Dei'ah Vedibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar 5766 - March 22, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
New Chapters from the Life and Teachings of R' Yisroel Salanter zy'a

Excerpts from the memorial book, Kedosh Yisroel published about two years ago — yahrtzeit: 5 Shvat, 5643

Maran R' Yisroel Salanter's initiative of dividing the Shas among his disciples, alongside an additional proposal in the town of Memel which anticipated the idea of the Daf Yomi by a few decades * A self imposed exile by Maran R' Yisroel Salanter

A Ben Torah Must Be Extremely Cautious

We know to what great extent did Maran uproot from within himself every inclination towards self-importance or self- interest — to the point which these were almost wholly nullified and he was free to let his thoughts burst forth and seek the ultimate truth, unhampered by personal desires.

I heard one of his talks to adherents in which he sought to guide them. One of his points was that a ben Torah must be very careful not to be overly adamant in defending his view.

He spoke at length on the responsa of the Geonim where we see that even after they stated a reply to a question, the answer was often challenged by the person quoting an explicit gemora showing the opposite. The sage who was asked the question was able, through his acute knowledge, to refute the question according to his original premise, sometimes even using the very quote to uphold his own opinion.

It may seem that when he first wrote the response and answered that question originally, that sage had not remembered that particular gemora in relation to the question, or had, perhaps, overlooked it and not mentioned it. This is not the way the truth; it is not the means of acquiring understanding.

We see, in fact, that HaGaon Morenu HaRav Chaim Volozhin wrote in reply to a question which cited a gemora in opposition to his responsa as follows, "I have no difficulty in answering the challenge according to my approach, but since it is my custom never to justify myself or apologize, I must, nevertheless, admit that when I first wrote this response, that particular gemora did not come to mind."

Rabbenu was a true sage, a perfect tzaddik, who wished to be honest with himself. His admitting the truth does not diminish his stature or credibility in any way. On the contrary, his admitting it enhances his reputation.

We must judge those geonim who challenged the writers of the responsa in a favorable light, however, since sometimes a halachic decision actually hangs upon a thin thread which only a venerable sage can determine to be one way or the other through the power of his knowledge. And sometimes the one who provides the response is not able to go into the very fine points of the matter and highlight the invalidity of the refutation to his own response because it is too delicate to delineate. (R' Yosef Feldberg)

The Approach to Study Varies with Every Person

[A letter to a nephew]

Your letter arrived regarding setting up a regimen of study. Truly it is difficult to set one up since it varies with each person according to his nature and character makeup.

I can, similarly, not go into fine detail regarding your question, and only reply in general terms. The difference between studying for the sake of Torah or not, lies in one's wish to gain acclaim and recognition from others for his knowledge.

One should aim for proficiency, by reassessing himself every few months to see if he has retained his knowledge. It should all be organized in his mind so that he need not become confused when seeking the best way to study. He should also include some in-depth study alongside proficiency of a broad nature.

One should set aside a definite time to study mussar. The foundation of mussar study is to acquire knowledge in its dynamics. And if Hashem should grant that he become great in Torah and recognized for his wisdom, all the aspects of avodas Hashem will become easier for him. This depends on bekius, a wide and thorough grasp, and it is important for a person to seek an outlook such that he does not consider avodas Hashem a burden in life.

May these succinct words open before you the gates and may your desire to serve Hashem be blessed with success.

With heartfelt avuncular greetings, wishing you all the best,


Sigufim — Self Punishment: Toil in Torah Surpasses This

I would like to briefly note that in my humble opinion, where there is a question of physical harm we should not burden our bodies with the denials of fasting and the like. We should rather concentrate on the mortification through our middos, i.e. to seek opportunities of being insulted without replying, or waiving our personal interests, personal honor. To shun kovod. But above all these, toil in Torah reigns supreme. (Excerpted from a letter)

The Last Letter

Ruling from the Shulchan Oruch without Knowing the Gemora is Improper!

His last letter, apparently, was written on motzei Shabbos Parshas Bo, 5643, and was sent to R' Yaakov Lipshitz zt'l, the secretary and right-hand-man of HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector ztvk'l. In this letter, Maran expresses his fears about a government program of ordaining rabbis, which would cause halachic rulings to be issued according to the Shulchan Oruch without basing the rulings on a thorough knowledge of the source in the gemora. He considered this as a major stumbling block. He writes:

The directive that an ordained rabbi must be familiar with what is taught in the Ozadna school is still in effect . . . Let them not support this in practice etc.

The basis of the disadvantage is that it obviates the need to learn what is necessary for horo'oh . . . Our very eyes witness that in Germany, even by the most devout, G-d- fearing scholars, too much has been forgotten, for they maintain that it is sufficient to know the Shulchan Oruch and to be G-d-fearing when it comes to ruling halachically.

But this is not true. And those who know about Torah study and its practical application, those of the previous generation, are aware that in order to rule halachically, one needs to be very proficient and knowledgeable in study. You need great scholars for this and who knows if, as time goes by, such will still be extant . . .

