Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Sparks Of Fire: Glowing Embers From The Life Of HaRav Shimshon Pincus zt'l

By Rephoel Gartner

Part II

There was a fire burning perpetually within the heart of HaRav Shimshon Pincus zt'l. It was a restless fire, constantly moving and flickering in an array of hues; now bursting into huge upward reaching leaps; now sending out showers of sparks to ignite similar fires within other hearts. What fed this fire? It was no fuel that originates in this world. It was fed from within, by a soul whose sustenance flowed along a direct conduit from Heaven. This spiritual fuel flowed and flowed, freely, generously and bountifully, until the night of the twelfth of Nisan this year, when the conduit and the fire suddenly merged into one, becoming a tower of flame joining Heaven and earth, that carried the souls of HaRav Pincus, his Rebbetzin, and their daughter a'h, to their yearned for destination.

The devastating news stunned the members of HaRav Pincus' kehilloh in Ofakim, the other Torah communities of the Negev, the large chareidi centers, and Jews in other locations in Eretz Yisroel and across the world where he had travelled to speak and lecture. Scant days after the tragedy Pesach began, and the feelings of grief that had scarcely begun to make themselves felt, had to be laid aside in deference to the joy of the regel.

In the weeks that followed, gatherings were held up and down the country, to eulogize a gaon and tzaddik who had literally sacrificed every minute of his time and every ounce of his strength towards kiddush sheim Shomayim.

This account has been compiled from the memories of family members and friends. It is a kaleidoscopic picture, a shifting succession of times and places, but the variety merely serves to heighten the realization that at the core of everything was the fervent desire to emulate Hashem and to reveal His greatness to people.

Chesed Unlimited

Young children would run after Reb Shimshon on the streets of Ofakim and call out their news to him, "Rabbi, Rabbi, We're going to Savta for Pesach . . . " Though his mind was immersed in spiritual preparations for the seder night, Reb Shimshon would adjust himself to the children's level and take an interest in what was important to them.

One boy, who was laying tefillin in preparation for his bar mitzva, did not know that the yud, the knot of the shel yad, should be touching the bayis. Reb Shimshon went over to him and in a friendly manner, pointed this out. The boy, noting his companion's extraordinary gentleness, began to argue that it didn't have to.

Reb Shimshon was among the first to own a computer. His laptop was perhaps the first in Eretz Yisroel. He would type chidushei Torah of young talmidim on it. He used this as an opportunity to guide them as to how to write their chidushim. He would polish the language, checking its accuracy, correcting and improving it. "Look here," he told one avreich. He went over to the bookcase, took out a Reb Chaim and showed him that every piece opened by presenting a difficulty in the Rambam. Reb Chaim also teaches us how to write, said Reb Shimshon. One should start with a kushya right at the beginning; then the reader won't be able to leave the piece until he sees the answer.

He would also type the young children's sheet, so that they would develop the desire to write.

Once, at the barber's, he was offered the next turn ahead of the line, but he refused. In the meantime, an elderly man came into the shop. The rav rose in his honor and naturally, everybody else rose as well. Seeing how the rav had honored the old man, the other customers offered the first turn to him instead.

Reb Shimshon would make light of his wide brimmed hat and say, "When the Beis Hamikdosh is rebuilt and we go up to be seen there, I will have somewhere to hide from His glorious greatness . . . "

Reb Shimshon's myriad acts of chesed, of a thousand different kinds, arouse our wonderment. How was one man able to devote himself to others to such an unlimited extent?

Reb Shimshon himself provides us with an answer, though not in reference to himself. In notes made by one of his talmidim, ylct'a, Yechezkel Gordon, we find that he posed the following question: "I have a four year old daughter at home, an innocent and pure child. Does the Torah command me, a devoted father, to send her to the local water well and to draw water for the camels belonging to ten Arabs? This however, was the sign that Eliezer asked for. The girl who would say, `Drink and I will also give your camels to drink,' she is the one that You have demonstrated is for Your servant Yitzchok (Bereishis 24:14). Does the Torah expect such a devotion to others from a young girl?"

