Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

8 Adar 5759 - Feb. 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Olom HaTorah is Melave Maran HaRav Dovid Povarski, zt'l

by Chaim Walder

This past Monday, tens of thousands of broken hearted, grief stricken Torah Jews accompanied the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, Maran HaRav Dovid Povarski zt"l on his last earthy journey. The levaya, which proceeded from the Ponovezh yeshiva was one of the largest Bnei Brak has ever known.

The bitter news of the petirah of the rosh hayeshiva, which spread like wildfire on Sunday night, left all of the world's bnei Torah bereft of a father.

Deep mourning enveloped the yeshiva from the moment the bitter news was heard a bit after 10 p.m. on Sunday night, and hundreds of students, who were deeply attached to their rav, walked about in silence, refusing to believe the sad tidings.

Hundreds of students flocked to his home on HaRav Wassermann Street, waiting for the bier. When it arrived, they burst out into heart rending cries.

Throughout the night, shifts of students remained in the home and, along with the family, recited Tehillim beside the bier. Students arrived from all over the country in the late hours of the night, bereft and grieved, and joined those who were reciting Tehillim.

In the morning, the students immersed in the mikveh, and the taharo was conducted immediately after shacharis kevosikin. Afterward, the Tehillim shifts continued, as thousands began to fill the nearby streets. At 9:30, the bier was removed and, accompanied by a huge throng, was transferred to the main study hall of the Ponovezh yeshiva, in whose tents the Rosh Hayeshiva had dwelled, day and night, for 54 years, which was a majority of even his long life.

Although the walk to the yeshiva should have been brief, it took a long time because of the immense size of the throng, and because of the weeping and the grief all felt. At 10 a.m. the bier reached the yeshiva's beis medrash, and R' Tzvi Eisenstein, therosh yeshiva of Tiferes Tzion began to recite Tehillim.

The large beis medrash of the yeshiva was filled to capacity -- even after all its furniture had been removed -- and including the porches and the roofs of the building. Masses crowded around the yeshiva's doors, and in the nearby streets. The Ponovezh yeshiva was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people in a broad radius of streets. Due to a lack of space, the hespedim had to be broadcast by amplifiers.

Bnei Brak was paralyzed for many hours due to the levaya, and many streets, in addition to those in the proximity of the yeshiva, were closed to traffic. The peak hours were from 10:30 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon.

The entire yeshiva world of Eretz Yisroel came to the levaya of the HaRav Dovid Povarski, rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, the mother and source of so many of the yeshivos in the country. All came to accompany the pillar of Torah who had gone to his eternal rest.

The hespedim began at 11 a.m. First of the maspidim was R' Eliezer Kahaneman, the son of the nosi of the yeshiva, R' Avrohom Kahaneman, who parted from the niftar in the name of the Kahaneman family after knowing the niftar for eighty years. HaRav Kahaneman's stirring and emotion-filled words caused the entire throng to burst into tears. "We cannot part from him," he said. "We will take with us what Rabbenu taught and the guidance he offered us."

Maspidim were, HaRav Boruch Dov Povarski (a son), HaRav S. Wosner, HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman, HaRav Michel Feinstein, HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, HaRav Gershon Edelstein, HaRav Nosson Tvi Finkel, HaRav Arye Finkel, HaRav Sholom Povarski (a son).

After the hespedim, as the Rosh Yeshiva left the beis medrash for the last time, a great wave of pain swept the assembled mourners. The tens of thousands formed a flood of humanity that flowed from the yeshiva to Chazon Ish Street toward the Bnei Brak cemetery. It was there, at about 3 p.m. that the Rosh Yeshiva reached his final resting place in the Netzivei Ponovezh section.

Hespedim The Hesped of HaRav Boruch Dov Povarski

Abba hakodosh. Throughout my life, I never took a step without consulting with you, and without asking your permission. This is the first time that I have to take a step without you. Abba hakodosh, I ask of you...

"This is the day on which the world came into being. On that day, Hashem Elokim called to weeping and mourning. Today, Hakodosh Boruch Hu calls to Klal Yisroel to weep and mourn." This maamar was said in relation to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. But Chazal say that the death of a tzaddik is a greater calamity than the Destruction. If so, this day is more mournful than the one on which the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.

