Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Nissan 5764 - March 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by Rabbi N. Z. Grossman

Part II

The fiftieth yahrtzeit of the gaon and tzaddik Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler zt'l was the occasion for bringing up the issue of shallow and superficial thinking in Torah. This was a concern that was shared by HaRav Shach zt"l who warned against this on many occasions. According to HaRav Shach, it was the push and training in penetrating thinking that mussar gave that helped it to save the Torah world from the ravages of the Haskalah. But in truth the ability to penetrate beneath the surface veneer to the reality below is important in all parts of life.

One Mussar Master Eulogizes Another

We recently obtained a copy of the hesped which HaRav Shlomo Wolbe ylct'a delivered at the close of Rav Dessler's shivoh. It appears in the second volume of the recently published Sefer Hazikoron LeBaal Michtav MeEliahu. This is not the forum for examining the entire piece, worthy as it all is of careful study. HaRav Wolbe provided a systematic analysis of the mussar movement's essence and of the Kelm mussar training in particular. For now, we shall just quote some passages that deal with this article's subject.

"It seems that with HaRav Dessler's arrival in Eretz Yisroel, the attitude of the learning community towards mussar underwent a transformation. Avreichim, Torah scholars of stature who had kept their distance from mussar to the point of derision, began discussing it and taking what the deceased had to say into account -- they even went to hear him speak.

"And how Eretz Yisroel needed him! In our benighted times when there is such paucity of knowledge, he immeasurably raised Torah's prestige, revealing secret Torah ideas, whose inherent light brought many onto the right path. He also revealed the character of the generation and how to relate to it. Nothing escaped his tremendous intellect. He understood every nuance of contemporary life and was familiar with all the various issues that came up. His mighty spirit united mussar and Chochmas Ho'emmes (i.e. Kabboloh).

"If only we had known how to properly appreciate his Torah; if only we had known how to be influenced by his teachings as he wished, we would not have lost him. Let us engage in the soul-searching that is called for at this time. When Rav Dessler zt'l eulogized the Chazon Ish zt'l, he discussed the idea that a tzaddik departs from us when we no longer merit him, and cried out that in that case, who knows whether we are not the ones to have killed the Chazon Ish?

"Similarly, we must now consider whether, with our lack of comprehension and our lack of thought about mussar and yiras Shomayim, we are the ones who have pushed him out of the world!

"In our yeshiva, it is commonplace to relate to mussar -- to its study, to its mindset and to shmuessen -- with indifference, not paying it any attention or taking any interest in it. Nobody gives the slightest thought to the dangers that this indifference poses, not only to our time in yeshiva but to our entire lives!

"Granted, the consequences are not immediately noticeable. But in ten or twenty years' time, when one is coming to grips with real life and failing every trial, moving further and further away from Torah study, losing one's capacity for contemplative thought and one's refinement, without even being aware of what is happening -- deteriorating all the time -- that is when youthful indifference to mussar takes its toll and is "avenged."

"One can be a talmid chochom even without knowing the sedorim of Taharos and Kodshim but a talmid chochom who is ignorant of Hilchos Dei'os and Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah [i.e. of authentic Jewish outlook] -- is an ignoramus! For what is wisdom's significance to him?

"An older bochur asked me about something and I told him that he was speaking like a talmid in yeshiva ketanoh. He responded that when he was younger, he `didn't hold from' mussar. There you have it -- when one 'doesn't hold from' mussar one remains an utter boor. Not having `held from' mussar previously is no excuse for speaking like a common, empty- headed fellow.

"Now, after this loss, we will certainly learn how to value all that he gave us. We will realize how much more he could have given us if we had been worthy, with his clarification of Chazal's teachings, his knowledge of Torah, of Torah outlook, of mitzvos and of how to behave. What is our generation going to look like now? How much lower shall we slide, chas vesholom? Will party ideology R'l, now be our lot? Will `officialized religion' now mold and shape us, chas vesholom? We must strengthen our bonds to mussar tremendously so as to avoid becoming even more common!"

