Nosson Zvi (Nota Hirsh) Finkel (1849 - 1927) was also known as the
alter (elder and Sabba) of the Yeshiva of Slobodka
Born in 1849 in Raseiniai, Kaunas, Lithuania ( 50 kilometers from
Kelm) to Reb Moshe. He was orphaned at a young age. Was first educated
at the home of his relatives in Vilna. He studied in Kelm, and married
the granddaughter of the rabbi of Kelm at age 15.
In Kelm he took an important place amongst the Torah giants. He became
close to Reb Simcha Zisl Ziv and involved with the Musar movement. He
left Kelm. Using his unique talent and energetic personality he
spread the" Musar"system all over Lithuania. He settled in Kovno and
established Kolel in Kovno and its suburb; Slobodke, as well as
"Keneset Yisrael " Yeshiva in Slobodke. He was the spiritual leader of
the Yeshiva for fifty years ( 1877- 1927).
An Appreciation of the Alter of Slobodke by his talmid HaRav Meir
Chodosh -- "And they said, You have Revived us!"
by Moshe Musman
The following recollections of the Alter of Slobodke zt'l offer a
spiritual portrait of one of the greatest and most influential
educators that the modern yeshiva world has known. As well as
eminently qualifying him to elucidate the main ideas of the Alter's
outlook, HaRav Chodosh's standing as one of his closest talmidim for
over twenty years also qualifies him to demonstrate how the Alter
himself was their embodiment. From a close reading of the shmuess,
herein it seems clear that in addition, HaRav Chodosh intends to show
how the ideas which the Alter spread indeed addressed areas of general
human weakness, such as the fear of sin and the importance of
humility, with which a superficial acquaintance with Slobodke mussar,
with its emphasis on inspiring and uplifting and their distinct outer
manifestations, may have led outsiders to believe that the Alter was
less preoccupied with than were the proponents of other mussar
Indeed, the term gadlus ho'odom, the greatness of man or mankind, is
not fully understood today. Many mistakenly associate it with a
certain air of self assurance and style of clothing, as if this
approach achieved the improvement of the self image of bnei Torah by
having them dress smartly. In this shmuess, HaRav Chodosh sets out the
fundamental premise of gadlus ho'odom and shows how its correct
appreciation and assimilation led to the realization of the main goals
that all the different mussar systems shared.
HaRav Chodosh demonstrates that attaining yiras Shomayim is the work
of a lifetime and that success can only result if a person's efforts
are firmly founded upon a correct understanding of man's purpose in
this world. To achieve this, the Alter continually drew upon Chazal's
teachings concerning the greatness of Odom Horishon. HaRav Chodosh
goes on to show that the attainment of true wisdom and humility, as
well as refined and pleasant character traits, are both an outgrowth
of recognizing man's relationship with his Creator. Obviously, this
awareness will also require that interpersonal relationships are
handled with the utmost consideration for others. An understanding of
the soul of Slobodke mussar enables its outward features to be viewed
in their proper proportions.
Why didn't the Alter write seforim? Why was he continually speaking
about Odom Horishon? His home was open to all, twenty-four hours a
day, yet he lived a life of modesty and concealment. He was speaking
all day, yet he was a man of silence. Why did he speak softly, so that
people had to move closer in order to hear him? Why did he hold onto a
handkerchief or cloth during a shmuess? Some of the enigmas about the
Alter are explained herein.
The shmuess was delivered by HaRav Meir Chodosh on the twenty ninth of
Shevat, 5741, the Alter's yahrtzeit, in the beis haknesses of
Hisachdus Yeshivas Chevron in Bnei Brak. It was transcribed by Rabbi
Aharon Meir Kravitz, who is a grandson of HaRav Chodosh.
Write Them On Your Heart!
In the Torah world at large and especially in the yeshivos, the day
before Rosh Chodesh Adar is a day of introspection. This day marks the
yahrtzeit of the man who founded our holy yeshiva -- not merely with
regard to its material founding but also in the sense of having put
the yeshiva upon its feet, educating and guiding us so that we
developed spiritually. He taught us to tread along the path of Hashem,
[and showed us] an approach to serving Him.
The Alter left his Torah in oral form. He didn't record his novel
ideas in writing. On his way to Eretz Yisroel he travelled through
Berlin and went to visit one of the greatest of his talmidim, who was
one of the renowned rabbonim of the generation. The talmid asked his
rebbe, the Alter, why he did not record his [many] shmuessen, since
the Alter used to lecture day and night.
The talmid related that several other distinguished talmidim of the
Alter's had been with him earlier and he had asked them what the Alter
had been speaking about lately. By way of answer, they had tried to
repeat two or three shmuessen, but they couldn't remember a fourth
one. Since it seemed that the shmuessen were being lost, why didn't he
keep a written record of them?
The Alter answered him with another question. "You have conversed with
my talmidim -- are they the same as other people?"
"No, certainly not. The difference is recognizable at once."