Your friend Yisroel from Salant

(Sefer Zichron Yaakov)

Theory and Practice

Thoughts in the same vein were written in his name by his disciple, HaRav Naftoli Amsterdam:

"I have been taught by my master and mentor, HaGaon R' Yisroel Salanter, as follows: For the sake of the complete education of those studying to be the future morei horo'oh of our people, as they should be, there are several requirements that are very decisive and demanding. They must be expertly familiar in all of the teachings of the tanoim and amoroim in the Talmud Bavli and elsewhere, [as well as] poskim rishonim ve'acharonim. They must possess acuity of mind with a straightforward logic. They must possess and further acquire those positive character traits which our Sages have enumerated and be meshamesh, attend, Torah scholars, rabbonim who are recognized as leading figures of the generation. This, indeed, is the `apprenticeship' required in every branch of arts and sciences, what is termed as the dual requirements of "theory" and "practice." (Printed in Levanon 5639)

Maran's Initiative of Dividing up Shas

As is known, Maran was deeply involved in implementing ideas on how to improve the klal, all of which eventually led to the founding of the Mussar Movement. But aside from this great enterprise, he also embraced at several times means to increase Torah study among Jewry. Very little is known about his initiative of dividing up the entire study of Shas and assigning it to groups of students, each of which would assume a different section. Together, it was hoped, they would comprise the expertise which had once been incorporated in single great Torah figures, like the Vilna Gaon and his disciples like HaGaon R' Zundel of Vilna, and HaGaon R' Akiva Eiger.

His disciple, R' Y. Meltzan, tells of this initiative, which R' Yisroel undertook towards the end of his life and which he, personally, tried to implement after his master's demise.

R' Yisroel actually first undertook this idea when he was living in Memel, and it preceded the concept of the Daf Yomi by several decades. This is what his disciple writes:

"Towards the end of 5639, HaGaon Morenu HaRav Yisroel Salanter issued a public call to this effect: `Since I am already old and do not know the extent of my days . . . I therefore have an urgent request to make of my students and of the Torah scholars who are close to me — that they come to me so that I can put forth before them the idea which is so very close to my heart and is the ambition of my life."

In the Levanon of 5638, it is stated: "My thoughts dwell upon the years that lie ahead, now that I am of advanced age . . . I thought to myself to approach my distinguished students and acquaintances with a request, first that they provide me with their addresses so that I can present my idea and objective clearly . . .

"[Signed] Yisroel from Salant"

And he notes his own address.

Many were afraid to reply to his call to arms, as it were, not knowing what R' Yisroel actually had in mind. What would he demand of them? One noted scholar did write and said, "I have a doubt if I was also included in your call since I have not had the privilege of seeing your distinguished person for these many years."

In any case the idea was never published or properly publicized.

The essence of the matter was based on what Chazal said: Who is considered a talmid chochom? One who is asked a question anywhere and is able to answer it (Shabbos 114). In our great sins, we have plummeted downward and lost our former proficiency. Not only do we lack brilliant and talented minds as of yore, but the application and diligence in study has also lessened very much.

We no longer have people who truly `sacrifice themselves in the tent of Torah' like the Vilna Gaon and his disciple R' Zundel of Vilna, and like R' Akiva Eiger. Nor can we hope that such great ones will be born in the future, scholars and sages who will be perfectly versed in the entire spectrum of Torah: Sifro, Sifrei, Tosefta and the entire Talmud. (In our times, someone who errs even in the rulings of the geonim is considered to have made an error against an explicit ruling.) And if such exist, they are sole remnants from a previous generation, and how long can they be expected to live?

And if we say that some brilliant minds are born, will they apply their intelligence to the right things? And if some very capable person, who is lacking in total bekius, will decide to introduce some law, he will surely fear that perhaps somewhere, some esoteric mishnah or Tosefta actually contradicts what he wishes to say.

And yet, we can find some solace for our souls. It is known that the combination and accumulation of smaller minds and lesser capacities can result in a conglomerate powerful body that is self-complementary. The same idea applies here: by gathering together many lesser talents, we can fill in the gaps of the individual shortcomings. Thus we can fill the place of a single great man even in quality, that is, in understanding and depth. At any rate, we would be filling the deficiency of a broad grasp, bekius, with the accumulated knowledge of all. The joining together of many strengths could serve us as if we had our own great figure like R' Zundel of Vilna or his like.

And this is the idea behind the apportioning of the entire Talmud, that is, so that the participating students divide up the entire body of Shas and ancient commentaries and cover everything so that nothing be left untouched, that there not be left a corner in which at least someone is perfectly knowledgeable. And if in the course of someone's study there arise a question someplace else in the Talmud, he can refer to that one who is expert in it.

Let it be a fast rule that they all gather at given times and all this will result in great benefits which we cannot begin to describe here. And if someone wishes to innovate some practice or law, or to make a crucial decision in any law, when all the scholars gather with their accumulated expertise in every branch of knowledge, they can discuss it at length and it can be ascertained that there is no contradiction to any other law in Torah. (I heard that Morenu HaRav Naftoli Hertz zt"l began instituting this here in Jerusalem but he was later appointed av beis din in Jaffa and the idea was discontinued.) (R' Y. Meltzan — Seder Lamishneh)

Fortunate is the Eye that Beheld the Honor of Torah

The second initiative which we mentioned, like the Daf Yomi, appears in a newspaper report from that same year:

"In 5620 (the year of KeSeR), HaGaon R' Yisroel of Salant shlita founded in Memel a gemora society which brought his valuable idea to successful fruition. Many students were attracted to it and they studied the entire Shas. A siyum haShas was held on the 20th of Sivan 5629 and the event was celebrated for a full seven days. All of Memel rejoiced and the honor of Torah was greatly augmented. The distinguished and wealthy members of the community paraded and danced through the city streets, to the amazement of the non-Jewish population who saw that it was the Torah which was being celebrated with such pomp and enthusiasm. From the day the city was established, nothing of the like had been experienced in the annals of its history.

Avodas Hamiddos — Self Improvement

A Person's Evil Inclination is not Bigger Than He

Maran used to say in the name of the Gra that the evil inclination cannot be bigger than a person's power to overcome it in every thing, in every way. But a person must devise all kinds of schemes and ploys against it and then, he will surely defeat it. And if he does not prevail in everything, immediately, in the course of time he will succeed in subduing it. (From Notes Hagr"AD)

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.