120 Years Since the Founding of the Yeshiva


Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer


In memory of my grandfather:

HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet zt"l

A talmid muvhak of HaGaonim HaRabbanim Rabbi Yosef Leib and Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch zt"l

(who participated in writing the shiur da'as: "Emor Me'at ve'Aseh Harbeh.")

niftar 6 Tishrei 5735, and his holy parents:

Reb Meir Shemaryahu B"R Shimon Ya'akov Schochet z"l Hy"d

from the martyrs of the city of Telshe, killed 20 Tammuz 5701, and:

Rachel B"R Yosef Calev (nee Ziv) a"h Hy"d

from the martyrs of the city of Telshe, killed 7 Elul 5701.



The Telzer History


(Based mostly on "The Yeshiva in its Development: Chapters of History and Evaluation" (Hebrew) by Rabbi Avrohom Shoshana in Sefer Yovel HaMei'ah shel Yeshivas Telshe (Wickliffe, 1975); and oral accounts from my great_uncle and aunt, Reb Yosef Dov and Leah Holzberg sheyichyu of Jerusalem, alumni of the Lithuanian Telshe and Yavneh respectively. My great uncle's father, Dr. Yitzchok Refael Halevi Etzion (Holzberg) zt"l, was a dean of Yavneh.)

Many great Lithuanian yeshivos were founded before the epochs that made them famous. Telshe was no exception. The yeshiva was founded in 1875 by three talmidei chachomim (1. Rabbi Meir Atlas zt"l, later the Rov of Shavli and Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zt"l's father_in_law; 2. Rabbi Zvi Yaakov Oppenheim, later Rov in Kelm; and, 3. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Abel zt"l, Rabbi Shimon Shkop zt"l's brother_ in_law) as a school for local, younger students. Little is known of the yeshiva's early period. The yeshiva's story, for our purposes, begins with the Rabbi Eliezer Gordon ("Reb Leizer Telzer") zt"l's arrival as Rov of Telshe in 1885. Reb Leizer was born near Vilna in 1841. He studied under Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt"l in Kovno, and Reb Yisroel, recognizing his great talents, appointed him as a Maggid Shiur at a very young age. He then went on to serve as Rov in Kelm, and for a brief time in Slabodka, before going on to Telshe.

The Haskala movement was wreaking havoc with the yeshiva world. Modern authors were portraying yeshiva bochurim in as negative a light as possible. Ba'alei Battim stopped supporting Talmud Torah and Battei Midrash were emptying. In Telshe, Reb Leizer unceasingly combatted this attitude, attempting even to change the common appellation of "yeshiva bochur" to the more distinguished "yeshiva man". Reb Leizer was responsible for many "modernizations" that enhanced the image of the yeshivos and their students. Telzer bochurim were the first ones to pay their hosts for their food (rich ones would pay their own way, poorer bochurim received a stipend from the yeshiva). They thus avoided the degrading practice of essen teg (receiving meals at the mercy of the local householders). Telshe was the first yeshiva to hold what are now known as pilpul shiurim (shiurim klali'im - lectures on topics rather than on the text) and to divide students into classes ("machlokos") graded by level.

Reb Leizer and the Rabbeim under him also began to develop the unique Telzer derech halimud of Havona (understanding) and Higoyon (logic). For Reb Leizer, a student of Reb Yisroel - the great master and protagonist of classic pilpul - this was a particularly wrenching effort. His writings serve as a bridge between the two derochim. The Telzer derech is much more apparent in the writings of the two illustrious Rabbeim who taught with him, Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch zt"l and Rabbi Shimon Shkop. (Reb Shimon was born in 1860. At the age of twelve he went to study in Mir, and he entered Volozhin at fifteen. He was very close to Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik zt"l, then a Rosh Yeshiva at Volozhin. They would say in Volozhin that Reb Shimon attempted to break through open doors, taking even sugyos that seemed simple and analyzing them extensively. Reb Shimon was Reb Leizer's nephew, and Reb Leizer brought him to the yeshiva in 1885. After leaving Telshe, Reb Shimon went on to head several yeshivos, most notably, Sha'ar HaTorah of Grodno.)

