By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
One of the most remarkable Mussar Seforim that has emerged in recent years is entitled, “Sichos im HaRav Shlomo Hoffman” – no relation to this reviewer. In the month and a half that the sefer has been on the market, it has sold an astounding 7000 plus copies – something unheard of in recent times. The sefer is filled with such profound insights and wisdom, that it is this author’s view that the sefer should be required reading in every Yeshiva.
Rav Shlomo Hoffman was such a remarkable individual with such deep insights that Rav Aron Leib Shteinman shlita would send mashgichim of Yeshivos to Rav Hoffman for training. Indeed, Rav Hoffman was a consultant to the secular court system in Israel in helping determine the best method of rehabilitating a criminal – a secular one. His uncanny insights into kochos hanefesh were recognized both in the Chareidi world and in the secular world alike.
This noteworthy digest of his thought was put together by Rav Meir Simcha Stein, a student of his. Rav Stein is the grandson of Rav Pesach Stein zt”l the Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe Cleveland and the son of Rav Shmuel Zalman Stein, author of the Pri Shmuel on the Rambam’s Zraim and Taharah. Rav Meir Simcha Stein is currently an avreich in Mir Yerushalayim.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF RAV SHLOMO HOFFMAN
Rav Shlomo Hoffman zt”l was born in Seylish, Czechoslovakia in 1922, now Vynohradiv in the Ukraine. His family moved to Eretz Yisroel on the advice of the Spinka Rebbe. Eventually at the age of 16, he became a student of Chevron and was taken under the wing of Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher zt”l. Rav Hoffman thus was heir to the traditions of the Slabodka mussar traditions and combined them with a deep understanding of the kochos hanefesh of human beings.
The Sefer is comprised of 12 shiurim. Each of one them is meant to stand alone.
1. How to Deal With Extremely Difficult Situations (suicides, Chillul Shabbos, A Chareidi person who gos off the derech, and the like.)
2. Sensitivity to Aveirah and the ideal method of Teshuvah
3. The Essence of Teshuvah
4. Dealing with Aveiros
5. Feeling Blame
6. Parents and Teachers – Building up one’s charges and not causing them to stumble
7. Recognizing One’s Own Strengths
8. Recognizing Strengths from Rav Isaac Sher zt”l
9. The Difficulty in Identifying Desires
11. Dealing with one’s good and evil natures
12. Recognizing Strengths from the Rambam
THE FIRST SHIUR
Rav Stein presents a number of very difficult situations and asked Rav Hoffman how best to deal with them. Specifically, when Rav Stein was 15 years old another bochur took his own life. For many years he and his peers could not concentrate on their studies. Another Yeshiva student from an illustrious family had violated Shabbos – even though he learned and davened well – how does one deal with this?
There was a Jew, a father to a large religious family who one day just picked up and left his family and became irreligious. How can this happen?
While not attempting to give Rav Hoffman’s entire response to Rav Stein in this review, some highlights will be mentioned.
Most of the anxieties that these experiences bring are on account of an internal fear that this type of thing might happen to ourselves. These fears cause us to have anxieties that we ourselves may not be immune to these types of things and they scare us. It is up to parents and teachers to attempt to relieve these fears and anxieties.
FIVE METHODS TO CALM SOMEONE
There are essentially five methods in which one can calm down a person.
1] Hergel – become used to it. Even things that are difficult to grasp become part of the norm when one becomes used to it. – This is why adults who have more experiences in life tend to hand difficult
information better than younger people.
2] Tfisa Hegyonit – Rational Exploration – When we use our rational understanding to explore what the exact pathway to bring a person to such a decline, it calms us. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik zt”l explained that his illustrious father, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik studied the sugyos of Ohalos and Tumas Mais toward the end of his life. Why did he do so? He did it to acclimate himself to the concept of death. The root of our anxieties is the fear of the unknown. The more we know about it – the calmer we are.
Another example is when one is chas v’shalom diagnosed with a terminal illness. One of the calming acts that such a patient does is to read about and explore the nature of the illness. Scary though it may be, it also has a calming and soothing effect.
3] Hakrana regashit – Projecting a Calm Front – When we ourselves present a calm and rational front – this serves to calm others as well – without even discussing the matter.
4] Lessening the Anxiety of Failure and of Sinning – Rather than being in a state of shock and fear of tragedies and dangers we must develop techniques as to how to lessen our fear and anxieties about them.
5] Exploring our early fears and experiences can often have a catharsis like effect on reducing our current anxieties of similar or identical issues. It helps cleanse us and imbues us with bitachon.
Rav Isaac Sher would often quote a tradition he received from the Alter of Slabodka who in turn received it from Rav Yisroel Salanter that the problem is not the sin per se, but rather how we respond and deal with it.
The posuk in Koheles (7:20) tells us, “There is not a righteous man on earth who performs good and does not stumble.” Rather, slowly, slowly one must learn how to overcome and eventually dominate the yetzer harah.
This author highly recommends this sefer and even if the Hebrew may be a little difficult for the beginner, it is well worth sitting with a dictionary to understand some of the terminology. The rewards will be well worth it.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Attention Readers: The seventh volume of Not Your Usual Halacha has just been released. The author’s books, including the Not Your Usual halacha Series, Hilchos Shabbos, Hilchos Meuzah, Hilchos Kashrus can be purchased at amazon.com.