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28 Sivan, 5784 - July 4, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Legacy of Reb Yeruchom, zt'l

by Rav Yosef Fleischman


These essays were originally published in 1996, 28 years ago.

Part I

For Part II of this series click here.

The Yerushalmi (Shekalim 2,5) teaches, "Ein osim nefoshos letzaddikim, divreihem hein hein zichronon." It is unnecessary to construct large monuments for tzadikim, their words perpetuate their memory. This is especially true in the case of the Mirrer mashgiach, Reb Yeruchom zt'l, for two reasons.

First, Reb Yeruchom identified closely with his shmuessen. His lectures were not theoretical discussions but the result of tremendous introspection. Perhaps this can be most succinctly expressed by the following quote taken from his children's introduction to the first volume of Reb Yeruchom's Daas Chochmah Umussar, shmuessen that he said at the Mir Yeshiva:

"His every word, whether learned or taught, emanated from his innermost self. His holy neshomoh, his pure heart and his strength of character are the sources from which he drew most of his Torah. His soul was attached and incorporated into every nuance and utterance that left his mouth. His knowledge of Hashem was derived from his own self-knowledge."

Thus, we can understand the source, Reb Yeruchom, by studying his product, his talks.

Second, his lectures are profuse. We have so far merited nine volumes of his teachings and be'ezras Hashem additional volumes will be published.

Reb Yeruchom's lectures are very didactic. He always tried to drive home a clearly defined, practical message. There are several major themes to which he constantly kept returning.

It is in this vein that this article is presented. We will try to present a few of the more important elements of his philosophy. It is hoped that in so doing we will not merely remember Reb Yeruchom abstractly, but we ourselves, in internalizing and fulfilling his ideas, will serve as a living remembrance of what Reb Yeruchom stood for.

A newspaper article can certainly not do justice to Reb Yeruchom's ideas. Even in his own seforim, one can only gain a glimpse of his ideas. His thoughts are very deep and require much time and effort in order to be fully understood. We will attempt to make at least some of his key ideas accessible, but we will also include mareh mekomos in order to enable further review of the original.

Menahalei Hayeshiva DeMir, 1935

Doing Mitzvos Because of Hechrach

At a gathering of Reb Yeruchom's talmidim on the occasion of his first yahrtzeit, his former talmidim decided to form a society to collectively strive towards perfecting themselves in some of his most prominent ideals. The talmidim published a detailed summary of their thoughts at the first yahrtzeit, reflecting on the lessons of their great mentor.

In a preface to their remarks the talmidim wrote, "The very first rule and the "alef" which our Rebbe constantly taught, and which anyone whoever crossed the threshold of our beis hamedrash already knows, is that the most fundamental principle of man's success is that every individual must feel that he absolutely must keep Hashem's mitzvos. A person can not rely on his bechiroh."

Man is created with free will. However, he must not remain in a state where he must make a constant unprejudiced decision to fulfill Hashem's wishes. Man must reign in his free will until he reaches a point where he feels obligated to carry out Hashem's will. We are supposed to make a free-willed choice to obligate ourselves to keep all of Hashem's mitzvos.

The talmidim continued, saying that one could say that the banner of Reb Yeruchom's Mirrer Yeshiva would be, "Man should subjugate himself as an ox does to his yoke and a donkey to his burden."

The difference between man and animal is that the animal does not come to this state by virtue of a free-willed decision whereas man must attain this state of subjugation as a result of his own choice.

This statement of Reb Yeruchom's principle, thus, consists of two parts: one negative statement and one very positive. The negative statement is that man can, under no circumstances, rely on his natural inclinations.

The second statement sets forth for us the goal of our avodas Hashem. We are to work to bring ourselves to the madreigah that under all circumstances we will feel totally obligated to do the rotzon Hashem.

Thus, Reb Yeruchom explains in Devorim (Volume 2, Page 89) the Ramban who says (Bereishis 2,9), "Man would naturally (before he ate from the eitz hada'as) do what was correct just like the heavens and all the bodies therein do. The fruit of this tree infused man with the choice to do either good or evil."

Similarly, the Ramban explains (Devorim 30,6) that in the future man will return to his original state. The Ramban says, "At the time of Moshiach, man will naturally choose to do good. His heart will not have any desire at all to act improperly... Man will return at that time to be like Adam before the aveiroh, who naturally acted properly."

This was man's state in the beginning and this is where we shall return. It is the state where we obey Hashem totally. Thus, Reb Yeruchom explains (Shemos, Page 209), "The idea of shleimus is to become `metzuvim' — that we become obligated.

"There are many madreigos in commitment. One determinant of just how great one's commitment is, is how well one stands up under duress. A second determinant is based upon the fact that one who acts only to fulfill his obligation does not feel proud of his actions. Therefore, we can understand the gemora (Sanhedrin 88 B), `Who is destined for olom haboh?.... one who constantly learns and does not feel proud in any manner.' This is now understandable because one who does not feel he is due any reward is one who feels obligated to do mitzvos."

A recent picture of the Mir Yeshiva building

He explains that this is what Klal Yisroel received at Har Sinai. We say in the Haggadah that if we would have merely stood at Har Sinai that alone would be sufficient. The setting at Har Sinai with the mountain held over Klal Yisroel's head like a barrel, served to indicate our total responsibility to keep the Torah. This is, according to the Torah itself (Shemos 20,17), the purpose of ma'amad har Sinai: "In order that you shall countenance the fear of Hashem so that you should not sin."

Thus, Reb Yeruchom has revealed to us what our avodas Hashem is. It is not satisfactory for one to just do Hashem's commandments. One must carry out the commands as a result of a feeling that he absolutely must do so. Furthermore a person's madreigah in avodas Hashem is determined by how obligated he feels towards the mitzvos.