Reb Yosef Leib was born in 1860 in Rusein. He already began studying under Reb Leizer at the age of fifteen, in Kelm. He married Reb Leizer's daughter at the age of twenty_one. Besides greatness in Talmud, he was an expert in the writings of the Ramchal zt"l. He also had considerable exposure to Kabbala through the great Lithuanian Mekkubal, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Elyashiv zt"l, the author of the Leshem Shevo viAchlama. Reb Yosef Leib became the focal figure in the yeshiva. Under Reb Yosef Leib, the yeshiva became very popular, and it had to impose rigid restrictions on admittance (there were quotas on the amount of students per city that could attend the yeshiva). Even students who left for vacation had to be officially readmitted upon their return! Reb Yosef Leib initiated many innovations. In 1894, he attempted to introduce Mussar to the yeshiva's curriculum, and in 1897 he brought Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman zt"l to serve as the yeshiva's Mashgiach. The move was very controversial. Many of the yeshiva's finest students resisted the move. They saw it as an affront, as an insinuation that they lacked sufficient yiras shomayim. Many students participated in strikes. Reb Yosef Leib felt compelled to leave Telshe, and became a Rov and Rosh Yeshiva in Verna and Shadova. Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt"l, the Ponovitcher Rov, was a leader of the student revolt. Many years later, when bochurim in Ponovitch went on strike to protest food shortages, the Ponovitcher Rov commented that he was being punished midda kineged midda for his own earlier misdeeds.

The yeshiva then underwent difficult times, even closing for a time in 1905. A bright spot during this time was the arrival, in 1904, after Reb Shimon's departure, of Rabbi Chaim Rabinowitz ("Reb Chaim Telzer") zt"l. Born in 1856, he was a student of Reb Yisroel; the Kovner Rov, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor zt"l; and, primarily, of the Or Samei'ach, Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk zt"l. He taught in both yeshivos in Slabodka and served as a Rov in Maishad before coming to Telshe, where he taught for twenty_six years. Reb Chaim Telzer developed his own derech in Talmudic analysis, distinct from that of the Reb Leizer's family, and it was renowned throughout the Eastern European yeshiva world.

Reb Leizer died while on a fundraising trip to London, England, in 1910, and is buried there. Reb Yosef Leib then returned to Telshe to assume the mantles of Rov and Rosh Yeshiva. It was now that Reb Yosef Leib developed the unique character that immortalized Telshe. Reb Yosef Leib first delivered his "shiurei da'as," his special contribution to the world of Mussar, at this time. As the highest Maggid Shiur, he also led his students in mastering the singular Telzer derech of Talmudic analysis as well. The First World War led to a dramatic decrease in the yeshiva's population, but the recovery afterwards was a quick one.

Reb Yosef Leib passed away in 1929, followed exactly a year and a day later by Reb Chaim. Reb Yosef Leib's second son, Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok zt"l hy"d, assumed the leadership of both the yeshiva and the city. His extraordinary talents were so well recognized that he was accorded these positions although he was not yet forty. His analytic skills, profound thought, noble character and great diligence, all in the great tradition of Reb Yosef Leib, were renowned. Reb Chaim's son Rabbi Azriel zt"l hy"d assumed his father's position, and the yeshiva continued to expand and grow.

The yeshiva's end began already in the summer of 1940, when the Soviet Russians, who had occupied Lithuania, ordered the yeshiva closed. The students dispersed through the city, studying in the Mechina and various shuls. The yeshiva's powerful internal Va'ad Bnei HaYeshiva, which in happier times dealt primarily with Rebbe-Talmid relationships, students' material welfare and the publication of the Roshei Yeshivas' shiurim, now arranged for older students to help younger ones. Much time was spent learning Hilchos Kiddush Hashem. Eventually, the yeshiva had to scatter over several nearby villages. Still, heroic efforts to retain a semblance of unity were maintained. The yeshiva's administration sent Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch zt"l and Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz zt"l, to the United States to attempt to transfer the institution there.

The Nazis yimach shemam entered the city on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz of 1941. After three terrible weeks of torture, on 20 Tammuz the Nazis massacred the male population of the city, including the yeshiva's administration and student body. The women and children of Telshe were killed on 7 Elul. A glorious chapter in Jewish history came to an abrupt and tragic end.

