Thousands of Bachurim hear Guidance from Senior Gedolim on How to Transition Successfully to Yeshiva Gedolah
HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, Shlita, in Video Address, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Shlita, and HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, Shlita, Give Powerful Practical Guidance
By Chaim Gold
It was an unforgettable scene. Thousands of bachurim, all the same age, converged on the Armanot Chen Halls in Bnei Brak to hear guidance from senior Gedolim at Dirshu’s annual “Seder Hachana” event. The upstairs floor of the hall, the downstairs floor of the hall, the streets and all the environs around the hall were full of bachurim. Those who could not get in, watched the addresses on screens. The bachurim, who are concluding yeshiva ketana and will be attending yeshiva gedolah this coming Elul, came in droves, anxious to quench their thirst for guidance, at this pivotal stage in their lives.
Some highlights were the addresses by the senior Gadol Hador, HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva and HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva. 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. A comprehensive address was also given by the Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita.
Another unique component in this year’s event were two special video addresses by HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta D’Lakewood and Telshe, and HaGaon HaRav Shimon Baadani, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva, Torah V’Chaim. There was also an audio address of divrei bracha and guidance from HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Philadelphia, recorded especially for the event.
Seder Hachanah is a unique maamad specifically designed for one demographic, bachurim finishing yeshiva ketana (high school aged yeshiva) and entering yeshiva gedolah (beis medrash level). The transition from yeshiva ketana – a very regimented system – to yeshiva gedolah which offers much more independent learning can mean the difference between a lifetime of success in learning or challilah the opposite. It is a transition that requires much guidance. Dirshu has been hosting this unique maamad for over a decade.
Rav Gershon Edelstein: The Importance of Socializing… and the Pitfalls!
Rav Gershon Edelstein was slated to attend the gathering and address it in person. Unfortunately, during the previous week, the venerated Rosh Yeshiva was hospitalized with a cardiac issue. He had been released from the hospital just two days before the seder hachana and was not able to personally attend. On the day of the event, Rav Gershon was visited by Rav Dovid Hofstedter and gave his heartfelt bracha for that the bachurim should come away with chizuk. A video address with Rav Gershon’s advice to bachurim going into yeshiva gedolah was shown at the event.
When listening to the wise, practical advice from the Rosh Yeshiva one can hear that Rav Gershon has been giving shiur and guidance to bachurim for some 75 years. His clear understanding of the tremendous opportunities of yeshiva gedolah as well as the significant challenges, was evident for all to see.
He started by addressing the social scene in the new yeshiva.
“Often in a new yeshiva, a bachur wants to get to know new friends, but this can be difficult socially. It isn’t always easy to make new friends. In his attempt to get to know everyone and to forge relationship he may unwittingly slack off and waste time from his learning. The attempt to forge new friendships, the curiosity, excessive shmuessing and wanting to be part of a new chevra can affect one’s learning and one’s focus on learning in a way that is less than ideal.
“The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos enumerates 48 things that enable a person to acquire Torah. One of them is miut sicha, minimizing talking. This refers to general shmuessing outside of one’s learning. It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that the Mishnah specifically used the word ‘minimizing’ and did not say that one should not talk at all. Why? The Gaon explains that people need to shmuess a bit. That is human nature. Humans are not made to completely refrain from socializing. Nevertheless, it should be limited.
“I remember, a young bachur once came to me and told me that he decided to stop speaking ‘devarim biteilim – any extraneous speech’. After a while he came back and told me that he could not maintain it. ‘It is too difficult not to speak at all,’ he said. From here we see that a bit of talking is necessary. A person must be able to talk with friends. That is human nature. But to talk a lot? To talk a lot, to shmuess a lot is considered batalah. The possuk teaches us that when one talks a lot it is impossible not to transgress. When someone talks too much, it is inevitable that he will transgress the prohibitions against lashon hara and rechilus…”
How To Succeed in the More Independent Learning in Yeshiva Gedolah
Rav Gershon then went on to address the profound structural differences between yeshiva gedolah and yeshiva ketana and how to acclimate.
“When a bachur transfers from yeshiva ketana to yeshiva gedolah, he will encounter a different structure of learning, one that requires much more preparation. In yeshiva ketana, everything is explained, the shiur is explained and presented to a bachur on the proverbial silver platter. Any time a bachur doesn’t understand, he can ask his maggid shiur. He can easily obtain help.
“In yeshiva gedolah, however, things are different. A bachur is expected to prepare the Gemara on his own to understand the shiur. To properly learn a Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos is not simple. What does one do? The best advice is that one should first learn the Gemara just with Rashi. The next day he should learn Tosafos for the first time and then review yesterday’s Gemara with Rashi. On the third day, one should review what he learned and add a review of Tosafos. This should be repeated on the fourth day. The additional daily chazarah is not just a review, rather, the person begins to understand the Gemara differently, better and deeper with each chazarah. This is the best preparation for the shiur. It is vital to sustain chazarah over several days, increasing what one is reviewing with each review.
