Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Adar II 5763 - March 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








To Fill The Land With The Knowledge Of Hashem -- HaRav Dov Gavriel Ginsberg, zt'l
6th Adar II, 5763, Two Months Since His Petiroh

by Moshe Musman

Part I

Introduction: The Yerushalmi's Story

HaRav Ginsberg zt'l sat shiva for his mother in Yerushalayim several years ago. The head of the family that hosted him on his visits to Eretz Yisroel recalled that the arrival of one of the visitors to the shiva caused something of a stir. They heard an excited Rav Ginsberg announce, "This is that Yerushalmi!"

The Yerushalmi man's fascinating story does not involve Rav Ginsberg himself but its powerful message makes it particularly suitable as an introduction to the story of his life.

The Yerushalmi had travelled to Bnei Brak and had approached the Steipler zt'l for a blessing. The Steipler asked him, "Do you know Rav Yitzchok Stollman?" (Rav Stollman zt'l was Rav Ginsberg's stepfather.)

The Yerushalmi replied that in fact, he stood next to Rav Stollman every Shabbos morning during tefilloh. The Steipler asked him to convey his regards to Rav Stollman, who later supplied the Yerushalmi with the story that lay behind this request.

In Europe, Rav Stollman had been a talmid of the Alter of Novardok zt'l and, together with some other talmidim, he had gone to Bialystok to open a yeshiva.

The process that the Novardoker talmidim followed in so doing could not have been simpler or more straightforward. They would set themselves up in one of the botei knesses and begin learning. Then they would go around the town, knocking on doors in search of prospective talmidim. At one home, the lady of the house told Rav Stollman when he knocked on her door that yes, she had a son whom she wanted to send with them. She was the Steipler's mother a'h and, throughout his life, the Steipler remained grateful to Rav Stollman for having brought him into yeshiva.

Rav Stollman would make two observations on this story. The first was that it would have been worthwhile to come into this world even for the merit of the sole act of taking the Steipler to yeshiva.

The second thing he learned from it was that one never knows on whose door one is knocking.

At the time of course, the young Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky was not yet the Steipler. The story's message is that helping another take even the smallest of steps towards Torah can have huge consequences and should never be treated lightly or dismissed as insignificant.

HaRav Ginsberg may or may not have received this lesson from his stepfather but it was one that he implemented throughout his life -- a life that highlighted every facet and exemplified every form of harbotzas Torah.

In his over forty years as maggid shiur, mashgiach and rosh yeshiva he taught countless talmidim, transmitting Torah to them with fire and verve. He thus built them as individuals as well, guiding and exhorting them to make the maximum possible commitment to Torah in their future lives. He also actively sought ways to bring Torah to those who had not yet set foot inside a yeshiva. His work to establish new mekomos Torah encompassed all the different factors and the various parties that are involved in starting and in maintaining new ventures of this nature. He presented Torah's cause and the need to bring it to a broader public, to supporters, to laymen and to yungerleit, establishing a rapport with each group in its own language.

As evidenced by the different types of positions that he held, he possessed the rare quality of being able to reach hearts as well as minds with his Torah. This of course was a particular feature of Telz which will be discussed in greater depth later, but he assimilated it fully and made it his own.

It can and does happen that on hearing great Torah personalities speak, people are inspired by the grandeur and magnificence of the thoughts and ideas presented and recognize their truth -- but nonetheless feel very distant from such sublime levels and ultimately, remain largely unaffected.

Another kind of speaker, on the other hand, will make an emotionally-charged appeal to people's consciences whose effect is powerful and immediate but which, because of its very strength, is hard to handle and does not often lead to real change.

HaRav Ginsberg's Torah always came straight from the heart, engaging emotions as well as thoughts, while his mussar guided his listeners to Torah in a way that satisfied and placated questioning minds as well as thirsting hearts.

First Influences

Orphaned from his father at the age of three, Rav Ginsberg and his sister were raised by their mother during their formative years. In later life, Rav Ginsberg would express his special debt of gratitude to his mother for her devotion and self sacrifice to his chinuch, a debt that he felt obligated him over and above the mandatory honor that was due to her as his mother.

He would relate that when it was time for him to leave for cheder, his mother would see to it that he went, no matter what. He would often mention the occasion when it snowed and she carried him to cheder on her back.

