Monday, October 10, 2016

Litvishe spirituality - The role of the yeshiva mashgiach, as seen by Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt"l

The Yated Neeman newspaper from New York, in its current Rosh Hashanah issue, contains an important feature, based on an interview with famed משגיח and מחנך Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt"l approximately thirty years ago. In the piece, crafted masterfully by senior writer Avrohom Birnbaum, we get valuable insight into the role of the mashgiach (director of spiritual guidance), in Litvishe yeshivos, in the glory days of yore.

Nowadays, when the role of mashgiach is often diminished, if it exists at all (in some places it carries on, but in others it has totally disappeared, while in yet other places, Chasidim have been appointed to it, a move not in accordance with the mesorah of Litvishe yeshivos), it is quite worthwhile to gain new understanding and appreciation of the role of the mashgiach, at its highest level. Unfortunately, some people think of a mashgiach as a type of policeman checking with his watch if a student was late for seder or davening, for example, and accordingly dispensing fines, discipline, and so on. And perhaps in an institution for minors there is a place for that. But a classical mashgiach in the ישיבה גדולה sense, is really a source of vital, life-giving spiritual guidance, meaning, and counseling, via public and private activity, even up to the level of spiritual resuscitation, rather than being a petty enforcer of minor institutional rules and regulations.

Here are a few important points, in brief, from the feature.

1) Rav Wolbe strongly lamented the dearth of mashgichim today (thirty years ago, קל וחומר now). It greatly pained him. He wondered how the lack is excused. They claim that there is no Rav Yerucham (Levovitz), or Rav Chatzkel (Levenstein) (legendary mashgichim of yesteryear) today, he said. But there is no Rav Boruch Ber or Rav Shimon Shkop either now. Yet they still have Roshei Yeshiva. So why not mashgichim as well? יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו.

2) When asked why Roshei Yeshiva are being produced now, but not Mashgichim, he replied, simple - it is much easier to be a Rosh Yeshiva than a Mashgiach.

3) Rav Yerucham Levovitz on the respective roles of Rosh Yeshiva and Mashgiach - the Rosh Yeshiva straightens out the mind, but the mashgiach straightens out the heart.

4) When queried about his tremendous deference to his own mashgiach, he stated that Rav Yerucham brought him back to life, a kind of spirtual resuscitation, techiyas hameisim, and he did that to many others as well.

5) The purpose of a mashgiach is to elevate people, to create Torah personalities, to teach bochurim how to think independently, to form their world outlook. In that regard, Rav Wolbe cited the directive of Rav Yisroel Salanter זצ"ל to the Alter of Slabodka, that his task in a yeshiva should be להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים (to breathe life into the spirit of the lowly, and into the heart of the shattered).

6) Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l, a Rosh Yeshiva, who acted as a mashgiach in terms of giving mussar type talks as well (showing the possibility of a Rosh Yeshiva having characteristics of a mashgiach too), was not self-made in that role. Rather, he was a talmid of Rav Yerucham.

For those interested in more, see p.52-56 in the Yated Neeman.

May we be zoche that the crown of elevated השגחה of the Litvishe tradition be maintained (where it still survives), as well as restored to its former glory (where it has perhaps been lost).

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