Thousands of Bochurim Hear Guidance from Senior Gedolim on How to Transition Successfully to Yeshiva Gedolah

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HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, Shlita, in Video Address, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Shlita, and HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, Shlita, Give Powerful Practical Guidance  

By Chaim Gold

It was an unforgettable scene. Thousands of bachurim, all the same age, converged on the Armanot Chen Halls in Bnei Brak to hear guidance from senior Gedolim at Dirshu’s annual “Seder Hachana” event. The upstairs floor of the hall, the downstairs floor of the hall, the streets and all the environs around the hall were full of bachurim. Those who could not get in, watched the addresses on screens. The bachurim, who are concluding yeshiva ketana and will be attending yeshiva gedolah this coming Elul, came in droves, anxious to quench their thirst for guidance, at this pivotal stage in their lives.

Some highlights were the addresses by the senior Gadol Hador, HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva and HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva. There was a unique shailos and teshuvos session where many questions about how to be successful in yeshiva gedolah were posed to the two panel members, HaGaon HaRav Bunim Schreiber, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Nesiv Daas, and HaGaon HaRav Chaim Peretz Berman, shlita, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Ponevezh Yeshiva. A comprehensive address was also given by the Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, shlita.

Another unique component in this year’s event were two special video addresses by HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta D’Lakewood and Telshe, and HaGaon HaRav Shimon Baadani, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva, Torah V’Chaim. There was also an audio address of divrei bracha and guidance from HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Philadelphia, recorded especially for the event.

Seder Hachanah is a unique maamad specifically designed for one demographic, bachurim finishing yeshiva ketana (high school aged yeshiva) and entering yeshiva gedolah (beis medrash level). The transition from yeshiva ketana – a very regimented system – to yeshiva gedolah which offers much more independent learning can mean the difference between a lifetime of success in learning or challilah the opposite. It is a transition that requires much guidance. Dirshu has been hosting this unique maamad for over a decade.    

Rav Gershon Edelstein: The Importance of Socializing… and the Pitfalls!  

Rav Gershon Edelstein was slated to attend the gathering and address it in person. Unfortunately, during the previous week, the venerated Rosh Yeshiva was hospitalized with a cardiac issue. He had been released from the hospital just two days before the seder hachana and was not able to personally attend. On the day of the event, Rav Gershon was visited by Rav Dovid Hofstedter and gave his heartfelt bracha for that the bachurim should come away with chizuk. A video address with Rav Gershon’s advice to bachurim going into yeshiva gedolah was shown at the event.

When listening to the wise, practical advice from the Rosh Yeshiva one can hear that Rav Gershon has been giving shiur and guidance to bachurim for some 75 years. His clear understanding of the tremendous opportunities of yeshiva gedolah as well as the significant challenges, was evident for all to see.

One of the things he addressed was the social scene in the new yeshiva.

“Often in a new yeshiva, a bachur wants to get to know new friends, but this can be difficult socially. It isn’t always easy to make new friends. In his attempt to get to know everyone and to forge relationship he may unwittingly slack off and waste time from his learning. The attempt to forge new friendships, the curiosity, excessive shmuessing and wanting to be part of a new chevra can affect one’s learning and one’s focus on learning in a way that is less than ideal.

“The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos enumerates 48 things that enable a person to acquire Torah. One of them is miut sicha, minimizing talking. This refers to general shmuessing outside of one’s learning. It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that the Mishnah specifically used the word ‘minimizing’ and did not say that one should not talk at all. Why? The Gaon explains that people need to shmuess a bit. That is human nature. Humans are not made to completely refrain from socializing. Nevertheless, it should be limited.