"Those are my shmuessen," the Alter replied. "They are written down on
I then asked that rav, "They must have told you the most recent
shmuessen, which he delivered before leaving for Eretz Yisroel. One of
them concerned the greatness of man, portraying him as being greater
than a mal'ach, from whom the mal'ochim [themselves] had to learn, as
HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to them, `See the creation that I have made,
whose wisdom exceeds yours . . . ' [Yet] although Hashem told the
mal'ochim to contemplate Odom Horishon's wisdom, they couldn't learn
from him in the ordinary way, like a talmid from his rebbe. The gemora
(Sanhedrin 59) says, `Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima says, Odom Horishon
reclined in Gan Eden and the mal'ochim roasted meat and strained wine
for him . . . ' The only way they could take something from him was by
serving him -- they were able to grasp something by performing tasks
connected with the preparation of his food -- this shows us the
greatness of Odom Horishon." And indeed, this was one of the shmuessen
which that rav had heard from the talmidim.
"However," I told him, "that shmuess did not just represent one single
shmuess. In order to appreciate a shmuess like that about Odom
Horishon, one has to first hear a number of other introductory
shmuessen: about the Creation and why it was made, about the meaning
of the `wisdom' which Hashem rated as being greater in Odom than in
the mal'ochim and what the level of Odom Horishon's wisdom actually
was. Only then [can one understand a shmuess about] who Odom Horishon
was and in what way `his wisdom exceeds yours.' [For example,] if one
asks a young child what he is learning, he will first say `alef-
beis.' If one asks him later on, he'll tell you `Kometz alef: oh,' and
later on he'll answer that he is learning to read sequences of
letters. Later still, he'll say he's learning to read from the siddur
but he won't mention that he's learned `alef-beis, kometz alef: oh'
and the earlier stages, because all that is included in having learned
to read siddur.
"On a later occasion, I told the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Yechezkel Sarna
zt'l, that in responding to that rav by asking him whether the
Slobodke talmidim were the same as others, the Alter intended to
convey the message that his shmuessen actually were being recorded, in
the sense of the posuk, `Write them on the tablet of your heart.' The
principle record is the one that gets left upon the heart. The Alter
therefore `wrote' upon thousands of hearts, building them and guiding
them in the service of Hashem."
The Foundation of Yirah
He was continually involved in the profound topic of man's greatness.
At first, his reason for speaking about Odom Horishon at such great
length was a total puzzle to his talmidim, however, in time we
understood, as we shall explain.
It is a very widespread error to think that yiras Shomayim is a more
straightforward and self evident acquisition than Torah knowledge.
People know that learning Torah is necessary in order to understand
[Torah], yet when it comes to the special wisdom of the fear of
Heaven, everybody supposedly knows all about it and understands what
it is by themselves. The truth however, is otherwise. In his
introduction, the Mesilas Yeshorim protests the practice in his times,
when only those with coarse minds involved themselves in the study of
yiras Shomayim. Those who found it hard to learn Torah, studied works
of mussar and became mussar-niks, whereas those with swift
comprehension, who possessed sharp, intelligent minds, did not spend
time on this field of study, arguing that it was all simple and well
The Mesilas Yeshorim introduces the idea that true fear of Heaven is
one and the same thing as wisdom. It therefore follows that when
people imagine they know what yirah is, that can't be true yirah,
about which the posuk says, "If you seek it like silver and hunt for
it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of Hashem."
[The Mesilas Yeshorim points out that,] "It doesn't say `Then you will
understand philosophy, then you will understand engineering . . .
medicine . . . dinim . . . or halochos . . . It says, `Then you will
understand the fear of Hashem.' You see that in order to understand
yirah, one has to seek it like silver and hunt for it like hidden
treasure . . . "
Later on, in the first chapter of Mesilas Yeshorim, he begins to
explain the foundation of yirah, thereby demonstrating to us that it
has a foundation. And if there needs to be a foundation, it follows
that where it is lacking, anything that is built there will have no
permanent existence. If someone possesses yirah but his yirah lacks a
foundation, the entire edifice is in danger of collapse.
And what is that foundation? "The foundation of piety and the root of
the perfect service [of Hashem, the Mesilas Yeshorim tells us,] is
that a person's duty in his world should become distinct and authentic
to him." Chazal have taught us that man was only created in order to
find pleasure in Hashem. It therefore follows that the foundation of
the entire study of yirah is the knowledge that man was only created
to enjoy Hashem. It isn't enough to know that one is supposed to enjoy
Hashem -- such knowledge is insufficient to serve as a foundation for
piety and serving Hashem; the basis is still lacking. One has to know
that this is the only purpose for which man was created.
Included in the foundation of yiras Shomayim therefore, is the study
and the understanding of the true purpose of man's creation. That is
the reason why the Alter was always involved in and always spoke about
this profound topic. He literally lived it and continued developing
new insights into it throughout his life. When one appreciates what
man is, what Odom Horishon's greatness was and [the extent of] his
descent from that level after he sinned, one can then appreciate the
extent to which sin is the opposite of having pleasure in Hashem. [One
can understand] how much one ought to keep one's distance from the
slightest trace of sin, so as not to lessen one's greatness.
Raising Oneself to the Torah's Standards
That is [also] why he always used to speak about the quality of the
Torah that was given from Heaven. That Torah was given to man;
therefore man has to tailor himself to the Torah. Man must scale ever
greater spiritual heights, so that he is worthy of Torah, rather than
making Torah suit him as he is. He must place obligations upon
himself, so that he becomes deserving of learning Hashem's Torah.
This idea is expressed by the mishna (Sanhedrin 33): When witnesses
come to testify against a murderer, they are first intimidated, so
that they will relinquish any ideas of basing their testimony upon
anything but the facts. They are asked, "Perhaps you are basing
yourselves on circumstantial evidence or on hearsay . . . ?" and they
are taught the severity of putting a person to death without the full
requirements of the Torah's law having been met. They are told, "This
is why man was created as an individual; to teach you that whoever
destroys a single Jewish soul, is considered . . . as having destroyed
an entire world."