Reb Elya Meir and Reb Chaim Mordechai subsequently learnt that their families were wiped out in the Churban of Telshe. Rumors of the terrible annihilation soon reached them, but despite their personal tragedies, they pressed on recreating the yeshiva in America. They explored various cities, settling on Cleveland. After modest beginnings, they succeeded in laying the groundwork for the vast and thriving network of institutions in Cleveland, Chicago and New York that proudly trace their lineage to the Lithuanian Telshe.

The Telzer Derech

We mentioned that Telshe was renowned for a unique derech halimud of Havona and Higoyon. This derech is manifest in both the Talmudic lomdus and derech avoda in Machashava and Mussar practiced in the Lithuanian Telshe. An illustrious Telzer, Rabbi Elimelech Bar Shaul zt"l, in his foreword to the Shiurei Da'as, points out that a synopsis of the derech may be found in the shiur da'as: "Chomer viTzura."

The Ba'alei Machashava state that all objects in Creation consist of chomer, the physical substance of the object; and tzura, its spiritual essence. Intellectual ideas also consist of chomer and tzura. The chomer of an idea is its expression in thought and words. The tzura of the idea is the manner in which the idea expands and expresses itself in one's heart. The chomer of an idea varies little from person to person. It is in the tzura of the idea that we may distinguish between individuals. If an individual maintains lifelong intellectual growth, the tzura of the ideas that he or she has assimilated will change and grow more profound over time.

The greatness of Gedolei Yisroel is not manifest in the chomer of their knowledge. Many bright people might master vast tracts of Torah. It is in the tzura of their chochma that their greatness is manifest. That is why when Chazal describe the greatness of previous generations they talk in terms of "the Rishonim's heart" (Eruvin 53a). In Mo'ed Kattan 9a Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai tells his son that he should pursue berachos from "people of tzura." In Shabbos 63a we are told about the "tzura dishemata", the tzura of a sugya. When Chazal describe later generations, they define their insight as "a finger upon wax." The earlier generations excelled in their penetrating understanding - their heart. The later generations are superficial - like a finger that manipulates wax. They might have the same chomer, but they lack the tzura. (It is significant that Chazal, despite their lower level vis a vis the earlier generations, still felt qualified to define their greatness. We can transcend our normal capacities and perceive, at least from afar, what made the earlier generations greater; what tzura they possessed.)

In Yuma 72b we are told that a fool attempts to acquire wisdom without heart - without its tzura. One who strives for wisdom will attempt to uplift him or herself toward an idea and its most profound tzura. Most people, however, will attempt to bring a lofty intellectual idea down to their own level. In Torah, at the core of any idea is the yiras shomayim it should provide us. When a great person delivers a shiur, he not only gives over the chomer of the ideas being considered, but also the tzura of his wisdom. This is evident in his facial expression: "The wisdom of an individual illuminates his face" (Koheles 8). This manifest tzura comprised the radiance of Moshe Rabbeinu - "for his face shone" (Shemos 34).

The quest for tzura is the hallmark of the Telzer derech. It is in this quest that Telshe departed from Brisk. In Brisk, the primary method of analysis is categorization. The classic "tzvei dinim" is a brilliant tool for the definition of "what". For example: What is this idea? Is it one that pertains to the gavra (the person) or to the cheftza (the object)? In Telshe, however, the primary method of analysis is abstraction, e.g., what is the essence of this idea, how does it work and why does it work the way it does.

(In his introduction to his definitive work on the Rogatchover zt"l's derech, "Mefa'anei'ach Tzefunos", Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher zt"l relates the following anecdote: The Greek philosopher Plato was once strolling with one of his disciples. They saw a horse in the street. Plato turned to his companion and asked him: "What do you see?" The student responded: "I see a horse." Plato then said to him: "I see the `horseness', the abstract of a horse. You lack perception, and you, therefore, do not possess the talent of profound intellectual insight. You only possess the vision of the physical senses, which cannot grasp essences." Rabbi Kasher notes a similar comment by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 2:6.)