The answer which Reb Shimshon gave was: "Avrohom Ovinu was not simply a kind person. He was master of the trait of kindness. For someone who embodies the very trait itself, there is no limit, no boundary and no measure. The essence of chesed is the utter abandonment of self for the sake of others."

For Reb Shimshon, the only place where the word onochi, I, belonged, was in the aseres hadibros. As far as he himself was concerned, no such concept existed.

He opened a vaad on tefilloh with the question, "Why is it that we say Modeh ani and not Ani modeh? Because first, we offer thanks to the Creator and only then do we relate to the party that was created."

Someone who is totally involved in thanking his Creator, therefore, does not relate to himself at all. Is it any wonder that Reb Shimshon had no time for himself?

Radiating Friendship to All

No wonder, either, that the scope of Reb Shimshon's chesed was so broad and its nature so multifaceted. One of its beneficiaries was Yeshivas Rashi in Yerushalayim, headed by HaRav C. Miletzky. Reb Shimshon adopted the yeshiva as his own. He befriended the bochurim and got them to change and to grow. The shmuessen which he delivered there were unusual. Everybody sat together around a table and Reb Shimshon began to deliver pearls of wisdom. It was more like a vaad, or a council of friends. The warmth and friendliness that he radiated was what made the difference.

There was a time when Reb Shimshon was staying in Yerushalayim. A bochur related that every time that he was assailed by feelings of depression, he would go and watch Reb Shimshon davening. That alone gave him the necessary encouragement.

Reb Shimshon would deliver his shmuessen in Yeshivas Rashi in the evenings, after having spoken six or seven times in the course of the day. He would arrive at the yeshiva exhausted and drained, yet the moment the shmuess began, his eyes would gleam and he was full of energy. "He didn't deliver shmuessen in our yeshiva; he came and demonstrated what experiencing Hakodosh Boruch Hu means!" is one of the comments heard in Yeshivas Rashi.

In his enthusiasm, Reb Shimshon would look and smile, as if to say, "You don't understand me; you don't know what you are missing . . . " He loved them and they loved him in return.

Reb Avrohom Deutsch relates: "After the accident, a Jew from Gibraltar called me up and cried and cried. I told him, `Many Jews are distressed.' He dismissed this: `You loved him but to me he was a father. My father.' Reb Shimshon had travelled to Gibraltar for four days especially to learn with him.

"The real point is that one hears things like this from many dozens of people, to all of whom Reb Shimshon was `the closest.' "

An avreich from Yerushalayim says, "When my father passed away, he was the only one who comforted me. Now that he has passed away, there is no one who can comfort me."

To Every Supplicant

When considering the broad sweep of Reb Shimshon's tzedokoh, there are literally thousands of stories that can be told that simply do not seem to belong to our world and frame of reference. Vast sums passed through his hands, yet he was still able to raise his fingers heavenward and say, "Ribono Shel Olom, You know that I have labored over Your Torah and have not benefited personally in the slightest!"

His son, Reb Yaakov Moshe, says, "We knew that one mustn't put money into Father's hands. It would simply leave them. People were amazed. They said to themselves: `Rav Pincus travels all over the world. He must be a tycoon, who rakes in millions.' We had to send people to explain to them that Rav Pincus himself was a pauper!"

Reb Avrohom Deutsch relates: "I approached one of the people who used to invite him to speak at seminars. I asked him, `Why don't you pay him anything?'

"He replied, `I pay him, but he doesn't take it. I give him a check and he tears it up. What shall I do with him? I told him, "Let me at least pay you for your travelling expenses." He replied, "What, for the gasoline? It's embarrassing to take for that." ' "

When recently a large sum of money was offered to him, a sum to which he was rightfully entitled, he at first refused it. In the end he gave in and said, "Perhaps for Miriam's wedding . . ." But Hashem took her.

A Woman's Merit

"How do women merit [a portion in Olom Haboh]? They wait for their husbands to come from the beis hamedrash . . . " (Brochos 17). Nobody in our generation fulfilled this to a greater extent than Rebbetzin Pincus a'h.

