Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Cheshvan 5762 - October 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Servant And King: HaRav Shmaryohu Greineman Zt'l, 2nd Tishrei 5762, His Tenth Yahrtzeit

by Rabbi Yaakov B. Friedman and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Part II

In the Chazon Ish's Inner Sanctum -- Loss of an Ideal

On the day that Rav Shmaryohu passed away, a prominent marbitz Torah summed up his feelings at the loss to his talmidim and said, "For me, the Chazon Ish was niftar today!" It was a sober and clear-sighted observation. When Rav Shmaryohu was niftar, a good part of what remained from the Chazon Ish's beis hamedrash and of the spiritual legacy of the home of his father, Rav Shmaryohu Yosef Karelitz, rav of Kossove, was irrevocably lost.

For those who had been close to the Chazon Ish, the name Kossove came to symbolize the standard of Torah holiness and purity, upon which the generation's leading Torah disseminator -- and his distinguished siblings -- had been raised. Rav Shmaryohu was the last who viewed the name Kossove as an ideal. He was the last to have felt the name's full significance and he would always utter it with a tremor.

In Lithuania, the home of the rav of Kossove was viewed as a refuge of spiritual clarity and cleanliness. Whoever had any connection to it, either by virtue of who he was or of what he aspired to, was automatically infused with some of its atmosphere.

Rav Shmaryohu bequeathed this heritage to his own family in its full strength. At every major or minor crossroads in life, the only question that was deliberated on, with awe and respect was, "How did they put it . . . How did they act . . . What was their opinion . . . there?" "There" symbolized an entire world of refined ideas and modes of conduct.

From his youth, Rav Shmaryohu had been close to the Chazon Ish. From the days when his uncle would pay a daily visit to the home of Rav Shmaryohu's parents in Vilna's Papalavos neighborhood, he began to imbibe that unique spirit that could never be forged or falsified. The Chazon Ish gave of himself generously to Rav Shmaryohu. He took pride in his abilities and he would take him along when he went away to the rest town of Volkenik for the summer months.

There in the forests, far from the urban hustle and bustle, the Chazon Ish opened up his inner world to his nephew. Those months of seclusion, basking in the radiance of the Chazon Ish's purity and luminosity, shaped and formed Rav Shmaryohu, equipping him with the necessary tools for transmitting the Chazon Ish's Torah in later years in its full depth and its true meaning.

Faithful Interpreter

HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, with his customary force of expression, voiced the widely-held view that puts the Chazon Ish in the same category as those giants of previous generations, whose contributions to Torah have been of such scope and significance that we consider them to have transmitted the entire Torah single-handedly: Rabbi Yehudah Hanossi, Rav Ashi, the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon ztvk'l.

Transmitting the Chazon Ish's Torah was therefore one of the crucial steps in the transmission of Torah to future generations. In view of the characteristic features of the Chazon Ish's Torah, where the author's unstated intention is often far more than what he actually writes, where one word is sometimes used where others might use three, and where the whole sequence of the ideas and style of the writing reflect the inner world of the author's thought, Rav Shmaryohu's role in expounding the Chazon Ish's true meaning took on great significance and required constant inspiration.

It has been said that Rav Shmaryohu arranged the Chazon Ish's Torah in such a way that there would be no corner of the Torah to which the Chazon Ish does not relate or upon which he does not comment, in some way. Rav Shmaryohu brought the Chazon Ish's Torah into contact with every inch of the Torah, while arranging it in such a way as to be accessible to all Torah scholars.

One of the chief attributes that qualified Rav Shmaryohu for this task was his self-negation before anything that the Chazon Ish had stated explicitly. Every editor or arranger of another's writings, by the very nature of his work, places his own individual stamp upon the material. While this is unavoidable, it can easily border on falsification of the author's intentions. This was where Rav Shmaryohu's power of self-annullment came into the picture. He transmitted the entire edifice of the Chazon Ish's Torah, in its integrity with every detail in place, with its own inner force and with all the original shades of meaning intact, all of which were impossible to falsify and thus testify to their own authenticity.