The pursuit of tzura underlies the Telzer approach to all areas of Jewish thought and endeavor. Tzura is related to the term "da'as" in the system of chochma, bina, da'as. As Reb Yosef Leib explains (in the shiur da'as: "Chochma, Bina, Da'as") chochma is knowledge: the warehouse of accumulated facts one amasses. Bina is understanding: a Navon categorizes facts in his or her heart, depicts them in his or her mind, experiences their full breadth and depth, and can extrapolate from them to new intellectual areas. Da'as is achieved when chochma, characterized and developed by bina, becomes one with a person's essence and being, so much so that a person can conclude that this da'as is absolute truth. The Jewish soul has been designed by Hashem specifically to allow an individual to achieve this da'as. We are connected to the highest spiritual realms [olamos elyonim] and we are "hard-wired" to allow us to grasp their essences.  Hashem designed characteristic human traits to reflect the attributes that He employs in directing Creation.

(In many shiurei da'as, such as "Ki Chol BaShomayim UboAretz" and "BiTzalmeinu KiDimuseinu", Reb Yosef expands on this idea of "shiur koma." This Kabbalistic principle explains that the entire array of olamos are contained in miniature in man's body and soul, and the related principle of "miniatures", that the physical world is a scale model that reflects the spiritual one. These ideas are not so novel to us. Over the past fifty years many of the Yeshiva world's great thinkers have introduced their students to Kabbalistic and Chassidic ideas. At the time, however, this system must have been an exciting chiddush to the Telzer bochurim. The prime mover of the Lithuanian yeshiva movement, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin zt"l, wrote a sefer that described Yahadus in clear Kabbalistic terms. It seems, however, that by the early twentieth century this form of study was not popular. Shiurei Da'as is written in a style that captures the flavor of Reb Yosef Leib's original delivery. Readers can sense the aura of novelty and revelation that surrounded even the most basic mystical discussions at the time.)

A focal theme in Telzer thought is the supremacy of intellect and intellectual endeavor. The more we expand our intellect, the greater positive spiritual impact we have on the universe - and on ourselves. We then feel uplifted and our souls are unified with and enlivened by the spiritual worlds (shiur da'as: "VaYikra Bishem Hashem"). Reb Avrohom Yitzchok wrote: "This derech unifies logic and poetry. The logic is a logic of poetry and the poetry is a poetry of logic." He explained: "The firmest emuna is Emuna Peshuta, with the utmost simplicity. Hashem, however, has granted man a unique intellect, with the capacity to think with profundity. Man is therefore obliged to channel these divine gifts in the service of Hashem, i.e., to deepen and strengthen his emuna and Avodas Hashem by analyzing them deeply." There are limits to our understanding. At some point we must halt our inquiries with the conclusion: "This is the will of Hashem, whether I understand it or not" - but the road is very long until we reach that point, and, often, upon subsequent further analysis we can understand more than we previously thought (shiur da'as: "Al Yechsar HaMozeg").

Rabbi Bar Shaul writes that in Telshe there were no mussar shmuessen, rather shiurei da'as. A shmuess is emotional, inspirational, and often informal. It is an experience of the heart. A shiur da'as is intellectual, educational, and covers a topic in a formal and systematic manner. It, too, reaches the heart, but via the mind. In a shiur da'as on Mussar ("Limud HaMussar VeOfen HaLimud"), Reb Yosef Leib applies this approach to the study of mussar texts. He departs from Reb Yisroel's mussar bihispa'alus - the study of mussar with fervor and emotion, and advocates a more intellectual approach.

A true Telzer toils mightily to uncover and reveal the roots, essences and abstracts - the core truths - of all areas of Torah. The deeper one delves, the more the differences between Halacha and Agada blur. As one's understanding becomes more profound, as one achieves more tzura, one is penetrating more deeply into the very neshama of Torah. The more profound the principle one uncovers, the more it explains (shiur da'as: "Nishmas HaTorah". Reb Yosef Leib emphasizes that the true pleasure of Torah study only comes with ascendance into its neshama. See Rashi Shabbos 88b d.h. LaMiyamnin Ba. ) This is manifest in the remarkable similarity between Reb Yosef Leib's Shiurei Halacha and Shiurei Da'as. If a Torah idea truly possesses a certain tzura, then that tzura must be an essential truth. If it is an essential truth, it should be consistently true across the entire vast tract of our Toras Emes. (A brief, but comprehensive, discussion of the Telzer derech is to be found in Reb Elya Meir's introductory essay in Shiurei Da'as: "Darcha shel Torah".)


