Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5765 - June 22, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








A Call To Action

A circular sent from the gathering of Reb Yeruchom's talmidim in Mir on the eighteenth of Sivan 5697, to mark his first yahrtzeit.

Keeping the Light Burning

Dear and beloved brothers, wherever they are dispersed, Hy'v!

We, all the talmidim who drank from his wellsprings and who dwelt in his shade, have gathered together on what for us resembles the day that Hashem's House was burned, when the sun withdrew its light at midday and the world grew dark, when the glory of our strength and our soul's delight, our holy teacher zt'l, was taken from us. We sat down and wept together . . . the gates of light have been closed for us, we are left in the darkness, groping like blind men in the blackness . . .

There is just one thing in which we find comfort, which supports us and strengthens our souls: his holy and luminous words will be our eyes, showing us the way to the path where light rests. Our teacher z'l used to say that a wise man, taking a look at himself, will appreciate that the whole multitude of reckonings which cause people difficulties, the problems and doubts which weary them and fill their hearts, whose solutions they labor in vain to seek, result from their living in a state of darkness which beclouds their eyes and hearts.

In such a situation, a man's world is black; he neither sees nor understands anything. Thoughts, doubts and all manner of problems spring up in his heart.

If a person would merit seeing a flare of light, even only once in a lifetime, then all the unworthy thoughts which torment him throughout his life would vanish. All the questions and doubts would be gone in a second. For the crux of the matter is that when the light arrives, there is no more room for darkness.

This is comparable to the man who sits in the dark, imagining a pillar to be stone and a stone to be a pillar. When day breaks, everything becomes clear in a moment. He needs no proof to show him that the stone is in fact a stone. This is how it will be when the time arrives that Hashem will illumine the world with the light of His face. All the darkness will vanish on its own; the shadows will disappear. The multitude of ideologies and ideas that have proliferated with the increasing darkness, will pass away on their own. The ways of truth will become revealed to all in the light of the face of the Living King. When the light arrives, the darkness rolls away.

Only at Har Sinai, the greatest event to date since the creation of man, did the whole of Klal Yisroel attain the level of annulment of the yetzer hora. Chazal have revealed to us that the most important aspect of what took place on Har Sinai was that we experienced a period of such light, the light of Hashem's face . . . When the light was revealed, darkness vanished from the world, the yetzer hora was annulled, all doubts were gone. The seven heavens were opened and all saw that "there is none beside Him" . . . That period of light was only temporary. Afterwards, the darkness returned to its place, the illumination was gone and we were once again in a situation of concealment . . . when it is truly difficult to get one's bearings and find one's path . . . However, a man who sits in the darkness, neither seeing nor discerning what is before him, depends for all his peace of mind upon the knowledge which he gathered and the things he witnessed while there was light. This is why the Torah warns us about Har Sinai (Devorim 4:9-10), "Guard yourself lest you forget . . . the day on which you stood before Hashem . . . at Chorev," which the Ramban in his commentary on Chumash counts as a positive and a negative commandment: to remember Har Sinai all the time and never to let its memory leave our hearts.

Although at present it is dark for us, at that time it was light and we saw Him face to face. As long as that time is always in our minds, it will illuminate all our dark days. We must rely upon the knowledge and the awareness which we gained when there was light, with trusting hearts and peace of mind. This is sufficient to enable us to withstand even the greatest of tests, which we must endure during the time of darkness.

The time which we merited to spend together with our teacher z'l was a time of light for us. Although we did not fathom him and did not really know him, although we did not attain full understanding of his deeds or fully grasp his way of thinking — for he was hidden and concealed from us — nevertheless, anyone who merited meeting him even once in his lifetime could feel a kind of shining light in the skies, gleaming over his soul. And the gates of light would open for him.

In the same way that all are aware and all benefit from the pleasantness of the sun's light even without understanding how, so we felt the rays of light which broke into the compartments of our souls, illuminating our faces even though we did not grasp his ways during the lifetime of this holy member of Yisroel z'l. Whoever met him, no matter who it was, felt while he was with him that all the thoughts oppressing him were removed from his heart.

Our teacher z'l was the embodiment of light. Everything he thought and did constituted a light which shone for the whole of Klal Yisroel. We, who were close to him, felt that each and every movement of his was a shining light.

