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PERSONALITIES-----r ahron kotler


MODERATOR Posted - 28 August 2000 19:28

Sislovitz, White Russia, 1900. A young masmid (diligent Torah scholar) by the name of Aaron Pines spends his days and night immersed in Torah learning. He is an intellectual prodigy, an anomaly among his peers. He is also an orphan – his mother died when he was an infant, and his father, the Rav of Sislovitz, passed away when he was just 12.

Having no home, Aaron thought to perhaps stay in the dormitory of a yeshiva, but first he had to be admitted - an impossible task for a child of 12. But he had little choice.

So he walked into the great Yeshiva of Slabodka, and, approaching the great Tzadik, The Alter of Slabodka, Aaron lacked the nerve to request admission to the Yeshiva Gedolah at such a young age, so instead he just began speaking to the Alter “in learning.”

After a while, the Alter said to him, “I know who you are and why you are here. You are the son of the Sislovitzer Rav, and you want to come to the Yeshiva.”

“How do you know?” Aaron asked.

“Such a genius like you could only be the son of the Sislovitz Rav, who was a similar genius, and only an orphan would travel alone to Slabodka at age 12. There would be no reason for you to do this other than you need a home here in the Yeshiva.”, answered the Alter.

The Alter admitted Aaron into the Slabodka yeshiva. Aaron’s dorm room was 2 blocks away from the yeshiva, but being so young, he was scared to return to his room at night after his studies. So every night, the Alter of Slabodka would come back to the Yeshiva, to walk little Aaron the 2 blocks to his dormitory.

Aaron’s name quickly spread far and wide as a truly amazing young Talmid Chacham. His brilliance had even impressed the tenacious Rogatchover Gaon ZT”L, a feat that few of even the greatest of the great of the generation could accomplish.

But even in Europe, in the small town of Sislovitz, the winds of modernization blew. His older sister, a brilliant woman in her own right, and secularly educated, tried her best to convince her beloved brother Aaron to abandon the outdated idea of learning Torah all day and to dedicate at least part of his time to the pursuit of secular studies. “The world is changing”, she told him. “The old ghetto life will soon whither and die. You’re so bright, Aaron, you have such potential. I implore you, don’t waste your life with the ‘old’ way. You can really grow up to be something important. You can really make a difference. If you pursue the ‘old way’, you will disappear into obscurity. Nobody will ever hear of you in this world.”

But Aaron was not impressed. He believed that just as Hashem does not change so too the Torah does not change, and the way of the Torah does not change. Cultures and civilizations rise and fall, but the Torah remains constant. Aaron ignored promises of fame and fortune, and stubbornly continued serving Hashem in the holiest way possible: dedicating his life to the splendor of His Torah.

As a young Torah scholar, Aaron’s name spread far and wide, to some, as one of the greatest Torah scholars of his time; and still to others, as one of the greatest wastes of talent of his time. But Aaron knew what he believed in: it was the power of Torah to overcome all.

In those days, all able-bodied young men were forced to serve in the Russian army. No freedom of religion was allowed, and so military service was like unto a death sentence for religious young men. There was, however, a military dispensation if you were an only child with no siblings. So in order to protect himself from the draft, Aaron adopted the family name of an elderly couple in his home town that passed away without any children. This way, he would appear as having no siblings, and be saved from serving in the army.

From that day on, our young Torah scholar was known as Rabbi Aaron Kotler.

Rav Aaron grew to be the greatest Torah gaon of his generation, and the most vehement fighter against modern Orthodoxy on these shores. In Rav Aaron’s own words:

“The Modern Orthodox claim that their path is the true path of Judaism, that it is the path that was followed by our ancestors throughout the generations, but that they only add some modernizations and insignificant changes in order to make the Torah appealing to the masses. But the truth is that this small point is the same as the point of the Reform, and it is at the heart of hearts of the great defection from Torah and religion in past generations. They [Modern Orthodox] change [our] ways and twist [our] concepts.” (Mishnas Rav Aharon III p.216)

Rav Aharon taught that no matter people say or believe, there is no force in the world stronger than Torah. One word of the Torah contains more light and strength than all the galaxies put together. Torah is the force with which the entire cosmos was formed.

Said a leader of Modern Orthodoxy about life in America. “We would be enveloped by a new economic order. . . society would be based on science, where “the sun and the moon and the eleven stars” will radiate scientific learning and technology.”

Light? Sun? Stars?

Every time a little child in 5th grade raises his hand to ask a question on his chumash lesson he ignites the entire universe in a display of flame and fireworks that outshines ten thousand suns!

