Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Ellul 5761 - September 12, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









by Shlomo Furst

My rebbe, HaRav Shmuel Halevi Shechter, was born in Montreal, Canada, on the seventh of Adar, 5675 (1915). When he was only five years old, his mother passed on from this world to the next. Before her passing, Rebbe's mother contacted her brother and arranged for her son to be raised by him, knowing that her time in this world was limited and that the Jewish community in Montreal did not have a suitable Jewish school. When he was seven he went to live with his uncle in Baltimore, Maryland, which was a stronger Jewish community. Rebbe always referred to his uncle as, "an excellent mechaneich."

When Rebbe became older, since the opportunities for learning Torah were better in New York than in Baltimore, his uncle sent him to New York. Rebbe said that traveling from Baltimore to New York was one of the two times that he felt alone and an orphan in this world. The other time was much later when, due to a decision of beis din, he had to leave Kelm.

During his years at Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological Seminary, Rebbe shared a dormitory room with HaRav Avigdor Miller, zt"l. Rebbe would fondly recall how Rav Miller kept a watchful eye on him. The room's window overlooked the playing field, and at the end of the lunch break, Rav Miller would call out from their window to remind Rebbe to come in for the beginning of second seder.

When the older talmidim began to opt for the Torah, mussar and yiras Shomayim offered by the European yeshivas, Rebbe also wanted to follow suit. Rebbe quickly finished his secular high school requirements by taking double classes at night school, and chose to learn in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Poland.

Some time after arriving and settling in the Mirrer Yeshiva, it was time to meet with Rav Yeruchom, the Mashgiach zt"l. At the meeting, Rebbe intended to ask the Mashgiach several questions on the subject of emunah. The Mashgiach's room overlooked the beis hamedrash. A long flight of steps led upwards to the Mashgiach's door. Rebbe hesitated to climb the stairs as he looked up towards the Mashgiach's window.

From the Mashgiach's window high above the beis hamedrash, it was possible to see each talmid in the yeshiva. When the yeshiva was being built, the Mashgiach contracted with a special architect to design the building in a way that no supporting columns would be needed in the beis hamedrash. The Mashgiach wanted to be able to see each and every talmid -- how and what he learned. Not one bochur should be positioned behind a column and out of the Mashgiach's sight.

The Mashgiach was held in great awe. Rebbe many times referred to him as, "the Moshe Rabbenu of the generation." He molded an entire generation of talmidim, who, in turn, became the backbone of Torah and yeshivas throughout the world.

With the influx of many talmidim of non-European origin, the Mashgiach gave a special daily shiur on Chumash with Rashi that was tailored to their needs. From these shiurim, the sefer Da'as Torah was written. Rebbe said that once when the Mashgiach was speaking about these shiurim, he said, "I do not know if I can completely save these young men from the influences of their home countries, but at least I can dull their appetite for Olam Hazeh."

Rebbe was apprehensive about meeting with the Mashgiach. Up until now he had only witnessed him from afar. He saw the great respect that the senior talmidim had for the Mashgiach. Now he was about to face the Mashgiach himself. Finally, contemplating the steps ahead of him, Rebbe gathered his courage and after one, two and finally three times, he bolted up the steps. Out of breath, Rebbe knocked on the door and was allowed to enter. Not knowing what to expect, Rebbe was quiet, waiting for the Mashgiach to speak.

To Rebbe's surprise, the Mashgiach asked Rebbe if he found his accommodations acceptable and if he was satisfied with the food. The Mashgiach was interested in knowing the details and if there were any difficulties. After Rebbe spoke about these things, Rebbe asked the Mashgiach his questions on emunah.

Rav Yeruchom answered that such questions cannot be answered so quickly, particularly to a talmid who is new to the yeshiva. Rav Yeruchom assured Rebbe that in time, after several months of learning in the yeshiva, his questions would be addressed and answered.

Months later, on the yom tov of Shavuos -- the day when we accepted and received Hashem's Torah -- the Mashgiach devoted a shmuess to the subject that answered the questions to Rebbe's satisfaction. Rav Yeruchom had forged another link in the unbroken chain of Torah from rebbe to talmid that leads back to Har Sinai. After that, Rebbe truly felt that he was part of the perpetual lifeblood of Klal Yisroel -- Torah.

