Through the Eyes of a Gadol

Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, Rosh Hayeshivah, Yeshivas Ponevezh. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

‘She should cry. Crying should help.’

Guidance about technology from Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, Rosh Hayeshivah, Yeshivas Ponevezh

An opportunity to speak with a revered Torah leader whose words are a guiding light for hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world is always an awe-inspiring experience. It was with a great sense of responsibility and considerable trepidation that I entered the simply-furnished apartment of Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah Ponevezh, as a representative of the English language Hamodia, accompanying Harav Rafael Meir, the director of the Ve’idas Harabbanim L’Bitzur Chomos Hadas, to seek his daas Torah about hte dangers of modern technology. Several others were present and participated in the discussion. The conversation was in Yiddish and has been transcribed and translated from the recording.

Hamodia: It is a wonderful zechus to be able to visit the Rosh Yeshivah.

Harav Rafael Meir: This is an editor for the English Hamodia.

The Rosh Yeshivah: In English?

Harav Rafael Meir: Yes. They wish to publish a feature about technology. About the internet and the problem with nonkosher devices.

There are many Jews who are in need of chizuk in this area. Many Yidden feel pressured to use these devices because of the type of work they do. We want to hear some words of chizuk from the Rosh Yeshivah for these Jews.

The Rosh Yeshivah: What’s the problem? There are devices with the internet blocked.

Harav Rafael Meir: That’s true, but he is asking about those who have devices that are not blocked.

The Rosh Yeshivah: Not blocked? That’s Gehinnom on earth!

Observer: Yes, and even if the internet is filtered. The Rosh Yeshivah is aware that there are many bnei Torah in America, but modern technology is a major problem. All the filters can be side-stepped. There are stronger filters and weaker filters. A lot of them let through more than they block.

The Rosh Yeshivah: Nu, so this is Gehinnom. It is Gehinnom on earth and in the World to Come. It’s a double Gehinnom.

So what can we say to those individuals who, for example, have sons or daughters who are bothered by the fact that their parents have not taken steps to protect themselves from these dangers?

Observer: What can we say to someone who lives in a house where his parents have unblocked internet?

The Rosh Yeshivah: He shouldn’t look at it. He should have nothing to do with it.

Should he say anything to his parents?

The Rosh Yeshivah: It’s pointless. It won’t help at all.

And what about a woman who wants her husband to change for the better?

Observer: What about those people who say that they need to use the internet for their parnassah, but they use it for all sorts of purposes during the day?

The Rosh Yeshivah: What do you mean by, “they need it”? They can use a filter. There are filters available.

Observer: Although they need it for parnassah during 10% of the day, once they have it, they use it all through the day.

The Rosh Yeshivah: They need it? What does that have to do with it? Aren’t there internet-blocked devices that they can use?

Observer: Should they use a system like that used in Eretz Yisrael?

The Rosh Yeshivah: It is up to the Rabbanim. The Rabbanim should impose rules that people must use a kosher device.

What words of encouragement can we give those who are struggling not to give in? What kind of reward will they receive?

The Rosh Yeshivah: Reward? It says that one moment spent doing teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than all the World to Come. Even a single hour of teshuvah and good deeds! More than the entire World to Come! It is better than whatever there is in the World to Come.

There are Jews working in places where other employees have it, or who are more lenient about it, but these Jews want to be strict about it. What can we say to them to help them avoid becoming influenced by those around them?

The Rosh Yeshivah: It is a tremendous zechus! Any time someone combats his nature it is a tremendous zechus. When someone wants to make himself tahor, they help him from Shamayim. It is a great zechus and it will bring him success in parnassah and nachas from his children.

Can the Rosh Yeshivah give a brachah for all the Jews who are struggling to stay strong?

The Rosh Yeshivah: They can give people brachos!

Observer: Those who are working to solve this problem, and they are working with a lot of self-sacrifice.

The Rosh Yeshivah: Every bit of improvement, every effort, every hardship faced. You cannot measure its value. When someone wants to make himself tahor, they help him from Shamayim. He gets siyatta diShmaya.

And these Jews can give brachos to others, the Rosh Yeshivah is saying.

The Rosh Yeshivah: Absolutely! They can give brachos. They have siyatta diShmaya!

I would like a brachah for myself as well.

The Rosh Yeshivah: You should have siyatta diShmaya.

Amen! And the Rosh Yeshivah should go to greet the Moshiach very soon.

The Rosh Yeshivah: All of us together. All the Jews.

