Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5763 - January 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Yeshiva's Home: HaRav Aryeh Leib Malin
29 Teves 5763, His Forty-First Yahrtzeit

By A. Hacohen and Yated Ne'eman Staff

When we approached them for help, many of R' Leib's talmidim and acquaintances, directed us to a well- known article entitled Beis Chayeinu (a synopsis of which accompanies this article), which HaRav Malin wrote as an introduction to the Torah journal Hatevunoh, which his yeshiva published. "That was Reb Leib," they said, "you can work the rest out for yourselves."

The first part describes the uniqueness of Mir Yeshiva in prewar Europe. Older talmidim who had already absorbed the Torah of gedolei roshei yeshiva congregated in Mir where they learned together. The main rebbe was "the yeshiva itself." Reb Leib's own contribution to the Mirrer Torah "exchange" was massive, encompassing both what he brought with him and what he went on to receive during the time he learned in Mir. He was saturated with the Torah of HaRav Shimon Shkop, the Brisker Rov and HaRav Yeruchom Leibowitz. Beginning with the exile of the yeshiva within Europe and continuing in the period in Shanghai, R' Leib was a fiery leader of the chaburah of Mir Yeshiva.

A New Home

In one sense, the real test of the chaburah's cohesion began with the conclusion of the exile in Shanghai and the subsequent parting of many of its members' ways. To an alumnus of the yeshiva, Reb Leib once wrote, "It gave us joy and pleasure to see your links to the holy yeshiva and how, [even] after several years have passed since you were here, you still retain your spirit -- the spirit of scholar and sage. From the few lines that you sent us, it seemed as though you had just left the yeshiva."

Reb Leib continued with, "a magnificent idea from our master and teacher [Reb Yeruchom] zt'l", about a branch's connection with the life force of the tree: `If the tree's connection with the growth force is interrupted for a moment, it begins to dry and wither. In the spiritual realm it is the same. One must maintain a connection throughout life, with all that one achieved in the holy yeshiva, with no break or interruption . . . This is the real purpose and the essence of the holy chaburah. Those members who are here gather periodically, taking measures to strengthen themselves [through spiritual] regulations and undertakings. You, who are away from the yeshiva, certainly need to take such measures, for the same . . . purpose."

Although Rav Kalmanowitz founded the Mirrer Yeshiva anew in Brooklyn, and many of the newly arrived bochurim from Shanghai after the war went to learn there, Reb Leib yearned to reestablish the old chaburah and recapture the yeshiva's unique spirit. He turned down invitations from both HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l, to serve as rosh yeshiva in Tiferes Yerushalayim and HaRav Kalmanowitz to serve as rosh yeshiva in the new Mir. It seems that he was reluctant to dilute the lofty ideals to which the bnei yeshiva of his own generation had aspired in order to cater to the new reality, in which a Torah world had to be built up from scratch.

His ambition was to create a beis hamedrash where Torah would be learned in the same milieu and with the same ferment as in prewar Europe. At first, the Mirrer chaburah formed their own kollel; later, in order to accommodate younger bochurim, Reb Leib resolved upon running their beis hamedrash as a yeshiva proper.

Reb Leib used to say that Torah in its entirety, with all of its boundless expanse and depth, was vital for man; it contains nothing that can be deemed unnecessary or superfluous. "He looked into the Torah and created the world" -- the Torah as a whole is the basis for the world's existence. The world could not continue to exist were a single stroke or line of Torah's depth and dimension to be missing. Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt'l, is quoted as having said that were a single thing from the gemora to be annulled, chas vesholom, the entire world would collapse.

Reb Leib (and friends) felt that broadly speaking, with regard to disseminating Torah, the same was true for their chaburah's retaining the precise form that it had before the war. This was the foundation upon which the yeshiva Beis Hatalmud was established.

Reb Leib clarified that Beis Hatalmud would embody Torah study, on the deepest and most exalted plane -- Torah learned for its own sake, without any dressings or ulterior motives such as attaining a financial footing. It would be a continuation of Volozhin, Slobodke and Mir. In mid-twentieth century America, Beis Hatalmud represented the creation of a new standard, against which all else might be measured -- a statement against the prevalent superficiality and diminution of Torah's status.

