Category Archives: Slabodka

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, The Alter of Slabodka

Whenever R’ Nosson Zvi saw any good deed in a talmid, he would praise and honor him, speak to him for hours, and sometimes even hug and kiss him.  This was especially true when the deed was one of chessed, such as doing someone a favor, caring for the sick, or nice behaviour.

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Rav Freifeld z"tl on Mussar in America

The sefer Reb Shlomo tells over the following interesting observation by Rav Freifeld regarding Slabodka’s success in America:

Reb Shlomo once remarked to a talmid that the Novardok style of mussar had never really caught on in America because “to be a gornisht, a nothing, one has to first be a zich, a something, and in America no one believes in his own self-worth.” (page 139)

While the Novardok network of yeshivos was rather extensive prior to World War II, it never was rebuilt as a network.  Slabodka (where Rav Freifeld’s rebbe, Rav Hutner learned) seemed to make more of an impact (just  look at a small list of those who attended Slabodka you’ll notice quite a few names that influenced the major yeshivos in America).  I’ve always wondered why Novardok didn’t really find a place in America.  Reb Shlomo’s insight says much about the Slabodka derech of building up a person and exposing their inner Kedusha.
Note:  The wesite Revach L’Neshama posted a brief biographical sketch today of the Alter of Novardok.

Shadows of Slabodka in HTC

A few months ago marked the 80th yartzeit of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka. I was reading a publication emailed to me from The Alter on the Parsha and at the end was a list of the major talmidim of the Alter and where they went on to teach. As I read the list I noticed that three Slabodka students ended up in Beis HaMidrash LaTorah (Hebrew Theological College) here in the Chicago area.

Recently I happened to be working as a mashgiach at a chasunah, and I spoke with a someone who had received semicha from HTC. I casually asked him about one of the names listed: Rav Selig Starr, z’tl.

It turns out that the person I spoke with (and other members of his family) learned from Rav Starr. It was total hashgacha pratis (no pun intended). I, of course, asked if he had ever heard anything from Rav Starr about the Alter of Slabodka. Here is what I was told:
Rav Starr was , “A walking adverisement for Slabodka”.

He was famous for saying, “You should know what you know and know what you don’t know”.

Rav Starr once said in shiur that while in Slabodka he was part of a chabura lead by the Alter, that included Rabbis: Ruderman, Hutner, Kamenetsky, and Kotler.
The Alter once told them “I am supposed to teach you mussar. What can I teach you?
I’ll ask you a question: What happens if you kill someone with a gun?”
The talmidim answered that you are chiav misah.

The Alter then asked them, “What if you kill someone with a chair?”
The talmidim answered that you are chiav misah.
The Alter then asked them, “What if you kill someone with a Sefer Torah?”
Again, the talmidim answered that you are chiav misah.
The Alter then said, “You are the future of klal Yisroel. You will be the Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva of the next generation. Never ever kill anyone with a Sefer Torah.” With that the chabura ended.
I think the approach the Alter was trying to teach was the reason that Slabodka infuenced the creation and expansion of successful Yeshivas in America. Torah when properly taught is meant to bring someone up (part of the Slabodka philosophy). A sensitivity to the individual and they way we teach Torah to children is the yesod of successful chinuch, in my opinion.

For more information about Rav Starr, including his famous “Ten Commandments” click here.