Part of the Mesorah

The Mashgiach was a talmid of HaRav Hirsch Brodie zt"l, who was, in turn, a talmid of the Alter of Kelm zt"l. Rebbe traced his direct mesorah all the way back to the Vilna Gaon, zt"l. The Alter of Kelm learned from HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt"l, who was a talmid of HaRav Zundel zt"l, who learned from Rav Chaim Volozhin zt"l, who was the foremost talmid of the Vilna Gaon. Rebbe would then add, "From the Vilna Gaon you do not have to go back too far to reach Rashi. After that, you are holding by Rav and Shmuel, and then Rabbi Akiva. Then to Dovid Hamelech and Shmuel Hanovi. . . . until we reach back to Moshe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisroel standing at Har Sinai." This is how the transmission of Torah continues. HaKodosh Boruch Hu insures that.

Rebbe once said that there are two essential requirements for a mashgiach of a yeshiva. First to exemplify, and thereby to teach a derech in yiras Shomayim. Second, to be able to give tochochoh -- rebuke. That is, to effectively communicate that what is being done is not correct and therefore not to the benefit of the person who is doing it.

The Chofetz Chaim writes in the Biyur Halachah (Orach Chaim 608:2) that one is obligated to give tochochoh only "to a person that he is friendly with. But to another person who, if he rebukes him, will hate him and take revenge of him -- do not rebuke him."

Therefore, in order to fulfill the obligation to give rebuke, it is necessary to be on friendly terms with all the talmidim, and at the same time inspire the talmidim to grow in yir'as Shomayim.

Rebbe learned in Mir for four years and then, after the passing of the Mashgiach, he returned to America. After his marriage, Rebbe returned to Europe: this time to Kelm. Kelm was more than just a yeshiva, a place of learning. In the world of yeshivas, more than any other place it was devoted to training in mussar.

The Mir was a Link to Sinai; Kelm was a Link to Creation

In Kelm, the prayers started with a special emphasis. In the introduction, before we even begin to say Pesukei Dezimroh, we say, "Always be a person who is G-d-fearing, privately and publicly, and speaks the truth in his heart and rises early and proclaims . . ." In Kelm, the prayer was said differently -- slowly and deliberately: "Always -- be a person -- G-d- fearing privately and publicly. . . ." In Kelm the attempt was made to become a person, a mensch and remain so -- always.

To strive to be a ben Odom with some kind of connection to the perfection and excellence that our Creator bestowed Odom, the first man: this was the goal of Kelm. The Mir and Rav Yeruchom, zt"l, gave Rebbe a connection to Torah and Har Sinai. Kelm and Rav Doniel extended this further, to Hashem's act of Creation. The mussar of Kelm forged a link in a chain stretching back to Odom Horishon.

Rebbe said that he was told that when the Alter of Kelm was niftar, at the levayah on erev Tisha B'Av, the hesped was astoundingly brief: "We will be able to tell our grandchildren that we saw a mensch, a ben Odom!" That is to say, there was a semblance of the original prototype, a ben Odom, a person who in some way embodied some of that original perfection of Odom Horishon. Rav Dessler writes in Michtav MeEliahu (4, page 329) that after the Alter of Kelm was niftar, a bookshelf was moved to occupy the Alter's place in the Beis HaTalmud. This was done so that no one would be able to stand in that spot.

Several character traits were particularly valued and cultivated in Kelm, for these were the special ingredients that went into the making of a ben Odom: derech eretz, reliability, truthfulness, orderliness, earnestness, thoughtfulness, nosei be'ol im chaveiro, lishmoh, mishpot, chessed, and modesty. In the light of the truth that existed in Kelm there was an expectation and at least a yearning to be part of that original perfection that Hakodosh Boruch Hu gave to Odom Horishon.