As a child he spent time with his maternal grandfather, Rav Shimon Kagan z'l, who ministered to the spiritual needs of the Jewish community of Lynchburg, Virginia. When he was thirteen, his mother married Rav Yitzchok Stollman who served as one of the main rabbonim in Detroit.

Stepfather and stepson became very close. One of the qualities for which Rav Stollman was renowned was his generosity in giving tzedokoh. He would regularly give away an inordinate proportion of his salary to the poor. Rav Ginsberg emulated him in this respect, giving tzedokoh generously, in excess of his means.

Without a doubt though, Telz had the most profound influence on him. He arrived there in Cleveland when he was sixteen and remained for ten years, becoming one of the closest and foremost talmidim of the roshei yeshiva, HaRav Elya Meir Bloch zt'l and HaRav Mottel Katz zt'l. He considered his relationship with them as close as that between father and son and he expressed this feeling on many occasions. He took copious notes of the shiurim that he heard from Reb Elya Meir, some of which were used in preparing the shiurim for publication.

In Telz, he absorbed both Torah and an all-encompassing outlook on life and he remained faithful to his teachers' ideals throughout his life. Telz imbued its talmidim with a sense of responsibility towards the klal, as well as with the ambition to bring about the greatest possible kiddush Hashem in one's life. This, the roshei yeshiva taught and demonstrated, was synonymous with learning and disseminating Torah.

This was the goal for which Rav Ginsberg strived with every ounce of strength, all his life. Among the writings that he left are some very revealing comments on this point. He once wrote, "I am aware of my puny worth and of how many merits are needed but I can say one thing in my favor -- my sole desire in this world is to spread Torah, yiras Shomayim and [to make] public kiddush sheim Shomayim . . . " Elsewhere he wrote, "Torah dissemination is woven into the fabric of my soul. It is my entire life and my goal on earth."

Change and Stimulus

Two events of great significance for Rav Ginsberg took place in 5715 (1954-5). On Shabbos morning, the twenty- eighth of Kislev, Reb Elya Meir was niftar. The bitter news reached the yeshiva that day. Reb Mottel (Reb Elya Meir's brother-in-law from his first marriage), who had shared with him both the tragedy of loss and the work of rebuilding, shed a single tear and then wiped it away, returning instantly to the peace and calm of Shabbos. Rav Ginsberg witnessed this and understood what had happened. He however, found it impossible to control his emotions. He simply sat down on the floor and cried.

Rav Ginsberg was also married that year. After spending a further year in Telz, where he was the first avreich in the yeshiva, he and his rebbetzin moved to New York, where he went to learn under HaRav Leib Malin, zt'l, in Beis HaTalmud. His deep attachment to that yeshiva was apparent at his leave taking.

At HaRav Ginsberg's levaya, HaRav Avrohom Ausband ylct'a recalled that day, which he experienced as a young child. Rav Ginsberg was leaving by car. He stopped off at the beis hamedrash and went inside. It was lunch time and there were not many people around. He went from bench to bench, kissing each one.

After his American upbringing and his only exposure to the yeshiva of Telz, Beis HaTalmud came as something of a shock. Both yeshivos were among the handful of Torah institutions that were pioneering serious commitment to Torah study in the United States and they certainly shared common goals, but the approach and style of their leaders -- who were continuing the heritages they had brought with them from Europe -- differed greatly.

The Approach of Telz

Under HaRav Yosef Leib Bloch zt'l and HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch zt'l Hy'd, Telz in Europe had become famous for the more abstract and analytical style of its ethical instruction. HaRav Elya Meir Bloch continued his father's and his brother's approach, delivering his own, original shiurei daas to his young American talmidim.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of daas lay in its comprehensiveness. It comprised an entire worldview, that extended from exhortation about down-to- earth, practical aspects of a ben Torah's conduct, to encompass sublime messages about the highest ideals of Yiddishkeit. Writing in memory of HaRav E. M. Bloch, another Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Chaim Dov Keller ylct'a, recalled the shiurei daas that he and his friends heard in Telz:

"Those who listened were transported to different worlds -- the olomos ho'elyonim of which he spoke so often -- higher worlds of wisdom and spirituality. New horizons opened as we thought thoughts of Kiddush Hashem, of tikkun ho'olom, of the spread of Truth and G-d's Word in this world -- of the secrets of Torah and the profundity of Torah. He spoke of responsibility for the klal, of discipline and of seder; of toiling in Torah and of the greatness of Chazal. Amkus and pashtus -- profundity and simplicity went hand in hand. Profundity was not obscurity and simplicity was not superficiality.

