When Hagaon Harav Yisrael Meir Ha’Kohen of Radin, the saintly author of such works as “Chafetz Chaim” and “Mishnah Berura”, was about ninety years old, he called for a gathering of all rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva in the vicinity of Vilna, Grodno, and Sobalk on the third of Sivan, 5690 (1930), to discuss ways to maintain the Torah institutions in these places in terms of material needs and to discuss ways to disseminate Torah to European Jewish youth. This was due to the fact that, unfortunately, the influence of the Maskilim (products of the Enlightenment Movement) in those days caused many Jewish children to be educated in ways that were very contrary to the Torah’s perspective and outlook. Indeed, much of European Jewry, including Russian and Polish Jewry, had taken a tremendous downward spiral spiritually, and unfortunately, many left religion altogether.
The entire audience, comprised of rabbis and respected members of the community, waited anxiously for the venerated Chafetz Chaim to arrive. When he entered the auditorium, the entire assembly trembled as they stood on their feet. The elderly rabbi, Hagaon Harav Shlomo Gordon, came close to the Chafetz Chaim and in a loud voice he recited the blessings of “Shehecheyanu” and “She’Chalak Me’Chochmato Lee’Re’av” (recited upon seeing a master Torah scholar who is a leader of the generation).
Hagaon Harav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski stood up at the podium and in his opening remarks, he explained how “this gathering was called by the great Kohen, leader of the generation, Maran Ha’Chafetz Chaim, in order to bolster support necessary for the existence of Torah institutions. The Rav continued and said, “The Mishnah in Yoma (19b) states that if the Kohen Gadol becomes drowsy on the night of Yom Kippur (due to advanced age), the younger Kohanim would snap their fingers at him to arouse him. It is amazing that instead of us, who are considered relatively younger, waking up the elderly Kohen Gadol of our times, just the opposite is happening; he is the one who is not allowing us to doze off. We must hold on with all our might to our holy Torah, and we must give everyone the great merit of supporting the Torah and disseminating it among Jewish youth!”
The Chafetz Chaim then addressed the crowd: “You can all see how in my advanced age I have made a great effort to come here today because I have been told that this will bring about good for the Torah. If, for an elderly man such as myself, I considered this trip worth all the effort for the good of the Torah, all the more so must you all do all that is within your power to prevent the Torah from being forgotten. The way of the world is that when one wishes to purchase an item he does not know so much about, he consults mavens who are greater than himself before doing so. Especially though, when one sees seasoned businessmen pursuing this merchandise in order to purchase it, one can be sure that this merchandise is high-quality and is indeed worth its price.”
“Regarding our holy Torah, it is said that the angels wished to receive it, as the verse states, ‘Place your glory upon the Heavens’. Clearly, since the Torah is completely spiritual and the angels are completely spiritual beings, it makes sense that they are the greatest experts when it comes to the value of the Torah. If so, how great should our joy be that Moshe Rabbeinu was victorious over the angels (in a dispute they had) and accepted the Torah on our behalf.”
“It is incumbent upon all of you to intensify your work to save Jewish youth from the hands of foreigners in schools belonging to those free of religion, where they are being educated with false knowledge, including denying Hashem’s existence and disregard for His Mitzvot; they know nothing about our holy Torah or fulfilling its Mitzvot and they become children who deny in Hashem and His Torah. Woe to the eyes which have seen this and woe to the ears which have heard this! How much pain will their parents endure in the World to Come when they will be escorted out of Gan Eden to see their children! This is similar to the explanation of the Gaon of Vilna on the verse (Mishlei 29, 17), ‘Rebuke your son and he shall leave you, and he shall provide comfort for your soul,’ that when a son is wicked, even if the father is righteous, he will be escorted out of Gan Eden and into Gehinnom in order to see his son, whom he has not raised according to the Torah’s values and performance of the Mitzvot, there. This is what is meant by ‘Rebuke your son and he shall leave you’-to your rest in Gan Eden, and he shall also ‘provide comfort for your soul.’”
The Chafetz Chaim continued: “Since the issue of properly educating Jewish children will arise during this meeting, I urge that every rabbi make sure to set up in his respective city an educational institution that follows the path of Torah with educators who are good and G-d-fearing to teach Torah to the children of Israel, for if not, these rabbis shall be prosecuted in the World to Come for not taking care of this matter and not admonishing the parents of these children. Woe is to the shame that shall cover the faces of those who had the ability to protest and did not!”
“Thus,” concluded the Chafetz Chaim, “Come, brothers and friends and let us do all that is in our power to save this generation from spiritual destruction and to educate them regarding Torah and Mitzvot, for as the verse states, ‘Educate the youth according to his own path; even when he grows old he shall not deviate from it.’”