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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reb Chaim Volozhiner's Yahrtzeit

WIth the hindsight of the passage of two hundred years, I think it is possible that Reb Chaim Volozhiner left a mark on the Torah and Kedusha of Klal Yisrael comparable to that of Ezra Hasofer.  Reb Chaim's son, Reb Itzaleh, wrote the introduction to Reb Chaim's Nefesh Hachaim.  In it is a line that deserves contemplation.

והיה רגיל להוכיח אותי על שראה שאינני משתתף בצערא דאחריני וכה היה דברו אלי תמיד שזה כל האדם לא לעצמו נברא רק להועיל לאחריני ככל אשר ימצא בכחו לעשות

He would often rebuke me, seeing that I did not empathize in others' pain.  These were the words he constantly said to me:  "This is the entirety of man- Man was not created for himself, but instead to help others to the extent of his ability to do so."

He did not say that the purpose of man is to sit and learn, or to do mitzvos.  The sum of being a human being is to help others.  As Hillel and Reb Akiva said, the essential teaching of the Torah is to feel what the other person feels.  All the rest is interpretation.


Chaim B. said...

Reminds me of the GR"A in Even Shleima about the purpose of life being for tikun midos.

What in particular would you point to as the enduring impact of R' C"V?

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Maybe the Gaon also meant that caring about others, breaking down the wall of exclusive self interest, is the ultimate tikun hamidos. On the other hand, there's Reb Akiva's Chayecha Kodmim.

I think Reb Chaim's transmission of the Gaon's derech, and the creation of the derech halimud of the Volozhiner Yeshiva, and of his talmidim and family, made a tremendous difference in the personality and mind of Bnei Torah- essentially, all that distinguishes the Ashkenazi Yeshivaleit from the Sefardim and Chasidim.

Chaim B. said...

What do you consider the derech halimud of Volozhin to be? The Netziv's derech was very different than that of R' Chaim Brisker, yet both said shiurim there. The Gaon's derech in halacha (paskening like one view in Rishonim against others) has been supplanted by a desire to be 'yozeti all the shitos,' especially among bnei yeshiva.

(I would say that R' Chaim Brisker gets more credit for inspiring the derech halimud of yeshivos today that anyone else.)

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

I've given that a lot of thought, the difference between the Netziv and Reb Chaim. The way I look at it is that they are both expressions of the Gaon's derech, but not necessarily exemplars of the Gaon's derech. My brother and I recently discussed the wide disparity among talmidim of Slabodka. He said pshat is that Slabodka encouraged development of what the person was, without imposing a rigid mehalach on him. I think pshat is that every one of those very different people- Reb Yitzchak Hutner, Reb Avigdor Miller, Reb Aharon Kotler, Rav Rudderman, Reb Yaakov, and so on- was a true talmid of the Alter and expressed the deep essential meaning of what the Alter meant to teach. The fact that they differed so much in personality and derech halimud really didn't matter. That was all a malbush.

great Unknown said...

Forgive my ignorance, but where does Hillel invoke "Love your neighbor..."?

I am aware that Rabbi Akiva declared it to be a klal gadol batorah, and I personally have told several people that I would like to apply it to them. In the manner described in Sanhedrin.

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

great unknown is referring to the Gemara in Sanhedrin 45 אמר רב נחמן אמר רבה בר אבוה אמר קרא (ויקרא יט) ואהבת לרעך כמוך ברור לו מיתה יפה which exhorts us to eschew unnecessarily cruel punishments.

However, great unknown errs in alleging that I attributed "love your neighbor" to Hillel, as a more careful reading of the post will show.

For some reason, I am reminded of Mr. Orwell's observation that “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

great Unknown said...

A more precise translation would be, "Choose for him a nice [pleasant] death." And, in context, dying in bed is not one of the choices.

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

A better translation would communicate the idea that even when the court is required to execute a wicked person, we still need to remember that persons essential dignity and choose the least demeaning manner of execution.