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A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Kislev 5767 - December 6, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








In the Sanctuary of the Pachad Yitzchok
Twenty-Six Years Since the Passing of HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt'l

by B. Re'em

"My Grasp of this Maseches is More Childish"

The first years of Torah study of Rav Hutner were in special, private sessions. His father conveyed a great deal of his original approach to chinuch to his son in his first years of childhood.

The first maseches that he studied was Bava Kammo. Over fifty years later, he remarked: "I feel that this maseches gave me an advantage in the power of my memory. I remember this maseches more. However, in regard to understanding, my grasp of this maseches is more childish compared to other masechtos."

He added a pearl of wisdom: "This is the reason that we repeat with a child "Shema Yisroel" specifically when he is very young. This is the way something penetrates the memory. The more someone is accustomed to hearing something in his early years, the more he will remember it."

His parents were in financial difficulty. His father once traveled for business purposes, and after a while sent money to his wife for a new dress, with the instruction that she should wait for a certain special occasion to wear it for the first time. This special occasion was the siyum of Bava Kammo by their firstborn, beloved son!

In Slobodka

In Tishrei, 5682 (1922), Rav Hutner arrived in Yeshivas Slobodka. Soon after he arrived, the Alter of Slobodka, Maran HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt'l, sent HaRav Yechezkel Borstein zt'l, the author of the Divrei Yechezkel, during the Yom Kippur prayers to ask Rebbe Yitzchok for his mother's name so that he could pray for him. Rav Hutner went up to the Alter himself to give him his mother's name, which earned him affection from his Rebbe.

Rav Hutner wrote in a letter (5682): "Almost six months have passed since I arrived in Slobodka. I have changed a lot in this short amount of time. When I came to Slobodka I had various questions and problems. As long as I lack a complete, orderly world perspective I cannot be mussari (a person of high morals and ethics)."

Rebbe Yitzchok's life's aspiration was complete, broad-based shleimus (character perfection), and he educated others to this aspiration as well.

A year after his arrival in yeshiva he wrote: "It is common here in Slobodka to use the word hispa'alus instead of regesh (feeling). This is a new understanding in the concept of regesh. Regesh, as we understood before, is not compatible with clear, lucid understanding. The essence of regesh is only faint longing for unspecified, unclear things.

"But here in Slobodka, the aspiration is for life based on the foundations of clear, lucid knowledge. They define the concept of regesh as `tangible intellect,' which means that one is able to grasp a particular comprehension with all the warmth of his heart and soul. That someone can be completely changed and elevated by one thought, and even to be `elevated above all other creatures.' Such a person is called here a `baal regesh.' Someone who can only grasp something with his understanding is called a person with cold understanding. This caused them to use the word hispa'alus instead of regesh." [Editor's Note: It would seem that it is the reflexive nature of the former term, and the fact that it contains the notion of affectation, that is being alluded to here.]

Rav Hutner added: "I heard these words from the Alter shlita myself."

The Move to Eretz Yisroel

In 5684 (1924), Yeshivas Slobodka founded a branch in Eretz Yisroel, in the holy city of Chevron. Rebbe Yitzchok immigrated to Yeshivas Chevron in Nisan, 5685. He wrote upon his arrival: "I now await the Alter's arrival. It seems that with his arrival a period of growth in mussar will begin for me."

And in fact, he had a period of toil and striving in Torah. He learnt with his contemporary Rebbe Yitzchok Meir ben Menachem (Patchiner) zt'l, the son-in-law of Maran HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l.

Rav Hutner constantly mentioned the importance of review in Torah study, and said once: "A man becomes great in learning only through review. Nothing can become of someone who does not have the patience to review!"

In addition to learning in yeshiva, Rav Hutner absorbed from the great Torah leaders of Eretz Yisroel of that period, including HaRav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and HaRav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri, ztvk'l. When Rav Hutner decided he had obtained the desired benefit from Yeshivas Chevron he returned to chutz la'Aretz. He noted in his notebook: "Strengthen yourself in mussar; do not desist in guarding it, for it is your life — opposite the chair of our teacher and Rebbe."

He returned to his parents' home in Warsaw, and in summer 5690 (1930) he returned to Yeshivas Chevron in Yerushalayim for one year, and then went to Kovno.