What is the inner meaning of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash? Chazal have explained that the true tragedy lies in the departing of the Shechina from its place. Where did the Shechina concentrate itself? In Kodesh Kodoshim -- the place of the Aron Habris, which is the Torah hakedosha.

Today, a living sefer Torah has been taken from us. Who merits to be a living sefer Torah? Chazal teach that a living sefer Torah is one who has purified and sanctified himself to the point that he has no body, and everything is kedusha and taharo. One who is on such a level merits that the Shechina rests on him.

Abba hakodosh, we felt that you were a living sefer Torah. Your body was pure and holy. Chazal teach that during the 40 days that Moshe Rabbenu was in Heaven, the Torah was his nourishment. There is a reality in which one derives his vitality from the Torah. Regarding Abba, we saw that he was never interested in the pleasures of this world. His entire vitality came from the Torah, from words of yiras Shomayim, from the virtues of humility and chassidus.

The gemora says: "They sent from Tomm, `Who is a ben Olom Haboh? Shayif ayal, shayif nofik, goris be'Oraissa todir.' The rabbonon all looked at Rabba bar Ulla." It thus implies that only one in a generation has these virtues. We saw them in Abba. We saw in him a model of what it is to be here, but to live in Olom Haboh. He was totally pure, without any ulterior motives. All of his cheshbonos were not for himself. He was modest and humble.

When R' Akiva died, a Bas Kol cried out: "You are summoned to Olom Haboh. Tosafos explains: Summoned without a trial; without suffering. When Abba's soul departed his body, his external form did not change at all, because his body was also soul. His life was the life of the soul, and he constantly cleaved to Olom Haboh. This is the level of "without a trial, without suffering," because such a person was already in Olom Haboh while he was on earth, and there is no need to pass a verdict saying that he deserves Olom Haboh.

"When he died, diligence ceased." Where can we find such a person, who awoke at chatzos lailo in order to praise Him. One time, my mother hid his shoes so that he shouldn't go to the yeshiva so early. What did he do? He went out barefoot. The walls of the beis hamedrash will testify to that. We have lost all this.

"The lips of Hashem will preserve wisdom, and they will seek Torah from his mouth." Chazal teach that if the rav is like an angel of Hashem, people will seek Torah from him. The meforshim explain that this refers to a rav who is an emissary from Shomayim to transmit Torah to Israel. In every generation, those who will be Torah's transmitters were selected. He was a transmitter of Torah, yirah and mussar. He transmitted what he had heard from his rabbonim -- R' Yeruchom and the Griz of Brisk, under whom he merited to study in Vilna. He was the genuine talmid all of his life, and never left the tents of Torah. Regarding every one of his activities, he would contemplate: what would R' Yeruchom have done under similar situation?

Eyewitnesses report on the great esteem in which R' Yeruchom held him. He would stand up in Abba's presence. Abba drew from his rav much yirah and chochmah which he transmitted to his students with love and messirus.

Fortunate is one who has toiled in Torah, has grown in Torah and who is niftar with a good name. What is "a good name?" It is comparable to a fragrance, which wafts from one end of the world to the other, so that all delight in it. Such was the image of Abba. Merely looking at him was an inspiring and an edifying experience. He was one of whom Hakodosh Boruch Hu says: "See this being which I have created in My world."

We are orphaned. A void has been created. Who will guide us? Who will show us the way? Entreat the Hakodosh Boruch Hu to enable us to continue in the path which will cause nachas to Him. May we not deviate in any manner from the way you raised us. We ask that you be a meilitz yosher for us. Plead with before the Kisei Hakovod, you who immersed yourself in Torah all your life, out of exertion, under duress. When you suffered pain, and the doctor ordered you to go to the hospital, you went to the yeshiva and said a shiur. Surely you will merit to reach the Kisei Hakovod. Be a good interceder for the yeshiva, and plead that it follow in your way, and may we merit Techiyas Hameisim with rachamim and His many kindnesses.

The Hesped of HaRav Sholom Povarski

"I fear as I open [my mouth to speak]. How can I speak about so great a man? Who am I to merit to eulogize our great father?

