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Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler


Rabbi Berel Wein

2 min read
Volume Sixteen Number One February 2011 Adar I 5771

The main topic in the Israeli media over the past few weeks has been the defection of Ehud Barak and four of his cohorts from the Labor party and their remaining in the coalition government of Binyamin Netanyahu. The other eight members of the Labor party’s Knesset delegation, though themselves divided into two differing factions, all deserted the coalition and moved over to the opposition side of the Israeli parliament. The Labor party was once the main ruling party of the country and for nearly thirty years led the country. Its icons were Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Rabin among others. It was a socialist but not really Marxist party and together with its powerful labor union ally, Histadrut, pretty much dominated political and social life in Israel for many decades. When Menachem Begin and the Likud party came to power in the late 1970’s Labor was relegated to the opposition. For the next two decades it, through Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Rabin and Ehud Barak alternated in power with the Likud premiers Yitzchak Shamir and Binyamin Netanyahu. It was a partner with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert in their administrations and was a strong supporter of Sharon’s ill advised abandonment of the Gush Katif settlements near Gaza. Barak also was the author of the hasty and again ill advised abandonment of the Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon. The Lebanese fiasco led to the second Lebanon War and the Gaza withdrawal led to the Operation Cast Lead Gaza War. The Israeli electorate wreaked its vengeance on Labor in the next election reducing its representation in the Israeli Knesset to thirteen mandates. Ehud Barak remained head of the party but there was tremendous dissatisfaction with him personally and his leadership and his peace policies which seemed to be too stringent for the dovish faction of the Labor Party. This struggle played itself out when Barak finally bolted the party, tired of the constant backbiting of his alleged cohorts in the party and determined to retain his role as defense minister in the Israeli cabinet at practically all cost.

Netanyahu gained a much more stable cabinet and coalition from Barak’s dramatic political ploy. Those who opposed his negotiating stance vis a vis the Palestinians are no longer within his cabinet and coalition. He certainly needs this type of united support for there are very cloudy diplomatic skies ahead for Israel. The Palestinians apparently have no intentions of reentering into any serious negotiations with Israel and are now vigorously pursuing their deligitimization of Israel process through resolutions at the United Nations Security Council backed by Russia and France. Russia has reverted to its hard line anti-Israel policies of the good old Cold War days. France as usual is delusional in its assessment of its influence in the Middle East and in world diplomacy generally. Nevertheless the diplomatic dangers to Israel are easily recognizable and decidedly painful. It is difficult if not well nigh impossible to see any immediate solution to the peace process impasse with the Palestinians. And therefore Israel will require very strong and firm staying power. A united cabinet and coalition are certainly basic requirements for such a holding action to be maintained successfully. Thus even though Barak has once again demonstrated his political untrustworthiness and cunning personal nature it may yet turn out to be a positive step for Israel generally and certainly for the stability of the current government. The last thing Israel needs now is to go through another bitter and divisive election campaign which will pretty much - according to all of the latest polls - give us the same government that we have in place now. The Bible has taught us that "from the strong and bitter will yet come forth sweetness." A stable government for the next few years is the prime requirement of the times.

The current impasse in negotiations with the Palestinians can be laid directly at the door of President Obama and his advisers. It was he who raised the demand to freeze settlement construction as a precondition to peace talks taking place, a demand never made by the Palestinians previously. The Palestinians could naturally not appear to be more conciliatory to Israel than was Obama. Obama forced Netanyahu to declare a ten month freeze on construction. The Palestinians waited till two weeks before the ten months expired to agree to reenter negotiations and then when the construction freeze was not renewed - it was absolutely politically impossible for Netanyahu to do so - they immediately stopped negotiating and embarked on their latest UN directed ploy to force Israel to destroy itself. What is needed now is new thinking and a new vision regarding the entire Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The Oslo formula, land for peace, two state solutions and the rest of this blarney is now twenty years old and has achieved nothing as far as the core issues of the conflict are concerned. The core issue is the refusal of the Palestinians, the Arab nations and the Moslem world generally, to accept the fact that a Jewish state exists and has a right to exist in the Middle East. And to have the courage to tell their people that this reality is here permanently and must be accepted in order for stability to reign in the region. Without that acceptance nothing permanent or peaceful can ever be achieved. And therefore as long as Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk and their like, who refuse to face up to this core issue and are satisfied with drawing imaginary lines on imaginary maps, are still running the Middle Eastern show for President Obama, not much good will occur. Their ideas and hopes have unfortunately not been vindicated by the facts and realities of the situation. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are not going to make nice no matter what concessions and enticements are granted to them. And to change mindsets takes time and dogged persistence and not just one time eloquent speeches and photo-op conferences and meetings.

