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8 Adar II 5763 - March 12, 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 II

Introduction: Man of Vitality

The posuk's words, "Orach chaim lema'aloh le'maskil . . . An intelligent [person]'s way of life is directed upward, so that he avoids descent into the grave" (Mishlei 15:24) -- were constantly on Rav Ginsberg's lips. He would convey this message in shmuessen, stressing repeatedly that the only way to avoid slipping downwards in life is to be constantly engaged in the struggle to ascend. He would point out that it is the dead fish that float downstream, while the live ones fight against the current.

At the levaya in Yerushalayim, HaRav Don Segal characterized HaRav Ginsberg as, "Ish chai, rav pe'olim (A man of vitality, of manifold activities)." This was a prominent aspect of his personality.

Over the years, he was marbitz Torah in several different institutions. In addition, in later years, he took upon himself a high level of involvement in other projects to spread Torah. The variety and breadth of his activity reflected his quest for challenge. He constantly pushed himself to the utmost, putting all his energy and talent into whatever position he was filling or task he had undertaken. If he felt that he was unable to utilize his abilities fully where he was, for whatever reason, he would seek a new challenge. While there were usually additional factors involved in his moves, this one was present every time.

He indeed spent his life struggling to overcome obstacles -- of the type with which every sincere oveid Hashem grapples. He overcame his own early acquaintance with personal loss to develop into a warm and caring mentor, who reached out to countless others in all walks of life. He faced ignorance and opposition in order to imbue young boys with appreciation of Torah and to ensure that precious years were not needlessly squandered. He campaigned against communal indifference and noncooperation in order to break hardened topsoil and create furrows where seeds of Torah could germinate.

And most importantly, throughout life he fought both inner and outer adversity in order to immerse himself in Torah to the greatest possible extent. Essentially of course, this was the same battle being fought on different fronts -- the struggle to banish the coarseness of materialism with Torah's spiritual light, to strive constantly for spiritual ascent, in order to overcome the downward pull of physical nature and constraint. "Orach chaim lema'aloh lemaskil . . . "

This struggle has ramifications that extend far beyond the confines of the personal arena in which it takes place. " `Sholom bo'oretz' " Rav Ginsberg once said at a gathering to further harbotzas Torah, "can never be achieved with the principle of power like the secular world is trying [to do] and failing -- only with the power of principle, `shetihiyu ameilim [beTorah].' Peace in Eretz Yisroel and in the world will not be attained with the spirit of force, only with the force of spirit."

The Meaning of "Omol BaTorah"

His application to learning was amazing, especially in his younger years. He was capable of learning for up to eighteen hours, to the very limit of his strength.

As a marbitz Torah, the demands on his time were many. When he was not disturbed, he preferred the quiet, early morning hours for learning by himself; he found them the most enjoyable time of day. When out of the beis hamedrash, attending a wedding or traveling by bus or plane, he would immerse himself in a sefer. One traveling companion remarked that on their journey together, Rav Ginsberg hadn't taken his attention away from his sefer for three or four hours.

When the family lived in Cleveland, it was a ten minute walk from their home to the yeshiva. Rav Ginsberg would take a sefer with him and where he was not seen, he would learn from it as he walked. When waiting in a car at a red light, he would ask to be read to from a sefer, if he was with his son, or from Tehillim, if accompanied by a daughter.

A talmid from Toronto, recording some of his recollections of his rosh yeshiva, wrote, "When you saw the Rosh Hayeshiva sitting in the back of the Beis Hamedrash and learning for hours, you could understand what ameilus beTorah means! I would always watch the Rosh Hayeshiva learn; he would sit down by his shtender, take off his glasses and `dive' into his gemora, with his arm by the Maharsha [keeping place]. He would sit for hours at a time with his eyes glued to the pages, a tremendous look of concentration on his face, only getting up to get a sefer . . . When he left the beis hamedrash, he would continue his hasmodoh, locking himself in his office, deeply engrossing himself in the sugya . . .

"There were many times we urgently needed to speak privately with our Rosh Hayeshiva. At first we would wait by his office for him to come out. We realized very quickly that he could stay in there for many hours. So, hesitantly, we would knock and wait, knock again and wait. When he would finally open the door, you saw the deep concentration on his face and when he ushered you inside, you saw the open seforim piled high on his desk. Many times we would see lights on in the Rosh Hayeshiva's office until very late at night . . . He once told me in passing that his doctor ordered him to exercise. Every morning when he went on his exercise bike, he would have a seder in Mishna Berurah."