Being in Kelm

The special quality of Kelm is indicated by the following story. HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt"l, during the lifetime of his Rebbe the Chofetz Chaim zt"l, would spend the month of Elul in Radin to be at his side in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. After the passing of the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Elchonon traveled to Kelm for the month- long preparations for Rosh Hashanah.

In Kelm, mussar was studied in the evening, between nine and ten -- just before ma'ariv. Half an hour was devoted to in-depth study. The other half hour was a recital of mussar in a loud chant, in order to make an impression upon the heart. The goal of the learning in Kelm was to acquire a method of learning and a proper way of thinking, clarity of mind and an honest sense of logic governed by the Torah.

The gemora was learned with Rashi and Tosafos, and then the Rashbam and Rambam. Then, in order to get to the halocho, the Shulchan Oruch was studied. Only rarely were the acharonim studied. Chumash was learned with Rashi, Sforno, Ramban and Ibn Ezra. The Torah that was learned had to penetrate one's heart, to become meaningful and relevant, and as such, change a person's character. If not, one was in danger of becoming nothing more than a, "mule carrying books."

Rebbe referred to Kelm as an oasis of emes in a world of sheker. This world has many names: Olom Hazeh, Olom Harotzon, Olom Hachoshech and Olom Hasheker. The life and learning that took place in Kelm was saturated with truth, light and fervor, the goal of which was to give nachas ruach to HaKodosh Boruch Hu. However, with the destruction of World War Two approaching Kelm, the time to Kelm's light was coming to an end. Rebbe was to be one of the last talmidim, if not the very last talmid produced by Kelm.

The custom in Kelm was that once each month the morning prayers were completed within twenty minutes. This was in order to practice davening at a rapid pace -- and to still have proper concentration. Such training was important, because the prayers in the Beis HaTalmud of Kelm were otherwise conducted under ideal conditions. A person may not always find himself in the ideal setting of a beis hamedrash with its solemn atmosphere and respect for the importance of time for prayer. Therefore, the talmidim of Kelm were trained to pray effectively even in extremely difficult situations.

After the daily morning prayers, Rebbe had a fixed time together with HaRav Doniel Mowshovitz zt"l, who was the rav of the Beis HaTalmud in Kelm. While Rav Doniel slowly took off his tefillin and tallis, with great deliberateness, there was time for private learning and discussion.

One morning, thunderous noise was heard in the beis midrash. The building began to quiver. From the window, Rav Doniel looked out, over to the main street of Kelm.

The yeshiva in Kelm was located on the main road leading through the middle of town. Now, in the early morning, Russian tanks, one after the other, were speeding through Kelm to engage the advancing German forces. As each tank passed by, Rav Doniel said the posuk from Tehillim (33:17), "Futile is the horse for salvation and through its great might there is no protection." The worst mistake they could make would be to believe that Russian armor was the hope for Kelm's continued existence.

Once after davening, Rav Doniel was engrossed in reading a newspaper. Rav Doniel paused and called Rebbe's attention to the paper. Rav Doniel told Rebbe that there is a special way to read this particular newspaper, a propaganda sheet published by the Communist military command. "If it says that the war effort is succeeding, know that it is not. And if it is written that the economy is strong, then the opposite is true." Truth has a way to detect sheker and even from sheker, we can know the truth.

Leaving Kelm

Rebbe was forced to leave Kelm by a psak of a beis din. Rav Doniel was willing to have Rebbe stay on, even though as a Canadian citizen and subject of the British empire, he and others were being offered safe transport out of Europe. At the unrelenting insistence of Arie Staam zt"l, Rav Doniel was persuaded to leave the decision in the hands of a beis din. A select group of yungerleit was chosen from the beis midrash, and they decided that if escape was possible it should be pursued. Rebbe never really left Kelm, for one can not willingly forsake truth and light.

On Simchas Torah, Rebbe began his departure from Europe. The journey took two hundred and sixty five days. It included two weeks by train to cross Russia, and then a two-week boat trip to Australia, where the British left the refugees to fend for themselves. They were now considered to be out of the war zone and on safe ground, so the British had fulfilled their responsibility to ensure their subjects' safety.