Our heart's joy has been transformed into mourning. Yesterday we had our Abba hakodosh. Today we don't have him. The crown of our head has fallen. Woe to us, for we have sinned. The crown of the yeshiva hakedosha. The crown of Klal Yisroel. Woe to us, for we have sinned.

"Your thoughts are not Mine. Your ways are not Mine."

This is beyond my comprehension.

"Who raises up . . . "

HaKodosh Boruch Hu raises up, and along with this, lowers Himself, in order to behold [what is occurring] on earth.

We saw Abba, "Lowered in order to observe on earth." Abba, the one who raised. We didn't know how far he reached. The crown of our head. Woe we have sinned.

A crown -- how may types of crowns did we have?

A crown of Torah. It was 86 years since he left his father's home -- from a place of Torah to a place of Shechina -- higher, higher bakodesh. 86 years.

Such remarkable hasmodoh. Such deep yegia, without limits.

He once told me that when he was in the Mirrer yeshiva, he did not miss one seder, one shiur, one tefilla. It was only when he had to travel for shidduchim, that for the first time, "Dovid's place was empty."

The Torah was an integral part of his nature. We saw this concretely. One time he had a temperature of 40 (104). He almost couldn't speak. Suddenly he got up. They asked him where he was going. He said, "To the yeshiva." Chazal say: "Dovid Hamelech told the Ribono shel Olom: `Every day, my feet take me to the beis hamedrash.'

20 years ago, I came to visit him on Thursday night as usual. He had bronchitis, fever and was coughing. I asked him if he planned to get up at night to learn as usual. He replied: "Of course."

I asked him. "How can you get up in such a condition?"

He did not answer. I asked again, and he did not answer.

Ima hinted to me that I shouldn't relent, but should continue to ask. I tried again.

I asked him: "Is it: `It is Torah, and I must study'?" and he did not reply.

After a few moments, he told me about a certain rebbetzin, who was in critical situation and it was important that she eat, even on Yom Kippur. However, Yom Kippur arrived and she refused to eat. Her family brought a great professor to persuade her. After a brief conversation with her, the professor said to her: "You can fast."

The members of her family were astounded. The professor explained: "Fasting is truly dangerous for her. But I saw that eating will be even more dangerous for her."

"That's the answer to the question you asked me," he said.

Torah study was his health.

He had the crown of mesiras nefesh for everything sacred.

Listen to this story:

One Friday night, I asked him: "When I was an infant, did you sing Koh Ribon Olom at the Shabbos table with me on your lap?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Then why don't we sing zemiros now?" I asked.

He replied. "When we lived in Vilna under the Nazi regime, I did not know where you would grow up. So I sang the zemiros so that you would have a recollection of them. That you would imbibe them. Boruch Hashem, in Eretz Yisroel, we aren't afraid of that. It's better to go to learn."

The he added : "I suffered for many years from ulcers. Let me tell you how I contracted that disease. In the summer of 5600, we were in Vilna. I did not know whether we would ever emerge from there. At that time, I davened to the Ribono shel Olom, saying: Either take us out of here, or take us to You -- father, mother and children -- because if not for Your Torah what need have we of life.

"That summer, I contracted ulcers."

When he told me this story, I recalled the maamar about Shaul who went out to the war taking his sons with him. At that time, say Chazal, HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to the angels: "See the being which I created in My world."

One who goes to a house of festivities does not take his son with him, because of mar'is ayin.

But Shaul took his sons with him to war, knowing that his sons would be killed. Regarding this, HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: "See the being which I have created in My world."

Every father prays that his sons will live. And this one can pray that his son not lose Torah. "See the being that I have created in My world."

"Your thoughts are not Mine, and your ways are not Mine," We have no concept of "his uplifting." We see only "He lowers himself to observe."

Abba kodosh, be a good interceder on our behalf in this difficult period which is along the lines of "the candle of Hashem has still not been extinguished."

"He was the candle of Hashem."

Kibbud eim obligates me to mention that Ima had a significant part in all that you did in your life -- your learning, your hasmodoh, for she served you so loyally and with such messirus.