Citing Reb Yeruchom, Reb Leib would say that in the same way that we know how tefillin must look, through the transmission of halochoh that was revealed at Sinai to Moshe Rabbenu, and in the same way that we know how a sefer Torah must look, our ancestors also transmitted to us the way that a yeshiva must look; nothing whatsoever may be changed about it.

The primary expression of this was of course to be the atmosphere created within the yeshiva itself. It was to faithfully replicate the great yeshivos which no longer existed where, as Reb Leib wrote in his essay Beis Chayeinu, "Torah and the fear of Heaven were preserved in their full purity . . . toil in Torah and study of its innermost meaning were perpetuated . . . Hakodosh Boruch Hu's rule was discernible . . . Torah -- and nothing else - - ruled and was all powerful. Upon entering the yeshiva's portals, one could feel how the whole place was suffused with Torah . . . [there,] everything precious was to be found, and the Shechinoh resided..."

Preserving this identity at times led the roshei yeshiva to prevent things that they felt were incompatible with it. For example, when there was a general wish to have a telephone installed in the yeshiva, Reb Leib strongly opposed it as being out of character for a yeshiva. On another occasion, the bnei hayeshiva bought a water cooler, to provide cold water for drinking during hot weather. The next morning, they found Rav Leizer (Horodzhesky) zt'l, who was in charge of the beis hamedrash, disconnecting the pipes from the large machine by himself, prior to ejecting it. He said, "Doss iz nisht kein park (The yeshiva isn't a park)," in a tone that words cannot convey.

Beis Hatalmud was thus to be a fulfillment of a letter that Reb Yeruchom had sent to the Mirrer chaburah in Lodz before his petiroh. He wrote, "Who but yourselves know what the basic structure of our yeshiva is; the true meaning of `spending nights immersed in the depths of halochoh;' of learning in depth, with the depth encompassing an ever-broader scope and sharpening the intellect; developing men who approach every aspect of life with intelligence and contemplation, instead of living in an ordinary manner; [rising above changing circumstances and] thereby always remaining together with the yeshiva and within the yeshiva's walls, exerting an influence upon those who have never glimpsed the interior of the yeshiva -- through doing so, you have merited being true disciples of the holy yeshivos."

Beis Hatalmud

A month after Reb Leib's marriage (to a daughter of Rav Dovid Dov Kreuzer zt'l, av beis din of Greive and a maggid shiur in Kletsk), a meeting was held in his home to establish Yeshivas Beis Hatalmud. The founding chaburah included, Rav Levi Krupenia zt'l, Rav Leib Shachar zt'l, Rav Simcha Zissel Leibowitz zt'l, (Reb Yeruchom's son), Rav Shmuel Charkover zt'l, Rav Chaim Wysoker zt'l, Rav Binyomin Paler zt'l, Rav Avrohom Leibowitz zt'l and ylct'a, Rav Sholom Menashe Gottleib, Rav Y. Perkovsky and Rav Binyomin Zeilberger, who head the yeshiva today.

At one meeting with laymen prior to the yeshiva's opening, some argued that, "Here in America one has to be a bit flexible. Things look different over here."

But Reb Leib was unmoved and replied, "We didn't come to listen to advice but to see who is prepared to work."

Rav Sholom Tzvi Shapiro, an alumnus of the old Mir, writes that Reb Leib, "became famous as a gaon and a leader after he succeeded in establishing Beis Hatalmud precisely along the lines of his rebbes' teachings. To begin with, many were skeptical about whether it would be possible to build a `tent of Sheim,' without `the beauty of Yefes,' in New York in those days. The great edifice became a fact, [skepticism] notwithstanding. Anyone who entered the place during the Yomim Noraim felt as though he was standing in Mir, following the delivery of a Kelmer mussar shmuess. Gedolim were also amazed by the place, where Torah, wisdom and yiras Shomayim were cultivated."

"It was literally a continuation of Mir," says HaRav Povarsky. "All the customs, in tefillah and in the learning sedorim [were the same]. It was the only place in the world that was a real continuation; Mir in Yerushalayim was not and neither was there with my father [HaRav Dovid Povarsky zt'l]. When I went there in the summer of 5718 (1958), I felt as though I was in Mir; the reason was that they adhered to [the path of] the Alter, the mashgiach, our master Reb Yeruchom zt'l . . . "

Reb Leib also began publishing the Torah journal Hatevunoh as a vehicle for the Torah writings of the bnei hachaburoh. He included several of Reb Yeruchom's shmuessen in each issue writing in his introduction that, "since he left us, the Oron Hakodesh has been hidden and with it [has gone] his sefer Torah, the Torah of mussar . . . each of his Torah teachings powerfully illuminated the fundamentals of religion and faith, revealed hidden stores of deep mussar wisdom, unraveled obscurities and exposed the depth in the plain meaning of Chazal's words, in true Torah light."

