Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







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

By Rephoel Gartner

Part I

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.

How I Loved Your Torah

His devotion to Torah cannot be portrayed through stories. It was one long story that went on for decades, a story of uninterrupted, lifelong toil, both by day and by night. "As a boy," his oldest son relates, "I used to be sent to take food to Father in the beis hamedrash in Tifrach, where he immersed himself in Torah without interruption."

"I was not mechadesh any chidushei Torah until I was thirty," Reb Shimshon once told his son. His son knew for a fact that it was otherwise -- but that Reb Shimshon did not count his earlier chiddushim because he always demanded the very best from himself.

His application to learning was amazing. "The idea of `going to sleep' didn't exist for Father," says his son. "When he was tired, he put his head down casually. He learned constantly.

"When Father wanted to encourage one of his children to learn he would tell them, `When you go to learn you look at the clock and you say to yourself, "Now I've got four hours to learn." You feel a little happy at being able to leave when four hours are up. At your age, I would sit down in the morning in the beis hamedrash, look at the clock and see that I had seven or eight hours to learn and I would feel upset at only having eight. I longed for nine or ten!'

"His mind was never idle," his son says. "When you wanted to speak to him about something, you had to rouse him from his thoughts, so immersed was he in Torah and avodas Hashem."

Love of Torah was part of the fabric of the Pincus home. Each day, Rebbetzin Pincus would ask her son, "How did you learn today?"

One day, he asked her, "Do you think I would tell you that I hadn't learned well?"

She replied, "I can tell from the way you say `Yes' whether it's yes or no. And you should know, that when your `Yes' is a `No,' I don't sleep that night."

One of her daughters affirms that this is true: "I know that she didn't sleep those nights!"

The children absorbed these lessons. Once Miriam a'h, who was killed with her parents in the accident, made a special trip to Bnei Brak when her presence there was able to save her brother an hour of Torah study.

During the period that he taught in the yeshiva of Yeruchom, Reb Shimshon would return home from the yeshiva in the evening and, after giving a shiur on daf yomi, he had a chavrusa arranged. However, the shiur used to go overtime, and afterwards avreichim used to call on him into the small hours of the night . . . so Reb Shimshon told his chavrusa that their time for learning together had to be moved to five o'clock in the morning. So it was every day; he spent most of the day learning. There were also occasions when he took upon himself to learn right through the night, for extended periods.

He made do with very little sleep and it was the same with eating. His children unanimously agree that they never recall having seen their father sit down to eat a proper meal on a weekday. He would come home in the morning, nibble something and go into his room to learn. Towards the middle of the day, he would again be served "something" but he never actually came to the table and sat down to eat a full portion. Only on Shabbos and Yom Tov would he sit down to a proper meal in honor of the day.

With His Talmidim

On those days when he delivered a shiur keloli in the Yeshiva of Ofakim, he would approach a bochur and raise some difficulty, and within ten minutes the whole beis hamedrash would be seething in heated discussion. After two hours of this "simmering," he would get up to give his shiur.

"He was the top lamdan and he had the best grasp, of our entire group," comments HaRav Binyomin Carlebach, who learned together with Reb Shimshon when they were young in Yeshivas Beis Hatalmud, under HaRav Leib Malin zt'l.

One year, when Shavuos was straight after Shabbos, he delivered a shiur keloli on Shabbos on the halochos derived from the Torah's being given on Har Sinai. One of the yeshiva graduates recalls, "From the fire that emanated from him during the shiur, we understood exactly how the Torah was given." The following day, on Shavuos, he delivered a shmuess on the very same topic.

Once, he stood at the entrance to the yeshiva and announced that the yeshiva would have to be closed. "I looked for a Reb Chaim Al Horambam and I couldn't find one," he explained. "A yeshiva without a `Reb Chaim' ought to be closed."

On his return from a trip to Chile, he came into the yeshiva, grabbed a bochur and asked to hear "a kushya." The bochur provided one and Reb Shimshon responded with several different approaches to answering it. The following day, he delivered a shiur keloli on the topic.

