Thursday, May 16, 2024

Parshas Emor 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor

9 Iyar 5784/ May 17, 2024 – 19th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 3


Sometime during the winter of 2018, I was perusing new titles in one of the local Monsey seforim stores, and noticed a new English Sefer titled, Mind over Man. It contained a collection of lectures from Rabbi Yechiel Perr, a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Far Rockaway, based on Sefer Madreigos Ha’adam of the Alter of Norvadok.

I had always felt somewhat intimidated by the approach of the Norvadok yeshiva, founded by the Alter of Norvadok. I knew that they heavily stressed shiflus ha’adam - the lowliness of human beings. That was in contrast to the famed Solobodka yeshiva where gadlus ha’adam - the greatness of man, was emphasized. The reality is that I didn’t really understand the Norvadok approach but because of that the new Sefer didn’t appeal to me.

A few weeks later, I and my daughter Aviva enjoyed a wonderful Shabbos in Las Vegas, at the home of our friends, Rabbi and Mrs Menachem Moskowitz. While there, I noticed the new book, Mind over Man, on Rabbi Moskowitz’s shelf, and I pulled it out and began reading it. What I read intrigued me and when I returned home, I purchased the Sefer.

I subsequently learned the entire Sefer and loved it. It became and remains one of my favorite mussar works I have ever learned. When the sequel, Faith over Fear, was published, I purchased it immediately. It was just as wonderful as the first.

Rav Perr presents his thoughts with unusual candidness and clarity. He unabashedly speaks his mind, even when it challenges societal norms. His thoughts are refreshingly genuine, insightful, and challenge the reader to grow.

A few years ago, I tracked down Rabbi Perr’s phone number and called him. I was excited when he answered. After briefly introducing myself, I expressed my gratitude to him for his seforim and all that I had learned from him. His humble reply was all the proof I needed (and I didn’t need proof) that he embodied his teaching: “I don’t know what I did to deserve such a phone call. But I very much appreciate the call.”


In the introduction to Mind over Man, Rabbi Perr offers a unique perspective on what mussar is and why it is so important: “I have only one word to describe what mussar means to me: hope. When a person reflects on his flaws, he can grow despondent. He becomes frightened by the natural blackness of his soul, realizing that the simple passage of time will not cleanse it. And time is passing. The days of his life are whizzing by, and the bad middos that accompanied him from his mother's womb are still with him. Once in a while, he works up the courage to ask himself the tough questions: "What am I going to become as a person? The years are passing; when will I ever become a mentsch?" The answer is: hope. Mussar gives me hope that I am not simply shackled to my character flaws; I can improve myself.

“Hope is key. What is life without hope? When people lose hope, they essentially stop living. They stop eating or caring; their life is not worth living. But mussar is a source of tremendous hope.”

While I didn’t have the zechus to know Rav Perr personally, I feel that he personally influenced me through his seforim. The positive spin on mussar being a potentially elevating force in one’s life, and granting him hope, is a beautiful perspective.


In an article he wrote about his rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Kotler at”l, Rav Perr related that one day when he was one of 70 bochurim learning in Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon, summoned him to the office. When he arrived, Rav Aharon informed him that he was sending Rav Perr to St Louis for two weeks to fundraise for the yeshiva. Rav Perr was quite upset, not understanding why he was chosen to undertake such an uncomfortable mission. When Rav Aharon called him back in a few days later to give him a list of homes he was to visit in St. Louis, Rav Perr built up the courage to ask Rav Aharon why he was responsible to go?

Rav Perr relates: “The Rosh Yeshiva paused an instant, gave me a piercing look, and then said in a tone that showed that he referred to far more than this matter: "Do you know why you are responsible? Because you can! That is why you are responsible."

Rav Perr concluded that the poignant message Rav Aharon conveyed was one that Rav Aharon lived by. He was constantly pushing himself to do more for Klal Yisroel. It was clear that he felt that as long as he could, he had a responsibility to do.


Last week Rav Yechiel Perr passed away at the age of 89. Judging from the little I know about Rav Perr from his lectures and the eulogies said about him, it’s quite clear that he internalized Rav Aharon’s message and incorporated them into his own life as well.

He prioritized the mind over the base aspects of man, and somehow remained humble in the process.

He did because he could!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum