvos

The Nefesh HaChaim makes a well-known statement: were the world to be without Torah study for an instant, it would become void immediately. There are times of the year when people are preoccupied with mitzvos, such as erev Yom Kippur when the meal is a Torah obligation. Yet the Nefesh HaChaim says without qualification that if everyone were to be busy with mitzvos and nobody was learning Torah the world would cease to exist.

This requires explanation. Those who are busy with mitzvos are doing the right thing — a mitzvah whose time will pass takes precedence over Torah study. Why then, should the world be punished with destruction?

The answer is that it's not a punishment — it's a natural consequence. Hashem's light in the world is the light of Torah; without it, the world has no existence.

This is the meaning of the words, "If you proceed following My laws," which Rashi tells us means, "that you should toil in Torah." We asked that toiling in Torah is part and parcel of the mitzvos that are referred to by the words, "and you keep My commandments." In fact, learning Torah without toil is also a mitzvah. However, in order to cleave to the light of Torah — and thereby to Hashem yisborach — one must toil to learn Torah and "inscribe them [words of Torah] on the tablet of your heart" (Mishlei 3:3). Only by dong so can one attach himself to Torah.

Chazal are extremely precise in interpreting the posuk's words. For mitzvos, the word "keeping" is used, implying observing them in one's outward conduct. The beginning of the posuk however, speaks about "proceeding in My laws," implying making one's way forward in life within Hashem's laws. This only denotes toiling in Torah, through which a person puts himself squarely inside Torah. By contrast, one can fulfill the other mitzvos, but not in the sense of proceeding within them. Only by receiving Torah's light can one proceed from within.

External to Time

This enables us to explain Chazal's statement "Tzaddikim are still called living, even after their deaths" (Brochos 18). A tzaddik is certainly on a sublime level but what does that have to do with calling him living after he's died? Surely, he's dead!

The Rambam presents his famous difficulty on the subject of foreknowledge and free will (Hilchos Teshuvoh 5:5). How can there be free will, he asks? Hakodosh Boruch Hu knows everything that is going to happen beforehand, so He also knows whether a person is going to be righteous or wicked. The Rambam does not provide a clear answer to this problem. The Raavad comments, "Avrohom says, he has not conducted himself in the manner of scholars; one should not embark upon a subject unless one knows how to conclude it. He begins asking questions and raising difficulties and leaves them unresolved etc."

Although the Raavad finds the Rambam problematic, if one reads the Rambam carefully one sees that he does discuss the subject at great length. He prefaces his comments with the words, "Know that the answer to this question is very lengthy indeed etc." He explains the difference between the kind of knowledge that humans possess and Hakodosh Boruch Hu's knowledge, writing that a person cannot fully fathom it. In conclusion he writes, "But we should know without any doubt that a person is in control of his behavior and Hakodosh Boruch Hu does not sway him or decree that he should behave in a certain way. It's not only because we have a religious tradition that we know this to be true — there are clear proofs to it from the teachings of wisdom."

If human beings cannot understand the type of knowledge that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has, how can the Rambam conclude by saying that we don't only know this to be true because of our religious tradition but also from "clear proofs . . .from the teachings of wisdom"? How can worldly wisdom show us that we can't fathom Hashem's knowledge? We would only expect it to help us know things that we can understand, not those that we can't.

The Rambam seems to mean as follows: Our problem with foreknowledge and free will only arises because our conceptions are limited by our existence within a system that is subject to time flow, with the consequent distinction between "before" and "after."

The truth is that time is not absolute; it's also something that was created. The Creator is above time, so His knowledge is no contradiction whatsoever to our free will. It is incorrect to think of His knowledge as already being there before we exercise our free will, because in Heaven there is no time flow whatsoever.

In other words, our whole problem with free will only arises because we cannot fathom the idea of being above time, or external to time; this is the point about Hashem's foreknowledge that the Rambam is making. The fact that time also had to be created is not only known to us through religious tradition. There are indeed "clear proofs to it from the teachings of wisdom." (Especially nowadays, scientists' research and Einstein's laws demonstrate that time is a creation and has no fixed, independent existence.) In Teshuvos HoRashbo (siman 9) it is written explicitly that time is a creation that is dependent on the celestial bodies and that the Creator is above time.

This explains why tzaddikim are called living after their deaths. The whole concept of death relates to time — a person lives until a certain point in time, after which his life stops.

This however, only holds true within the time-bound system of the creation. A tzaddik who is attached to Torah and is part of the Unity of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Yisroel and Torah, is above time. He cleaves to Torah which is eternal — and external to time — and is therefore unaffected by death.

Another Additional Interpretation

On another occasion, R' Abba explained the answer of the Chofetz Chaim, "Ein hochi nami, Eretz Yisroel is a very big mitzvah. But compared to limud haTorah, all mitzvos are blotte," in the following manner.

R' Abba explained that the Chofetz Chaim's answer was based on a Yerushalmi that the Rash brings at the beginning of maseches Pei'ah. It says (Mishlei 3:15): "Kol chafotzecho lo yishvu boh" — all your things that you desire are worthless compared to it (referring to Torah). Adds the Yerushalmi: Afilu cheftzei Shomayim — even the desires of Heaven [are worthless compared to Torah]. This clearly refers to the mitzvos, and the Yerushalmi is saying that they are worthless compared to Torah.

Grind Away the Darkness

by Mordecai Plaut

Once at a dinner R' Abba said that in the piyut about the Ten Harugei Malchus (the Ten Martyrs killed over the generations) it gives, as a short description of Rebbi Akiva ben Yosef, "He was oker horim vetochonon besevoro," — he would uproot mountains and grind them with his reasoning.