When he arranged to learn together with an eighty year old man from America, the latter wanted to learn halochoh. Reb Shimshon insisted however, "We have to learn gemora." Afterwards he would relate with longing in his voice, "You ought to hear how an eighty year old Jew chants the words, `Leimo masnisin delo keBen Nannos . . . ' "

A talmid relates, "Reb Shimshon encountered me after shacharis and commented about the blackness of the strap of my tefillin. I responded by offering some idea of my own on the subject and he rebuked me lovingly and said, `Would you be prepared to permit an agunoh to remarry on the basis of such an idea?' "

Real and Tangible

"Tell me," Reb Shimshon once asked his son Rav Eliyohu Yitzchok, "Have you ever experienced yiras Shomayim?" His son replied in the affirmative. Reb Shimshon then said that once, he had gone up onto the roof of Yeshivas Ponovezh, and under the wide blue sky that stretched overhead he had contemplated yiras Shomayim. "I got to the point where my whole body, my hands and feet, trembled with a great fear." (Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes about contemplating "awe inspiring images": "And when a person dwells upon this, fear and dread grip him.")

Then he went on, "I lost this feeling," and he explained that later, "the thought stole into my heart that, `this means I've attained a significant level' . . . "

On another occasion he told his son, "I'm an ordinary person, but before anything enters my mouth on Pesach, I tremble at the thought of a particle of chometz!"

There was no make believe with Reb Shimshon. Everything was tangible and alive. One erev Shabbos he told his children, "Go to the store now. They're giving out free candies." He was referring to purchases made for the Shabbos meals, all the expenses of which Chazal tell us are refunded by Heaven.

A talmid once commented to him that while it was true that the leader of a certain group was causing damage, he was doing so in all innocence. "Yes," Reb Shimshon agreed, "like someone who plays with a loaded pistol and now and then shoots off a bullet that innocently kills someone . . . and he carries on playing `innocently.' "

When a widow was employed to work in the kitchen of the yeshiva of Ofakim, he went into the office and asked, "How can we let a lion into the beis hamedrash? Bochurim will almost certainly transgress, `Do not make a widow suffer!' "

In the kitchen of the Pincus home, some food from which ma'asros had yet to be separated, had been left in a slightly open place. Reb Shimshon bellowed, "If it was poison would you also have left it like this?"

A talmid related, "I encountered him on erev Pesach 5760, pacing back and forth, gripped by emotion. When he saw me watching him he said, `Do you know what rains are about to fall tonight? Dozens of Torah mitzvos and of mitzvos derabonon, matzo, four cups of wine, carpas . . . literally a flood of bounty."

On erev Pesach he would sigh deeply from his heart and say, "Where is the korbon Pesach?"

"The day of death" was a concept that had a tangible existence for him. On Tisha B'Av he would lay tefillin immediately after midday. "Does one know whether one will be alive in the afternoon?" he would explain.

He once commented to a Jew whom he met on the way to the mikveh, "If a Jew immerses himself in the mikveh each day, he is assured that even if he is killed Rachmono litzlan, and it is not possible to perform the taharoh, he will at least have immersed himself in the mikveh that day!"

When Yankel Breaks an Egg

"What is the underlying idea of a seudas mitzvoh?" he once asked. "What connection is there between the material food and the spiritual joy of the mitzvoh?" And he explained: "Food is energy. A piece of bread is transformed into strength with which to serve Hashem. It becomes something spiritual! Food therefore, has spiritual potential."

He related that his father ylct'a remembered that during his days as a talmid in Yeshivas Mir, there had been no food to eat. One bochur, who was better off than most, bought himself a tray of eggs. In the yeshiva they said, "Every time Yankel breaks an egg, another daf gemora is lost."

During a journey on public transport, the driver was arguing with a yeshiva bochur, poking fun at Yiddishkeit, while the bochur lacked the ability to respond effectively. Later in the journey, Reb Shimshon began to tell a story. "Once I was driving a truck and on the way, I ran over my father. Father fell into the road and his arms and legs were waving around . . . it was very funny!" The driver jumped out of his seat. "How can you speak like that about your father?!"

"And how can you speak like that about your father?!!" Reb Shimshon yelled at him. Needless to say, the driver was lost for words.