What quality was lacking from a single look of his? It contained so much wisdom, so much love for his fellow man, so much kindness and mercy. We were able to learn an entire way of life from every glance of his! When his feet trod within the yeshiva, the whole place was filled with light. When he conveyed the words of Elokim Chaim, we felt that we were entering a world of light together with him . . .

And now, what can we do? All our work must be directed towards propagating that resevoir of light within ourselves. We must always remember that time; his holy memory must never leave us. The illumination of his face, in which we perceived life, his deeds, his holy words . . . must remain alive for us forever . . . to illuminate the days of darkness . . . through them we will . . . attach ourselves to the ways and traits of our teacher z'l, and they will become our everlasting heritage.

Strengthening Each Other

Our teacher z'l bequeathed us a vast, boundless inheritance. Its framework and general principles found expression in the special imprint that was recognizable upon every one of those who frequented his beis hamedrash. We must devote ourselves to preserving those principles, guarding them like the apple of our eye. In this way we will merit being together with our teacher z'l even now, and having his name and holy memory associated with us.

The most fundamental thing which our teacher z'l always used to stress — it was already known to anyone who so much as passed over the threshold of the beis hamedrash — was that a person's entire success depends upon his accepting the yoke [of serving Hashem] and becoming compelled to do so. Nobody, not even the greatest of the great, is able to rely upon his own choice and his own goodwill.

Our teacher z'l always taught us the lesson that, "it is good for a man to bear a burden in his youth," meaning that all the good which a person attains comes only from his placing himself under a yoke and being compelled in all that he does. As Rabbenu Yonah z'l, writes in Sefer Hayir'oh: "It is good for a man to carry and bear the yoke of Hakodosh Boruch Hu's [service] and to place straps and poles upon his neck to [facilitate him] entering the service of the Creator." For only when the body is placed by the soul within straps and poles, which prevent it from veering right or left — only then do the body and soul form the perfect combination with the former willingly following the [dictates] of the latter. Then things are good for a person.

This was the fundamental idea upon which we were always educated. It was one of the principles which was visible in the beis hamedrash. The motto, "A man should always lend himself like an ox to the yoke and like a donkey to the burden," was emblazoned upon the yeshiva's banner.

And even now, when we have gathered to fortify ourselves and ensure that the training which we received on our teacher's knees never leaves us, the first thing we must do is to ensure that whatever measures of encouragement we undertake are founded upon this principle of compulsion and bearing a yoke. One of the best ways of ensuring that one will be compelled, which our teacher z'l always used to tell us, was to unite together in one group. "Then those who fear Hashem spoke, one to the other" — that is the great way to bind oneself. There is no greater force of compulsion than peer pressure.

Dear and beloved brothers! When our teacher z'l was with us, he was the greatest force compelling all of us. Oceans and continents did not stop us from feeling his holy gaze, which for us was the strongest factor forcing us to shoulder the yoke of Torah and the fear of Heaven. In our sins, we have lost him! Now, who will act for us if we do not act for ourselves?

Let us bind ourselves to one another and guard the inheritance which our teacher has left us. Let us become one entity and gain a name for preserving the character of our teacher's beis hamedrash, being known as belonging to his house. Let us undertake the preservation of the principles and the foundations of his yeshiva's character, in which his disciples stood out, and by which they were recognized, so that we forever remain members of his beis hamedrash, both in this world and the next.

Foundation One: Learning Torah Regularly, in Depth and with Toil

Our teacher's comment on the mishna, "Shammai says, `Make your Torah fixed (keva) and your work irregular,' " (Ovos 1:15) is well known. Namely, that it is possible for someone to learn for twenty-three hours out of twenty-four but his Torah is still not considered fixed. Conversely, one can be prevented from learning more than a single hour but that hour's Torah is fixed. The fixture of a person's learning time is independent of its length.

The extent to which one fulfills "Make your Torah fixed," changes his entire outlook on life and on the world. If he does it properly, the principal and the most permanent thing for him is Torah. Someone whose this-worldly life, rather than his Torah, is the main thing for him, will not be helped in this respect by all the mitzvos and good deeds with which he may fill both his days and his nights. The key is that the mentality of "This world is fixed" outweighs everything else.

This is why "the beginning of a person's judgment is [the question], `Did you fix times for Torah?' " rather than, `Did you learn?' Making one's fixed learning times immovable shows that the main thing for this person is Torah; that is the meaning of the first question.

Making Torah fixed is an extension of the fundamental principle of Torah: "They are our lives and the length of our days." This means that the root of every single aspect of life in both this world and the next is Torah.

