Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Cheshvan 5766 - November 30, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Agudath Israel of America's 83rd National Convention

The Opening Day

There is always risk in change, but opportunity too. And to judge from the response of the thousands who participated in Agudath Israel's 83rd national convention this past Shabbos and weekend, the new format instituted by the organization's executive vice president, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, proved itself an opportunity.

Throughout the four-day gathering at the Westin Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, eight distinct topics were explored by experts and amcha alike — each topic the subject of a forum that met five times over the course of the convention.

The topics ranged from tefilloh to tuition, from shidduchim to kids at risk; and the forums were engines of communal introspection and incubators of intriguing ideas.

The true measure of their success, of course, will only become evident in time, if and when ideas are translated into action. But Rabbi Bloom and his fellow Agudath Israel executive committee members, along with Agudath Israel's staff, have every intention of seeing to it that the tremendous energy that was evident at the convention carries over into a year of accomplishment on behalf of Klal Yisroel.

Thursday afternoon saw the initial convening of the forums, which were not only attended by registered convention guests but also attracted many travelers who, although they were not spending Shabbos at the convention, wanted to participate in the discussions and to benefit from the spiritual nourishment offered that evening at the convention's Keynote Session.

Emes and Action

The evening's first address was delivered by the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Rosh Agudas Yisroel of America. His theme was the need for a Jew to strive for emes: truth and integrity, "at all times, at all costs."

Bikush ha'emes, he averred, quoting the Rambam, means seeking truth for its own sake, without ulterior motives or preconceptions. "Emes," he declared, "is sacred."

And, he added, it is not always easy. In a society like ours, the Rebbe explained, characterized by a variety of different groups with different viewpoints, it is important not to take one's stances with an eye to how they might affect one's image or reputation. Emes is the Jewish imperative, he asserted, and therefore the imperative of Agudath Israel.

The Rebbe also stressed the responsibility each and every Jew has to contribute to ribui kvod Malchus Shomayim.

Quoting a Midrash on Mishlei, Rabbi Perlow explained that while the "rabos bonnos" of Eishes Chayil, the nations of the world, have accomplished much — with science and technology — "you are exalted over them all." Klal Yisroel alone stands uncompromisingly for the moral imperative of avodas Hashem.

And Klal Yisroel's ideals are evident in her actions: "Give her of the fruits of her hands."

"Anyone who knows the history of Agudath Israel of America," the Rebbe continued, "must admit that it is an Eishes Chayil too," in Jewish communal life.

The Mechitza Mandate

The Rebbe then addressed a number of the issues that were being discussed at the convention forums, encouraging his listeners to explore ideas like a communal tax on individuals and communities to help support mosdos chinuch. He stressed how, since "modern technology has broken down the mechitza of kedusha, we need new mechitzos," to fend off the invasion of our homes and our lives. "Everyone," he said, "not only our young, is in danger."

Rabbi Perlow closed his address with heartfelt words about "our brothers in Eretz Hakodesh, their safety and their matzav haruchniyus." Mentioning by name Chinuch Atzmai, Shuvu and Keren Nesivos Moshe, the Rebbe declared that each and every one of us needs to do what he can to strengthen chinuch and help alleviate the economic plight of Jews in Eretz Yisroel.

Aspiration and Accomplishment

Rabbi Shmuel Bloom then delivered his message to the gathering, beginning with a moving story about an overheard tefilloh of the Steipler Gaon, in which he pleaded with Hakodosh Boruch Hu to spare the life of a disease- stricken klal-activist with the words, "We have so few ehrliche askonim! Must he be taken too?"

Indeed, said Rabbi Bloom, honest, efficient, dedicated and earnest oskim betzorchei tzibbur be'emunoh — who understand that all is from Hashem, not themselves — are all too rare.

When, however, we fully internalize that recognition that it is not we who accomplish but Hashem nothing can stand in our way. Rabbi Bloom recounted how the Brisker Rov once, on an erev Yom Kippur, told a certain man who had apologetically demurred that he couldn't help with an official governmental matter until after Yom Kippur: "You can. You don't want."

Quoting Rabbi Don Segal, Rabbi Bloom explained that "Hakodosh Boruch Hu does the doing — but we must want, really want."

