The Call of the Chatzotzros

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כל הכלים שעשה משה כשרים לו וכשרים לדורות, חצוצרות ־ כשרות לו ופסולות לדורות.

All the vessels that Moshe made were valid for him and valid for future generations, [except for] the chatzotzros ([silver] trumpets) which were valid for him but invalid for future generations.

-Menachos 28b

While it is permissible to use a 100 year old shofar, or in the beis hamiqdash, an ancient menorah, mizbeiach or shulchan, each generation that has a beis hamiqdash in which to use it has to make its own chatzotzros. Why the difference?

Yahadus walks a tight balance between the permanence of its message, and its relevance to people in very different contexts who are living in different times. The call of the shofar is eternal, and thus a shofar is not invalidated by age. However, in contrast to the raw, natural, shofar, the silver chatzotzros are man-made. Their message changes as people do. The call of the chatzotzros is distinct for the generation.

This thought dovetails well with the one I played with in “My Life as a Pendulum“. Some excerpts:

Many science museums have a large Foucault Pendulum. This pendulum is typically strung from a point on the ceiling, and the weight barely touches the surface of a sand stable on the floor. Over time, a trail in the sand develops, showing you where the pendulum has been.

Obviously, the pattern is primarily repetitive, back and forth.

However, the line that swinging draws rotates over time. In reality, the pendulum doesn’t rotate. It is fixed, absolute, staying on the same plane. It is the world that is changing, rotating beneath it. …

His students asked Rabbi Zakai, “For what [were you granted] long life?” He said to them, “In all my days, I never urinated within a distance of four amos from where I prayed, I never gave another person a nickname, and I never failed to recite kiddush; I had an elderly mother, and once she sold her hat in order to obtain the means to bring me wine for kiddush.” …
His students asked Rabbi Elazar bar Shamua’, “For what [were you granted] long life?” He said to them, “In all my days, I never made a shortcut out of the beis medrash; I never tread on the heads of the sacred people; and I never lifted my hands [to bless the people as a kohein] without making the blessing first.”
His students asked Rabbi Pereidah…
His students asked Rabbi Nechunia ben haQanah….
Rabbi Aqiva asked Rabbi Nechunia haGadol…
Rebbe asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Qorchah … long life?” … He said to him, “In all my days, I never looked at the image of an evil person.”

Notice that all these rabbis gave multiple answers, and one one of them coincided. One theme does shine through, “miyamai — in all my days”. Consistency. What’s the key to long life? Finding one’s approach to serving Hashem, and sticking to it, day in day out.

The pendulum.

This is not simple repetitiveness; the consistency must adapt itself as the world we find ourselves in changes. It is sacred commitment to our mission, and thereby maintaining the connection to the Absolute Immobile Source.

רבי יוחנן מפקד מלבשוני (ביריריקא) [בורידיקא] לא חיוורין ולא אוכמין אין קמית ביני צדיקייא לא גבהת אין קימת ביני רשיעיא לא גבהת.  רבי יאישה מפקד אלבשוני חוורין חפיתין.  אמרין ליה ומה את טב מן רבך.  אמר לון ומה אנא בהית בעבדאי.

Rabbi Yochanan arranged [for his death]: Dress me not in blue [shrouds], not in white ones or in black ones. If I will arise among the righteous, I will not be uncomfortable [because I won’t be in black]; and if I arise among the wicked, I won’t be uncomfortable [because I won’t be in white].

Rabbi Yoshiyah arranged: dress me in  in nicely sown white shrouds.

They said to him: And what? Are you better than your rebbe [Rabbi Yochanan]?

He said to them: And what? Do you think I am afraid of my deeds?

— Yerushalmi Kelayim 9:2, 42a; Bereishis Rabba 100:3

(This is not the usual Rabbi Yoshiah, who was a second century tanna and thus couldn’t have been a student of Rabbi Yochanan over one hundred years later.)

How does Rabbi Yoshiyah answer their question? Why was he less afraid of his deeds than Rabbi Yochanan was?

Rav Shelomo Wolbe zt”l writes an essay in Alei Shur vol I titled “Hahevdel bein haDoros” about the need to speak to each generation in its own voice — and in particular, that Mussar is particularly sensitive to this phenomenon. Each generation has its own Mussar. The Mussar of dark rooms and fear of death of the early movement wasn’t that of Slabodka. And of our generation R’ Wolbe writes, “The beginning of the way of anyone who learns Mussar today needs to be: learn the elevatedness of a human. He must climb the ladder that leads to awareness of greatness.” One generation is motivated by one thing; people in a different milieu living within a different culture need a different presentation. Loyal to the same truth, but cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of its people and of the lives they lead.