Some Examples of the Unique Telzer Derech HaLimud

1. Toch kedei dibbur kidibbur dami: An act done or verbalization uttered within the span of time that it takes to say the words "Shalom alecha rabbi" of a preceding act or verbalization is considered linked to that prior act or verbalization. Reb Yosef Leib explains this principle:

In truth it is impossible to determine how finely time can be divided, for although we measure time by seconds, in fact each second may be divided yet further. The possibilities to divide time into still smaller segments are endless. It would thus seem impossible to determine an inherent quantitative maximum interval that Halacha would regard as linking two events.

Time, therefore, is measured and divided based on man's senses. Chazal understood that any movement, verbalization, thought or deed that person performs engages him for a certain time span following its performance. A person is not at rest until toch kidei dibbur after the deed is done. You may readily perceive this when you do or speak some matter that requires concentration and immediately after that must respond to another person. For example, when you complete a beracha and immediately afterwards must attend to some mundane matter, you feel as if your kavana has been interrupted. This is because for some time after you complete a task your heart is still focused on it.

That is why Halacha measures all man's activities by the unit of toch kidei dibbur.

2. Tenai: If a lender marries a woman with objects given to him as collateral on a loan, the marriage is valid - even if the borrower redeemed that collateral during the loan's term. This is difficult to understand. After all, a lender only holds the collateral as security. His ownership thereof should be conditional on the borrower's defaulting on payment, which, here, did not occur.

Reb Yosef Leib explains that ownership on an object can be limited and divided. One individual may have certain rights of ownership in the object and a second individual other rights of ownership in the same object. Similarly, two individuals can limit and divide their ownership in a way that is conditional on some future condition. This is not the conventional notion of a condition, which postulates that the outcome of the condition will validate the ownership of one party and void that of the other. In Reb Yosef Leib's perspective, as long as the condition does not come into play each party has partial ownership. Only then will the ownership of the person on the "losing" side of the condition end.

In our case, therefore, until the condition of payment (or default) is met, the collateral is owned jointly by both the lender and the borrower. The lender's marriage via the object is, therefore, valid.

3. Eidei kiyum: A valid Halachic marriage ceremony requires the chosson to both give an object to the kalla and to expressly say that he is giving her this object to marry her. This is true even if this was obviously the chosson's intent: if he didn't make an explicit statement, the marriage is invalid. Why? Reb Yosef Leib explains:

We obviously know that the chosson's intent in presenting the object to the kalla was to effect marriage. A person, however, can function at different levels of intent. When we analyze man's potential levels of intent, we readily discern that the intent and decisiveness of an individual is greater when he performs a transaction in front of witnesses than when he performs the same transaction in private. Halacha requires different levels of intent and decisiveness for different transactions. The more powerful the bond that must be created through the transaction, the greater the decisiveness required. To effect Kiddushin, Halacha requires an unequivocal statement by the chosson in front of witnesses whose presence is known to him.

4. Migo dezachei linafshei zachei nami lichavrei: Normally, a person cannot, on his own initiative, act on behalf of another person where such activity will prove detrimental to others [tofes liba'al chov bimakom dichav liacharinei]. To acquire a random lost object for one person is to deprive it from all others. Such an acquisition, therefore, should not be valid. Where, however, the person picking up the random lost object could have acquired it for himself, he may acquire it on behalf of another. The conventional understanding of this procedure is that since [mego] the individual picking up the object is entitled to act on his own behalf, he may, therefore, transfer that license to the person for whom he intends to pick up the object.

There are several difficulties with this understanding. For example, if such a case occurred on Yom Tov, Halacha imposes a techum, i.e. a prohibition on carrying the object over the boundaries of the two thousand square amah area in which the owner may travel. One opinion states that this object is subject to the limitations of the person who picked it up. According to the conventional understanding, however, the person that picked up the object is never its owner. Why should the object be restricted to his techum?

Reb Yosef Leib, therefore, explains this procedure differently: In fact, the person who picks up the object acquires it and owns it. Ownership is not always narrowly defined as the possession of an object. Even an object that never actually came into one's hands may be considered, in a broader, more abstract sense, owned by that individual - if that person derived use and benefitted from the object. Since such use has tangible value, it places the object within one's realm of ownership. It is in that broader sense that the person who picks up the object and give it to another exercises ownership. One of the rights and uses of ownership is the right to give an object one owns to someone else. He thus becomes, initially, the first owner of this object, and, therefore, it is his techum that restricts the object's movement on that Yom Tov.