Her husband's beis hamedrash was as vast as the world and was bound by neither time nor space. She valiantly shouldered the full burden of running their home. "We do not share much time together in this world," Reb Shimshon would say to her, "but in the next, we'll be together a lot."

She also fulfilled the second thing that the gemora mentions: "and they take their sons to the beis haknesses [to learn]." Reb Shimshon never complained about anything, except for one thing, "I ache from longing for my children." His comfort was that the children were in his rebbetzin's pure and faithful hands. He would repeatedly mention his merit in being able to rely upon her completely in everything relating to the children's upbringing and education. "She knows about each child, where they are every minute." He would say that it was her pure hearted prayers "that maintain every child. Everything that we have is due to Imma's tefillos!" There was not one Shemoneh esrei that she did not weep copiously. She trained the children to say Tehillim in their spare time, in a special chant.

Her self-effacement before her husband was well known. Her daughters related that they only knew her as a strict headmistress in school; at home, she always deferred to her husband. Once, she called somebody up to request that they undertake a particular errand. She had to use considerable powers of persuasion to get the person's agreement. When Reb Shimshon came home, he took a different view. She immediately ran to the phone and called the person back, using all her powers of persuasion to convince them that earlier on, she had been mistaken.

A Close Friend for Years

I met Rav Avrohom Deutsch, Reb Shimshon's very close friend and right hand man, who is a member of the Ofakim town council.

"When my wife fell ill," Rav Deutsch begins, "Reb Shimshon travelled abroad with her several times for operations; he spoke English. I remained at home to look after the children. Think about it for a moment: a rov leaves everything and travels abroad for extended periods. At first, I tried to say no to the idea but he told me, "I'm not asking you what to do anyway!" He went to Santiago, near the Mexican border, for seven weeks, to some place off the beaten track. The whole time, he sat by himself in a room and learned. My sister was with my wife and he was their chauffeur and attendant for two months! He also purchased the food. Show me one other Jew in the world who would do such a thing.

"Professor Schreiber of Bar Ilan University called me up and told me that he was in Santiago at the time and that he was impressed with the Deutsch family's good driver and he used him himself. Now he called me in tears: `What did I do? Who was I using?'

"Before one of the operations, the doctor recommended that she go out to get some fresh air. He took them to a park and arranged to return for them five hours later. After half an hour, my sister found him writing chidushei Torah under a tree. When the five hours, plus a few minutes, had passed, he arrived panting and apologized for the delay.

"One of the operations took place in Manhattan. That morning, he drove to Shomrei Shabbos in Boro Park for tefilloh. My sister told me that she received a call from a friend who wanted to know what tragedy had taken place in the Pincus family? This friend's brother-in-law had gone that morning to ask Reb Shimshon to speak in Flatbush and had seen him taking forty-five minutes over the Amidah, and shedding rivers of tears. She was convinced that something terrible must have happened. My sister told her that my wife had undergone an operation that day and that he'd simply gone to daven. She didn't believe her. `It can't be. He was crying like a baby.' That was Reb Shimshon.

"Nobody realized the levels he attained. When a youngster came to his house, he would offer him snack foods as though they were the same age. `Want some Bissli? Some cola?' with such a good heart. His broadness, his openness of spirit in relation to others, were extraordinary. Would you like to see what he gave me?" asks Reb Avrohom, as he gets up and goes over to a glass case. "Look at these beautiful silver candlesticks. He gave to others as though he was a rich man, or a noble; but for himself, nothing. Take a look at his rundown home, you'll be amazed.

"He gave me his apartment and he went to live in the other entrance." Reb Avrohom gives me a guided tour and points out to me, "Here is the second apartment. One day he told me that my house was going to be extended over there and that he would move. I complained and told him that here, we were close to one another, we lived together -- we were closer than brothers -- but if you move, I won't see you. This was how the problem was solved," says Reb Avrohom, pointing at a door. "Can you see this door? It joins the two apartments. Reb Shimshon said, `If you or I need anything, we'll just give a knock and come in.' "

The short time that had elapsed since Reb Shimshon's petiroh and Reb Avrohom's emotion, led me to wonder how Reb Avrohom was managing to keep a grip on himself. "Are you made of steel?" I asked him.

