Can the Rav give us an idea of what it was like in Slabodka during Elul?
I’d like to speak about it at length. But briefly, in Slabodka on Rosh Chodesh Elul they began saying a shmuz every day; instead of three times a week now it was every day. And we spoke constantly about the Yom Hadin. As Rosh Hashanah was approaching the air was saturated with gravity, a seriousness. They were serious. All of our thoughts were, “We’re approaching the Day of Judgment.” The entire month was spent in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. All Elul.
Do you understand what that means? When Rosh Hashanah finally came, it was a sight to see. I can’t forget the sight. We’re sitting there at nighttime. And the chazan said “Borchu” and a roar rose from the yeshivah people, raising the roof. “Boruch Hashem hamevorach li’olam va’ed!” Then they sat down quietly.
When they sat down it was quiet. And then all together they started the first bracha before kriyas shema, the word boruch. “Boruch, oy yoy yoy oy yoy oy yoy.” And they were weeping and shouting. Boruch means blessed, but you have to put all that you can into these words now. Boruch means, “We’re thanking You. We bless You. We love You Hashem.” And then “Atah – You! You! You!” And so every word they said took a long time. And finally it quieted down. It quieted down, and the shatz said like this, “Boruch atah Hashem hama’ariv aravim,” and then there was an amen, a roar of an amen! It was an experience. You davened ma’ariv in the yeshivah on Rosh Hashanah, and you were a new person when you came out. No question about it.
And then aseres yemei teshuvah and then Yom Kippur, oh wah!
I remember motzaei Yom Kippur in the morning, the rosh yeshivah gave a little shmooze. Some boys were going home for Sukkos, and he said “You have built up a tower, an edifice of yiras shamayim, of daas, but be careful. You go home and sometimes, you can ruin it. Simchas Torah, other times, there’s leitzanus. ליצנות אחת דוחה מאה תוכחות – one leitzanus can overthrow a hundred edifices of daas. Even the great tower that you built up in yiras shamayim, one day of kalus rosh, lightheaded gaiety – like in some small synagogues they become a little wild on Simchas Torah – it throws everything down and you ruin that building.”
And so when you build up an edifice of yiras shamayim, see to it that it remains standing. Always keep your mind on it. You can always be cheerful. You don’t have to be sad; no, sadness is also the same as leitzanus. Sadness is leitzanus too. Atzvus is leitzanus too. But don’t be gay and don’t be wild. Don’t kibitz; don’t joke around. That building was erected with great effort. It took a whole month of shmuzen, mussar learning, yiras shamayim to raise that edifice. Just by listening to the davening we were changed; they all davened together. It was a tremendous sight to see them davening together. So whatever you built up, make sure that building remains until next year. Then you’ll add some more stories to that building again.
I wish I could speak to you at length about what it was like in the yeshiva during Elul.
TAPE # E-29