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7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Practices and Guidelines of HaRav Shach in Yeshiva- Related Matters

by HaRav Gershon Eidelstein

The Yeshiva Regimen

There is one thing that is vital to all yeshiva students: reinforcing their strict adherence to the yeshiva time schedule. This is a guarantee for success.

Maran HaGaon R' Shach insisted on this very firmly. With the very last vestiges of his strength, he would ascend from his home and go to the yeshiva to study mussar, even in his very advanced age when every effort required a summoning of all his powers. He knew the importance of mussar study and appreciated the importance of yiras Shomayim which this provided and he would declare that coming late for this was a terrible breach.

He once told me that one who does not study mussar during the time allotted for it, simply does not know what yeshiva means, what it represents. This teaches us to appreciate the significance of Torah, of the study of mussar, and of yiras Shomayim. The yetzer hora also appreciates it, for he exerts tremendous effort to stymie that study. These are, after all, very fundamental things, and the yetzer hora puts up great resistance to the study of mussar, as Maran the Rosh Hayeshiva was well aware, and which is why he placed such strong emphasis on it.

Attending Torah Scholars in Yeshiva

Another most important facet leading to success in one's Torah studies is shimush talmidei chachomim, the services one provides in attending to the needs of Torah scholars. Many young students make light of this, these days; they think that they can proceed and grow without it; they [think that they] are already men of intellect and need not go in for `that sort of thing.' They feel they are on a level of innovating their own chiddushim. They are mistaken however, for without being in close proximity to Torah leaders, one cannot know what is a straightforward manner of thinking and what is erroneous.

Shimush chachomim includes observing the daily practices of Torah scholars, how they conduct themselves, and deriving lessons therefrom. This can only be gained through extended attendance upon them; only thus can one strive for perfection.

Someone once came to yeshiva and reminisced about the olden times in Slutsk, when Maran, R' Shach, had been studying under HaGaon R' Isser Zalman Meltzer ztvk'l. "I had no idea that he would some day become the godol hador," he confessed, "but I do remember something outstanding about him then. He spent all his time in the proximity of R' Isser Zalman. He followed him around and literally did not budge from him. The same was repeated when he came to Eretz Yisroel: he doted upon the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov and was in constant contact with them. With this degree of shimush chachomim, it is small wonder that he turned out a godol hador, himself."

This closeness contributes a great deal towards building up someone's character, his outlook, personal conduct, his attitudes.

This applies to young men as well. When they are in yeshiva, listening to shiurim, they must review those lectures; it is not enough to understand them. One must internalize and review them constantly. There is a marked difference between one who reviews and one who doesn't review.

Auditing a shiur can be compared to reading a book, while reviewing a lesson adds immeasurably to one's comprehension in general and to his comprehension of the shiur itself. Having understood it after review raises the hearer to a higher level of understanding, specifically and generally.

It should be noted that without a master-teacher, a rov, one cannot attain a proper level of understanding (except when one has special siyata deShmaya through some special merit). One who lightly dismisses the value of shimush chachomim will surely not benefit from special merits, under natural circumstances.

Observing the conduct of Torah scholars provides one with clear thinking, straightforward logical processes. There are today some scholars who did not serve this vital `apprenticeship' and are heard spouting ideas that are not grounded in good sense.

Mussar Study in Yeshiva

Once, during the period after Yom Kippur, on Parshas Lech Lecho, Maran R' Shach said that he did not understand something: only a month had elapsed since Yom Kippur; during Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh and on Yom Kippur everyone took himself in hand and strengthened himself spiritually. Everyone devised all kinds of resolutions and strategies to improve. And now, sadly, it seemed that everything was forgotten and the arousal, the impact of those days, had dissipated . . .

He explained that the blame was to be laid upon the environment. One did not see yiras Shomayim, and if this was lacking, one forgot everything, for a person is inevitably influenced by his surroundings.

He further said that we could verily see this from the parsha: "Go forth from your land." Distance yourself from idolatry, from the diaspora mentality. Go to Eretz Yisroel. At that point, Avrohom Ovinu was already on an exalted level; Hashem had appeared and spoken to him. Nevertheless, it was still necessary for him to leave his land and his father's house. For there, he would not be able to rise any further spiritually.

