Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Kislev 5763 - November 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt"l - His Fortieth Yahrtzeit

No description or appreciation of Reb Aharon can come closer to capturing his essence than one of his own shmuessen, entitled "Keser Torah". This shmuess, prepared from a manuscript by his son HaRav Shneur Kotler zt'l, first appeared in a publication of Toronto's Kollel Avreichim entitled Hama'ayan and has since been reprinted in the first volume of Mishnas Rebbi Aharon.

Every Moment Is A Lifetime

Chazal have said, "One who reads Krias Shema every day and once does not read it, is like one who has never read it in his life." Similarly, they also asked [Chagigah 9] on the posuk, "and you will return and see the difference between a tzaddik and a rosho, between one who serves Hashem and one who does not serve Him," that surely "tzaddik" and "one who serves Hashem" are one and the same thing and so are "rosho" and "one who does not serve Him"! What is the second phrase intended to convey?

They answered, that the distinction between one who serves Hashem and one who does not serve him is that there is no comparison between one who reviews what he learns one hundred times and one who reviews it a hundred-and-one times.

The definition of this (i.e. the significance of a single time missing Krias Shema or one extra chazoroh) is as follows: just as we see that the entire Creation is one unified whole and yet is divided up into small parts, so too, an individual encompasses many different units as long as his life and powers are with him. A person's life during each moment is an entity of its own. It has its own, independent existence that will endure forever.

During the time a man did not say Krias Shema, he was without acceptance of Heaven's yoke and his being at that moment will remain as such forever. It is not correct to see that one moment in the context of the thousands of times that he did accept ol malchus Shomayim. Rather, it is considered as though this man never accepted the yoke in his life, insofar as his existence at that moment will remain for eternity as lacking kabolas ol.

The practical lesson from this is to adopt the attitude that one's entire spiritual level and the fulfillment of the avodoh for which he was created, are focused solely on the present moment -- for even the immediate future is a totally different, new entity.

This is the meaning of the posuk in Iyov [7:18], "You examine him by the moment," of which the gemora [Rosh Hashana 16] states, "R' Nosson says: A man is judged at each hour." R' Yossi [ibid.] however holds that a man is judged only once a day, for in his opinion the process which takes place lirego'im, at each moment, described by the word "tivchonenu," denotes more of a casual looking over than an actual judgment.

In contrast, the first opinion thus holds that each moment is examined thoroughly, that the moments themselves are examined. Man's complete state at each and every moment is probed, and not only special or unusual actions and deeds. In determining his totality, his actions are but one factor.

This is the meaning of examining at every moment: besides whatever else he does or does not do, man's state at every moment is examined. The entire Creation also changes every moment as discussed in Nefesh HaChaim (based on the Zohar), that the worlds and the Merkovoh are shifting all the time, so that tefilloh at a given time is different from all other tefillas [sha'ar 2, perek 13]. See Nefesh HaChaim at length about this.

With Every Fiber

In the same way [that "each moment is an entity of its own"], avodoh must involve each and every one of the many attributes in a person's makeup. This is what the posuk [Devorim 11:12] "and to serve Him with all your hearts and souls" conveys: with every part of the powers of thought, feeling and will [for "nefesh" denotes will, as in the posuk [Bereishis 23:8] "Im yeish es nafshechem" which means, "if it is your wish." Each of these areas - - intellect, emotions and willpower -- requires its own work.

To this end, they said in the medrash [Bereishis Rabbah parsha 97:3] on the posuk, veyidgu lorov -- "and they should increase like fish," [Bereishis 48:16]: "Just as these fish (which even though they) live in the water, (nevertheless) when even a single drop falls from above, they receive it thirstily as though they had never tasted water in their lives, so too Yisroel, who live in water -- the Torah -- when they hear something new from the Torah, they receive it thirstily, as though they had never heard divrei Torah in their lives." The explanation for this -- besides our great love for Torah -- is that Torah is the embodiment of life itself, "for it is your life . . ." [Devorim 30:20], "and everlasting life . . . " [bircas haTorah].

The gemora says too in Makkos [10b] that if a talmid is exiled to a city of refuge, we make his rebbe go into exile with him. We learn this from the fact that the posuk tells us that the purpose of the exile to the city of refuge is "that he should live" and, in the words of the Rambam [Hilchos Rotzei'ach 7:1], "For those who seek -- and are masters of -- wisdom, life is like death in the absence of talmud Torah."

Torah then, is life itself. Through its medium the passing moment becomes everlasting life, remaining for eternity. Just as spiritual perceptions of the Truth are called "or," light (as in "For a mitzvah is (like) a candle and Torah is light"), so too, the life of Olom Habo is referred to as "oros," and as the "ziv," the aura, of the Shechina. All of these terms denote spiritual perceptions and attainments.