The Sefer Toras HaNozir

When he returned to Kovno, he decided to publish a sefer of chidushei Torah in halochoh. He saw the sefer as a means of summarizing a period of a derech in chidushei Torah from which he would rise to a new stage. He decided to study maseches Nozir, and in half a year wrote the sefer Toras HaNozir, on the Rambam's Hilchos Nezirus. He sent the proofs to the rov of Kovno, the Dvar Avrohom ztvk'l.

He also sent proofs of his sefer with a request for haskomoh to Vilna, to HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky ztvk'l. The haskomoh arrived a month later: "I rejoiced to see that Yisroel is not orphaned. Also in our day young men, gedolei Torah, write chidushei Torah in deep matters."

The preface of his sefer bears the banner in pride: "To my parents R. Chaim Yoel and Moras Channah Hutner n'y, this is presented in love and appreciation."

His parents' hearts melted when they received the sefer. His mother wrote: "Our happiness is beyond description. Father cried for entire days, and every time he opens the sefer he sheds more tears."

The sefer earned a wave of compliments from his rebbeim in the yeshiva. HaRav Yitzchok Isaac Sher zt'l wrote: "How is it that a young man as you teaches Torah in public by means of this wonderful sefer? And even in deep sugyos that the world is not accustomed to study, and even elders who acquired wisdom are drawn to it!"

HaRav Yechezkel Sarno zt'l wrote: "Correct words in the spirit of true understanding, not cleverness or made-up, sharpness that is far away from distant pilpul, words of content without empty chatter."

In fact, a period of his life was sealed with the publishing of his sefer, for in 5693 (1933) he married, and two weeks later he went to Eretz Yisroel. In a letter from that period he wrote: "I can almost say that besides a few people who come to see me and bother me sometimes, I do not waste even a moment from Torah study." During that period he gave chaburos in his home.

Teaching Torah to Talmidim

After a period he decided to travel to the United States. He wrote on the ship: "If the day arrives that I see that my dwelling in America cannot be considered fruitful in creativity compared to life in Eretz Yisroel I will direct the reins to Eretz Yisroel."

In the beginning, he did not accept any position or official role. He worked on the commentary of Rabbeinu Hillel to the Tosefta. He was a magnet for people in his neighborhood already at that time, and after a while he began to teach in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ). However, this was only a temporary stage.

In 5698 (1938), he founded Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in America, wherein he left an impression on thousands of students and applied his special approach in chinuch. He paved his path and approach to the halachic portions of the Torah, together with his approach to matters of hilchos dei'os and chovos halevovos (as is written on the title page of his seforim), since both of them are portions of Hashem's perfect Torah.

For this reason he was careful that he said a gemora shiur before delivering a ma'amar (mussar discourse) at the beginning of a new zman. (See the introduction to Pachad Yitzchok, Shavuos, where Rav Hutner explains the source of the difference between a shiur and a shmuess — B. R.). His years of original creativity in forming personalities of Torah and fear of G-d began at this time.

Guiding the Community

In 5716 (1956) he was appointed to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in the United States. There was hardly any major community problem in which they did not turn to him for his opinion, and to receive his advice and help, even from Eretz Yisroel.

One of the questions was: Is it permitted to sail on an Israeli ship that desecrates Shabbos as it sets sail? HaRav Hutner prohibited it absolutely, and not because of Shabbos desecration, or even because of placing a stumbling block (lifnei iveir). He said that it was a chillul Hashem. "This is an action of raising one's hand against the Torah of Moshe, and any individual who joins this matter in any way at all becomes an automatic partner in a process of public chillul Hashem!"

From his desk at home, Rav Hutner influenced world events, cut off and distant from the international media. He rarely went to conferences and avoided newspaper photographers. He always made sure to receive a daily paper. He said that it was necessary to know what was happening with the Jews, and not because he would necessarily find the truth in there, but because he even had to know what lies the media was feeding the world.

In addition to his occupation with public affairs, he was concerned about his own community. In association with his yeshiva, he founded the kollel Gur Aryeh, named after the Maharal. On the day of the chanukas habayis he went to the kollel wearing tallis and tefillin to daven mincha and say Tehillim, carrying the sefer Gur Aryeh inside his tallis bag.

He revealed to his talmidim a private reason he had for establishing the Kollel. He opened the Kollel at the age of 50, and the Torah says with regard to the shnas hayoveil (the Jubilee Year): "And a man shall return to his ancestral portion." He meant that the Maharal was his portion.