Rebbe was urged to continue on to America. There he was reunited with his wife, who had left Europe much earlier. Rebbe became one of the founders of the Kollel of White Plains.

Once at the sheva brochos of a granddaughter, Rebbe described how preposterous the idea sounded to people's ears at the time: "It would be as if now we were to suggest establishing a kollel on the moon!"

The burdens of the era were tremendous, particularly for those who were fortunate enough to escape from Europe. They felt a special, personal obligation to help as much as possible. The destiny of millions of Jewish lives was in the balance. All attempts to open avenues of escape had to be explored.

The issue arose in the Kollel as to what to do when faced with the decision of closing gemoras in order to save lives. A letter was written to Rav Doniel as to what the Kollel should do. Rebbe, in footnote 4 to his Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh (44) quotes Rav Doniel's response: "Now in your country, there are days of tasks that are likely to involve disruptions. How much more so is it necessary to be steadfast in the above [a reference to Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh (44)]: `Have fixed times for Torah, before eating and sleeping and discuss them at your table. . .']. At least, under all conditions there should be a fixed time for Torah -- three hours a day of gemora and poskim and also a half- hour for proper mussar . . . "

In spite of the fact that it was a time to save lives, Torah could not be completely compromised. Rebbe writes that this was the last message the Kollel received from Rav Doniel; his last guidance to his talmidim in America.

Soon came the decision of having to select a Rosh Kollel. Eventually, Rav Aaron Kotler, zt"l, was chosen. Rav Aaron eventually moved the Kollel from White Plains, New York to Lakewood, New Jersey, in order that, "The wealthy baalei batim should be able to see Torah learned lishmoh." Lakewood was a popular vacation spot at the time. Baalei batim would be invited to see members of the Kollel learning: men without any other interest in life. Torah is kodesh and therefore one's intentions for learning it should be pure.

The more kodosh something is, the more hashgocho protis it is potentially able to receive. The intrinsic kedushoh with which Hakodosh Boruch Hu has deemed to bless particular objects, places and times gives an opportunity to live up to the demands of the kedushoh. If so, one will be privileged to receive the benefits of intensified hashgochoh protis. If not, the opportunity is wasted and the hashgocho protis is not manifest in the form of blessings.

Going to Eretz Yisroel

For many years, Rebbe hoped to settle in Eretz Yisroel. Finally, with the help and advice of the Chazon Ish, zt"l, Rebbe was able to make the move at the proper time.

In the kitchen of Rebbe's apartment in Eretz Yisroel there was a specially designed window pane. The view overlooked the north of Eretz Yisroel, from east to west. The window pane was made of one piece of glass, without any dividing support frames. It allowed Rebbe a clear, uninterrupted view of the Land.

Do Not Blindly Follow the Crowd

Rebbe's watch was always set according to Standard Time (called "Winter Time" in Eretz Yisroel). Whether summer or winter, Rebbe did not change his watch. His day focused on sunrise. Changing the clock would have interfered with Rebbe's rising each day for the netz minyan.

There was also another reason. It did not matter that the rest of the whole world was doing something else. In fact, it was even more reason not to follow suit and instead, to be cautious.

The Rambam, zt"l, writes in Hilchos Dei'os (6:1), "The way that the person is created is that his opinions and actions are drawn after those of his friends and acquaintances. He will behave according to the behavior of his countrymen." Just because the world does something is not a reason to blindly follow along. This must be carefully considered and constantly taken to heart. It was worth not changing the clock for this lesson alone.

The Miracle of Mesiras Nefesh

I learned from Rebbe that when a talmid expects to meet with his Rebbe, particularly if some time has passed since the last meeting, the talmid should be prepared to discuss some special divrei Torah. The halocho (Orach Chaim 554:12) states that on Tisha B'Av it is prohibited to wash and bathe. However, "if one goes to meet his Rebbe or his father or one greater than himself, or for a mitzvah, he can pass through water up to his neck and not be concerned. Upon one's return it is also permitted."

The Mishnah Berurah (23) explains that this applies when Tisha B'Av comes out, "even on a weekday, that even though there is no obligation to meet one's Rebbe on the weekdays, nevertheless there is a mitzvah, for perhaps he [the talmid] will hear from him some divrei Torah."