"There was always a practical mussar and exhortation for improvement on the level of the talmidim. When some attempted to guess for whom certain words were intended, overlooking the ideas presented, Reb Elya Meir compared it to those who pick out and nibble the raisins, leaving over the whole challah."

Telz then, ennobled and uplifted. It imparted a clear vision of the Jew and his obligations in this world. It took in every aspect of life, wherein everything was assigned its correct role and proportion.

One might compare its influence to that of a transparent slide carrying a pattern of lines, that is superimposed onto a colorful, bustling, dynamic picture. When such a picture is viewed alone, it can be confusing and hard to make sense of. But the overlaid lines demarcate, give shape and impose boundaries and guidelines. They enable the viewer to discern which elements in the picture are route and which are destination, to identify which are distraction and which are purpose and to see which are means and which are end. By showing the talmidim how to view life within the framework of a Torah worldview, Telz raised generations of bnei Torah, who took up their tasks in life with a clear vision of their duties and goals.

Beis HaTalmud

Beis HaTalmud, on the other hand, sought to nurture individuals in the fertile, hothouse atmosphere of the European yeshivos. It dealt less with Life and focused more upon the individual. It set high standards and made difficult demands. Painful censure might be delivered at times, from which there was no refuge. It stripped away comfortable ideas and preconceptions -- brutally perhaps, but honestly.

Bringing the combination of Brisk's straightforwardness and penetration and of Reb Yeruchom's sublime teachings to bear on any issue, side issues and irrelevances would melt away, and stark reality become apparent. This removal of insulation might at times have been painful but it exposed the raw strata of self, where real growth could take place.

Rav Ginsberg and other American-born talmidim sometimes took the brunt of a well-aimed barb, but they absorbed the constructive messages that such remarks were intended to convey and they grew as a result.

For example, Rav Ginsberg once led the weekday ma'ariv a little too tunefully as it turned out and, following the tefillah, they wished him, `A gut Yom Tov!'

HaRav Chaim Wysoker zt'l once praised an idea that Rav Ginsberg had advanced, saying, `Such a shaine ra'ayon! However, without a proof, one shouldn't say it."

This left a deep impression. While he may not have followed this advice absolutely every time, Rav Ginsberg was always bothered if he couldn't find some support for a thought that he wanted to share.

Building and Synthesis

Most importantly, Beis HaTalmud conveyed a focused derech in learning and in life in general. Rav Ginsberg learned there for seven years (with HaRav Levi Krupenia zt`l and other gedolim) for two of which he learned together with Rav Shmuel Kharkover zt'l. He was a devoted talmid and he grew close to Reb Leib and to Reb Chaim and Reb Shmuel too.

It was the Torah of Beis HaTalmud that he would repeat to his own talmidim in later years. On every sugya on which Reb Leib had chidushim, he would say them over. Sometimes he repeated Reb Shmuel's chidushim too. Again, Rav Ginsberg's notes from those years were important in the later publication of the chidushei Torah of those two gedolim.

Care and precision in doing mitzvos was another exacting standard that Rav Ginsberg absorbed in Beis HaTalmud. For example, in the yeshiva's matzo chaburah, he would assist Reb Leib in "shteien by'em oiven (standing by the oven)." He opened the yeshiva ketanoh of Beis HaTalmud, where many of the yeshiva's current noted talmidei chachomim first learned. When Reb Leib was niftar, Rav Ginsberg was maspid him. While Telz remained Rav Ginsberg's foundation, Beis HaTalmud built upon it and added much to his stature.

While living in New York, Rav Ginsberg also developed relationships with HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt'l, and HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt'l.

It is fascinating to note that for all their considerable difference, there was one respect in which both schools of thought converged. The comparison may be judged superficial and it is certainly a case of arriving at the same point by two very different routes but the similarity exists and it is highlighted in Rav Ginsberg's personality. In both botei medrash, the roshei yeshiva were not only the foremost teacher of Torah but also the foremost instructors in mussar or daas (mussar's counterpart in Telz).

