Graduation Speech RPK 2017

What do you think of when you hear the name R’ Chaim Volozhiner?

Perhaps you think renowned scholar.

You might remember that he was of the most prominent students of the Vilna Gaon.

That he founded the Volozhiner Yeshiva – a thriving place of learning for 90 years – the mother of all Lithuanian yeshivot.

You might remember that His great-grandson was R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis HaLevi, the first of the well-known luminaries of the Soloveitchik dynasty.

When one hears all of this, one’s imagination naturally drifts to thoughts of the ferocious dynamics of the Bet Midrash – the house of study, the analytical demands of Talmudic logic, the raw intellectual rivalry for which these schools are celebrated.

I would like to help shift your thinking about R’ Chaim Volozhiner and these yeshivot and this culture.

As scrupulous and as meticulous as these sages were around study – is as scrupulous and as meticulous as they were in the world of compassion chesed and middot.

In the preface to Rav Chaim’s book Nefesh HaChaim, R’ Chaim emphasizes his core axiom of life –

“The ultimate purpose of humans in this world is to better other people’s lives in every way possible.”

When I read this just recently – I was deeply moved.

“The ultimate purpose of humans in this world is to better other people’s lives in every way possible.”

It hit a core. It is both succinct and unequivocal.

In my mind Volozhin was the painstaking study of Gemara, the demanding discipline reflected in Soloveitchik intellect.

Upon further reflection — of course – how could it be otherwise?!?

The Book of Mishle teaches —

  דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם;  וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם.

The way of Torah is the way of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.

Pirke Avot teaches – לא עם הארץ חסיד

An uneducated person cannot be pious.

Our sages in the Gemara Kidushin after much debate concluded — which is greater study or deeds?

/vagn hshk thcn sunk,va wkusd sunk,

Study is greater, for it leads to action.

The goal is the kindness, compassion.

The care for others.

How do we arrive at this lofty goal?

How do we become sensitive to the needs of others?

Through the acquiring of knowledge – rigorous study.

This is the core teaching of Torah and the mission of the Seattle Hebrew Academy

“We develop students of character and integrity through the pursuit of Torah knowledge and secular studies,”

All the rest is commentary.

Graduates, the bracha that I bless you with this evening is that you learn well, that you achieve greatness in your future studies – fulfilling the dictum of R’ Chaim of Volozhin – to better other people’s lives in every way possible.

Mazel Tov.