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21 Sivan, 5784 - June 27, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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A Reiner Mentsch, A Reiner Torah, — The Gaon HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik zt'l

By Moshe Musman


For Part VI of this series click here.

Part Seven: Yeshivas Toras Chaim — Continued

While the ultimate aim of religious education in Russia remains the departure of the talmidim from the country as committed bnei Torah and their settling into strong religious communities elsewhere, Reb Moishe also gave consideration to setting up a longer term framework. As the yeshiva grew, he examined the possibilities of establishing a community in Russia itself. A wider base of operations in Russia would yield the opportunity for bringing more Jews back to Yiddishkeit. A kollel has been opened in the yeshiva and the inclusion of further institutions is under consideration.

The problems of staying and leaving are experienced by both bochurim and teachers. The former can give most to the yeshiva only when they themselves are ready to move on. When asked what advice should be given to bochurim in this situation, Reb Moishe replied that as well as pointing out to bochurim that they would make greater progress elsewhere, they should be made aware of the debt of gratitude they owed Yeshivas Toras Chaim and to include it as a factor in their plans. For the maggidei shiur whose families live in Eretz Yisroel the problems involved are obvious.

Supernatural Success

Despite all the problems, Yeshivas Toras Chaim is thriving and continues to turn out superlative young bnei Torah. The head of an Israeli yeshiva that has taken in several bochurim from Toras Chaim spoke of their deep desire to learn and the swift progress they have made within the two years since they arrived. His yeshiva has benefited too.

For example, one of the Russians, who left a lucrative career behind him in Russia, was quite content upon his arrival to sit together in shiur with bochurim many years his junior, to whom his thirst for learning was a powerful example. "I have already wasted quite enough of my life," he would tell them. This, in turn, gave the younger bochurim a unique chizuk.

HaRav Moshe Shapira at a melave malka in Yeshiva Toras Chaim

At every opportunity, Reb Moishe would point out that the yeshiva's continued survival and the astonishing progress made by the talmidim were nothing short of miracles, far superseding any natural expectations. His personal experience of this was mostly through his involvement with the yeshiva's financial affairs, when somehow every month, he would obtain the precise sum of money that was necessary, often just in time.

One of his sons related that he once asked his father how it was possible for novices at learning to amass such broad knowledge within such a short space of time. "They are baalei teshuva," Reb Moishe answered him. "What holds us back are our aveiros. If we did teshuva, we would also be much more successful."

"You surely think that you possess some special formula for success," Reb Moishe once remarked to one of the teachers in the yeshiva. "Drop the idea! This is not a natural process. It is a miracle!"

Indeed, the miracle of the yeshiva's survival and progress is clearly fulfillment of Hashem's promise that Torah will never depart from Klal Yisroel.

A Shmuess Delivered by HaRav Moishe Soloveitchik zt'l, at Yeshivas Toras Chaim, Moscow

You may not believe me if I say that I feel a little uncomfortable here. The reason for this is that I do not know you well enough personally and I am not aware of the specific areas in which to offer you encouragement.

One thing I do know however — that a person must always have a correct appreciation of his situation and I don't think that you are fully aware of the nature of your present position. This is because here in Russia you are unaware of what transpires in the rest of the world.

It may seem to you, if you judge from the Jewish world that you see around you, that you are not seeing enough success in your learning as you ought. However, the truth is as I have heard before and as I have seen on my short visit here, that you have merited a lot of siyata deShmaya. It is amazing how bochurim who have spent a mere three months in the yeshiva, who have just started to learn alef-beis and are taking their very first steps in learning Torah, are already learning gemora, posing kushyos and resolving them. Normally, according to the process that is current in the Torah world, this would take many years of sustained effort to achieve. You on the other hand, have started to learn the holy Torah with extraordinary speed.

The only explanation for this is the special siyata deShmaya that you merit receiving. HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees your dedication to Torah learning and He grants you a great amount of help, which you must make good use of. This is one aspect of your situation.

A handwritten letter by HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik

The other side of the coin is to realize that the Torah is vast and deep. Learning it requires absolute dedication. Our nation has produced many great Torah scholars who dedicated their entire lives to learning Torah. Not all of them achieved the same level of comprehension of the Torah, either because their abilities were not identical or because they received different kinds of Divine help — sometimes this was due to the times they lived in. At any rate, it takes tremendous toil and most important thing is to labor over understanding every detail and each letter of the Torah.

Success in learning Torah is conditional on two things. First, one must believe and know that every single thing and each detail written in the Torah has meaning and very deep content.

The second thing is to apply oneself to reviewing what one learns until one achieves fluency, until everything is simple and is understood, until it has become an integral part of one's soul and one's being and one is as familiar with one's Torah as one is with all other areas of life.

When one makes every effort to reach this state, one's success will exceed all expectations. While it is impossible to know the extent of this success in advance, it is certain that success will come.

