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] 16 Shvat 5772 - February 9, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Father Of Moreshes Ovos: HaRav Shach And The Teshuvah Movement

by Yisroel Freidman

HaRav Shach's sense of responsibility towards his fellow Jews extended beyond the Torah camp. When he felt that the time was ripe, he led Moreshes Ovos, the organization — founded right after the Six Day War — that spearheaded the Teshuvah Movement in Eretz Yisroel. He was involved in every facet of their activities and watched vigilantly to ensure that there would be no lapses. Here, the heads and founders of Moreshes Ovos-El Hamekorot speak about the early days, when HaRav Shach laid the foundations of the Teshuvah Movement. Much of HaRav Shach's guidance is still important to know about today.

The First Awakening

The rumblings of the Six Day War were dying down. In place of the thundering shells, now came cries of rejoicing. Six tense days of fighting gave way to the giddiness of power.

A great surge of spiritual awakening swept the country. Everybody saw the Hand of Hashem. The tremendous victory, everyone was sure, had been won miraculously. Feelings that were not usually voiced were now being heard. On every side, there was talk of faith.

"My heart was in turmoil," HaRav Yaakov Gluskiness recalled. "I felt that it was an auspicious time for drawing our erring brethren to their Father in Heaven. At that time, people were receptive. Something had to be done.

"I returned to the yeshiva, where I saw maran the Rosh Yeshiva sitting on a bench. I went over to him. From the other side, the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Chaim Friedlander zt'l, was making his way over. He asked me what it was that I wanted to discuss with Maran. When I told him about my idea of starting to work at outreach, his eyes shone. `That is exactly what I want to discuss with him right now,' he said in surprise. We put our case to the Rosh Yeshiva.

" `Certainly, there is a need to act,' he said decisively.

"We began to organize ourselves and to think of additional personnel . . . The Rosh Yeshiva, who prodded, encouraged and directed Moreshes Ovos, came to speak at the opening rally. He spoke enthusiastically about the organization's importance and how important it was to act. He . . . called on avreichim to go out once a week to teach in the settlements. He always used to repeat the Chofetz Chaim's comment at the time of the founding of Bais Yaakov: `Something so precious and important is being set up now, and I have no part in it.'

"But the Rosh Yeshiva did have a part in [Moreshes Ovos.] He was its living spirit. If not for him, we wouldn't have done anything. He oversaw everything. In fact, he was the acting president, a position that he actually held on the legal documentation.

A Godol's Foresight

"Yet, in his remarks at the opening rally, he emphasized again that [our own] Torah study was of prime importance. This seemed intended to dampen our enthusiasm. After all, he had come to encourage the avreichim to go out and become involved in outreach and now he was stressing that learning Torah was the main thing. We therefore went to speak to him.

"I remember that, in contrast to the joyful atmosphere prevailing all over the country, he appeared upset and brooding. In response to my question he clarified matters. Everyone was rejoicing but did I understand the implications of being surrounded by a million Arabs [the inhabitants of the newly conquered territories]? `Everybody thinks of them as being backward but they are not. I still remember them from the days of Barclay's Bank. They have good minds and [are filled with] great hatred. They won't give up. And who knows what will be and when there will be an outburst of this hatred?' [Indeed,] `A wise man is better than a prophet' (Bovo Basra)!

"And he added, `Many people think that the irreligious in this country have changed because they witnessed Hashem's intervention. The result will be the opposite. They will begin thinking, "My strength and the might of my hand have brought me this power" (Devorim 8:17). On the contrary, they will say, "We, and we alone [are in control]." It's true that we must act. We have to do everything possible in order to draw them closer to Torah, but we must lower our expectations. This is not what is going to save the Jewish people. The main thing is Torah study.'

"He was very wary in dealing with us," HaRav Gluskiness relates. "He felt throughout that we did have to act but at the same time, he was afraid that if things were done improperly, it could lead to mistakes."

Q. How did you actually start working?

HaRav Gluskiness: "After the war, the hospitals were filled with wounded men. We went there and held Chanukah and Purim parties, and did many other things to benefit them that made them receptive. A large crowd left Bnei Brak every Friday for the hospitals. The management of the medical facilities cooperated with us and more and more events were organized. Of course, we brought in great rabbonim, such as HaRav Moshe Yaakobson zt'l of Be'er Yaakov, to speak and arouse their enthusiasm.