Avigdor Lieberman, the current Israeli foreign minister, is the bull in the china shop in this scenario of the Middle East difficulties. He says it the way it is, brutally, directly and minces no words with any diplomatic nice talk. Most Israelis in their gut agree with his assessments though it is terribly politically incorrect to say so. The Israeli Left and the media in the country lose no opportunity to publicly vilify him. He does not envision a true Palestinian peace partner emerging in the immediate future. He thinks that it may take many years, even decades, for such a partner to emerge. He knows the Russian mentality and is aware of the danger that lurks from that country. He does not pretend or look away and certainly is not inclined to whistle when walking past the graveyard. These are all admirable traits and are rarely found in a politician pf his position and stature. Whether these traits are consistent with being a foreign minister is certainly a matter for debate and consideration. He is constantly under investigation for alleged money frauds and laundering and the possibility of his being indicted in these investigations is real and perhaps even near. If that happens then he will automatically no longer serve as foreign minister. But the ideas and assessments that he has presented to the Israeli public about the possibilities for the current peace process being realized - he says that these possibilities are absolutely nil - will not disappear no matter who the next foreign minister will be. Ehud Barak has proven to be a much better minister of defense than he was as a prime minister. The danger lies in the fact that he often sees himself as a foreign minister as well. Netanyahu has the unenviable task of holding these personalities and forces in check as he tries to steer the ship of Israel through very troubled and treacherous waters. Only time will tell how all of these political machinations will play themselves out. I certainly pray that it will be for the better for Israel and the whole Middle East.


There is an absolute plethora of information, some necessary, much frivolous and some even downright scandalous and dangerous floating on the internet. The abundance of this material has caused many people to become literally addicted to surfing the web on a consistent basis. This computer addiction is already a recognized phenomenon and problem amongst addiction therapy specialists. People are unable to have normal conversations and associations with other humans because they are always on their computers. The computer, like all forms of technology, has become an enormous force for good, knowledge and communication. It also has become the portal to terribly negative images and ideas - pornography, violence, hatred of others and illegal methods of subversion and sabotage of societies. Since the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century no other technological advance and invention has so changed and influenced human society as has the personal computer and its hi-tech descendants, the multi-tasked portable phones and reading tablets. And just as the efforts to control the printing press by Church and government authorities eventually proved fruitless, so too any attempts to truly regulate the internet are bound to fail. This is especially true since the internet is an ephemeral creature and impossible to burn, chop up or physically destroy. The attempts by the totalitarian dictatorships of our time to control the internet have in the main been unsuccessful in the long run. It is a hole in the dike that cannot be really plugged.

There is much positive information available easily on the web. Without trying to appear overly boastful and arrogant I am delighted that my You Tube series, Five Thousand Years in Five Minute Segments, (which can be viewed by going first to You Tube and then hit on to view it) has been seen by over three hundred thousand people in the past year alone. As of now no book of mine has had three hundred thousand readers and no amount of personal appearance lectures by me could reach such an audience of numbers. And the truly interesting thing to me is that people from every continent in the world and of every faith known to humankind has viewed the series. In our current world if we are unable to explain and justify ourselves to the wider world then we are in for even more unreasoning hatred and bigotry directed towards Jews and Israel. Staying away from the internet is as dangerous if not even more dangerous than participating in what is available on the web. There is a tremendous amount of Torah and Torah related subjects that are on the internet. The search engines such as Google have made almost the entire Jewish library of the ages available at the touch of a finger. Doing research for Torah classes and writings has been enormously simplified. These are all positive things - in fact they are heavenly blessings that have been bestowed upon our generation. There is no doubt that the computer and the internet can serve as a great boon to Torah study for the scholar, the student, and the novice alike.