Beis Hatalmud was not geared towards the average American bochur of the time and it never became a large yeshiva. It was however, a place for the sons of alumni of the European yeshivos, who would have travelled to their fathers' own yeshivos and teachers, had that still been possible. Reb Leib trained many of today's prominent marbitzei Torah and he thus has a great share in the Torah taught in yeshivos nowadays.

As rosh yeshiva, he upheld standards of Torah and mussar that are instructive in themselves. Once he announced that he would deliver a shiur on a certain sugya and then, on the day of the shiur, he cancelled it. He explained that he had been unable to discern the proper desire to hear the shiur on the part of the talmidim.

He would explain the posuk, "Widen your mouth and I will fill it" (Tehillim 81:11), as meaning that only after the recipient has made the proper preparations for receiving and absorbing Torah, can the teacher fill him with his Torah. On other occasions as well, he made it clear that where talmidim failed to express or evince a desire for instruction, not only was there no obligation to provide it, it was forbidden to do so.

Talmidim note that although Reb Leib was a gentle person, he brooked no compromise whatsoever in spiritual matters. There was a period when talmidim were lax about rising in time to daven in the yeshiva. Reb Leib delivered a shmuess in which he said that a yeshiva was not just a place for learning Torah. Quoting Reb Yeruchom, he said that the form of a yeshiva is determined by the tefillos that are offered there. "Tefillah gives a yeshiva its character," Reb Yeruchom had said. "Take care not to lose or alter it."

If the tefillos are not conducted properly, the yeshiva must be closed, Reb Leib concluded. This admonition was followed by an immediate arousal, for it was well understood that there would be no further warning on the matter from the Rosh Yeshiva.

Reb Leib made it clear that one could not enter a yeshiva simply by walking into it. It was a world that one had to actually become part of, in order to be able to truly say that one was there. A young bochur who had recently joined Beis Hatalmud complained to him about his chavrusa who was not to his liking and about the food that the yeshiva served. Reb Leib gave him a look and told him, "If you can speak about your chavrusa and the food in the same breath, it's a sure sign that you haven't properly entered the atmosphere of the yeshiva yet (nisht arein)." Nisht arein was an expression he commonly used when referring to someone whose conduct was inappropriate for a ben Torah.

(His response to the second complaint was, "The food is good. Although there is better food, the problem is that it is expensive. I'd like to know where it is written that you should sit and learn with peace of mind and pleasures, while I go around collecting money for you. I'll sit and learn and you go to collect money!")

A talmid of one of the yeshivos in Brooklyn was making his way to the bus stop one Sunday. He realized that unless he hurried, he would miss the bus and have a long wait for the next one. Dashing after the receding bus, he caught it at the next stop. Inside the bus, panting after his exertion, he noticed a distinguished looking Yid who was staring at him. Suddenly the Yid addressed him, "Ihr zent a yeshiveh bochur? (Are you a yeshiva bochur?)" When the boy replied in the affirmative, Reb Leib told him, "A yeshiveh bochur loift nisht (A yeshiva bochur doesn't run)."

In financing the yeshiva too, Reb Leib insisted on the same degree of perfection as he did in the way he ran the yeshiva and educated the talmidim, for example, by turning down huge sums offered by an individual who was married to a gentile woman.

As can be imagined, supporting the yeshiva was no easy task. In those days, there were very few who appreciated the worth of the members of the chaburah and of what they were doing. As the layman saw it, they had after all arrived in the United States as bochurim, not as established roshei yeshiva, yet they doggedly insisted on perpetuating their own group.

The three men who accompanied Reb Leib in his quest for support were themselves men of spiritual standing. Reb Leib would never curry favor, nor would he go with anyone who did not fully reflect the high values that he himself strived for.