I would like to show you an example of what I have just mentioned, namely, how it is that when we lack information about something because we have not fully applied ourselves, we have difficulty in understanding, while after the necessary study, the very same thing seems simple and self evident.

The book of Yehoshua describes the wars fought by Bnei Yisroel before they took possession of Eretz Yisroel. Because one of them had transgressed the ban against taking spoils from Yericho, they suffered a defeat in the battle for the city of Ai and thirty-six men fell. Chazal comment that in fact not thirty- six but one man died, whose worth equaled that of a majority of the Sanhedrin, which had seventy members.

I once heard a question from someone who did not believe in Chazal's words. He argued that Chazal learn whatever suits them from the posuk. He brought a `proof' from the fact it is written that around three thousand people died in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf and in this case, Chazal do not say that it was only one man who was as valuable as three thousand. We see, he argued, that Chazal did not learn things in an objective way from the pesukim. Indeed, at first glance, this seems most puzzling and his point seems correct.

If we look a little deeper however, we will see that there is nothing at all to what he says. Let's consider how people usually answer if they are asked to estimate the size of a crowd attending say, a certain event. Unless they know the precise number, they will reply by giving a round figure as an approximation. For example, nobody would say that there were about two hundred and eighty seven people there. Rather, one would say that there were about three hundred people.

Thus, when the posuk states that around three thousand died after the Eigel, nothing can be derived from this, for the Torah's expression reflects the way people usually speak and while HaKodosh Boruch Hu certainly knows the precise number that died, He did not wish to reveal it, for whatever reason.

When however, it is written in Yehoshua that thirty-six people died, the posuk evidently wants to give the exact number. Why then is the expression "around thirty six" used? It is clear that something else lies behind these words and this is why Chazal derived that it was only one man who was as valuable as thirty-six.

This demonstrates that a man has to apply himself to toil and labor in order to understand everything he learns. He must devote all his strength, energy and attention to comprehending the Torah he has learned. Each and every one will succeed, according to his intentions and the Divine help which he merits.

There is one further point that I wanted to dwell upon. One of the Torah's mitzvos which everybody is obliged to fulfill is to "teach it to the Bnei Yisroel, place it in their mouths." This means that in addition to the commandment to write a sefer Torah, we are also commanded to teach Torah to other Jews. What is meant by the phrase "place it in their mouths?"

Elsewhere, a different expression is used for transmitting Torah. Another of the Torah's commandments is to remember Amolek, as the posuk states, "Write this as a remembrance in the book and place it in Yehoshua's ears," in other words, the writing down as a memory was to be accomplished by placing the matter in Yehoshua's ears, that is, by Yehoshua hearing what Moshe said to him.

When one person teaches and speaks, he is placing his words in his listeners' ears. What more is conveyed by placing a teaching in someone's mouth? Does one speak right into another's mouth?

In my opinion, there is a fundamental and important lesson to be learned from this. Although there is an obligation to ensure that other Jews fulfill all of the Torah's other mitzvos, this obligation does not stem from each individual mitzva itself. It is rather part of a general obligation on the part of each Jew to help his fellow man to fulfill mitzvos.

The obligation to learn and to teach Torah however, is different. It is an integral part of the mitzva of learning. In order to fulfill this mitzva, it is not sufficient if one learns himself. He must also teach others and pass the Torah on to future generations, so that the Torah will not become forgotten from the Jewish people, until the time when Hashem comes to our aid and brings about the complete redemption.

I can adduce a proof that this is so from the brocho we make over the mitzva of learning Torah, in which we insert the prayer, `Veha'arev no,' containing the request that all of our descendants as well as those of the rest of Klal Yisroel, be knowledgeable in Torah.

No other brocho over a mitzva includes a prayer that all of Klal Yisroel should fulfill that mitzva. This is because the obligation to pass Torah on to future generations is part of the mitzva of talmud Torah whereas the obligation to see that others perform other mitzvos is not an integral part of each mitzva itself.

HaRav Avraham Kuperman in Yeshiva Toras Chaim

Certainly, one must be concerned with one's own learning but one must learn with sufficient clarity and lucidity to enable him to teach and transmit what he has learned to others and to those who will come after him. There are also further proofs for this. If you look into what I am saying, you will discover them.

I imagine that as you are listening to me, a question is forming itself in your minds. What do I want from you, you must be wondering? You have just started learning Torah and must be concerned first and foremost with your own learning. Later maybe when the time comes, you will teach others but not at this early stage. What relevance does teaching Torah have to us right now, you ask?

I think however, that this poses no difficulty. You are not all on the same level in your learning. Sometimes, one of the talmidim may ask a question which one of you may already know how to answer. It may be that your first impression is that it is a waste of time to do so. This is not the case. For everything which a person does with correct and fitting intentions, the siyata deShmaya which he receives is multiplied over and over. One who undertakes to explain Torah to others will understand it himself in a clearer manner than he would if he was only learning it for himself.