However, and it is a major however, much danger lurks on the computer, the internet and the cell phones. Thus parents, teachers, rabbis and educators are torn in their attitudes and feelings towards these new creations of our time. In Israel currently the cell phone companies are marketing a "kosher phone" to the religious public which allows for phone connection but blocks out pretty much any access to the internet except for certain pre-approved sites. There also is great debate as to whether to allow the use of computers in the yeshiva study hall during study hours. Many yeshivot have provided computers in the study hall but again these computers have been programmed to allow access to only certain sites directly related to Torah study. But slowly the ipad and laptop is making its way into the study halls of the yeshivot. Almost all books and Torah lectures are composed today on computers and longhand notes are becoming a relic of the past (though I am in the midst of writing a book of comments and essays to the weekly portions of the Torah reading in Hebrew and in my almost illegible longhand but I am of a different generation than today’s scholars and students) and almost all academic papers and Torah articles and novellae must be submitted in a digital form today in order to merit publication. What the correct balance on the use of computers and internet in religious schools and yeshivot is yet to be determined. I suspect that it will be more of a process of trial and error than preplanning that will eventually emerge as the proper approach.

The blanket banning of computers and the internet, like the bans on television will not hold for the general Jewish public. People are always determined to use whatever technological advances that they can employ for their comfort and convenience. One cannot ban basic human nature. Here in Israel, where there is much horrendous trash on television, there are also a number of Torah oriented channels that have had a wide impact on the Israeli public. Again we have here a tool that allows one to speak to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people at one time. How to effectively harness that tool for good and distill its contents away from evil and negativity is one of the more vexing problems of our current society. Since it is immorality that "sells" much of the good on television is overwhelmed by the bad and the awful. In Israel there are two or three television channels, funded privately and without the support of commercial advertisements during its programming, that broadcast worthwhile and even holy content during the day and night. Slowly but steadily these channels have gained listenership and viewers and thereby influence as well. There is generally a quiet revolution that is taking place in Israeli society. The general public has distanced itself from the anti-religious and anti-tradition view of the academic Left and the political parties that advocate such policies. It is seen more in attitude, in the conversations of people on the street, in respect to Torah and its scholars, than it is as yet seen in terms of actual ritual observance. Nevertheless there is a sense in the country that the people are stronger in faith, resolve, tenacity and even political and diplomatic wisdom than are its leaders, media and politicians. So the fact that there are television channels and programs, internet sites and enormous amounts of Torah emails, all of which help spread Torah messages to the general Israeli public, is of enormous importance and influence.

Rebuilding the Jewish people from the ravages of the past century - Nazism, Communism, atheism, assimilation, and blatant ignorance about everything Jewish and traditional in Jewish life - is a herculean task. In order to accomplish this there are modern tools of communication that should and must be enlisted in our struggle. How to exploit these tools wisely and morally is the challenge of the generation and its Torah leaders. The more Torah content that is out there the more Jews will respond to the inner voice of their soul. The light of the Torah floods people’s souls and consciousness and helps restore them to the path of goodness and morality. It is therefore our task to get it out there to the general Jewish public.


Chairman Mao made his little red book famous, notorious and eventually deadly for millions. However his little red book was preceded by another little red book also composed and authored by another Communist revolutionary turned dictator and then murderer. This little red book was written by V.I. Lenin and consists of a collection of his articles, speeches and analyses of the 1905 revolution in Russia against Tsarist rule and autocracy. More than a century has passed since the revolution of 1905. Since then Lenin came to power, Stalin came to power, the Soviet Union collapsed the Communist dream of world revolution never became real and Marxism is pretty much a dirty word in today’s world except for certain diehards in academia who live like capitalists and preach like communists. Thus Lenin’s little red book is utterly irrelevant in a practical sense today but it does grant one an insight into the warped psyche of the intellectual who forced all reality to fit into his preconceived notions of history, society and human behavior. It also reveals his single minded ruthlessness and his entirely dogmatic belief in his interpretation of Marx and as how the great and brave new world of the proletariat dictatorship must emerge. Naturally this was written while Lenin himself is living the bourgeois life that he so despises in others in splendid exile in Switzerland, far away from Russia and the true events of the 1905 revolution. None of this paradox seems to dawn upon him as he continues his tirades against Tsarist autocracy, Mensheviks, Social-Democrats, Social Revolutionaries, the bourgeoisie and anyone else that dares see the world and its future course differently than he does. The frightening thing that I experienced reading this little red book is that Lenin actually came to power and instituted a fearsome dictatorship that over seventy-five years of Bolshevik rule killed tens of millions of people in pursuit of an unrealistic and unattainable goal.