[The single soul of whose importance we call the witness's attention
is his own.] "Therefore, every single individual must say, `The world
was created for me,' which Rashi explains to mean, "I am as important
as an entire world; I won't trouble myself out of the world for the
sake of a single sin," and he will desist from it."
In order to dissuade someone from testifying falsely -- perhaps he has
some partiality and because of it he won't tell the truth -- we
threaten him, and without this intimidation, we don't accept his
What is it that we convey to him? That he ought to have a proper
estimation of his own importance and greatness, so as not to chas
vesholom trouble himself from the world on account of a single sin.
Man was created to have pleasure in Hashem, while sin distances him
from this pleasure. If man but understood what his potential is and
how the sins which he does affect him, he would refrain from sinning.
Chazal understood that only by fully appreciating this will a man
refrain from testifying falsely.
These are realizations which must not remain as theoretical knowledge;
they must become part of life. This is something which we continually
witnessed about the Alter. He lived these ideas and spent his entire
life in the contemplation of the purpose of Creation and the
consequences of sinning. He also used to speak at length about how
teshuvah is apparently the opposite of having pleasure in Hashem, for
teshuvah is based upon regret. Nevertheless, that too is having
pleasure in Hashem, for a person is led back to that state by dwelling
upon the Creation, upon man, upon sin and teshuvah and upon the
greatness of man's power to return to his original level.
Fitting Behavior in the King's Presence
Rabbenu Yonah (in Sha'arei Teshuvah, sha'ar III:27) writes, "One of
the Torah's prohibitions which is dependant upon [the thoughts and
feelings of] a person's heart is, `Guard yourself, lest you forget
Hashem your G-d' (Devorim 8:11) . . . We are hereby warned to remember
Hashem at all times. [Therefore,] a man must try to acquire the
constant presence in his soul of those traits which are consequences
of this remembrance, such as yirah, modesty, refinement of one's
thoughts and the regulation of character traits; for the members of
the holy people will attain every becoming attribute which beautifies
its owner, through remembering Hashem Yisborach, as the posuk (Yeshaya
45:25) says, "In Hashem [i.e. by remembering Him at all times,] all
the seed of Yisroel will attain righteousness and be praised."
From this posuk, Rabbenu Yonah shows us that constantly remembering
Hashem confers the obligation to elevate oneself and to attain every
becoming trait: yirah, modesty and the perfection of one's thoughts.
We witnessed all this in the Alter. On every single occasion, he would
demand that our conduct be based upon wisdom; "Hashem founded the
world with wisdom," (Mishlei 3:19). He always used to say, "Don't be
like horses, like uncomprehending mules," (Tehillim 32:9).
The major portion of one's yirah had to be exercised together with
one's wisdom, while at the very same time, all of one's wisdom had to
be invested in one's yirah. All of his own tremendous wisdom was
encapsulated within his yirah, as the mishna (Avos 3:21), says, "If
there is no wisdom there is no yirah; if there is no yirah there is no
The modesty with which he conducted himself was amazing. His home was
never a private place. It was a public domain. There were talmidim
coming in and out at all hours of the day and night. He never closed
his door, not even while he ate or slept. This would seem to be a
contradiction to modesty, for while a person is in the company of
others, he cannot conceal himself. However, by appreciating his
greatness, it was possible to understand how much of it was hidden and
concealed by his modesty.
This trait is mentioned by the gemora (Makkos 24), "Michah came and
summed them up in three principle requirements as the posuk (Michah
6:8) says, `He has told you, man, what is good and what Hashem your
G-d requires from you, [it is] but to do justice, to love doing
kindness and to go modestly with your G-d."
One of the foundations of yirah is therefore modesty. One might have
thought that a person only needs to conduct himself modestly when he
is engaged in activities that are usually done privately, but this is
not required when doing things that are anyway normally done in
public. However, the gemora continues, `And going modestly -- this
refers to taking out the dead and bringing in the bride."
Rashi explains that the word leches, going, is used by the posuk
(Koheles 7:2) in speaking of both these occasions. We therefore see
that modesty is a requirement even when doing things that involve
`going.' The gemora concludes, `If the Torah tells us about `going
modestly' even when doing things that are not usually done in private,
how much more so is this necessary with those things that are.'
Further explanation of the modesty necessary in escorting the dead or
a bride, is provided by Rashi on the gemora in Succah (49), which
brings the posuk (Shir Hashirim 7:2), "Your thigh is concealed -- Why
are words of Torah compared to a thigh? To tell you that just as a
thigh should be concealed, so too should words of Torah." The gemora
then goes on to quote Rabbi Elozor, who brings the posuk from Michah,
with the requirement to exercise modesty. Rashi explains that, "Even
there, [when accompanying the dead or a bride,] modesty is necessary,
to eulogize to a fitting degree and to rejoice in a fitting degree . .
. " The Alter would always speak about how to travel to a wedding in
the correct manner and how to gladden others there in a becoming
manner, and it was this gemora that he had in mind.
He worked [on himself] in this area. Although there was not a moment
when he was alone, he nevertheless succeeded in concealing himself.
