The Visit to Rakshik1 1-9 Adar 5691 (1931)

1. Time to get started

You, my listeners,2 observe Yiddishkeit, including mikveh and everything else, and you will no doubt continue to do so even more strongly. If there are individuals whose observance until now has not been as it should, let them now start to improve it.

May G‑d bless you all, together with the entire House of Israel, with domestic harmony, good health and a livelihood, and may you lead your children to the study of Torah, to the chuppah, and to the practice of good deeds.

Every woman should enlist with the Women’s Family Purity Society and seek to influence her friends likewise to observe the laws of Jewish practice. If there is anyone who has not yet been blessed with children, may G‑d gladden her heart with fine and healthy children.

May G‑d grant success to yourselves and to your families.

2. An iron wall of faith and trust

For us Jews,3 Torah and mitzvos are a question of national survival. Our daily life clearly demonstrates that the pride of Jewry is closely bound up with Torah education: this is the pride of Jewry.

As the Gemara teaches, “The Torah returns to its accustomed lodgings.”4 For dozens of generations, Jews studied Torah deeply and performed G‑d’s mitzvos with joy and with the awe of heaven, delving into thousands of pages of Gemara and into hundreds of halachic and philosophical queries and responsa. This sharpened their minds, fortified their hearts, and elevated them to the greatest intellectual and ethical heights.

A few generations ago (today less frequently) you could often encounter quite ordinary Jews who were kept busy by their weekday work, as storekeepers or farmers or householders, but who were utterly at home in a number of Talmudic tractates, complete with their subtlest novella. In the course of a regular friendly conversation, these people would come up with clearly defined opinions on the profoundest of learned subjects.

Jews devoted their greatest exertions to their Torah studies; they knew that this is what matters most and that everything else is secondary. They knew that things of secondary importance are needed only for the sake of what matters most, and only together with what matters most. Thus it was that a Torah-inspired thirst for knowledge filled the Jewish street and home to overflowing.

Whether they were wealthy, middle class or poor, the homes of all householders and craftsmen, together with their womenfolk and their children, were permeated by a love of Torah. When a toddler was only learning alef-beis and just beginning to read, his mother already sang him yeshivah songs.

This kind of conduct and upbringing built for the rising generation an iron wall of faith and trust in G‑d. And this faith and trust armed them with the sound spirit and inward soul-power that enabled them to withstand and survive life’s formidable tempests.

This same conduct and upbringing cultivated the child’s desire and his striving to toil in his Torah studies, and eventually to travel to a yeshivah in which he hoped to attain his goals. There he would meet Abbaye and Rava face to face; there he would plumb the depths of understanding; there he would fill his goblet with happiness to last a lifetime.

This healthy upbringing towards the love of Torah and the awe of heaven furnished our people with sages in all fields of Torah and learning, as well as upstanding and scholarly businessmen. Despite our grim galus life (May G‑d speedily send us our Righteous Mashiach!), we sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov outpace other nations in all kinds of scientific achievements and commercial undertakings. This is so, thanks to the healthy intellectual upbringing formulated by our forefathers, who dedicated their minds to the study of Torah and their hearts to the awe of heaven.

In the course of the last few decades, under the influence of various newly-founded societies, the Jewish home has undergone and suffered a great deal, inwardly as well as outwardly. In some people this has weakened and dimmed their most cherished attributes — the awe of heaven and the love of Torah. However, we may not and we dare not despair, G‑d forbid: with G‑d’s help, some of them will certainly recognize goodness and truth, and one day “the sons will return to their border.”5 With a joyous love of our fellows and with a pride in our heritage, we are certainly entitled to say, “Grateful praises to G‑d for graciously granting us the percentage that we do have (May they live long and may their numbers increase!).”

Interestingly, many outstanding figures in all walks of life are scions of illustrious families in the world of Torah scholarship. This great and glorious heritage that G‑d granted us is rooted in the Jewish street of long ago, in the walls of the local shul, and in the benches of the House of Study and of the yeshivos. Besides, there is the wholesome and esthetic lifestyle, the wisdom and the refinement of character, that the Torah and its mitzvos bestow upon our people. All of this must have an effect on every individual as a person.

Anyone who has the discernment to recognize the significance of that last phrase — “as a mensch” — and who seeks to live his life as part of that spiritual ideal, should know that the only means to attain it is to observe the Torah and its commandments out of simple faith.

