Friday, March 05, 2021

YUTorah Online - The Rav's famous description (from 1974) of how he experienced the Mesorah as he gave shiur as an old man (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

One of the most moving and one of my favorite passages from RYBS zt"l. I was not aware that there is a recorded version of it. Just found it today at the link, from which the transcript below is taken.

As a matter of fact, I want to tell you, and please don't, don’t misinterpret my words, I am not trying to brag or to boast, very far from it, but whatever I have said now is not just an idea. To me it's an experience. Let me say that the secret of mispar ha'do'ros, of combining, uniting, merging many generations into one community, where discrepancy of age disappears, where years play no role, centuries have no significance. Where generations, I mean, can, so to say communicate, commune with each other, I do experience every time I enter the classroom at the yeshiva. And I've been a teacher for the last, how many years? (other people speaking) Oy vey, I'm that old.

Whenever I enter the classroom which is crowded with boys, who could be as far as age is concerned, my grandchildren. I enter the classroom as an old man, I am old- with a wrinkled face and eyes reflecting fatigue and the sadness of old age. You have to be old in order to experience that sadness. It's a very strange sadness; it's the melancholy of remembering things, things which disappear, they don't exist. When I enter a classroom I sit down, and opposite me are rows of boys, young boys with beaming eyes, beaming faces, clear eyes, radiating the joy of being young.

Always when I enter, you know I enter in a very pessimistic mood, I always enter the class in despair. And I ask myself, I mean, every time I enter the classroom- can there be a dialogue between an old teacher and young students? Between a rebbe in his Indian summer and boys enjoying the spring of their lives?

I start the shiur, I don't know what the conclusion will be. Whenever I start the shiur, the door opens, another old man walks in and sits down. He is older than I am. All the talmidim call me the Rav, he is older than the Rav. He is the great, the grandfather of the Rav; his name is Reb Chaim Brisker. And without whom no shiur can be delivered nowadays. Then, the door opens quietly again and another old man comes in, he is older than Reb Chaim, he lived in the 17th century. What’s his name? Shabsai Kohen- the famous Shach- who must be present when dinei mamonos are being discussed; when we study Bava Metziah, Bava Kamah. And then, more visitors show up. Some lived, some of the visitors lived in the 11th century, some in the 12th century, some in the 13th century, some lived in antiquity- Rebbe Akiva, Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, the Ra'avad, the Rashba, more and more come in, come in, come in. Of course, what do I do? I introduce them to my pupils and the dialogue commences. The Rambam says something, the Ra'avad disagrees; and sometimes he's very nasty. Very sharp, harsh language he uses against the Rambam. A boy jumps up to defend the Rambam against the Ra'avad, and the boy is fresh- you know how young boys are fresh- so the language he uses is improper, he uses improper language. So, I correct him. And another jumps up with a new idea; the Rashba smiles gently. I try to analyze what the young boy meant, another boy intervenes, we call upon the Rabbeinu Tam to express his opinion, and suddenly a symposium of generations comes into existence.

Generations! Young boys- 22, 23, 24 years of age- there are boys who are just 18 years old that are in my class. One generation. then my generation, then the generation of Reb Chaim Brisker, then the generation of the Shach, then the generation of the Rashba, the Ramban, the generation of the Rambam, the generation of Rashi, the generation of the Rabbeinu Tam, and then, I mean there is no end! What about the Rav Hai Gaon? What about Rebbe Akiva, Rebbe Elazar, Rav Yochanan ben Zakai? All generations somehow…

We all speak one language, “v'thi kol ha'aretz safah achas u'd'varim achadim.” We all chat, we all laugh, we all enjoy the company, and we all pursue one goal; we all are committed to a common vision, and we all operate in the same categories. There is mesorah collegiality, friendship, comradeship between old and young, between antiquity middle-ages and modern times, “v'hu ha'keitz.”

This unity of generations, this march of centuries, this conversation of generations, this dialogue between antiquity and present will finally bring the redemption of the Jew.

Let me tell you that at the conclusion of three and sometimes four hours, I mean I have here a witness, I emerge young and elated, younger than my pupils. They are tired, exhausted, some of them yawn. I feel happy. I have, I have defeated age; I have defeated oldness. I emerge young, less fatigued, less exhausted than my young pupils.

We belong to the same Mesorah community, where generations meet. Where hands, no matter how wrinkled and parchment dry one hand is and how soft and wan the other hand is, shake, unite, and in a community where the great dialogue continues. When I was looking at the baby who was redeemed this evening, I don’t know whether he will be in my class, whether I will live to have him. But someone will sit and teach the baby, and the baby is already a member of the community, of the great Mesorah community. And I feel as if I, it is possible to establish communication with this baby.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing Rav Bechhofer, this is healthy & delicious food for the Neshama and the heart.