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
" `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
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
"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'
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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!
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
I have heard that there are some who express doubts: maybe it
is bitul Torah for someone whose principle occupation
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.