"All this activity had the desired effect: all the assistance that was extended to them along with parties and shiurim. While we didn't succeed in transforming everybody's life, all the preconceived notions and barriers of estrangement came down and the path was open for us to reach them.

"Our work progressed `on a low flame' as it were, until the Yom Kippur War. In contrast to the mood after the Six Day War, the atmosphere in the country then was pessimistic. The Jewish people were aching and confused. Then we decided to go into the army camps, naturally after consulting Maran and receiving his guidance and encouragement. We despatched our best lecturers to the bases. The Teshuvah Movement began to blossom.

"At this point, we also changed the organization's name to El Hamekorot (To the Source), a new management was chosen and it was joined by HaRav Friedlander."

A New Vessel with the Same Contents

"Why did you change the name?" I asked HaRav Simcha Cohen, who has been with the organization since then. HaRav Cohen was fortunate in having regular and close contact with Maran, and benefiting from his guidance.

HaRav Cohen: "There were two reasons. First, the name Moreshes Ovos was very strongly identified with the Rosh Yeshiva. He feared that this image would disturb the organization's work and bar the possibility of its entry into a number of places. The second reason was that the times required us to become involved in certain activities and to engage the services and the writings of various people who could not appear under the banner of an organization that was identified with `the cruse of pure oil' — the Rosh Yeshiva. To employ these methods, or people, however, held great potential for progress in the field of outreach. He didn't agree that these things should be done under the name Moreshes Ovos, and we changed the name to El Hamekorot."

Q. Can you give us any particular examples?

HaRav Cohen: "In the course of our manifold activities, we published the pamphlet Machsheves. We went to HaRav Shach and asked him whether we could print an article written by a past Chief Rabbi of the State. He read the article and consented, though of course only because it wouldn't be appearing under the name Moreshes Ovos. Still, not everything was allowed. He had very clear red lines.

"I'll give you another example. From time to time in Machsheves we would quote from the secular press where this helped us. Once, we brought an excellent article by an irreligious writer, attacking the irreligious community, that was entitled, "Looking for a New God." It was bitingly and penetratingly anti-secular — aggressive even. However, the name in the title was written in the same way as Hashem's Name. This was not a problem according to halochoh, since the word referred to some new god that the secularists were seeking. However, HaRav Shach refused to allow us to publish it. His reasoning was clear: true, it wasn't Hashem's Name, but not everybody would realize that, especially the audience for whom the booklet was intended. If the booklet found its way onto the floor or some other place of shame, it could lead to mistakes being made in the future.

"Whenever we raised new ideas for branching out with our activities, he would always involve us in his decision- making. His analysis was very consistent and it always followed the same path: First, was there any prospect of harm arising in the future from what was being proposed? Second, might there be any harm in the present? Third [even if it will do no harm], would the proposal be positively beneficial? Only after considering these questions, would he arrive at his verdict."

Q. In what kinds of situations might there have been future or present harm?

HaRav Cohen: "There were two stages in the development of the Teshuvah Movement. The initial arousal lasted for about two years. Then, following a public outburst that was set off by secular opposition, the whole thing almost died out completely. Approximately a year-and-a-half later, there was a new awakening. [Then,] he demanded absolute silence — that we work without any publicity whatsoever. . . At that time, I went to ask him whether we should publicize the personal stories of individual baalei teshuvah.

"If we tell their stories," I argued, "it will lead others to identify with them."

The Rosh Yeshiva was firm in his refusal. He was extremely cautious of anything of a public nature that might lead to open opposition that would hamper us. He was so determined in his opposition to publicity, that when the yeshiva Nesivos Olam was opened, thanks to our activities and to the growing number of baalei teshuvah, he instructed us not to hang a notice outside, so as not to arouse the sleeping bear of secularism that was antagonistic to teshuvah, from its slumber.

