Monday, May 19, 2008

Recollections of RAEK


These are the
recollections of HaRav Yechiel Michel Shlesinger

founder of the yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim, of HaRav Avrohom

Elya Kaplan zt'l, head of the Berlin Rabbinerseminar and a talmid of

Slobodke yeshiva, under whom he had learned. This essay was originally

published in Haderech, on the 11th Iyar 5704, for HaRav Kaplan's

twentieth yahrtzeit.From among the many talks he gave us and his many typical

there are two that remain engraved in my memory and which I recall

every day; which have taught me and guided me.

In the course of a rancorous argument among talmidim of the

Rabbinerseminar in Berlin over certain internal issues concerning

Jewry, one student voiced his opinion that even the good which Zionism

had done -- by drawing nearer some of those who had strayed away from

Judaism -- could not justify the movement's existence if at the same

time it was preventing the multitudes from following the path to

complete teshuvah.

As a case in point, the student mentioned Christianity which,

according to the Rambam at the end of his writings, also represents

one of the steps towards Moshiach, through its promulgation of

monotheism. Yet the Rambam makes it clear that for us, the religion's

founder epitomizes the Jewish renegade.

Nonetheless even the sins of the wicked are instruments in the

workings of Divine providence. Just as that sinner provided merit for

many people by spreading the belief in Hashem's unity, Zionism has

also merited us with the return of lost souls.

HaRav Kaplan zt'l, heard this discussion and called the student to

heed his rebuke. The rav first declared his enthusiastic recognition

of Agudism and its path that has been charted for us by our gedolim.

Then, he absolutely contradicted the idea that it was the crime of

Christianity that was the cause of the merit of monotheism spreading,

as mentioned by the Rambam.

It is inconceivable that a sin can bring any good to the world, just

as it is inconceivable that anything but good can result from a

mitzvah. If Christianity brought blessing to heathens it was not

because its founder was a sinner but because of the Jewish spark

within him.

Had this talmid of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyoh not scorned the task

which Divine providence had prepared for him, who knows whether, at a

time when there was such a strong trend towards converting to Judaism

among the ruling classes of the world, faith in Judaism might not have

swept people's hearts and truly brought Moshiach close even then?

That individual's movement away from Judaism precipitated the most

terrible curse in the world: two thousand years of golus Edom. And

nevertheless, because he was a Jew, a ray of light went out to the

world from the Jewish soul that was within him, as the Rambam alludes.

We, small human beings who view the world in its present state where,

in our many sins, each day's curse is greater than that of the day

before, are liable to be misled by this. And for the sake of the

eternal truthfulness of the Perpetrator of great deeds, it should be

stated that a slightly sinful outlook that has penetrated the world

has stolen from us the infinite light that lies deep within Yisroel.

Then, with his enthusiastic and persuasive words, our great rebbe

taught us the basis of Judaism's outlook according to the Torah,

namely, that even the slightest aveiro, the smallest divergence from

the will of Hashem, must cause damage and bring a curse to the world,

just as every single mitzvo act brings blessing.

These words, accompanied by his cheerful expression and his luminous

and pure eyes, engraved themselves deeply in our hearts and are with

us every single day, whenever we express an opinion or take any

decision in life. They were a beacon of light for me, preventing me

from being drawn after a false outlook -- as though the building of

our errant brothers is the construction of Eretz Yisroel.

No! It is not happening because of the sinners but in spite of the

sinners. Even in the circles that are closest to us there is a need

for us to transmit our rebbe's teaching and to review it morning and

evening. Everything that is being built today in Eretz Yisroel is

being built because the workers are Jews, and not through their

aveiros but in spite of their aveiros. The building would be better

and greater without their sins.

From now on, when we look at what is happening, will we know and

remember the lesson of this simple outlook on life, which comes from

our holy Torah? Every slight transgression of the Torah's law, even if

in our eyes it seems to bring great blessing to Klal Yisroel for the

fulfillment of Torah, will only bring a curse to our lives and lessen

the strengthening of Torah's light in the world.

And any distance we put between ourselves and aveiro, even the

slightest one, and any small mitzvah, even if it seems at the moment

to damage Torah and its fulfillment, influences the world for the

good, increases happiness and strengthens the Torah's light.

At this opportunity our rebbe said to us, "The Torah says, `Do not

favor them,' (Devorim) and it is forbidden to say, `How beautiful this

gentile is.' We must not even praise the outward beauty of a sinner,

so as not to be attracted to them. How much greater is the obligation

to refrain from giving praise to a wicked man's good deeds lest we be

drawn after his mistaken and misleading outlook from which his deeds

drew their inspiration."

