Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 teves 5761 - January 17, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaGaon Reb. Yehoshua Leib Diskin was born in Horodno, where his father Reb Binyomin was rov and rosh yeshiva.

Although Reb Binyomin was extremely busy with communal matters and the yeshiva, he preferred to teach his son Torah himself rather than send him to a private melamed as everyone else did. Thus he taught him personally from a tender age until he was a grown man.

It is told that one year on Kol Nidrei night HaRav Binyomin was late for shul. The men sent to investigate found him learning with his son.

The father apologized saying he had made an account of his deeds of the past year and had not found any worthy deeds to present as merits on the Yom Hadin and he therefore quickly wanted to fulfill the mitzva of veshinantom levonecho.

Reb Yehoshua Leib was engaged before his bar mitzva and at the age of fourteen he married the daughter of HaRav Brode and lived with his father-in-law in Wolkowitz.

He became rov in various cities such as Lomza, Mezritch, Kovno, Shklov, and finally in Brisk from where his fame spread and whose name is associated with him until today: old Yerushalmim stand up as they mention his name in awe-- the Brisker Rov.

He was imprisoned following a libel against him and after being freed on Yom Kippur 5637 (1876) he decided that Succos to leave Russia for Paris and then on to Eretz Yisroel.

When he arrived there he refused to accept an official rabbinical post, but nonetheless in practice he led the city and all its affairs: the talmidim, kollelim, his famous battle against the Maskilim and against those who wanted to work in the fields during shmittah.

He was the first rabbi to protest the unfounded heteirim and he encouraged shmittah observance in Eretz Yisroel.

On motzei Shabbos Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5658 (1898) he left this world and was buried the next morning on Har Hazeisim opposite the Har Habayis. Zechuso yogen oleinu!


"I once saw my father the gaon Reb. Chaim writing a letter to Reb Yehoshua Leib zt"l," related the last rov of Brisk, HaRav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt"l. "He dipped his nib into the ink and was suddenly seized by a trembling, and was unable to continue writing. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead as he got up and began pacing up and down the room -- until he sat down again and wrote: Lichvod. Again his whole body began to shake and tremble violently as he tried unsuccessfully to decide with which title to address the holy gaon. If the mighty cedars are so struck, what should we puny bushes say?"

His immense grasp of Torah and even worldly matters is legendary. Once, passing a large tree, he announced the number of leaves growing on it, whereupon the person accompanying him argued that no one could prove him right or wrong. "Remove one branch while my back is turned and count the leaves on it and I'll tell you then how many leaves remain on the tree." The other person did so and Reb Yehoshua Leib gave him the new number, subtracting exactly the amount of leaves in the man's hand.

A shaila was once brought to him concerning a piece of material, to which the Rov immediately gave the psak halocho. Thinking that in his haste he had not looked at the shaila properly, the one who asked sent his friend the next day with the same shaila as though it was a new one. As soon as the Rov saw the piece of material, he retorted, "This is the one I saw yesterday. I recognize this fabric by its weave. It has so-and-so many horizontal threads and so-and-so many vertical ones."

Passing by an Arab restaurant, he commented casually on the number of clients sitting inside with barely a glance.

The following anecdote, retold by HaGaon Reb Yaakov Orenstein, a talmid of R' Yehoshua Leib, demonstrates the Rov's immense depth in learning.

After the Rov came to Eretz Yisroel he formed a group of elite talmidim with whom he learned Bava Basra. For forty days he taught them one page [!] without repeating himself or revising what he said even once. Thus they delved deep into the sugya, swimming its entire length and breadth. When the forty days were up and each distinguished pupil could understand the material according to his ability, the Rov perceived that his pupils felt they had finally merited to understand a daf gemora and were pleased that they need no longer study this page.

In his sweet, ever-pleasant way, the Rov told them, "If you imagine that you are now in full comprehension of this daf you are mistaken. At this stage we are likened to the little cheder boys who have finished learning alef beis and are sure that they now know all there is to learn. Our limited comprehension of this daf is a drop in the ocean compared to the depth of the tannoim and amoraim. However it is impossible to tarry longer over one page, for then we would never get to learn the whole Torah'

"You may be sure," Reb Yaakov concluded, "that the slightest trace of pride or self-satisfaction that may have crept into the hearts of the talmidim, was instantly erased."

Relates a talmid in his sefer: When R' Yehoshua Leib was still rov in Lomza, his busy day of learning and giving shiurim always ended with a nightly study session with an outstanding pupil for six hours at a stretch. His chavrusa describes these sessions in brief and, though the lines are few and short, a lifetime's lessons can be derived from them. "During the regular nightly learning hours the Rov, reaching a difficult point, would sink deep in thought, standing motionless for a long time, grappling with the questions and answers that were overtaking his whole being. After a while he would awaken from this trance, his eyes bright with revelation and cite several explanations to this one difficulty.

"There were times when, even after concentrating so, the answers still evaded him. In such an instance he would ask me to repeat the gemora aloud, word by word, while he paced the length and breadth of the room, totally absorbed in his efforts to grasp the true pshat until he would burst into tears. Turning to the wall he would cry out in prayer, `Aneini Hashem aneini--enlighten my eyes with Your Torah.'

"He would then put tzedoko in the pushke for the poor in Eretz Yisroel and humbly pray for Divine assistance in the merit of Rav Meir Baal Haness. Subsequently R' Yehoshua Leib's holy countenance would light up in total comprehension of all that had eluded him and, like a triumphant warrior returning from war, he would return to his seat to continue learning."


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