Historic Meeting of Leading Senior Mashgichim at Home of Rav Gershon Edelstein
Gedolim Urge the Daily Learning of Mussar in Dirshu’s Kinyan Chochma Program
By Chaim Gold
A historic meeting transpired at the home of the Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, during the last week of Shevat, the week of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s yahrtzeit.
Senior Mashgichim from all over Eretz Yisrael gathered there with the express purpose of encouraging daily learning of mussar among all bnei yeshiva, bnei kollel and every G-d fearing Jew. Among the many participants were the great mashgiach and tzaddik, Hagaon Harav Don Segal, shlita; HaGaon HaRav Binyomin Finkel, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Mir; HaGaon HaRav Chizkiyahu Mishkovsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Orchos Torah; HaGaon HaRav Tuvia Pollack, shlita, venerated Mashgiach of Slabodka; HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron; the Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, and many others.
Rav Gershon opened the meeting by rhetorically asking, “Why have we gathered here today?” The answer,” he said, “is chizuk in mussar. Why does mussar need chizuk? The problem is that there are many who are so far removed from learning mussar that they think they do not need chizuk. They think, ‘I am fine the way I am. I don’t have anything I need to improve.’ When a person reaches that critical level of oblivion regarding his obligations to Hashem, it is very hard to reverse. Someone who thinks he is just fine and on the perfect path is a person who is very hard to reach. Our purpose in gathering here today is to declare and try to inculcate the ideal that mussar is a critical component for even the most minimal spiritual success. Without mussar, it is impossible to be successful in Torah learning or any other aspect of ruchniyus. Not only that, but there is also a chiyuv d’Oraysah, a Torah-mandated obligation to learn mussar. The Torah commands us to ‘fear Hashem.’ There is no way a person can reach even the most elementary level of fearing Hashem without engaging in mussar.”
Kinyan Chochma Founded at the Behest of Gedolei Yisroel
The Kinyan Chochma program was established at Dirshu’s International Convention celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Dirshu’s founding. It was established at the behest of the leading Gedolim who felt that chizuk among all members of Klal Yisrael was needed in daily mussar learning.
Kinyan Chochma is a mussar program wherein a short piece from one of the mussar classics is learned daily. The program slowly but systematically goes through the classic sefarim, Mesilas Yesharim, Chovos Halevavos, Orchos Tzaddikim, Pirkei Avos with Rabbeinu Yonah, Tomer Devorah, Orchos Chaim of the Rosh and Orchos Tzaddikim.
Gedolei Yisrael from both Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz have enthusiastically called on Yidden the world over to join the program and incorporate daily mussar learning into their lives together with their other learning sedarim. Lomdei Dirshu participating in the Kinyan Torah program and Daf HaYomi B’Halacha programs have the added opportunity of being able to take monthly tests on the mussar learned and receiving stipends for excellent results.
The program is currently nearing the end of the sefer Chovos Halevavos. This coming 29 Sivan/June 18, lomdei Kinyan Chochma will complete the sefer Chovos Halevavos and begin the sefer Orchos Tzaddikim.
Without Mussar, the Neshama is Missing!
Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, further explained part of the purpose of the meeting. “Mussar learning in general is something that always needs chizuk even in yeshivos with a built-in mussar seder as part of the yeshiva schedule. However, there is an even greater need for chizuk for avreichim learning in kollel. Kollelim don’t usually have an official mussar seder. The schedule of a kollel yungerman or someone who has already joined the workforce is tight. They are always juggling familial obligations, parnassah obligations and regular learning sedarim. Mussar which is so critically integral to any spiritual success, sometimes falls by the wayside. Tragically, what transpires is that there are yungeleit who have not opened a mussar sefer in years.
“Life, even kollel life, which is replete with Torah learning, becomes habitual. It is missing the fire of yiras shomayim, the motivation of ‘for what reason am I here in this world?’ When a person does not think about why he is in the world and what Hashem wants of him, his entire life can be lived out of habit. He learns every day in kollel out of habit, he davens out of habit, but the neshama is missing.
