Guiding the Future // Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron, shares his thoughts on chinuch

Rechov Habukharim right off Rechov Yechezkel is a long way from Givat Mordechai, where Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael, more commonly known as Yeshivas Chevron, is located. But that is where Rav Dovid Cohen, one of its roshei yeshivah, resides. Aside from leading a yeshivah with a student body that is over 1,400 strong, Rav Dovid also serves as the nasi for many other organizations and delivers weekly shiurim and divrei chizzuk in yeshivos, kollelim and batei midrash throughout the country. In light of his busy schedule, I was surprised that the rosh yeshivah himself picked up the phone when I called to ask if I could come speak with him. “When would you like to come?” he wanted to know. I was taken aback not only by his immediate acquiescence, but also by his desire to accommodate me. Of course, I told the rosh yeshivah that I would be thrilled to come whenever it was convenient for him, knowing how packed his day is. 

Since I have arrived well in advance of my scheduled appointment, I choose to stand across the street and watch a group of bachurim exiting the building. The rosh yeshivah escorts them out and greets a couple that has been waiting to enter. Shortly before the appointed time, I make my way across the street and Rav Dovid opens the door. He is wearing neither a frock nor a homburg. 

“Make yourself comfortable,” he says as he brings me to his study before heading off elsewhere to conclude his previous meeting. The rosh yeshivah walks with a slight limp, a sign of his recent health issues, but he still dedicates many hours night and day to serve the klal. 

Rav Dovid’s study features a small desk and walls lined with shelves sagging in the middle from the weight of the many sefarim they support. Against one wall is a small cot, where, I assume, the venerable rosh yeshivah rests when (or if) he takes a break from his learning. The desktop is laden with sefarim, handwritten notes and a telephone. A volume of sefer Devarim lies open, one of a relatively new set of Chumash HaGra, but its pages are already well worn and its margins are filled with notations and comments. Next to it is a page of notes, presumably in preparation for one of the many vaadim the rosh yeshivah gives even during summer bein hazmanim.

Rav Dovid enters the room and makes sure that I am comfortable. He is happy when I mention that his namesake, Rav Dovid Cohen of Flatbush, sends his regards. “Rav Dovid and I go back many, many years,” the rosh yeshivah tells me. “He is one of the greatest iluyim I have ever met. An emese talmid chacham. My father-in-law connected us when I had to travel to the United States for an operation. We spoke in learning and grew close. Later, when his children learned in Eretz Yisrael, they visited me often. He is an extremely chashuve person.” 

The rosh yeshivah himself was known to be an iluy from a young age. When he was learning in Chevron, all of the other talmidim used to speak with him in learning. Rav Chizkiyahu Mishkovsky, the mashgiach of Orchos Torah, told me that although he was officially a chavrusa of Rav Dovid, in actuality Rav Dovid would pick up the sugya being discussed in depth and help Rav Mishkovsky with his questions. 

“There were basically two yeshivos in those days, and I lived in Yerushalayim,” Rav Dovid tells me, explaining his choice of studying in Chevron over Ponevezh. “My rebbe was Rav Chatzkel [Sarna]. His shiur was very b’iyun, but he covered ground.” 

As Rav Dovid reminisces about his early days, he starts drawing comparisons between the bachurim of yesteryear and today’s youth. 

Amahl, bachurim huben gehat a geshmak in lernen—In the past, bachurim had a taste for learning and derived pleasure from it. Today, that’s a lot harder to achieve. But without a geshmak, there can be no success in learning. In the Birkas Habanim on Erev Yom Kippur, we bentch our children to have a cheishek in learning, a desire for it. Another thing that’s essential is to have a geshmak in davening, which is also difficult to achieve. But with the right chinuch, children can be imbued with a geshmak for both learning and tefillah. The true struggle of our times is the lack of emunah that is pervasive in today’s bachurim. It leads them to various thoughts and actions that disturb their growth in ruchniyus.”

When I ask the rosh yeshivah to elaborate, he deflects the inquiry, saying that some of the details are best not discussed in a public forum, but he does clarify what he means by a lack of emunah. 

“I’m not talking about a lack of belief in the existence of the Ribbono Shel Olam. I’m referring to a lack of belief in hashgachah pratis, bachurim who don’t believe in s’char va’onesh or Torah min hashamayim. They don’t truly understand the tachlis of a Jew or what a life of Torah is supposed to look like.” 

For example, some bachurim may blame external factors for things that happen or question the value of a life devoid of gashmiyus. “We have to teach our children the maalos and romemus of the Torah. For the rest of the world, the main objective of life is to amass as much money as possible and to enjoy the world’s pleasures. For Yidden, it’s all about living a life of Torah. People are so engrossed in gashmiyus and how to attain it these days. Even bnei Torah are preoccupied with trying to have it both ways.

“The yetzer hara has been a problem in every generation, and this dor’s great struggle is clearly with technology. Here in Eretz Yisrael we are waging war, hoping to keep it out of the homes of our bnei Torah. But I am told that the challenge in America is even worse, and that technology has made greater inroads in the frum community.” 

Rav Dovid has been the face of this fight and speaks out against technology whenever an opportunity presents itself, not only because he recognizes its dangers but because he has seen case after case in which it has destroyed homes and caused irreversible damage. 

“I have personally seen how those who succumb to its allures have a difficult time recovering. The pasuk in Mishlei [2:19] states, ‘Kol ba’eha lo yeshuvun—None who go to it return.’ With regard to the Internet, I would say that ‘kimat lo yeshuvun’—it is almost impossible to return.”

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