"It's siyata deShmaya. They called me up on that terrible night at two-thirty a.m. to check whether there had been any more children in the car. The police were concerned. From that moment, until the following night, I was on the go. I felt superhuman strength, unparalleled siyata deShmaya, that enabled me to cope with something like that."

Each One an Individual

Reb Shimshon was once advising an avreich about public speaking. He told him, "Usually, speakers look at the size of the gathering and they therefore speak `big,' and are not focused, with the result that the audience remains unmoved and apathetic. I spoke at a function where there were fifty thousand people. My eyes locked onto one big, broad bochur and I delivered my entire speech to him. And every one of the fifty thousand felt that I was speaking to him personally."

Anyone who has an inkling of Reb Shimshon's great heart, knows that he really was speaking to each one of the fifty thousand people in the audience!

Helping Others Bear Their Burdens

An avreich, who had not yet had children, approached Reb Shimshon on Purim night and asked him to daven for him and his wife. Reb Shimshon chastised him, "Do you think that there's a single tefilloh when I don't mention your name and your wife's name?"

A year later, on Purim night, Reb Shimshon called the avreich and asked him whether they had not yet received an answer to their prayers. The avreich said that, no, they had not. Reb Shimshon asked him again and the answer was once more in the negative.

After a while, Reb Shimshon called the avreich and became annoyed with him. "Haven't you been answered yet? If I don't have to rip the heavens open -- and it's extremely difficult -- then don't do it to me!"

The avreich broke down and told Reb Shimshon that because they were worried about ayin hora, he and his wife had decided not to tell a living soul that she was expecting. "Reb Shimshon felt that the prayer had been answered," commented the avreich.

A Matzo Sandwich of Chometz

Reb Shimshon's originality was well known. He could find ways to reach people where others could not. Once, while `selling' the aliyos on Purim, the gabbai announced, "Fifty shekels for opening the Oron hakodesh." Reb Shimshon leaped to the bimah and said, "Pesichoh, for saying asher yotzar word by word for one month." When someone undertook to do this for three years, Reb Shimshon awarded him the mitzvoh.

A woman once consulted him about a pill that was made from chometz that she had to take on Pesach. Reb Shimshon was concerned that she might not take the medication even though she had to and he wanted to make it clear to her that it was permitted. "What's the problem?" he said, "Put matzoh all around the pill and then it's absolutely okay." The woman did as he said, and was reassured.

Once, the Toldos Aharon institutions held a fund raising drive in Ofakim. In a piercing voice Reb Shimshon called, "I know that you have no connection to Toldos Aharon. But don't give to Toldos Aharon, give to the Ribono Shel Olam! Where is a Jew's sense of self-sacrifice?"

The rebbe of Toldos Aharon said that the collection was an unbelievable success. Tens of thousands of dollars were collected!

When a collection was organized for a communal worker who had become enmeshed in debt and people were not overly enthusiastic about giving money to pay debts, Reb Shimshon got up and said, "It's really the other way around! When someone asks for money so that he can do worthy things with it, people give, although it's not certain that his endeavors will succeed. Here, we're dealing with a case where we know that what he did was a success. Can we give any less?" The collection was successful.

During an election campaign, Reb Shimshon called the mayor whom he opposed and told him: "Elections are war and one takes out all one's ammunition. I propose to you that you fight us to the end, but that you don't fight against Hakodosh Boruch Hu."

Towards the end of the campaign, the mayor was drawn to anti- religious areas. One of the communal workers relates, "I approached him after the victory and asked him, `Is the rav pleased?'