He managed to do this with regard to both that aspect of his work that was "invisible" and non-explicit, in the widest meaning of the term -- determining where something arose from an explicit statement, where it had been inferred from a related matter and where the support for it was merely circumstantial -- as well as with regard to the aspect that required his active input, such as his monumental editing work, the bountiful notes and cross references, so discreetly inserted at the end of the lines in the volumes of Chazon Ish that one almost doesn't notice them, but which are of such help to those trying to decipher one of the Chazon Ish's cryptic comments such as those beginning, "ve'nireh . . . (and it appears that . . . )."

Rav Shmaryohu's "signature" on these notes -- an indication of his integrity and self effacement -- is the abbreviation alef-hei, standing for omar hamesader (says the arranger).

"He transmitted the legacy of the blank lines," was the way one person put it, referring to Rav Shmaryohu's interpretation of even the spaces between lines and the eloquent silences in between words in the Chazon Ish's writings. Rav Shmaryohu was unequaled in his ability to fathom the Chazon Ish's meaning and intent.

Following the petiroh of the Chazon Ish, Rav Shmaryohu's home became a lodestone for seekers of the Chazon Ish's Torah. Letters would arrive from all corners of the Jewish world asking Rav Shmaryohu to clarify the exact meaning of the Chazon Ish's spoken and written words or the meaning of his silences. Here again, those months of his youth that he had spent in the Chazon Ish's company enabled Rav Shmaryohu to respond, drawing both upon his intimate knowledge of the Chazon Ish's explicit Torah and his intuitive knowledge of how he thought.

Privy to Torah Secrets

With his uncommon gifts and abilities, Rav Shmaryohu won the Chazon Ish's unlimited trust and confidence. The Chazon Ish divulged information to him to which nobody else was made privy. Certain private writings which the Chazon Ish kept together with his other manuscripts were locked away to all but their author and his closest nephew-disciple. The Chazon Ish also despatched Rav Shmaryohu to attend to certain matters that called for particularly delicate handling and fineness of comprehension.

On more than one occasion the Chazon Ish would write down some thought that called for a particularly fine grasp and would comment that his words were meant for Rav Shmaryohu. This delicacy and ability to pick up the finest nuances stood Rav Shmaryohu in good stead in his contacts with the Brisker Rov zt'l. The Rov loved him dearly and once remarked that he and Rav Shmaryohu shared a common language and purpose.

In letter #116 in the third part of Kovetz Igros of the Chazon Ish, the writer testifies to the unique bond that existed between himself and his nephew: "Since my nephew [i.e. Rav Shmaryohu] is privy to my thoughts . . . and every word of Torah is worth more than all the treasures in the world . . . and my nephew loves [engaging in] the struggle for [fathoming] Torah, I have conveyed my opinion to him regarding this matter and have instructed him to publicize it . . . except for a written note that will be understood only by him . . . "

In the Chazon Ish's Beis Hamedrash

"Rabbi Elozor went and repeated the sugya in the beis hamedrash but did not relay it in Rabbi Yochonon's name. Rabbi Yochonon heard and took exception. Rabbi Y. ben A. went up to Rabbi Yochonon and said to him, `When Hashem commanded Moshe, "Do such and such," Moshe commanded Yehoshua. [However,] did Yehoshua tell Klal Yisroel about everything he told them, "Moshe told me?" Yehoshua sat and expounded [Torah] without attributing it to anyone and everyone knew that it was Moshe's Torah,' " (Yevomos 96).

This is the light in which the Chazon Ish's own talmidim view Rav Shmaryohu. The Torah which Yehoshua learned from Moshe Rabbenu was of such quantity and such quality that every word of Yehoshua's and his own entire inner spiritual world was all "Moshe's Torah." Rav Shmaryohu's inner world, his approach to learning, his method of analysis, his modes of expression and his way of looking at things, all contributed towards making wherever he happened to be into an extension of the beis hamedrash of the Chazon Ish!