Rav Wolbe also dwelt on the fact that in that winter, the Torah community had suffered one loss after another. The Chazon Ish and the Even Ho'ezel had passed away a few months earlier and now, HaRav Dessler too. He said: "Memories of this winter will certainly remain with us for our entire lives, when we lost the contemporary bearers of Torah's honor and have been left [spiritually] impoverished and destitute. With each of us engaged in soul-searching to determine the extent of our personal guilt for failing to respect and to acknowledge, it is a time of teshuvoh no less than the Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh. Let us ponder whether we have not disregarded Hilchos Dei'os and Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, casting work on yiras Shomayim aside -- this is our task now."

Not Just to Learn Shas -- Shas Must Teach Us!

There is a corollary to the ideas presented here that ought to be spelled out. In recent years, we have repeatedly heard spokesmen from the National Religious camp expressing their astonishment at the Torah and yeshiva world's failure to properly appreciate the personalities and the Torah standing of those rabbonim who were among the founders of the Religious Zionist movement. They are enraged that chareidi publications refrain from bestowing the lavish honorary titles upon these figures that they feel they deserve. They also wonder why their written works are not studied in the yeshivos. "We understand that you don't accept their outlooks and ideologies but how can you ignore the fact that they were geonim who possessed tremendous knowledge?" we are accused by these spokesmen, as well as by members of groups that have espoused false ideas or Messianic beliefs.

The gedolim of recent generations however, have taught us that "Torah outlook" is not an isolated subject but an inseparable part of the essence of a ben Torah and talmid chochom.

It is related that Reb Chaim Brisker zt'l once expressed his pain about a highly gifted talmid of Volozhin who had espoused ideas of the Mizrachi circles. Reb Chaim said that from that point on, his Torah chiddushim on sugyos of gemora were also under suspicion of having been influenced by the crookedness that had affected him.

Our mentors, the disseminators of Torah and mussar who have been vigilant in identifying the challenges of the times ever since the Haskalah movement and its successors gained general currency, maintained that mistakes and confusion in matters of outlook are a fundamental personal flaw. They are unlike deficiencies of knowledge of particular areas of Torah which do not necessarily detract from a scholar's stature.

In a talk, HaRav Shach once said, "What the Torah wants is that `all your sons will have knowledge of Hashem' (Yeshayohu 54:13). Not just to be `learning or studying Hashem' but `to be learned in, to have knowledge of, Hashem.' It is insufficient to simply learn Torah. Through one's toil in learning, one has to reach the stage where Torah teaches him and guides him along the path of truth. It's not enough if we learn Shas, if we haven't got to the stage where Shas teaches us. If not, we are not yet `knowledgeable in Hashem' " (from an address delivered at the cornerstone laying for Beis Hamedrash Divrei Shir in 5746, Michtovim Uma'amorim, vol. IV).

On another occasion, when warning about the false ideas that are spread through various newspapers and weeklies that do not have rabbinical approval, HaRav Shach said, "People bring them home and everything in them is `kosher.' They form themselves and their outlook from the dei'os that they find there and that is the beginning and the end of their aspirations.

"The same person might go to the beis hamedrash on Shabbos or a couple of times during the week. He takes his gemora with him and sits down to hear a shiur or a daf yomi -- that is all fine and good and we have no intention of belittling it, chas vesholom.

"But Rabbosai! That wasn't what Rav Meir Shapira and the gedolei Yisroel who were with him had in mind when he instituted Daf Yomi. They didn't mean that a person should just learn through the daf yomi -- they wanted the daf to teach him! Simply attending a daf yomi shiur isn't enough. People might be doing it out of social convention or political allegiance but . . . has the gemora taught them anything or have they just learned what the gemora says?

"To learn gemora while clinging to incorrect ideas and false assumptions is not the object. It is not our goal! . . . Dear Yidden, it's good to daven. It's good to walk the streets draped in a tallis. It's good to learn a daf gemora . . . but an understanding of Torah [may still be] lacking!" (from the Yarchei Kallah address 5744, Michtovim Uma'amorim, vol. IV).

In Conclusion

Rav Dessler's fiftieth yahrtzeit is an opportune time for reviewing and reinforcing these fundamental truths. We must constantly remember that we are waging a battle against superficiality and shallowness. Our goal is to raise our children as genuine bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim. We must therefore strengthen awareness of mussar and of contemplation among the youth. We must renew pure Torah values, establish a correct order of priorities and prevent the young generation from being swept along with the spiritual emptiness and crooked values of the street. It is imperative that we do this so that we don't one day find that we have raised a generation of boors in Torah outlook.

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