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.
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.
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.
A Tale of Two Avreichim
The Mashgiach, Rav Don Segal, with great passion and emotion emphasized that mussar must be learned in a way that talks not only to one’s brain but primarily to the heart.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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!