Reminiscences from R' Moshe Eliezer Schwartzbord
A Voice Cries Out: Elul!
Memories from the Yomim Noraim period in Yeshivas Beis
Yosef, in the year 5695. Descriptions and experiences from
the bustling `spiritual fair' that took place each year in
Beis Yosef in Poland and Lithuania in the months of Elul and
Dewdrops of Elul. We were rusticating from the boredom of
routine. The past year had been dry, uneventful, and we
seemed to be steeped in a torpor, a deep slumber, when the
chimes of the upcoming year began pealing. Dewdrops of mercy
descended from Heaven and covered the parched earth which had
forsaken us. "A downpour of water from thickly clouded
skies." Clouds of purity and sanctity spread across the blue
heavens above us and the sound of the shofar could be heard
throughout the land.
We converge here every Elul, every year. You with your large
shofar in hand, pleading, threatening, wailing. And upon your
back, a ladder firmly planted upon the ground, its head
reaching the Heaven.
You lower the ladder into the pit and stretch out a long,
long arm, as if you seek to draw us up from the pit and save
us from the abyss, from the waters of the dunghill.
The morning of the first of Elul. With the pristine sounding
of the shofar, rain began trickling down our faces. The
showers of Elul revived our souls.
The trumpeting and blasting of the shofar, the ram's horn of
our Patriarch Yitzchok, made us shudder and tremble to the
very core of our beings. We felt the chills of the Days of
Awe encompassing our flesh. The seething prayers roused our
souls and tempered our hearts. We were purified, elevated
upwards, lifted above our base natures, and we felt a
sloughing off of our earthliness.
In the courtyard of the yeshiva, in the winding pathways, you
could hear the voices resounding from the Beis Mussar,
rising resonantly, and dispersing all around us in a
multitude of sound- fragments of thoughts and emotions, notes
and chords vibrating the soul, voices melding into a
consonance of soulful cries of yearning and longing. They
reproached us, demanded and pleaded: Don't just stand there
idly, arms akimbo. "Wake up, you sluggards, from your
slumber; rise up from your stupor."
And all the people in this Torah-camp, those who stand in the
halls of the yeshiva in Pinsk: "Hashem is my light and my
succor." "My light" -- on Rosh Hashonoh. "My succor" -- on
A Heavy Downpour of Selichos
The days passed. The shofar and prayers, seething and
steaming, vibrated our souls and tempered our hearts. We were
sanctified and elevated, and with every prayer, every
blessing and fiery study session, we felt a fire percolating
in our bones, causing us to shed our earthliness.
With pure dedication, sacrifice and great toil, we arrived at
those hours of elevation, acquired a spiritual acquisition
and a dissociation from material things of this ephemeral
world. We approached the eternal life.
The days passed. The shofars blasted and trumpeted and began
showering us with a heavy downpour of selichos. That
was when we began to experience the dread of the Days of Awe,
The masmidim of Yeshivas Beis Yosef dare face the
kingdom of the night and disturb the silence.
With flickering candles held in their hands, they forge ahead
into the dark hours of the night, as if plunging into the
mighty ocean depths, into infinite waters. They are loathe to
leave the volume that prescribes precisely what they need . .
. They thirst for every single word, plumb the significance
of each tiny lettercrown . . .
After midnight of that selfsame night, we went to the Beis
Hamussar where we sat before R' Sholom Brisker, one of
the most distinguished staff members of our yeshiva. We were
privileged to hear from his holy mouth a rousing talk on the
month of Elul.
R' Sholom told us about Elul in the previous generation, a
tale for the Days of Awe.
Why was Shlomo Tiktiner shutting his gemora, leaving
his set place and going outside, precisely then?
He was removing his faded, shabby overcoat which he had
outgrown, from its hook behind the bimah and, with
measured steps, head lowered to view only his immediate four
cubits, he quit the beis midrash in the middle of the
second learning session, heading out to the road leading
towards the yeshiva kitchen.
Shlomo lifted the fur collar of his coat, hunched up his
shoulders, and buried himself into its protection from the
biting cold. The rain increased in intensity and lashed
angrily at his lean figure, spraying his face with piercing,
freezing ice slivers. Shlomo continued his measured steps,
oblivious to the stormy weather all around him. The storm in
his heart was far stronger and upheaving.
Heaven and earth! Seek mercy for Shlomo Tiktiner!
And why was his soul in such stormy turmoil this evening? In
another two hours, the most important vaad meeting in
his whole life was scheduled to take place. Here, each member
of his particular group would have to accept upon himself an
absolute, binding resolution, sealed by the enchaining
constriction of an irrevocable signature upon the resolution
of Shivti beveis Hashem: A lifelong commitment to
Torah study, a yoke till death did absolve.
Before Shlomo stands the question: Either--Or . . . To commit
himself to the path of shivti or to return to his
companions in the Polish village, to the broken cistern. . .
. to the erstwhile water streams and their unpredictable
water supplies . . .to the symbolically bloated flasks
filled only with hot air . . .to the glint of ersatz jewels
and the glantz that beguiled and beckoned.