"He replied. `You see that in the end he did come out against Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Perhaps none of it was worthwhile.' Then he added, `Let him think whatever he thinks about religion inside, but to come out with it . . . We learn in maseches Negoim, "If a house is dark, one doesn't make windows . . . " ' "

Every Movement According to Shulchan Oruch

Reb Shimshon's oldest son, Rav Yisroel Yaakov, who now serves as rav of the chareidi community in Ofakim, says, "The thread that ran constantly through Father's life was, Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid, I have set Hashem before me always. Throughout the twenty-four hours of the day, he deliberated what Heaven wanted. If it was to be firm, then he was firm; if it was to show kindness, he showed kindness. When he had to yell at someone, he yelled. Everything he did, was in accordance with Hashem's will . . . Every movement was in accordance with Shulchan Oruch. Every utterance, with no exaggeration.

"On Chanukah, he would walk round the yards of the houses to check whether the chanukiyos were within a tefach of the entrances. He had something to point out at almost every house.

"Abba held that one could not give chewing gum a hechsher because of the gelatin it contains. There was a store in Tifrach that started selling gum. Abba went in and bought up the whole stock. This happened many times, until the storekeeper gave in and stopped bringing gum.

"It is well known that he was active and that he alerted people to the problems of shatnez. I remember that he would not accept payment from people. He would tell people to pay half a shekel and to have the intention of fulfilling the mitzvoh of paying a worker on the same day. And I know that his whole involvement with shatnez was as atonement for a settee that had been in the house in which shatnez was found.

"He always taught us that hitting was forbidden by Torah law. He would take out the Rambam and read it out to us. When we hit each other, he would make us copy out the Rambam's words. I remember that we used to protest that the blows we gave were not "in a manner that shames" as the Rambam says.

"It can be said about him, `The very place of his greatness, is the place of his self effacement.' With all his greatness, he knew how to cloak it all in simplicity."

The telephone number of Fam. Levi (nee Pincus) in 08- 9921663.

The number of the fax which Mrs. Levi requested the translation be sent to is 08-9923360.

A Communal Sacrifice

From an Address Delivered by a Member of the Family

. . . It was an unblemished sacrifice, that went up in a tempest to Heaven as an atonement for Klal Yisroel. It's obvious that this is a signal to Klal Yisroel -- such an accident, the like of which has not taken place for tens of years. The clearest proof is that they were people who belonged to the entire community. The whole concept of self simply did not exist for them. They only gave to others, without taking anything. They gave and gave, without any personal agenda.

All his life, Abba ztvk'l, was on the move all over the world, from one place to another. We asked him, "Abba, how do you have the strength?" and he didn't even understand what the question was. One does what needs to be done!

Lately, he was in South Africa as well. One day, a Jew who had moved from South Africa to Gibraltar called him up, and from what he said, it sounded as though he needed him. Immediately he said, "I'm coming to you," and he reserved a seat on a plane. It's not a direct journey. One has to fly to Spain and then take another plane to Gibraltar, and he did it all for one faraway Yid . . . People said that he used to deliver thirty talks in fourteen days. He spread the devar Hashem everywhere in the world.

Whenever he drove his car he looked around to see if there was anyone to whom he could give a ride. No matter where they were going, it was "on his way." My sister related that just this erev Pesach, we travelled to the shopping center in Ofakim and he met an avreich and told him, "When you finish, call me -- I'm here anyway -- and I'll take you home." In the meantime, the family finished the shopping and Abba had sat down to start learning with the boys, when the mobile phone suddenly rang: "HaRav, I've finished my shopping." Without a word, Abba left the house and went to bring this Yid home.

Not long ago, he was driving together with an avreich from the community and as they were travelling, the avreich asked, "Perhaps our rebbe will say something, a devar Torah maybe."

Abba said, "I think that one Jew who doesn't give to another as freely as he would to his own son, is lacking something in his Jewishness."

This avreich knew that whenever HaRav Pincus said something, his own conduct was already on that level. He couldn't understand it. How can one possibly fulfill such a thing? He went to one of the Rav's close neighbors and requested an explanation. How could the Rav say that? Does he actually care about every Jew as much as he cares about his own son? If he said it, he must do it!