“That is why it is so important that every person have a daily mussar seder. There is no end to the sea of change it will make in his life. Not only will his mussar learning be different but his davening will be different, his Torah learning will be different, the way he interacts with his wife and children at home will be different.
“That is why the Kinyan Chochma program of Dirshu is so important. When one becomes part of Kinyan Chochma he will accustom himself to learning mussar every day with a schedule. No day will pass by without a dose of mussar from the great classical mussar sefarim. The impact on his life will be transformative!”
“This Asifa Can Effect A Profound Change In Klal Yisrael”
As a general rule, Rav Gershon Edelstein, due to his very advanced age and his way of doing things, does not call meetings in his house and does not usually feel that it is fitting to cause such venerated giants of spirit whose every moment is precious to interrupt their schedules and come to meetings, in this case he felt the pressing need to call the meeting and encourage participation.
Just an insight into the importance that the leading mashgichim have expressed for this program can be gleaned from something that the venerated nonagenarian Mashgiach, Rav Tuvia Pollack, Mashgiach of the Slabodka Yeshiva, a talmid of the Chazon Ish, ,shared at the meeting. During the meeting, Rav Tuvia sat and listened with tremendous focus to every word. Afterwards he said, “I am not a young man anymore. It is very difficult for me to attend gatherings of any kind. Nevertheless, I feel that whatever I can do to encourage and push bnei Torah to limud hamussar is so important that my own difficulties have to be put aside. This isn’t just another asifa for an important mitzvah or chessed. This asifa is critical because it can potentially effect a profound change in Klal Yisrael, a change that will impact bnei Torah, their families, their children, everything!”
A Tale of Two Avreichim
The Mashgiach, Rav Don Segal, with great passion and emotion emphasized that mussar is not just amassing knowledge. “We don’t learn mussar sefarim just to understand in a detached way, it is the path to success in the service of Hashem. Mussar must be learned in a way that talks not only to one’s brain but primarily to the heart. Mussar is a tool for chinuch, it teaches us and guides us! Simply put it infuses us with life!
“The great Mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, zt”l, once told us that there can be two bachurim or two avreichim sitting next to one another in the beis medrash, both learning with great diligence. Both daven in the same beis medrash every day. Yet, they are miles apart. How? One learns and davens in a way that he LIVES the davening and the learning. It is part of his very essence. The other davens and learns but is detached. It is without the chiyus. It is not part of his essence. The way to truly become attached to Hashem through tefillah, through learning Torah, is only through learning mussar.
“I remember Rav Shach, zt”l, once wrote a letter wherein he said, ‘I have spent my entire life in yeshivos. I have aged and become old, but I have never seen a true talmid chacham without yiras shomayim. A person can learn, but if his learning is not accompanied by mussar and yiras shomayim the learning remains superficial.”
One could see the unshed tears sparkling in Rav Don’s eyes as he brought up a painful topic. “We see in our times,” he said, “that many of our bachurim, many of our most cherished young people are falling. Some fall very badly and very far. Certainly, the fact that they don’t have the chiyus, the feelings in their hearts, not just the knowledge in their minds, is a contributing factor to this terrible reality.
“If we strengthen the learning of mussar and begin to realize how dear and precious it is for us and our future, Hashem will certainly endow us with much siyatta d’Shmaya in our own avodah and in seeing nachas from our children.”
The Key to Spiritual Success
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, in his short remarks, profusely thanked the venerated Gedolim for their efforts in coming to the gathering to strengthen the learning of mussar. He stressed that it is a tremendous zechus for Dirshu to be mechazek mussar learning in our generation. He then highlighted that the key to the success of Kinyan Chochma and so many other Dirshu programs is the fact that the Gedolei Yisrael serve as the guides who set the agenda and stand behind the various programs. “We have the zechus to interact with the Gedolei Hador, be guided and encouraged by them because they know what the generation needs.
“It is our fervent wish that Dirshu will continue to serve as faithful emissaries of the Gedolei Hador in promoting the learning of the basic early mussar sefarim that enrich Klal Yisrael in the Kinyan Chochma program and the sefarim of the Chofetz Chaim that are an integral part of the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha program.”