Living for Others

"He was also very astute in worldly matters," HaRav Povarsky told us, "and he was involved in many acts of kindness towards others. He had a wonderful quality of sharing others' burdens, which he used for furthering spiritual ends. He was a genius in mussar; this was the source of his yiras shomayim and of the friendly countenance with which he greeted everyone".

On the one hand, as talmidim of Reb Yeruchom treading the path of Kelm, Reb Leib and his friends (particularly Reb Chaim Wysoker), adopted a number of tremendously high standards for their conduct, so long as these did not conflict with their behavior as rank and file yeshiva- leit. Reb Yeruchom wrote, "Man's essence and nature, is to interact with others. His nature is like that of water, which always flows to the lowest point. So too, is man a channel and conduit towards others. If he lives for himself, loves himself and holds onto everything for himself, he negates the way he was made and his humanity."

Reb Leizer was once speaking about people who are self- absorbed and wrapped up in their own concerns. He compared them to a farmer who goes out at night and sees the heavens studded with glittering stars and the full moon illuminating the skies, the entire scene bespeaking Hashem's glory. "Now listen to the farmer, as he says excitedly . . . `Ah, now my cucumbers will grow even bigger!' He doesn't see the glory of the Creator's works. He doesn't see the wonder and the majesty of the luminous heavens. All he can see are his cucumbers, which will grow fatter in the moonlight and fill his belly . . . "

Reb Leib's devotion to the yeshiva was extraordinary and the bonds among the members of the chaburah were like those between brothers. When Rav Yosef Lis was hospitalized one Friday night, Reb Leib was summoned to his bedside, where he remained throughout the entire Shabbos. It was the same when Rav Shumel Charkover fell ill. Reb Leib was at his side day and night.

He was just as devoted to others' spiritual welfare. If he saw that someone had the potential to develop into a ben yeshiva, he would invest tremendous effort. At one time, Reb Leib used to conduct lengthy daily telephone conversations with a boy who was seven or eight years old, because he divined the makings of a great rosh yeshiva in the child. Years later, his foresight was confirmed: today, that boy is a distinguished American rosh yeshiva.

When one of the yeshiva's supporters was a guest in Reb Leib's home on Friday night, Reb Leib refused to let the man leave wearing the sunglasses with which he had arrived. No amount of discussion helped and the glasses had to be left behind. Reb Leib went to daven one Shabbos at a minyan of Mirrer talmidim, to participate in a simchah. One of those present was called to the Torah and he greeted Reb Leib as he passed him on his way to the bimoh. Reb Leib ignored the greeting and said, "Weren't you just called up to the Torah?!"

Despite his preoccupation with the yeshiva's affairs, Reb Leib would spend hours sitting and learning Torah and mussar at home. Some nine months before his petiroh, he was injured by a stone thrown at him by a hooligan. Though he had possessed a lion's strength and vigor all his life, he began to weaken following this incident.

On the last day of his life, one of the young talmidim at Beis Hatalmud saw him in the ezras noshim, standing with his hands outstretched, deeply immersed in prayer. This talmid went on to become a distinguished doctor and in later years he expressed his utter conviction that, according to the signs that he saw that day, Reb Leib was then suffering a heart attack.

Together with Rav Chaim Wysoker, Reb Leib was supposed to participate later on in a meeting at the home of Rav Shabsai Frankel zt'l (to make plans for a dinner to benefit the yeshiva). Uncharacteristically, he arrived forty-five minutes after the time they had scheduled to begin. Reb Chaim asked him, "Why are you so late?"

"Ich bin shuldig (It's my fault)," said Reb Leib and then he collapsed and fell down. He was just fifty- six years old when he was niftar on the twenty- ninth of Teves 5722.

Additional material used in the preparation of this article was taken from Hazerichoh Be'paasei Kedem by Rabbi A. Y. Bernstein and Meged Giv'os Olom by Rav Mechel Z. Shurkin.

!!!!!!!!!!! BOX

Box: Rav Shmuel Charkover Zt'l: Portrait of a Mirrer Godol

One of the outstanding members of the chaburah was Rav Shmuel Charkover zt'l, who was niftar on the tenth of Kislev 5720 (1959) in the United States. He was loved by all for his exceptional middos and his Torah greatness. He always wore a smile and any younger bochur could approach him to say over his chiddushim or ideas, in Torah, in yir'oh, or in mussar.