After eight years in Telz, Cleveland, Rav Ginsberg returned to New York where he became menahel of the Mesivta of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim of Forest Hills in Queens, also serving as rov of Kehillas Tiferes Moshe in Kew Gardens. For the seventeen years that he was in Queens, he delivered a Daf Yomi shiur. At the seudah on summer Friday nights, he never got past the soup. He would bentch and leave to give the shiur. By the time he got back, the meal was over.

At the time of his marriage, Rav Ginsberg adopted a resolution from his own rebbe, HaRav Elya Meir Bloch zt'l. No matter what other demands had been made on his time in the course of a day, he would not retire at night without having learned for a whole hour without interruption. He might return home at two or three in the morning but he would take something to chew in order to prevent himself from falling asleep, and then sit down to learn for an hour.

One Friday night, following a day he had spent traveling, the mashgiach of the yeshiva knocked on his door well after midnight. After he left, Rav Ginsberg started his hour once again.

Realizing a Lifelong Dream

Rav Ginsberg left Chofetz Chaim in 5742 (1982) after twelve years there, by which time he felt they had their own talmidim who could take over. He continued to live nearby for five years.

He wanted to concentrate on his life's dream of large-scale harbotzas Torah. Much of this work was conducted behind the scenes, as he preferred. Though few knew it, he was the conceiver and founder of the SEED projects and also in community kollel movements that drew upon avreichim and the yeshiva-educated public and started to gather momentum in the nineteen eighties.

Rav Ginsberg had conceived the idea of SEED a decade earlier and had gone to discuss it with various roshei yeshiva. His long-term aim was to transform as many Yidden as possible into bnei Torah. SEED was envisioned not merely as a framework for weekly Torah study, invaluable as that was. It was supposed to serve as the first step in a process of introducing a broad public to in-depth Torah study, as preparation for the establishment of a kollel in their community which, after initial outside support, would be supported by the community itself.

He was convinced that with a kollel in town, the entire community would eventually be transformed, as adults were drawn closer and closer to Torah, bringing their families with them (See accompanying box). Rav Ginsberg was personally involved with many of the individual SEED programs all over the world. He traveled a number of times to Los Angeles, to Gateshead and to France in this connection. SEED enjoyed particular success in the United Kingdom, where it was highly organized and regular.

Prior to opening the kind of kollel he envisioned, Rav Ginsberg founded the Community Torah Centers organization. His first kollel was in the Five Towns on Long Island (just outside of New York City) but his first success was with the West Side Kollel in Manhattan where there is a large and well-to-do Jewish community. In the course of his preliminary work to open the kollel, one ba'al habos exclaimed, "Just like hair will grow on the palm of my hand, there will be a kollel in the West Side!"

Rav Ginsberg's reaction was, "If the sitra achra (the force of evil) is so against it, it must be good!" The kollel opened in 5745 (1985) and still exists.

Rav Ginsberg was later asked to join Community Kollel International under HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt'l, which aimed to establish a worldwide network of kollelim. He agreed enthusiastically and put heart and soul into working for the organization, expressing his joy to his family at being able to work towards the realization of his dream without his name being publicly associated with the project.

He would travel to raise funds, spending Shabbos away from home. He would also speak publicly in order to recruit avreichim, which was a much harder aspect of the work than fundraising. He made impassioned pleas on behalf of the millions of assimilating American Jews, stressing the responsibility that rested upon yungeleit to do what was in their power in order to remedy the situation. He got many of them to seriously consider moving away from the main centers in order to join a community kollel. On his trips to Eretz Yisroel, he was involved in the kollelim which the organization opened here.

This work brought Rav Ginsberg into contact with circles of Jews whose outlooks greatly differed from his own. His aim was not only to gain a sympathetic hearing but to recruit them as active partners in the rescue of American Jewry from spiritual oblivion. He was always a direct speaker who knew how to make his point clearly and forcefully but in order to succeed with this kind of appeal, more than that was needed.

His winning approach can be understood with a thought he would repeat in the name of the Ponovezher Rov zt'l. When Yaakov Ovinu arrived in Choron and encountered the shepherds (Bereishis 29:4-7), he chastised them for bringing in the flocks from pasture early. How was he able to offer rebuke to total strangers and to merit a friendly reply? The Ponovezher Rov explained that the key was that his first word to the shepherds was, "Achai, (my brothers)." He introduced himself not as a stranger finding fault, but as a friend who understood them and was sincerely concerned for their welfare.


