Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Nissan 5764 - March 31, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








New Pearls from HaRav Dessler

This material is taken from the recently released new two- volume sefer containing hitherto unpublished or unavailable material, entitled Sefer Zikoron: Michtav MeEliyohu. There are over 500 new letters of Rav Dessler, plus hitherto unpublished shmuessen and other material. There are also many ma'amorim that were written especially for these volumes, and works written about Rav Dessler that are not available elsewhere. Many of the letters contain valuable insights that are entirely new.

On Teaching Alef-Beis and the Meaning of Chinuch

In a letter concerning methods for teaching limudei kodesh, Rav Dessler writes, "I received a letter from R' R . . . about teaching reading. R' S.L . . . brought him the opinion of the gaon and chossid, the man of truth, the Chazon Ish zt'l, forbidding new methods and [insisting that reading] must be taught kometz alef -- oh and so on. I want to copy my reply to him since it presents a way of viewing the relationship of methodology to limudei kodesh. I wrote as follows:

There is certainly an aura of sanctity about the study of the letters and the vowels, and any innovation breaches it. If the bare knowledge was all that had to be conveyed, the shortest route would certainly be preferable. However, the teacher must convey holiness and pleasantness which lead to yiras Shomayim and love, which are the main purpose of this learning, that is unparalleled in any other kind of learning in the world.

Looking at the letters and vowels and knowing them has a special property of instilling love. This is the standpoint of those who adhere to the kometz alef -- oh way of teaching. This was certainly the opinion of the gaon and chossid, the man of truth, the Chazon Ish zt'l and I heard him express similar views many times." (Michtav MeEliyohu vol. III, pg. 362)

Take Responsibility

One of the questions regarding which Rav Dessler consulted the Chazon Ish was the proposed opening of a teachers' seminary for men in Gateshead. The program was only intended for those who would not be remaining in yeshiva and who otherwise planned to become full-time university students. The studies were to be conducted in an atmosphere of yiras Shomayim and graduates would receive a university degree.

In a lengthy letter on the subject (Michtav MeEliyohu vol. III, pp. 355- 8), Rav Dessler examined the question from several points of view. He first makes it clear that he has no doubt as to the honorable intentions of the organizers. After all, they only wanted to provide aspiring educators a strong Torah environment in which to attain the qualification they seek.

However, he goes on to express deep concern with regard to what might seem a peripheral issue -- the damaging effect that such an institution would have on the motivation of full- time yeshiva bochurim. He fears that this would gravely compromise the integrity of the single-minded pursuit of Torah greatness that a yeshiva fosters within its members.

He then provides a lucid treatment of the whole issue of giving sanction to the pursuit of secular qualifications, contrasting the well-known approach of the Torah-im-derech- eretz school with the opposing approach of the yeshivos.

His conclusion is that, "I know clearly that your intentions are good, namely that only if the seminary is in the environs of such a yeshiva and kollel will it be possible to ensure that it is run in a way that is one hundred percent acceptable, which is absolutely correct. However, in the environs of a seminary that is one hundred percent acceptable, it is possible for a yeshiva gedolah and an excellent kollel (the only one of its kind in the world) to be chas vesholom ruined."

In a subsequent letter, Rav Dessler responds to the reply he received, and deals with another question. While his talmidim in Gateshead accepted his point of view and were prepared to cancel their original plans, they pointed out that several applicants had already been promised places in the seminary on the understanding that they would receive a degree. Did the fact that the organizers had given their word and the various losses that the applicants would suffer justify running the program as originally intended, for them alone?

"I was unsure about this," wrote Rav Dessler "namely, whether the little that you had already undertaken was also a blemish that ought to be removed. I therefore went to the extraordinary gaon, the Chazon Ish . . . and I asked him. (I make it my practice not to take up his time with things that are straightforward, which is why I had not been to ask him up to this particular point, about which I was unsure.) His response was that you should cancel what you have started and what you promised. I asked again, pointing out that there would be chillul Hashem and monetary loss etc. and he replied that he didn't think it would be difficult for you and that people couldn't have complaints against you since you were retracting in response to a letter from Eretz Yisroel.