“I remember, a young bachur once came to me and told me that he decided to stop speaking ‘devarim biteilim – any extraneous speech’. After a while he came back and told me that he could not maintain it. ‘It is too difficult not to speak at all,’ he said. From here we see that a bit of talking is necessary. A person must be able to talk with friends. That is human nature. But to talk a lot? To talk a lot, to shmuess a lot is considered batalah. The possuk teaches us that when one talks a lot it is impossible not to transgress. When someone talks too much, it is inevitable that he will transgress the prohibitions against lashon hara and rechilus…”

Rav Dovid Cohen: A Yeshiva is a Factory that Produces The Unique Product Called a Ben Torah  

Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, gave a powerful, extremely practical address that was rooted in years of experience in watching what works for talmidim and what does not work. Rav Dovid Cohen began his heartfelt remarks by saying, “I feel that I am standing in front of the future of Klal Yisrael, those who will comprise the next dor of the olam haTorah and the mesiras haTorah.

“Let us try to encapsulate what a yeshiva is,” continued the Rosh Yeshiva. “Some say it is a place where we learn Gemara or learn how to learn Gemara. That is incorrect. Yes, what we primarily do in yeshiva is learn Gemara, but that does not define what is a yeshiva. When a person l’havdil wants to become a doctor or an accountant he goes to a college to learn that trade. A yeshiva is not a college, it is a factory, a factory that builds and produces the unique product called a ‘ben Torah’. It is the factory that creates and raises the talmidei chachomim who will continue the mesorah of Klal Yisrael for the coming generation.

Rav Dovid also spoke about the importance of limiting late night shmuessing. “One of the things that prevents a bachur from properly developing, even if he is learning three sedarim per day with diligence, is the idle, late-night chatter in the dorm that leads to very late bedtimes. This kind of ‘night life’ can destroy a bachur’s chances of true growth in yeshiva. Certainly, a bachur should be part of a social group. I am not telling anyone to completely detach socially from others. A person needs a chevra. But where should your prime investment be? Don’t invest your energy into social life. Your real investment of time and effort must be in learning and growing in Torah and yiras shomayim…”

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch: Steps to Success 

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, the Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva, is not only known throughout the Torah world for his wisdom in advising bnei yeshiva, but many younger roshei yeshiva and mashgichim consult him for guidance in knotty areas of chinuch that are relevant to today’s generation. He has his finger on the pulse and has a comprehensive understanding of the needs of today’s bnei yeshiva. As one of the talmidim muvhakim of Rav Aharon Kotler, he brings with him a hallowed mesorah.

The bachurim sat with bated breath as Rav Moshe Hillel made his way to the podium.

“The first thing a bachur should know,” Rav Hirsch began, “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.

Rav Hirsch then gave a number of points of advice for the bachurim that would enable them to truly succeed in yeshiva and in life.

Number one was to understand what the purpose of the ostensible “freedom” in yeshiva gedolah in comparison with yeshiva ketana. “Until now you were always under someone’s control. You slept at home and were under your parents. The yeshiva ketanas are very regimented and you are under constant watch. In yeshiva gedolah there is much more ‘freedom’. When a person has more freedom, he likes to think, ‘I will now decide what is good for me and otherwise…’ That is a mistake! That is the yetzer hara talking! A person must make for himself a rav, a guide. He cannot rely on his own seichel because often the yetzer hara is in charge of his own seichel.”

Rav Moshe Hillel emphasized 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 in with great she’ifos.

Rav Shimon Baadani: A Mini Maamad Har Sinai! 

Rav Shimon Baadani, the senior Sephardic Rosh Yeshiva, who due to his advance age and health issues could not attend in person, sent a video recording to be played at the event. He said, “Such an event of so many bachurim coming together was akin to a mini maamad Har Sinai! So many wonderful bachurim accepting on themselves the yoke of Torah, just as the bnei Yisrael did at Har Sinai!”

Rav Dovid Hofstedter: The Imperative to Connect Our Inner Essence to Ruchniyus

Towards the beginning of the evening, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu who came to Eretz Yisrael specially to participate in the event, addressed the bachurim saying, “You are now at a critical stage in your lives, a stage that gives you newfound achrayus, a stage in which you grow into true bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim.

