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16 Tammuz 5759 - June 30 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Or Letziyon: A Beacon for the Yishuv
By Rabbi Aryeh Gefen

This Shabbos, 19 Tammuz, is the first yahrtzeit of HaRav Ben Tziyon Abba Shaul, zt"l, a great gaon and leader of Klal Yisroel, as well as rosh yeshivas Porat Yosef.

The beacon of HaRav Ben Tziyon's Torah shone from Eretz Yisroel with a new light that reached every corner of the Jewish world. It illuminated difficult topics and revealed halacha in its pristine clarity. HaRav Ben Tziyon's rulings were adopted by bnei Torah in yeshivos of every stream and every community, and were debated in the botei medrash by teachers and students alike. Never was there an air of leniency or stringency about any of HaRav Ben Tziyon's conclusions. Although they bore the stamp of originality, they were always the result of tremendously deep study of the topic, having been hewn from the bedrock of the gemora and subsequent works of halacha, according to the timeless principles which they contain within themselves.

Rather than attempt a survey of the foundations of HaRav Ben Tziyon's halachic thought, we present a selection of recollections and anecdotes which reveal him in his role as an original yet classic poseik.

The Path that Leads from Learning to Halacha

One of HaRav Ben Tziyon's talmidim, HaRav Yaakov Cohen, rosh yeshivas Kinyonei Hatorah, recalled his many years together with his great teacher and tried to reconstruct the approach to learning which led him directly from a sugya in the gemora to the practical halacha.

"When learning gemora, he impressed upon us the necessity of attempting to fully understand the difference between the gemora's initial reasoning and its reasoning in the conclusion, of squeezing every word of Rashi for the full depth of its meaning, of finding the answers to Tosafos' questions on Rashi within the gemora itself, of understanding why Tosafos offered two solutions to a problem and of working out when one of the answers applied but not the other one, why it had not been sufficient to give one answer and what practical difference would emerge from Rashi's explanation and from the differing answers of Tosafos. After this, he would proceed to the other Rishonim, studying their words with great care and distinguishing the points in which they differed from each other, until he arrived at the basic works of halacha, the Tur, Shulchan Oruch and the Rambam.

"Anything that was not completely clear, that doubtful points of interpretation could pull to one side or another, could not, by definition, belong to the pure, correct truth. If it did not lead to a clear and solid truthful conclusion, it was untenable."

It is said that HaRav Ben Tziyon made the following exceptional comment. "After my years of toil to clarify the opinion of Rabbenu Chananel in all the sugyos of Shas, of exhausting labor to reconcile his opinion wherever it appears in a clear and simple way, clearing it of all the questions of the Rishonim and Acharonim, it would certainly make me happy to see him coming out to greet me upon reaching that world which is wholly good."

"He took great care over understanding the language of our master, the Chazon Ish, to the point of applying it in practice. He once said that in his opinion, there were very few people who merited understanding the depth of the Chazon Ish's words correctly. Many skim over what he writes superficially, without penetrating his true meaning."

"[He would repeat what] our master and teacher HaRav Ezra Attiyeh zt'l, used to say: `If someone wants to test himself to see whether he is learning in the way that has been handed down to us by our teachers, he should note whether the questions of the Maharsha on the sugya have presented themselves to him from his own review. If he has asked the Maharsha's questions himself, he can be termed a lomeid, a student. If he also worked out the answer by himself, he can be termed a meivin, someone of understanding. If he also worked out the answers to the Maharshal's questions, that is a sign that he is a me'ayein, a thinker. And if he also managed to answer the questions asked by the Maharsha on the Maharshal, that is a trustworthy indication that he is a me'ayein heiteiv, a great thinker."

Here's a Gaon for You!

When HaRav Eliezer Silver, zt'l, visited Eretz Yisroel, he was invited to deliver a shiur before the students of Porat Yosef. The roshei hayeshiva and the talmidim were all very eager to see that the visiting member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America would carry away a good impression of their yeshiva. The bochurim were therefore asked to prepare the sugya which the yeshiva was then learning, especially well.

When HaRav Silver arrived, he opened his address with some divrei Torah and recollections of gedolei Yisroel he had encountered. Then, quite suddenly, as though he was an examiner, HaRav Silver posed a difficult question in seder Taharos -- a section of Shas which is studied relatively little in yeshivos -- to the talmidim. There was silence in the beis hamedrash.

HaRav Ben Tziyon was a young avreich at the time and he pushed his way forward to the front of the beis hamedrash in order to answer. The rosh yeshiva HaRav Attiyeh tried to hold him back but HaRav Ben Tziyon would not give in. He stood opposite the visiting gaon and gave him his answer.

HaRav Silver looked at him in astonishment and asked, "Have you seen this answer somewhere?"

"No," replied HaRav Ben Tziyon innocently.

"Here's a gaon for you!" exclaimed HaRav Silver. "I asked this question to HaRav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk and it took him some time, [in fact] a short while, before he gave me this very answer!"

In a letter of approbation for Yeshivas Porat Yosef which appeared in the pamphlet Masu'ot, HaRav Silver writes, "I visited Eretz Yisroel and boruch Hashem, Klal Yisroel is not bereft of great men. In Yeshivas Porat Yosef I met the future gedolei hador who will come from there." This was written after HaRav Silver had been gripped with excitement upon meeting the young HaRav Ben Tziyon Abba Shaul.