!!!!!!!! Box:

To Accomplish the Impossible

Adapted from Rav Ginsberg's Address to the Second Annual Knessiah of Community Kollel International, motzei Shabbos Parshas VaYeitze, 5761

Several years before his petiroh, the Mashgiach [HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt'l] had a dream to be marbitz Torah in an extraordinary way: every city with a sizable Jewish population must have a kollel. He was talking about starting kollelim in a hundred cities. His dream seemed like a fantasy. It seemed improbable, almost impossible.

However, the Ribbono Shel Olom told Avrohom Ovinu (Bereishis 15:5), "Go out and count the stars, im tuchal, if you can." Although it's of course impossible, I've given you the ability to be able to accomplish the impossible as long as your motivation is lesheim Shomayim. "This power," taitches HaRav Meir Shapira, the Lubliner Rov, "ko yihye zar'acho, will be in your kinder, in Klal Yisroel."

If one aims to be able to accomplish the impossible, never to make cheshbonos, there's supernatural siyata diShemayo. If a person works for himself and asks for siyata diShemayo, how much more so does he deserve and receive it when he works for the Ribono Shel Olom.

The gemora says in Succa that, Torah shel chesed, Torah of kindness, is when one teaches others. This doesn't mean sitting down to learn bechavrusa with someone else. It means coming to a city with a population of forty to fifty thousand where there's no Torah or yiras Shomayim, opening a kollel, and making it into a citadel of Torah that focuses and enlightens the entire environment.

The Mashgiach's dream transcended the building of Torah communities and focused on building Torah cities. I experienced this. The Mashgiach sent me to Melbourne to be maspid hagaon Reb Shneur zt'l. When I came to Australia, it was at the inception of the kollel of Melbourne. It was a city of emptiness. It had no in- depth Torah study. Then the kollel started and now the whole city is a different place. It was transformed.

The same thing happened in Los Angeles. I had the zchus of being there in the very early days when the kollel started. A ba'al habos got up and said -- almost like an oath -- "There will never be a kollel in L.A.!" Now the kollel of Los Angeles is marbitz Torah on a tremendous scale with great kedushoh. The whole city is transformed.

I was also zoche to work on behalf of a kollel in Manhattan, on the West Side. In the whole of Manhattan there were a million people and there wasn't a traditional kollel beis hamedrash. There was only Tiferes Yerushalayim on the Lower East Side and the Breuer kehilla in the north but for a while there was no kollel. The thought came, `I don't need a kollel. The Ribono Shel Olom does.' There was a budget close to one million dollars but the baalei batim participated and together the kollel was started. The most difficult thing was to get yungeleit from Lakewood. It took almost a year to get ten yungeleit. And when they came, first there was a problem with chinuch . . . there were so many problems. The Soton has plenty of ways of making problems. I gathered the yungeleit and told them, "This is an avodoh! It's not for me or for anyone else. It's for the Borei Olom. There will be supernatural siyata diShemayo."

I promised them that in time, every single yungerman would obtain a position, that each of them would have success in raising his children and moreover, that each one would have more success with his learning in a small, out-of-the- way place than he would have in a yeshiva gedoloh. The Ribono Shel Olom fulfilled this promise because the kollel was started for Him. Now, two hundred people come around to learn.

The novi says, "Lechteich acharai bamidbor, be'eretz lo zeru'o" (Yirmiyohu 2:2). These are two separate things. A midbor, a desert, is a place that you can't plant and you can't irrigate. Nothing can grow there.

But eretz lo zeru'o is a place that can be planted. It could grow but it was abandoned. All the cities where we have kollelim today, that flourish with Torah, were once eretz lo zeru'o. The arrival of the kollelim planted the seed of Torah, the kedusha of Torah, the light of Torah, transforming the whole city into a mokom Torah.

We're living in a time when assimilation is reaching seventy percent, a time of lawlessness, heresy and trials that are worse than Ancient Egypt. Torah is the only means of survival -- toiling, learning with breadth and with hard work. The world is looking for peace at the negotiating table and through military means but peace can never come -- it's futile. The only path to peace is "Bechukosai teileichu" through toil in Torah and building kollelim. And the responsibility is not the roshei yeshivos.' It's the yungeleit's. The Borei Olom promises that whatever you do for Him, there's siyata diShemayo.