The epithet “mensch” does not denote one’s occupation or education: it is a term that demarcates man from the creatures that are his inferiors and from the angels and souls that are his superiors. Man is built of two diverse components — soul and body — which are two worlds, two lives, and an upbringing according to Torah and mitzvos brings them together. Their task is to illuminate and suffuse one’s earthly, brutish, bodily life with conduct that is wise, heavenly and spiritual. And in every area, man’s task is to toil and introduce the laws of the spirit into the life of the body.

Observing the Torah and its commandments out of simple faith grants a person a G‑dly devoutness, awareness, sensitivity and understanding — and these in turn make it easier for him to contend with bodily demands, to attain a clear understanding, and to live a life of clear conscience.

This is neither the time nor the place to further explain and demonstrate the varied and limitless accomplishments which Torah and mitzvos have given (and are still giving) our people, nor the bitter suffering and loss that forsaking them has caused (and is still causing) our people. One thing, however, must be pointed out: casting off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos is becoming widespread among our young people. Not only is this robbing us of a certain part of our youth as Jews, who know nothing of Jewish upbringing and Jewish life, but in addition the pain is doubled, because the powerful treasury of traditional Jewish values — loving a fellow Jew and character refinement and so forth — is being disrupted. It saddens one’s heart to envisage what kind of people are going to grow up out of the children who are now attending the modern chadarim.

Not only is their schooling incapable of providing us with devout Jews (and obviously not Torah sages), but in addition it is withering the spiritual potential of its pupils, leaving them barely equal to their age-mates.

Every Jew without exception cherishes the name “Jew.” This name, which is Jewry’s luminous crown, denotes the stubborn, self-sacrificing, eternally indefatigable Jew. It denotes the Jew who is not conquered by fire and water, nor by hunger and cold, nor by the torments of the recent faithful imitation of the Inquisition, nor is he conquered by wealth and physical liberty and assimilation.

This kind of Jew grew up (and grows up) only in the environment of the oldtime Jewish street, in the cheder classroom of a pious teacher, in a yeshivah in which one studied (and studies) Gemara, between walls in which the Torah voice of Yaakov is permeated with the awe of heaven.

G‑d tells us via Moshe Rabbeinu: “You shall observe and fulfill [these laws], for in this lies your wisdom and intelligence in the eyes of the nations, who will hear about all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding nation.’ ”6

“The eyes of the nations” signifies worldly education, such as astronomy and medicine. Jewish education is Torah; “these statutes” signifies the divinely-ordained mitzvos of the Torah. When Jews are brought up to “observe and fulfill,” then in upright worldly living, too, they are a wise and understanding nation.

The foundation of Jewish national survival is Torah and mitzvos; all the ignorant chadarim and yeshivos which offer additional schooling endanger Israel’s age-old pride in its tradition.

The various school systems such as “Torah im derech eretz”7 and Yavneh and other chadarim which offer such curricula were only initiated as a means to cope with the above ailment. After all, what could be done? When there is compulsory schooling, there have to be secular curricula, too.

At the same time, let it be clear to everyone: In no way do any of these schools replace the old cheder. Children don’t learn there as they do in a cheder. The main element is missing: the inculcation of the awe of heaven, the spirit of sanctity. Everything’s frigid. There the Chumash becomes a history textbook and the prophetic books become poetic literature. All books (Let the distinction not be forgotten!) are equal. Here lie the holy books, and they teach “Ivrit in Ivrit” and talk about G‑d and about Avraham Avinu’s self-sacrifice; an hour later they go out to play, and they learn, again by means of “Ivrit in Ivrit,” how to do their gymnastics as prescribed in their secular textbooks.

This “Ivrit in Ivrit” has turned Jewish sanctity into a weekday; it cools down Jewish warmth; the child’s mind is dimmed by a coarse veil and the stirrings of his heart are chilled. The G‑d-fearing foundation is missing; the entire edifice is weakened.

The men and women who teach in these schools must realize their responsibility to the entire House of Israel. In their hands lies the destiny of the upcoming generation.

Of course these schools are better than those Yiddish schools which unfortunately bear the epithet “Jewish” — but even the schools of “Torah im derech eretz” and Yavneh and the others which today offer the above curricula cannot educate these Jewish children. Their curricula were created in the heat of battle, in circumstances of confusion. Now, however, that G‑d has been merciful and order has been restored in certain countries, these curricula must be scrutinized and corrected.