Why Didn't You Ask?

The counselor of an orphanage arrived with an urgent shaila one erev Shabbos. What was the din of a pot of meaty cholent that had been mistakenly covered with the lid of a milky pot? HaRav Ben Tziyon asked the counselor to go back and measure the diameter and the depth of the pot, as well as the thickness of the lid. In the meantime, he asked his wife to get ready to prepare another pot of cholent for the children of the orphanage.

Shabbos had already begun before the counselor returned. HaRav Ben Tziyon sat and studied the measurements and ruled that the food was permitted but he told the counselor to drop the milky lid he had been holding because it was muktzah!

HaRav Ben Tziyon's son told me that after the counselor left, his father turned to him and rebuked him openly. "I understand that the counselor is not a ben Torah, but you?! Why didn't you ask him how many times the milky lid had been lifted up and replaced on the meaty pot? Each time it is put back, there's a new absorption of forbidden taste!"

Afterwards, with unconcealed love, HaRav Ben Tziyon climbed up to the highest shelf of his bookcase, took down the sefer, Zivchei Tzedek and proved from what he writes that a rav doesn't need to inquire how many times the lid was put on the pot.

A Surprising Source

Before beginning his shiur, HaRav Ben Tziyon noticed that a bochur had carelessly banged into a wall with his chair and had left a small scratch.

"Which issur have you transgressed?" he asked the bochur.

A heated debate ensued among the members of the shiur, as to whether or not the scratch on the wall could be regarded as damage, and about additional aspects of the matter. When the discussion died down, HaRav Ben Tziyon surprised everybody with his originality by remarking, "In parshat Re'ei (12:3- 4), the pasuk says, `You shall smash their altars, break their monuments, burn their groves in fire and hack down the statues of their gods and obliterate their names from that place [Eretz Yisroel]. Do not do so to Hashem your G-d."

He continued, "In the Sifrei, Chazal derived a prohibition from this pasuk against erasing Hashem's Name and breaking a stone off the mizbeiach. Batei knesset and batei medrash are referred to as being `miniature sanctuaries,' as the Shulchan Aruch rules in Orach Chaim siman 152, therefore, someone who even slightly damages their walls transgresses the prohibition of, `Do not do so to Hashem your G-d.' "

Release from a Ban

HaRav Ben Tziyon heard that a bochur had insulted and shamed one of the yeshiva's workers. The talmid had been under the impression that the worker had acted brazenly towards him and that he had insulted him. The Rosh Yeshiva called the bochur over and without getting into a discussion of the particulars simply said to him, "Come, let's release you from the ban."

"Release from the ban? What for? Who placed me under a ban and why?"

"Listen carefully," HaRav Ben Tziyon told him gravely. "The worker was appointed by the yeshiva's board and he has the standing of an emissary of beis din. The halacha is that someone who shames an emissary of beis din is liable to be placed under a ban." The bochur was accordingly released from the ban before ten people and the standing of the yeshiva workers rose tremendously as a result.

It Happened to Me

HaRav Ben Tziyon wrote, "It happened that I merited siyata diShmaya at the time of a certain incident and a miracle was performed for me. At one of the britot that I was asked to be mohel, I noticed that the baby had a slight indisposition in one eye. The father had a talmid who was an eye doctor and he asserted that the brit would not adversely affect the baby. However, under no circumstances was I willing to do the brit, since the Shulchan Aruch rules that, `If someone's eyes are slightly painful, or the like, we wait until he has recovered.'

"Later it was discovered that all the baby's blood was infected and poisoned, Rachmono litzlan. Who knows what would have happened had the mila been done? They only allowed him to have his brit three months later. Because I fulfilled the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch without making any reckoning and I did not listen to what the doctor said, I merited siyata diShmaya and the baby was thereby saved."

I am Shlomo!

Rav Eliyahu Abba Shaul relates that at a hesped which he gave for his father in the northern part of the country, he told the story of a traditional family who had been neighbors of his parents. The mother of the family had given birth to two handicapped daughters; both were deaf and dumb.

"Although the doctors had identified a genetic fault, father promised them, "A healthy son, and be'ezrat Hashem, I will be the mohel. Before a year had passed, they had a son, father was the mohel, and the boy was named Shlomo. After the hesped, a chareidi avreich approached me with his two children and said, `I am Shlomo! I'm here through the brocho of your father which you described, and these are my children. I have done teshuvah and these are the children whom Hashem has blessed."

On Condition You Don't say Anything

I was once asked a she'eilo by an avreich. I was very tired and I told him to ask rav ploni. We continued walking together part of the way and then he said to me, "But that rav is too lenient." At the time I didn't react at all but later I regretted it. How could I have listened to deprecating talk about a talmid chacham? Perhaps I would be punished for my part in shaming a talmid chacham?

I met the avreich in beit knesset the next day and I told him, "I want to reprimand you but only on condition that you don't say anything. Just hear me out and listen to what I say. If you don't agree, I won't reprimand you." He agreed.

I said, "You and I, both together will not reach the level of that rav. So what exactly did you mean by saying that Rav Ploni is too lenient? What are you talking about? I love you and that's why I'm rebuking you. Promise me that from today, you will be careful about what you say and you won't speak like that any more." The avreich accepted the rebuke and said, "I was wrong." I was glad that I had reproved him.

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