So, you will ask how did I come in contact and possession of this little red book of Lenin’s. Well, a rabbi is constantly receiving "gifts" of books, articles, DVD’s and other such informative missives from well wishers who desire him to become better educated and more well read. An avid attendee at some of my classes here in Jerusalem gave me this little red book and thought I would find it interesting to read and comment upon. Since I am always at a loss as to what write about in the Wein Press I read this book and I am grateful for the gift for now you see that it has made its way into the hallowed pages of the Wein Press. The book is a part of a series of twenty-three small pamphlets entitled the Little Lenin Library (little undoubtedly modifies the word library and not Lenin) and was published in London in 1931. The publisher also was then publishing another series of pamphlets in a series called the Little Stalin Library. The gullibility of the Western Left and its academia and media cohorts remains disheartening even until today. The Bolsheviks in 1931 had already starved and murdered millions but they could do no wrong in the eyes of the true believers in Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. I knew once a legal colleague of mine who had a sign framed and hung on the wall of his office that stated: "Don’t bore me with the facts. My mind is already made up!" Well that is undoubtedly the explanation for the academia and media’s fawning on Lenin, Stalin and the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Lenin states in his little red book regarding the agreement of the bourgeoisie revolutionaries of 1905 to a democratically elected parliament (Duma): "The bourgeoisie, the liberals, the opportunists, were ready to embrace wholeheartedly this ‘grant’ of a frightened Tsar. Like all reformists, our reformists of 1905 could not understand that historic situations arise when reforms and particularly mere promises of reforms pursue only one aim: to allay the unrest of the people, to force the revolutionary class to cease, or at least to slacken its struggles." Lenin had that right as the revolt in Tunisia last month abundantly shows. However Lenin continues with his apocalyptic vision of what must be done to achieve the workers and peasants’ paradise: "The coming revolution will be less like a spontaneous uprising against the government and more like a protracted civil war. The peasant movement in the autumn of 1905 reached great dimensions. Over one third of the counties throughout the country were affected by peasant riots and real peasant uprisings. The peasants burned no less than 2000 estates and distributed among themselves the provisions that the predatory nobility had robbed from the people. Unfortunately this work was not done with sufficient thoroughness. Unfortunately the peasants destroyed only one-fifteenth of the total number of noblemen’s estates, only one-fifteenth part of what they should have destroyed." The irony implicit in Lenin’s writings is that when he came to power he not only destroyed the noblemen’s estates and the noblemen themselves but also eventually he and Stalin destroyed the peasants themselves as well.

The anonymous publisher’s note to this little red book states in the introduction to this little red book: "The systematic and conscious unification of these revolutionary activities, of these forms and organs of struggle by the Bolshevik Party, the vanguard of the proletariat, is another vital point in the class struggle; and the Leninist analysis and synthesis transforms all these factors of the revolutionary process into a guide for the practical activity of the proletariat. To have this guide well in hand, in every concrete situation to seize upon the most vital link of the chain, to keep firmly to the course once the strategic goal is set and thus to make no leaps into the azure heights of abstract concepts and away from reality - that is the art of Marxism-Leninism. This little volume may serve as a contribution to the study of revolutionary policy, which forms an integral part of historical materialism." The events of the past century since the revolution of 1905 put the lie to this convoluted reasoning and baloney observations. It is tragic to have to note how many millions - tens of millions - of innocent people had to pay with their lives for Lenin’s delusions and rantings. Ideological panaceas enforced on innocent people against their will and common good sense always result in human tragedy. Lenin, with his cohorts and successors, is responsible for one of the worst crimes against humanity in all of the annals of the cruel record of human history. His little red book was a warning of what was going to happen. Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book was also the instrument of the mass destruction of tens of millions of innocent Chinese. So, my friends, be very careful about any little red books that are floating around. They are truly lethal.