Hagaon Harav Dov Landau, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivas Slabodka. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

We Will Follow Whatever He Says

Following the visit to the home of Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, we had the privilege to seek guidance from Hagaon Harav Dov Landau, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivas Slabodka.

Harav Rafael Meir: This Yid is a writer of Torah articles for the English Hamodia.

I met him in chutz laAretz, where we traveled regarding the subject of technology. We were there to fundraise, but also to try to bring up the awareness campaign to a higher level because unfortunately the situation there is much, much worse than it is here. There is a general awareness, but the level of the filtering there, the boundaries there are much lower than here.

Harav Landau: Can you not do there what you did here?

Harav Meir: Of course it is possible. In the past there was a big gathering, which was widely publicized, with tens of thousands of participants, which brought public awareness of the issue. But, the level of filtering, it is a different world than it is here.

Harav Landau: Why is it different there?

Harav Meir: There are those who were busy with it there, who say that in America people are more spoiled. and we have to do something that is much, much easier.

Harav Landau: An American askan once said to me, I can’t remember who, [the approach in America is,] “It has to be permissible, just tell me how.”

Harav Meir: Yes, it is hard to tell them no.

Harav Landau: Not everything is permissible. But this is what I heard from an American askan years ago, “You are the Rabbanim, find us an eitzah.

Harav Meir: Baruch Hashem, there are solutions and there are technicians who are strong and yirei Shamayim, so we are working hard to bring the filters that we have here to America. There are in America a whole tzibbur of serious people. … But the difference between America and Eretz Yisrael is tremendous. The most beautiful and best families, and bachurim who sit in the best of yeshivos are exposed to terrible things. The yetzer hara is looking out for them, not that they are looking for the yetzer hara.

Harav Landau: This is terrible. The last generation had other nisyonos, this nisayon they didn’t have. The Chazon Ish wrote in a letter, we are building barriers between us and the low world. But these barriers have holes in them. These mechitzos are not enough. Today there is great hatzlachah here, in America they have talmidei chachamim and yirei Shamayim, so why not? I hear. You are doing hishtadlus, Hashem should help.

Perhaps the Rosh Yeshivah could give some chizuk for the American Yidden who are trying to strengthen themselves in this area.

Harav Landau: Have you been by Rav Gershon?

Harav Meir: Yes, we were by Rav Gershon.

Harav Landau: We will follow whatever he says. In all different areas, once here in Eretz Yisrael we had Rav Aaron Leib; we followed him. Today we have Rav Gershon and he will decide what to do. And we will follow him. Klal Yisrael can’t work if every person gives an opinion.

Can the Rosh Yeshivah give a brachah for all those who try to be machazek themselves.

Harav Landau: The Eibershter should help that everyone will be able to do what they need to do.

_ _ _

The Dangers of Modern Technology

Excerpts from Harav Gershon Eidelstein’s Darchei Hachizuk – Pirkei Hadrachah

Unit Inyanei Tzibbur, ch. V (pp. 551-555)

Message delivered at a chizuk rally, Sukkos 5773

This generation has been privileged to see a great rise in people’s love for Torah learning. Many, many people are becoming observant and close to Torah, and bnei Torah are increasing their dedication to Torah study. Nevertheless, our generation is faced with spiritual challenges that never existed before. As the passuk states, “Hashem made one thing to counterbalance the other.” A new and dangerous form of the yetzer hara has come into being — a small device that anyone can carry around in his pocket. These devices entice people to follow the yetzer hara and fall into the hands of the malach hamaveis. This is an enormous tragedy; it is an absolute catastrophe.

Baruch Hashem, most people in our community are not affected by this, but to our dismay there are those who still do not understand it. Everyone must realize that these devices are literally Gehinnom, for they burn one’s neshamah and drive one away from everything sacred. They transform human beings into animals. Whoever is addicted to the use of these devices has a very serious problem.

It is well-known that these devices destroy marriages. Chazal teach (Sotah 17a): “When a husband and wife are deserving, the Shechinah dwells among them. If they are not deserving, a fire consumes them.” Rashi comments that there is an allusion to these things in the words themselves, since Hashem divided his Name, placing the letter yud in the word ish (husband) and the letter hei in the word ishah (wife), if the couple is deserving. If they are not deserving, Hashem removes the letters of His Name from the husband and wife, leaving the words eish and eish (fire and fire).

You can be sure that any household where these wicked devices are found is devoid of the Shechinah’s presence. What does that leave them? The fire of Gehinnom, right here on earth!