All the problems being discussed at the convention, Rabbi Bloom averred, while daunting challenges, are "good problems" — in the sense that they are born of our success and growth as a tzibbur. Agudath Israel instituted its new convention format, he explained, precisely because there are so few "ehrliche askonim," so few who want, "really want," to solve problems. And those who have chosen to be at the convention and participate in the discussions and brainstorming are such people, people who, Rabbi Bloom declared, will surely merit siyata deShmaya.

When it comes to accomplishing, he said, "We can't."

"But," he stressed, "He can."

A Godol's Death, and Life

An address was then delivered by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, rosh hayeshiva of Yeshiva Meor Yitzchok and rav of Congregation Ahavas Torah. He began with a compelling image recalled from a photograph of Rav Elchonon Wassermann zt"l, Hy"d on the boat that was taking him back to Europe on the eve of the Second World War. The Baranovitch Rosh Yeshiva was looking back at the receding shore of America. Rabbi Wachsman imagined him figuratively looking into the eyes of American Jewry, charging it with cultivating the future.

In fact, he continued, Rav Elchonon taught his talmidim in 1941 the brochoh to make before dying al kiddush Hashem, and instructed them that when they feel the bullets, to have kavonoh that their deaths be a kaporoh for their brethren in America.

Then Rabbi Wachsman described the scene earlier that day in his yeshiva, where talmidim, studying Yevomos, were spiritedly arguing over Rav Elchonon's Kovetz He'oros, discussing what Rav Elchonon meant, what he was asking, how he "learned pshat."

"Did Rav Elchonon know this would be the scene 60 years later?" asked Rabbi Wachsman. "He was certainly mispallel for it."

The accomplishment of past decades, he continued, is undeniable. "But," he challenged his listeners, citing the number of convention topics with the word "crisis" in their titles, "how successful have we really been?" Some of the problems we face, he asserted, "are potentially catastrophic."

Paradox and Purity

Our success and our problems, Rabbi Wachsman implied, are no less real than the reality of a human being who can "cry his eyes out at Ne'ilah but be dishonest in his business dealings, or study Torah and yet view inappropriate things on his computer, or flout chasunah takkonos and proudly allow himself to be photographed doing so!"

Quoting the Chazon Ish, Rabbi Wachsman explained that a human being possesses both pure rational thought, and superficial imagination. The latter, although it can mislead us gravely, holds us all captive. It seeks temporal pleasures and shuns truth.

Amid our generation's strange mixture of kedushoh and crass materialism, he said, we need to assert our seichel, to remind ourselves: Eved Avrohom onochi.

And, Rabbi Wachsman further asserted, we need to act upon that realization. The mandate of the moment, he said, is clearly the strengthening of the yeshivos that are Klal Yisroel's lifeblood.

Support of Torah-study, he declared in the name of the Chofetz Chaim, can purify our neshomos. The purpose of the material blessings we have in America, he concluded, is because there are needs to be addressed.

The convention chairman was Raphael Zucker (Lakewood), and its coordinator was Yaakov Feiler (Chicago). The Thursday evening session's chairman was Rabbi Yosef Eisen, rabbinic administrator of the Vaad Hakashrus of Five Towns and rav of Kollel Bnei Torah.

Confront Technology's Downside With Heightened Kedusha

As soon as the doors to the grand ballroom at the Stamford Westin Hotel were opened on motzei Shabbos, a torrent of enthusiastic Jews flowed into the cavernous room.

It was only several short hours since Sholosh Seudos and no one seemed particularly hungry — for food. But there was a palpable craving for words of mussar , direction and insight — and the crowd, along with another one in an adjoining room to which the proceedings were electronically transmitted — would not be disappointed.

In the motzei Shabbos hours preceding the Melave Malka, convention delegates again gathered in the hotel's various conference rooms to further explore — this time from an halachic perspective — the important issues which were the foci of this year's convention.

The Melave Malka commenced with an opening address by veteran Agudath Israel askan and Nesius/Presidium member Rabbi Chaskel Besser. Following Rabbi Besser's remarks, greetings were offered by the evening's chairman, Rabbi Eliezer Dovid Rapaport, rav of Khal Zichron Avrohom Yaakov.

Next to step up to the podium was Rabbi Aharon Dovid Dunner, dayan of Hisachdus Kehillos HaChareidim in London, who, as always, delivered his remarks with extraordinary warmth and wit.