All his own yirah was covered and concealed. When he spoke about yiras
Shomayim, he would refer to it as wisdom -- but in fact he meant yirah
and the perfection of one's thoughts. It was well known that when one
was in his company, one had to pay attention to how and what one was
thinking, [and one had to act] with beauty and with grace, as in the
posuk which Rabbenu Yonah quotes, "All the seed of Yisroel will attain
righteousness and be praised in Hashem."
This is the level which a person ought to achieve, as Rabbenu Yonah
explains: remembering Hashem confers an obligation to elevate oneself
and to attain every fitting attribute that adorns its owner. He always
demanded that his talmidim become aware of and fully estimate man's
greatness. Every single one of a person's thoughts has tremendous
worth, how much more so every word that he says. How careful ought one
to be to avoid anything that cannot be considered a "refinement of
A Lifetime's Craft
This is why one of the foundations of his education was the lesson of
the gemora (Chulin 89), "Rabbi Yitzchok said, `What is the meaning of
the posuk (Tehillim 58:2), "Have you truly been struck dumb . . . ?"
-- What should a person's craft be in this world? To render himself
[as though he were] struck dumb." The gemora's use of the term "craft"
implies that creativity is necessary in practicing this and that one
needs to study ways to be creative. It [also] implies that this
pursuit is the main object of life, as the gemora says at the end of
Kiddushin, "A man must teach his son a craft." Man's craft and his
task in this world is to render himself speechless. The gemora goes on
to say, "Perhaps this also applies to words of Torah? The posuk says
[however,] `speaking justice.'"
We see that a special teaching is needed to tell us that one can speak
words of Torah. Without this, absolutely all speech would have been
proscribed. This shows us the power of human speech and how carefully
we have to guard it.
There seems to be a difficulty though. If one is supposed to speak
words of Torah, one should be speaking all day long, in which case,
how can one ever remain speechless?
The Alter taught us however, how one can be speaking all day and yet
remain silent. We saw with our own eyes how he talked and talked
without end, all day long, raising thousands of disciples with his
words, yet he nevertheless remained silent. We saw how with every word
that he uttered, it was as though a dumb man's mouth had been opened.
It looked as though a dumb person had suddenly managed to start
speaking. This was how it always appeared.
Even outside the yeshiva, when he spoke to strangers, to gentiles or
to anyone else, every word he uttered seemed to have been forced from
the lips of a dumb man. Any superfluous word was certainly
He would always mention the posuk (Iyov 28:12), "And from where will
the wisdom be found?" making a play on the word mei'ayin, from where
and explaining it as a negative, meaning, from what is not. In other
words, there is wisdom to be extracted from what is not said.
A large amount of what the Alter taught us came from what he did not
say, just as entire Torah discourses have been based upon things which
the Rif did not include in his digest of halacha. The Alter never
allowed himself to escape the sensation of being unable to speak.
The Alter used to speak quietly, and all the bochurim had to crowd
round him in order to hear. Often, they had to rest their heads right
upon their friends' heads, just to be able to hear him. Once they
asked him to speak in a louder voice and they could see that he was
trying and trying but it didn't help -- after all, he was like a man
who has been struck dumb.
During shmuessen, he would always be holding a handkerchief or a
cloth, at which he would be humbly looking. At one time, I thought
that this practice was in keeping with the Ramban's advice, that when
one reproves someone else, one should not look at him directly.
However, I heard from the gaon HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky [zt'l,] that
the Alter told him that it was because he had a shy nature and he was
not used to looking people in the face.
Yet, with all his bashfulness, his modesty and his great humility, and
while he conducted himself as though he was dumbstruck, he still
managed to raise thousands of talmidim, literally building them up.
This was his strength -- he was able to remain concealed and silent,
yet be such a prolific educator. It is impossible to transmit this
quality merely by word of mouth. One has to see an example. Then one
can learn from it what one cannot glean from shmuessen alone. The
foundation of all this was "the greatness of man" -- that was always
In the Divine Likeness
We find that when HaKodosh Boruch Hu came to give the Torah to the
Jewish nation, His principle [prefacing] command was, "And you shall
be a treasure for Me," (Shemos 19:5). Everything was founded upon
this, including the actual receiving of the Torah.
Afterwards too, He told them, "You have seen that I spoke to you from
the Heavens." The posuk continues, "You shall not make [what is] with
me; you shall not make for yourselves gods of silver and gods of
gold." Rashi explains that this prohibits making Keruvim like those in
the Beis Hamikdosh, to place in botei knesses and botei medrash. This
is denoted by the word "lochem, for yourselves" meaning that even
Keruvim, which are certainly not intended to be for idol worship chas
vesholom but to facilitate the presence of the Shechina, are
considered idolatrous if they are made elsewhere.
In what area is it permissible for man to add to and expand his
service of Hashem? Only [through offering voluntary sacrifices] upon
the "mizbei'ach of earth" which "you shall make for Me." This is the
However [here] there is another condition, to which careful attention
should be paid. "You shall not ascend my mizbei'ach on stairs, [so]
that you do not reveal your nakedness over it." Rashi explains that
when going up stairs, one needs to take wide steps and even though the
cohen remains covered, because the Torah commands that he wear
trousers, opening the legs wide is akin to revealing oneself. This
denotes a belittling attitude towards the mizbei'ach. Rashi then
quotes Chazal's reasoning that if the Torah is so demanding concerning
inanimate stones, simply because they have a purpose -- although they
remain unaware if something shameful is directed at them -- how much
more so ought we to be concerned to avoid shaming a fellow man, who is
created in Hashem's image and who cares greatly about his shame.