When Shlomo reached the beis hatavshil kitchen, he
found the worker setting the tables, putting an eighth of a
loaf of old black bread before each setting and upon each
chunk, a small cube of white sugar.
Shlomo went over to one of the set tables, dark and hoary
with age, not having been scrubbed since last Pesach. He took
a portion and thrust it into his coat pocket, heading then to
the Beis Hamussar where the vaad was scheduled
to take place in two hours time.
Then he would hear R' Refoel Kaminker, the rosh havaad,
address him: "And you, Shlomo Tiktiner? Open your mouth
and let your words illuminate us."
But Shlomo chooses to slide down a dangerous incline.
The Maskilim celebrated their victory. They had lain
in ambush for Shlomo for an entire year, all the while
supplying him with secular books and newspapers that injected
an effervescent venom into the pure soul of the Tiktiner
Shlomo was in distress, a captive to his weakness. And in
yeshiva, the turmoil was great. "Maskil leDovid . . .
when he was in the cave, a psalm . . . " Our comrade is in a
dangerous situation. We must pray for his soul.
Shlomo arrives at the trade fair and is met and accompanied
by success. He buys and sells, acquires and disburses. And
when he is about to return home, the purse in his hand is
heavy indeed, aside from the load of merchandise heaped on
Shlomo's assets increase. His wealth multiplies until it
cannot be counted. No longer is he the Shlomo who suffices
with the barest minimum, but he is a distinguished business
magnate. He builds himself a mansion surrounded by
magnificent gardens and he, too, dresses the role of a man of
splendor and wealth. Custom-made clothing, a gold watch fob
with heavy chain gleaming ostentatiously from his waistcoat
Shlomo Tiktiner stops opening his holy seforim. His
parched soul pines and thirsts. His spirit is so weary and
But his thoughts meander among the palaces of peers and
noblemen. His eyes are drawn to the glitter of gold and the
panacea of precious stones. And the more extensive his
affairs, the less time he has. Shlomo is laden with money,
but is starved for time.
In one of the days of the "Month of Mercy and Forgiveness,"
when Shlomo arrives at the trade fair, he passes by a
Hearing the sound of knocking on a window, he is suddenly
roused, as if from sleep. Shlomo lifts his head and sees his
rebbe, the mashgiach, standing by the window,
beckoning to him to come in.
Pallor and flush alternate across his face. The gold watch
chain stares at him accusingly. "Don't you know that Count So-
and-So has made an appointment with you for a major business
transaction for this very hour? How can you pass up such an
Shlomo's feet were riveted to the spot. They refused to
budge. The Mashgiach's look stabbed him, pierced him through
and through. He did not have the audacity to evade it. With
faltering steps, he began shuffling forward, and entered the
The Mashgiach, his head and beard frosted with age, greeted
Shlomo with the merry smile of youth. He laved him with a
fatherly look and asked gently, "Did you engage in Torah
study yet this morning?"
"N-n-no . . . " stammered Shlomo in all honesty.
"Come with me to the window," he heard the Mashgiach urging
him. His feet moved towards the window.
"Look outside. Tell me what you see."
"I see . . . " began Shlomo falteringly, his teeth
chattering, "I see the marketplace. Buyers, sellers, milling
around. I see stands of merchandise and horses and
"Listen here, Shlomo!" said the Mashgiach, close to his ear,
"In fifty years' time, this fair won't be here anymore.
Instead, there will be a different kind of fair. There'll be
buyers and sellers, but they will be other ones. The wares
will have changed, too. So tell me why, Shlomo, are you so
involved and distracted all the time with such temporary,
fleeting matters, to the point that you have no time to study
Torah? You are drowning, suffocating from lack of time!"
Shlomo was shaken to the core. He raised his voice and wept.
"Of what value is all the wealth in the world if it causes a
person to forget his obligations upon this world? Why,
"Wherefore are you in such a rush? Where are you running to,
Shlomo? With such headlong speed that nothing can stop
And it came to pass, at midnight, that the doors of the
yeshiva opened to accept Shlomo. Shlomo had returned.
Whoever did not see the hero of our story, Shlomo Tiktiner,
at the moment when he crossed the threshold of the yeshiva,
never saw a marvelous spectacle in his days.
"I've come back to you. To my shtender and my
gemora. I've returned, from the broken cisterns, from
the dried up river beds, from the bloated, air-filled flasks.
I am here! Turned my back upon the gleaming fake gems, from
their simulated brilliance.
"Blessed are You Who gave us a Rosh Hashonoh, a day of shofar
blowing, days to awaken us from our slumber, Who gave us the
brakes to stop us from a fatal plunge into the abyss, Who
granted us these Days of Awe, Who shone the beacon upon us to
dazzle us from our stupor. We awaken to realize that man's
soul is the illuminating candle, and not the external glitz
and glantz all around. Stop! Look! Listen!
"Like a wanderer in the desert, I am starved, faint with
thirst. No, not hungry for bread, nor thirsty for water, for
bread I have, nor do I lack water. But my parched soul
yearns, pines, withers, no end."