Whenever he had the slightest inkling that one of the younger bochurim was feeling a little ill, or at all troubled, right at the onset, he would go over to him and erase any trace of upset from the bochur's weary and miserable soul. Placing a hand on the bochur's shoulder, he would take him over to a corner or outside for a walk and get to the bottom of the problem.

He would delve into the boy's heart and `find' wonderfully good traits, which he would string onto the thread of kindness that he spun from his own kind and gentle words. He would then take this `necklace' and place it around the neck of the dejected fellow, until it had brought the sparkle back to his face and refilled his heart with joy; only then would he leave him. Quietly, he saw to it that others would [also] offer the boy encouragement, until he had fully regained his composure.

I can still see the dancing on Simchas Torah in Shanghai -- the living image of Reb Shmuel Charkover standing on the table, leading the choir and rousing them not to tire or flag, singing such tunes, with such emotion, as pierced one to the depths.

All he had to do was place a hand on the back of a bochur, and everybody followed him enthusiastically. He was the life and soul of our joie de vivre. At every simchah of one of the yeshiva's talmidim, it was difficult to discern whether the joy felt by the boy's father exceeded that felt by Reb Shmuel. [Rav Michel Shurkin relates that once, at the wedding of a talmid, where Reb Shmuel was clowning and joking in the usual way, HaRav Elchonon Wasserman zt'l, Hy'd, went over to him and asked him to take pity on him and stop, because he was making him laugh so much, something Reb Elchonon was careful to avoid.]

Reb Shmuel would say that it takes more greatness to feel another's joy than it does to feel his distress.

He took nothing for himself. He would give up everything for others. He was capable of giving away his money, his clothes, and his heart and soul -- everything, everything -- for a friend. Someone who possesses no ego, really possesses everything . . . (HaRav Elchonon Hertzmann)

Rav Shurkin writes: "There were many miracles about the Mirrer yeshiva's sojourn in Shanghai but the greatest one of all was [the following]: Terrible and devastating news of the murder of Jews would arrive in Shanghai daily from Europe, nonstop. Every one of the yeshiva's four hundred bochurim heard the fearsome reports. This one heard about the murder of all the people of his town; that one heard that his married brother and his sweet little sister had been murdered; his friend heard that his grandfather and grandmother had been murdered -- shocking news, tinged with nerve wracking uncertainty. The most amazing thing of all was that they didn't go out of their minds.

Some of the bochurim were just eighteen years old. They had to endure [sweltering] fifty degree (122F) temperatures and they were thousands of kilometers from their homes. Yet all the bnei hayeshiva emerged after seven years, healthy and strong, great talmidei chachomim and transmitters of Torah.

Hashem's emissary had a hand in this. There was a bochur, a gaon, who had completed all four Turim, who knew every word of the Shitoh Mekubetzes on Kodshim by heart -- as those who learned in Beis Hatalmud can testify. He left his place at the mizrach and went over to the younger bochurim to speak with them in learning and drush. He encouraged them and was gentle with them. He raised their spirits with his jokes and thus saved their lives. Without him, there wouldn't have been anyone in Shanghai to rescue, chas vesholom.

This bochur's name was Rav Shmuel Charkover zt'l, zy'a . . .

"If you want to know who Reb Leib was, see his essay in Hatevunoh. That was Reb Leib."

The Focus of Our Lives

Reb Leib wrote this article when he opened Beis Hatalmud in 5707 (1947). It appeared in Hatevunoh, which the yeshiva published. This is a somewhat condensed version, to make its message more accessible to the English reader.

In the first part, HaRav Leib quoted Rav Yeruchom, our teacher z'l: the Torah of Hashem's concealment is in no way any less significant than that of His favor. This idea is the basis of the lament, "When I left Egypt . . . When I left Yerushalayim" (Kinos of Tisha B'Av), which shows us that Tisha B'Av is on a par with Pesach.

The contemporary churban of the lands of European Jewry, the lands of the Torah, cannot be compared to anything besides the Churban Habayis. Were our holy Sages alive today, they would teach us the Torah of punishment, of the Divine concealment that befell us. We have been orphaned, having no father to teach us and we are affected by foolishness and closed hearts, that prevent us from coming to terms with the subject at least in general, if not in a detailed way. From the greatest of our punishments -- the killing of the Torah sages and scholars, the destruction of the Torah centers, . . . -- it is clear that the main punishment has been for Torah's annulment. Torah is taken from Klal Yisroel when they are guilty of neglecting it . . .

