Harav Elya Brudny, Shlita, Shares His Insights
by Rabbi Binyomin Zev Karman with Rabbi Avraham Y. Heschel
During Elul zman in yeshivos around the world, the Roshei Yeshivah and Maggidei Shiur are busy inspiring their talmidim with in-depth shiurim and divrei mussar. The days are intense, as the talmidim strive in earnest to maximize the ruach of Elul in their commitment to grow in their learning and ruchniyus.
Despite his busy schedule during this period, Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York, devoted some of his precious time to provide Inyan readership with guidance and practical advice regarding the upcoming Yom Tov of Sukkos and the pressing issues of our times.
Inyan: Sukkos spans seven days and, with its many mitzvos, has various aspects. What is a central message of this Yom Tov that Yidden should contemplate and utilize to internalize the many facets of the chag?
Harav Brudny: One of the main concepts of Sukkos is the idea that we as Yidden are only transitory dwellers in this country and in this world, and we must live our lives accordingly. The idea of going out of our diras keva, our stable and enduring homes, to and dwell in a diras arai, a temporary abode, should remind us that we are not part of the management in this country or anywhere in this world.
Sukkos is an appropriate time to contemplate that we are living in galus and devote ourselves to some serious introspection about our status, both in galus in general and in our country in particular.
Yidden have to internalize what we say each day of Yom Tov in Mussaf: Umipnei chata’einu galinu me’artzeinu — as a result of our sins, we have been exiled from our land. We are not in our own land, we are living as boarders by others. Although in the melting pot of America any person can become a full member of society, for Yidden it is not that way. We are v’nisrachaknu me’al admaseinu — we remain far from our own territory.
I remember that Harav Nosson Wachtfogel, zt”l, the Mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha, who was a neighbor of my family, spoke at my own oifruf. He said in the name of the Mirrer Mashgiach, Harav Yerucham Levovitz, zt”l, that from the time Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim, we never yet had the opportunity ‘ois tzu paken unzer chemadanis — to unpack our valises.’ We are transitory, and until we arrive el hamenuchah v’el hanachalah, we are not settled. This is our general matzav in any galus we have been through.
Now let us look at our existence in this country. Certainly, we live in a medinah shel chessed, a land that affords us rights and the ability to live our lives as we choose. But despite this benevolence, we are still not part of “management.” In many ways, we are like the guests who are living in the basement at the goodwill of the superintendent. We should use the lessons of Sukkos as an opportunity to internalize that we are humble guests in this country, living here at the grace of our hosts.
While some gentiles tolerate us, the truth is that we are viewed by them as strange. The reason for this is because when Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah, we became the chosen nation of Hashem. Although the nations of the world were given the opportunity to accept the Torah, at the end of the day they did not; we walked away with the stature of the Torah nation, and they walked away empty-handed.
From that day forward, their resentment and envy turned them against us. Chazal say that the mountain was called Sinai because a sinah — a hatred — descended because of it. This hatred remains until this day. Try as they may, they cannot replace what they gave up. The Romans tried with their Colosseum, the Spanish with their bullfights, and the Americans with the sports teams. Nothing has worked, as we live a fulfilled life through our Torah-based existence.
Being the chosen nation has supreme advantages, but it has its obligations and consequences as well. When a family goes to the park on Chol Hamoed and they toss some litter on the ground, it can be highlighted by the public at large, and animosity festers. It makes no difference if others do the exact same thing; often, attention is drawn to the fact that a Yid did this, which can cause a great chillul Hashem. They consider themselves management, and thus their actions are overlooked, while we are here temporarily and our every move is scrutinized.
Inyan: Sukkos is Zman Simchaseinu — the time of our simchah. Klal Yisrael is facing enormous challenges from within and without. Can the Rosh Yeshivah, who deals on a daily basis — both on a communal and individual level — with so many of these issues, explain what the understanding of simchah is according to the Torah and Chazal, and give us practical advice on how to attain it? How can we take this simchah along after Yom Tov and infuse it into our lives?
Harav Brudny: Let us take a look at how the Rambam understands and defines simchah. The Rambam in Hilchos Yom Tov (6:20) writes: “Intoxication, foolishness and levity is not simchah; it is but merriment and silliness. We were not commanded to have merriment and silliness, only on simchah by means of avodas Hashem.” The Rambam is clear that true simchah is not achieved through earthly pleasures, but rather by gaining a bond and closeness to Hashem. The Rambam says similar words when he speaks about the simchas beis hasho’eivah in Hilchos Lulav (8:15).
