On erev Shabbos parshas Vayakheil, the twenty-eighth
of Adar 5703 (1943), just about 61 years ago, dreadful news
reached Shanghai about the catastrophic events that had
befallen Lithuanian Jewry. The parents and families of the
bnei hayeshiva who had remained in their homes in
Lithuania after their sons escaped, had been butchered in the
most brutal and savage ways by the German invaders and the
Lithuanian country folk who willingly assisted them.
Hitherto, Shanghai had been almost cut off from the rest of
the world and no word of what had taken place long before had
The cries and wails of the bochurim, many of whom were
now the sole survivors of their families, pierced the
heavens. They went up to the ezras noshim, tore their
clothes, turned the benches over and sat for a short time on
the floor, as halochoh requires upon hearing of a bereavement
that took place more than thirty days previously.
The mashgiach HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l,
eulogized the martyrs. His remarks appear in the newly
republished book, Mimizrach Shemesh:
I am incapable of moving my lips in eulogy. Chazal said,
"Someone who is present at the death of an ordinary Jew must
rend his garment because it is akin to witnessing the burning
of a sefer Torah," for there isn't a Jew who isn't as
full of Torah and mitzvos, as a pomegranate is of seeds
(Shabbos 105). In this churban we have lost
everything -- geonim, chassidim, tzaddikim and men of
deeds. What can we say?
All I can do is ask the question that Bnei Yisroel
asked Hakodosh Boruch Hu at the time of the
Churban: "You wrote in Your Torah, `You shall not take
the mother [bird] with the offspring' (Devorim 22:6) --
and here both mothers and children have been crushed. You
wrote in Your Torah, `You shall not slaughter it and its
offspring on the same day' (Vayikra 22:28) - - yet
what do we see here? Youths [fall] outside, young men in the
streets, wound about with their holy books."
And I will add another question. Chazal say that in putting a
criminal to death, beis din are required to "choose a
humane death for him." If they were obliged to be burned, why
did they suffocate on gas? And what kind of death is burial
alive?! [The Lithuanian massacres were into open pits.] What
is the answer?
The answer is that there are two different types of
reckoning. There is the individual's reckoning and there is
collective reckoning. These questions can be asked when
looking at individual reckoning, but collective reckoning is
completely different; not every period is the same.
We must be aware that Klal Yisroel is quite literally
one entity. The head also has to suffer on account of the
feet. Though Am Yisroel is a scattered flock, it is as
wicked Homon y"sh argued -- "There is a unified
people!" (Esther 3:8). They are all a single entity!
Even though there were great rabbonim and tzaddikim
among those who were murdered, "they are all a single entity"
and some suffer on account of others.
And [this is] especially [apparent] when Hakodosh Boruch
Hu wants to build the future. Then, everyone must make
his contribution to the royal treasury. The head must pay
with his head and the foot, with his foot.
This is a time when the ultimate good should be revealed.
There is no individual reckoning -- it is a completely
different type of reckoning. Over there, in the eternal
world, Hakodosh Boruch Hu has ample means of rewarding
those who fulfill His will. Everything is so fearsome!
A Eulogy for the Murdered Inhabitants of Mir
The nineteenth of Marcheshvon was designated as the memorial
day for the massacre of the Jews of Mir. At their head was
the great gaon HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Kamai zt'l,
Hy'd, who served as rov and as rosh yeshiva, who would
not desert his community. The Mashgiach delivered a
eulogy on this day in 5707 (1946), and some of his remarks
concerned the fate of the martyrs. He said:
And this should lead us to think about our own times. There
is no doubt that every Jew who was killed under the regime of
Hitler ym"sh will merit eternal immortality, for they
were killed for being Jews and it is impossible that being
Jewish and belonging to Hashem's People should bring harm to
Here we see the staggering extent of Hashem's Providence over
every single Jew, that not one should be lost -- they will
merit eternal immortality for having been murdered because
they were Jewish. This all goes for those who were simply
killed. How much greater is the portion of those who were
murdered while they were fulfilling mitzvos -- "And you shall
love Hashem . . . with all your heart and all your soul"
(Devorim 6:5) -- even if He takes away your soul.
