4000 Bachurim Receive Guidance from Gedolei Roshei Yeshiva at Dirshu Seder Hachana Event
Inspirational and Timely Advice from Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch and Rav Dovid Cohen
By Chaim Gold
It was a sight, a surreal sight. Some 4,000 bachurim, all the same age, graduating yeshiva ketana (12th grade) listening for hours to the passionate words of Gedolei Yisrael, words of advice to elevate them on how to succeed in their transition to the next critical stage in their lives, yeshiva gedolah. The crowd was so large that it had to be split in four different halls in and around the Armanot Chein Halls in Bnei Brak.
One could see the concentration, the connection, and the emotion on their faces as they listened to real, down-to-earth, practical advice from leading senior Gedolim, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Slabodka; HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron; HaGaon HaRav Nissan Kaplan, shlita; Rosh Yeshivas Daas Aharon; and the special guest Rosh Yeshiva from America, HaGaon HaRav Eliezer Ginsburg, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Zichron Leyma. Another highlight was the riveting address given by the Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter.
A letter penned by HaGaon HaRav Dov Landau, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Slabodka, in honor of the event was read publicly by HaGaon HaRav Chaim Peretz Berman, shlita. In addition, there was a unique shailos and teshuvos session where many questions about how to be successful in yeshiva gedolah were posed to the two panel members, HaGaon HaRav Bunim Schreiber, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Nesiv Daas, and HaGaon HaRav Chaim Peretz Berman, shlita, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Ponevezh Yeshiva.
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsh: Six Pivotal Points for Success
Not even a pin drop could be heard as the chairman of the event, Rav Yisrael Layush, introduced the Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch.
It soon became clear that the more he spoke, the more animated and passionate he became. It is well known that chinuch is one of the things closest to Rav Moshe Hillel’s heart. He is known throughout the Torah world for his wisdom in advising bnei yeshiva. Many younger roshei yeshiva and mashgichim consult him for guidance in knotty areas of chinuch that are relevant to today’s generation. He has his finger on the pulse and a comprehensive understanding of the needs of today’s bnei yeshiva. As one of the talmidim muvhakim of Rav Aharon Kotler, he brings with him a hallowed mesorah.
“The first thing a bachur should know,” Rav Hirsch began, “is that in just one month from now, you will be making what might be the most transformative change of your life. One’s entire life is built on the foundation that you make in yeshiva gedolah. I would like to give you several pieces of advice on how best to succeed in yeshiva gedolah.” Rav Hirsch then went on to enumerate six points that every bachur must know before coming into yeshiva gedolah, advice that would enable them to truly succeed in yeshiva and in life.
Number one was to realize that the foundation for one’s spiritual life is built in yeshiva gedolah. This applies to Torah learning, yiras shomayim, middos and care regarding shemiras hamitzvos. As much as one invests in the foundation that is how tall and strong the building will be.
Number two, a bachur must really understand the purpose of the ostensible “freedom” in yeshiva gedolah in comparison with yeshiva ketana. “Until now you were always under someone’s control. You slept at home and were under your parents. The yeshiva ketanas are very regimented and you are under constant watch. In yeshiva gedolah there is much more ‘freedom’. When a person has more freedom, he likes to think, ‘I will now decide what is good for me and otherwise…’ That is a mistake! That is the yetzer hara talking! A person must make for himself a rav, a guide. He cannot rely on his own seichel because often the yetzer hara is in charge of his seichel. A person must make for himself a rav, a guide. Independence doesn’t mean that ‘I alone can do what I think is good for me’. You must remain under the guidance and rules of the yeshiva.”
The third point that Rav Moshe Hillel emphasized was that “Yeshiva gedolah is a fresh slate! Even someone who was not so successful in yeshiva ketana is empowered to make a fresh start and should come in with great she’ifos. Never let the past define you. Even if you were not successful in Torah, in tefillah, in yiras shamayim, now is the time to break with the past and start fresh!
The fourth point was somewhat related to the third point said by Rav Hirsch. “Because yeshiva gedolah is a fresh slate, a bachur must realize that there is no limit to how high he can reach and grow. In yeshiva gedolah, every bachur needs to accept gadlus upon himself. He has to realize that his ultimate goal is to learn kol haTorah kulo – some b’iyun and some bekius. He must accept upon himself to be careful with his middos to the utmost. The same regarding taking care to keep halacha and fulfill mitzvos properly. Yeshiva gedolah is the time accept upon oneself a true kabbalah to strive for gadlus in all areas of service of Hashem.”