"While we are on the subject, it is worthwhile noting that he did not allow us to call Nesivos Olam, a yeshiva. During its first years, it was known as Nesivos Olam Institutions. Only after a time, once it had become a real yeshiva, a true reflection of all the other yeshivos, did he allow it. His vigilance was astounding. He followed every step of what was being done."

Questions of Policy

Q. Naturally, you couldn't go forward on all fronts at once. Was Maran involved in setting priorities?

HaRav Cohen: "Of course. And he had a clearly-defined policy. It was amazing to see — his replies were identical, literally word-for-word, even after intervals of several years. His approach was clear and systematic and he would explain it to us. I once went in to see him and I asked him whom we should teach more and, when engaged in outreach, in whom we should invest greater resources: in the men or in the women. Surely [I thought] in the men, for they are obliged to learn Torah.

"HaRav Shach smiled and said, `You should know something — everybody thinks that the men are running things but I say that the women are. Women need to be taught . . . '

"Naturally, our activities expanded under his direction and with his encouragement and we began working among new groups. For a long time, we were working inside the [state] religious high schools, among the youngsters known as the Mizrachi youth. We once organized a summer camp for the outstanding talmidim in these schools.

"We came to him with the following question: we [knew that we] would be able to persuade some of the talmidim to go to yeshiva but there was a possibility that if we did so, the doors would be closed to us and we would no longer be allowed to enter these institutions. He thought about the question and answered decisively, `You, should not [be the ones to] do it.' He weighed the matter up in the wider context and with his perception of how Torah looks upon things, he reached a negative verdict!

Q. Why?

HaRav Cohen: "He explained to us that if an institution undertakes to engage in a specific activity, spreading faith and reaching out say, it should not overstep its function. We are only obligated to fulfill our responsibility, according to the definition that we ourselves set for the task that we undertook.

"For the same reason, he did not allow us to speak out against sheirut leumi (national service for young women) in these institutions. He absolutely forbade us to speak against it because he feared that we might no longer be allowed to enter these institutions and conduct activities in them. He also added another reason. `A campaign is currently underway over this grave scheme. It is being publicized as a prohibition that one should sacrifice oneself in order to avoid (yeihoreig ve'al ya'avor), and of course that is true. However, if a girl won't listen to you and goes, she will feel that since she's already transgressed a cardinal sin, she has nothing else to lose. She will then be liable to cross all the barriers and permit herself everything, turning her back on religion completely."

Q. Moreshes Ovos-El Hamekorot was successful in bringing many wayward souls back to their heritage. More and more questions arose in the course of this work and the Rosh Yeshiva, as guide and mentor, was involved in resolving them, down to the fine details. Did he also chart a path in how to relate personally to baalei teshuvah?

HaRav Cohen: "Many questions arose as a result of people's teshuvah and how it should be handled. As an example of this type of guidance, I will present a question that cropped up frequently.

Many of the baalei teshuvah who had fully integrated frumkeit into their lives wanted to leave their work and devote themselves to learning full-time. Naturally, we asked the Rosh Yeshiva how to tackle this situation. He would not allow them to leave their work. In fact he was very strongly opposed to it!

"We heard him repeat the words of the Meshech Chochmoh, who explains that the mishnah's teaching, `It is becoming that Torah study should be accompanied by worldly pursuits, for the exertions of both of them put thoughts of sin out of the mind' (Ovos 2:2), refers to a baal teshuvah. In fact, the mishnah means that having fixed times for Torah which occupy a large part of the day, together with some worldly occupation, makes one forget the days of sinning, before one's teshuvah.

"Another common question that arose concerned situations where one member of the family did teshuvah while the other did not follow the same path. Should such a family be advised to break up? His answers were always clear, but varied. At times, he would rule out such an idea. If I changed a certain detail in how I put the question to him, the answer often changed. I made many of my colleagues aware of this. `If HaRav Shach gives you a specific answer, try and put forward a new idea, by changing a detail in the presentation.' In many cases, he would then agree to it. This shows how deeply thought-out and how clear his decisions were. He might refuse because of one particular point. If there was a slight shift, it might change the whole picture and in many cases, the answer did change. He was razor sharp."

How Did They View Him?