He never forgot the private individual; he gave of his soul to others and not just his time. Once, someone asked him for a decision in a complicated personal matter, and after a long while Rav Hutner told him he still did not have an answer. He explained: "In my Chumash it says, `Love your neighbor as yourself.' This commandment requires a man to relate to a question from another as if it were his own question, and how he would behave in such a situation. True advice comes only from such empathy. You turned to me in your time of trouble, but it takes time until I can bring myself to live in your situation."

Once, an avreich came to ask advice for a cure for the despair that bothered him in his avodas Hashem. Rav Hutner explained the difference between pain and despair: "Despair is being tired of living. Become alive and automatically there will be no place for despair! You can either emphasize the recognition of despair, or arouse the vitality that comes from faith in the holiness of a Jew in any situation that might be. If you live with this foundation of faith you will become living person!"

Anyone who visited him in a state of pain or worry left feeling strengthened, and even optimistic. If a person came with a lukewarm aspiration for life, he left with a measurement of the fire of life and its meaning. His enthusiasm in life was truly contagious.

Once, a Torah observant doctor asked for advice on how to prevent becoming despondent because he encountered suffering and troubles every day when he treated his patients. Rav Hutner strengthened him and encouraged him, and among other things said: "Do you not see how much those suffering patients cling stubbornly to life, and do not want to die? You have to admit that [you see from this that] life itself constitutes a great pleasure despite whatever may happen. This is because the foundation of existence is chesed, `He built the world from chesed.' Chesed creates the pleasure of life!"

The doctor left Rav Hutner weeping profusely from his emotional reaction to hearing of his attachment to life.

He was invited to be the sandek at a talmid's bris. A few hours later there was to be a funeral for one of his important disciples. The student who was making the bris was worried that Rav Hutner would not come, but Rav Hutner sent him a message: "If you really want me to come, I will come! The world is divided between Eliyahu Hanovi and the Angel of Death — where the one is in control the other has no domain. That is the way of the world."

"When the Cloud Lifted"

In Marcheshvan, 5741 (1981) he came to Eretz Yisroel to his beis midrash in Yerushalayim. There, he suffered partial paralysis. Many bnei Torah and great talmidei chachomim in Eretz Yisroel volunteered to take shifts to stay with him. In those days they merited to hear hours of elevated talks. He never complained about his situation, and only requested that the prayer for him should always be "among all the sick of Yisroel," and if not, he did not want them to pray for him.

The night of 20 Kislev, 5741, the light was extinguished. The next day, erev Shabbos, tens of thousands accompanied him to Har HaZeisim, and he went to Heaven, to the day that is entirely Shabbos. It was not for nothing that in the last weeks of his life he longed for his Shabbos garments, and when they put the shtreimel on his head his countenance changed. He used to say about himself: "Ich bein be'etzem a Shabbosdiger Yid—I am in essence a Shabbos Jew!" He merited to enter the World to Come with the entrance of Shabbos Kodesh.

It has been more than half-a-yoveil, 26 years, since the lifting of the cloud, and his great spirit moves between the beis midrash of Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in the United States and the beis midrash of Pachad Yitzchok in Yerushalayim, and in his great works.

From the Written Word: Insights from His Own Writings and the Writings of His Disciples

In special ways he taught and instilled into his students the value of honoring Torah and its scholars. In his tremendous self-sacrifice for teaching Torah and educating students, he always emphasized uplifting the status of the Torah and of those who labor in its study. Recognizing the Torah's importance and the value of its high level were foundations of his divrei Torah and his approach to chinuch. These boxes will attempt to convey a bit of the honor that he bequeathed us.

Yeshiva Customs and Kovod HaTorah

"Generally, no custom was established for yeshivos as a whole in matters where there is a dispute and in matters of halochoh. Every yeshiva conducts itself according to its tradition. However an exception to this rule is matters of kovod, in which all the yeshivos conduct themselves lechumroh, such as standing during the Torah reading. This is because a place of Torah is based on kovod haTorah and `in His sanctuary all should proclaim honor.' " With these words the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l inaugurated his beis midrash in its Flatbush location in 5727 (1967).

From the Written Word: A Person's Values

What a person values determines and defines the essence of his character. If we wish to test a person's character the central question is to where his movements of self- abnegation incline. In fact, there lies great opposition to the recognition of the importance of something else within a man's soul. A man's soul has a strong inclination to scorn. In opposition to the faculty of recognizing importance there is a process that does not want to suffer any importance, and is comfortable only in demeaning all values. This force is called leitzonus (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, Inyan 1:3).