“Then there is chazaras hashiur. For optimal clarity, chazaras hashiur should take place either during the afternoon or evening on the same day as the shiur was given. That chazarah enables a bachur to understand the shiur much better than during the shiur itself. It is also an opportunity for another important foundational area of learning called, ‘dibbuk chaveirim’ – learning, clarifying and crystalizing the points with others.”
The venerated nonagenarian Rosh Yeshiva then spoke about the imperative to being a “talmid” and trying to learn from both, one’s rebbeim and one’s fellow chaveirim.
“An additional important point that anyone going to yeshiva gedolah should know is the concept of ‘shimush chachomim’ – speaking to the maggidei shiur and rosh yeshiva in learning so that you understand anything that seems difficult or unclear.
“The Gemara says, ‘I learned a lot from my rebbeim, even more from my friends and from my talmidim more than all of them.’ We can understand that one learned from his rebbeim but from his chaveirim even more than his rebbeim? How can that be? And from his talmidim even more?!
“The answer is that certainly, one gets knowledge from one’s rebbi or rosh yeshiva but the deeper understanding of what was said during the shiur one only gets from clarifying it with friends. During the shiur, the understanding is superficial. Through reviewing the shiur and arguing over it with friends, one achieves much more clarity.
“Now, as you go from yeshiva ketana to yeshiva gedolah these concepts of chazarah and dibbuk chaveirim will be relevant on a practical level. You will see for yourselves how these things will empower you to understand your learning with much more clarity than what you heard from your rebbeim.”
The Importance Of Adhering To The Sidrei Hayeshiva
Rav Gershon concluded by emphasizing the critical importance of adhering to the sidrei hayeshiva, the importance of the ‘Yeshiva Schedule’.
“Let me now conclude by saying that a very real zechus for hatzlacha in yeshiva is adhering to the yeshiva’s seder. I have found this to be a foolproof key to success. Davening in the yeshiva on time, coming to seder on time and learning throughout seder; Mincha, Maariv, all the yeshiva’s sedarim should be adhered to. Those who keep the sidrei hayeshiva bring a zechus upon himself as well as adding to the cumulative zechus of being mezakeh harabbim – because when others see him adhering to the seder of the yeshiva, they will follow suit.
“It is essential for young bachurim to know and implement the general rules that I have just explained. In this zechus, we will all do and accomplish what we are supposed to and merit siyatta d’Shmaya to achieve what we need to achieve.”
Rav Dovid Cohen: A Yeshiva is a Factory that Produces The Unique Product Called a Ben Torah
Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, gave a powerful, extremely practical address that was rooted in years of experience in watching what works for talmidim and what does not work. 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. I heard many times from my Rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner that the kol gadol that emanated from Har Sinai, the mesiras haTorah that emanated from Har Sinai today emanates from our holy yeshivos! They are the conduits for mesiras haTorah in our time!
“The yeshiva,” explained Rav Cohen, “is the ‘factory’ that produces bnei Torah. Without a doubt, the integral component of a ben Torah is learning Torah itself, the shiurim, the hasmada, but there is more involved to produce a true ben Torah. He must have Torah, but he must also have the pillars of avodah and gemilus chassodim. Davening in yeshiva is not just davening. It is an integral component of the tzurah of a yeshiva and of what comprises a ben Torah.”
“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 a 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 the factory that creates and raises the talmidei chachomim who will continue the mesorah of Klal Yisrael for the coming generation.
Rav Hutner would say that a yeshiva is the factory that builds the unique creation called an ‘adam’, a human. A human being is not a glorified animal that can do more things. An adam is an elevated creation. Torah elevates the person to great and exalted levels. Within the walls of the yeshiva, one learns the ‘darchei haTorah’, the pathways of the Torah which guide a person and teach him what to do in every situation in life, both inside the beis medrash and outside. A yeshiva is the ideal place to grow into greatness and reach that exalted status of ‘adam’.”
Rav Dovid then spoke about the importance of limiting late night shmuessing. “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. I am not talking about a masmid who goes to sleep late because he was completely immersed in learning. I am referring to the needless, idle chatter and leitzanus that can take place late at night and can ruin the next day. 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 shomayim…”
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch: Five Steps to Success
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, the Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva, is not only known throughout the Torah world for his wisdom in advising bnei yeshiva, but 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 has 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 bachurim sat with bated breath as Rav Moshe Hillel made his way to the podium.
“The first thing a bachur should know,” Rav Hirsch began, “is that on Rosh Chodesh Elul, 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.
“The primary success of any kollel yungerman stems from his years in yeshiva gedolah,” Rav Hirsch stressed. “If he utilizes them well and learns at a high level, he will continue that ascent during his kollel years. If he does not, then his kollel years will reflect that as well…
“It is in these years that a bachur must accept upon himself to fully and totally immerse in Torah learning and to develop real, authentic yiras shamayim. He must also make up his mind to wholly dedicate himself to cultivating good middos, be humble, listen to a sevarah that his friend conveys instead of immediately rejecting it… Humility is the key to all other middos tovos.”
Rav Hirsch then gave five points of advice for the bachurim that would enable them to truly succeed in yeshiva and in life.
Number one was to understand what 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 own seichel.”