Essentially, simchah is based on our attachment to Hashem. When a person is immersed in Olam Hazeh, he cannot achieve true simchah. This, too, is what we experience on Sukkos when we diminish our attachment to Olam Hazeh by leaving the diras keva in our earthly abode and entering a diras arai. A sukkah, even if it is decorated beautifully, is not the embodiment of Olam Hazeh like a stately palace. Indeed, this is the connection for reading Koheles on Sukkos: negating This World allows us to develop our connection to the Ribbono shel Olam through our avodas Hashem, which will enhance our Zman Simchaseinu.
Inyan: A sukkah is called “the Shade of Emunah.” The emunah peshutah and temimus of previous generations is, to a large degree, lacking today. In addition, in many cases, individuals who are shomrei Torah u’mitzvos seem to be lacking the feeling of connection with the Ribbono shel Olam and passion for Yiddishkeit. What advice can the Rosh Yeshivah give, both to adults seeking to establish this connection and to parents who want to infuse their children with a passion for Torah and mitzvos?
Harav Brudny: Let us first understand what it means when Chazal tell us that the sukkah is because of the Ananei HaKavod — the Clouds of Glory that encircled and enveloped Klal Yisrael in the Midbar.
I remember back in 1970, when I was still a bachur, and learning in Bais Medrash Govoha. On Motzoei Yom Kippur, Harav Shneur Kotler, zt”l, would have a gathering, and that year, when the group of yungeleit was leaving to start the Toronto Kollel, Rav Shneur combined it with a seudas preidah for them.
Rav Shneur said that the yeshivah was like the ananei hakavod, and now that this group was going to Toronto, the ananei hakavod of Lakewood would be extended until there. I did not visit Toronto until 25 years later when I went to see the Kollel, and I trembled as I remembered Rav Shneur’s words. Indeed, I was overcome with the feeling that a palpable ruach of the yeshivah was emanating from the structure of the Kollel.
The passuk says, “Hashem tzilcha — Hashem is your shade” (Tehillim 121:5). When we attach ourselves to Hashem, He is our Ananei HaKavod. We remain vulnerable until we cleave to Him, and when we accomplish that through our emunah, then we can benefit from the protection of the tzila dimheimenusa — the shade of our emunah.
Unfortunately, there is a deficiency in reliance on Hashem for protection and salvation. Nowadays, people who have a tzarah feel they can use their connections to get into a tzaddik who is poel yeshuos, but they leave the Ribbono shel Olam out of the equation. We lein on Simchas Torah, “Ashrecha Yisrael… am nosha baHashem.” We are a nation whose yeshuah comes from Hashem. He provides the “shade,” the protection and salvation, to those who cling to Him through their emunah.
When it comes to infusing our children with passion, I would like to mention a letter written by Harav Doniel Movshowitz, Hy”d, of Kelm to a talmid in America. This letter is found in Kisvei Hasaba V’talmidav MiKelm (pages 509-510).
He begins by advising the recipient to dedicate three hours per day to learning, half an hour to the study of mussar, and to have a calm davening that is not rushed.
Rav Doniel then writes that he should carry out the kevius itim of the Orchos Chaim of the Rosh, who says that one must “speak Torah at his table and guide his family to abide by the Torah.” He explains that kevius itim includes educating his children and others, and this is included in “v’dibarta bam b’shivtecha b’veisecha.” B’veisecha does not refer to your physical house, but rather your household, and learning with them is part of v’dibarta bam.
He ends off by offering the most amazing advice. He relates that he witnessed Gedolim who constantly spoke words of emunah and bitachon and ahavas haTorah u’mitzvos at their tables and meals. He testifies that Rav Yerucham Levovitz would relate simple ideas from the Tzenah Ur’enah and Nofes Tzufim, embellishing and expanding on them so it should remain in the hearts of his children. These simple concepts will remain with the children far longer than complicated and deep thoughts.
I think every parent should prepare before each seudah what he plans to say and gear it to the people seated at the table. It takes some preparation and ingenuity to be able to relate to many people of different ages. But through this, a parent can infuse his children with the passion for Torah and mitzvos as Rav Doniel suggests.
Inyan: On Sukkos, we do the na’anuim, we wave the arbaah minim, to hold back ruchos ra’os, the “bad winds.” In our generation, we are bombarded with ruchos ra’os from all directions; the basic boundaries of decency have been eroded, and what even the secular world once considered taboo is now accepted and flaunted. How can we protect ourselves from these assaults on Yiddishkeit and kedushah?
Harav Brudny: We have no better handbook than the Mesillas Yesharim. Harav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains the system listed in the Braisa in Maseches Avodah Zarah (20a) where Rav Pinchas ben Yair lists the progression of a person from level to level in his ruchniyus.