Part II

Without Break or Interruption

The sin of neglecting Torah is equal in severity to all other sins, for it is the root from which all other sins spring. "Neglect" of Torah is a very broad concept indeed, applying to both the quantity and the quality of Torah study. The Vilna Gaon z'l, confessed [on Yom Kippur] to "a few moments of neglecting Torah study." If even the greatest of men has not been deeply involved in Torah study during every moment . . . he also bears guilt for this great sin.

The mitzvah of Torah study is unlike other mitzvos which have times and limits of exemption. It applies at all times, at every moment; one is never exempt. Neither is there any situation in which one is freed of the obligation to learn Torah. In Hilchos Talmud Torah (1:5), the Rambam lists all kinds of preoccupations and difficult situations and states that none of them exempts a person. Torah's essence is that it has no break; there is no difficult circumstance that can interrupt it. By nature, it never stops. If it is interrupted by some problem, no matter what kind, it is not Torah. The parameters of the duty to study Torah thus reflect its nature and essence.

"The Torah, Hakodosh Boruch Hu and Yisroel are one" -- our holy Torah is Klal Yisroel's soul. The soul fills the whole body, leaving nowhere empty -- there cannot be an instant or a situation in which it ceases to do so, for if that happens, death results. So too Torah, the soul of Yisroel, fills their entire being, body and soul, to the farthest, unfathomable depths of their hearts. Nowhere is empty of it; at no time and in no situation is Torah set aside in any way, in amount or depth -- "There is nothing besides [it]" (Devorim 4:35), as it were.

Life-Giving Torah

When we say that our holy Torah is "a Torah of life," it is meant quite literally. From the source of life -- "the great spirit of Hashem gives life" (see Ramban on Bereishis 2:7 ) -- comes an effusion of life in a greater, richer concentration, one which the rest of the world is unable to absorb. Only Am Yisroel, whose physical bodies were sanctified in all sorts of ways at the time they received the Torah . . . only they became receptacles that were able to receive the full implications of the "Torah of life."

Just as life itself permeates every farthest reach of that which it fills, so too Hashem's word, the source of life -- Toras chaim -- penetrates to the very depths of the world. The holy Torah moves the heart of man. It shakes and quivers his heart all the way to its infinite depths and fills it completely. This is Torah's effect on the heart -- "and these words . . . shall be on your heart" (Devorim 6:6). It permeates body and soul, imparting movement to every limb. This is the picture of the true nature and essence of a word of Torah.

The laws governing the study of Torah are suited to its nature. Torah must be studied in awe and fear, with trembling and perspiration (Brochos 22) for such is its essence - - "the heart of the fire" (Shemos 3:2) . . . "A person's eyes, ears and heart must [always] be aligned to [absorb] divrei Torah" (Rashi, Devorim 32:46), without letting his attention wander elsewhere, for Torah's essence is that there is nothing besides it. All of the forty-eight ways in which Torah is acquired are suited to its true, innermost nature.

The upshot of all this is the principle conveyed to us by Chazal in connection with parshas Bechukosai, namely, that toil in Torah is the ultimate aim. "If you proceed according to My statutes -- [meaning] that you should toil in Torah," it will lead you to the highest of Torah's sublime levels. But on the other hand, "if you do not listen to Me" and toil in Torah, it will lead you to every sin, and ultimately, to complete denial . . . as Rashi explains (Vayikra 26:3, 14:5).

This is the main point and the root of the entire matter; this is Torah's essence and true nature. [It gives life] only when one toils to the utmost, with every resource of body and soul, with every vein and muscle devoted to toiling in Torah. Failure to toil in Torah shows that it has not penetrated to the depths of the physical and spiritual powers; they are involved in other pursuits apart from Torah.

This is an utter contradiction to Torah's essence. This is the true meaning of the neglect of Torah; it amounts to removing oneself from Torah and when that happens, one cleaves instantly to idolatry. One's heart is under the rule of some other authority, be it to the slightest degree. Failure to toil in Torah is the root of every evil in the world.

Defection and Destruction

"But we and our forefathers have sinned" (Preface to vidui of Oshamnu). The Alter [of Kelm] z'l pointed out that it is strange that we should be mentioning our ancestors' sins -- surely it is not respectful to do so. However, since our confession includes the root of our sin and the root lies with our ancestors, we must confess their sins too, in order to uproot our own.