Indeed, we can gain insight into the power of mussar from a personal story shared by Rav Gershon Edelstein that had transpired years earlier. “There was a young bachur still in yeshiva ketana (high school aged yeshiva) who really wanted to learn, but because of a complicated family situation, had no choice but to go out and join the workforce. Every night, he would return to the yeshiva a half hour before Maariv to participate in the yeshiva’s mussar seder and then to daven Maariv. I asked him, ‘Why do you davka come to the yeshiva to learn mussar and not any other area of learning?’ He replied, ‘I feel that mussar is mechazek me, it strengthens me.’ Do you know what happened with that bachur? A whole slew of seeming ‘coincidental occurrences” transpired and as a result the family no longer needed him to work and bring in a salary, and he was able to return to yeshiva! He subsequently went to yeshiva gedolah and kollel and today he is a person who is enriching generations of his own talmidim with Torah and yiras shomayim. What was the key to such spiritual success? I have no doubt it was the zechus of learning mussar. Chazal teach us that he who comes to purify himself is assisted by Heaven in achieving that purity. Without a doubt, this bachur who sought to purify himself through learning mussar in the most difficult of circumstances, was endowed in the merit of his mussar learning to become a marbitz Torah and yiras shomayim.
Without Mussar a Person is Missing the Basics of What it Means to be a Servant of Hashem
Let us conclude by highlighting how the Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, Rav Dovid Cohen encapsulated the objective of the Kinyan Chochma program. He said, “We are now in the week of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s yahrtzeit. Rav Yisrael, as is well known, established the mussar movement and promoted the learning of mussar with hispaalus, to learn with a niggun, to learn with passion in a way that the learning arouses the heart.
“However,” Rav Cohen continued, “there is another component as well. There is no other way to access the basic knowledge of what ‘Ma chovaso b’olamo – what are the basic obligations that each Jew has to Hashem as an oveid Hashem’, other than by learning the classical mussar sefarim. The classics lay out the basics. What is Torah learning? What is tefillah? What is bein adam l’chaveiro? If one doesn’t learn mussar, he will be missing the basics of what it means to be a Jew. If a person is missing the basics, he has no ammunition to fight the yetzer hara.
“What Kinyan Chochma accomplishes, is it grants a person the basic knowledge of what he needs in the great battle that everyone has against our own yetzer hara!”
In light of the call of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Gershon and all the Gedolim, many kollelim have already incorporated the learning of Kinyan Chochma into their schedules. With just a small investment of time every day, the dividends can be eternal!
Seminal Letter written by the Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, regarding the Kinyan Chochma Mussar program.
Learning sefarim on Mussar is not middas hachassidus, is not something that is “extra credit.” Rather it is a halachic obligation. Thus, Dirshu has done a wonderful thing to strengthen the learning of mussar in yeshivos and kollelim with their “Kinyan Chochma” program, which reinforces and supports the learning of mussar.
It is an obligation for every person to institute into his schedule a daily mussar learning session of sifrei mussar that interest him. Through learning daily mussar, a person will reach the level upon which the Mishnah in Avos teaches us “Ashrecha b’Olam Hazeh – Fortunate are you in Olam Hazeh. [Not only will the learning of mussar ensure him eternal reward in the next world, but in addition, the learning of mussar will enhance his life in this world as well.]”
Learning mussar regularly has an impact, enriches a person’s life and endows him with a good life.
The learning schedule in the Kinyan Chochma program comprises the foundational mussar works composed by our greatest sages. When they are learned daily by multitudes participating in the same program, it brings daily chizuk and encourages the learner to hold onto the daily set time for learning without slacking off.
Certainly, the person who merits to learn a set portion of mussar each day will merit a good, joyful life, nachas from all his offspring and success and Divine assistance in all areas of life.
[Rav] Gershon Edelstein
For information of how to join Kinyan Chochma, please call Dirshu at 1-88855Dirshu or email firstname.lastname@example.org