Chazal have said, "He looked into the Torah and created the world." This is also the meaning of [Hashem's statement that], "I am unable to be separated from it" (Shemos Rabboh #33), and of [Rabbi Akiva's colleagues' declaration], "Whoever parts from you is like [one who] parts from life" (see Kiddushin 66).

Why indeed can one not part from life? Because man and his life are one and the same and it is not possible to separate from one's own self! The reality of Torah is exactly the same. "He has implanted everlasting life within us" — "within us" means exactly what it says, for Torah is each person's very being, as Chazal said about Avrohom Ovinu, who "learned Torah from himself." In other words, Avrohom Ovinu's very being was Torah.

Following from this is the principle of acquiring Torah, meaning that learning itself is insufficient. The Torah must become one's reality, one's very being. This can only be attained through toiling in Torah and learning in depth. "You should labor in Torah," is the beginning of a person's entry into Torah, through which Torah is acquired, through which the realization of the "everlasting life" which He has "implanted within us" is achieved.

Permanence, deep study, toil — our teacher never stopped admonishing us about these. Whenever he aroused us to strengthen ourselves, he called for unshakable permanence, learning in depth and toil, both in unlimited quality and quantity.

Foundation Two: Learning Mussar

It is well known that involvement in mussar, in its widest application, was the life of his spirit and his soul's essence. Whoever had the fortune to know him can testify that right until the very end, there was not a moment of his life in which he was not involved with mussar.

Throughout his life he sacrificed himself to establish and to fortify learning mussar in its genuine purity and form, as he had received it from his own teachers. He always repeated to us that Torah and mussar are one and the same and no distinction between them can possibly be made.

That is why there never used to be a need for mussar, because all the Torah of earlier generations was mussar. In recent times, we have fallen short of attaining perfection in Torah and have separated Torah from mussar. It was therefore necessary for Rabbi Yisroel Salanter z'l to institute mussar in order to return things to their original glory. The purpose of mussar is therefore to join and reunite the two components, Torah and mussar.

During his last days we once heard him say, "I employ mussar learning a little and I tell you that it was worth being created just for the sake of learning mussar." Whoever merited seeing our teacher will be able to understand this.

Foundation Three: The Business of Prayer

He used to say that there is no other business which yields greater profits without consuming any time, as tefilloh. A person prays anyway; if only he puts his heart into making his tefilloh a business, to derive the wonderful benefits and lessons from it, he could actually grow rich from tefilloh alone.

What is attainable though tefilloh? Every single quality and good trait in the world — love for one's fellow man, kindness, tranquility, faith — a person can attain everything through tefilloh. Prayer elevates a person and brings him into another world.

He used to repeat the Kuzari's words that tefilloh is a cleansing operation, washing and cleaning every one of a person's limbs from the grime which collects about him during the mundane hours, that tefilloh is spiritual sustenance, whose power a person needs for his existence at all times and from which one must draw all the influence of his life's spirit. That is why a prayer was instituted three times a day, according to a person's daily needs. "The blessing of a tefilloh continues to exert an effect until the time for the next tefilloh, just as the strength derived from the morning meal continues until the evening meal,' (Kuzari, ma'amar III).

Tefilloh is the cycle around which one must move throughout one's life. He used to say that the holy Chazal would not take a single step or do anything without tefilloh beforehand. Upon entering the beis hamedrash, there is a special tefilloh. Upon leaving, another tefilloh.

We find the following in the second perek of Nechemia, "And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, and I picked up the wine and gave it to the king . . . and the king said to me, `Why are you in bad spirits?' . . . and the king said to me, `What is it that you are seeking?' And I prayed to Hashem, to the heaven and I said to the king, `If it is good for the king . . . ' " All this took place in the middle of his conversation with the king. Even though it was merely a short tefilloh, it is nevertheless astounding to realize that they literally didn't move without tefilloh. Even in mid-speech, for the slightest movement, immediately — "and I prayed."

This is because it is impossible to direct the intentions of a deed towards the truth unless one merges its performance with tefilloh. This is the only way that a person can direct himself towards the truth.

He always used to exhort us that, "tefilloh is the byword and the emblem of our yeshiva. Take care not to lose or change this reputation, which has been attached to you." This has to be our undertaking now — that the "form of the yeshiva's prayer" should be preserved. In doing so we will merit setting out on the path of "the business of tefilloh."