A curriculum must be created whose mainstay will be the old-time warmth, the awe of heaven, and a Torah-loving spirit. Then there will be hope that we will be “blessed with a generation of righteous offspring.”8

3. A study program for working young men

I have been following Lithuania’s Tiferes Bachurim9 with interest, and was happy to hear of its progress in various cities and townlets.

In addition to the inestimable value of the study and observance which this organization propagates, we should thank G‑d that 3000 young people have become aware that Jewish youth should enlist for duty in disseminating Yiddishkeit. This happy news gives hope for the future.

The observant youth of Tiferes Bachurim must realize that it is their duty to branch out and work in many fields — Shabbos, family purity, education, and so forth. Likewise, every member should take an active interest in all his local Yiddishkeit institutions.

The coordinator should dispatch administrators to the various locations and maintain written and oral contact with them all, and all members should attempt to secure the help needed to enable him to carry out his duties.

As a member of the administration, let me appoint you an emissary for the fulfillment of a mitzvah. Let me ask you to convey my greetings to all your fellow workers together with my blessings — that G‑d should bless their holy work with success and fill everyone’s needs in health and a livelihood.

I would be happy to receive detailed reports at any time of your activities for the strengthening of Yiddishkeit here in Lithuania, and I hope to G‑d that these activities will serve as an example to young people in other countries.

4. A women’s society for family purity

“In a happy and auspicious hour,10 a women’s society for the observance of the family purity laws is now being founded here in Rakshik, thank G‑d. Every bride before her chuppah will be able to add her name to the names of her townsfolk who are already listed in the register as observers of taharas hamishpachah.

“Let me offer my blessings to them all. May G‑d bless them and their husbands and sons and daughters with domestic harmony, a comfortable livelihood, physical health and long life. In material and spiritual wellbeing, may they be privileged to lead their sons and daughters to Torah study, to the chuppah, and to the practice of good deeds.

“These blessings remain alive and valid at all times, for all those women who will sign their names and undertake to observe the laws of family purity. And if any group of women will establish a similar society under whatever name in any other town or village, they and their husbands and children are also included in the above blessings.

“Signed this day, Tuesday of the week in which we read VeAtah Tetzaveh, the seventh of Adar, in the year 5691 [1931], in the worthy town of Rakshik11 (May G‑d establish it soundly!).”12

( — )

5. The role of a yeshivah

I am sure, my children, that as students of the local yeshivah13 you have some conception, more or less, of what it means to study Torah, especially in a yeshivah.

G‑d and the Torah14 and the Jewish people are all one, and a Jew’s bond with the Torah is just like his bond with G‑d: it is eternal. In all circumstances, from the day of his birth until the last day of his 120 years, he and G‑d are one. To borrow the phrase of our Sages, “The Divine Name is on [everyone’s] lips.”15 And the same applies to his bond with the Torah.

Torah, studied in a G‑d-fearing spirit, is the eternal lamp of the Jewish home; it is our life and the length of our days.16 The Torah and its mitzvos give us the strength to bear this bitter exile and fuel our hope to G‑d for a complete Redemption by the hand of our Righteous Mashiach. For Jews, therefore, the source of life is a yeshivah, a place in which Torah is studied.

Since it is the yeshivos that have given our people its great scholars and men of repute, you should focus all your youthful energy on the toil of study. Every day is a foundation stone for a lifetime, and while you are studying you can advance in your understanding and attain a knowledge of the Torah. Devote your heads and hearts to its study, diligently and with the awe of heaven; daven attentively from a Siddur, without walking about; listen closely to the Torah Reading; be punctilious as to how you read Shema before retiring at night, and prepare water for netilas yadayim; and obey your rosh yeshivah and your other mentors.

May G‑d grant you good health, and grant your heads and hearts the desire to pursue your studies and to conduct yourselves as you ought. May G‑d prosper your parents and relatives and the supporters of the yeshivah in all their endeavors.

Strive for Torah and for the awe of heaven and G‑d will grant you success in becoming upright Jews, who will add beauty and glory to the House of Israel.

6. Keep Torah studies holy

My dear children! I am sure that the men and women who teach you in the Yavneh chadarim17 have told you what Yavneh was and what this name means.