Therefore, it is important that the talmid have something prepared to discuss with his Rebbe. For then the Rebbe will definitely express his comments and there will definitely be a mitzvah. One must always make efforts to see that every mitzvah is done in the best and surest way possible.

Rosh Hashanah was approaching and it had been a time since I last spoke at length with Rebbe. The last time we spoke, Rebbe recounted all of what we had learned together -- everyone has his portion in Torah; what he learns and what he teaches. So last year I was thinking about what to speak over with Rebbe in expectation of yom hadin.

Rebbe once explained the basis for the Mishnah in Ovos (5:8) that states, "Ten things were created Erev Shabbos, at twilight . . ." The ten things, and according to some opinions several more, were created at the very last moments of Hakodosh Boruch Hu's acts of Creation "yesh mei'ayin," something from nothing. However, all of these things were already partially created. They are therefore a combination of miraculous and natural components. The mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach and those who followed him, the well that provided water for Klal Yisroel while in the Wilderness, and the mouth of the donkey that talked to Bilaam and the others are clearly a fusion of miracle and teva. Rebbe's explanation fit very well. However, in the case of the ram of Avrohom Ovinu, what was the unique element within it that had to be created partly from nes and partly from teva?

Rashi's explanation of the posuk in Bereishis 22:13, "And Avrohom raised his eyes and saw -- behold, a ram! -- afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns . . ." gives the answer. If anything, when faced with a scene of two men, one holding a knife and a torch -- a wild beast's natural instinct would be to flee. Instead, as Rashi tells us, this ram, that had been prepared since the time of the Creation, was running headlong, with such force and determination, that as Rashi continues, the "Soton grasped it and entangled it in the thicket in order to hold it back."

The Soton had to make special efforts to prevent the ram from offering itself to die in the place of Yitzchok. The Soton was doing his best to forestall its sacrifice so that the ram should live a moment longer and not be immediately available for Avrohom Ovinu to sacrifice it in place of his son Yitzchok.

That this ram should have no fear of death is a complete miracle, so much so, that it had to be built into the existence of the universe from the time of creation! No beast could be expected to eagerly offer itself to die. It is a violation of its instinct. Such a beast had to have originally been part of the miracle of Hashem's Creation. Then, when the moment came for it to fulfill its purpose, nothing could stop it. The scene of the Akeidoh signaled to the ram that its time had come. Teva was now suspended and the miracle of Creation within it came alive.

Yitzchok Ovinu was not created with an element of miracle within him. The teva of a person is to want to remain alive as long as possible, yet he allowed himself to be placed and bound upon the altar. What the ram had to have instilled within it from the time of Creation, Yitzchok Ovinu summoned forth from within himself. The natural instinct to live was suspended in order to fulfill the Will of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

By overcoming this desire to live, Yitzchok Ovinu reached perfection. Klal Yisroel lives on, from year to year in the merit of his deed.

I came to Rebbe on the last Shabbos of the year to speak about such things, but when I approached his room, I could see that he was resting and I did not want to disturb him. It was the last time I saw him. A week later, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in the early afternoon, Rebbe left this world and entered Olom HoEmes.

Before his sin, Odom Horishon's home was Gan Eden. Odom Horishon was there both physically and spiritually. All this was given to Odom Horishon on Rosh Hashanah and he lost it on Rosh Hashanah. Hashem gave a pardon for his sin, but Odom Horishon was exiled from Gan Eden and death became part of the world.

Rebbe would often say that our highest spiritual hope and attainment is to be privileged to enter Gan Eden. Odom Horishon enjoyed this state with a unified body and soul. We can only hope to achieve with our neshomos that which Odom Horishon experienced in the physical state. According to this Midrash, Rosh Hashanah was the day when Hakodosh Boruch Hu decreed death upon the world.