He dissolved into a paroxysm of sobs, and tears cascaded down
his cheeks. Boiling, searing tears. With burning lips, Shlomo
bent towards the fountain and sucked up into his soul its
Voices cry out from the Beis Hamussar. If they
surprise you, dear reader, know that these are the bnei
Torah who are studying mussar together, in the
regimented sessions of the yeshiva. But if this is so,
wherefore the need for a separate Beis Mussar?
Shlomo and his companions come here to find balm. Here they
dress their wounds and here they are salved and soothed. They
quickly find respite, here in the Beis Mussar, for
here, you converse with the Creator. You pour out your heart
like water: Tattenyu! Liebe Tatte!
"I am Your Shlomo. This whole year I have been fleeing from
You, but here I am. I have returned to You. I am here, close
to You, on hand. From now on, I will always remain close to
"Shivti beveis Hashem" -- I shall dwell in the House
of Hashem -- for all the days of my life.
Rosh Hashonoh 5694.
Shlomo floats and is borne aloft upon the waves of pure
waters. His ears pick up the creaking of scales, tipping up
and down. His eyes do not budge from the three Books spread
open on this day.
A tremor seizes him. He sees himself: so minuscule, helpless,
confronted by the angels who scurry back and forth, also
gripped with fear and trepidation.
Lo! It is the Day of Judgment!
"I, the impoverished Shlomo, who have nothing to boast of,
seek from the depths of my heart a gift-upon-no-merit, a
bounteous donation of Heavenly assistance. Please! Remember
us for life. Let us not be like those who request life, but
who abuse it, who dispense with it cavalierly, who use Your
precious gift of life in order to rebel against You. Let us
not be like those paupers who ask for alms and when they
receive a penny, go to an alehouse and squander it upon
Shlomo garbed himself with the cloak of the celestial beings
and ascended to a new, elevated world. Below him sank a world
of quagmire and dungheaps, a gaping abyss of mud and filth
and quicksand where one sank, never to reappear.
But Shlomo remained aloft, afloat, and he approached closer
and closer to the upper waters, calling out, "I beg to draw
near to my King."
The sounds of the shofar, the horn of Yitzchok's ram,
resemble the bleating and pleading of a fire engine siren, as
it careens around corners, speeds up and down streets,
warning and announcing! Rise up, brethren. Don't just stand
there idly by. Fill your vessels immediately; extinguish the
fire. Your town is on fire, and whoever has sinned must
repent and put out the conflagration. The fire is spreading
Upon hearing these words, Shlomo and his companions are
seized with turbulent emotions and soulful yearning. An
exquisite trembling grips them all and they exclaim, "Lo! The
Day of Judgment is upon us!"
The healing sun of righteousness and lovingkindness beams
down upon them from between the clouds of wrath.
Sublimely uplifted were the words of the Mashgiach during
these Days of Penitence. They pierced the atmosphere of the
yeshiva hall and stirred up a storm. Thoughts surfaced in our
hearts and penetrated to our inner ear, causing us inner
turmoil. In a roaring, demanding tone, it spoke, but through
the clouds of wrath he gazed upon us in gentle love, and we
sensed that love.
All Sleep -- Only One There Is Awake
In the nights past midnight, in the blackness, by the light
of the moon and stars, your ears could pick up the sounds of
voices bursting forth from the Beis Hamussar. And your
eyes would discern a flame of light, of candles, whose beams
cleared the dusty window. The houses all around were bathed
in darkness, in a deep slumber.
Everyone is fast asleep. Only one is awake, Shlomo Tiktiner,
in the silent Beis Medrash where you can hear the ancient
clock ticking loudly. A large shadow looms on the wall,
accompanied by the whispering of lips in an outpouring of the
Ay, ay, yay! For lack of attention, the prince went
astray and becomes lost. A farmer finds the child in the
forest, helpless, vulnerable, and sets him to herd his geese
in the village marshes. The child cries out, "But I am the
prince!" And the farmer beats him until the child stops
ranting that he is a prince. The child makes peace with his
bitter fortune, forgets altogether that he is a royal
personage, and from dawn to dusk, wades through the boggy
marsh, in the mud, watching the honking geese.
The king seeks his son throughout the villages. Finally, he
reaches the village where his only son is staying. The king
announces: Gather all you townsmen unto me for I will
grant a gift to each and every one. And when the prince's
turn comes to make his one request, what he does ask? For a
pair of boots, for winter is coming on, and if permitted, he
would also dare ask for a woolen hat, and perhaps, two loaves
Says the king: This voice is familiar! Can you be my long
lost son? Come to me! Come back with me to the royal palace!
You will lack nothing. You are my own lost son!
Ay, ay, yay!
Dovid Hamelech says to the Creator: "I ask from Hashem only
one thing. Shivti beveis Hashem, to dwell in the
palace of the King for the rest of my life." Instead of
requesting a pair of boots and some loaves of bread, I ask to
be close to You, to dwell in Your palace.
And thus did the younger youths of the succeeding generation
also plead, to the point of swooning, "Let me dwell in the
House of Hashem . . . "
All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.