We have heard that before he was killed, the Rov and Av
Beis Din of Mir . . . HaRav Kamai . . . asked those
members of his community who were with him, to accept
Heaven's decree lovingly. On the posuk, "I said in My
heart . . ." (Koheles 3:18), Chazal say, "Whoever does
a mitzvah close to the time of his death, it is as though his
righteousness lacked nothing but that mitzvah and he
completed it. Whoever does an aveiroh close to the
time his death, it is as though his wickedness lacked nothing
except for that aveiroh and he completed it"
They both leave the world perfect -- the former leave it
perfectly righteous and the latter, perfectly wicked. We see
this in the parsha [Vayeiro]. Before Hashem destroyed
Sodom, He provided the townspeople with an aveiroh.
All of them, young and old, surrounded Lot's house,
demanding that he send his guests out to them. Hashem smote
them with blindness and they tired of finding the door
(Bereishis 19:4-11). They should have thought about
what was happening to them but they did not and they died in
On the other hand, when the mal'ochim wanted to rescue
Lot, they gave him the opportunity to do a mitzvah, as the
Ramban writes on the posuk (19:3) "And he pressed them
greatly": It was meritorious of Lot to press them and he had
a worthy desire in wanting to welcome visitors. They refused
in order to give him merit. This is why they accepted in the
end for, to begin with, they didn't want to come to his house
because he wasn't a perfect tzaddik. A mitzvah is like
wearing a shield that protects the bearer from arrows.
Chazal say, "What can a person do in order to be saved from
the pangs of Moshiach['s arrival]? He should occupy
himself with Torah and with doing kindness." This means that
he should be involved with them without interruption, for
Torah and mitzvos are armor against the enemy's bullets.
Armor is only effective while it is being worn. If a person
possesses it but does not wear it, it won't help him. The
gemora (Shabbos 30) says that Hakodosh Boruch
Hu told Dovid Hamelech that he would die on a Shabbos.
Every Shabbos, Dovid Hamelech sat and learned throughout the
day. On the day that he was supposed to die, the angel of
death stood before him but could not overpower him because he
was learning. Eventually, the angel caused a noise outside
and when Dovid fell silent, he died. This demonstrates that
the armor only helps while one wears it.
The Mashgiach continued, explaining, "Prior to his
death, the Rov too, fulfilled the mitzvah of, `You shall love
Hashem . . . with all your soul'! The posuk says,
`Hashem, remember Your mercy and Your kindness for they have
always existed' (Tehillim 25:6). This means that
Hashem's kindness has been with us ever since Creation, as
the posuk (89:3) says, `The world is built through
kindness.' It is certain that whatever befalls us
collectively, is part of Hashem yisborach's
Rav Shlomo Burstein related that when the dreadful news of
the massacre and the kiddush Hashem reached Shanghai,
the Mashgiach was at home and he wept, "This neighbor
of mine merited kiddush Hashem, that other neighbor of
mine and that friend merited kiddush Hashem and I did
He cried and bemoaned not having attained that merit.
What is a Baal Mussar?
(Not about the Holocaust.)
To answer this question, the Mashgiach cited the comments of
the Ramban on Yaakov's sojourn with Lovon. Lovon asked
Yaakov, "Should you work for me for nothing just because you
are my relative?" (Bereishis 29:15). The Ramban says,
"Because you are a man of mussar, you will not [want
to] be supported by others."
As a baal mussar, Yaakov recognized the power of bias
and how it can topple a person from a high level. We can see
how far we are from being on the level of baal mussar.
For decades now, I have heard it said and have seen that
there are no longer any baalei mussar!" (Yad
"There were baalei mussar," says HaRav Wolbe, "who
were great educators. Rav Yechezkel was not an educator in
that sense. He lived within himself and did not step out of
the circle of his immediate experience. [However,] he spoke
about what he was experiencing at any given time. He allowed
us to enter his own territory. When we came to him, he would
start speaking about whatever arousal had come to him that
day. He continued living inside his own circle but he brought
us inside so that we could receive [instruction] from
The Mashgiach once said, "People quote the Chazon Ish
as having said that there is no need to learn mussar.
First, it's not true and second, if the Chazon Ish himself
was not in the habit of learning a lot of mussar, that
is because he was holy from the very beginning of his life.
We, however, are ordinary folk, who yearn only for what this
world offers. We must therefore wage war on our great enemy.
The Chazon Ish had a very special soul . . . "
He also quoted the Alter of Kelm as having said that the
Torah of someone who doesn't learn mussar is
superficial, not deeply rooted; it is external.
Once, speaking on Shabbos at a bochur's aufruf he
said, "The Alter of Novardok said that a person needs three
triangular fingers: one [to hold] against the world, one
against his family and a third against himself, so that he
should be utterly subservient to the Creator yisborach
and pay no attention to any other opinions, if they run
counter to his serving Hashem."