I would suggest that the difference between Rav Yochanan and Rav Yoshiah was not as much that one was uncertain of his merit, and the other wasn’t. Rather, Rav Yoshiah’s generation is one in which he must make them feel secure. “And what? Do you think I’m afraid of my deeds?” The means of motivating the masses changed in the generation between them.

Perhaps this is why some parts of our goal in life were not spelled out in the shofar‘s tones of halakhah and its process, but instead left as values that we, through Mussar, must determine for ourselves how to inculcate. The call of the chatzotzros.

And your thoughts...?

  1. It’s been suggested by many that this was one of the reason that Novardok didn’t seem to transmit so well as a movement (or as a yeshiva network) to other generations. While it was extremely successful in the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, its’ “call of the chatzotzros is distinct for the generation” (to use your quote from your first paragraph).

  2. Just to add another thought, and this is based like the last comment on the fact that I’m re-reading for the first time in 12 years R/Dr. Meir Levin’s excellent book on Novardok:

    It seems (and maybe this will become a doctoral thesis one day (in my dreams) that R Yosef Yozel Horwitz, the Alter of Novardok, really was the only student of RYS that followed through on RYS’s vision of a movement for the masses. Not only is Madregos HaAdom oozing with the importance of Yiras Hasehm/Shamyim (like Ohr Yisrael), but the Alter didn’t follow the seed of Shelaymus planted by R Simcha Zissel Ziv that sprouted up as Gadlus HaAdom via R Nosson Zvi Finkel. The Alter of Novardok seemed to follow RYS derech, but the “masses” became a network of 70+ yeshivos/Baatei Midrashim.

    Of course, in the European yeshiva landscape and obviously in America it was Slabodka that made an imprint on the “yeshiva world”, not Novardok. Fast forward 60 odd years from WW2 and we see an amazing shift in Mussar and a certifiable testiment to Novardok. Mussar has reached the shores and minds/hearts of the “non-orthodox” community via Alan Morinis and THE MUSSAR INSTITUTE. Alan, in his journey towards learning about Mussar, spent time learning and is close with R Yechiel Perr, who is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway and has inherited a mesorah in the Novardok derech.

    Alan’s work/pubications has reached the massess, something that both the Alter of Novardok and RYS passionately wanted to see (although RSY was initially aiming with the observant community, he did venture into outreach).

  3. I’m wondering, though, why you consider Novardok to be less a yeshiva-based movement than Slabodka. In the title lecture of Madregas haAdam, RYYH explicitly speaks about the split between the city and the yeshiva that occurred shortly before R’ Yisrael’s day, and how RYS had to create mussar to inclucate those values that should have been flowing in the city, should have been part of general culture. AND, how until the street heals, there is a need to take refuge in the yeshiva.

    Slabodka made an imprint on the people who created today’s yeshiva world, but not so much so on their actual yeshivos. The confederation of Chafeitz Chaim schools, somewhat. But the rest? (There is a story circulating about this, of two CC boys who went around the East Coast of the US asking various Slabodka almuni who were rashei yeshiva why. Rav Hutner’s answer is telling, he looked around at the American boy, and didn’t see potential here for a movement that focuses on something with such a delayed payoff.)

    I also take partial issue with the thesis that Novardok’s focus on man’s need for G-d and thus middos like yir’ah, and bitachon is more loyal to RYS’s original vision. (Not that such loyalty would necessarily be a virtue — that’s the whole point of this post.) RYS is also the person who cautioned that the most important chumerah in matzah making is not to over-work the widows who have jobs at the bakery, who missed Kol Nidrei to care for a crying infant… His notion of yir’as Shamayim was one that placed other people ahead of anything more than the absolute requirements of mitzvos bein adam laMaqom. I once contrasted Mussar’s two foundation stories: the one where a young Yisrael Lipkin is caught spying on R’ Zundel Salanter (to learn his ways from a reluctant teacher) and “Learn mussar so that you will be a yarei Shamayim!” vs. that of the irritated man who wouldn’t let RYS look over his shoulder at his machzor on Yom Kippur, forcing the stranger to try to figure out the words from memory.