Q. Did he himself engage in any outreach activities?

HaRav Cohen: "The Rosh Yeshiva conversed with army officers who visited his home on many occasions. After his famous address at Yad Eliyahu, I went to his house and found that he was very upset by all the tremendous excitement. When I came, bringing a group of officers, his joy was visible.

"He usually spoke to them about emunoh. He would stand up to address them. He asked the officers to allow their children to become acquainted with the Jewish way of life and to expose them to Torah's light, so as not to deny them the possibility of making their own choice, at the very least.

"For many long years, secular opinion was favorably disposed towards the Mizrachi. When the settlements were founded and the political schism grew deeper, this fraternal warmth cooled off somewhat. HaRav Shach's opinions, his daas Torah, which they perceived as a political stance on the issues of peace and the settlements, led to widespread interest in him and in his views and many of them voiced sympathy. As a result, there were constant applications from senior officers and men in key positions to meet the Rosh Yeshiva. Thus, large groups used to come and visit Ponevezh Yeshiva. I once asked him, might this not be bitul Torah? Didn't the arrival of visitors from outside disturb the learning?

"He replied, `It is usual to do this. It is accepted that people come to visit.' "

Q. What was their reaction, on seeing the Rosh Yeshiva?

HaRav Cohen: "I remember when a senior officer in army education paid a visit. We were standing at the entrance to the yeshiva and people of all ages went past us, young boys, adults and elderly men. A short, somewhat bent Jew arrived at the entrance and, dragging his feet, made his way inside.

" `Who was that?' the education officer asked me, after this figure caught his eye.

" `That's HaRav Shach,' I replied. He literally jumped from his place.

"He continued watching carefully HaRav Shach's every step. The Rosh Yeshiva went into the beis hamedrash and was surrounded by crowds, clustering about him to catch every word he uttered. Those who had come to speak with him in learning were crowded tightly about him. A heated discussion began, centered around the elderly figure in the middle. The education officer couldn't hide his amazement.

" `That's HaRav Shach?!' he asked in astonishment. He had always pictured Rav Shach as being a towering, imposing figure, radiating authority. What a gulf there was between his true appearance and his spiritual impact!

"There were many requests from the army to send them lecturers. The Air Force pressured us to bring Rav Uri Zohar. I pressed Rav Uri to agree. There were many religious soldiers in the army, although the officers were very far removed indeed from religion and a Torah life. It happened in many cases that those who went to the army were ruined, in no small amount due to the pressure of the officers. We therefore asked Rav Uri to speak to them and transmit a certain message to them. We saw this as being very important.

"Rav Uri Zohar did not agree to it. He explained that addressing the officers would disturb his own spiritual progress. `If however,' he added, `HaRav Shach tells me to go, I'll go.'

"I arrived at the Rosh Yeshiva's home and put the question to him, making it clear that Rav Uri was not in favor. He sat for ten whole minutes and, in the end, his verdict was, `Take someone else.' That was his policy. The importance of one person who felt that something would disturb his own spiritual elevation, outweighed all other reasoning and explanation, however correct it may have been."

The Times Cry Out: Take Action!

The following essay is the text of a talk which HaRav Shach delivered at a gathering held on the thirteenth of Sivan 5728 (1968), marking the first anniversary of the establishment of Moreshes Ovos. The text was typed out and copies were later sent out to members before the Yomim Noraim. It is fascinating to look back and see how, in the thirty-four years that have elapsed since then, all the trends discussed in the talk have intensified. Although it was delivered when the Teshuvah Movement was taking its first steps, the message remains as relevant as ever.

When we consider the pace of life nowadays, our age seems to be typified by life no longer being the calm, uniform affair that it used to be. Things develop and situations change very swiftly. In every sphere of life, new developments are taking place, at an ever-increasing rate.

In worldly affairs we are witness to a dizzying pace of development from year to year. Whereas [in all spheres of endeavor] decades used to elapse before there would be progress from one stage of development to the next, things now change and undergo transformation at such a fast pace, and with a haste which seems almost frantic. One can see that Heaven has a purpose in this pattern, namely, to arrive quickly at the intended stage of perfection that this world is to reach in the ordinary path of its life.

