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Senior Roshei Yeshiva Address More Than 2,500 Bachurim Entering Yeshiva Gedolah

More than 2,500 bachurim craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the Rosh Yeshiva as he arrived. 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/August 8.

Rav Gershon, the elder rosh yeshiva of our time, together with HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch and other gedolei roshei yeshiva, came to attend the Dirshu “Seder Hachanah” event. Seder Hachanah is a unique ma’amad specifically designed for one demographic: 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, can mean the difference between a lifetime of success in learning or chalila the opposite. It is a transition that requires much guidance. This year, the 10th year, several enriching format changes made the event even more beneficial. In addition to the main session where the bachurim received practical hadracha from the gedolei hador, several fascinating roundtable question-and-answer discussions with prominent roshei yeshiva were held, providing an extremely helpful opportunity for the bachurim to ask and listen to answers with great anticipation.

Rav Gershon, who has been delivering a daily shiur to bachurim in yeshiva gedolah for more than 60 years, started by addressing the middah of curiosity. He explained, “Every bachur has an innate middah of curiosity, which is a good thing. He must, however channel that middah, utilizing it for Torah. Channeling that middah for Torah includes being curious about ‘What does Rashi mean? What is this or that masechta all about?’ There are many things outside the yeshiva that can also pique one’s curiosity, that every bachur has to take great care to avoid,” the Rosh Yeshiva said. Rav Gershon then went on to address keys to success in learning. “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.”

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? They 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. A bachur can use that extra time to learn the rest of the masechta. If he completes that masechta he can undertake another masechta. Sevarah—the key to kinyan haTorah—cannot be separated from yedias haTorah. They must go hand in hand.”

The event started with short introductory remarks by HaGaon HaRav Binyomin Finkel, shlita, mashgiach of Mir. “Some bachurim come to a yeshiva that was not their first choice. They come in a bit pained… I want to tell you, I have seen so many times that what a bachur thinks is a good yeshiva for him is terrible, and often Hashem sends him exactly where he belongs. Just undertake to shteig and do your best and you will see tremendous success.”

One of the very popular features this year was a roundtable discussion with the prominent roshei yeshiva who gave tips on very timely and important issues, for example: How does a bachur who is accustomed to learning with a chavrusa for only one or two hours in mesivta now learn three daily sedarim that are often more than three hours long? What should a bachur who likes bekiyus more than iyun do? How do you choose a fitting chavrusa?

Another highlight of the event was the divrei chizuk by the nasi of Dirshu, Harav Dovid Hofstedter. Rav Dovid cited the Mishnah in Avos that says, “One who is overconfident in handing down legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant of spirit.”

“What,” Rav Hofstedter asked, “is the chiddush in calling him arrogant of spirit? We are talking about someone much worse! After all, he is wicked because he is rendering mistaken halachic decisions. He is a baal gaavah of the worst order!”

Rav Hofstedter responded, “Perhaps the answer is that there are middos that one must periodically use for the positive. A person should be bold like a leopard…strong like a lion, etc. Boldness, for example, is not usually a good middah, but at times one needs to use it for avodas Hashem, for the sake of Heaven. At times you have to show strength like a lion as well, but gaavah, arrogance, has no place in avodas Hashem whatsoever! The tanna is teaching us that no one should think that a person who is overconfident, who has gaavah when rendering halachic rulings, that this is l’shem shamayim. It is a middah to be avoided at all costs, even ostensibly for a good purpose. At times, a bachur, especially a good bachur going to an excellent yeshiva, can think, ‘I am choshuv, I ask good questions that at times can stump my rebbe. I need the best chavrusa…’ There is no place at all for gaavah, even seemingly l’shem shamayim!”

Perhaps the most comprehensive practical guidance from a senior rosh yeshiva was given by Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch. “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 ketana is empowered to make a fresh start and should come into yeshiva gedolah 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, he will eventually have a true geshmak and satisfaction in learning.”

Rav Hirsch explained, “My rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, would say, ‘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,’ Rav Aharon Kotler continued, ‘he is making a mistake. 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.’”

By Chaim Gold

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