Rav Hofstedter said that it is not enough to just be in a spiritual atmosphere, what one needs is to truly connect to matters of ruchniyus. It isn’t enough to learn Torah and do mitzvos because it is our obligation, and we have no choice. No! We must truly connect to our inner essence, our neshamos, in a deep way with ruchniyus. Only when we develop a true inner ratzon, a true feeling of simcha over the fact that we have the zechus to learn Torah, that this is truly life, can we really succeed and be connected.

“When we leave yeshiva ketana and go to yeshiva gedolah, we should not go like a child running away from cheder. Rather we must realize that this is the center of life! The center of our sheifos, the center of our simcha, the center of our geshmak! That is the secret of success in yeshiva gedolah!”

Rav Dovid concluded by telling the bachurim that a day earlier he had visited the great mashgiach, Rav Don Segal and, “I asked for a bracha for all of you. I asked for a bracha that this evening should be one of great chizuk, and he gave us a bracha.

“I then told Rav Don that when I was a bachur of about fourteen years old, I had the zechus to visit Rav Elya Lopian, the great mashgiach and baal mussar, together with a group of bachurim. We asked him for a bracha and he gave each of us a bracha. After we left, he called me back and gave me another bracha. I therefore asked Rav Don to similarly give another bracha for all of you and indeed, he gave his deepest, heartfelt bracha that you should all succeed in yeshiva gedolah!”

One could see the smiling, yet earnest faces of the bachurim as they exited after being infused with such divrei chizuk and hearing so many real-life scenarios played out in the question-and-answer session. Their shining countenances displayed 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!

The sense of achdus that permeated the event was likewise phenomenal. Many thousands of bachurim – Litvishe, Sephardic, Chassidic, all the same age, came together to hear guidance from Gedolei Yisrael. This is Dirshu! Enhancing limud haTorah for all Yidden of all ages and affiliations! Fortunate is the generation where the young listen to the elders.

Leading Senior American Roshei Yeshiva Give Chizuk from Afar 

By Mattisyahu Lazar

In addition to gaining sage advice from the Gedolim of Eretz Yisrael, the thousands of bachurim at the kinnus merited to hear words of chizuk and guidance from senior American roshei yeshiva as well. They heard from the zekan roshei yeshiva in America, HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, who delivered an audio recording specifically for this event, and from HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, who gave over divrei chizuk via video.

It is not the first time that these senior gedolim have addressed Dirshu events that give chizuk to lomdei Torah. Rav Yitzchok was the special guest speaker at the Siyum HaShas in Binyanei Haumah in Eretz Yisrael a few years ago and has addressed several Dirshu Conventions in America. A few years ago, Rav Shmuel participated and addressed the Siyum HaShas of Chaburas Dirshu in Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, where a number of his talmidim completed Shas. He also participated in a Dirshu Kinnus of Chizuk for Bnei Yeshivos in Bnei Brak in 2005, and the first Kinyan Halacha bechina held at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon in Yerushalayim in 2006, where Rav Dovid Hofstedter introduced him to Rav Shmuel Wosner, zt”l, for the first time.

Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky who spoke in Ivrit so that all the bachurim should understand, began by saying that in order to be matzliach in yeshiva, a bachur must come with a true ratzon, a deep desire to succeed. Rav Shmuel then highlighted that another integral component that every bachur must realize, is to think about others. Hashem always conducts himself with us in a manner of middah k’negged middah. If we think about the needs of our friends, if we truly want them to succeed, then Hashem will see to it that we also will experience tremendous elevation in our ruchniyus.

Rav Shmuel concluded by giving his heartfelt bracha that all the bachurim should have tremendous siyatta d’Shmaya.

Rav Sorotzkin, in his powerful remarks, said that when the famed Kamenetzer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, would address bnei yeshiva, he would call them, “Mevakshei Hashem.” He would say that the greatest quality that a ben Torah can display is the fact that he is a mevakesh, a person who truly wants to grow and seek ways to improve.