On the evening of the twenty-ninth of Sivan, a special gathering was
held in the beis hamedrash of Yeshivas Or Elchonon in Yerushalayim,
marking the sixtieth yahrtzeit of the gaon and kodosh
HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt'l, Hy'd. One of the speakers was HaRav
Aharon Leib Steinman. In his talk, HaRav Steinman shed light on the tragic
events of those times and their meaning for the generations which followed.
Next, the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, addressed the
gathering, offering further insight into the points made by HaRav Steinman.
Both talks are presented in the following article.
Rising From the Depths
From an address by HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman
It is common knowledge that before the World War, there were virtually no
yeshivos in what are today the main centers of Jewish population. In Eretz
Yisroel for example, there were only one or two yeshivos, and it was the
same in the United States, England and France. There were only yeshivos in
Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary.
During the war, all were killed, tzaddikim, world ranking
gedolim and ordinary Jews. Among them was the gaon and
kodosh, HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Hy'd. And indeed, this
yeshiva [Note: Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon in Yerushalayim] has a special merit,
that of having been established at his graveside, as it were, and by being
named after him.
But that is not all. All the righteous ones who perished did not die for
nothing. They have received compensation for their murders, and we are not
referring to monetary reparations! Their compensation is the fact that
their Torah is studied. Reb Elchonon's Torah, for example, is learned in
all the yeshivos. This is a tremendous merit. Instead of their bodies,
which have been lost, their souls continue to exist, in that medium which
is a means of the continuation of their power. The influence that their
Torah study wrought, that their mitzvos had -- these forces continue to the
present day, and from them, Torah has grown.
It has sprouted particularly in those places where it was previously
scarce, such as Eretz Yisroel. Boruch Hashem, the yeshivos have
multiplied. The talmidei chachomim and those who learn Torah have
multiplied. This has happened in America and in England too, and even in
France. In places where there were once almost no yeshivos, today, yeshivos
and bnei Torah have sprung up. And baalei teshuvoh as well! All
in the merit of those kedoshim whom we lost.
Mizmor or Kinoh?
I shall now quote a statement of Chazal's which has a connection with this
idea. The gemora (Kiddushin 31), relates an incident involving
Avimei, who scrupulously kept the mitzvoh to honor parents. Once he went to
bring his father some water and when he returned, his father had fallen
asleep. He waited next to him until he woke up. The gemora tells us
that, "He bent over him until he awoke. [During those moments] he [received
Heavenly assistance and] successfully expounded [the chapter of Tehillim
(79), beginning] Mizmor le'Osof."
Rashi tells us the problem with this mizmor that Avimei was
successful in solving: Why should a chapter that speaks of misfortunes -- "
. . . Gentiles have entered Your inheritance; they have defiled Your holy
sanctuary . . . " -- open with the word mizmor? It would have been
more fitting had it opened with the words "Kinoh (a lament) le'Osof."
Avimei explained however, that Osof sang to Hashem for spending His anger
on the sticks and stones of the Beis Hamikdosh, enabling something to
remain of Klal Yisroel. Had the latter taken the full brunt of
Hashem's fury, there would have been no remnant, chas vesholom. This
was sufficient reason for Osof to sing a mizmor. This was the
explanation which Avimei merited to fathom while he leaned over his father,
in the merit of his careful observance of the mitzvoh of kibbud av.
If They Will Rise, So Will We
After quoting Rashi's explanation of Avimei's new understanding of the
mizmor, Tosafos continues, "However, [we find] in the medrash
that Osof sang to Hashem because, `Its gates [of the Beis Hamikdosh]
sank into the ground' [at the time of the destruction]. This is comparable
to a maidservant who went to draw water from a well. Her pitcher fell into
the well. She was upset and wept [over the pitcher's loss], until the
king's maidservant came to draw water, carrying a golden pitcher. That
pitcher also fell into the well, [at which] the first one started to sing.
She said, `Until now, I didn't think that anyone would take my ordinary
earthenware pitcher out of the well. Now though, whoever takes the golden
pitcher out, will take mine out as well.' In the same way, when the sons of
Korach, who were swallowed by the earth, saw that the gates of the Beis
Hamikdosh sank into the ground, they started to sing. They said,
`Whoever takes the gates out will take us out as well.' This is why Osof,
who was from Korach's family, uttered this song."
This medrash seems impossible to understand. What is the comparison
between the parable of the pitchers and the situation of Korach's sons? In
the first instance, there was never any particular reason to leave the
earthenware pitcher in the well. It simply wasn't valuable enough to fetch
by itself. When the golden pitcher fell in though, it would be virtually no
extra trouble to fetch the earthenware pitcher with it. Korach's sons, on
the other hand, were where they were with good reason. Why should they have
supposed that if the gates would be retrieved from the ground, they would
also escape? What connection was there between them and the gates?