In most people's minds, "rosh yeshiva" and "mashgiach" occupy two distinct domains. Usually, the aspect of a rosh yeshiva's greatness that his talmidim principally encounter is the intellectual -- his Torah knowledge and his original and creative thought -- though he may be righteous and saintly in all other respects as well. The mashgiach, on the other hand, is involved in instilling yiras Shomayim and in guiding his charges in character refinement -- in the "duties of the heart" -- though he may also be a talmid chochom of note in his own right. This can lead to a somewhat lopsided perception of the claims and limits of these roles on the part of young talmidim.

In Telz, it was obvious that Torah and daas were two parts of a whole -- each was in fact demonstrated to be a part of the other -- and they both came from the same source: the Rosh Yeshiva. In Beis HaTalmud too, the Rosh Yeshiva and his colleagues were giants both in Torah, which they had gathered from the great European roshei yeshiva, and in mussar, which they had absorbed from their venerated mentor, Reb Yeruchom zt'l. This distinctive synthesis of Torah and mussar was recognizable in Rav Ginsberg too.

Transferring the Flame

In the winter of 5722 (1961-2), HaRav Mottel Katz called Rav Ginsberg back to Telz to serve as mashgiach (supervisor) of the beis hamedrash . Three years later, he began delivering a daily shiur to second year bochurim as well. At the time he was almost the only American-born member of the yeshiva's hanholoh.

He was a dynamo, both in the beis hamedrash and the shiur room. For the first half-hour of the seder, he would stand at the bimoh learning out loud. During this time he was not to be approached with any questions. He would say that he was "warming the beis hamedrash up."

Having done that, he made sure to keep it boiling. With animation and fire, he would ask and answer questions, clarify doubts and misunderstandings and generally participate in the Torah discussion and debate. Sometimes, he would pose what he termed `a bomb kashye' to the yeshiva as a whole, to provoke thought and stimulate discussion.

When he gave shiur, the power and force of his delivery extended beyond his own room. To get a point across, he would bang on the table or even on the walls. This reached the point where the maggid shiur in the adjoining room had to move. Remembering those shiurim in Telz, one talmid mentioned the Medrash about the anointing of Aharon Hacohen, when the oil dripped down onto his beard. He recalled that Rav Ginsberg used to sweat so much while giving shiur that the perspiration would drip from his ears and onto his lapels. Each day, he said, the talmidim would wait to see when the sweat would start dripping.

Rav Ginsberg's Friday morning parsha shmuessen were famous throughout the yeshiva. Starting after shacharis, he rarely finished before nine-thirty. The shmuess was meant for the members of his shiur but most of the yeshiva attended.

A frequently recurring theme of these sessions was to stay away from college. Rav Ginsberg had remarkable success in getting boys to stay on in yeshiva and further their growth in Torah. His talmid recalled that not one boy in his shiur left yeshiva for college (at least not before marriage imposed financial obligations). In view of the fact that all of them were the sons of immigrant parents (to whom gaining a firm financial footing was particularly important), this was no mean feat. He was successful with many others as well.

When he felt strongly about a boy's future in Torah, Rav Ginsberg went all-out in trying to thwart the parents' plans to prevent their son from coming to yeshiva or to remove him and send him to college. He knew what he wanted to achieve and if he thought he was right, he would pull out all stops in his efforts.

In one case, parents tried to stop their son from leaving for yeshiva by stealing his tefillin. Unfazed, Rav Ginsberg obtained another pair for the boy and he left for yeshiva. At the boy's wedding, he and his parents were reconciled.

In another case, a boy was supposed to go to college but Rav Ginsberg got his parents to agree that he first obtain semichoh. Beset by both external and internal pressures, the boy would approach Rav Ginsberg every week and tell him, "I have to leave for college. I have to go."

Rav Ginsberg agreed. "Yes, you're right," he'd say, "but first sit down for a day and learn properly, without any interruptions."

"I had such a good day," the boy recalled, "that I didn't want to go!"

End of Part I

Are You Really Sure?