Rav Hirsch explained, “My rebbi, HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, would say, ‘Human nature is such that a person is afraid to accept upon himself the full yoke of Torah and yiras shamayim. He thinks that perhaps it will be too hard for him. However,’ Rav Aharon Kotler continued, ‘he is making a mistake. He doesn’t realize that when he accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah without compromises, he will automatically begin to taste the sweetness of Torah.’”
In his fifth point, Rav Moshe Hillel cautioned, “Not all bachurim feel the sweetness and geshmak of learning right away. For some it takes time. No bachur should be bothered when it doesn’t happen immediately. If he perseveres, he will eventually have a true geshmak and satisfaction in learning. Your job is to learn with geshmak or even without it. If you persevere it will eventually come. There is absolutely no doubt about that.”
The final, insightful point in Rav Moshe Hillel’s chizuk-filled drasha was that Rav Chaim of Volozhin teaches us that no person can always remain on the same straight line. Human nature is that a person has ups and downs. During a period when someone is down, he can mistakenly think, ‘You know what? I will just check out until I feel better. I will just not do anything until I feel the “up” coming back.’ Rav Chaim says, don’t give up everything. That is dangerous. If you only feel that you can learn fifty percent of what you usually do, invest one hundred precent effort in that fifty percent. You will see you CAN do fifty percent. Don’t be scared or give up when you are down, just adjust your goals, and keep on plugging away.”
Rav Dovid Cohen: Focus on Your Prime Investment
When listening to the acclaimed rosh yeshiva of Chevron, Rav Dovid Cohen, one could immediately see that he brought with him many decades of experience in regarding bachurim at this stage in life, and his drasha was both practical and uplifting all at the same time.
Rav Dovid Cohen began his heartfelt remarks by saying, “I feel that I am standing in front of the future of Klal Yisrael, those who will comprise the next dor of the olam haTorah and the mesiras haTorah.
“Let us try to encapsulate what a yeshiva is,” continued the Rosh Yeshiva, “some say it is a place where we learn Gemara or learn how to learn Gemara. That is incorrect. Yes, what we primarily do in yeshiva is learn Gemara, but that does not define what is a yeshiva. When a person l’havdil wants to become a doctor or an accountant he goes to college to learn that trade. A yeshiva is not a college, it is a factory, a factory that builds and produces the unique product called a ‘ben Torah’. It is a factory that creates and raises the talmidei chachomim who will continue the mesorah of Klal Yisrael for the coming generation.
Rav Dovid also spoke about social standing in the yeshivos. “In more recent years, I have seen that a bachur’s social standing in the yeshiva has become a big deal. Everyone wants to be looked at as geshmak, normal, a person who people want to be around. I am not minimizing the importance of social interaction to a degree, but the incessant focus on it, not only doesn’t help one’s social standing but ultimately it will hurt his social standing as well.
If a person focuses more on his learning and not on his place in the social life of the yeshiva, perhaps at the beginning, he won’t be looked at with as much admiration but with time, the entire yeshiva will look at him with great admiration. He will be more socially acceptable then the bachur who spent so much time in idle chatter in order to be ‘with it.’”
Rav Dovid explained, “One of the things that prevents a bachur from properly developing, even if he is learning three sedarim per day with diligence, is the idle, late-night chatter in the dorm that leads to very late bedtimes. This kind of ‘night life’ can destroy a bachur’s chances of true growth in yeshiva. Certainly, a bachur should be part of a social group. I am not telling anyone to completely detach socially from others. A person needs a chevra. But where should your prime investment be? Don’t invest your energy into social life. Your real investment of time and effort must be in learning and growing in Torah and yiras shamayim…”
Rav Nissan Kaplan: Understanding the Difference
Rav Nissan Kaplan, the first speaker of the evening, introduced the topic of the marked difference between yeshiva ketana and yeshiva gedolah. In yeshiva ketana, the yeshiva and your rebbi holds your hand. He guides you on what the “reyd” of the sugya is, he gives a daily shiur. He reviews his shiur. Everything is very structured. Then, all of a sudden, you come to yeshiva gedolah. You begin the long morning seder with great cheshek… but then you realize you are on your own. You look around and see that so many of the bachurim are giants. ‘How will I ever reach such a level?’ And you begin to despair. We must learn from Rabi Akiva. He saw the water penetrating the rock. He realized that the key to success was consistency. Do not look around in the beis medrash noticing so many people who are ahead of you and give up because of that. If you are careful to learn one seder to its fullest and then another and then another, all one at time, you will eventually reach the greatest levels as Rabi Akiva did. You will see how Hashem opens the wellsprings of chochma.
