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11 Tishrei 5766 - October 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Simchas Torah with Rabboseinu in the Yeshiva Halls: An Internal Joy

by B. Re'em

Kelm — Mir — Chevron — Kaminetz

Maran HaRav Eliyohu Dessler ztvk'l writes about the world of Kelm that is no more, in a letter to his son. He describes in detail the Beis Talmud Torah of Kelm:

"I remember the olden days and how Simchas Torah was celebrated in the yeshiva. The rabbonim would exit the gate and go out into the street, dancing their way through the city. They danced with all their might with exuberant enthusiasm and joy, singing full throatedly. "Ashreinu — How fortunate are we and how goodly is our lot . . . "

We learn that when one reminisces about the special atmosphere in yeshiva, especially on Simchas Torah, these memories become firmly engraved in a person's memory, even more than other events. And this can be said of that recollection of R' Eliyohu Dessler of Simchas Torah.

There is also a description of Simchas Torah in Yeshivas Mir in the work, Odom Biykor, depicting HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt'l's special rejoicing, and the heartfelt talk which the Mashgiach zt'l R' Yeruchom Levovitz, would deliver after the hakofos. One year, on motzei Simchas Torah, he fervently exclaimed, "Who knows what, indeed, is dearer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu: our Yom Kippur or our Simchas Torah?"

The hakofos in Yeshivas Mir were extraordinary. The students formed three concentric circles extending through the length and breadth of the entire heichal, in whose center danced the Rov of Mir, HaRav Avrohom Kamai zt'l, Hy'd; the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt'l, and the Mashgiach, HaRav Yeruchom. You could see students weeping as they danced from the sheer overflow of emotion.

In 5696, the last year in the life of the Mashgiach, he spoke on the poem-prayer, "I rejoice and exult on Simchas Torah." He dwelled on the part that speaks in praise of the Torah and of Israel, and then burst out singing, "Ashreichem Yisroel," with all the students joining in. The elite students were so overcome that they wept amidst their dancing, as did R' Yeruchom weep. We shall quote the gist of his words:

"Today is Simchas Torah," he said, "and the fundamental theme of this festival is, `How difficult is My parting with you.' The underlying idea is Hashem's great love towards us. And now that we are taking leave of Him, we seek yet one more kiss, one more embrace from Him. Great is our joy over the atonement and forgiveness which He granted us during the Yomim Noraim, and all the love which He showered upon us during the Festival of Succos. We pray that we merit the same in the coming year, to stand at such a momentous occasion as well, to receive the showering of abundant blessing upon us, that we continue to be one united body, to praise and thank Him. We thank Him for having merited this sublime inner joy here and now, a joy which stems from the power of mussar. Having merited this, let us be grateful: Ashreichem Yisroel, fortunate are we in our portion.

"May Hashem grant us to meet again here next year with the same open faces, none ashamed of the other. And if we merit this, let us again declare, Ashreichem Yisroel!"


We wished to know if the gladness felt in the yeshiva of yore, the mussar yeshivos, was carried over to the yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and why don't we see today that extraordinary exultation. We turned to HaRav Sheinker who had been privileged to bask in the special aura of Simchas Torah in Yeshivas Chevron in Yerushalayim, and asked him how the joy was expressed there forty-five years ago.

R' Sheinker opens his words with a clarification: This will not be a personal or family description, but facts as he saw and experienced them. "I will not exaggerate, and will even fall short of conveying the impact of that occasion."

He began with a story he heard from HaRav Lapin zt'l. When the founder of the institution, HaRav Itzele Blazer ztvk'l lived in the Straus compound in Yerushalayim, he would especially exert himself to express his joy on Simchas Torah. His wife once asked him why he expended so much physical energy, which was perhaps beyond his strength.

"Perhaps you should go and pray in a different shul," she suggested.

He replied, "In the selfsame place where I wept on Rosh Hashonoh and on Yom Kippur — there will I dance on Simchas Torah!"

The celebration in those days was much more pronounced and intense because a ben Torah was much more connected to the Torah and to mussar. Those students hardly saw their own homes, and felt their love and joy with Torah overflowing its bounds on this holy day.