"I asked again whether to write this in his name (i.e., whether he was prepared to accept responsibility for any complaints etc.) and he replied, `Yes, write that that was what I said.' (I don't recall if he said `what I said' or `what we said.')

"I have not added anything to what he said for I have only expressed my own opinion as far as the educational issues are concerned, writing that which seems to me to be the truth. However, as you already know . . . I do not rule with regard to interpersonal undertakings and financial loss etc. -- I am merely conveying the gaon's ruling to you. It is very hard for me to disappoint you. You know that I have always made every effort to flee from such things but what can I do? I am compelled by my understanding of the unadorned truth to write what I have written . . ."

Gateshead and Its Torah Institutions

This letter provides HaRav Dessler's own perspective on the development of the yeshiva and the community.

B"H, Yom Rishon, 3rd Elul 5705, Gateshead

To his honor, my firm friend, my dear and respected relative, the outstanding gaon in Torah and yiras Shomayim and in his vigorous work to rescue Torah and to save lives . . . HaRav Chaim Chizkiyohu Yosef Mishkovsky . . .

Thanks for your precious letter, which made me very happy especially now that a family connection means so much more. To our great misfortune, in our sins, there are few of us left. We are the remnants of our great and exalted family. We are survivors of the sword, the remnant of our blood that was shed like water, of the holy martyrs who were killed in sanctification of Hashem. This alone is compelling enough to unite and bond us in unflagging family sentiment. Naturally, I am also stricken with an excess of preoccupations.

The Kollel HaRabbonim is a large and handsome edifice wherein the glory of the Torah scholars who have gathered in this country is centered. Boruch Hashem, the studies there proceed with great strength, profound depth and wondrous enthusiasm, to the point that the kollel does not fall short of the greatest Torah centers that we knew from the great intellectual level of the generation of Poland and Lithuania.

In some respects it even outshines those kollelim, even in the spiritual realm and certainly with regard to material conditions. All who study in the kollel have all they need, on the standards of worthy baalabatim. All their needs are provided; they lack nothing, even those with large families.

The same can be said of all the other institutions that have been established or that have expanded because of the kollel. One example is the yeshiva, which has grown in size, and its wonderful kibbutz. The best bochurim, the most outstanding students in the yeshivos in this country, are there. They are led by a wonderful rov, a fantastic genius, under whom they are making extraordinary progress in Torah, for he is particularly gifted in this respect. This kibbutz was founded by the kollel.

The preparatory yeshiva, too, [provides] the kind of chinuch that we never imagined would be possible to establish. I don't know whether this school has a rival anywhere at all in the excellence of its chinuch, which was established by the kollel. So many youthful souls have literally been rescued from heresy and an even greater number [have been saved] from [the influence of] parents who profane Shabbos etc. They have been educated in yiras Shomayim, in both practice and feeling in the finest way, with excellent training in character and in decent conduct. Anyone who has not seen all this will not be able to believe it.

In addition, seminaries for male and for female teachers, training in a spirit of yiras Shomayim and to attain great expertise . . .(The seminary for women has already been in operation for a year and the men's seminary is about to open in a few weeks be'ezras Hashem.)

All these [institutions] require a great deal of energy and organization and the expenses are tremendous.

The kollel alone, without any of the other institutions, costs a hundred and fifty pounds each week. Together with the other institutions, it comes to almost four hundred pounds a week, which is approximately twenty thousand pounds a year. Blessed is Hashem, who is demonstrating miracles and [extending] assistance to us on a scale such as has not been seen for generations.

Understandably, Hashem yisborach having merited me with being one of those who carries the financial load on his shoulders, I do not lack any further burdens. However, I still have to make efforts towards earning my own personal upkeep, that Hashem has provided for me through teaching the dear sons of the well-to-do. (Boruch Hashem, I left the rabbinate some four years ago during the Blitzkrieg that struck London. That allowed me to occupy myself on behalf of Torah without any other obligations.) I thus travel every week from here (the North of the country) to London (in the South) and I return for every Shabbos to the place where the Shechinoh rests in chutz la'aretz, as it were.

This is a small town with only thirty [Jewish] families, all of whom fear Heaven. If anyone wants chas vesholom to see Shabbos being desecrated, he has to go out to the other, neighboring town. At present, a number of chareidi families are joining the community, moved by the wish to bring themselves, their sons and their daughters into the atmosphere of the Yerushalayim of England.