Living In Light In The Land Of Suffering

By Rabbi Yaakov B. Friedman

For many years, HaRav Shmaryohu Greineman suffered from a progressively debilitating, terminal disease. Although he lived in full knowledge of his condition he conducted himself throughout with calm and utter self-control. He fully accepted Hashem's decree and, moreover, tried at the same time to shield others from the horror of what was happening to him.

This thought-provoking and moving essay, which some readers may find disturbing and which may not be suitable reading material for Shabbos, uses HaRav Greineman's experiences and his response to them as a prism through which the all-too-familiar phenomenon of suffering and the victory of unblemished Jewish faith are examined.

Father's Greeting

A Jew walks down the street absorbed in thought, oblivious to all the noise and bustle surrounding him. Earlier, a wonderful idea came into his mind and, as he walks, he thinks it through, examining it carefully to see if it is as good close up as it seemed when it first occurred to him. He doesn't notice a figure approaching him quietly from behind, until he feels a sudden, strong tug on his shoulder.

In an instant, his tranquility is shattered and all his rosy thoughts vanish. Bewildered fury wells up inside him and with hands already clenched to respond, he turns around angrily and -- suddenly recognizes an old friend, smiling and beaming at him and extending the offending hand in delighted greeting.

"A tug of greeting?" he thinks to himself, "Well of course, that's different . . . " and his inner equilibrium is restored as quickly as it vanished.

When Hakodosh Boruch Hu visits pain on a person, it has been pointed out, the pain induces hopelessness only for as long as it takes to note the identity of the Perpetrator. When one lives with the realization that the pain is delivered by the Tzur Tomim Po'olo Himself, by "the Rock whose actions are perfect" (Devorim 32:4), the blow itself is seen as a knock of friendship and the smarting pain gives way to calm and ease.

HaRav Shmaryohu Greineman zt'l, held a senior rank in the realm of suffering. He actually did not need to learn the lesson of viewing suffering as a tug of friendship. Suffering was very simply part of the fabric of his life; just another of the roles which he was called upon to manage. Each approaching wave of pain was not a challenge which he had to brace himself to overcome. He managed to integrate the attacks into his psyche and to meet them calmly and with full acceptance.

HaRav Greineman's talmidim point to their rebbe as the personification of an explicit halochoh, "[A person is obligated to make the] bless[ing] over bad tidings with full awareness and willingness, just as he would over good tidings . . . because bad is joy and goodness for servants of Hashem . . . " (Orach Chaim, 222:3).

This joy, this full awareness and willingness, do not come from exulting in one's own power in a struggle or from the feeling that, "I have wrestled and overcome." For true servants of Hashem, acceptance of "bad" things is simply one of a Jew's many responsibilities.

The Shulchan Oruch continues, " . . . by lovingly accepting what Hashem has decreed for him, with this acceptance, he is serving Hashem."

Laughter Amid the Horror

A loud thump shatters the calm of the Greineman home on Wolfson Street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. One thump, and then silence. There is no panic and things continue, as calmly as ever.

These thumps were a recurring tragedy that played itself out time and again. In a corner of the kitchen, on the floor of the living room or of the bedroom, Rav Shmaryohu would be found prostrate, his bruised bones grating, his body twitching wretchedly, yet his face aglow with loud, liberating laughter, intended to assuage his family's concern.

"I was a baby," one of the children relates, "and Abba got us used to thinking of these thumps as a game. When Abba fell down and the sound reverberated through the house, I would leave my toys to go and play with Abba . . . "

For thirty-seven years HaRav Greineman suffered from one of the bitterest diseases known to medicine, for part of that time with numerous additional complications. During this time every breath was drawn with miracles, and by means that horrified even the doctors. One of the local pharmacists said that he used to blanch whenever he saw the amounts of poisonous drugs that were purchased for the patient. Senior doctors at Tel Hashomer Hospital commented that "every disease in the Tel Aviv region knew his address." A lull in one of the horrifying diseases that afflicted him would be seized by another, to attack with renewed vigor.

At no point was there any hope for improvement. The first and only prognosis was that things would get worse and worse. Members of the family said, "He neither `loved' nor `hated' his suffering. He didn't see it as an esrog to be proud of."