It is even worse for teenagers and young men and women who are not yet married. For them, this is a terribly destructive fire. If the use of these devices can destroy established families, it certainly will prevent unmarried people from building new families. Anyone who uses such a device will not succeed in raising a family. His house will be nothing but Gehinnom, seven levels of Gehinnom.

Rashi cites Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma) that only a fifth of the Jews in Egypt actually left to freedom. The other 80 percent died during the three days of darkness. According to others, only a fiftieth, two percent, of the Jews left, and a third opinion is that a five-hundredth, or a fifth of one percent, left.

Why did all the other Jews die? Rashi tells us that they never wanted to leave Egypt. They had been relieved of their slavery months earlier, and Egypt was a wealthy country. The Jews had landed lucrative jobs and were living very well. People felt that leaving Egypt meant giving up their financial standing. Therefore, they had to die in Egypt.

I saw it written that this will happen again at the time of the future Redemption. A great number of Jews will miss the opportunity for the Geulah because they will be found unworthy. It is up to each of us. Do we consider the World to Come our goal, or are the material pleasures of this world more important? Fortunate are those who realize what true happiness is and who therefore flee from all non-kosher devices. We hope to be members of the generation that is all zakkai, and see the Ultimate Redemption very soon and in our lifetimes, amen.

• • •

Save Their Souls

An assembly of Roshei Kollelim in Bnei Brak, Iyar 5776

In the beginning of Shaarei Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah wrote: “One of the great favors Hashem has done for the people He created is that He prepared a path for them to climb out of the trap formed by their misdeeds, so that they can flee from being snared by their sins and save their souls from the grave and turn His anger away from them.” The term “grave” in this context means Gehinnom. Hashem was kind enough to prepare for us a path to save ourselves from Gehinnom. There are many pesukim and Gemaros teaching us how to stay out of Gehinnom and free of the yetzer hara’s clutches. Even if someone has already sinned, he can still save himself — he can do teshuvah. It is best, however, if he can keep himself out of Gehinnom in the first place.

We have gathered here in order to plan strategies to uphold Torah principles and save this generation from falling into Gehinnom. Unfortunately, in this generation, there are multiple doorways to Gehinnom. The Ramban tells us that it is already frighteningly painful to be at the doorway to Gehinnom, and if so, it is far worse to be inside Gehinnom. The fire of Gehinnom is 60 times as hot as our earthly fire, as it says in Brachos (57b). Now, when one substance is mixed into another and it becomes batel in shishim, the halachah considers it as if the mixed-in substance does not exist at all. In the same way, we know what regular fire is but we have no comprehension of the horror of Gehinnom. It is beyond the realm of our perception, just as we cannot conceive what the reward of the World to Come really is.

Any action taken to save people from these deadly devices is a life-saving endeavor. Whoever does so is rescuing people from the most awful level of Gehinnom, and he has earned abundant zechuyos.

Chazal taught (Yoma 38b) that Heaven assists anyone who tries to improve himself spiritually, and surely those who help others improve will receive even more assistance from Heaven. They will be blessed with siyatta diShmaya. With Hashem’s help, we will all receive siyatta diShmaya and save this generation. Whoever participates in this effort will be blessed with success.

• • •

Make Torah More Enjoyable to Combat the Dangers of Technology

Lecture delivered at an assembly of Torah educators in Nir Etzyon, Kislev 5771

When people enjoy learning Torah, it is unlikely that they will be drawn to other things. The problem today is that many students are being taught Torah in a manner that does not fit their characters and abilities, and therefore they don’t derive any pleasure from the learning. As a result, they are attracted to other things. Instead of loving Torah study, they develop a love for material pleasures. The yetzer hara finds new weaponry all the time, some of which it deploys right there in the person’s home. There are all sorts of interesting things that can become a substitute for Torah and mitzvos.

There are students who don’t really enjoy learning Torah and don’t understand yet that it is the greatest pleasure on earth. They learn only because they are afraid of being punished or because they are pressured into it. Those students are in danger of becoming attracted to the forbidden devices, and that is the cause of untold and indescribable tragedy. I believe that you are all aware of this and that I don’t need to dwell on it in this public venue.

What we must do to quell this development is to do more to instill the love of Torah in our students and make it more pleasurable to them than other worldly pursuits. We must teach Torah to them in a manner that matches their natures, so that they will feel and taste the sweetness of Torah. The sweeter they find it, the more they will be attracted to Torah, and the other things will fall by the wayside.

• • •

Torah Firewall

At a gathering organized by Ve’idas Harabbanim L’Bitzur Chomas Hadas. Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, shlita, at center. To his right sits Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita.