All the Mussar yeshivos produced highly motivated, idealistic alumni. A drive, even a "bren" for Harbotzas Torah and yiras shomayim was one of Mussar's paramount educational goals, and it was highly successful in instilling talmidim with this ideal. Most yeshivos, however, did not impart a cohesive, systematic system of thought to their students. Even those that did so in the realm of Mussar and Machashava generally did not provide a specific system of thought in lomdus, much less a system unified and consistent across all areas of thought, analysis and endeavor. Telshe, as we have seen, did all this. Without doubt, this derech inspired and galvanized Telzer alumni to high levels of accomplishment. To do some little justice to these accomplishments we must devote to them a separate section.


Telzer Activism

In the classic Telshe method, Reb Yosef Leib defines Malchus (shiur da'as: Melucha) in our times as a scale model of the kingship of Melech haMoshiach after the ultimate redemption. Secular governments and their leaders are but an awful caricature of that exalted state. In Klal Yisroel, however, even individuals often manifest qualities of that lofty kingship. Reb Yosef Leib's paradigms for Malchus are Yosef and Yehuda. He cites the pesukim and midrashim that describe the mightiness of da'as and courage of heart that imparted them the unique qualities of Avodas Hashem essential to kingship: Complete self-control and restraint (Yosef's yiras shomayim); and true humility and willingness to concede error (Yehuda's confession). Reb Yosef Leib acknowledges that few individuals are capable of ruling over themselves, transcending their surroundings, and remaining strong in their da'as. He concludes that Telshe, however, was determined to develop such qualities in its students, to train the leaders of the generation.

Telshe always felt a responsibility that extended far beyond the walls of the Beis Midrash. The yeshiva opened a modern Cheder, a Mechina, a Kollel liRabbonim, Teachers' Seminaries for both men and women, and, of course, the Yavneh high school for girls in the city. (Yavneh was a unique educational institution that developed independently of the Polish Bais Yaakov movement. Its history and educational philosophy deserve extensive analysis beyond the scope of our current discussion.) Reb Yosef Leib was one of the great Lithuanian leaders of the Agudah, and the yeshiva's influence was felt throughout Lithuania. The Va'ad Bnei HaYeshiva sent older students to outlying cities on a rotation to teach younger children for several months at a time. Students came from all over the world to attend the yeshiva, and, upon completing their studies, they went on to become leaders in far flung communities.

These great deeds and accomplishments are, however, only external manifestations of the underlying spirit of Avodas Hashem that motivated Telzer Harbotzas Torah. To better understand that spirit we need to examine the Telzer Agudas Emes veShalom.

Reb Yosef Leib evidently delivered some shiurei da'as to a small group. The shiur da'as "KeAnavim BaMidbar", for example, was given to a va'ad of bnei hayeshiva who had undertaken to follow Reb Yosef Leib's derech in Avodas Hashem in all aspects of their lives. Clearly, if Telshe was a yeshiva for the elite, there was an elite within the elite!

The Agudas Emes veShalom, founded in 1914, consisted of the cream of the yeshiva. The Agudah had a formal constitution and structure, including several committees and sub-committees, headed by members of the yeshiva's hanhala and veteran talmidim. The Agudah issued an internal annual report of its activities. The Agudah, however, was not a "club". In the Agudah's 1931 report, for example, we find much inspiring material. To the best of this author's knowledge, these gems have never before been published. The following sections are but short excerpts:

Tikkun haMiddos uShemiras haMitzvos

At the conference on 1 Rosh Chodesh Iyar the General Assembly expressed its opinion concerning the imperative for the Agudah in general and each chaver specifically to interest themselves in rectification of their deeds and conduct, the improvement and perfection thereof...

It is clear to us that straightness of mind is contingent on inner purity of heart. This Agudah, that has set Emes and the pursuit of activity solely for the sake of Heaven as its goal, is obliged to constantly and alertly assess the deeds and activities of all our chaverim...