The Midrash concludes, "Said Hakodosh Boruch Hu to Odom, `This is a message for your children, that just as you stood before Me in judgment on this very day and you went out reprieved, similarly, your children will stand before Me in the future in judgment on this day and depart from before Me reprieved.' When is this? In the seventh month on the first day of the month." This day of Rosh Hashanah, the day of the blowing of the shofar. It was also the final day of the Six Days of Creation. The day that ended with the creation of that special ram -- the ram which was sacrificed by Avrohom Ovinu in place of his son Yitzchok.

There would be death, but there would also be a reprieve, an escape from pure absolute Din, strict judgment. There is teshuvoh, and therefore there is life. Middas Horachomim can be aroused and through this, we are saved. The sound of the shofar confounds the Soton's attempts to argue against us in the Beis Din Shel Ma'aloh. With this, Klal Yisroel continues to live, generation after generation, but for the individual there must be death.

The shofar brings together the ideas of teva and nes, life and mesiras nefesh, and highlights and recalls the potential of man to be a ben Odom, a descendent of the direct creation of Hashem who experienced Gan Eden through his willingness to be moseir nefesh to fulfill the will of Hashem, and especially and specifically his mesiras nefesh in accepting willingly the process of Heavenly din and its consequences.

The gemora in Rosh Hashanah 33b in reference to the day of Rosh Hashanah, cites the posuk in Bamidbar 29:1 that, "it is a day of teru'oh . . ." That is, the day of the blowing of the Shofar. The gemora explains the word teru'oh by bringing its Aramaic translation, the Targum, the -- yebovoh. According to the gemora this means either long moans or short cries. Sorrow and weeping arouse compassion.

Last year, the first day of Rosh Hashanah when Rebbe was niftar, was a Shabbos, and because of rabbinical decree, the sound of the Shofar was not heard, neither in this world, nor in the Beis Din of the World of Truth, the spiritual world. Instead of the sound of the Shofar, there was the sound of the entrance of a soul to be reunited with its Creator.

Once my chavrusa was very ill. He had just been released from the hospital, for the doctors had done all they could. There was now only prayer, hope and time . . . I asked Rebbe if he could come to speak with Chaim, my chavrusa who was dying of brain cancer. It was several days before Yom Kippur. We came to visit Chaim at his home. Rebbe sat and talked with Chaim for a very long time, "A ben Torah has his place guaranteed in Olom Haboh . . . Fear is natural, but there is really nothing to fear. If fear exists, a ben Torah uses it." Rebbe's words were reassuring to Chaim. He had courage to continue and, a month later, Chaim Baum, zt"l, was given life, the true life of Olom Haboh.

In Sha'arei Teshuvoh, Sha'ar 4:20, Rabbeinu Yonah, zt"l writes, "death is a purging from all sin for which teshuvoh is effective. And if one who is killed repents before his death, then from the time the fear of death fell upon him, he has atonement." Based on this, Rebbe taught that the fear of death is itself cleansing. The very realization that one's life is about to end, those excruciating thoughts and fears, will cleanse a person from his transgressions if it is accompanied by true repentance.

Rebbe said that this too, was the primary basis for our fear of judgment, our din, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Knowledge of the idea that Hashem is scrutinizing all of our thoughts, speech and actions should fill us with fear and repentance. The fear of death is enough by itself, and if the fear is great enough, this can even prevent the need for actual death. We have repented, and if our teshuvoh is honest and lasting, this changes us into a different person and our judgment can be changed.

R'tzon Yerei'ov Ya'aseh

Rebbe's levaya took place during the night of the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah. No announcements could be made, nor could notices be printed and posted. There were no hespedim. Just the hushed sound of dust returning to dust, for as Hashem had decreed on Odom Horishon because of his sin, "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

This was all in keeping with Rebbe's longstanding request, written into his will over thirty years previously, that with his passing from this world, there should be no public announcements. Hashem, in His Divine Wisdom and Compassion, ensured that Rebbe's request was fulfilled. The hashgocho protis of being niftar on the First Day of Rosh Hashonoh made it impossible to do otherwise.

Rebbe once made a siyum on the sefer Mesillas Yeshorim on the seventh of Adar, the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu. The sefer is based on HaRav Pinchos ben Yoir's teaching that Torah leads a person from one level of greater observance and devotion to the next, until finally, the highest ideals of Ruach Hakodesh and Techiyas Hameisim are achieved.