Spending an afternoon with Harav Rafael Meir, the director of the Ve’idas Harabbanim L’Bitzur Chomos Hadas association, is a remarkable experience. Bursting with enthusiasm and positive energy, Rav Meir has that unique combination of being driven by the enormity of the danger posed by the misuse of technology, and balancing it with a very realistic and practical approach to the issue.

“There is so much we have to do,” he told me as we sat in his simple, but pleasant office in Bnei Brak. “We have to do our hishtadlus, and Hashem will help.”

He is quick to admit that the task facing his organization is enormous.

“Sometimes you feel you want to give up because the internet is so huge, but on the other hand, the truth is, we see a lot of hatzlachah.”

Rav Meir is a noted talmid chacham, a former Maggid Shiur and mechaber of a sefer, L’faer u’l’vareich, on the brachos of Shehecheyanu and Hatov v’Hametiv. He still spends his mornings and evenings learning.

I asked him how he got involved in this project in the first place.

I am by nature, a person who very much cares about what is going on,” he responds in a matter-of-fact tone.

Yet the decision to spend so many hours a day on this mission was made by Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita.

“I was a Maggid Shiur then, I asked him, ‘What will be with my Torah learning?’ He said, ‘It is hatzalas nefashos …’

“And when I was on my way out, he added, ‘the Gemara in Brachos says about the early Chassidim, “Torasam mishtameres.”’

“I asked him again, ‘What is going to happen with my Torah?” So he looked at me with a smile and he said, ‘A brachah will come into your Torah.’ Those were his words.”

The organization actually started with a gathering of Gedolei Yisrael of Ramat Elchanan.

“It wasn’t official, I was working behind the scenes then,” Rav Meir reveals.

“Harav Wosner, Harav Shteinman, Harav Michel Yehuda, Harav Nissim, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, and ybl”c, the Gerrer Rebbe, shlita, attended, along with leading mechanchim. We then made additional gatherings and meetings. Harav Elyashiv, zt”l, gave us his support and chizuk. Eventually we concluded that we needed to make a call center and give advice and information. So we set up this call center with the backing of all the Gedolim.”

Harav Meir stresses that the organization — and the work it does, unites kehillos from across the spectrum of Torah Jewry — Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Chassidishe and Litvishe — misuse of technology is a threat that they all share, and work closely together to address.

I asked him about the name of the organization.

“Bitzur Chomos Hadas — Bitzur like mivtzar, a fortress, a wall. We are not a company that provides filters, or even a hechsher. That is something that the Badatz of Bnei Brak and others do. We just give them professional help and raise awareness.”

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the organizational approach is how it uses cutting edge technology to raise awareness about the dangers of misusing technology.

A classic example is “Vehitzalti” — a recently created 19-minute documentary — using a powerful combination of sophisticated animations, professional narration, emotional niggunim, and moving scenes of fathers torn between their smartphones and their young children, interspersed with footage of leading Gedolim discussing the dangers of technology.

The same approach applies to the technical advice shared by filtering experts working for the organization. On a daily basis, they guide employers and employees on how to find workable, realistic yet high-level filtering solutions for each company’s specific needs.

Rav Meir recalls the guidance they received from Hagaon Harav Shmuel Wosner, zt”l, and Hagaon Harav Aharaon Leib Steinman, zt”l.

“We went in to Harav Wosner, and he said to us, ‘Tzorich lif’ol b’inyanim eilu b’haskel u’vedaas.’ As much as Rav Wosner was sharp spoken on this issue, he still said that one must use haskel vadaas — ingenuity and knowledge. And then he said another sentence, more well known, which he would always say, “By our holy work to save people from the evils of technology, we will bring close Moshiach Tzidkeinu.’ This is what he would always say to us.

“Rav Aaron Leib told me a few times,” Rav Meir continues, “‘You should not describe it as ‘kosher internet.’ [With a proper filter] it is not treif, but there is no kosher internet.’ He would also say, ‘Break the barrel but keep the wine.’ On the one hand, it has terrible things, on the other hand, it is not possible to manage without it. He would also say, you saw it on the video, ‘You must know, it is fire, he would quote the Gemara, ‘Nura bei Amram’ — when he was tempted to sin, Rav Amram screamed “There is a fire in the house of Amram.” And when he overcame the temptation and ousted it, a fire was seen to emerge from him.

The lesson is that someone who uses the internet because he needs it for parnassah has to know that he is holding fire.”

Tech 3: Hagaon Harav Dov Landau, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivas Slabodka