The neighbor replied, "Rav Pincus was already conducting himself like this fifteen years ago. There was a case then involving an avreich whom Rav Pincus didn't even know very well. From a conversation, he realized that the avreich was in a problematic situation, to extricate himself from which he needed two thousand-four hundred dollars. The Rav immediately wrote out a check for that amount and gave it to him."

This neighbor, who found out about the incident afterwards, did not understand it. He knew that Rav Pincus' own financial situation at the time did not allow him to make such a donation. He didn't hold back and asked Rav Pincus to explain. The Rav took issue with him and retorted, "Wouldn't you do as much for your own son? A Jew who doesn't give to another Jew and to his son to exactly the same degree, is lacking something in his Jewishness."

Abba's connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu was something tangible and straightforward. Abba would speak about making one hundred brochos each day. A hundred brochos extend over the entire day -- there is a constant connection with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The way he used to make a brochoh . . . we would enjoy watching how he cleaved to Hashem as he made it. He would laugh and ask, "Are you watching to see whether I do what I say in my talks?"

The stories are endless. All through Chol Hamoed, people didn't stop coming in. Each one knew him from somewhere else and had a different story to tell. We feel as though we have lost not only our own personal parents but parents of Klal Yisroel.

Imma z'l, shared this characteristic too. She never thought about herself. Every erev Shabbos, she would prepare fish, not only for her own family but also for her father zt'l, who lived in Bnei Brak. In the early years, there was no direct transportation there and she would stand by the road looking for people to take the fish along with them. Every week was a miracle of its own.

The fish production expanded to include the family of a neighbor, for whom Imma thought preparing her own was hard because of her family, and then to another woman and another. And then she would always get on the phone: "I have too much. Perhaps you'd like some?" We never heard a word from her about the hardship.

Imma's prayers were uttered word by word, just as one counts money. When she was in the middle of bircas hamozone nothing else interested her. Let the cab wait. Let the minivan wait -- right now, she is bentching!

She would rise every morning at six and daven word by word, crying. Our neighbor though at first that it was an avreich who'd returned from vosikin and was praying aloud. Later she realized that it was Imma who davened every day early.

Abba's opinion was the one that was followed at home. Only when Imma started working as the principal for the girls did we discover that she also had opinions. In school she was the one who said what to do but never at home. "Go to Abba." Her self effacement was absolute.

Miriam z'l, too, lived her entire life for others. When we came home for Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim, she would gather all her nieces and nephews and send their parents off to have a nap. When would she sleep? That didn't concern her. She volunteered regularly for Yad Eliezer. She made sure that all the volunteers would arrive. We never once heard from her the name of a single needy family. When they arrived at the families' homes she would hide, so that they wouldn't be embarrassed to take if they saw her.

They devoted their entire lives to serving Hashem.

Imma never pressured Abba to stay and not to travel, not to leave her alone. He would always console her, "Here in Olom Hazeh, there's no time. In Olom Haboh, we'll be together a lot." And, Imma didn't object to a single moment.

Somebody said that, were it to be announced that a calamity was hovering over Klal Yisroel, and that a communal sacrifice was needed to stave it off, who would be prepared to be that sacrifice? Rav Shimshon Pincus would of course jump to be first.

There is no cause for concern for the welfare of the deceased. It is very good for them where they are. But their task in this world is still incomplete. Their mission was to increase spirituality in the world. Whoever continues with this mission is assured that the souls of the departed will assist him. We must prove to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that we have understood -- that the sacrifice was not for nothing!

We sat on the Friday before Pesach which was the only day we had for sitting shivoh for Abba, Imma and Miriam. We couldn't come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy. Suddenly, Miriam's friends came in and my sister burst out crying and gave a fearsome shout: "Do something that will make Moshiach come today!"

That cry echoes in my ears. Everyone should genuinely accept something upon themselves, so that another week doesn't just go by in which we continue life as normal. It can't be harder than this. May there be no more reasons for such terrible blows. May this sacrifice not have been in vain! "Do something that will make Moshiach come today!"


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