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26 Av 5761 - August 15, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Miracle Of Resurgence: Two Talks Given In Yerushalayim To Mark The Sixtieth Yahrtzeit Of HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Zt'l, Hy'd

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

Bountiful Compensation

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 rise again?

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 gates.

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.

The Blessing of the Field

A Response By HaRav Moshe Mordecai Chodosh

With the Rosh Yeshiva's permission, and at his request, I shall say a few words. The Rosh Yeshiva discussed how the sinking of the gates of the Beis Hamikdosh in the ground, was what gave the impetus for the rise of the great edifice of the yeshivos and the swelling of the ranks of those learning Torah, which have taken place since the fearsome destruction of European Jewry.

In a related vein, I would like to mention a idea which was often repeated by the eldest son of the gaon and kodosh, HaRav Elchonon Bunim Wassermann zt'l, Hy'd, our teacher, the late Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Elozor Simcha Wassermann zt'l. He would quote the comments of the Daas Zekeinim by the Baalei Tosafos, on the posuk in Devorim 28:3, "Blessed are you in the city; blessed are you in the field." The Baalei Tosafos explain that, " `Blessed are you in the city,' refers to Yerushalayim, which is called `the holy city' and `Blessed are you in the field,' refers to Tzion, as the posuk says, `Tzion shall be plowed like a field.' "

HaRav Wassermann would point out the difficulty here. How can the posuk's blessing, "Blessed are you in the field," be linked with "Tzion shall be plowed like a field," which refers to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh?

Here is the answer, which builds upon the words uttered by HaRav Elchonon Wassermann shortly before he was taken for execution by the criminals yemach shemom, in response to his followers' request that he explain why such horrible events had befallen them. He said as follows (from the notes of HaRav Simcha Wassermann, which appear in Koveitz Maamorim, chelek II):

"Once, someone who knew nothing about agriculture came to a farmer and asked him to teach him about farming. The farmer took him to a field and asked him what he could see. `I see a richly vegetated, attractive looking piece of land,' said the man, who then watched in amazement as the farmer plowed up all the growth, reducing the beautiful green field to low mounds of brown earth.

`Why have you ruined the field?!' asked the baffled visitor.

`Have patience and you will see,' replied the farmer.

The farmer then showed his visitor a sack of plump grains and told him to tell him what he saw. The visitor described the satisfying, inviting looking kernels and was once again shocked to see the farmer ruining something beautiful as he walked along the furrows, leaving seeds all over the field, on the open soil and then covering them over with clods of earth.

`Have you gone out of your mind?' asked the visitor.

To which the farmer once again replied, `Have patience and you'll see.'

Some time later, the farmer took his visitor back to the field and together they looked at the rows of green shoots rising from the furrows, stretching as far as the eye could see. The farmer's visitor smiled broadly.

`I do apologize,' he said. `Now I understand what you were doing. You have made the field more beautiful than ever. Your craft is truly amazing.'

`No,' said the farmer. `We're not yet finished. You'll need to have more patience.'

Another period of time passed and the stalks had completed their growth. The farmer now took a scythe and reaped every stalk, while his guest watched in amazed horror as the beautifully ordered field was transformed into a scene of ugly destruction. Then the farmer gathered the fallen ears into bundles and adorned the field with them. Later, he took all the bundles away, and beat them and smashed them, until they became a mixture of straw and loose grains. Later, he separated the grains from the stubble and then made them into a huge pile, all the time dismissing his visitor's protests with the assurance that they were not yet finished and that he should have more patience.

The farmer now brought a wagon and loaded the grain onto it. He took it to a mill, where he ground up the fertile grains into a suffocating white powder. Again, the visitor complained, `You've taken grain and turned it into dust!' and again, the farmer asked him to be patient.

The farmer filled up sacks with the flour and brought it home. He mixed some of it with water, while his visitor wondered what the point was in preparing this white slime. When he saw the farmer take a lump of dough and shape it carefully into a loaf, he smiled again, however, his smile was short lived, for the farmer lit a fire in the oven and placed the piece of dough inside.

`Now I'm sure you're crazy!' cried the visitor. `After all your work, you're going to burn what you made?!'

The farmer looked at him and chuckled. `Didn't I tell you to wait patiently?'

At last, the farmer opened the oven and took out a crisp, golden loaf, which was giving off an appetizing aroma. `Come,' said the farmer, as he led the way to the kitchen, cut a slice of bread, spread it with butter and offered it to his guest, who had only just calmed down.

`Now,' he asked, `do you understand?'

Reb Elchonon concluded his words saying, "The farmer is a parable for Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We are the fools, who don't even have the beginning of an understanding of His ways, or of their ultimate outcome. Only at the culmination of the process, will Am Yisroel understand why it all happened. When Moshiach finally arrives, we will know why all of this had to take place. Until that time, we must gird ourselves with patience and have faith that everything, even what appears to be destruction and suffering, is part of a process that will lead to good and to pleasantness."

This is the meaning of the comments of the Baalei Hatosfos. The posuk says that, "Tzion will be plowed like a field." If it would have said, "Tzion will be destroyed", then there would certainly be no place to link it with the posuk, "Blessed are you in the field." However, the truth is that although the churban appears to be destruction, it really represents the plowing, which led to the sowing, from which the academy of Yavneh and it sages sprouted, to which the words, "Blessed are you in the field" can certainly be applied.

All the surviving bnei Torah, who consume the fruits that have sprouted from the fearsome plowing, and the members of our yeshiva in particular, which bears the name of our master, the gaon and kodosh HaRav Elchonon Bunim Wassermann ztvk'l, are duty bound to immerse themselves with renewed strength and vigor, into toil over Torah, so that the sacrifices made by the martyrs, should not be in vain chas vesholom, and to sow the field after the plowing. Then, the merit of the kedoshim, and in particular the merit of our master Reb Elchonon Bunim, will support us and the redeemer will come to Tzion.

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