    Gadlus haadam, when focused on others’ gadlus, captures that.

    So I would have said that Mussar in all its forms is about sheleimus — part of the legacy of the Vilna Gaon. What makes Novhardok mussar is that its focus on the man-G-d relationship is on how to be the kind of person who is capable of such a relationship. In contrast to Chassidus (think of contemporary Breslovers or Carlbachites for extreme examples, although true in general) which focuses on relating. It’s as though they disagree as to whether the break is between man and G-d, or between man and that part of him which is inherently connected to G-d.

    Last, just in case I didn’t quibble with enough points already, RYS engaged in outreach to bring people to observance. The notion of bringing mussar to people who weren’t O wasn’t something he tried. His tactic was instead things like the German translation of shas. It apparently didn’t cross his mind that mussar alone would be of value to them, or that it would create an interest in the mesorah and from there the halachic system. I think to RYS, mussar was something that brought the observant to meaningful observance, and Alan’s approach never occurred to him.


  4. I appreciate the quibbling. 🙂
    Just to briefly reply, and these are really my views that came to me last Shabbos actually.

    “I’m wondering, though, why you consider Novardok to be less a yeshiva-based movement than Slabodka”
    I don’t think that at the time N was less yeshiva based than S. S produced sort of the heads of the army, while N gave yeshivas the actual soldiers. A network like N was unheard of at it’s period in time. If you look today, where is N’s impact on the “yeshiva world” vs that of S?

    “I also take partial issue with the thesis that Novardok’s focus on man’s need for G-d and thus middos like yir’ah, and bitachon is more loyal to RYS’s original vision.”
    I only wrote that Madregas haAdam semed to follow what RYS started. I agree w/you. I don’t believe, IMHO that RYYH tried to take bein adam l’chavero out of the equation in any way.

    In reference to your last paragraph, we don’t really know what was in RYS’s long term plans. His initial position in Volyzhin and the Baatei Mussar were aimed that those already “observant”. Obviously that emphasis shifted when we saw the success his students (Kelm, Slabodka, Novardok, R N Amsterdam, R Y Blazer) and their impact on observant life. His emphasis on shifting gears and Haskallah

    Re: Gadlus and sheleimus= Agree

    In reference to your last paragraph. I don’t know what was really in RYS’s mind regarding outreach. He was more innovative that most during his life regard to outreach (ie-German translations, trying to get Talmud taught in secular universities) in hopes of uplifting the respect for Orthdoxy.

    My real point was that, it seems to me, the ideas of Slabodka never got past the front door of the yeshivas. Ok, NIRC, BMG and CC all have branches involved in kiruv, but the message of Gadlus HaAdom is not being printed in Reform and Conservative publications. What boggles my mind is that even thought Novardok might have been Mussar for a specific time, it’s that fire of Novardok that sparked Alan.
    Even without a network of 70 yeshivas and kollels , fancy online outreach programs, and “Lunch and Learns” that message of making yourself better (not copyrighted by Novardok) as taught to Alan by a Novardoker has made an impact that no one could have predicted.

    I personally feel much more attracted to S, but N and it’s head on “hardcore” approach to middos correction and against the stream attitude resonates with this punk.

  5. So all-in-all, Neil and I aren’t left disagreeing about much.

    1- To my mind, the fact that RYS didn’t do anything remotely mussar-esque in Germany implies something about how he viewed Mussar. That to Rav Yisrael, Mussar was lifnim mishuras hadin, a way to add meaning to a life lived according to halakhah. Alan’s notion, that it has value before one adopts halakhah, simply isn’t evidenced by anything I’ve seen from RYS.

    2- I think that Novhardok’s emphasis on man’s neediness and inadequacy is more like the prior generations of mussar. However, I think that their solution was to produce such a focus on dependency on Hashem and thus the man-G-d relationship that that aspect is further from the original than Slabodka’s emphases. That said, there is no value in and of itself to being more like the original. (Which is the whole thrust of the post.)

    3- What we might need today is the militancy of Novhardok fused with Slabodka’s focus on human value. The same forces that make “empowerment” and “self actualization” such popular notions in the west would make Jews receptive to the gadlus haadam message. And yet, Novhardok pushes one to reach for more heroic personal changes, something more palatable to today’s western Jew than the delayed gratification required by Kelm and (less so but still true) Slabodka.


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