It follows that each new Torah thought or idea is nothing less than a new extension of life, for each new attainment or novel Torah thought is a portion of the eternal life and an addition to the forces of life.

An alternative approach to understanding Yisroel's great delight in chidush which the above medrash speaks of, is due to the deeper impression made on the mind by hearing or seeing something new, as Chazal said [Chulin 75:], "Something surprising is remembered." How much more is this the case for one who has love of Torah and is a seeker of understanding. This is the reason that Chazal adjured us, "Every day they [divrei Torah] should be new in your eyes."

Wide Vessels

They also said: [Succah 46.] "Come and see that Hashem's ways are not the same as those of human beings: with humans, an empty vessel can receive more, but a full one cannot. Hashem's way is that a full vessel can receive whereas an empty one cannot."

The meaning of this is that through Torah, the soul becomes filled and a person in reality becomes renewed, with a nefesh yeseira, an enlarged soul -- for the soul is capable of growing wider and larger and of receiving more. Just as the growth process of a child's body takes place by the physical addition of new material, so it is with Torah and mitzvos.

In a certain respect, the proper fulfillment of the mitzvos does not act simply as an external influence on a person. Rather, the mitzvos are the very being, the material of the soul. With constant new mitzvos, the soul is like a full vessel which receives as new life is added to it -- it becomes renewed and capable of receiving more and more. Conversely too, an empty vessel cannot receive, for the soul has shrunk and become smaller like something that has dried up and shriveled and is unable to receive and hold anything.

Similarly, the posuk, "widen your mouth and I will fill it," (which the gemora [Brochos 50] says refers to divrei Torah), can also be understood in this fashion. Although the explanation given in that gemora is slightly different (i.e. to ask repeatedly for ever higher levels of attainment of knowledge and achievement, and to turn to Hashem begging Him to grant this, to weary oneself in striving for greatness and to dedicate oneself to it, so that "widen your mouth" refers to a person's multitude of prayers), the posuk can nevertheless be explained as above. A person should widen his capability to receive until he is "full." Then, after he is filled, his soul is renewed with yet further capability to receive more and more. "Your mouth," according to our explanation is understood according to the gemora [Eruvin 54] "for they [divrei Torah] are life to those who speak them out."

The Crown And The Glory

The Rambam states [Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:13]: "Therefore, whoever wishes to merit the Keser Torah should be careful every night, losing not even one of them in sleeping, eating and drinking, conversation and the like (but spending them) only in talmud Torah and matters of wisdom."

Now, in a number of places, great levels of Torah achievement are referred to by Chazal as "Keser Torah," the crown of Torah. For example, "and your crown is greater than theirs" [Ovos 6:5], and "he who makes use of the crown [of Torah for personal gain] will be gone," [ibid. 1:13], and in the story about Rabbi Tarfon [Nedorim 62].

We have to understand the nature of "the Crown" and why the Rambam is so stringent in requiring that not a single night in its pursuit be lost. Isn't it obvious that assiduity and much hard labor are preconditions? As to spending the time eating, conversing or sleeping, the same should, it seems, be the case even if he spent his time involved in other mitzvos which the halacha mandates take precedence. Surely, proportional to the time he missed from learning, his achievements will be smaller and his crown correspondingly diminished, whatever he was doing instead.

It appears that "the Crown of Torah" represents the ultimate, genuine honor. Any other honor whatsoever which is bestowed in this world is artificial and a forgery, as Chazal said "there is no honor but Torah." [Ovos 6:3] In addition, the Torah is drawn from and hangs suspended on the Keser Elyon, as is explained in a number of places.

Let us imagine a royal crown which has a tear right in the middle or an ordinary patch. If a patch is considered shameful on an animal's cushion or over another patch on a piece of clothing, how much more so when it is on a crown. What a great disgrace and lack of honor! Even if the rest of the crown is made of gold and inlaid with gemstones and pearls -- its splendor and great importance is lost.

And so it is with the crown of Torah. One lost night represents a tear in the crown which is not just a minor imperfection but a severe flaw in its essence. This flaw is not merely in the honor of the crown from it's appearance (i.e. not a superficial blemish which may be extensive but nonetheless leaves the substance intact) but is a deficiency in its true value and its spiritual light, for with the crown of Torah, the honor is genuine honor [the lack of which is consequently a genuine deficiency] minute though the missing part may be.