"Our ancestors sinned" -- two hundred years ago a bitter plant, that goes by the name of Haskoloh, took root there, in the land of the evil Hitler, yimach shemo . .. The lure of Haskoloh dazzled them and led them away from Torah. The movement's founders themselves still learned Torah, wrote works on it and sometimes, even bedecked themselves in its glory. They failed however, to appreciate its true nature and essence, that "there is nothing besides." It is the ruler and the mistress. All other branches of knowledge . . . are nothing more than its maidservants.

Once they did not toil sufficiently in Torah and allowed rival disciplines into their souls, devoting the depths of their hearts and souls to foreign knowledge, it reached the point where they rejected Torah and spurned Hashem's laws. They defamed "Hashem's perfect Torah that is the soul's restorative" (Tehillim 19:8 ) and proclaimed that "our souls are dry; there is nothing" (Bamidbor 11:6), [whereas in truth] our holy Torah is full of flavor and lacks nothing.

Each and every person derives enjoyment from it according to his level. The more one works with it, the greater one's enjoyment. It sharpens the senses and instills a new sensation of hunger and thirst, as though one had never before tasted anything . . . Torah, which is potent enough to provide for both the Upper and Lower worlds, which delight in it -- "Torah is Hakodosh Boruch Hu's delight" -- could not satiate those empty souls who whetted their appetites for "charcoal" and "garlic and onions" (see the Ramban on Bamidbor 11:4).

They "exchanged their own glory" (Tehillim 106:20), for other fields of knowledge, for "broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Yirmiyohu 2:13), for disciplines whose whole essence is encompassed by a brief allusion contained in Torah.

Torah is all-inclusive. In his introduction to his commentary on Chumash, the Ramban writes that Shlomo Hamelech learned every discipline that he knew, from Torah.

This only happened because, as Chazal tell us, they failed to toil in Torah. Rather than gain entry into the King's palace, they preferred to remain outside and miss discovering the goodness of Torah's taste. From there they sunk lower and lower. One sin followed another [ultimately] leading to the events that have taken place [recently] in that country from which Jewry has now disappeared.

It was from there that the evil spread to all the Jewish centers, adopting differing policies and forms but all emanating from the same root. They sought new torahs, that our forefathers did not know. They mingled with the gentiles and adopted their ways, to the point that we have now reached, chas vesholom, where a majority of our nation have lost Torah completely.

Bulwarks of Strength

At that time our teacher . . . Rav Chaim z'l of Volozhin, laid the foundation of the yeshivos of Lithuania as a protective measure. In his generation, when Jewish communities were [still] filled with Torah and with sages and scribes, he saw the shape of things to come and he prepared the cure before the onset of the malady. He confined Torah to within the four amos of Torah study, providing a place for Hakodosh Boruch Hu to reside in His world -- a corner where Torah would be perpetuated in all its purity, where the lawless could not come and profane it.

The idea spread from Rav Chaim to his disciples and from them to their disciples, until it reached our teacher . . . Rav Yisroel Salanter z'l and his disciples, from whom all the great yeshivos of Lithuania developed. They founded the yeshivos and established them firmly.

They cleansed them from every speck of impurity, guarding them and protecting their holiness and purity. The yeshivos were like fortresses that withstood all the tempests of the times, preventing them from gaining entry. They established Torah and yir'oh, building the yeshivos to be miniatures of the yeshivos that used to exist in Klal Yisroel.

Our teacher . . . and master [Rav] Yeruchom Halevi ztvk'l, who was the mentor and leader of the yeshivos in the most recent period, used to say that, "a yeshiva nowadays must resemble [a yeshiva] in the times of Ravina and Rav Ashi." He z'l watched over the structure of the yeshiva as though it were the apple of his eye, ensuring that it chas vesholom underwent no change from the way we received it from our forefathers . . . Just as any change chas vesholom, in Torah is impossible, so too is any change chas vesholom, in the yeshiva . . .