By adherents of mussar, in general, Simchas Torah took on a very uplifted, exceptional tone. The author of Seridei Eish reminisces about Simchas Torah by R' Yisroel Salanter in his work, Lifrokim, and states that it was unforgettable. The same can be said about Simchas Torah in Volozhin and in Mir. They say that it overflowed its bounds.

R' Yisroel's chief disciples and mussar disseminators, R' Itzele, R' Naftoli, R' Simcha Zissel of Kelm and R' Yeruchom carried over this tradition of exuberance in their separate yeshivos. The Alter of Slobodka also exhibited a high level of simchah that overflowed its boundaries.

There is, of course, the well-known story that took place in 5686 (1926) when his son R' Moshe zt'l passed away, but he overcame his grief, suppressed his natural inclination to weep and climbed up on a bench on Simchas Torah and began singing in a full voice, "Boruch Elokeinu . . . "

It was the Alter who instituted the tradition of hakofos sheniyos in Yeshivas Chevron on the night after Simchas Torah [which is motzei Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel, but is the second day of Yom Tov — Simchas Torah —outside of Eretz Yisroel].

I heard the story from HaRav Kopshitz zt'l. It was Simchas Torah of 5687. The Alter instructed the yeshiva gabbai to honor all of the students with a hakofoh — all except one. The Alter knew that all the students had exerted themselves throughout the previous year and achieved great strides in their studies. All except that one student who remained stationary, at the same level, and who, therefore, did not deserve the honor of a hakofoh.

Towards the end of the day the boys drank so much that they became inebriated, including the one who had been excluded. He came to the Alter and began expressing lofty, spiritual thoughts, as is the manner of uninhibited drunks. The Alter felt that he truly did not know him well enough and regretted the fact that he had not honored him with a hakofoh earlier that day. He then decided to hold another round of hakofos after havdoloh so as to honor him with one, and have him rejoice with the Torah, at least after Simchas Torah. And ever since then, the custom of hakofos shniyos has become entrenched in Yeshivas Chevron.

What was so special about the expression of joy in Yeshivas Chevron?

Simchas Torah in the halls of Yeshivas Chevron was a revelation of friendship on the part of the yeshiva bochur with his studies, a covenant of love with the page of the gemora, a battering down of all the barriers that sought to separate one from the captivating truth of the Divine Torah. It was a fusion, an amalgamation of the lions of the yeshiva society, a united shouldering of the yoke by the holy flock — to do Hashem's will, to serve Him.

The closed circles of the toilers in Torah were the chief merrymakers — R' Shlomo Bloch, R' Shmuel Hillel Sheinker, R' Moshe Minkowitz — who, despite their advanced age, would dance and rejoice in uplifted exultation. Also included were R' Yisroel Sheinker (his son), R' Sholom Schwadron, and R' Hirsh Palei.

The Ponovezher Rov ztvk'l once spent Succos in Pension Reich in Yerushalayim, and asked one of the people who visited him: "Have you been yet to Yeshivas Chevron? Did you see R' Shmuel Hillel dance?"

The young students used to come to the yeshiva on Hoshanoh Rabbah to take leave of the succah. The rosh yeshiva, R' Yechezkel Sarna zt'l, would give a talk (as he also did on Simchas Torah) on the subject of Lema'ancho Elokeinu asei — velo lonu. One time, R' Yisroel Sheinker interrupted him with a shout, "Noch a bissel `lema'ancho' — A bit more of `For Your sake.'

The electricity of the upcoming joy of Simchas Torah could already be felt in the air. Immediately after ma'ariv, when they began the hakofos with Se'u she'orim rosheichem, you could see R' Hirsh Palei in the center. The atmosphere was suddenly transformed into one of sublime joy, internal ecstasy that burgeoned from the power of mussar. The kibbudim were assigned by R' Chaim Adler, who later became the shochet in Herzliya. In the midst of the rejoicing, R' Yisroel Sheinker approached him and lifted him upon his shoulders and marched thus all around the beis medrash with him. The atmosphere was exalted, kinetic.