He marshaled every resource in order to endure it and to continue in the very best way he could despite it. The voice that he spoke with amid his pain was the voice of Hashem. Here too, as in every other facet of his life, he was always at the ready, complying with the instruction, "Stand and I will hear what Hashem commands for you" (Bamidbor 9:8).

The Need for Guidance

"Tonnu rabbonon, when Rabbi Eliezer became ill, four elders came to visit him: Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elozor ben Azaryoh and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Tarfon said, `You are more beneficial to Yisroel than a drop of rain.' Rabbi Yehoshua said . . . Rabbi Akiva said, `Suffering is beloved' . . . " (Sanhedrin 101)

While his colleagues offered the patient comfort by pointing out to Rabbi Eliezer his immense worth to the nation, the relevance of Rabbi Akiva's comment about the value of suffering seems hard to understand. HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l (Sichos Mussar) explains that Rabbi Akiva intended to highlight a central feature of Rabbi Eliezer's role as teacher to the nation. Suffering is one of the most pivotal -- beloved, even -- aspects of a Jew's life. In order to be able to harness suffering correctly and derive the intended spiritual benefits from it however, one needs a guide like Rabbi Eliezer.

Suffering is one of the distinctive features of Jewish life and of Jewish history. Much ink has been spent in attempting to define the Jewish approach to this murky realm. By its very nature, it is a topic that defies straightforward explanation. On the one hand, our nation's suffering has given rise to generations of Jews who have sanctified Heaven's Name, purified and uplifted by their ordeals to unimaginable heights.

On the other hand, in the absence of a correct understanding the very same suffering has also given rise to a generation that turned its back on their heritage and slammed the door behind them, in the same way that Chazal tell us the nations will behave when they "kick and leave" their succos because of the scorching sun that Hashem will bring about (Avodoh Zora 2).

Reb Shmaryohu towered over our generation -- a generation that has almost lost itself in a labyrinth of pampering and self pity. His entire life was a source of guidance in accepting and coping with suffering. It was one long, uninterrupted chapter of enduring being "scraped with iron combs" while accepting the yoke of Heaven's rule. For Reb Shmaryohu, every further measure of suffering served as a new encounter with Hashem's will. Anyone who watched, saw how the fragments of normalcy with which the blows were interspersed were lived in full accordance with the One who bestowed both the fragments and the blows.

His uncle the Chazon Ish once remarked, "Ich hob shtark derech eretz far a ba'al yissurim (I have immense respect for a person who suffers)." Reb Shmaryohu ruled over his suffering; even when he could not control what was happening to him, he retained and implemented every shred of his self control. As a result, every white hot brand that seared him became another rung in the ladder that carried him higher and higher, until the last rung slipped into place before dawn on the second day of Rosh Hashonoh 5752, when thirty-seven years of blood, fire and pillars of smoke came to their end. He ascended Heavenward from the altar of his hospital bed, broken in body but a giant in spirit.

"Had Chananyah, Mishoel and Azaryah been beaten (tortured), they would have bowed to the image," Chazal tell us (Kesuvos). For thirty-seven years, Reb Shmaryohu Greineman endured the torture of every kind of pain that the human body can experience and he emerged victorious, with his soul perfect, his spirit perfect and his Torah perfect.

Tragedy and Triumph

The victory was really won far away from the respirator, the multiple infusions and the panoply of noxious drugs, that sustained his frail body and waged modern medicine's struggle against disease. The real battle was fought and won on a different plane altogether, deep inside the pain wracked body, with every new clash between the opposing forces of body and soul -- between the body's yearning for escape, respite and oblivion and the soul's prompting toward silence, acceptance, and awareness.

Few were aware that the figure on the bed possessed what had been one of the keenest minds in his childhood Lithuania. His brother HaRav Chaim Greineman ylct'a said that the Chazon Ish remarked that Shmaryohu's powerful intellect afforded us some glimmer of understanding into the greatness of the Vilna Gaon.