Every time a Kollel yungerman learns another page of gemora, worlds upon worlds are created, enough power is unleashed into the Shamayim that Hashem Himself, kav’yochel, gets nachas from it, and proudly proclaims to the all His heavenly hosts, “Look! My dear children are abandoning everything else in the world to learn My Torah!” (Zohar Vayera).

You’re worried about the “light” of technology? Then LET THE LIGHT OF TORAH BURN BRIGHTER, ever brighter, and watch as the glitter and glamour of the world disappears like a single candle in a blazing universe.

If the energy of secular America and the energy of Talmidei Chachamim learning Torah do collide, just watch as America gets swept away like dust specs in a hurricane.

If America is a spiritual wasteland incompatible with pure torah, then let Torah shine, and watch as America bows, for the entire universe is subservient to Torah.

Rav Aharon taught that to say Torah stands no chance of survival against of the “powerful forces of America” without “integration into the social and economic culture” is wrong! To think that any forces mustered in this world, in this universe, can “swallow up” the light of Torah scholars is an insult to Torah and the Creator of the world.

No, said Rav Aharon. If it is difficult to be frum in America, the solution is more Torah, not less; what will give us the spiritual strength and the siyata d’shmaya we need is increased dedication to Limud HaTorah, not to secular studies.

So Rav Aharon set up a Yeshiva where there will be no secular studies, where there will be no tests, no “smicha” programs (although if someone wanted smicha he could receive it), no “degrees”, no “certifications”, nothing. Nothing except the learning of Torah for the sake of learning Torah. Not learning Torah as a means to any end, not even to become a “rabbi” or “teacher” (although if one wanted to that would be altogether proper) but rather as the greatest end in the world. That’s what I will do, Rav Aharon said. And let’s see. Let’s see whose light shines brighter.

Torah only. For Torah’s sake. “L’shmah”, it was called.

Here’s what happened:

In April, 1942, Rav Aharon started a yeshiva in a small town called Lakewood, NJ, with 12 students. Not necessarily the best or the brightest, but 12 boys willing to learn Torah l’shmah, 12 little flames lighting up the universe, while others were busy “integrating into America’s socio-economic culture”.

Rav Aharon’s Yeshiva grew, but it was a struggle. Rav Aharon himself went collecting to ease the financial burden of supporting the students. Rav Aharon said it is worth walking up 5 flights of stairs for even one dollar to support the Light of Torah.

When Rav Aharon passed away, 20 years later, in 1962, Bais Medrash Govoha of Lakewood had 150 students. And two more Torah L’shmah Yeshivas were opened by students of Rav Aharon, in Missouri (St. Louis) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

But despite Rav Aharon’s success, people were not deterred from preaching the imminent dousing of the “separatist” flames of Torah in America. Indeed, the words quoted in our “Modern Orthodoxy” boards about the vital necessity of creating a “new type” of Talmid Chachamim and the necessity of integrating into American society were said in the 1960’s, not the 1940’s!

But Gedolim Tzdikim b’misasan yoser mib’chayehen, “Tzadikim are greater in their death than they are in their life.” By 1980, Beth Medrash Govoha was not only a flourishing Torah institution but the largest Yeshiva in the history of America, the largest in the world, with over 1,000 students.

Today, BMG boasts over three thousand full time Torah-only students, the largest Yeshiva Klall Yisroel has seen in thousands of years. Literally thousands of new students apply for admission each year, and the number of students accepted is limited only by the physical constraints of available facilities. Dozens of branches of BMG have opened up all over the USA and the world, as far as Australia.


1999, New York

“Of late, there seems to be no end to articles in learned journals and the daily press lamenting the impending demise of Modern Orthodoxy “ – Rabbi Dr. Walter S. Wurzburger Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University and Rabbi Emeritus of congregation Shaaray Tefila, Lawrence N.Y. He served as president of the Rabbinical Council of America and of the Synagogue Council of America.

"To be a modern Orthodox Jew today is often to feel lonely, to be without a community in which to ask ideological questions," said Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, Headmaster, pluralistic New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass ordained at Yeshiva University. Quoted in a JTA article titled, “1,500 modern Orthodox converge to define identity”

“Modern Orthodoxy needs a new rabbinical school committed to combining the best in Jewish scholarship with the best in Western cultural studies and progressive thinking, argued Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, headmaster of the New Jewish School of Greater Boston. His alma mater, Yeshiva University, has long been recognized as an institution that synthesizes traditional Jewish values and modern culture. But Lehmann called it "a generation behind intellectually. . . We need to be honest," Lehmann said. "We are the left of Orthodoxy." - “Conference probes challenges of modern Orthodoxy “ By JULIA LIEBLICH ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/99


"Every single word of newly stated Torah rises straight up to Hashem's Kisei Hakavod. Hashem Himself embraces it, kisses it, crowns it, and holds it dearly. These single words are the material from which the worlds of the future are made". - Rav Chaim Volozhen, Nefesh HaChaim 4:20.