Let us consider this more deeply. When one wants to fashion inert
metal into Keruvim -- not for avoda zorah but for serving Hashem --
this retains the appearance of idolatry, with the sole exception of
the Beis Hamikdosh. When it comes to a human being however -- Hashem's
handiwork, the purpose of Creation, for whom the entire world was
made, whom the posuk tells us is made in the likeness of his Creator
-- the obligation is far greater: to be aware of and to act in
accordance with the knowledge that a fellow man is a likeness of the
Creator and to look upon him as though one were looking at the
likeness of the Divine, as it were. [The worth of a human being is so
great that it supersedes any "appearance" of idolatry.] All this
applies to other humans, despite the fact that to relate to any other
kind of object in this way is utter idolatry chas vesholom, even if
one doesn't imagine there is any likeness to Hashem (as in the case of
the Keruvim, that are made only to facilitate the presence of the
Shechina.) We see here what value the Torah places on a person's self
Yet there is still another point to consider. The Torah's warning to a
cohen not to behave disrespectfully when serving Hashem on the
mizbei'ach, is apparently limited to the duration and the place of the
actual avoda, as the posuk specifically states. What grounds are there
for applying it universally to one's fellow man? We must therefore
conclude that the Torah places greater value on a person's honor than
it does on that of the mizbei'ach, to the point where the former can
indeed be learned from the latter through a kal vachomer.
Know Your Purpose! Understand Your Importance!
This is the foundation of "the greatness of man." As a result of
contemplating this profound topic -- which encompasses the ultimate
purpose of Creation as well as the basis of the fear of Heaven, as we
explained earlier from the words of the Mesilas Yeshorim -- [one will
know] how to value one's fellow man properly and how to respect him.
One will also be aware of how carefully his dignity should be
preserved, so that one does not chas vesholom assail the honor of the
likeness of Hashem.
This is the day's message: [appreciate] each person's worth and the
importance of each and every action. This was what we saw in the
Alter, how he weighed every movement and every step that he took.
I once travelled with him on vacation. I wanted to see how he would
conduct himself outside the walls of the yeshiva. I saw that nothing
changed in the slightest, neither in the way he arranged his day, nor
in the way he spoke.
One cannot be a yirei Shomayim without studying the Creation and Odom
Horishon, so that one knows what the world was created for. This
knowledge is the foundation of yirah and the wisdom with which it must
be invested. It must be delved into deeply and contemplated, so that
one becomes sensitive to the lessons it imparts.
When people hear of Slabodka ( suburb of Kovno) one of the first
things that usually comes to mind is the Alter of Slabodka. The Alter
of Slabodka was none other than Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. The American
Yeshivos today owe a deep Hakros Hatov to this Yeshiva and to Harav
Nosson Tzvi Finkel. The Alter produced talmidim such as R' Ruderman,
R' Kamenetsky, R' Kotler, R' Miller, & R'Hutner.
R' Ruderman â€“ R' Ruderman was the founder of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel of
Baltimore. The Yeshiva has thousands of alumni and is currently a
strong Makom Torah in Baltimore with hundreds of students presently
R' Ahron Kotler â€“ R Ahron was the founder of the Yeshiva in Lakewood.
The Yeshivah has had a great impact on its
Nosson Zvi (Nota Hirsh) Finkel (1849 - 1927) was known as the alter
("elder") of the Yeshiva of Slobodka, or Slabodka Yeshiva, in a small
town next to Kovno where he built it . It was his own yeshiva
attracting hundreds of elite young male Talmud scholras. He served as
its mashgiach , the spiritual "supervisor" or guide. He was an
enigmatic Orthodox scholar and rabbi who pioneered a new way of
educating the old-time Orthodox yeshiva students of Talmud stressing
ethics (mussar) in Eastern Europe . He was orphaned at an early age ,
and not much is known about his formative years.
His motto was summed up in the words Gadlut Haadam - the "Greatness of
Man". He stressed the need for mussar using works such as those of
Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzato, polishing the character traits of his
students so that they would aspire to become gedolim - "great ones" in
all areas of both scholarship, and personal ethics .
This new emphasis on ethics as a separate subject to Talmud was
opposed by many of his contemporaries. They argued that pure focus on
the Talmud would automatically create greatness in both scholarship
and ethics. But Rabbi Finkel believed that, that was true in previous
generations. The modern age was different. Too many new ideologies
such Socialism and Zionism and the lure of universities that were
opening their doors to young Jews, were all attracting the young away
from Judaism . He was determined to prove that what he had to offer
was just as appealing as anything the outside world could offer up.
His main opponents in the yeshiva world were the members and alumni of
the Brisk yeshiva of Lithuania headed by the Soloveitchik family, who,
unlike their kin Joseph Soloveitchik, were adamantly opposed to any
changes in what they believed to be the time-tested ways of yeshiva
education. To this day, their yeshivot based mainly in Jerusalem
today, do not teach mussar ethics as some sort of special curriculum.
He spent ten out of every twelve months with his students full time,
only returning to his wife for the Jewish holidays. He had special
agents that would keep an eye out all over Europe for teenagers with
an aptitude for both scholarship and leadership, recruiting them and
bringing them back to Slobodka. He attained unusual success, and his
students subsequently reflected that he was a master of the human
psyche and knew just which psychological buttons to press to give
direction to his students' lives.