“The second piece of advice is that the mashgichim and roshei yeshiva are there to help you, not to police you. A bachur should constantly consult with them and not rely on his own seichel which invariably gets it wrong.
“Number three,” Rav Moshe Hillel continued, “is 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.
Rav Moshe Hillel cautioned, “Not all bachurim feel the sweetness and geshmak of learning right away. For some it takes time. No bachur should become bothered when it doesn’t happen immediately. If he perseveres, eventually he will have a true geshmak and satisfaction in learning.”
“My Rebbi, HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, would say,” Rav Hirsch commented, “that ‘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, he is making a mistake,’ Rav Aharon explained. ‘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.’”
“Number four is to have tremendous sheifos, a tremendous desire to not just learn and know but to grow into gadlus! The yetzer hara will do anything in his power to cool you off, but your task is not to listen to him. Think big! Everyone has the ability to reach great and exalted levels of Torah and yiras shamayim! Don’t let the yetzer hara talk you out of that.
“Number five is don’t look at others. For example, imagine you are a great masmid and your friend is also a great masmid. He received permission from the mashgiach to learn until 1:00 a.m. every night and you didn’t. You don’t have to be exactly like him. Your body may need more sleep. A bachur shouldn’t look around and mimic others. In consultation with your rebbeim, your job is to find out what is best for you, for your nefesh, for your strengths and abilities.”
The last piece of advice Rav Hirsch imparted to the bachurim was that Rav Chaim Volozhiner says that a person who is osek b’Torah in general has times of aliyah and times of yeridah, times of great ascent and times when he feels things are not going well.
“It is important,” Rav Hirsch stressed, “that in a time of yeridah, when you are accomplishing only thirty percent of what you can usually do, you should not become discouraged. You should not think, ‘the real me is the me when I am in a yeridah…’ That is not true! It is just the yetzer hara trying to discourage you, trying to make you convince yourself that, ‘if I can’t learn at one hundred percent capacity, I might as well not learn at all.’ That is foolish and wrong. Persevere through the times of yeridah and you will eventually recapture the times of aliyah as well.”
Rav Shimon Baadani: A Mini Maamad Har Sinai!
Rav Shimon Baadani, the senior Sephardic Rosh Yeshiva, who due to his advance age and health issues could not attend in person, sent a video recording to be played at the event. He said, “Such an event of so many bachurim coming together was akin to a mini maamad Har Sinai! So many wonderful bachurim accepting on themselves the yoke of Torah, just as the bnei Yisrael did at Har Sinai!”
Rav Baadani related that the way to really succeed is with consistency. “Keeping at it and not letting up. Why does a masmid succeed? Because he consistently learns. Consistency in ruchniyus, not letting up, one day after the next, learning and learning, reviewing and reviewing is a key to success in yeshiva.”
Rav Dovid Hofstedter: The Imperative to Connect Our Inner Essence to Ruchniyus
Towards the beginning of the evening, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu who came to Eretz Yisrael specially to participate in the event, addressed the bachurim saying, “You are now at a critical stage in your lives, a stage that gives you newfound achrayus, a stage in which you grow into true bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim. What is the secret? What are ways that a bachur can be matzliach? We see so many bachurim who truly blossom in yeshiva gedolah, yet, we also find that there are those who fall. After all these years of effort and investment at home, in cheder, in yeshiva ketana and now, suddenly, one should fall?!
“In truth, this is an age-old question,” Rav Dovid said. “We find that after the greatest spiritual zenith of maamad Har Sinai, Klal Yisrael complained about trivial things such as ‘give us meat, we don’t like the mann, give us water…’ How could they fall after such a spiritual high?!
“How was it possible,” Rav Dovid asked, “that after Kriyas Yam Suf, when even a maidservant saw more than Yechezkel Hanavi, that they could say, ‘we remember the delicious cucumbers in Mitzrayim?’
“Perhaps the answer is that in the midbar, they lived a life of complete spirituality. They drank water from the be’er of Miriam, they ate mann, bread from Heaven that was ruchniyus, even the meat that they ate was from korbanos. They, however, pined after regular gashmiyus and a life of hefkeirus without the limitations placed upon them by a completely spiritual life. Yes, they accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, but Chazal tell us that at the same time they left like a child who runs away from cheder!
“What is clear is that it is not enough to just be in a spiritual atmosphere, what one needs is to truly connect to matters of ruchniyus. It isn’t enough to learn Torah and do mitzvos because it is our obligation, and we have no choice. No! We must truly connect to our inner essence, our neshamos, in a deep way with ruchniyus. Only when we develop a true inner ratzon, a true feeling of simcha over the fact that we have the zechus to learn Torah, that this is truly life, can we really succeed and be connected.
“When we leave yeshiva ketana and go to yeshiva gedolah, we should not go like a child running away from cheder. Rather we must realize that this is the center of life! The center of our sheifos, the center of our simcha, the center of our geshmak! That is the secret of success in yeshiva gedolah!”
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 what may be the most important period of growth in their lives!
The sense of achdus that permeated the event was likewise phenomenal. Many 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 all Yidden of all ages and affiliations! Fortunate is the generation where the young listen to the elders.