I would like to mention one more teaching of Chazal, `Whoever wants to be saved from the pangs of the coming of Moshiach should busy himself with Torah and gemilus chassodim.' With their spiritual foresight, Chazal saw that things will reach a point where we will have to grapple with great difficulties before Moshiach comes. They therefore advised us to busy ourselves with Torah and doing kindness.

One could explain that these are two separate things, one is Torah and the other is doing kindness. One can also explain though, that one should busy oneself with Torah in a way that the Torah itself is kindness, as we have explained, by teaching others. May it be Hashem's will that in this merit, we will soon experience the complete redemption, Omein.

Remember My Servant Moshe's Torah

Kol HaTorah is the name of a Torah journal which publishes divrei Torah from contributors who live in Torah communities across Europe. From the time of its inception, its editors enjoyed Reb Moishe's active support and guidance. The pages of the journal were graced with most of the chidushei Torah which Reb Moishe himself publicized.

In a special article commemorating Reb Moishe, the journal's editor, Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Schwartz, recalled the occasion when Reb Moishe handed him a booklet which contained chidushim he had written fifty-five years previously while he had been learning in the Montreux yeshiva upon his arrival in Switzerland. This was followed by another booklet with chidushim he had written sixty years earlier in Brisk.

While Rabbi Schwartz sat examining the booklets, Reb Moishe remarked, "When I study these divrei Torah I composed when I was a bochur, I am gripped by fear at seeing what level of Torah learning I could have attained, judging by my level then, had I learned as I should have."

Reb Moishe was not the only godol of our times who made great sacrifices of time and energy, which could have been used for further personal growth, for the sake of disseminating Torah, through both teaching and communal leadership. For example, HaRav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman zt'l and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l both made comments to a similar effect, saying that the demands of teaching talmidim had prevented them from publishing more of their own Torah.

In order to gain a correct understanding of the balance that must be maintained between these two obligations, it is first vital to appreciate that even on the simplest level, there is a degree of mutual enhancement in the relationship between learning and disseminating Torah, unlike a tug-of-war, where a gain in one direction constitutes a loss in the other.

Moreover, the truth is that the two are even more closely interwoven. Although in the last resort, time can only be spent on one or the other, disseminating Torah is part and parcel of the obligation to learn.

This is the theme of another article in the above mentioned issue of Kol HaTorah, in which HaRav Mattisyohu Salomon, mashgiach of Gateshead Yeshiva, discusses some of the limits and applications of the obligations of learning and teaching Torah, all of which Reb Moishe exemplified.

Citing first the example mentioned by the gemora (Eruvin 54) of Rabbi Preida, who would teach the shiur to one of his talmidim four hundred times, for which he ultimately merited the bestowal of a great reward upon his entire generation, HaRav Salomon asks why this special merit was the rebbe's more than the talmid's. Surely the latter's extraordinary patience and persistence was no less deserving of such a reward than Rabbi Preida's.

The answer he gives is that ultimately, the talmid stood to gain while Rabbi Preida's tremendous investment of time came at the expense of his own progress, making his sacrifice by far the greater of the two. Indeed, the level of devotion to a single talmid shown by Rabbi Preida is in accordance with the halacha as it is recorded by the Rambam and explained by the Shulchan Oruch HaRav (Hilchos Talmud Torah Kuntrus Acharon.)

Besides ensuring that each and every pupil understands, Reb Moishe demonstrated that the wider involvement in furthering Torah education is also part of each individual's obligation of talmud Torah. After delineating the individual obligation to learn Torah whatever the circumstances, the Tur (in Yore Deah 246) writes that someone who is nonetheless unable to learn himself should support others who are learning and this will be considered as though he himself were learning.

From this halacha, Reb Moishe showed that the mitzva to learn includes an obligation to ensure that knowledge of Torah spreads to all of Klal Yisroel. Someone who is instrumental in causing others to learn, thus also fulfills his personal obligation to learn. Reb Moishe adduced further proof for this from the halacha that if a man's son is keener and sharper than he, limited resources should be devoted to the son's learning rather than the father's.

With no other mitzva do we find that preference is given to someone who is better equipped to fulfill that particular mitzva, if another's performance of the same mitzva will suffer as a result. Since however, promoting the spread of Torah is part and parcel of the mitzva to learn, the father is actually fulfilling his own obligation by enabling his son to learn more.

The source adduced by the Tur for the first ruling is the Yissochor-Zevulun relationship. Moshe Rabbenu blessed the future arrangement between the two tribes wherein Yissochor's Torah flourished thanks to Zevulun's support. Evidently, this was the best way for Zevulun to fulfill his own obligation to learn Torah.

Thus, after attaining a level in Torah learning that enables one to impart Torah to others, the obligation to learn is accompanied by an obligation to teach those who seek instruction — and in a shmuess to the talmidim of the yeshiva in Moscow, Reb Moishe stressed that this was applicable even to beginners, who sometimes also have the opportunity to impart their knowledge to those less proficient. The fulfillment of this halacha is apparent at every stage of Reb Moishe's life.


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