When he saw that a certain Torah scholar valued a person with a high level in avodoh above a godol in Torah study who did not occupy himself with avodoh, he distanced that scholar with the statement that he was a leitz. "A leitz is not just someone who mocks," he said, "A leitz is someone who does not have chashivus HaTorah."

A group of his disciples were about to travel to found a yeshiva, and they had gathered before him to hear words of encouragement and guidance. He said: "One can tell the difference between two men with regard to which one has a greater inclination to the fear of Heaven by noting their reaction to a story: There was once a general of a great army who was defeated in battle. It became known that the reason for the defeat was because the general ate rancid butter the morning of the battle, and as a result he did not direct the battle strategy properly.

"Some people will hear this story and react with scorn, and some will see in it the importance of even the smallest detail in the world, which has important consequences in fateful matters. The first is lightheaded; the second is serious and is capable of attaining fear of Heaven. In founding a yeshiva, the necessity is for seriousness, which means to say a recognition of the meaning that every detail can have."

From the Written Word: Valuing a Mitzvah

One of his talmidim once asked whether he should grow a beard or not (as is known, he would encourage people about this). In those days, wearing a beard was considered unusual and not accepted in society. He answered that if a man were to spend $10,000 on an esrog we would praise him, but if he spent money for mayim acharonim he would be considered silly. "You should know that growing a beard will cost you more than $10,000, and you have to clarify for yourself: If the beard is like an esrog to you—grow it. But if it is like mayim acharonim to you—forget it."

From the Written Word: Honor to Talmidim

How much he honored his students! Whenever he sat with a talmid he gave him the clear feeling that he was turning away from all his affairs to focus on guiding him and helping him grow, and he arranged that there be no disturbances while he was so occupied. It was not possible to speak with him without scheduling it ahead of time, and every appointment was set for a certain amount of time and no more. He educated each talmid according to his way.

Once, he gave a shiur in Perek Klal Godol for young students. After the shiur, a bochur approached him to comment that there was a piece in the Talmud Yerushalmi that was a proof for his chiddush. To the bochur's surprise, Rav Hutner immediately quoted the entire piece by heart, word for word. The astonished bochur asked him why he did not cite it in the shiur, and he answered that he would not mention a Yerushalmi to the bochurim unless the Rishonim quoted it.

All of his private conversations with the talmidim were calibrated according to the abilities of the recipient to actually receive content. He never spoke about himself unless it would provide a benefit to the talmid. Also, he only spoke about gedolei Yisroel if the talmid could accept what he had to say and it would be beneficial for him. He only spoke divrei Torah to someone who requested and sought them. He lowered his entire essence to understand the needs of his talmidim and raise their level.

One of his talmidim told how he went to the beis midrash to learn after the Rosh Hashonoh meal, and when he entered, the Rosh Yeshiva met him and told him that there was a despondent bochur upstairs in the dormitory, and it would be worthwhile to go up and spend some time with him to encourage him. The talmid claimed that since it was Rosh Hashonoh he really wanted to learn. The Rosh Yeshiva looked at him and said, "A satiated man cannot understand the hunger of a starving man." The talmid added that Rav Hutner was certainly very satiated and yet he understood how hungry we were.

From the Written Word: Without a Chavrusa

One of his demands in chinuch was that a student must be capable of learning alone, without a chavrusa. He said that it was possible to eat with company, but the person must digest it alone. Those whose Torah is at the level of eating, learn only with a chavrusa. But those whose Torah is digested learn alone. All his life he grew among Torah scholars, he said, and he never saw someone who grew exceptionally and yet learned only with chavrusas.

He once told a bochur that his need for a chavrusa was because he lost his desire for learning gemora without a chavrusa, and the presence of a chavrusa brought him closer to the desire to learn. As a result, he was someone who depended on the graces of others. "When you tell me that you are learning by yourself I'll make a `Yom Tov for the Rabbonon.' "

From the Written Word: Kovod HaTorah

He educated his students to appreciate the high level of those who study Torah. He said in the name of Maran HaRav Elchonon Wasserman ztvk'l that there is a difference between the apikorsim in the time of Chazal and those of our day and age. The earlier ones said: "What benefit do we have from the rabbonon? They read and learn only for their own sake!" At least, they recognized that the rabbonon benefited themselves by learning Torah. However, today the apikorsim deny even this, and say the rabbonon do not even help themselves by learning.