In addition to this, it is possible that the loss of one night means that one's (acceptance) of the yoke of Torah is not complete, which means that something is missing from what has been attained and from the spiritual level which results from it. The loss in the quality of whatever has been gained is immeasurable. The dimensions of the tear and in the deficiency of the crown are proportional to the ease with which a man can bring himself to interrupt his learning needlessly. The easier it is for him to make a break in his Torah learning, the more drastic is the tear and the deficiency because the easier he can cancel learning, the smaller the Torah's worth is for him and the more its importance diminishes. How much more so is this true if he is amongst those of whom the posuk says "for he has demeaned Hashem's word," explained by Chazal to refer to the man "who could involve himself with Torah and does not involve himself." [Sanhedrin 99]

Conversely too, total dedication to Torah as described by the Rambam is also a reason for the great thirst for every new word of Torah which the previously quoted medrash compares to the thirst of fish who receive every drop of water as though they had never tasted any before. Because of the great love and desire to receive, the spiritual light is greatly multiplied. Just as one missing action causes great damage to all that has been done, for it shows that the yoke of the work was diminished, so too, joy and desire enlarge and increase the importance of every action and the thirst for a single drop is a great enhancement to all that is done.

In fact, the greatest factor in the distance of the later generations from the earlier ones and of each generation when compared to the preceding one -- summed up by Chazal in the comment, "If the rishonim are like angels, we are like humans; if the rishonim are like humans, then we are like donkeys . . ." [Shabbos 112] which R' Yehuda Hanossi said about R' Yossi [Yerushalmi Gittin 6:7] and which is true to an even greater extent in the generations following -- is in the continuous diminishing of the Crown. It is here that the principal descent takes place.

The Rambam rules that missing out one night constitutes a deficiency in the Crown of Torah and for the same reason, Chazal [Brochos 53] were worried about the cessation of Torah caused by all of them being silent to answer "omen" together to a brochoh on the fire on motzei Shabbos. (There is a difference of opinion as to whether the whole beis medrash should be silent while one makes the brochoh, or each should say the brochoh himself.) Even though "the one who answers omen is greater than the one who makes the brochoh," they still considered that this did not justify the cessation of Torah learning that it would cause. There is more to be said on this matter.

In this too, man is examined at each moment, for besides the intrinsic importance of every moment, as explained above, the care taken during each moment has great and far-reaching consequences for his whole life.

Acquiring Torah

There is a yet greater factor to consider which brings about a flaw in the Keser Torah. It is known that spiritual matters, especially the acquisition of Torah learning, depend for their attainment on the virtuous traits through which Torah is acquired. We find this in the case of Beis Hillel.

The gemora [Eruvin 13:] asks, "On what account did Beis Hillel merit that the halacha be fixed according to their opinion? Because they were quiescent and humble."

Now Beis Shammai also conducted themselves according to the halacha entirely for the sake of Heaven, in accordance with their own opinion. [So why was their approach less worthy than Beis Hillel's?] Nevertheless, since the halacha is determined by humility (i.e. it is one of the kinyonei Torah), to be like Beis Hillel, it is they, whose Torah was accompanied by humility, who merited to arrive at the halacha, even though Beis Shammai were sharper.

Similarly the gemora [Yoma 53] relates that "When Rovo took leave of Rav Yosef, he walked backwards (out of reverence to Rav Yosef, his teacher) until he banged his feet and the threshold of Rav Yosef's house was bloodied."

When Rav Yosef (who, being blind, did not see what had taken place) was told of his talmid's behavior, he blessed Rovo that "May it be Hashem's will that your head be raised above all the other inhabitants of the city."

Rabbenu Chananel explains this to mean that the halacha should everywhere be fixed according to Rovo's opinion. This is related to the previous gemora (in that a person who possesses a greater level of the kinyonei Torah arrives at the correct halacha).

Besides the merit of determining the halacha, as far as the illumination which the nefesh has in Torah, the same holds true. The more a person merits the Keser Torah, the more he merits illumination of the nefesh and to arrive at the halacha.

HaRav Aharon Kotler: A Biographical Sketch

The "Sislovitzer Iluy," as Reb Aharon was known in yeshiva, was born in 5652 (1892) in the town of that name, where his father was the rov. His genius was recognized while he was yet a young child in his knowledge of Tanach, which he could repeat by heart, and his understanding of gemora.

At the age of ten, he was sent to learn with HaRav Zalman Sender-Shapira of Krinki. At thirteen, he went to Slobodka, where he learnt under the Alter and HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. He also heard shiurim from Rav Boruch Ber, who had his own yeshiva in one of the suburbs of Slobodka.

His name became famous in the yeshiva world and he became the son-in-law of HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Slutsk, where he was appointed a rosh yeshiva and delivered shiurim, all before he was twenty-five years old.