The Essence of Yirah and the Pathways of Teshuva

On 27 Elul and 3 Tishrei very valuable lectures concerning the way of yirah and the way of teshuva were heard. Through long deliberations on the on the matters that the lectures addressed, the chaverim clarified and defined these issues. Basic resolutions that express the emotions of the chaverim and the extent to which they recognize the essence of the paths that lead to complete teshuva and true yirah were attained:

1. One derech leads to both yirah and teshuva. Both emanate from one source.

2. Their true quality is the restoration of the neshoma to its innocence, to its state in the holy source from which it was quarried. A direct ramification of this quality is that the requirement of teshuva is not completed when one repents for a sin. A person must constantly strive for teshuvas hanefesh, to draw closer to Hashem, "so he finds that all his days he is involved in teshuva."

3. The basis of the capacity to do teshuva is the elevation of one's self [the "hbt"] above one's sins. [This is achieved when one] connects with the lofty part of one's self, [the part of the soul] that unites a person with Hashem. When one sins, then does teshuva, his internal self pulls him higher, breathes in him new heart, and illuminates him with a new, divine light.

4. The best tool for teshuva [and] deveykus in Hashem is the enlightenment of one's soul and the enhancement of one's da'as with da'as of Hashem and of His Torah. One thus merits "to witness the pleasantness of Hashem and visit in His sanctuary." In this way, a person can sever himself from his low state and dwell in higher worlds.

5. To remain on such a high level, however, it is necessary to arrange one's daily life according to the demands that the new level places upon one. One must prepare a throne for Hashem and live with Him.

6. For this purpose it is necessary to fulfill and love all the mitzvos in all their details, so that they may remove the barriers that separate us from our Father in Heaven.

7. Since the light and radiance of all the mitzvos is to be found in each of them, we are obliged to find the pleasantness and sweetness of all 613 mitzvos in every mitzva. If instead we isolate mitzvos and consider each a matter unto itself we serve only our own deeds, not our G-d.

8. We must always connect our studies to our activities. We must derive the ramifications lima'aseh from all that we learn, and apply them to our lives. Thus we will fulfill the words of Torah with love. We will consequently be enabled to penetrate deeper into our studies, to understand and sense them properly, with the requisite clarity.

9. To achieve all this in life, to not be embarrassed to change our old paths in life and walk in new ways, requires courage of heart and strength of da'as. If we develop these traits, then even if we find ourselves occasionally in a state of decline, our convictions will anchor us, we will, eventually, rise again.

10. Da'as demands that all deeds be congruent with our current spiritual state [as it is written]: "And balance the routes of your feet." Nevertheless, we must constantly be alert and analyze whether we have perhaps reached some higher level that requires improvement and betterment in deed.

11. We must also know that the definition of a Telzer derech haTorah does not negate other pathways of Avodas Hashem. We reject only narrow and erroneous ways. The general derech haTorah, however, is the "candle for our feet." We may, therefore, use various darchei avoda, each in its proper place and time.

While most of the members of the Agudah were older and more accomplished talmidim, formal and informal efforts were made to influence younger students to strive to the same lofty avoda. To a lesser extent, the Agudah attempted to bring its darchei avoda to the Mechina and other educational institutions in the city as well. The Agudah was so significant, its goals so important, that after Reb Yosef Leib's petira, the Hanhala of the yeshiva had to bring new ideas to the Agudah for approval!

As the chaverim left Telshe to take positions throughout the world, the primary focus of the Agudah was to spread the derech ha-emes of Telshe throughout the world. A 1935 protocol details the various ideas and approaches that the Agudah used in promulgating yirah and da'as throughout the world. (In that protocol Reb Avrohom Yitzchok explains how the name "Emes veShalom" underlies those approaches.) The passage of time since then does not diminish the thrill of inspiration and elevation felt contemplating the remarkable idealism and dedication of the Telzer talmidim!

Within the elite of the Agudah there was an even higher elite: those who bore the "degel" (flag) of the yeshiva. To join this circle, a chaver had to undergo a nisayon, a test, for a certain period. The test seemed simple: Consistent kevias ittim leTorah, setting daily time for Torah study, with no exceptions at all, even and especially for chaverim already out in the field. In a 1926 lecture, Reb Avrohom Yitzchok undertook to explain why an Agudah that demanded: "unique, original and comprehensive self perfection in Torah and life, and much avoda for our whole nation; whose ultimate purpose is to bring new life to our nation's spirit; to reveal a new light in Torah and da'as Hashem; and, through all this to renew the life of the nation upon its ancient foundations and return the crown to its old lustre, had chosen as its flag a matter that is universally accepted? That, it seems, reveals none of our special character and ultimate purpose?"