Today bnei Torah lack appreciation even for their own toil in Torah study, Rav Hutner added. He wrote to young students: "The purpose of your growth in Torah study is to create Torah scholars on behalf of Knesses Yisroel. Any action that assists in creating Torah scholars in Yisroel has immeasurable value."

Incidentally, he once spoke about the difference between the apikorsus of our generation, which wants to uproot the Torah and leave `Jewish culture,' and the apikorsus of old that was a rebellion that allowed no place for Judaism at all. The difference between the two is comparable to the difference between the Russian Revolution and the English Revolution. The Russians threw the Czar into prison, whereas the British built the Queen a beautiful royal palace but left her without any power whatsoever.

He would show honor and love for even young Torah students in public, and stand up for them. He instituted the custom in his yeshiva of calling up outstanding avreichim and talmidim for Chosson Torah and Chosson Bereishis on Simchas Torah. He told one Chosson Torah that he should love the Torah as himself, and honor her more than himself, just as we are told to relate to our wives.

This was his approach and in this way he changed the view of Torah supporters. HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l told how there once was a meeting of roshei yeshivos and a very wealthy man was expected to attend. After they arrived at the meeting place, the wealthy man called and informed them that he could not attend the meeting, but asked if they could come after the meeting to his office and tell him what happened.

Rav Hutner called back and told him: "I am not a math genius, but it seems to me that the distance from where we are to where you are is the same as the distance from where you are to where we are. If you wish to speak to us we will be here for another hour."

He did not tolerate any disrespect even at the hands of those who supported Torah.

His refined feelings towards kovod haTorah can be seen in the answer he wrote when asked if a periodical that contained the words of Torah mixed together with other subjects needed to put into genizah, or could it be thrown into the trash? He answered: "The one who turned his words of Torah over to the periodical has already thrown them into the trash."

The sight of his love and honor for the Torah as he said his criticism in a voice full of emotion was wonder to behold.

At one point he described in writing how he saw the delivering a ma'amar: "I stand quaking, afraid, bewildered, and astonished opposite the wave of light that overwhelms me like a wild growth of the seedling from last Tishrei . . . I do not wish to break up the power of the wave into distinct points . . . Only sometimes, a few points become detached from the wave [of themselves as it were], and then a full measure of words of Torah are revealed within them, full of joy."

Every ma'amar, he said, was an ois-shrei'en, a scream, of the vision that was before him.

From the Written Word: Exact Definitions

Every subject engrossed him; he labored on it, and insisted on exact definitions. He was engrossed in the fact, for example, that the eternal sefer of the Jewish people, the Shulchan Oruch, was woven of threads from partners so distant, the Beis Yosef of Tzfas, and the Rema of Krakow.

He was bothered by the question of why the Jewish people do not set aside special shoes for Shabbos, and he built an entire systematic arrangement of Torah ideas on this question. He clarified and defined whether the days of chol hamoed are one unit with their associated chag or not.

One of the central parts of his life and writings is the soul's greatness, and its potential to live in loftiness or pettiness. "It is better to live a short life and squeeze the most out of it than to live a long time and be as if half- dead," he once said.

Another saying: "Every moment that your heart beats has to be so full of life that if you were to cut it, it would bleed!"

In his view, greatness is the prescription that ferments all portions of life, and all his work with the public was to elevate them and make them great. He taught that the feeling of importance is the complete opposite of seeking honor. This is how he defined in his writings the sickness of seeking honor: "A man's imagination counterfeits and places approval from others in the place that should be occupied by the actual feeling of true importance. This counterfeit can be so successful that it becomes impossible for a person to have a personal feeling of celebration if he will not be able to endorse it with the approval of others."

To the extent that he delved so incredibly deep into the words of Torah, and was worthy of much honor for it, to this extent he taught in wondrous words of Torah that modesty in Torah was the honor of Torah. He was very concerned not to breach this fence. He spoke with great feeling and hispa'alus about Dovid Hamelech who was successful at both humbling others and humbling himself at the same time. "In the depths of my soul there dwells a picture of perfection that contradicts every shade of appointment to a position and every color of authority . . . Believe me! If I could do my work in teaching Torah and educating talmidim without the seal of added authority, I would see the world in it!"


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