I have seen this over and over again. The bachur who perseveres and takes one day at a time but utilizes that day to the utmost, will succeed beyond his wildest dreams!”
Rav Dovid Hofstedter: Preserving the Old and Simultaneously Rising Higher and Higher
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, the Nasi of Dirshu, then addressed the bachurim. He gave praise to Hashem that Dirshu has had the zechus to host this very important gathering which gives bachurim a tremendous amount of practical advice on how to succeed in the far more independent atmosphere that yeshiva gedolah comprises.
Rav Hofstedter asked, “At this major juncture in your lives what should your focus be?”
Rav Hofstedter brought several very relevant, practical lessons from the parsha of Eliyahu and Elisha. When the time came for Eliyahu Hanavi to ascend to shamayim, the navi tells us that on three separate occasions Eliyahu told Elisha that he is going to be taken to shamayim and asked Elisha to leave. Not wanting to leave, Elisha swore that he would not. Finally, they reached the Yarden river. The passuk tells us: “And Eliyahu took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water, and it divided to this side and to that side; and they both crossed on dry land. It was when they crossed, that Eliyahu said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you, while I am not yet taken away from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Yehi nah pi shenayim b’ruchacha eilai – Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.’”
“Eliyahu replies, ‘You have made a difficult request. If you see me taken from you, it will be so to you, and if not, it will not be.’”
The navi goes on to tell us, “And it was that they were going, walking and talking, and behold a fiery chariot and fiery horses, and they separated them both. And Eliyahu ascended to heaven in a whirlwind. And Elisha saw, and he was crying, ‘My father! My father! The chariots of Israel and their riders!’ And he saw him no longer. He took hold of his garments and rent them in two pieces.”
The passuk goes on to say that Elisha picked up Eliyahu ‘s mantle that had fallen, and he returned and stood on the bank of the Yarden.
“There are so many questions to ask on this incident,” said Rav Hofstedter. “How could Elisha, the talmid, have the temerity to ask for double the greatness of his rebbi? Even more difficult to understand is, how can Eliyahu give more than he himself possessed? Also, if it was such a difficult request, how did the fact that Elisha merited to see Eliyahu depart make it easier to fulfill? Furthermore, why did Elisha feel compelled to pick up the mantle?
Rav Dovid continued, “Let us go back to the very beginning of Elisha’s relationship with Eliyahu. Earlier in sefer Melachim, the pesukim relate to us how Elisha became a talmid of Eliyahu. ‘[Eliyahu] found Elisha, the son of Shafat, as he was plowing; twelve yoke were before him and he was with the twelfth, and Eliyahu went over to him and threw his mantle over him.’ The passuk goes on to tell us that Elisha left the oxen and ran after Eliyahu and he took the yoke of oxen and slaughtered them…
“The medrash adds that Elisha made all his possessions hefker and ruined his fields by placing salt on them. Only after that did he follow Eliyahu, serving him and becoming his talmid.
“The question is why did Elisha feel compelled to slaughter his oxen, ruin his fields and declare all his possessions ownerless? We understand that he wanted to become Eliyahu’s talmid but why before becoming his talmid did he feel compelled to destroy everything he owned?
“The answer is that certainly Elisha was a great man before, he came from a family of greatness. His father was a navi and a wealthy man as well.
“Still, Elisha understood that in order to reach greatness and become a real talmid of Eliyahu he had to sever himself from his past. That is why he destroyed everything, to break that connection.
“What we learn from Elisha is that the secret of hatzlacha and growing in ruchniyus, is that one must know that there are times when one must sever past connections as Elisha did, before becoming Eliyahu’s talmid and there are other times when a person must be able to withstand all types of pain and suffering in order to preserve the connection.
“Sometimes it is detaching by knowing when to leave. Sometimes it is knowing how to keep connections under all circumstances. For Elisha to retain pi shnayim, his task was to withstand all kinds of yesurim and still stay connected to Eliyahu.