He would monitor the extra-curricular behavior of students judging
their character faults and strengths. He was responsible for deciding
which boys would share rooms together, weighing the strengths of one
against the other. Some were chosen to be his personal assistants. He
stressed the importance of outer appearance and the need for neatness
and cleanliness. He did not want the image of the poor, tattered,
down-trodden yeshiva bochur (yeshiva student) to be associated with
the alumni of his institution. The rabbinical and Talmudical graduates
of the Slobodka Yeshiva tried to live up to a higher code of dress and
deportment, to the point of being accused of being dandies.
He would send teams of his trained prized pupils to places that needed
a boost in religious observance and learning of Torah. His own son,
Eliezer Yehudah (Lazer Yudel) eventually became the head of the far
older Mir yeshiva, leading it all the way to Jerusalem where it is
today the largest post-high school yeshiva in the world with thousands
Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel staged one of the most dramatic moves in the
history of yeshivot. In the 1920s he decided to create a branch of his
yeshiva in then Palestine , together with the dean Rabbi Moshe
Mordechai Epstein, setting it up in Hebron and sending waves of
hand-picked students there, culminating with his own permanent aliyah,
going "up" ,to Palestine two years before his passing.
During his lifetime,he moulded many , such as the young Yitzchok
Hutner ,who were eventually to become the heads (Roshei Yeshiva) of
most of the so-called Lithuanian-style Yeshivot that were established
in the United States and Israel during the 20th century, such as
Rabbis Aaron Kotler , of Lakewood in New Jersey , Yaakov Kamenetzky of
Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn , Elazar Shach in Bnei Brak Israel of
Ponovezh , Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman of Ner Israel in Baltimore , Dovid
Leibowitz Chofetz Chaim in Queens , and Eliezer Finkel Mir in
Jerusalem , as well as his own institution called Chevron which moved
to Jerusalem following the massacre of Jews during the 1929 Hebron
massacre in which some of the yeshiva students perished.
for the rest go to
Nosson Zvi (Nota Hirsh) Finkel (1849-1927), was born in Lithuania and
died in the British Mandate of Palestine. He was an influential leader
of Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe. He is better known by his
Yiddish name as the Alter ("elder") and founder of the Slabodka
Yeshiva, in the town of Slabodka (a suburb of Kaunas). Many of his
pupils were to become major leaders of Orthodox Judaism in the USA and
Israel. The Alter of Slabodka Contents // 1 Early years 2
Philosophical approach 3 Opposition 4 Land of Israel 5 Influence 6
External links  Early years Nota Hirsch was orphaned at an early
age, and not much is known about his formative years. What is known is
that he was an early disciple of the nascent Mussar movement, founded
and led by Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin Salanter.  Philosophical
approach Despite his influence, he was an intensely private person.
Yet, he personally oversaw the complete student body of the yeshiva.
His motto was summed up in the words Gadlut Haadam ("Greatness of
Man"). He stressed the need for mussar (ethics), using works such as
those of Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzato, polishing the character traits of
his students so that they would aspire to become gedolim - "great
ones" in all areas of both scholarship, and personal ethics . He spent
ten out of every twelve months with his students full time, only
returning to his wife for the Jewish holidays. He had special agents
that would keep an eye out all over Europe for teenagers with an
aptitude for both scholarship and leadership, recruiting them and
bringing them back to Slobodka. He attained unusual success, and his
students subsequently reflected that he was a master of the human
psyche and knew just which psychological buttons to press to give
direction to his students' lives. He would monitor the
extra-curricular behavior of students judging their character faults
and strengths. He was responsible for deciding which boys would share
rooms together, weighing the strengths of one against the other. Some
were chosen to be his personal assistants. He stressed the importance
of outer appearance and the need for neatness and cleanliness. He did
not want the image of the poor, tattered, down-trodden yeshiva bochur
(yeshiva student) to be associated with the alumni of his institution.