Not One Tefilloh Unanswered

Perhaps this ability to relate tangibly to spiritual truths was the key to understanding the power of Reb Shimshon's tefilloh. He said: "What kept me going through all kinds of situations? I always felt able to speak to my Father in Heaven, like a son speaking to his father."

One of his well known ideas on the subject is that tefilloh is akin to ammunition. One can fire and hit a bull's-eye, even if one isn't deserving.

Rebbetzin Pincus once told one of her children, "Ask Abba to daven for you. Never in my life have I seen an instance where Abba davened and was not answered."

Reb Shimshon also testified as much about himself. One of his sons told the following story. "Father would say, `When I persisted in davening for something, I was always answered.' He added that after a certain incident however, he decided that it was not always desirable to persist, for Heaven can arrange events differently than how we would have wanted. Here is the story which his son told.

Reb Shimshon once had to obtain the release of a car from the tax authorities in Cyprus. The car was meant for a talmid chochom from one of the towns in the Negev, who was providing tremendous merits for the public. Reb Shimshon arrived at the offices but discovered that he had left the relevant documents in his home. He "loaded his weapon" and prayed that he would nevertheless succeed in his mission.

"I approached the official and took a regular piece of documentation from my pocket and extended it to him. The paper, which was in English, had no connection whatsoever to the business at hand. The official took a look at it and asked, `What is this?'

"I answered, `Can't you see what it is? Read it!' The official became confused and released the car. The first week that the talmid chochom drove in it, he was killed in a road accident.

"I learned from that," said Reb Shimshon, "that if Heaven is holding you back, don't persist. Nonetheless, whenever I persisted, I was answered."

A family member was in a difficult financial situation. He and Reb Shimshon sat down to discuss things. When they finished, Reb Shimshon asked his relative, "Do you have a solution?"

"Only to buy a lottery ticket," the relative replied. This was a practice which Reb Shimshon did not favor.

After a few minutes' thought, Reb Shimshon said, "Buy one."

The following day, Reb Shimshon met his relative and asked him, "Did you buy a ticket?" The relative answered that he had not yet done so.

Reb Shimshon berated him, "Do you know what efforts I made? I davened! Why didn't you buy a ticket?!"

Reb Shimshon's son, Reb Moshe Aharon ylct'a, related the story of a couple whom his father had brought to Eretz Yisroel from chutz laaretz. They had some procedural problem with their documents and when they went to sort the matter out at the Ministry of the Interior, the officials could not understand how they had even been allowed to enter the country. They replied, "Rav Pincus told us, `Come after me, don't be afraid.' That's how we got through. Nobody asked us anything." His prayer and his trust in Hashem were on an unbelievably high level.

She'orim Betifilloh, is the title of Reb Shimshon's sefer about tefilloh. The gates of prayer were certainly open to him, although his attitude was utterly straightforward: "I'm speaking to the Ribono Shel Olam." Once, opening a vaad in Yerushalayim he said, "I see that there are no seforim here, so let's learn from the siddur, which one can find everywhere."

Keeping A Distance From Honor

Reb Shimshon had a hobby -- to grab hold of feelings of honor and to crush them between his fingertips until nothing was left of them. Once, when he entered a room and the gathering rose for him, he smiled and said, "That's so good . . . let's do it again!" And he went out and came in again.

A father and his small son met Reb Shimshon in Yerushalayim and the father asked Reb Shimshon to bless his son. He agreed but only on the condition, "that your son also blesses me. He has fewer aveiros than I do." When he was once found cleaning the rest room in Ofakim he said, "After one hundred and twenty years, you can say that you had a rebbe who was a cleaner."

In order to honor Shabbos more, it is better to prepare the gefilte fish than to buy ready made. In Ofakim however, there was no store that sold fresh fish. Rebbetzin Pincus took the initiative and arranged for a weekly delivery of fresh fish, by order. When those who had ordered tarried in coming to collect their fish, Reb Shimshon himself would contact them. "Hello, it's Pincus speaking. The fish have arrived. You can come down to collect them . . . " This too, was part of honoring Shabbos.

When there was no rebbe for one of the cheder classes in Ofakim, Reb Shimshon himself taught for a few weeks. HaRav Aviezer Piltz, rosh yeshiva of Tifrach, related that he listened in from the other side of the door and heard how Reb Shimshon taught the brochos which Yaakov Ovinu gave his sons. "To this day, I still have yiras Shomayim from it!" he commented.