At that time, Rebbe explained that there are many forms of Techiyas Hameisim. The plain meaning is in reference to actually reviving one who is physically dead. There is also spiritual death, and Torah revives those who are spiritually dead. Torah possesses the power to join a person so close to his Creator, the Source of Life, that he, too, in turn, can give life. Thus a Rebbe who truly and fully possesses Torah, can give life to his talmidim. Torah continues from one generation to the next. With it, Klal Yisroel lives, from year to year, generation to generation, from one golus to the next, until the time will come when the great Shofar is sounded and the Soton, the Angel of Death, will be once and forever confounded, silenced and abolished.

Rebbe would say that we cannot just fall into Rosh Hashanah. It requires work. We must prepare ourselves properly, for the judgment, the din, is very exacting.

The Rambam, zt"l, in Hilchos Teshuvoh 3:4 writes about the mitzvah of the Shofar: "Although the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a decree of the Torah, there is a hint in it. . . . Therefore each person should view himself -- the entire year as if he is exactly half- innocent and half- guilty. Likewise, that the whole world is half-innocent and half-guilty. To transgress a single sin will tip the balance for him and for the whole entire world to the side of guilt and cause him destruction. To do a single mitzvah will tip the balance for him and the whole entire world to the side of acquittal and cause him and them deliverance and salvation . . ." Rebbe said that beyond what the Rambam writes is an intimation, a hint of something deeper: there is something else.

The Rambam drops a clue to something even greater: that the fate of the world is bound to our personal judgment on Rosh Hashanah, which is based on the sum total of our actions throughout the entire year. The world and we are one. It also has something to do with the Shofar. The Rambam, zt"l writes that the Shofar has the ability to arouse us from our sleep and remind us that we have forgotten the truth, the truth of our purpose and place in this world. Rosh Hashanah is a day to remember this and hopefully not forget it later.

The March to Slaughter through Kelm

While he was in Kelm, Rebbe kept records of what they learned in Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh, a few simonim of which were read by the shaliach tzibbur every day after shacharis. The tzibbur also said it simon by simon. Each se'if had its special niggun and there were traditions about the specific meaning of many things.

Years later, Rebbe published a special edition of Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh incorporating these notes and other historical material.

Based on reliable sources, Rebbe carefully recorded the last moments of Kelm in the preface of his edition to Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh: "From what we know, when the accursed Germans entered Kelm on the twenty-seventh of Sivan, 5701 (1941), all the people of the Beis HaTalmud left the home in Kelm and found refuge in a small village that was three kilometers from Kelm. It was on the estate of Reb Shimon Asher. The routine of the home continued there until Yom Shelishi of parshas Chazon, which was the fifth of Av, 5701. On the morning of that day Rav Doniel related that he had a dream that they are required to give themselves over al kiddush Hashem. Almost as he was still speaking, the Germans . . . entered the estate of Reb Shimon Asher and seized all of them. The accursed Germans immediately led all the people of the Beis HaTalmud . . . by way of the town to a pit outside of town. They carried Moras Nechomoh Leibah [the oldest daughter of the Alter of Kelm zt"l] in a chair on their shoulders and marched while singing Oleinu Leshabei'ach and Adon Olom. The non-Jews lined the sides of the town's road and stared at the scene -- bursting with hatred."

Rav Simcha Zissel, the Alter of Kelm, once remarked about the main road of Kelm, "How is it possible that people can walk peacefully in this place, [knowing] that people suffered so much and expended their blood and sweat here?"

Prisoners of the Czar, who had been sentenced to hard labor, paved the main road of Kelm with cobblestones. The Alter of Kelm felt for their suffering.

Rebbe told over another incident. Once the Alter was walking with some of the talmidim along the road. A funeral for a local peasant passed by and at that point the Alter stopped and became deeply engrossed in his thoughts.