May we merit continue in your path, and according to the legacy you transmitted to us.

Young and Old Follow the Rosh Yeshiva

by Chaim Walder

An old, bearded man sat on the famous porch of the Ponovezh yeshiva, leaning on his cane and immersed in thought. He didn't weep. Every now and then he looked down at the massive throng which filled the entire hill of the yeshiva and all of the nearby streets. In order to look at the throng he was forced to turn his body, and it was evident that this was very difficult for him.

He noticed the papers in my hand, and said: "I don't know what to think, what to feel. You are children. What do you know? I knew R' Dovid from the time that no one could have imagined such a scene as this. Bnei Brak still wasn't Bnei Brak, and our community was small and frightened. And the yeshiva world? There was no such thing! Perhaps a few bochurim who studied, and they were very worried about their future.

"I sit here now and recall what happened fifty, sixty years ago. I know that he was a genuine man of truth, a true godol beTorah. Every night he came here to study in the yeshiva, when Ponovezh still wasn't Ponovezh -- and all that it is today wasn't even a dream.

"It saddens me that he is gone, and it saddens me that you do not know him. But I think of R' Dovid and I know that he is happy that things are as they have become, what you see all around. I do not cry because I know that all this is the answer to all those years that he sat and learned in want and in humility, without asking anything for himself. This crowd of bachurei chemed is his, it is R' Dovid's. I sit here, not far from his bier in the beis medrash. I am very saddened by his passing, but how can I cry when I know how happy he is?"

Suddenly, he bursts into tears, which shake me to the core of my soul, and a shudder passes through all those who are nearby, for what do we understand, and what do we know about a cry of grief, of happiness, of emotion, of a murky past?

Those who are standing near me and hear the words of the old man, know that they reflect all of the goodness which R' Dovid bestowed on us throughout his life, and of the great loss his petirah has brought.

Bochurim approach me, at first hesitantly, and then with more confidence, feeling that they have a mission. I listen to their stories and descriptions and write:

"He was a Kelemer," says one. "A genuine Kelemer. He did not make one superfluous movement. Even his smallest actions were calculated. He always walked to the yeshiva along the path near Beis Pick. One time, a fire broke out as he was walking, but he didn't even notice it. Someone approached him and said, `HaRav, there is a fire in the building there.' He didn't even turn around."

"One time," says another, "someone spilled water on him. He did not even look up to see what happened. Some say it was so as not to hurt the one who had accidentally spilled the water. Others say that there was simply no reason to do so, it would have been a superfluous movement."

"Nobility, stability, self-control, hasmodoh, yegia, kevius, consistency. These were the traits which characterized him. As long as he was healthy, learning did not stop for a moment in Ponovezh. He would arrive in the yeshiva in the middle of the night to begin his day.

There are many stories about his nightly study. One story is particularly shocking. Every night, a different student would escort him from his home to the beis hamedrash. One time the bochur whose turn it was to take him, didn't wake up. R' Dovid went by himself and he fell on Wassermann Street. For a full hour, he lay there in the nocturnal cold, until an avreich passed buy, picked him up and accompanied him to the yeshiva. If not for that avreich, who happened to tell the story, no one would have known about the incident. R' Dovid didn't say a word, perhaps so that the bochur wouldn't feel guilty, and perhaps because there was no need to tell it. R' Dovid wasn't one of those who spoke extraneous things.

"Purim, the bochurim accompany him to his home, singing," relates one of the students in the present tense, as if he still hasn't internalized the thought that this Purim they wonĄt accompany their beloved rosh hayeshiva, and as if he has forgotten that the last accompanying is taking place here and now. "I met him on Purim in the afternoon, and he was weeping. We asked him why, and he said that he was so upset by the kovod they showed me, that he couldn't study all night."

I try to speak about the topic of kovod, and all say: "Kovod was inconsequential to him."

The throng reaches the cemetery, which is transformed from white into black. Moreinu veRabbenu, the rosh hayeshiva, HaRav Dovid Povarski is brought to eternal rest in Bnei Brak, the city he helped become the Ir HaTorah. As we return, we feel we have left part of ourselves in the Netzivim plot. A generation goes, but what will become of us.

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