Foundation Four: Self Improvement

If we wanted to speak about our teacher's elevated character traits — even just those with which we were familiar — no page would be long enough. He ruled absolutely over his character traits and was able to bend them in whichever direction he wanted. Thus, he would chart the extent of each trait, giving each one a fixed amount of leeway and setting limits, commanding them saying, "Up to here!" Only when the natural impulses do not hold sway over character traits is it possible to designate the true boundary to each one.

He always taught that it is impossible to fulfill Torah and mitzvos unless one rules oneself and is in control of all one's traits. For the Torah is the opposite of a person's natural impulses. "Beware lest there be a lawless element within your heart saying, `The seventh year has drawn near etc.' . . . and your heart should not feel bad when you give him" (Devorim 15:9-10). Fulfillment of this mitzvah requires being angelic in character, according to our level of understanding. Yet the Torah commands this to each and every member of Klal Yisroel, including the most ordinary!

With this we can understand the Alter of Kelm's response to the question, "Why are good character traits not mentioned explicitly in the Torah?" [He answered,] "Because when one gives a garment to a tailor, one doesn't need to instruct him about the craft of tailoring. Middos, character traits, are the tools a person needs in order to undertake the task of fulfilling the Torah. In order to fulfill Torah and mitzvos, one's traits first need to be under control, like raw material in the hand of a craftsman who inclines them whichever way he wishes."

This is what we saw and heard from our teacher z'l; this is the path which we have to take and the way we have to learn.

A Call to Talmidim the World Over

Dear brothers! We, the talmidim of the yeshiva, have hereby set out for ourselves great and useful enactments in the areas we have mentioned. All of you as well, who are scattered and spread throughout other countries and places, strengthen yourselves to join together and unite, to gather together occasionally in one place and to discuss together how best to guard and strengthen the principles which our teacher z'l passed on to us.

In conclusion, we have something to say about the form of this work. Remember that the crown and the glory of the yeshiva which our master and teacher z'l bequeathed us, lies in the fact that all the spiritual affairs were founded and built exactly like a building, one brick on top of another, at least to the same degree as the material affairs. Also, care should be taken to ensure that the work is conducted modestly, something else which disciples of our master and teacher z'l have had implanted within them.

Step by step and quietly, were two of the foundations of our teacher's yeshiva. Therein lies the secret of success and the preservation of our deeds forever.

The Relationship Between Kelm Alumni is Closer than that of Family

From Reb Yeruchom's Letters

A condolence letter sent by Reb Yeruchom to HaRav Eliyohu Dessler zt'l, when the latter lost his father, HaRav Reuven Dov Dessler zt'l. "As long as he was alive, it was as though the root of the mainstay of our lives and souls, the holy Alter, was still alive."

Much peace to his . . . honor my close friend the rav and gaon . . . HaRav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler n'y . . . Your letters reached me and [the news of] your good welfare and that of your household gave me joy. Know my friend, that all the alumni and products of that great house [the term is used in this letter to denote the Talmud Torah of Kelm] which is so beloved by us enjoy a closeness which is greater than that which exists between family members. I rejoice in their happiness and grieve chas vesholom in their sorrow. When that tzaddik, his honor your father nishmoso Eden departed too, I felt that his loss was that of someone extremely close to myself. We loved each other like brothers and I will feel his departure greatly. As long as he was here, it seemed to me as though the root of the mainstay of the spirit of our lives and souls, the holy Alter zt'l, was still alive, and with his departure our crown and our glory have departed, together with the living spirit of the holy Alter, leaving us forsaken and alone.

And yet even now, we ought to cherish that holy place where the tree used to be and where its fruits will fall. We should unite and bind all who had the merit to shelter in its shade and who continue to this day, to merit its having given them a closeness to a special relationship [shared by those who constitute] a genuine family, with one common father. It is worthwhile [for us] to remain in contact with each other through letters enquiring about one another's physical and spiritual welfare.

Each and every one of us, wherever he is, will then be attached to the collective unit. We will then not lose the spirit of the house which we acquired and that which we took possession of there. The educators will then not be ashamed or dismayed by their proteges in the world to come.

Let me know, my dear and beloved one, about your welfare and about that of all who are with you, whether tranquility rests in your home, as your hearts desire.

From your friend, who seeks your welfare and blesses you with salvations and beneficial comforting

In honor and love,

Y. Leibowitz


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