If we look carefully at the format of the Mesillas Yesharim, he begins the first perek by saying that a person must realize his purpose in this world. This is not placed as part of the hakdamah, the introduction, but is actually the first rung to ascend the ladder. A person must contemplate what his purpose is in this world and why he was placed here.
The Ramchal wrote Kuntres Derech Etz Hachaim, and in it he explains that a person must contemplate four questions: Why did Hashem create the world? Why was he placed in this world? What does Hashem want from him? What will be in the end?
Typically, in yeshivos, [men] learn Torah and mussar, but we often are missing an element that is taught in the Bais Yaakovs that they call hashkafah. By upgrading our hashkafos and our understanding of the purpose of our lives, by thinking about what we are supposed to be accomplishing during our time in this world, we can begin to appreciate our tachlis. We are transplanted to a different zone, where the indulgences of Olam Hazeh are understood to be haveil havalim — completely worthless. These ruchos ra’os do not have any grounding in a vacuum. They have no yisron, no intrinsic value; only avodas Hashem has a true yisron.
I once heard a tape of Harav Sholom Schwadron, zt”l, when he spent a Purim in Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. In his inimitable style of maggidus, he described how he was once in Paris and visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. He stood near Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and many other historical figures. “I thought to myself,” said Rav Schwadron, “what is the difference between these figurines and the real people? After thinking a while, I realized that if I would take a match and light it, the wax figures would wither and disappear.
“This had me thinking,” Rav Schwadron continued, “that this is a powerful weapon in the milchemes hayetzer, a person’s battle with the yetzer hara. When faced with the formidable influence that the yetzer hara can have, a person can figuratively ‘light a match,’ and the entire façade of this world melts away, exposing the lack of reality of This World.”
With some contemplation and introspection, a person will understand the emptiness of Olam Hazeh and will be able to energize himself with a passion for Yiddishkeit and mitzvos.
Inyan: Chazal teach us that a person is obligated to greet his Rebbi on Yom Tov. Unfortunately, there seems to be an erosion of the Rebbi-talmid bond in yungeleit and young families who transition from yeshivah to the workforce, with many of them left without a relationship with a Rav and Moreh Derech. What can be done to strengthen this?
Harav Brudny: Chazal say in Pirkei Avos (1:6), “Asei lecha Rav — make for yourself a Rebbi.” It does not say, “Bakeish lecha Rav — find yourself a Rebbi.” Does the Rebbi first have to convince me that he has what it takes to be my Rebbi? Or is it my job to make him into my Rebbi? Today, people are looking for the perfect Rebbi, which may be elusive.
My father, zichrono livrachah [Hagaon Harav Shmuel Brudny, zt”l], would ask what the Gemara in Moed Kattan (17a) means when it says that if your Rebbi is like a malach Hashem Tzevakos you should seek Torah from his mouth. Do I know what a malach is like? My father explained that if you look up to your Rebbi as a malach, then you should seek Torah from his mouth.
A person has to create a Rebbi for himself. My Mashgiach Rav Nosson used to quote the Yalkut in Yeshayah (500) that says that Moshiach will uplift his own height and the height of his generation with him.
Chazal say in Avos (1:14), “Im ein ani li, mi li, uk’she’ani l’atzmi mah ani.” A person needs mochichim, a person needs to receive mussar from others. The Orchos Chaim l’haRosh tells us ehov es hamochichim — love those who give tochachah. Sefer Chareidim writes that this is included in the mitzvas asei d’Oraysa of the passuk that states, “Umaltem eis orlas levavchem.” How does one practically carry out this mitzvah? Through having a mochiach. For this, a person needs a Rebbi. The Vilna Gaon would bring the Dubno Maggid to give him tochachah.
Rav Nosson Wachtfogel was not known for his oratory prowess, yet when I first came to Lakewood when I was 21 years old, I was moved to tears by the shmuessen I heard from him during that first Elul. From that I learned that if you want to be mekabel, you have the ability to be mekabel.
The yardstick to use is not necessarily what position the person has. It’s possible that an avreich in a corner can be better for a person than a Rosh Yeshivah or Mashgiach. A person should gauge if he feels he can be mushpa (influenced) by him for the better; if he could, he can grow through his connection. But regardless of whom one chooses, ehov es hamochichim, as the Sefer Chareidim writes.
Every person is capable of creating this Rebbi, but it takes a hardy dose of hachnaah (humility), which in America may be hard to come by, and there is always the capacity to see negative. But if one has the desire and the potential to connect in a manner of aliyah, he can and should choose and create for himself a Rebbi. At times, finding someone of this caliber who is on one’s own level and speaks his language can actually be beneficial to the Rebbi-talmid relationship.