Reb Shmaryohu's knowledge of all of Torah was complete; it was said that he even knew the tropp by heart for all the books of Nevi'im and Kesuvim. As a seven- year-old, he was already capable of speaking before large audiences of adults, and galvanizing them into action on behalf of their Jewish brethren. He was a leader, both by virtue of his own characteristics and by virtue of his having absorbed and assimilated the vast spiritual heritage of the Chazon Ish. Yet the outpouring of this wellspring of creativity was simply stopped -- day in, day out -- by the repeated, crushing blows that bore down upon him.

Within Reb Shmaryohu's sick body, then, powerful spiritual forces were flowing that lacked any means of expression. His mind galloped, his ideas raced and then, amid all this activity, his afflicted body would simply give way and collapse, leaving a vast residue of intense, draining, emotional pain that had to somehow be contained and dissipated. The inner battles to control the pain and frustration now became his assignment and his destiny. Here too he emerged victorious, revealing Heaven's rule over his own dark corner of the kingdom of suffering.

The Battle is Joined

One bitter night found Reb Shmaryohu in acute distress. The expression on his freshly-washed face revealed his determination to live up to whatever was required of him and accept whatever Heaven had decreed he should suffer in the course of the night. He was being attended by his son, who let a sigh escape from his lips.

"It was [not his own pain but] my sigh that distressed Father," his son later related. Reb Shmaryohu had never heard sighing in his parents' or in his grandparents' home. A person of worthy character did not respond to a problem with sighing. It smacked of nonacceptance.

"And how do you know," an amazed Reb Shmaryohu asked his son, "whether health or sickness is the more respectable role?"

The worst fear of all was that of losing control, of losing the will to continue fighting and resisting. He would therefore behave towards himself with great cruelty, straining himself to his utmost and beyond, to make quite sure that laziness was not causing him to lose any ground that he could still possibly hold onto.

At times, even turning the pages of a sefer was a crushing task. His fingers no longer obeyed him. Drained of strength to begin with, he would ready his hand for battle. He tried, and failed, to move his hand. He tried again, his limbs twitching from insubordination, and he failed. He tried again, his gemora and the shtender as though becoming tangled together in the struggle and finally, somehow, victory was his.

With the gemora open, it was time for the next battle: to learn in depth, to immerse himself in the sugya as deeply as he could, not allowing his weakness to overcome him or even to be a factor in lessening his application. Mustering every resource that remained between one attack and the next, Reb Shmaryohu would make his way through the intricacies of the sugya.

"There was not a limb in his body that was not ravaged by some disease," someone commented to me, as a tear trickled from his eye, "and neither was there a limb that was free of suffering for a moment."

Although illness was his constant companion, he never spoke about it. His approach was that one was given a task to fulfill, not to discuss. His deteriorating condition was only mentioned when the particular task that had been entrusted to him demanded that something be said.

"I will soon be unable to see," he informed his chavrusa, preparing him quite composedly or, "Soon I won't be able to speak." It therefore followed that now was the time to see and say whatever had to be seen or said.

A kerosene stove was once burning in the yard over Shabbos and somehow, as though in order to complete the full measure of agonies that could possibly be undergone, a pot of boiling hot, bubbling water spilled over Reb Shmaryohu's foot. The foot was literally cooking. Reb Shmaryohu turned white and broke out into a cold sweat yet he did not bat an eyelid and he would not allow anyone to come near his foot to treat it for the entire Shabbos. His clothing was soaked, he pointed out and a doctor's touch might cause some fluid to be squeezed out.

"That was a moment of acceptance -- acceptance of Heaven's rule," one of those close to Reb Shmaryohu told me emotionally, "and there were thousands of other occasions like that." His own private pain was not a factor. The fact that his skin was torn and that his flesh was cooking, was incidental. All he had to do was to determine whether his situation was governed by the mitzvoh of "vechai bohem" (Vayikra 18:5), which mandates setting most mitzvos, including Shabbos, aside when there is danger to human life, or by the prohibition of squeezing out any absorbed fluid on Shabbos. Once he had determined that his life was not in danger, his foot was muktzoh and, despite his terrible suffering, his lot was to fulfill the task that Heaven had laid upon him.

"Reb Shmaryohu", commented HaRav Shach ylct'a, "obliges [all other] sufferers [to serve Hashem fully]."