Throughout his life, as a marbitz Torah in yeshivos, and as a Torah "ambassador" to broader circles, Rav Ginsberg continually emphasized that only with clear-headed dedication to Torah-true living could one ensure that one was spending one's life in the proper way. Ideally, this should be achieved by making a sincere commitment to Torah study, using every available moment for toil in Torah -- something that he worked long and hard to help greater and greater numbers of Yidden make -- or at least, by consulting an accomplished Torah scholar when important decisions have to be made. Here is an adaptation of part of his address to the Kenes Shemiras Haloshon in Yerushalayim in 5756 (1996), in which he drives this point home.

. . . So many of us live this kind of life, assuming that it's so simple to make decisions, that when we come to crossroads -- is this the right thing to do or isn't it the right thing to do according to Torah? -- we pasken by ourselves. And when you pasken yourself, without daas Torah, most of the time you're paskening wrong. And if you're paskening wrong then you're living a life shelo al pi Torah . . .

Let me give you an example. This is really mind- boggling. I think it's ascribed to the Ibn Ezra, who brings this episode somewhere in Tanach. I haven't seen it written but this is the way I've heard it.

There were two people walking through a forest. One had three loaves of bread and the second had two loaves. Coming into the middle of the forest, they saw a third person lying on the ground on the verge of starvation. He mustered all his strength to get onto his knees and plead with them, "Please, share your bread with me, so that I'll have a chance of survival, please."

They held a consultation and decided that they would share their five loaves equally. They divided the five loaves up and eventually all three of them were able to leave the forest alive. The third person said his rescuers, "I can't begin to thank you for saving my life. Words are totally insufficient. I just want you to know that I'll be indebted to you forever. As a small token of my appreciation, here's five shekolim for you to divide between yourselves."

And with that, he left them.

Well, they took the five shekolim and -- please pay attention -- the one with the three loaves said, "There's no problem about how to divide it. I had three loaves, so I get three shekolim. You had two, so you get two."

His friend said, "That's wrong. I agreed to share with you equally and save his life. Had I not agreed he would have died, so therefore the five shekolim should be divided between us equally and we should get two-and-a-half each'"

They were fighting and arguing and getting nowhere. Finally they decided to go to the Ibn Ezra and ask his opinion. The Ibn Ezra heard each one's argument: the one with the three said, "It's three and two for sure! I'm ready to swear," and many of us here readily agree that it should be three and two. The other man told him, "He's wrong. It's not three and two. It's two-and- a-half, two-and-a-half, because I was an equal partner in saving him!"

The Ibn Ezra tells him, "You're an equal partner perhaps but you're wrong. It's not two-and-a-half, two- and-a-half and it's also not three and two."

They turn to the Ibn Ezra with a smile and ask him, "So what is it -- if its not three and two and not two-and- a-half, two-and-a-half? What's the answer?"

The Ibn Ezra says, "This is the way to divide the five shekolim: the one with the two loaves gets one shekel and the one with the three loaves gets four."

At this, they burst into laughter. "What are you talking about? This is totally ridiculous. Four and one?"

Even the one with the three loaves agrees, "I don't deserve more than three and you're giving me four?"

And the other one screams, "One shekel for two loaves? It's impossible!"

He said, "Let me explain myself. If you both decided to share five loaves equally between three men, that means that each loaf needs to be divided into three portions, one third for each man. If there were five loaves, that gives a total of fifteen portions."

Turning to the one who had two loaves he says, "If you divide five loaves into fifteen portions, how many portions did each man receive in order to survive? Each received five portions. How many loaves did you yourself have? Two. How many portions are there in two loaves? Six. How many did you need to keep yourself alive? Five. How many did you donate? One. You therefore get one shekel."

Then he turns to the one who had three loaves and says, "How many portions were there in your three loaves? Nine. How many did you need to live? Five. How many did you give? Four. So it's very simple. You get four and he gets one."

I'm only telling you this as a simple illustration to what I witness many hundreds of times. People are ready to swear that what they're doing is not only right but its rotzon Hashem: `It's mamesh daas Torah!'

Then, when they finally find out from daas Torah that not only was it a wrong decision, it was totally the opposite. It was neither three and two, nor two-and- a-half, two-and-a-half. It was four and one. Only through the pure crystalization of a mind which is daas Elokim, like the Ibn Ezra's, can one come to such a decision.

But when we make our own decisions, years later we find out that a lifetime has been wasted shelo al pi Torah, neged rotzon Hashem, Rachmono litzlan.

[Better do it right the first time.]


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