Rediscovery Trip to Lithuania

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From Yeshiva to Post Office

In Volozhin, the yeshiva had been turned into a cafe; in Mir it had become the local post office, and we felt R' Kammai's tears once again.

Our welcome too, left something to be desired. Stiff formality, cold enmity, icy stares, and the aged postal clerk looking as if she cannot stand the sight of "those Jews" returning to Mir and shrieking at us, "No more photos!" You would have thought this village post office was a secret army base. And in ghostly counterpoint to the clerk's hatred, R' Baron and R' Katzman poured out all their memories of bygone greatness, faster than we could grasp it all.

There was the day when R' Meir Shapira of Lublin stopped by to visit. He was just then preparing to open Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, and had decided to make a grand tour of all the Lithuanian yeshivos, to see their methods and pick the right one that would fit his new yeshiva.

"R' Meir was a chassidishe rav and when he arrived he was amazed to see, among hundreds of bochurim, not one with a beard. R' Yeruchom explained that among us growing a beard was not seen as a mere natural activity. It was a sign of mature acceptance of one's obligations, and therefore one should grow a beard only when he thought he had reached the right madreigo. `The bochurim,' said R' Yeruchom, `do not feel that they have gotten there yet.'

"All the same, when the grandson of a chassidishe Rebbe came from Poland to learn in the yeshiva, R' Yeruchom would not let him exchange his long kapote for our sort of clothing. `According to the chinuch you grew up with,' he told the einikel, `a kapote and a beard are part of your Yiddishkeit. And you must never give up anything that is part of Yiddishkeit!'

"R' Meir accepted R' Yeruchom's explanation about beards, and added that he had just learned a chiddush. `We always hear about some Jews who are extra particular about Chassidic, or chareidi, dress and manner, yet inside they are empty -- their inside is not like their outside, as Chazal say. In Yeshivas Mir I have discovered what Litvishe bnei yeshiva look like, beardless and dressed in short jackets and modern styles, and yet at the same time on the inside they are full of Torah, yira, and mussar. With these bochurim, their outside is not like their inside.'

"Before R' Meir left, R' Leizer Yudel the rosh yeshiva decided to show him what kind of lamdonim the bochurim were. He called over one of them and asked him to say over the chiddush he had made that morning in Kodshim. He gave a complete shiur, while dealing with kushyos that those present interjected as he spoke. R' Meir's eyes glistened with delight. At the end he smiled and said, `It's a long time since I heard such clear chiddushim.' He added jokingly (remember, R' Meir became a rav at a very young age): `I see that the bochurim here know how to learn. Maybe when I get to their age I'll be able to learn like them'."

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