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14 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Shmuessen from HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein ztv"l

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

A new book has come out containing shmuessen given by the mashgiach HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein ztv"l at Ponevezh Yeshiva during the years 5709-5726 (1949- 66). All the material in this book, Or Yechezkel -- Darkei Ho'avodo, has been taken from rare cassette recordings of the Mashgiach collected by family members, and is divided up according to topics. Since these printed sichos are exact transcripts of the original, the reader has a sense of being present at the original shmuess. Following is a selection of the Mashgiach's insights.

In a shmuess entitled "Whoever Wants to be Misled, is Free to Be So", the Mashgiach talks about how young bochurim should be spending their time, and he bemoans the phenomenon of boys dealing with shidduchim before they have completed their training in Torah and mussar.

"I would like to point out something, and I especially have the younger talmidim in mind: it would be natural to expect the younger and newer talmidim to be more diligent in their studies than their senior colleagues, since they have not yet managed to acquire the techniques of learning, and if they do not utilize these years for Torah, how will they be able to grow in learning?

"In our times, however, you do not notice any difference between the younger and the older talmidim. Every young bochur already considers himself as important and complete as the older bochurim. They make do Rachmono litzlan with a bit of Torah, are already into shidduchim and interrupt their studies. Matters of yiras Shomayim are totally neglected by them, even though we have to labor hard to attain yir'oh, as we said above. How can we expect to acquire yir'oh without any effort on our part?

"However, we are now talking about Torah only, and even here they make do with little, learning a few dapim from several masechtos, and looking as if they have reached perfection. We are unaware of the fact that everybody must aim to acquire complete knowledge of Shas and poskim, and this applies especially to the younger ones among us.

"We must not be satisfied with minor achievements, we have to aim for greatness in Torah. Whoever leaves the yeshiva without being a real lamdan cannot hope to achieve anything. Current methods of study do not lead to one becoming a lamdan. Learning in a slow and lazy manner without tremendous motivation cannot result in true lamdonus."

In a shmuess printed in the Derech HaTorah section of the book, the Mashgiach remonstrates against young men who study to become rabbonim before having become proficient in the ways of lomdus. Part of his criticism is directed against the "worries about the future" which motivate people to go into rabbonus:

"Taking a brief look at our times, we note that almost every year there is a further yeridas hadoros, and even the spiritual level of the yeshiva today cannot be compared to that of a few years ago.

"Take, for example, those who are learning Yoreh Deah, intending to go into rabbonus and so on. I do not think that this is appropriate, because if someone is not a big lamdan, he could go through Yore Deah several times, and it would still be impossible to rely on his rulings. The rulings of a big lamdan, on the other hand, can be relied upon, even if he is not learning Yoreh Deah, because he will know how to make an halachically sound psak. The tendency to study Yoreh Deah is externally motivated, being connected to this-worldly considerations and not spiritual ones. We delude ourselves into thinking that it stems from spiritual incentives.

"Most importantly, we have to understand that we cannot guarantee our futures and all those notions are false. To attempt to guarantee the future is futile. The yeridas hadoros stems from the fact that we are in the period of the ikvesa demeshicha. The gemora tells us various signs of this period and we see clearly how young people cause distress to the older generation and how the thought processes of youngsters control us: these are signs of the ikvesa demeshicha.

"Searching for long-term security is a childish way of thinking. Ask the elderly: they will tell you that these foreign ideas and aspirations never helped any of them. Only those who follow the ways of Torah and toil in it will merit all good things, even in this world."

In another sicho, the Mashgiach talks about the chilul Hashem resulting from yeshiva bochurim davening in shtiblach outside the yeshiva:

"I would like to call attention to some matters which are opposed to kvod Shomayim. Some members of the yeshiva regularly daven outside the yeshiva, in neighboring shuls.

"First, they must realize that the holiness of a beis hamedrash is greater than that of a beis haknesses, especially a beis hamedrash in which one learns regularly. Apart from the advantage of praying in the place of one's studies, and there are some who even rule that it is preferable to pray alone in a place where one learns rather than betzibbur in a shul, even if the person prays slowly and is present from the beginning of the tefilloh, how much more does this halocho apply to these places where the davening is very fast, and it is impossible to concentrate properly on the prayer. I especially have in mind the kavono for the first brochos of Shemoneh Esrei: the Mishna Berurah is doubtful whether, when you have not yet finished the whole tefilloh, you are obliged to go back to the beginning of the tefilloh. In places of prayer outside the yeshiva where the tefilloh is quick, it is certainly impossible to have the requisite kavono.

"However, the main point I wish to make is that when bnei Torah daven in shuls and kloislach, this is not conducive to kvod Shomayim, since people who see them say, `What are bnei Torah doing here? Why are you not in the yeshiva? You must have overslept and missed the yeshiva's minyan."

This behavior does not result in a kiddush Hashem. We see the extent to which we are required to observe kiddush Hashem from the gemora in Yoma which says that we are not allowed to buy meat from a butcher without paying immediately, and Rav Yehuda says, `For example, if I were to go four amos without wearing tefillin.' How much more do we have to be careful when baalei batim think that bnei Torah get up late, which negatively affects the kiddush Hashem. The punishment for mechalelei Shomayim is extremely severe.

"I think that if someone is late for davening and he can still make Krias Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, it is better for him to daven in the yeshiva instead of going to a shul. It may even be better to daven on one's own, since it is easier to concentrate and less damage is caused to kvod Shomayim. In any case, prayer in the yeshiva is definitely to be preferred from every point of view."

The book contains many shmuessen about topics of the day, from which the Mashgiach derived ethical messages. Every event -- be it a public disaster, an earthquake or whatever -- was analyzed from the moral perspective. In a sicho from 5721 (1961), for example, entitled "Following the Trial of the Oppressor ym"sh," the Mashgiach in the context of the Eichmann trial, talks about why Hakodosh Boruch Hu felt it necessary to remind us of the terrible events of the Holocaust.

In another sicho entitled, "Preparing for Melech Hamoshiach" the Mashgiach relates the following: "I remember that in the time of the Chofetz Chaim ztv"l a man came to him saying that he needed to travel to the United States. He asked whether he should travel on his own or take his family with him. The Chofetz Chaim asked him how long he intended to stay there, and he answered (if I am not mistaken) for about two years. The Chofetz Chaim replied that during these two years the Melech Hamoshiach will definitely come. The man then asked, `Does the rebbi have the calculation of the "Kempner" in mind?' [The Malbim, known at the time as the Kempner Rov having served in the rabbinate at the town of Kempna, makes a calculation in one of his books, according to which Moshiach was due to arrive around that time.] The Chofetz Chaim answered, `No, the Melech Hamoshiach must come already regardless of the Kempner's computation, because who is left that the Moshiach could come for?' It was the Chofetz Chaim's approach that in the light of the yeridas hadoros there was no one left for whom the Moshiach could come. This was said regarding previous generations which had gedolim of enormous stature. How much more does this apply to our generation, when gedolim and men of standing are on the decrease and children rule over us: the Moshiach certainly has no one to come for. Should he come and reveal himself to the people in the yeshivot tichoniot?"

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