Is this the essence of R' Akiva, asked R' Abba, that he could grind dirt, as it were? What is the meaning of this moshol?

The gemora says that around Kabolas HaTorah in the Desert, Hakodosh Boruch Hu showed Moshe Rabbenu how R' Akiva was teaching, and Moshe Rabbenu could not understand what he was saying. Is that outstanding level of learning contained and summarized by the metaphor of uprooting mountains and grinding them one against the other with reason?

Yes, he answered. This metaphor shows us what Torah is. A mountain does not let us see past it. The difficulty blocks our line of sight. The oker horim takes away the mountain so that we can see past it.

How? He uses the difficulty to work at it from the inside out. He enlightens our eyes so that we may see properly.

HaRav Mordechai Altusky said that some leave the mountain in place and build upon the mountain. In effect, they build upon the lack of understanding.

It is often easier to leave the mountains in place. It is hard for a person to uproot his assumptions. Sometimes after discarding his old, familiar way of thinking, he is left with nothing.

But that is not the way of learning. One has to uproot the obstacles and grind them away.

In his shiurim, said HaRav Altusky, one could see how he uprooted the mountains. One mountain after the other was uprooted, until eventually the truth was exposed. The Torah became a plain across which one could see far and wide.

That is grinding one mountain on the other. He takes one difficulty and then throws it up against another difficulty, and by working on both he comes to the truth that applies universally. Then we can see the true nature of the thing itself. The main thing is to see. How do you see? From within. Not to enter from the outside.

R Boruch Ber said that if we understand the question well that is half the answer. This is also a similar idea.

In English we say "I see." It means to see with eyes and also to understand it.

A Genuine Pearl

At the levaya HaRav Avrohom Orenstein, a son-in-law, quoted a pshat of the Chofetz Chaim on the posuk: Yekoroh hi mipeninim (Mishlei 3:15).

Every thing has its experts, the Chofetz Chaim said, the meivinim who know how to appreciate it. For simple things, almost everyone is an expert. The necessary expertise is widely available. Almost everyone can appreciate good food, for example.

To appreciate pearls however, one needs a level of expertise that is not widely available. Only the experts who know all their qualities and nuances truly appreciate the excellence of an outstanding pearl. That is why the Torah is compared to pearls, since not everyone truly knows how to appreciate Torah.

The Rosh Yeshiva certainly knew how to appreciate Torah, but he was himself like a pearl that requires a special expertise to fully appreciate.

Not Just the Chiddushim, but Also the Tools that Produced the Chiddushim

by Mordecai Plaut

The Rosh Yeshiva was a ba'al mechadesh and he had many original approaches to the classical sugyos studied in yeshivas. However what he gave over was not only, and not even perhaps mainly, his specific innovations. He definitely and deliberately transmitted to his talmidim the intellectual tools that he had himself used to produce these new approaches.

The Rosh Yeshiva used to say that the biggest laziness that there is, is the laziness not to think. The classical image of a slothful person is one who finds it hard to move his body. But the Rosh Yeshiva said that even one who has no problem with getting around may still be plagued by a reluctance to think, since thinking is really the hardest work that there is.

But the Rosh Yeshiva trained his talmidim to think, and he trained them in how to think. The hardest part may be getting people to exert themselves intellectually, but the most important part is perhaps the tools to think properly. By his example as he explained his reasoning and the process of arriving at his ideas, the Rosh Yeshiva showed his students how to think properly and to manipulate abstract ideas correctly.

R' Binyomin Wolpin in his hesped quoted HaRav Shach zt"l who said that in many shiurim there are some who benefit and some who do not. However, from R' Abba's shiurim everyone benefits.

Rav Wolpin also noted that the Rosh Yeshiva often told his talmidim, "I do not want you to be another R' Abba. I want you to be what you can be."

Just What It Says

One of the Rosh Yeshiva's chief principles in learning, one that was almost always on his lips, was, "Vos shteit." One must approach an inyan totally objectively, and make sure that all chiddushim and biurim that one says lie in the words of the gemora or the rishonim, and are extracted from them and not newly conceived in one's mind and then put into those words. One must make sure that one is not coming to the sugya with any preconceived notions. One must clear one's mind and always start fresh.

The questions of the shiur, were often original and were thus lessons in themselves — lessons in how to not accept things at face value but to question and probe and challenge.

The Rosh Yeshiva actually stressed — not lomdus, not analysis, not depth, but rather — bakoshas ho'emmes the basic search for truth. One must simply make sure that one understood what one was learning completely and wholly.

With R Abba there was no concept of a be'erech understanding of a sugya. By R Abba, be'erech was treif. One must understand well. He taught his talmidim not be satisfied with an approximate, vague understanding but full clarity and even certainty.

HaRav Moshe Wolpin said in his hesped that for the Rosh Yeshiva, the truth was not something optional. The emes was simply all that there is.

Seeking Truth

In his hesped, HaRav Mordechai Altusky said that R' Abba's very life-breath was his derech in limud. The keystone of his derech, as he always said, is that one must always seek the emes.

What does this mean? What does everyone else do? Who looks for sheker?

Bakoshas ho'emmes burned within him. It was really like a fire. The way he learned, nothing would stop him from reaching the truth. Even if "everyone" learned one way, that would not stop him from considering alternatives, if they led to the truth.

Even his own past Torah did not stop him. Even if he had a few shiurim that were based on a particular approach, it did not stop him from changing his mind when he saw the need to do so.

He was truly moser nefesh for the truth of Torah. He once said that even in those areas that Chazal say one may deviate from emes, he never did so. He just could not bring himself to do it.


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