“He wasn’t asking to be greater than Eliyahu, he wasn’t asking Eliyahu to give more than he had. What he was asking was to be able to remain connected and receive spiritual bounty from Eliyahu. Elisha was saying, ‘In your lifetime I was able to get so much from you, but now that you are leaving, I want to continue receiving that hashpaah from you. I want twice as much spiritual hashpaah from you as I had until now.’
“What does Eliyahu answer? ‘I am going to be taken to shamayim. It will be an extremely frightening experience. It will be difficult for you to watch, but if you stay connected to me under that difficult situation, that means your very essence is so connected to me and therefore I will be able to pass on to you twice as much ruchniyus as I was able to do in my lifetime.’”
Rav Dovid then connected this incident with the transition to yeshiva gedolah. “When one goes to yeshiva gedolah there is a process of severing ties with the past. One must sever ties with his katnus, with his immaturity, by becoming ‘Eliyahu’s talmid.’
“At the same time a bachur cannot make the mistake of severing positive connections. A bachur needs to remain attached to the lessons and guidance of both his previous rebbeim and his present rebbeim. They are the ones who teach us Torah, mussar and how to withstand nisyonos. Independence in yeshiva gedolah does not mean independence from your rebbeim. The transition period to yeshiva gedolah is like the transition of Elisha becoming Eliyahu’s talmid. A bachur must put his katnus behind him but at the same time attach himself with an inseparable bond to the spiritual bounty that he has received and will continue to receive.”
Rav Eliezer Ginsburg: A Maamad of Kabbolas HaTorah!
The final speaker of the evening was Rav Eliezer Ginsburg who arrived that morning from America. He gave a fiery drasha citing wonderful insights and lessons from his grandfather, the famed mashgiach of Mir and Ponovezh, Rav Yechezekel Levenstein, by whom he merited to learn. He said, “What would my Zeida, Rav Chatzkel, say about such a maamad? He would say that an asifa such as this one is a time for kabbolas haTorah! The time of kabbolas haTorah was certainly not limited to Har Sinai. Chazal teach us that we must look at Torah as if it was given to us today. Now is the time to accept the yoke of Torah upon yourselves. Right now, as you are sitting here.
“There is another thing, however, that I want to share with you. It is also something you should do right now and that is to daven. Right now, each and everyone of us should close our eyes for fifteen seconds and simply daven to Hashem for siyatta d’Shmaya during the next zeman! Tefillah for Torah at a time of matan Torah is extremely potent!”
Rav Ginsburg added, “Every day following Shemoneh Esrai, we ask Hashem, ‘Sheyibaneh Beis Hamikdash b’mheirah b’yameinu v’sein chelkeinu besorasecha’ – we beg Hashem to build the Beis Hamikdash and give us a portion in Your Torah. The question is what is the connection between the building of the Beis Hamikdash and the Torah? The Vilna Gaon learns from a passuk in Megillas Eichah that as a result of the churban, we lost the clarity of Torah. We learn but we don’t have crystal clarity. It is at this time of year when we bemoan the galus and the destruction of the beis hamikdosh that we especially daven for clarity in Torah!”
Rav Dov Landau: Listening to Advice of the Roshei Yeshiva Gives Life to Your Neshama
Rav Chaim Peretz Berman, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Ponovezh Yeshiva, also read a letter that Rav Dov Landau penned especially for the event. In the letter, Rav Landau wrote how he was so pleased that so many bachurim were coming to hear divrei Torah from the great roshei yeshiva. He urged the bachurim to “listen well to the guidance and to the guidance of all their rebbeim and mashgichim, because that advice will give life to your neshama and will enable you to succeed in learning Torah with a pure heart.”
One could see the smiling, yet earnest faces of the bachurim as they exited after being infused with such divrei chizuk and hearing so many real-life scenarios played out in the question-and-answer session. Their shining countenances displayed how glad they were to have heard practical guidance from the Gedolei Hador on the most important period of growth in their lives!
The sense of achdus that permeated the event was likewise phenomenal. Thousands of bachurim – Litvishe, Sephardic, Chassidic, all the same age, came together to hear guidance from Gedolei Yisrael. This is Dirshu! Enhancing limud haTorah for Yidden of all ages and affiliations!
Fortunate is the generation where the young listen to the elders.