There were two occasions when people had a chance to see the rav of Ofakim riding through the town on a bicycle. The first time was when a problem involving an autopsy arose and Reb Shimshon had to reach the police station swiftly. No other means of transport being available, he pressed down on the pedals and sped to the station. The second time, was on a Shabbos. An avreich had sharp stomach pains and the possibility of calling an ambulance was considered. However, since the patient's condition allowed it, Reb Shimshon decided that it was preferable to minimize the chilul Shabbos involved and to seek help from the first aid station by travelling on two wheels.

It pained him to see that buying a new suit was such an expense. When in South Africa, he would buy suits for avreichim for just forty dollars. Only recently, he arrived at Yeshivas Beis Hillel in Bnei Brak with a suit draped over his shoulders announcing, "Perhaps someone needs a new suit for Yom Tov?"

When I asked the oldest son, Reb Yisroel Yaakov, how the family were managing to keep going, he replied: "Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon explains the words, Boruch gozer umekayeim, blessed is He who decrees and sustains, as meaning, `Blessed is He who makes the decrees and who sustains us so that we are able to bear them.' " And he added, "When you write, have in mind to fulfill the mitzvoh of hesped. You will be doing a mitzvoh as well."

End of Part I

A Lion In Secret: A Talmid Sheds A Tear

By Rabbi A. Chefetz

Reb Shimshon's talmidim would ask in wonder, "Where is Reb Shimshon?"

When he raised his face all at once, heavenward in prayer, or when he roared the words of a brochoh, his talmidim were terror stricken. "Where is Reb Shimshon?" they wondered. What spiritual worlds has he entered? Where is he trying to get to when he cries in a mighty voice, "Ay-eih me-kom Ke-vo-do?"

What plateaus has he reached when he exercises his mental genius amid the mighty tempest of his mind? His talmidim wanted to appreciate what he had attained, but they were always left wondering, "Where is Reb Shimshon?"

This is the question that has been asked ever since his father ylct'a sent him to Beis Hatalmud, to learn from HaRav Aryeh Leib Malin and other Torah giants. As for young Shimshon, he burned with love of Torah. Ever since then, the riddle of Reb Shimshon's life, the question, "Where are you?" has been hanging in the air. And even now, as his talmidim wallow in their tears, they ask, "Where is Reb Shimshon? What was the secret of his life, and the meaning of the mystery of his death?"

Talmidim! Stop a moment by the wayside, there by the tree that their car crashed into. Look at the silent ground and tell each other, that this is where the life of the rebbe to whom you owe your Torah, came to an end; this is where their souls ascended from . . . and cry.

Shed a sea of tears for a lion in secret, a lion who knew both what was revealed and what was hidden. Don sackcloth for Reb Shimshon and his `ammunition' that are lost. Woe to the boat that has gone adrift without its captain on it.

Were Reb Shimshon to bewail his daughter, he would perhaps say, "Hakodosh Boruch Hu is infinite and His deeds are infinitely wise. About this the posuk says, "Your judgments are very deep"! So deep! Infinite! "For no man can see Me"! It's impossible to see! My daughter! My daughter! Mein tiereh tochter! Which ben Torah has lost a wife as righteous as yourself? Mir-i-yam!" he would moan in distress and the thousands would moan with him. And then he would cry as only Reb Shimshon knew how to cry.

Were Reb Shimshon to cry for his rebbetzin -- if a "master of definitions" like Reb Shimshon were to attempt to sum up his wife's righteousness . . . were he . . . Oh, Hashem! Where is Reb Shimshon??

Reb Shimshon traversed oceans and seas, clutching a sefer Torah to his breast, "to sanctify Your Name throughout the world." He encountered people who were far from the truth and with his power, he shook up their souls and made them stir. How? What did he hope to achieve with those people, who were not bnei Torah? And what did he expect from them? What he told them, in a million different guises and approaches, was the story that the Chofetz Chaim's granddaughter told.