Also in askonus in spiritual matters, the situation has completely changed. Such a fast rate of change is unnatural when one compares it with the usual pattern that we were used to in bygone years. In the previous generation, in Eastern Europe, in pre-revolutionary Russia, there were millions of chareidi Jews, yet who was able to undertake to open a yeshiva ketanoh anywhere at all?! There were so many problems involved. There seemed to be no way at all of taking such a thing on.

Yet today, though our community is so much smaller in numbers, there are many who embark on just this project and succeed in carrying it out. Yidden give their money in thousands and tens of thousands, to support these places. Indeed, this is supernatural development, utterly different from the pattern of life in the recent past. Then, in order to collect a thousand rubles throughout vast Russia, one had to make a special takonoh that every woman should light one Shabbos candle less than usual. In that way the necessary amount could be collected!

In the publication of seforim too — to print a Shas used to take many years. Who was able to undertake the expenses involved in publishing?! HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, related that the Chofetz Chaim revealed to him that he wanted to write a commentary on the Yerushalmi, but that he had refrained from doing so because of his doubts over who would buy such seforim. Obviously, one could not possibly commit oneself to the expenses of publication, if it was quite clear that it would lead to losses and bankruptcy. . . that was what in fact happened to the Ridvaz, who wrote a commentary on the Yerushalmi and then ran into complications over the printing expenses, to the point where he was forced to uproot himself from where he was living because of it.

Today however, one Shas after another is printed, year after year, although our community is much smaller. It is an entirely new kind of life, with very extensive possibilities. We see clearly that anyone who shoulders any undertaking for the general welfare reaps such great dividends, in a manner that has never yet been known. It really is utterly amazing.

The field of endeavor today is limitless. Ours is an orphan generation, without men of wisdom and without prophets. There is tremendous paucity of Torah and great and wonderful things can be achieved. Though we wonder on taking a look at ourselves: of what assistance we can possibly be in helping to magnify the honor of the King of the world, the other side of the coin is that it is this very situation that presents us with such a wonderful opportunity. Precisely because there is no one else to fulfill the undertaking, even we midgets can gain this great merit.

The Chofetz Chaim zt'l explained this with a parable about an earthly king. While he resides in the royal city, he is accorded honor by ministers and favorites. If he travels and arrives at a small town, where there are no ministers or other honorables, honor is extended to him by the head of the town or local chieftain. So it is in our times, when our nation has no great luminaries living with us to increase Heaven's honor and the love of Hashem, as was once the case. Now it is the turn of the small mayors and chieftains. Everybody can help in increasing Heaven's honor, causing Heaven's Name to be beloved by others, by influencing those who are far away to draw closer to the Creator yisborach.

Nowadays, the street outside is so far from spirituality and people are so coarse that we no longer share a common language. They simply do not understand what it is that we want from them and what is bad about things that are completely opposed to the Torah's spirit and to what Hashem wants — they live in a completely different world.

The way to remedy this is to "drag him to the beis hamedrash" (Kiddushin 32), where a person can gain some insight and can approach Torah, which might lead him to become influenced to change his way of life for the better. There is therefore a holy obligation upon everyone to deliver a shiur once or twice a week in those places that need it.

I have heard that there are some who express doubts: maybe it is bitul Torah for someone whose principle occupation is learning?

But how is it that we suspend our learning for other things and suddenly express doubts about this? It is plain that there is no question at all. It is certainly permitted and everyone is in fact obligated to do what he is able, to learn and to teach.

The particular nature of our times cries out to us: Take action! The possibilities are so numerous; which of us can stand by on the sidelines? It is transparently clear how Heaven is guiding us, showing us that we should be grabbing and gathering merits. These are the times of ikveso deMeshichah. How can we receive Moshiach and prepare ourselves for his arrival? We must draw ourselves closer to him. The correct preparation for this is by being in a constant state of snatching up mitzvos. it is well- known that the times of Moshiach will be "days in which there will be no desire" and the opportunity is right now. Everything is pointing at us to take something from the bountiful possibilities that are in front of us.

Everyone has to adjust himself to the times and to consult those involved in spreading Torah, placing himself at their disposal for this mitzvoh and joining them in it, with all his strength and ability.


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