The rabbinical and Talmudical graduates of the Slobodka Yeshiva tried
to live up to a higher code of dress and deportment, to the point of
being accused of being dandies. He would send teams of his trained
prized pupils to places that needed a boost in religious observance
and learning of Torah. His own son, Eliezer Yehudah (Lazer Yudel)
Finkel eventually became the head of the far older Mir yeshiva,
eventually leading it all the way to Jerusalem where it is today the
largest post-high school yeshiva in the world with thousands of
students.  Opposition His main opponents in the "yeshiva world"
were the members and alumni of the Brisk yeshiva of Lithuania headed
by the Soloveitchik family, who, unlike their kin Joseph Soloveitchik
who eventually moved to the United Sates, were adamantly opposed to
any changes in what they believed to be the time-tested ways of
yeshiva education. To this day, their yeshivot, based mainly in
Jerusalem today, do not teach mussar ethics as some sort of special
curriculum, but focus on pure Talmud study. Rabbi Finkel's opponents
argued that the pure focus on the Talmud would automatically create
greatness in both scholarship and ethics. But Rabbi Finkel believed
that, while this might have been true in previous generations, the
modern age was different. In his view, too many new enticing secular
ideologies, such as Socialism and Zionism and the very real lure of
atheism in universities, were becoming a replacement for traditional
Judaism for many young Jews. He was determined to prove that what he
had to offer was just as appealing as anything the outside world could
offer.  Land of Israel Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel staged one of
the most dramatic moves in the history of yeshivot. In the 1920s he
decided to create a branch of his yeshiva in the British Mandate of
Palestine, together with the dean Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein,
setting it up in Hebron and sending waves of hand-picked students
there, culminating with his own permanent aliyah, "going up", to the
Holy Land two years before his passing. In Palestine he founded his
own institution in the town of Hebron called Knesses Yisroel -
"Gathering of Israel", which moved to Jerusalem following the massacre
of Jews during the 1929 Hebron massacre in which some of the yeshiva
students perished.  Influence During his lifetime, he moulded
many who would eventually become the heads (Roshei Yeshiva) of most of
the so-called Lithuanian-style Yeshivot that were established in the
United States and Israel during the 20th century, and which continue
to grow dramatically in the 21st century. Some of the more famous ones
are: Eliezer Yehuda Finkel (son of the Alter) of Mir yeshiva in
Jerusalem, Israel Yitzchok Hutner of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin of
Brooklyn, New York Yaakov Kamenetzky of Torah Vodaath inBrooklyn, New
York Aaron Kotler, of Beth Midrash Gevoha in Lakewood, New Jersey
Dovid Leibowitz of Rabbinical Seminary of America in Queens Yaakov
Yitzchok Ruderman of Ner Israel in Baltimore, Maryland Yechezkel
Sarna, head of Chevron Yeshiva, Jerusalem, Israel Isaac Sherr, head of
the Slabodka yeshiva of Bnei Brak, Israel Elazar Shach of Ponevezh
yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel The Alter did not personally author any
books or essays, but some of his ethical discourses were published
under the name Ohr HaTzafun - "The Hidden Light", (also meaning "The
Light of the Hidden (One)"). The word Ha-Tz[a]-F[u]-N also being the
four initials of his name, but not in order
("Hirsh-Tzvi-Finkel-Nota"). The title alludes to the hidden and
mysterious nature of its subject, as he used to sign his name as
Hatzafun.  External links Spending time in Slobodka
(http://www.tzemachdovid.org/Musar/slobodka.html) Learning from the
Alter (http://www.torah.org/learning/mussar-psych/mussar1.html) 1929
Hebron massacre Slabodka victims
(http://www.hebron.org.il/pics/tarpat/martyrs.htm) Retrieved from
HaRav Moshe Finkel, zt"l
by Betzalel Kahn
Heavy grief descended on the Torah world, particularly the members of
Yeshivas Mir past and present, upon receiving news of the petiroh of
HaRav Moshe Finkel zt"l on Sunday 28 Av at the age of 94 following a
The levaya set out from Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon
and he was buried near his father, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, and
his father-in-law, HaRav Mordechai Dovid Levine, author of Darkei
HaRav Moshe Finkel was born on 21 Av 5670 (1910) in the small town of
Mir, Poland, and had the merit to grow up in the presence of his
grandfather, one of the Torah gedolim of his generation, HaRav Eliyohu
Boruch Kamai, the rov of Mir. His father was HaRav Eliezer Yehuda
("Leizer Yudel") Finkel zt"l, later rosh yeshiva of Mir in Europe and
Following his father's pattern of "wandering" to places of Torah, he
went to study at many of the leading places of Torah during those
times. He began at Yeshivas Slobodka, where he remained close to his
other grandfather, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slobodka.
Then he transferred to the famous Talmud Torah of Kelm, which left its
imprint on his special personality. He learned there bechavrusa with
HaRav Dovid Povarsky, zt"l. He also studied at Yeshivas Baranovitch
under HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Hy"d, and also with HaRav Shlomo
Later he returned to his hometown where he was selected among the
members of Yeshivas Mir to join a group traveling to study under Maran
the Griz in Brisk. Greatly impressed with the young man, Maran
entrusted him to take part in the task of preparing for publication
his father's book of chiddushim, Rabbenu Chaim Halevi on the Rambam,
working together with his own son, HaRav Y. D. Soloveitchik zt"l.
Before World War II broke out he returned to Yeshivas Mir. The
yeshiva's alumni recall how he spiritedly prayed as chazon on Motzei
Simchas Torah, at the last tefilloh in the town of Mir. He remained
with the yeshiva during some of its wanderings up to 5701 (1941), when
he managed to go to Eretz Yisroel with his father.
Shortly after his arrival, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda set up the yeshiva in
Jerusalem, with HaRav Moshe taking an active role by helping his
father in every way. At this time HaRav Levine, rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivas Eitz Chaim and author of Darkei Dovid, chose him to marry his
When the yeshiva expanded he took on the formidable task of supporting
the yeshiva. During this period the yeshiva moved from one location to
another until HaRav Eliezer Yehuda decided to build a permanent
facility in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood. During these years HaRav
Moshe hardly had a moment's rest, and he worked with true mesiras
nefesh for an extended period.
He would embark on long journeys for the sake of the yeshiva,
sometimes going on the road for an entire year, not resting until he
had completed the holy task of supporting the hundreds of avreichim
and covering the yeshiva's debts.
He always insisted on not deriving any benefit from yeshiva funds,
living in great poverty. He took great pains in his conduct. His
family members say when he once tied his right shoe before his left,
the mistake left him perturbed all day.