A further problem is that the sons of Korach were swallowed by the ground
while bnei Yisroel were in the desert. They had stirrings of
teshuvoh, and a high position in Gehennom was set aside for
them and they came up. All this took place almost a thousand years before
the gates sank into the ground at the time of the destruction. Where did
they see that the gates would sink, for them to understand that they would
subsequently rise up and that they too, would rise? However, this is what
the medrash says, and we must try to understand it.
Only Hashem Can Bring Them Back
All these questions can be answered in the following way. The medrash
in Behaalosecha (Bamidbor Rabbo 15:13), tells us that "When Shlomo
Hamelech brought the Oron hakodesh into the Mikdosh, he said,
`Gates, lift your heads . . . ' (Tehillim 24:7), because the gates
wanted to go down into the ground [blocking the passage of the Oron] . .
. [after the king prayed], they raised themselves and the Oron
went in. Hakodosh Boruch Hu said, `You have shown Me honor . . . When
I destroy My house . . . no one will have power over you.' The proof is
that all the vessels of the Beis Hamikdosh went into exile, as the
posuk (Doniel 1:2) says, `And Hashem gave him [to Nevuchadnezzar],
Yehoyokim, king of Yehudah, and some of the vessels of the House of Hashem
. . . ' but the gates were interred in their place, as the posuk (Eichoh
2:9 says, `Her gates sank into the ground.' "
From this medrash we see that sinking into the ground was better than
going into exile. This is because going into exile meant being used by
strangers and commoners, a disgrace for the holy vessels of the
Mikdosh. On the other hand, there was an advantage to exile, in that
the vessels remained above the ground and available. When, with Hashem's
help, Yisroel would return from the exile, the king could be prevailed upon
to release them and they could easily be brought back. When the gates sank
into the ground however, it was not simply a matter of someone digging a
little and pulling them out. They sank down very deep, possibly hundreds of
meters. When Hakodosh Boruch Hu sinks something, it is truly sunk!
Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself can retrieve it. In this respect
then, the vessels were better off, for once the gates sank, how could they
Apparently, Korach's sons saw with ruach hakodesh, that a time would
come when "her gates" would be "sunk into the ground," and they understood
this as an indication that Hakodosh Boruch Hu would bring Yisroel
back, for if the gates were to sink, only Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself
would be able to raise them. The sinking of the gates was thus a sign that
Hashem would bring them out and they understood that there was therefore
hope for them as well. Even though they were right inside the ground,
escape was possible. By some miracle, if a high place were to be designated
for them, they might still return. And it really was a miracle, for how can
a person naturally survive underneath the ground?
Miracle of Resurgence
The example of the gates showed them that it was possible. Although
had the gates been sent into exile, their retrieval would have been
simpler, Hakodosh Boruch Hu clearly wanted it to be that when we
merit the arrival of Moshiach, a miracle will take place and the
gates will rise. And so it was with the episode of Korach. Just as the
group's being swallowed up by the ground was a tremendous miracle,
Hakodosh Boruch Hu could also bring them out with a miracle.
Korach's sons therefore had stirrings of teshuvoh, in the knowledge
that they could be saved and come up again. While the gates would rise
without teshuvoh, they, being human, had the possibility of doing
teshuvoh, and correcting their mistake. If they were successful in
this, they would merit everything! This is the meaning of the Mizmor
le'Osof . . . , which the sons of Korach sang when, in their own day,
they understood the implications of the sinking of the Beis Hamikdosh
This is what I wanted to say. Through everything that the nations
destroyed, the tzaddikim, the geonim, the rabbonim, the part of
Klal Yisroel that they destroyed, we have boruch Hashem merited
there being many, many more bnei Torah today than there were before.
Although then there were also many tzaddikim, today, boruch
Hashem, there are many more bnei Torah. Not only here, but in the
United States, in England and even in France, places where there was almost
no Torah altogether.
In places where there were no yeshivos, today there are. Even here in Eretz
Yisroel, there were very few and in other places there was almost nothing
at all. Boruch Hashem today, yeshivos and kollelim are
multiplying. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is showing us that we ought to say
Mizmor le'Osof, when we see how Hashem helps and makes Torah grow.
Let us hope that Hakodosh Boruch Hu helps us further and that no harm
befalls the bnei hayeshivos, and may Hashem help that Heaven's glory
be increased through all of them! May Torah increase. May observance of all
the mitzvos increase. May Hakodosh Boruch Hu rejoice in us and us in
Him and may we soon merit the true redemption.