Furthermore, Yaakov declared: "I sojourned with Lovon [the wicked], and still kept the 613 commandments." This was no mean feat, even for Yaakov Ovinu, at his level of holiness. He had to fight a constant inner battle to maintain his own against the evil influence of his environment by Lovon.

We see this further in this portion: "And Hashem said to Avrom, after Lot separated from him . . . " Lot, already at that point, was bad, and this exerted an effect on Avrom to the point that Hashem would not appear to him and this, in turn, reduced him from the spiritual level he had already attained.

Maran said that the only counsel to counter a bad influence is the study of mussar, to receive the influence and impact from mussar works. A person must buttress himself through this study. He also said that HaGaon R' Chaim Ozer always kept a copy of Mesillas Yeshorim on his table — he, with all of his brilliance, righteousness and holiness!

The study of mussar is an absolute obligation, as we find by all the poskim (Mishnah Berurah 61). Why? Because if a person does not constantly rouse himself and prod himself to improve, he cannot even hope to attain perfection, for this is man's nature.

We saw this by Maran R' Shach, how he would exert himself to the utmost to study mussar even in his latter period of life, even though walking [to the yeshiva] took him a long, long time. One step after another, so long as he could arrive for the yeshiva mussar session. In his will he asked that people devote at least: " . . . one thought to mussar."

The Study Approach in Yeshivos

Maran R' Shach spoke a great deal about the study approach in yeshivos. He focused on it, for example, at the funeral of Maran R' Shmuel Rozovsky, insisting that the present method was all wrong. This theme repeats itself throughout his letters. He claims that the yetzer hora is active here in particular. Why? Because it knows that the main avenue to success in ruchniyus is through Torah and mussar, and the yetzer hora redoubles its efforts to counter [success in Torah].

One of the ways to acquire Torah is beyishuv, in equanimity, that is, through yishuv hadaas. Without a sense of emotional pressure.

There was a time when I did not recognize this problem altogether. Today, we see people who do have positive aspirations but these goals drive them and pressure them. But this pressure is not positive; it is damaging in every aspect. The Vilna Gaon writes in his famous Letter, "For study is only affixed in a person's heart through serenity and equanimity."

Today, there are many who do not study with serenity and with equanimity. Here is a simple example from the way they approach their study. When they learn a gemora for the first time, they already want to understand the pshat completely. And if they cannot grasp it right away, they try and they exert themselves more and more, and they begin to feel increasingly pressured and in the end, they don't even achieve a properly organized pshat.

The traditional, simple and accepted approach had always been that if one does not understand the entire text on the first encounter, one does not dwell on every difficult point, but continues on learning. On the following day, one begins all over from the beginning and [very often] what was difficult previously, suddenly becomes clear and falls into place. One must sometimes review a third time.

Nonetheless, in this manner, one does not feel pressured, and one also does not waste time. Maran R' Shach wrote in one of his letters not to become bogged down on explanations right from the beginning.

Of course there are other [kinds of] students who never feel pressured; they always seem to have plenty of time and are in no rush — but in the end the accomplish nothing.

But those who truly wish to advance and they do exert themselves — should know that the right way to study is through tranquillity and composure.

In his letters, Maran says that this is how he studied. What he did not initially understand, he would skim over, and not dwell upon, but proceed onward. Afterwards, he would review time and again. Repeatedly.

He once warned a young student and told him, "Don't learn slowly. Don't look for complex explanations and sevoros. Don't do what they call iyun, in depth study. Study to cover ground and review a great deal. I know that you won't listen to me (for he knew that his approach was not accepted), but nevertheless, I am telling you this so that you won't come to me later with complaints as to why I didn't tell you this before. The time will come when you will understand what I am telling you, and will regret not having listened to me."

That very person told me, confessing, "Now I really understand what he was saying. But it is too late . . . "

Maran HaRav Shach wrote about this in many letters and used to speak about it frequently, and was painfully aware that the popular approach to learning was not what it should be. But, he admitted, people were blinded to his view; they were bribed by self-serving interests. They thought their way led to success, but did not realize that it was all wrong.