A Light for the Generation

In our weak, spineless generation, peopled by folk who are full of self-pity, narcissism and pampering, the phenomenon of Reb Shmaryohu was like a rainbow appearing in a dark, cloudy sky.

Amid our preoccupation with banishing even the slightest pain, our helter-skelter reliance on doctors, homeopaths, or alternative medicine, on drugs, on preventative medicine, on nature cures and on pain-killers; amid our floundering in a sea of emotional disorders, fears, tensions, pressures and every other imagined condition, the figure of Reb Shmaryohu serves as a beacon -- visible from any and every part of our morass -- that embodies stability, shape and purpose.

Like the sick and suffering Rabbi Eliezer, Reb Shmaryohu showed just how beloved suffering is, and how and with what resources it is possible to live with it.

In our well-padded generation, that deeply fears the deprivation of even a crumb of its material comfort, Reb Shmaryohu shone brightly as one who managed to squash and strangle every grain of self pity and self absorption.

Mankind today is a slave to the pursuit of pleasantness, of favorite pleasures and of the good life. Reb Shmaryohu was a ruler, the power and strength of whose rule was like a banner for all to follow. He was the ruler of the kingdom of suffering!

A Flask of Warmth in the Black of Night

A Personal Recollection by Rabbi Yaakov B. Friedman

The night was steamy, damp and soulless. The air grew more and more oppressive with the threatening approach of the small hours. In the room, in the corridor and in every part of the building, there was turbid and insipid silence. I was feeling terrible. The aches in my body, my weakness and feelings of wretchedness, washed over me in waves, racking me as I lay under the worn blanket.

At the time, I was a lonesome young boy, alone in the bleakness of the big city. I was taking my first, hesitant steps into the world of yeshiva ketanoh. Things had started out badly enough: my hopeless, unrelenting and unrequited homesickness, the strangeness of my new surroundings, the attack of flu from which I was suffering and the poor conditions, that made the dining room and dormitories seem like a cold, forbidding barracks.

The night had fallen early and miserably enough. My temperature had risen and the awful pain in my throat had become more severe. I lay there full of self-pity, on a prickly straw mattress, contemplating the plaster that was peeling from the walls. I remembered the insipid tea with the brown sugar, the early morning cold, the wake up monitor knocking on the door, the kitchen and the warm memories of home . . .

A gentle hand pressed against my forehead. Warm fingers infused me with unfamiliar waves of security. I gathered myself and my gaze met the shining, tired, eyes of the temporary maggid shiur, Rav Shmaryohu.

"You have fever," he remarked fearfully.

I comforted myself with his concern and mumbled some satisfied comment by way of reply.

"You need tea . . . some fresh, warm tea. "

He disappeared as suddenly as he had come and returned shortly, carrying a nice, clean tray (not that one from the kitchen) upon which he bore a glass (a real glass, not a plastic one), real tea, real lemon, together with which he brought a smile and an atmosphere -- entirely genuine -- of home.

He sat down next to me expansively, as though he'd been standing by the tea and lemon with all the time in the world. He poured tea for me (don't laugh at my recollections -- from a stainless steel teapot!) and with his own hands, held it to my lips while I drank. After that he took another cup and, concentrating, he squeezed lemon into it. His gentle smile wafted through the room like the fragrance of a field of flowers. The world around was growing clearer . . . The peeling plaster now looked like wallpaper. The greasy, dirty, military-style cooking vats were forgotten. I relaxed, pleasurably cushioned by a secure feeling.

I must have slept deeply. It took me a while to rouse myself through several degrees of torpor. A gentle hand stroked my arm. Out of the darkness of one a.m., Rav Shmaryohu's sparkling eyes beamed at me once again.

"You no longer have fever," he whispered happily.

He walked past me quietly, with a lightened step and lit a dim light. He carried a clean, new stainless steel tray (not a rusty tin one), with a gleaming glass, tea and lemon, and a breath of friendship. He was all good will and readiness to help. And with his glass of tea and lemon, he infused me with a new spirit and with new hope.


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