The holy yeshivos were the sum of Klal Yisroel's possessions in their exile; there, Torah and the fear of Heaven were preserved in their full purity, as in earlier times; there toil in Torah and study of Torah's innermost meaning were perpetuated; there, Hakodosh Boruch Hu's rule was discernible; there, Torah -- and nothing else -- ruled and was all powerful. Upon entering the yeshiva's portals, one could feel how the whole place was suffused with Torah. In the yeshivos, everything precious was to be found, and the Shechinoh's presence . . .

In our sins, we have lost them, with the rising of Hashem's wrath against His people . . . Torah's sanctuaries have been completely razed and her nobles have been taken -- the yeshivos, their leaders and their students . . . have been consigned to Heaven and we have none to lean on for support save our Father in Heaven.

The Brilliant Lights

A certain wondrous phenomenon exists, which can only be understood as a wonder of Hashem's Providence. This is the revelation by our teachers, the Acharonim, of the light of Torah's deepest, innermost treasures, [arrived at] through studying its plain meaning, . . . to a generation as small and lowly as our own, that is far from any depth of thought.

Most recently, we have merited the powerful light of our teacher . . . Rav Chaim z'l of Brisk, who was sent like an angel from on high to reveal the light of profound comprehension of Torah. He showed how to appreciate the fine details of understanding and the profundities of halochoh that lie within the simple meaning. He opened the gates of light wide and after him, his disciples, our teachers, the roshei yeshiva, extended his approach and established Torah firmly. The land was illuminated by their glory. Their disciples and their disciples' disciples had their eyes opened to Torah's brilliant light and all began to use the gates that had been opened.

The Torah of mussar in particular had been terribly neglected, with no one taking any interest in it . . . It had become virtually obsolete and it was outside the purview of Torah scholars. In the last generation, Hashem sent an angel from Heaven . . . who illuminated the entire Jewish world, our teacher [Rav] Yisroel Salanter ztvk'l.

He filled this breach, acting as a savior and redeemer for the Torah of mussar. He reawakened interest and rekindled a yearning for it. He cleared its pathways and mended its roads, revealing lights of hidden mussar wisdom from the darkness. He and his disciples unlocked its gates . . .

In particular our great teacher . . . Rav Simcha Zissel the Alter of Kelm brought concealed ideas to light with wondrous depth, extracting the genuine Torah message that lies deeply within the simple meaning of Chazal's teachings, [combining] wisdom and mussar together. He revealed all its hidden recesses, ideas that had not been appreciated for long ages. He opened gates of light for his many talmidim, gifted individuals who strove for spiritual ascent, who became leaders and sages of their generation and laid the foundations of an entire world . . . of Torah and yir'oh.

Infinite Kindness

All of this is part of Hashem's unceasing kindness and the fulfillment of His promise, "that it will not be forgotten from their descendants' mouths" (Devorim 31:21), that the remnant of Klal Yisroel will never chas vesholom be lost. Hashem has given us a protective measure against the harsh forces operating in the world, in the shape of the holy yeshivos which are His portion and the revelation of the depths of Torah's innermost meaning. Who has not taken even the smallest of steps towards this world and tasted it even -- a taste encompassing everything pleasant in the world -- who would not give all he had for the love of Torah?

How can we acknowledge Hashem's numerous and infinite kindness? It was in our ancestors' merit, not our own, that we enjoyed concealed yet wondrous Providence during the seven years that we were exiled from the focus of our lives, the home of the holy yeshiva in Mir. The chronicle of the yeshiva's exile ought to be placed on record in a special volume which should relate Hashem's kindness to the yeshiva as a whole, as well as to each individual. Not once, not twice and not even tens of times, were we in deep trouble, in the most dangerous situations, in which we thought all was almost lost. Yet every time, our salvation appeared out of the trouble, with clear Providence and in a wondrous manner.

Heavy responsibility and numerous tasks rest upon us at present. This great, monumental task -- of recreating those four amos, within which the yeshiva's form is preserved, its main feature being that Torah fills every inch, with naught besides -- is incumbent upon us and upon every remnant of our academy. How great is this responsibility to guard those four amos of our holy yeshiva -- that, in Hashem's mercy, remain out of all our treasures -- in their full vigor, shape and strength. Were other sages to realize this, they would put their lives on the line in order to watch over this great edifice . . . establishing it and strengthening it. Our prayer is that this great house, where Torah and tefillah are increased (Megilloh 27), should remain strong and endure until Moshiach's arrival.


"That was Reb Leib. You can work the rest out for yourselves."


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