It's like diabetics who allow themselves to eat sweets, deluding themselves that no harm will come but are blind to the eventual outcome. And even if those students heard and knew, still, conflicting interests got in the way. Even in [deciding on] the approach to study, one encounters deceptions and bribery which we cannot go into here.


Maran spoke a lot about good character traits and would mention the words of R' Chaim Vital, which we also always say, that the reason why the Torah does not dwell upon good middos is because this is the very preface to the whole Torah; without this, a person is not a mensch, and there is no point even talking to him . . .

The Torah does exhort us: "Love your neighbor as yourself." One must think about one's fellow man; try to empathize with his feelings and see if he lacks anything that you can provide.

By R' Shach, one continually saw his pursuit of chessed. He once circulated in the yeshiva asking if there was anyone in need of a favor, of help in any way. If one did encounter someone who lacked something, he said, surely one should feel obligated to come to his aid.

Chessed is an inborn trait unique to the Jewish people and the way to incorporate it is by cleaving to the Torah, for this provides a person with the degree of perfection he is capable of attaining.

Yiras Shomayim

Maran mentioned in his will a plea for "one thought of mussar," one thought of yiras Shomayim. By a `thought,' he meant something emerging from the inner chambers of one's heart. It is more than deeds; it is something internal, buried in the heart, whose value — the extent it contributes to a person — we cannot imagine.

A thought of mussar, is what he sought to evoke, of G- d-fear, a self-accusation, self-reproach, introspection of how one has spent his life and self-criticizing his own ways. He knew how to value this; we do not. But what we are obligated to do here and now is to strengthen ourselves, and because we now lack the influence we had [from him]; we must take advantage of our arousal to fortify ourselves in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

It is the Fear of G-d that Accounts for Hashem's Words to Be Heard

In Brochos 6b, R' Chelbo states in the name of Rav Huna, "Every person who possesses yiras Shomayim is listened to." And conversely, if a person's words are accepted [by the public], this is a sign that he possesses yiras Shomayim. If only some of his words are accepted, this shows that he lacks a measure of G-d-fear. But this is also something important. And the more his opinion is generally acknowledged and recognized, the more G- d-fearing he surely is.

Maran's words had a universal effect; in the end, everyone bowed to his opinion and obeyed his words. The whole world unquestioningly accepted what he stated. This shows that he possessed a level of yiras Shomayim which we cannot even grasp — it is far beyond our comprehension.

It has been mentioned how the Brisker Rov greatly valued the Torah study of Rabbenu, and we even find him according a [rare] approbation to his second work. Before even mentioning his greatness in Torah, he prefaces it with, "For this man is indeed very great." "The man" — aside from his Torah proficiency — "is indeed very great." He first begins by writing, "And the truth is . . . that this man is truly great." This is the "truth."

By the Brisker Rov, the attribute of emes was supreme, the ultimate yardstick; every word was scrutinized by this measure of purest clarity. And by his affixing that word, he wished to signify that we cannot fathom Maran's greatness, we simply cannot grasp its extent. And this was written of R' Shach back in 5715 (1955), over fifty years ago! Already then, he was able to attest to this attribute which he possessed!

It is brought in Bovo Basra 10b, that the reputation a person acquires in this world is reflected in his reputation in the World of Truth. It means that Klal Yisroel possesses a sixth sense to distinguish Truth, and what [whom] they value and honor is also taken into account in Heaven as being valid and reliable.

We see that the world held Maran in great esteem; he was the acknowledged godol hador. All the other Torah leaders bowed before his opinion and his word. And if they recognized him as the ultimate authority, he must truly have been so; this was a definite sign of his greatness.

Klal Yisroel held Maran in esteem for his Torah knowledge, yiras Shomayim, leadership of the public and leadership of each type of yeshiva, each type of community. People came from afar to consult with Maran, as did individuals come from distant lands for help and advise, and he was able to help each one through his wise guidance and concrete assistance. His door was open to one and all, as is widely known.

(From the eulogy delivered by HaGaon R' Gershon Eidelstein at the conclusion of the Shiva in the Yeshivas Ponovezh halls)

(Compiled by the Vaad Lehotzoas Shiurei R' Gershon)

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