The communal organization is becoming more and more firmly based, without any opposition whatsoever. The rov of the town is a godol beTorah and is outstanding in Torah and yiras Shomayim. (He is a son of the maggid of Minsk z'l.) All our acquaintances say that this is the only [genuine] rabbonus in the country, for in other communities, the position is nothing more than the menial job of a janitor, subservient to the communal leaders and the gabboim. That kind of situation is familiar to those who are acquainted with the Jewish communities of the Western countries.

Who can discern and recognize the miracles that Hashem is bringing about in this cold and materialistic land? When Hashem builds a small remnant for His Torah and for those who fear His Name who live in the Diaspora and its development proceeds almost automatically, almost without any intervention, this is nothing short of an open miracle taking place in our small and puny generation.

Witnessing this, we must be aware how straightforward it is that when Hashem wants to reveal the truth literally and send Moshiach tzidko, it will happen quite plainly. Nobody will have any more questions as to how it is possible that in a generation lacking so much understanding and shackled with chains to the fearsome falsehood of materialism, such a change could take place in people's hearts and minds. Hashem will just remove the screen of falsehood that covers people's eyes and they will automatically perceive the truth in full clarity and lucidity.

In the meantime, my son . . . has married with success be'ezras Hashem yisborach. My wife . . . and daughter . . . are still in Australia but we hope that they will soon obtain places on a vessel to travel. They already have travel permits boruch Hashem. Thanks to your Torah honor for letting me know how things stand with you. May Hashem yisborach gladden you with good news.

I am also very grateful for your having noted the dates of the yahrtzeit of the gaon and tzaddik your father-in-law zt'l, and the Rebbetzin, your mother-in-law a'h and also of your uncle, the crown of Klal Yisroel, the gaon Reb Chaim Ozer zt'l.

I would like to make the following request . . . Your Torah honor is in some way connected to discovering about the lands where the churban took place l'a. Perhaps you have a way of finding out, or perhaps you have had an opportunity to hear, what happened to Kelm. All my wife's family were there: my mother-in-law Pesha Ziv, the widow of my teacher and father-in-law . . . Rav Nochum Zeev Ziv z'l, my brother-in-law, the choicest of our friends, Reb Doniel Mowshovitz and his wife moras Chaya, my other brother-in-law Reb Gershon Myadnik (he was known as Gershon Luninetzer years ago in the yeshivos) and his wife moras Freidel (Freida) and their sons and daughters. I have so far been unsuccessful in discovering anything about them.

Please, if you have heard any news do not withhold it from me whatever its nature. I am prepared to hear the worst chas vesholom. It is especially important that I find out in advance because of the weakened state of my wife's health. Much thought must be given to how news ought to be broken to her, so that she shouldn't chas vesholom hear without any preparation.

Please, my dear friend, if you know, or if you can find anything out, please let me know. I know how cordial you are towards all petitioners and I am sure that you will do whatever you can in this matter. I thank you in advance, in friendship and genuine respect.

From your firm friend, who desires your welfare and the welfare of all that is yours . . .

Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler

His Shmuessen

By Rav Yehoshua Shklar

I was fortunate to be in the yeshiva together with him from 5707-10. I will never forget the arrival of his letters from Gateshead with the discussions they contained of existence and attainment, taking and giving etc. To us, his shmuessen were like lectures in mussar and outlook. We would review them afterwards in pairs, just like studying gemora.

These shmuessen opened our hearts and gauged our feelings. We came away from them like completely different people seeing a new world. They gave us a new appreciation of learning the weekly parsha and Chazal's teachings.

I would like to point to three central features [of the shmuessen] which our master z'l stressed, that still guide us today, fifty years later. One feels as though he is saying them right now, using the same delightful, emotion- laden expressions. I, at any rate, feel as though my master and teacher is telling me, "This is how to learn this statement of Chazal's. This is how to learn the sections [of the Torah] dealing with the Ovos." Whenever I am speaking to youth or writing articles, I use his ideas and way of thinking.