In response, Reb Avrohom Yitzchok quotes Reb Yosef Leib (shiur da'as: "LeOlam Yehei Adam Rach KeKaneh"): "...This is analogous to a person that occupies a certain place by chance gloating over another who circumnavigated the entire globe and then chose to dwell in that same place. Although the latter person, who uncovered much chochma and da'as in his attempts to know the characteristics of the entire creation, now chooses that same place which the first person occupies by pure coincidence, bereft of da'as... there is a great distinction between them. [The second individual] knows the character of that place. He knows how to love it and he will never leave it. The first person, who finds himself in the same spot by chance [has no such connection to that place]... This is also true in relation to middos... Occasionally the simple understanding meets up with the wise understanding that follows much study. In fact, however, there are great distances and infinite extraordinary differences between them..."

Thus, at first the chaverim had seen such a test as too simple, but then they realized, said Reb Avrohom Yitzchok: "...That complete sheleimus brings an individual to conclusions that correspond very closely to a simple, straight common sense... Not like those who say that profound wisdom must be the opposite of common sense... On the contrary, the deeper a person delves into wisdom, the more uplifted he becomes by it, the more he understands the straight dei'os that are implanted in man's mind... The loftiest wisdom is therefore that which is closest to simplicity. In truth, this principle is one of the foundations of Torah. One Torah was given to all of Israel, for all levels, from the simplest Jew to the highest prophet. The Torah laws and mitzvos that are suitable for the simple Jew are also suitable for the greatest scholar. Each one finds a taste in them according to his personal achievements... All the middos and kochos that reside in a simple person are to be found in the greatest and loftiest person, but, as the latter's character and soul are higher and loftier, they are illuminated in him by a different light..."

In a personal letter from 1933, the executive committee clarifies that the actual kevias ittim is only the external manifestation of kabbolas hadegel: "The internal tzura of this acceptance is that you thus express out of a pure and refined recognition that you are sanctifying a significant portion of your life's time to be sacred for Hashem... Not only that, but this hour must be the focal point of all hours. All hours must turn to and be directed toward this hour, and illumination and influence must spread out from it to the entire day."

Of course, much more was demanded of the Telzer alumni. In 1934 it was decided to require chaverim in the field to write essays according to the Telzer derech; to read and critique essays that were sent to them from Telshe; to correspond at least once every three months with the center in Telshe; to give regular reports on their spiritual states and on their influence on local educational and communal institutions; and to ever prepare the field for newer, more creative avoda. In short, as clarified succinctly in the 1935 protocol: "The inner nekuda of our avoda in all branches of life must be the Agudah..."



The remarkable inspiration we can derive from Telshe amplifies all the more the horror of its Churban. Am Yisroel may be somewhat consoled by the successes of the postwar American Telzer institutions. We must nevertheless realize the enormity of the loss, especially at this time of 20 Tammuz. Almost every name encountered in connection with the Lithuanian Telshe and Agudas Emes veShalom is also found on the long list of Telzer talmidim that perished in World War II (printed in the Teshuvos Rabbi Eliezer). That vast potential for spiritual awakening, those great hopes to spread da'as, were all erased. In a much smaller measure, the loss is evident in the fact that both Reb Yosef Leib's Shiurei Halacha and Reb Avrohom Yitzchok's Shiurei haGrai bear the words "Volume One". Volume Two of each work was never published, and both first volummes have been out of print for years.

May Hashem grant that we, the direct spiritual descendants of the yeshiva world of Lithuania that was destroyed, find strength and motivation from such histories of our predecessors. Let us study and analyze their legacies, their derachim, and follow in their footsteps. We too, so many years and so many worlds removed, yet so closely connected, should follow in their pathways of Torah idealism. Their Avodas Hashem will then guide us in our pursuit of tzura, da'as, and, above all else, Kiddush Shem Shomayim.