This granddaughter arrived in Eretz Yisroel as an elderly lady, after years of isolation behind the iron curtain and she settled in Beer Sheva. Reb Shimshon -- king of the Negev -- went to visit her, accompanied by the Chofetz Chaim's grandson, ylct'a HaRav Hillel Zaks, to find out whether she too, though she'd been on the other side of the iron curtain all these years, yet retained a trace of the Chofetz Chaim about her. This was her story:

"I ran away from home to attend university." In those times, the wish for progress and modernization was as intense as death (in both senses). Every generation has its own drives. Like today, the street winks at and tries to entice the youth. Every generation has its temptations, in varying garb.

"I ran away and studied in university. Several years later, I came back. I went in to Grandfather and I told him everything -- everything that I thought. `Grandfather, why are you sitting here in the dark? In darkness? Outside there's light! The world is making progress. The world is developing and moving forwards! Why, grandfather . . . ?'

And he replied.

"Grandfather answered me. He lifted his sympathetic eyes, looked in front of him and said, `My precious daughter! I know, I know that the world is progressing. Do you see the airplanes that fly in the air above us (during the First World War) dropping boxes of bombs, little bundles of explosives that kill people? Know, my daughter, that for the next war, they'll already make bombs that will rip the ground out from under people's feet. Certainly, there will be progress in technology. The world will make even more progress. Perhaps the day will come when men will reach the moon!' -- so he said -- `True, the world is developing! But only in technology. This progress increases man's ability to kill and destroy, to exercise cruelty and other shameful traits. Whereas we,' said grandfather, `We are making people . . . !'

" `Our task is to build man! To purify and to refine man! Our aim is to make people! The Torah wants to fashion men!' "

This cry would burst out all around Reb Shimshon Pincus.

He was outstanding, unique in knowing how to portray the world as it was, all the rottenness of the street, to his audiences and to shatter all their illusions in front of them. He was able to show them that it was all worthless vanity. Everything was vanity! And he shattered his own life as well -- but that is a story of its own.

Reb Shimshon set himself apart from any connection to this world, except for Torah and Hakodosh Boruch Hu. He had nothing at all -- not even himself -- "What am I and what is my life?"

The genius of his holy mind and his separation from materialism afforded him beautiful sights and allowed him to see the world from his own high vantage point. He saw everything differently from others and for this reason precisely -- because of his viewpoint of greatness -- he remained standing at a distance . . . because of this, he always felt small and puny.

This is one of the secrets of true humility: he smashed his ego to smithereens. He viewed the riddle of the world in all its depth. The recognition that "Hashem is G-d" was raised aloft before him in all its power and the mighty cry burst from him, yet he remained small. The larger and broader the world grew, the smaller he became. "And what are we?"

Reb Shimshon wrought wide openings in the hearts of many, yet he was convinced that he had not succeeded in making even the smallest opening in his own heart. He always felt like a youngster upon entering yeshiva. He always had that same burning desire, that same longing, that same ambition.

He toiled all his life to conquer his yetzer hora, that appeared to him like a mountain. Someone who was not acquainted with Reb Shimshon's vibrant spirit will not understand. But this is why I am crying. He passed away young.

His family, the members of his community, his talmidim, his friends, near and far -- loved him so much, because he was filled with a sea of love for all of them. The look from his eyes swept one over with friendliness. Thus, nobody will ever be able to cleave the secret of the charm in the lives of the rav and rebbetzin -- "they were pleasant in their lives and in their deaths . . ."

The question still hovers in the botei medrash where his mighty spirit stormed: Where is he? In which heavenly worlds does he stroll? When his fingers used to move, tracing out various shapes, his sons asked him, "Abba, why do you do that so much?"

And he told them, letting them know at the same time that they had no idea as to where he was holding, "I'm tracing Shivisi with my fingers."

His talmidim thought that they could leap upwards and pursue his thoughts and the things he grasped but without success. "Where is Reb Shimshon?"

The question still echoes and hovers. What level did he attain? Reb Shimshon, where are you? What is the secret of your soul? From whence was this wondrous phenomenon hewn? From time immemorial and forever.

"He is no more, for Hashem has taken him." The question has the intensity of death, Rabbenu Shimshon, where are you? To whose care have you abandoned your flock?

Where has he gone, borne away by strong winds? To what can he be compared? How the mighty have fallen.


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