The three points are as follows. First, one should not learn Chumash on the level of a young child in cheder. There ought to be the same gulf in the breadth and level of knowledge between children and adults in Chumash as there is in gemora. He would always say, "One should learn Chumash the way one learns Zevochim and Menochos."

Second, in understanding the harsh punishments of the personalities in Tanach for sins that seem to us slight, he would always speak about the microscope. Hakodosh Boruch Hu viewed our ancestors under magnification, as it were, according to the level they were on and their misdemeanors appeared that much larger to Him.

We thus learned something new about relating to our ancestors -- that we should not view them in the context of our own limitations. Hakodosh Boruch Hu saw them completely differently, according to their actual greatness.

Third, to think of the future. We were young bochurim, aged between seventeen and twenty. Just as the young cohanim used to snap their fingers to keep the cohein godol awake on Yom Kippur night, he would urge us not to doze but to be alert and to strive for greatness.

I shall never forget one of the talks he gave us in one of the vaadim: "Young bochurim, you won't be staying in yeshiva forever. Remember to become involved in purifying neshomos by being roshei yeshivos, educators, rabbonim -- this is your vocation."

He made us think about the future and it was said with warmth and fatherliness. Fifty years have passed yet it seems as though those sweet words have just left his lips.

We possess five volumes of Michtav MeEliyohu, which are wondrous wellsprings of feeling, of new ideas and delightful insights into human character and of completely original interpretations of Chazal's statements. Each is a veritable sampling of Olom Habo. HaRav Chaim Shaul Karelitz zt'l, together with whom I merited learning for decades, said that when he is fortunate to learn something from Michtav MeEliyohu, he literally experiences Olom Habo.

It is a pity that nowadays study of selected parts of these seforim is not so firmly entrenched among our own disciples. Learning certain of these essays would elevate our spiritual level and heighten our spiritual awareness.

The Mashgiach would draw upon all his spiritual and emotional resources in order to instill in us awareness of the duty to appreciate the inner kernel of each statement of Chazal's and to imbue us with the ability to feel "because an unfeeling person is like a dead person". He would mention an awe-inspiring idea of the Alter of Kelm zt'l, namely, that among the Torah's curses are, "madness, blindness and insensibility" (Devorim 28:28). One of Rashi's explanations of the last of these is "that a person is unfeeling." Lack of feeling is thus one of the Torah's curses. On Yom Kippur we confess, " . . .the sin of insensibility," meaning lack of comprehension and feeling.

To end, here are some of his holy, beautiful and uplifting teachings on several subjects:

Joy in Torah Study -- Chazal tell us that Hakodosh Boruch Hu rejoices in Torah sophistry. Our teacher writes that, "The Torah rejoices, as it were, in seeing (man's) joy in novelty and self-perfection. Through our joy in them, [divrei Torah] become more plentiful." What a wonderful idea this is! The Torah itself rejoices in seeing us develop new ideas and attain self- fulfillment. What he adds here is that new Torah insights abound automatically as a result of our joy in Torah, which is the Torah's joy. The more the Torah rejoices in our joy, the broader our Torah becomes.

The Reward for Benefiting the Community -- On this subject he writes (in Michtav MeEliyohu vol. III, pg. 93): "The merit of someone who influences a large number of people is compounded on account of all those he has affected. [Moreover,] the Heavenly assistance that they have received by virtue of all the "tiny openings" they made and everything that thereby results in the following generation and in all future generations -- all of this is credited to him. He receives Heavenly assistance to the order of wagonloads for every tiny spiritual opening that people made as a result of his influence. This will be his reward in Olom Habo." What encouragement these wonderful words -- "the Heavenly assistance that they have received by virtue of all the `tiny openings' they made" -- hold for beginners and for those taking further steps on the path.

Awakening Feeling -- In our times, when it is so prevalent for people to feel "parched" with regard to spiritual feelings and when coldness and apathy are the rule, it is so important that we, his old talmidim, remind ourselves of the wonderful times fifty years ago, when we used to hear our teacher conveying the knowledge of the living G-d. On his yahrtzeit, it is our duty to reimplant awareness of spiritual feeling within our pupils and families. May our teacher's merit assist us in discovering the precious lights that are hidden within our holy Torah, as he, zichrono livrochoh, taught us.


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