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai18 and his disciples and many other Jews were sorely grieved that the zealots gained control of Jerusalem. Besides the famine and the suffering, they foresaw that the conduct of the zealots would bring about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the destruction of Yiddishkeit, and the ruination of the Jewish people.

As precious and holy as Jerusalem is, one can’t remain in the company of such people. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and his disciples therefore left Jerusalem and pleaded with the Roman tyrant that he should spare Yavneh, a town of Torah and the awe of heaven, and its sages.

Today, unfortunately, the chadarim which bear the name Yavneh are still far removed from the kind of cheder that Jewish children should have. However, we may hope to G‑d that the curriculum will be improved so that pupils will come to understand that their entire goal should be to travel one day to one of the yeshivos in which Torah is studied in a G‑d-fearing spirit.

In the meantime, dear children, while you are attending the Yavneh chadarim, you should never forget that what matters most is your holy studies and your G‑d-fearing conduct. “Holy studies” (limudei kodesh) does not mean studying “Ivrit in Ivrit.” This motto signifies a weekday, secular approach to study. Limudei kodesh means holy studies — Chumash, Gemara, Midrash, Shulchan Aruch and so on, together with devout and upright conduct.

Children, listen carefully and remember what I am now telling you. Make sure to say Kerias Shema before you go to sleep; wear a yarmulke when you’re asleep — don’t sleep with your head uncovered; as soon as you wake up wash your hands for netilas yadayim; say your Morning Blessings; wear peyos and tzitzis; stand in one place while you are davenen, and daven out of a Siddur; put your minds to your study of limudei kodesh and obey your teachers; and look forward to the day when you will be able to travel to one of the yeshivos in which you will study Torah in a G‑d-fearing spirit.

Girls of the Yavneh chadarim: Make every effort to conduct yourselves according to the best Jewish standards of piety and honesty, and G‑d will grant you the great and unlimited gift described in the verse, “The wisest of women builds up her home.”19 May you indeed found healthy, pious and rich homes which will bring glory to Jewish streets everywhere.

Boys and girls: Study your limited allotment of limudei kodesh eagerly. Drink your fill of Chumash and Nach and so on thirstily, like thirsty young twigs after a blessed shower of rain.

May G‑d grant that all of you be brought up in good health, that you conduct yourselves as you should, and that you see success in your studies. May your parents and relatives, together with all those who help to guide you along the path of Yiddishkeit, be blessed with success.

7. The challenges facing teachers

Ladies and gentlemen: I am sure that as teachers20 you are well aware of the weighty charge with which you have been entrusted.

Your conscience has been entrusted with the destiny of hundreds of Jewish children — in fact, thousands, for the conduct of every boy and girl influences an entire environment. On your conscience depends the destiny of the future yeshivos and their students and the destiny of the future Jewish home, complete with its kashrus, family purity, and the education of its children. All of this depends on the manner in which you implant today, within every boy and girl without exception, the awe of heaven, the love of Torah, and the conscientious observance of the mitzvos.

If anyone here is interested, he has a readymade excuse — the curriculum! (We all know that when someone proposes an ingenious excuse to answer a troublesome query he’s not thinking of the excuse: he simply wants to get that query out of the road….)

In fact, however, you yourselves are no doubt convinced that the present curriculum of Yavneh must be urgently amended with regard to Torah studies and G‑d-fearing conduct. All devout teachers, men and women, are duty-bound to work in this direction. When this is achieved, you will be able to plant G‑d’s garden properly with little Jewish saplings and hope for good fruit.

A gardener has to be vigilant about two things:

1) The sapling must grow straight. Since the slightest crookedness spells ruin for the grown tree, even a tiny sapling must be bound straight so that no wind can bend it.

2) One must beware of even the smallest worm.21 If a worm is found, then not only the affected twig needs watching, but all the other twigs too need to be checked and cleaned.

3) Your real curriculum is Yid and Yiddishkeit.” If you devoutly imbue the lives of your charges with this curriculum, then with G‑d’s help all your little saplings will grow up to be wholesome fruitbearing trees, “blessed with a generation of upright offspring.”

May G‑d strengthen your heads and hearts so that your lives will be exemplary guideposts for the boys and girls you teach. May G‑d bless your endeavors to produce fine, healthy, devout and bright sons and daughters for the Jewish people.

Do your utmost to introduce the real Yavneh curriculum! And may G‑d grant you success in your personal affairs, both spiritual and material.