He passed away on the date of his bris miloh. As the Chasam Sofer says
tzaddikim live out their years, counting through the day of their bris
The first of the maspidim was HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, current rosh
yeshiva of Yeshiva Mir, followed by HaRav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshiva
of Yeshivas Mir-Brachfeld, HaRav Yitzchok Ezrachi, one of the roshei
yeshivos of Yeshivas Mir, his mechuton HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky, one
of the roshei yeshivas of Yeshivas Ponovezh, and his oldest son, HaRav
Eliyohu Boruch, a ram at Yeshivas Mir.
He was buried at Har Hamenuchos Cemetery in the family plot. After the
burial, his son-in-law, HaRav Binyomin Povarsky, spoke of the
deceased's adherence the halochoh in every detail, even during his
final days when his strength failed him.
HaRav Moshe Finkel, zt"l, is survived by his sons, HaRav Eliyohu
Boruch and HaRav Yitzchok Eizek, his sons-in- law, Rav Shmuel Breskin
and HaRav Binyomin Povarsky, grandchildren and great-grandchildren
following in his path.
Yeshivat "Knesset Yisrael Slobodka"
In 1925, the largest and most important Yeshiva in Kovna, Lithuania
moved to Eretz Yisrael. Following a short stay in Jaffa, the Yeshiva
settled in Hebron. The Rosh Yeshiva was Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein.
Rav Natan Tzvi Finkle, one of the most important leaders of the Musar
movement, was Mashgiach, the spiritual director.
In Hebron the Yeshiva originally numbered about 120 students. By 1929
there were close to 200 students. Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael turned out
to be the largest Yeshiva in Israel. Men from Europe, America and
Israel studied here. They excelled in Torah study and were famous for
their modern, fashionable dress. Many of the Yeshiva's students were
later recognized as major Torah scholars.
For the short time that the Yeshiva, and other accompanying
institutions were in Hebron, they brought about a notable spiritual
and economic renewal to the city, which had suffered greatly following
the first World War.
Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, (of blessed memory, known affectionately by
the Torah world as the "Alter [Lit. elder]" of Slabodka) was diagnosed
as having a condition requiring medical treatment at one of the larger
medical centers in the area. After listening carefully to the pros and
cons of each medical facility, the Alter elected to go to St.
Petersburg for treatment. A student escorted the Alter throughout the
extended period of his recovery. Upon his return to Slabodka the Alter
was approached by a community member who inquired regarding the
Alter's absence. The Alter indicated that he had been in St.
Petersburg. When asked what occasioned his visit there, the Alter
responded that he had gone there to see the push-button umbrella. The
astonished student, who had accompanied the Alter throughout the
difficult medical ordeal, asked the Alter for an explanation.
The Alter explained that he had, indeed, chosen St. Petersburg after
carefully weighing the pros and cons of each facility. However, a
short while earlier, the Alter had been traveling on behalf of his
yeshiva and had passed through the train depot at St. Petersburg and
was intrigued by the sight of the new invention, the push-button
umbrella, being opened by a resident of that cosmopolitan city. The
Alter, ever vigilant for traces of bias within himself, wondered
whether, on some level, his decision to have the procedure done in St.
Petersburg was not adulterated by a trace of interest in seeing the
novel inventions which premiered there. At the moment that the
gentleman asked him why he had traveled to St. Petersburg, the Alter
took the opportunity to reflect on his motives rather than to glibly
respond with an answer which was too obvious to be useful
I was once privileged to spend Seuda Shlishis with one of the Gedolei
HaDor shlita in Yerushalayim. In the course of our conversation the
gadol remarked: "In this generation, everyone honors Rabbi X and Rabbi
Y, because they can relate wonders that these rabbis are supposed to
have performed. In my youth, the person we respected most was the
Alter from Slabodka. You could not relate a single wonder that the
Alter had performed. We respected him because he was the wisest
individual we had ever met, and he had a deep understanding of our
personalities, and how to help us develop our unique potentials."
Rabbi Avrohom Eliyahu Kaplan was the Alter's most beloved student.
There was a close personal relationship between the two. Reb Avrohom
Elya often contemplated leaving Slabodka - and did leave from time to
time, feeling the intensity of the Avoda there was sometimes
overwhelming. In the final analysis, however, he writes (ibid., p.
194): "One Sinai have we in our generation - Slabodka is its name!
Anyone who leaves Sinai cannot hope to find another. More correctly,
anyone who leaves the mountain falls into the valley..." Even when he
was away from Slabodka, his heart and soul remained there.
It seems that talmidim in Slabodka were wont to keep diaries. The
Alter himself kept a diary. The Alter kept the diary hidden. Clearly
unbeknownst to the Alter, Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna zt"l discovered the
diary in an attic. Interestingly, none other than Reb Avrohom Elya
himself copied the diary word for word the day after Yom Kippur in
1914! It can be found in Rabbi Dov Katz's Tenu'as HaMussar (vol. 3, p.
220). Another Slabodker, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt"l (whom the Alter
had room with Reb Avrohom Elya when the latter, after he had already
moved to Berlin, would return to Slabodka for Yomim Nora'im) kept a
diary as well. That diary served as the basis for Rebbitizin Beruria
David shetichye's inspiring biography of her father in the Sefer
Zikaron l'Maran Ba'al HaPachad Yitzchok. Diaries and private notes
were tools often employed by the Ba'alei Mussar. These soul searching,
intense chronicles wrestle both with personal avoda and with great
issues. They offer rich inspiration and profound insight