This past month saw the passing of one of the last great survivors of Lithuanian Jewry’s yeshiva world, Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler of Cleveland, Ohio. Rabbi Dessler was the son of he great Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, the famed figure of Mussar and the author of the all time "best seller" in books reflecting the world and ideas of the Lithuanian Yeshiva Mussar society, "Michtav Eliyahu." Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler lived for some years in England and was a leading figure then in the nascent yeshiva world of the newly born State of Israel. His son, Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler came to Cleveland Ohio with the establishment of Telshe Yeshiva in the United States by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch and Rabbi Chaim Mordecai Katz in the early 1940’s. The young Rabbi Dessler then began his lifelong task of educating Jewish children. The Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, which he headed for over half a century, became one of the most successful Jewish Day schools and a model for many other such schools throughout the country. It was the Day School movement that sparked the revival of Orthodox Jewry as a main force in American Jewry and today Orthodoxy is the most dynamic and fastest growing section of American Jewry. Rabbi Dessler had the gift of being an idealist and realist at one and the same time. And unlike many other European born and educated rabbis and educators who had come to America in the early part of the twentieth century, he understood the mentality and the society of American Jewry. And he saw clearly the possibility - in fact, the probability - of the success of Torah studies and scholarship in America and in Cleveland, which at that time was not noted as being a particularly bastion of Torah and traditional life. He never wavered from his belief that Torah would triumph in Cleveland as it did in Telshe in earlier and different times.

I was the recipient of his and his wife’s gracious hospitality a number of times. It is always refreshing to be in the company of a clever, scholarly and optimistic person. Even in his later years - and he was blessed with a long life - his spirit was that of a young man. He always had new ideas and hopes how to improve the educational qualities of his beloved school. It would be no exaggeration to state that the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, with all of its associated myriad educational projects for the benefit of the general Jewish public was Rabbi Dessler’s life itself. In an age when principals and heads of Jewish Day Schools do not always enjoy long tenure in one particular locale, Rabbi Dessler was the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland for almost all of the years of the school’s existence. He educated generations in many Cleveland families and he was a beloved father figure in the community.

His gentleness, patience and tolerance of others and of problems stemmed from his upbringing as a Mussar person - ethical, considerate, faithful and industrious. If you knew Rabbi Dessler then you still had the opportunity to glimpse the greatness and worldview of Lithuanian Jewry. Ninety eight percent of Lithuanian Jewry was destroyed in the Second World War. The few who survived attempted to rebuild what was lost in new environments and under far different life circumstances than those they previously experienced. Their success in so doing throughout the postwar Jewish world is a testament to their steadfastness and resilience. Rabbi Dessler was a prime example of this almost miraculous rebuilding effort. Jewish Cleveland was permanently changed for the better by the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland. When the naysayers denied any hope for a vibrant Jewish community there a few devoted people, personally scarred survivors of a terrible war such as Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler proved their pessimism to be wrong and ill founded. As such it is not only a personal loss that Rabbi Dessler’s passing has inflicted upon we that knew him but it marks the end of a personal link to what was once. There are very few if any Lithuanian yeshiva educated Jews still amongst us today. What it took many centuries to build was destroyed in three short years. Yet the ideas and greatness of Lithuanian Jewry survived and helped build the Jewish world we know today. This was done by people of truly heroic stature. Rabbi Dessler in his own unassuming and gentle manner was one of those heroes. He has left us a great legacy - a wonderful and leadership oriented family, thousands of former students, a flagship school of Jewish education and treasured memories of our wondrous past. May his memory be a blessing and inspiration to all of us who knew and cherished him and for all of Israel.
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