In his eulogy on R' Efraim Garbuz zt'l, R' Sholom Schwadron related that the latter had written in his personal notes of a resolution to create a chiddush for every single hakofoh.

The joy that permeated the hall on Simchas Torah was different from any joy felt through the year; it was exalted. HaRav Yitzchok Blazer, while in Kovno, would make the rounds of the homes to make merry, and he did so in Yerushalayim as well. They would visit the roshei yeshiva, the gedolei Yisroel and distinguished, influential baalebatim as well, and celebrate with them, respectively.

Towards the end of the festival, the yeshiva students, headed by R' Moshe Shimon Weintraub zt'l, would pay their respects to R' Yitzchok Zev (the Brisker Rov) and dance around from room to room. Maran waited for the Chevroners to come and dance for he knew these were elite figures, the choicest, who rejoiced in the truest, most essential manner.

A minyan of the most outstanding students took place in the home of Rebbetzin Kulitz (mother of the late Rabbi Kulitz zt"l). This was also a source of great celebration which included a kiddush after prayers.

In the Heichal HaTalmud in Tel Aviv, spirits also ran high, under the leadership of R' Chaim Zev Finkel zt'l who was by nature an exuberant person whose ecstasy overflowed on Simchas Torah. They would make the rounds of the local baalebatim in uplifted spirits.

I recall Petach Tikva of my childhood, 5709, during the war, spending Simchas Torah in Kollel Toras Eretz Yisroel. This was populated by the founders who were the disciples of the Alter of Slobodka, including R' Mendel Sheinin. The latter used to disappear in the middle of the hakofos to visit R' Berel Yanover (Zochovsky), who was paralyzed, in order to infuse him with the day's joyous mood.

The sense of exultation was also felt by the Chazon Ish ztvk'l, as well as by the Ponovezher Rosh Yeshiva, R' Aharon Cohen zt'l. The latter once bought the Atoh Horeiso for a huge sum. R' Ezra Barzel and R' Aharon Shakovitsky would lead the singing of lively marches. Each hakofoh had its traditional set of mesamchim, those who led the singing and dancing, both at night and on the following morning.

The younger students contributed as well, to be sure; these included R' Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, R' Avrohom Tucker, R' Chaim Sarna and many others, but it is absolutely clear, declares R' Sheinker, that the joy stemmed from the inside, as was taught by the Alter of Slobodka: even though we were commanded to contain our joy and be humble and modest, still, one can say that there is modesty even in the way one cavorts with joy to gladden a chosson-kallah and one must incorporate that with the expression of one's inner exuberance.

Simchas Torah in Kaminetz

HaRav Boruch Ber stands by the bimah, his eyes shut, tears gathering in their corners. Around him huddle five hundred bnei Torah, enthralled, swept up in their master's singing. He depicts in rhyme his early days in Volozhin, the parting from his father's house, the first meeting with R' Chaim, the loving, encouraging words of the Netziv, spoken to him in person. Also, the first night, the snows, and the sanctified silence that reigned in the yeshiva.

R' Boruch Ber's face is aflame; his whole being is on fire with the spiritual heat of Volozhin recaptured.

One Simchas Torah in Kaminetz, someone made a comment that HaRav Chaim of Brisk ztvk'l, the master-teacher of R' Boruch Ber, was very far removed from the world of music. R' Boruch Ber turned white as a sheet and began shivering with fear. After a long period of attempting to contain his overwrought emotions, he finally was able to reply calmly. He said, "A person is a creation containing both qualities and faults; this is a necessary part of his makeup. The Rebbe, for example, is wholly composed of superior attributes. The one and only drawback he has is that he has no understanding of music. I, on the other hand, am full of faults and blemishes and the only advantage I can boast of is an appreciation for and skill in music."

"Fortunate are you, Yisroel, that Hashem chose you, and bequeathed the Torah to you in the desert as a gift. The Torah is a tree of life, life for everyone, for You are the Source of all life."

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