Dayan Dunner began his talk with an urgent message from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah asking the assemblage to help alleviate the enormous financial difficulties currently plaguing our yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel.

The Dayan then turned to the main topic of his address, which, he declared, was nothing less than "Yiddishkeit itself." Alluding to the Rashi in Parshas Kedoshim that tells us, "wherever one finds a restriction on immorality, one finds kedusha" — the Dayan informed his listeners that he would, that evening, be offering a "practical suggestion" for guarding against the immoral and dangerous influence of the surrounding culture.

Why, Dayan Dunner asked, were the righteous men of Sodom included in the destruction of the city? Citing the Kli Yokor, the speaker explained that the citizens of Sodom were deeply immersed in sins of immorality. Immorality, he said, poisons the very atmosphere, dragging the righteous down along with the wicked.

To deflect the spiritual dangers in our own culture, we must erect a solid barrier of kedushoh — an effort, the Dayan declared, that best begins at our own Shabbos tables, where opportunities for imparting important spiritual lessons and values to our children abound.

Dayan Dunner suggested that heads of household take control of the Shabbos meal in much the same way a CEO controls a company meeting — with careful planning.

"Schedule every moment of the Shabbos meal," the speaker recommended. "Don't be embarrassed to write it all down — a maasehele at 12 o'clock, a joke at a quarter past. Leave nothing to chance."

The closing address of the Melave Malka was delivered by the mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha (Lakewood), Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon. He suggested a new, global perspective on the varied problems that had occupied the many hundreds of participants in the forums that took place over the course of the convention.

Using as a springboard the "Horachamon" tefilloh appended to Bircas Hamozone, in which we ask "the Merciful One" to "be glorified through us forever, to eternity," the Mashgiach powerfully made the point that our existence, our destiny as Jews, is for one purpose: to be vehicles for kvod Hashem. And to do so "forever, to eternity" — by imbuing our link to the future, our children, with that awareness.

To glorify Hashem is life's purpose, Rabbi Salomon explained, not only for those studying in yeshiva or kollel, but for each and every Jew. Boruch Hashem, he said, "those who gather under the banner of Agudas Yisroel of America want to be guided in that goal."

The Rambam, the Mashgiach pointed out, teaches us that the Nevi'im did not long for the arrival of Moshiach for the security and comforts it will afford, but rather for the opportunity that the security and comforts will provide Klal Yisroel to dedicate itself to Torah without oppression or distractions.

We need to realize, Rabbi Salomon averred, that the alleviation of the crises of golus — including the crises that were the foci of the convention — is not itself the goal. The true, larger, goal, is the freedom to "pursue deveikus and kedushoh" — to apply ourselves to avodas Hashem and limud Torah — unburdened by trials and tribulations.

Elaborating on the challenges presented by golus, the Mashgiach developed the theme of technology's downside, something that is not always readily apparent at first but which becomes undeniable. When electricity was harnessed, he recounted, it was thought to be a great boon to Torah; no longer would Torah-study have to be dependent on candles. But Rav Elya Lopian, the Mashgiach recounted, realized the truth of the matter, that the more "primitive" lighting facilitated concentration and focus, and the new one undermined the same. The telephone, Rabbi Salomon added, has further eroded our ability to concentrate uninterrupted; and the more mobile the technology, the more it disturbs our focus.

"Something that looks like a blessing," he continued, "can be in fact a disaster." Ease of travel, he noted, is another example. "Today, we're expected to be everywhere."

We need, therefore, to expend great effort to control such things, the Mashgiach exhorted his listeners, "to apply to them the Rambam's yardstick: are they bringing us closer to our real goal, or distancing us from it?"

And so, Rabbi Salomon returned to where he began. We are being small-minded, he said, when we limit ourselves to addressing only the individual various crises that have befallen us. To be sure, we must do so. But, he insisted, we must also be "more broad-minded," rise above it all, and realize that Klal Yisroel's crises will only fully go away with Moshiach's arrival — and that bringing that moment must be our overarching goal, even as we treat the symptoms of its absence. "There is only one plague," Rabbi Salomon declared. "Golus."

"And," he concluded, "only one cure: Geulah!"


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