Friend Posted - 28 August 2000 23:22

I am impressed. That really was inspiring. I never thought of Torah learning in that way before. Thank you for the "light".

GaryG Posted - 28 August 2000 23:24

I am Modern Orthodox, and I am happy that way, but I was always taught that the ultra orthodox were simply afraid that society would affect their religion so they withdrew from it.

I never heard it as a positive movement rather than a negative one. Where did you get this information, Moderator? It should be more publicized, as it paints a much more positive picture of Ultra orthodoxy.

MODERATOR Posted - 28 August 2000 23:35

The dates and numbers are pretty well known, although people mistakenly think that it was Rav Aharon's father who changed his name. It was really Rav Aharon himself. Other than that, the raw data has no chidushim.

As for the appreciation of what Rav Aharon wanted, the "positive" part as you put it, well, I learned in Yeshiva all my life. You know what the posuk says, "Taamu ur'u ki tov", "Taste it and you'll see that Torah is good."

What you were taught was not true. There is what to be afraid of in the world, that is true. We are only human, and, as the Rambam said, everyone is affected by their environment.

But the mistake those who taught you made was to think that the Yeshiva world's policy of Torah-only (for lack of a better term) was a retreat in weakness from American culture, when in reality it was the strongest and most glorious means of conquest all the worlds above and below can ever know.

If all the armies of angels in all the heavenly spheres would come down to this world and unleash their might against American culture, their power would be like nothing in comparison with one yeshiva bochur sweating to unravel one difficult Rashi.

Lisa Posted - 28 August 2000 23:44

That was really sweet. I swear I cried when I read that. It's so sweet. I really want to be part of that. The problem is, no matter how much I study Torah or do chesed, I can't feel that. Maybe Rav Aharon could look at things that way, but can I be a part of that energy really?

MODERATOR Posted - 29 August 2000 0:04


You are part of it whether you feel it or not. It takes years of sensitivity to "feel" the glory of Torah learning, but you know for sure the process has started when someone says "I really want to be part of that". You want hard enough and long enough, and I promise you, you will be. You will be an inspiration one day to your husband, and to all who need chizuk in their struggle against the darkness. You will be a powerful force for good.

Your "I want to be part of that", those tears that you cried when you read this, they, Lisa, are the first tinglings of the feeling that you are yearning for.

You want it, you will get it. You're on the way. Just don't give up.

And welcome, Lisa, to what it really feels like to be a Jew.

rs55 Posted - 01 September 2000 5:56



MODERATOR Posted - 01 September 2000 20:26

You need to get out of the "right and wrong" mode. Nobody said that going to work is "wrong". It's just not as high as learning Torah all day. The Rambam says this, when he declares that nowadays anyone can step up to be like the Tribe of Levi in the olden days and be privileged to learn Torah all day.

It's like this:

I show you a pile of gold coins. I tell you have 1 hour to collect as much as you can. I tell you that the minimum you must collect is $500 worth or else you will burn in Gehinnom. Whatever you collect you can keep.

Is it "wrong" to collect only your $500 and then sleep the rest of the hour?

That's not the point, is it?

So too, we have one lifetime. We have one pile of coins. Torah learning is the most valuable of them all - Talmud Torah k'neged Kulam. The Yerushalmi Peah says that one word of Torah imparts more Kedusha than a lifetime of doing other Mitzvos!

We have a choice. We can spend all our time collecting the coins, or we can bother with other pursuits as well.

Of course, in that hour, you may have to eat, maybe even do other things. But you will want to spend as much time as you can collecting your gold.

Someone who doesn't either has no choice in the matter (maybe they do have to eat) or doesn't appreciate the gold.

That moshol, by the way, comes from the Chosid Yaavetz in Avos to explain why "If two people are sitting around and no words of Torah is exchanged between them, theirs is a meeting of scoffers" (moshav letzim). He says that these guys have a chance to collect gold and don't. That means they don't value the gold.

You're right. Some people do have to make a living. Some have to spend time in the hospital, because they are sick. Some have to be involved with other necessary pursuits. All these are considered "ones" - not responsible for the "crime" of not collecting the coins.

But that's not the point. You want to make sure that as much time in your life is spent gathering your gold, and whatever you have to do otherwise should be minimized as much as possible.

Is it wrong not to learn in Kollel? That's not the point.

The point is, who would not want to collect as much gold they can in the few hours allotted to us in this world?

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