After the funeral moved down the road, the talmidim asked the Alter why he stopped and what was he thinking about. The Alter told them that he could not continue nor stand idle over the thought of the shock and pain that this peasant's neshomoh was now going through. A whole lifetime it lived with false beliefs and ideas and it was now entering the World of Truth -- a person cannot ignore such suffering.

One of the hallmarks of what Kelm stood for was nosei be'ol im chaveiro, that is to feel the suffering of other people and therefore and thereby to help them and to lighten their burden. Perhaps, on that very road where the Alter felt for the suffering of criminals, his talmidim and family were led to their slaughter.

Rebbe's preface continues with the following quote from other reliable sources: "At the time that the Jews of the town were already standing at gun point by the side of the pits, HaRav Doniel Mowshovitz asked of the German who was in command of the work, that he be permitted to say some words to his congregation for a few moments. The wicked German told him to be brief. The Rov began to speak quietly and calmly on the subject of kiddush Hashem -- as if he were lecturing on any normal day before his talmidim. When he took too long, the German shouted at him to finish. Then the Rov faced the Jews who were standing at the edge of the pits and said, `We are now faced with the situation that I have just spoken about, that is, kiddush Hashem. Therefore, do not panic. It is necessary to accept serenely the gezar din.' Then he faced the German and said, `I have concluded. You can begin.' "

And with that, bullets put an end to the light and truth of Kelm.

Each year, on the yahrtzeit of Kelm, the fifth of Av, Rebbe would make sure to be the shaliach tzibbur in order to say Kaddish on behalf of Kelm. He would explain, "Because the life in Kelm was devoted to kiddush Hashem, they were privileged that in the end they were able to die al kiddush Hashem. Kiddush Hashem means to live your life with love for your Creator at all times, whatever the situation. It does not have to only happen once, at the end of your life."

For Rebbe, Kelm was more than a place of learning and a place of mussar -- it was always his home and his family.

The second chapter of the sefer Ma'alas HaMiddos discusses the subject of ahavas Hashem. There, the gemara in Brochos (61b) is cited that tells of the tortured death of Rabbi Akiva, who was a giant in Torah and leader of his generation: "At the hour that Rabbi Akiva was taken out for execution, it was time to recite the Shema. As they were raking his skin with combs of iron, he accepted upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven . . . prolonging the pronunciation of the word `Echod' until his soul left him." Upon seeing what was happening, the ministering angels cried out to Hashem, "This is Torah and this is its reward?" Rabbi Akiva died a horrible martyr's death. The angels could not understand how this could be fitting for one who embodied Torah and love for Hashem.

Rebbe explained that it was said about Rav Doniel that at the time that he and those of Kelm who were about to die al kiddush Hashem, this gemora was what he spoke about. Rav Doniel explained that Hashem replied to the angels to be quiet, for if not the world would revert to chaos and void, for there are times when the world does not deserve to exist. However, since there is the covenant which Hakodosh Boruch Hu made with Noach that the world would not be destroyed, the world remains. Nonetheless, an atonement must be made and this is achieved through the deaths of tzadikim. The world can slip to such depths of brutality and depravity that the lives of the tzadikim are the only recourse and the only acceptable korbon.

Rav Dessler zt"l, who also learned in Kelm, writes (Michtav MeEliahu 3, p. 347) about the demise of Kelm. "Not all deaths are the same. There is dying and there is dying. There is the death of one who is dead -- already dead -- the one who is megushom, physical. His soul is entombed within his body. . . . This is not so with the passing of anshei emes . . . All that contains truth does not die."

Each year, when Rebbe said Kaddish for the whole of Kelm, it was not just for its people, those great testimonies of spirit and truth, but for the light that was extinguished. Kelm was a continuation of the fire that descended to Har Sinai, and perhaps, even a trace of the fragrance of Gan Eden. With the destruction of Kelm, the world is an infinitely darker place.

The light of Kelm's final lesson -- to live al kiddush Hashem -- remains with us. Rebbe obligated himself to say Kaddish for the whole Yeshiva. Only the flesh and blood of Kelm could be destroyed, but not the lessons that Kelm stood for and taught to its talmidim. The fire of Kelm may have been snuffed out, but there were some glowing embers still alive.


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