Chapter Twenty-Eight is the second part of a translation
done for Yated-English from the book "Halaila Einenu Ofel -
The Night is Not Dark", a memoir of her grandfather's early
years in the yeshivos of Europe, written by Yehudit Golan,
published by Feldheim. [We recommend reading the original in
not-too-difficult and very fascinating narrative.]
We previously found young Yitzchok'l (today the noted Rosh
Kollel of Etz Yosef, R' Yitzchok Eliyohu Bernstein shlita) in
a quandary. His hard-earned money had been confiscated by his
brothers and he did not have the fare to return home for
Pesach. He buries his woes in intensive study and his
diligence is noted by the Rosh Yeshiva, R' Elchonon Wasserman
Hy'd, who invites him to his seder.
Yitzchok returned to his room, this time alone, to pass the
remaining three days before Pesach in study, eating with
friends who lived in Baranowitz, among them, Shlomo Levine,
who also subsequently became a noted talmid chochom
and Mendel Kaplan, today Rosh Yeshivas Heichal HaTorah in
Erev Pesach arrived. Baranowitz was transformed into a
sparkling clean town in honor of the approaching festival. In
all homes, people were bustling with last-minute
preparations. Heady spring perfumes mingled with the smells
of soap and here and there one could already detect the
pleasant smell of food cooking: soup, meat, fish...
Yitzchok'l was anxious. Would R' Elchonon remember his
promise? He had extended the invitation two weeks earlier,
but nothing had been mentioned in the interim. What if he had
Yitzchok'l did not dare ask, nor did he make any provisions
for another place for the seder. He, himself, did not
have a thing, neither wine nor matzos...
The sun slipped westward and in the yeshiva, maariv
was on the threshold. Everyone looked magnificent, like
angels. R' Elchonon also took his place.
Yitzchok'l's heart pounded. If R' Elchonon did not beckon to
him, he would remain all alone, alone in this world of
Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and would have to rely on some
householder's kindness in gathering him into his home.
The prayers were about to end. Yitzchok'l stole a sideward
glance at R' Elchonon. They were already saying Adon
Olom... R' Elchonon turned around, searching for someone
with his eyes. Then, with measured step, he strode
purposefully... yes, straight towards him!
"Yitzchok'l, gey mit mir." Yes, he explicitly said it.
Yitzchok'l's heart, which had skipped a beat, now made up for
it by pounding excessively. His soul was revived at this very
moment. R' Elchonon had not forgotten!
The walk from the yeshiva, on Ovira St., took ten minutes.
Yitzchok'l walked behind R' Elchonon, a wave of emotions
engulfing him. He was the only one from all of the yeshiva
students who was privileged to be invited this year to R'
Elchonon's home! Who could compare to him!
Yitzchok'l stood in the doorway. The long table was covered
with a snowy-white cloth, ironed stiff. Tall candles graced
the table. Everything was so immaculately clean! Utter
silence reigned. A fly in the room would have been
R' Elchonon's two young sons, Naftoli and Leibel, sat by the
table in silence. The Rebbetzin, daughter of R' Atlas and
sister-in-law of R' Chaim Ozer, also sat mute. Yitzchok'l
took his seat, next to R' Elchonon's sons, waiting for the
Rosh Yeshiva, who entered the room a few moments later. R'
Elchonon, solemn and somber, took his place at the head of
the table and began conducting the seder.
Yitzchok'l was expecting singing, like at home, all the
children together, lebedik...
But R' Elchonon began in a severe, measured voice, in
Yiddish, and announced: "It is exactly now three thousand,
three hundred and... years since we left Egypt, and we are
still celebrating this liberation and the joy which we were
privileged to merit then, at the exodus."
He then immediately began the Kadesh and proceeded
with the Hagaddah, adding and explaining very sparsely, in an
even, unmodulated tone throughout.
R' Elchonon explained the Haggadah according to its simple
pshat! He began with "In the beginning, our
ancestors..." and continued on, according to the text,
without dwelling on any points or interjecting any
midrashim or commentaries. Wherever he noticed that
something seemed obscure, he would add two words in Yiddish
which illuminated the entire matter with amazing clarity.
And then he reached the words, "Rabboseinu, the time
has come for kriyas shema shel shacharis." He paused
and asked, "How can it be that these Sages did not know by
themselves that the time had come to recite shema? Why
did they wait for their disciples to tell them?"
He explained: "If one studies Torah, he is absolved of all
other mitzvos until the very last minute that one can
still perform them. Then, when one reaches the final moment,
one stops Torah study to recite the shema."
Grandfather remembers the succeeding words as if he were
hearing them at this very moment. "Shlomo Hamelech likewise
said: `Whoever removes his ear from hearing Torah, his prayer
is also despised.'
"What does this mean? That if Torah scholars are engaged in
study, and one of those gathered says, `I must leave now
because of the obligation for prayer,' then his prayer is
abominated, because it is forbidden to interrupt Torah study
He continued and said that the Vilna Gaon (and, incidentally,
R' Elchonon's disciples also referred to their master by the
acronym Gra) asks: "Why is his prayer abominable?"
He explained by asking, "How does it come about that someone
does not wish to hear words of Torah? In a yeshiva, it can
happen that students may have heard this shiur the
previous year and don't wish to hear it repeated. In this
case, their prayers are likewise worthless, for did they not
pray yesterday? Why pray again, with the same words, today?
What's the difference?"
He concluded, "This is why those Torah Sages assembled in
Bnei Brak were in no hurry to interrupt their study."
This was the only dvar Torah which R' Elchonon said at
that seder table.
The reciting of the Haggadah was conducted without singing,
while those at the table listened in solemn silence, without
uttering a syllable.
When the time came for shulchan orech, the Rebbetzin
disappeared for a moment and returned with laden hands.
Everything had been prepared in advance, as if angels had
done the work. In a flash, the laden platers were placed on
The singular seder of R' Elchonon would forever be
engraved upon Yitzchok'l's memory. It was not a table of
people who ate and drank; it was like angels partaking of
heavenly fare. The family members sat opposite R' Elchonon in
solemn awe, in holiness. And whenever they looked directly at
him and how he bore himself, at his motions and nuances, they
would shudder with sacred reverence.
The act of eating in R' Elchonon's home was conducted with
extraordinary decorum (R' Elchonon came from Latvia, where
comportment was precise and `Yekkish'). No one took a
second portion. Everyone had a full setting of whatever was
required, and they all ate in silence until they finished.
After the meal, they continued on with the Haggadah. They
said birkas hamozon and recited Chad Gadya and
Echod Mi Yodaia in unison, without melody, with R'
Elchonon's voice leading in a measured tempo, "Chad Gadyo,
chad gadyo..." until the end.
The entire seder from beginning to end did not take
very long, perhaps two and a half hours. When it was over, R'
Elchonon rose from his seat and retired to a small study.