Reb Yeruchom (Volume 2, Page 183) says that this is the simple explanation for an enigmatic Rashi. Rashi explains (Devorim 29,19) that Moshe exhorted Klal Yisroel learn from the heavens who naturally and consistently do Hashem's will. Klal Yisroel should say that if heaven and earth do not receive any reward and yet they consistently carry out Hashem's wishes, certainly we human beings, who are rewarded, should consistently carry out Hashem's wishes.

The obvious question is that heaven and earth are not endowed with free will, so what can we, who do have free will, deduce from their behavior?

Reb Yeruchom argues that the heavens are really not obligated to do Hashem's will. They have a possibility to not listen but, as we say in davening, "Out of fear they fulfill the wishes of their Creator." It is so crystal clear to them that one should do Hashem's rotzon that they consistently choose the correct path. We therefore should follow suit.

Reb Yeruchom also explains (Volume 1, Section 85) that mal'ochim also do Hashem's will because it is so clear to them that it would be ludicrous to do otherwise. That explains the occasions where mal'ochim did do aveiros (such as the end of Parshas Bereishis).

With reference to the mitzvah of lo sachmod, the Ibn Ezra says that many ask how it is possible to give such a command. How can Hashem expect man not to desire something beautiful, even if it is not his?

The Ibn Ezra replies that the notion of desiring someone else's possessions should be as foreign to everyone as a princess is as a marriage partner for a peasant. The thought may be an entertaining one, but only a fool would really think that such thoughts have any practical possibility.

Reb Yeruchom explains that this is not really a question and an answer, but rather a view of man from two perspectives. Those who question man's ability to follow a command such as lo sachmod are viewing man as following his natural inclination. However, Ibn Ezra, in his answer, sees man as doing mitzvos as they should be done. One should work on himself until he fulfills the mitzvos because he must follow Hashem's will. Then he can come to consider another person's possessions as being totally alien.

Reb Yeruchom stressed that a person must not just follow his natural inclination. In fact, we shall soon see that allowing one's inclinations to determine his actions has consistently been man's downfall. Man's historical task is to curb his inclinations so much that he feels compelled to carry out Hashem's rotzon.

A recent picture of an old house in Mir

Da'as in Control

In their introduction to the first volume of the Da'as Chochmah Umussar, Reb Yeruchom's children describe how he reigned in his natural inclinations.

They quote one of Reb Yeruchom's kabolas from his younger years. He wrote, "I have seen that I am not controlled by my own self, but rather in the control of what are truly others, namely my physical self, with its various aspects, that rule within me. Furthermore, they even bribe my seichel to fool it into doing their illogical acts. Their sole purpose is to lead man away from what is good. Therefore, I have accepted upon myself, bli neder, to make da'as my ruler. Perhaps Hashem will help me. Therefore, I have accepted upon myself, bli neder, to act five times a day against my will. If I should miss a day I will pay a fine of ten kopecks."

Here, we have a description of both Reb Yeruchom's goal and his plan of action. His ambition was to crown his seichel as his ruler. The competition to his seichel was thoughts which appeared to occur naturally from within, but actually emanated from his guf, not his seichel. By getting used to controlling his desires he would enable his seichel to rule over his body and control his every action.

Reb Yeruchom explains (Volume 2, Page 76) that this was Avrohom Ovinu's avoda as well. He quotes the Midrash (Shir Hashirim 1,58) that Avrohom was mesageif himself and explains that this was Avrohom's secret of success.

He writes, "The secret of Avrohom is that he never relied on his inclination. Every action had to be examined under a microscope. Mesageif himself does not mean only that he fasted or gave himself other yissurim. Fasting would be minor compared to what he actually did to go against his own will."

Chovos Halevovos writes (Yichud Hamaaseh, Chapter Five, quoted by Reb Yeruchom) that this is man's task: "Man, know that your arch enemy is your yetzer who is enmeshed in your kochos hanefesh... who gives you advice and whom you include in your circle of friends." Only by examining each action under a microscope is one able to discern if what he is doing really is Hashem's desire or is it his own notion.

The fact that Reb Yeruchom purposely went against his own will imbued him with a sense that one must not blindly follow his whims and wishes. In fact, it is exactly in this matter that Adam Horishon failed, according to Reb Yeruchom. This shows dramatically that although Adam Horishon was naturally good before he partook of the eitz hada'as, that is not enough. Even with the elevated natural tendencies of an Adam Horishon kodem hacheit, one cannot just follow his inclinations.

Reb Yeruchom writes (2,73), "He (Adam Horishon) should have worked on himself to the point where he would go against his physical inclinations. He should have gone against his natural tendencies. When Adam did not do this, and relied on his natural inclinations, his aveiroh ensued."

This is what will happen in the future as well according to Reb Yeruchom. We mentioned earlier that the Ramban writes that we will return to the state of Adam Horishon before the aveiroh. Nonetheless, the posuk writes (Devorim 10,16), "You will remove the orlah of your heart, and you will not harden your neck anymore."

This is a two-step process. First the orlah of the heart is removed. This, according to the Ramban, signifies that we will return to the state of Adam Horishon kodem hacheit.

However, even then we need another step. We must reach a state where we will no longer harden our necks which, as Reb Yeruchom proves, means that we will not rely on our natural inclinations. This will be the final tikkun for Adam Horishon's aveiroh. As the Ramchal writes (Da'as Tevunos, Section 40), since Adam Horishon did his aveiroh, we must do in six thousand years what Adam Horishon could have accomplished in one day.

This is every man's duty. Reb Yeruchom spared no effort in perfecting himself. Therefore, (introduction, ibid.) he was able to confide shortly before his death, "From the day I `became aware of myself' I did not have a futile thought."

End of Part I


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