And what delicacy of recognition our rebbe had. Despite his meticulous

observance of this halocho and his deep and correct understanding of

it, he never broke off his frequent practice of maintaining mutual

relations with a number of errant souls and others whose faith was

weak. He was inspired to this by a boundless love of Jews, which will

ultimately bring these people back to the path of good.


    The Simcha of Lag Baomer is a strange concept. The Shulchan Aruch says on the day A Tzaddik dies you make a fast. Where did this day of happiness come from? The GR"A says it was the day that the Students of Reb Akiva Stopped dying. The Question still stands Reb Shimon Bar Yochai died on this day, what is the Celebration about? The answer brought by the Kadmonim is that Reb Shimon Bar Yochai himself said there should be a celebration on the day of his death. The Shach in Hilchos Aveilus also brings down a similar premise that if a father says not to act like an Avel the full 12 months we follow his command. This is because the whole Halacha of mourning is only in honor of the parent. Therefore if he asks you not to act in a manner of mourning then of course you listen. Now we must understand why did Reb Shimon say to celebrate his death when we know when a Tzaddik dies it like the Destruction of the Beis Hamikdash? There is yet another problem with the Lag Baomer Celebrations the Shoel Umashiv and the Chasam Sofer in their Seforim in a very strong language say that the Minhag of burning clothing which is prevalent at the Kever of Reb Shimon Bar Yochai in Miron is a problem of Baal Taschis (Destroying things without Purpose) and worse Darchei Amori (Behaving as a Idol worshipper). In defense we have a Mesorah that the Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh followed the Minhag of burning the clothing. The Aruch Hashulchan provides another reason for the Celebration of Lag Ba'omer that that it was the day Reb Shimon and his son where finally allowed to leave the cave in which they where hiding. A remez to this concept is that the Gemora that says the story of Reb Shimon leaving the cave is on Daf: Lamed Gimmel. The Mon also started falling on Lag Ba'omer. There is a Zohar in Parshas Hazinu that says that the day that Reb Shimon said over the secrets of the torah was on Lag Ba'omer and that was the day he died ,The students where afraid he would die before he would give over all the secrets, so when it happened they where overjoyed. In his final conversation he said "The whole day is in my control and now I have the right to say over all the secrets before I go to the next world in order that I not be embarrassed when I go up to Shmayim" . There are two thousand two hundred and twenty five Teachings from Reb Shimon Bar Yochai in Sifra, Bavli, and Yerushalmi. But the Secrets of the torah the SOD he was only able to tell over the day he died.
    In conclusion, what is the answer to all the above questions? The reason the day the Tzaddik dies is such a sad day that it is considered similar to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is because of the loss of Torah to the people in this world. The Tzaddik is going to Gan Eden .The only people who lose out are the people he left behind in this world. The day Reb Shimon died is fundamentally different. That is because as the Zohar says the secrets of the torah the actual text of the Zohar was able to be said and copied over on this day so it is not a day of sadness and fasting but a day like Purim and Shavous a day of receiving the torah of Nistar (the hidden aspects of Torah) and therefore a day full of joy happiness and a celebration. The significance of the Mon was as the Mamar Chazal says the Mon was only given to those who ate the Mon. Now to the final question why burn the clothes? When Reb Shimon bar Yochai left the cave everything one looked at got BURNT thereafter the other would look at it and return it to the way it was. The reason why everything was burnt up was that they where so separated from the frivolity of this world they could not stand to look at it .The burning of the clothes symbolized that we should aspire to be like Reb Shimon and try to separate ourselves from Gashmius of this world and try to live on a higher spiritual level. The burning of clothing being allowed to teach a moral lesson would still seem to be a problem. This too can now be answered. The gemara in Mesechtos Tomid states when the Kohanim had Guard duty and they feel asleep on the job the Gemara says "Reshus Hayah Lisrof Es bigadav" Therefore we plainly see a source that allows the burning of clothing to teach a lesson in Halacha .This is as long as there is a lesson to be learnt hence the Chasam Sofer and the Shoel Umashiv are answered. There is also the question of what is the reason for the fires? The simple answer given is just as we know we light a small candle for a soul on a Yahrtzeit like the Chazal say "Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam" therefore for a great soul we light a large fire. There is another answer given that Reb Shimon was on such a level that with his Ohr Hatorah he was able to stop the Night from coming therefore we light fires to symbolize the light of his torah that is still here.