There was a palpable hush in the audience as the venerated Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, slowly made his way into the Armanot Chein Hall in Bnei Brak, this past Thursday night, 8 Av/July 20. More than 2,000 bachurim craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the Rosh Yeshiva as he arrived. They sat, completely still, listening with bated breath to the words of guidance that they would take with them as they made the transition to yeshiva gedolah.
The Dirshu ‘Seder Hachanah’ Event is a unique maamad specifically designed for one demographic, the bachurim leaving yeshiva ketana, (high school aged yeshiva) and entering yeshiva gedolah, (beis medrash level). The transition from yeshiva ketana – a system that is very regimented – to yeshiva gedolah which offers much more independent learning is truly significant and can literally mean the difference between a life time of success in learning or challilah the opposite.
Dirshu brought together leading Gedolei Yisroel to impart life-giving guidance to the bachurim to prepare them for this milestone transition. The highlight was the presence and guidance of Rav Gershon Edelstein. In addition to Rav Gershon, comprehensive addresses were given by HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Uri Weisblum, shlita, Mashgiach of Yeshiva Nachlas Halevi’im and a talmid muvhak of the famed Mashgiach, HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, and HaRav Yehoshua Mishkovsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Imrei Moshe. The event was chaired by HaRav Dovid Hillel, shlita, a Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Birchas Ephraim. Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu, also delivered an inspiring address.
Rav Gershon Edelstein: The Synthesis of Sevarah and Yeidas HaTorah
Rav Gershon, who has been delivering a daily shiur to bachurim in yeshiva gedolah for more than sixty years, said, “The way to acquire Torah in yeshiva gedolah is with sevarah, to truly find the underlying logic and premise behind the words of the Gemara and Rishonim. When a bachur understands the depth of a sevarah he gains a taam in learning, a geshmak in learning. It is that taam that empowers him to ultimately acquire a kinyan, a true acquisition of his learning.”
Rav Gershon than forcefully added a caveat. “It is impossible to really understand sevarah, without yedias haTorah, without knowledge of the Torah. Every bachur must make it a high priority to acquire yedias haTorah. It is not as hard as one might think.” Rav Gershon explained, “I know bachurim who know all of Shas and they are regular, normal bachurim, not extreme in any way. How do they do it? The utilize their time in yeshiva properly. For example, morning seder is primarily designed for bachurim to prepare for the shiur. For many bachurim, preparation does not take an entire seder. They are left with extra time. Every bachur should undertake at least to complete the entire masechta that the yeshiva is learning.
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch: One’s Entire Life Is Built on the Foundation of Yeshiva Gedolah.”
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, gave a comprehensive address replete with practical hadracha.
“The first thing a bachur should know,” Rav Hirsch said, “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.”
Another important point Rav Hirsch made is that yeshiva gedolah is a fresh slate! Even someone who was not so successful in yeshiva ketanah 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.”
Rav Uri Weisblum: Dormitory, The Incubator for Tikun Hamiddos
Some of the bachurim came with small pads and were taking notes, others were clearly ‘etching the guidance on their collective hearts’ as Rav Uri Weisblum rose to give practical guidance that served as the ultimate primer of guidance for any bachur entering yeshiva gedolah.
Rav Weisblum pointed out that the marked difference between yeshiva gedolah and yeshiva ketana can confront a bachur with many nisyonos, many spiritual hurdles that he must overcome. He explained that inasmuch as there is much more independence, much less structure, longer sedarim and a greater stress on self-motivation in a yeshiva gedolah, bachurim, if they are not careful and are unprepared for such an environment, can find themselves regressing in their learning and avodas Hashem.
Another critically important component that Rav Weisblum addressed, was the dormitory. In yeshiva ketana most bachurim sleep at home and even those who do not, only sleep in dormitories that are highly supervised.
Suddenly, upon entering yeshiva gedolah, a bachur must sleep in the dormitory and share rooms with bachurim from varied yeshivos and diverse backgrounds. Among others, going to sleep on time and choosing the right friends are issues that require self-control and forethought.
Rav Weisblum highlighted the fact that a dormitory can potentially serve as a tremendous opportunity for tikun hamiddos, for working on and improving one’s middos and sensitivity to others.
The Importance of a Bachur Recognizing His Abilities
Rav Dovid Hofstedter imparted divrei chizuk and guidance to the bachurim. As the event was held before Tisha B’Av, Rav Hofstedter cited a practical lesson to be learned from Yirmiyahu Hanavi. “Hashem tells Yirmiyahu, ‘Before you were born you were destined to be a Navi. That is your essence, your tachlis.’ What did Yirmiyahu answer? ‘Oy Hashem! You know that I am but a ‘naar,’ devoid of knowledge and wisdom…’ Hashem then answers him, ‘You are not a naar and you will go where I send you….
“The question is obvious,” continued Rav Dovid, “Hashem Himself tells Yirmiyahu you were born to be a Navi and Yirmiyahu appears to contradict Him by responding I don’t know how to speak, I am a naar?”
The answer provides guidance and insight to every Yid and especially to bachurim entering yeshiva gedolah, “There are bachurim who have unbelievable ability. They are blessed with great intellect and they can truly go far and accomplish so much. Nevertheless, at times those same bachurim say, “Who am I? I am just a naar!” They don’t recognize their own kochos. This is a great nisayon. A bachur can go for years without recognizing how much ability he really has. Every bachur must possess the bitachon that Hashem gave him abilities and he is obligated to use those abilities that Hashem has given him!”
The Three Deterrents to Success in Learning: Kinnah, Taavah and Kavod!
Rav Yehoshua Mishkovsky, a close talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, zt”l, told a personal story that made a great impact on the tzibbur. “I want to share a personal experience that I had when I was exactly your age. Thirty years ago, I went into the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shteinman and asked for guidance before entering yeshiva gedolah. He told me, ‘Every bachur has the ability to grow tremendously in Torah. There, are however, three things that extinguish his ability to grow. They are kinnah, taavah and kavod!’
The ripple effect of the kinnus for bachurim is incalculable. One look at the smiling faces of the bachurim exiting the gathering made it clear 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.