When the Bolsheviks rose to power in Russia and began their persecutions of religion, Yeshivas Eitz Chaim of Slutsk was one of their first victims. The roshei yeshiva were hounded and the yeshiva was ordered to disband. Reb Aharon crossed secretly into Poland with the larger portion of the student body and opened his own Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Kletsk, which flourished until the Second World War. In addition to his duties as rosh yeshiva, Reb Aharon was active in efforts to bolster Yiddishkeit in Kletsk and the rest of Poland.

With the Russian occupation of Poland in 1939, Reb Aharon escaped, first to Vilna, then to Kobe, Japan, arriving in the United States in April, 1941. The primary task at hand was the hatzoloh of European Jewry. Reb Aharon assumed a leading role in the operations of the Vaad Hatzoloh, a coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups dedicated to the relief and rescue of Europe's Jews. Relatively speaking, the Vaad consisted of a mere handful of individuals who were fully conscious of the magnitude of the tragedy that was befalling their brethren and who realized the enormity of the responsibility that they carried. Reb Aharon's role in galvanizing and directing the group was a major factor in the significant accomplishments of the Vaad throughout the war years.

With the opening of Beth Medrash Govoha in a converted house in Lakewood, New Jersey in April 1943, Reb Aharon took his first step towards the vitalization of Torah life in America. Together with the upkeep and expansion of the yeshiva and kollel (whose student body increased from the original 14 to 140 in 5723 (1962), the year of Reb Aharon's petiroh), Reb Aharon's emergence as the leading godol hador, expressing pure, Torah ideals in his characteristic, uncompromising way, brought a new consciousness of Torah Judaism to American -- and world -- Jewry.

Reb Aharon also headed Chinuch Atzmai, the independent network of Torah day schools in Israel, founded in 1953, and he took over the leadership of Torah U'Mesorah, the American day school movement, after the death of its founder HaRav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz. He headed Agudas Yisroel's Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah and the Agudas Horabbonim, guiding them and taking part in all their major decision making.

Reb Aharon was niftar in the seventy-first year of his life, on the 2nd of Kislev, 5723. It was estimated that 50,000 people attended the levaya in America and another 100,000 in Eretz Yisroel where he was buried next to his father-in-law Reb Isser Zalman.

Parnossoh in the Early Days of Lakewood

How did they manage? Here are some recollections of one of the first talmidim: "A bochur would get married, and be given wedding presents -- as is customary. When sheva brochos were over, he would divide up the amount he had received among all the avreichim. The money was to be used for covering their debts. From then on, he himself began to run up debts, which were covered after the next wedding.

"The avreichim were members of a health insurance scheme. I was healthy, boruch Hashem and I decided to set aside the monthly fee of three dollars and forty-three cents to be used as a gemach. Part of my wife's dowry was a green copper box which was useless. I gave it a use. I put the money inside and any avreich who needed to borrow would come and take as much as he needed, for as long as he needed, leaving behind a note. When he returned the money, he took back the note.

"That box was an institution of its own. It is easy to work out what kind of sums mounted up in it from just three dollars forty-three but the amazing thing was that there were even notes inside for sixteen cents -- the price of a loaf of bread!"

Learning continued in Lakewood then, even when the money to buy bread was lacking. How right Reb Aharon was when he proclaimed that in his yeshiva, the talmidim would learn with the sole ambition of growing great in Torah!

The Rosh Yeshiva stressed that the truth which the Torah reveals to us is exactly the reverse of the ordinary person's grasp of things.

The phenomenon of the mann, which sustained an entire nation for forty years, is recorded in the pesukim together with all the obvious miracles that accompanied its dispersal, collection and preservation as a lesson for all the later generations that sustenance and livelihood do not belong to any natural order and are in fact miracles which are performed for each individual according to his own level.

The amount of bounty bestowed by Hashem is in direct proportion to the degree of trust which man places in Him [Yirmiyahu 17:5-7]. The true meaning of bitochon, which is the purpose of the creation and without which true unity with Torah is impossible, is the awareness that we are dependent, for every moment of our existence, on Hashem's bounty and subject to His supervision. Living each moment with this awareness automatically brings trust for the future.

The foundation of Torah learning itself also had to be bitochon, Reb Aharon explained, for Chazal point out that the Torah was only given to the generation that ate mann and existed on the highest levels of bitochon.

There is first of all the obvious need for trust that material necessities will be provided, as a condition for the peace of mind to sit and learn. Besides this, there must be bitochon in the success of one's spiritual endeavors [see "Chovos Halevovos"] for, after all, a person's preparations and efforts, wisdom and attainments in Torah come directly from Hashem [Mishlei 2:6, Niddah 71]. The bounty of wisdom and true understanding of Torah depend on closeness to Hashem, which depends on the degree of bitochon which one attains.


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