* * *

The Levaya

As we were eating supper, the shrill ringing of the telephone broke in. R' Uri Mayerfeld told us to quietly gather nine bochurim, the Rosh Hayeshiva needed a minyan. At once, as if it had been rehearsed, a serious air filled the room as we quickly said a brochoh acharonoh. No one said a word. We understood, sadly, exactly why a minyan was needed.

The Rosh Hayeshiva, even when I had first come to yeshiva here in Toronto almost two years ago, was already showing signs of whatever unspeakable method Hashem chose to take him away from us. But with those gentle eyes, his soft radiant smile, and his exquisite, almost poetic way of speaking, he glowed with angelic warmth. Warmth so overpowering, that all who experienced it succumbed to his inner happiness. His simchas hachaim was so sincere it was impossible for it to have originated from anywhere other than true ahavas Hashem. His radiance nourished all who were zoche to be encompassed by it, and kept them more than just simply alive.

To have experienced a person who was so unique and rare in our times being taken in his prime, is a deep cause of grief.

While driving to the hospital, we all had memories streaming through our minds.

Most of us had only known, Rosh Hayeshiva for two to three years, but nevertheless felt as if our own father, chas vesholom, was on that bed. The personal memories we all shared are unforgettable: Of the mussar and derech hachaim that he gave over to us as if we were his own children, which in his eyes, we were. Of the secure, comforting aura one felt in his presence. Of his readiness and availability at all times to speak to any bochur or baal habos about any situation that needed attention.

With the vivid memories still fresh in both our mind and hearts, we arrived and quickly made our way upstairs. But we were too late.

Standing in the hallway outside the room where moments ago our Rosh Hayeshiva had lain, we whispered Tehillim through tears. At times like this, there is a fear that any thinking person feels. That there will be a day that is inevitable, a day to which everyone in this materialistic world of mortals must eventually surrender, a day that we will be humiliated beyond all human comprehension of humiliation! I have heard that the intense heat of Gehennom is produced by the burn of the eternal embarrassment and shame that none of us will be able to escape.

How great are the Darchei Hashem, the Dayan Ho'emmes, so infinitely mysterious and overwhelming! One minute, the top of the world, a tzaddik and ish kodosh in a generation hardly the same, and the next, who knows? None can evade His eternal supremacy!

Back in Yeshiva, preparations were being made for the levaya, which was to take place 9:30 a.m. the following morning. Tables were being removed to make room for chairs to seat the 1300 people that were expected to come give kovod acharon to their beloved rosh hayeshiva, rebbe, friend, and mentor.

My day started at 4:30 am. Another bochur and I had the zchus of being shomer the guf that had belonged to an Ish Kodosh for the 5:00- 7:30 a.m. shift. During that time not a word was exchanged between the two of us. The drone of various appliances mixing softly with two voices gently whispering the age-old words was all that was heard. A single candle flickered through its red-stained glass holder, casting eerie shadows on the clean white cloth resting nearby.

Running only on a coffee, three hours of sleep, and quite a bit of emotion, we davened shacharis and proceeded to the main Beis Hamedrash, where the hespeidim would take place. A half-hour of Tehillim gave way to the many roshei yeshivos and rabbonim from Toronto and around the U.S. who spoke in detail of the personal kesher each shared with their chaver, who was both a rebbe and talmid to each of them.

The truth is, however, that without doubt anyone in that room could have gotten up and shared his personal feelings of how he had had the closest friendship with the Rosh Hayeshiva. And each one would have been right, for in the eyes of the true oheiv Yisroel that the Rosh Hayeshiva was, they in fact all truly were his closest chaveirim! They reflected on his shmuessen that had infused the fire of Yiddishkeit in the soul of so many, illustrating power and command from a man so sensitive and composed. They spoke of his tremendous anovoh. He wrote of himself, that the only zchus he felt that warranted his being matzliach in Toronto, was that he had dedicated his life to being marbitz Torah. Aside from this he felt himself to be unmerited! They recounted his tremendous hislahavus in Tefilloh, and how he felt it his responsibility to daven for every Yid in Klal Yisroel, truly as his own brother. Every facet of his entire being was fervently and lovingly devoted to kiddush Shem Shomayim.

This was the man that was taken from Klal Yisroel on 6 Shvat, 5763.

Yom Hamissa is not a conceptual or philosophical idea that is to be put on the back burner. It is something that one must keep on top of his thoughts at all times. Before any questionable actions are performed, ask yourself, "Would I do this in front of the Beis Din Shel Ma'aloh? Would I act this way in front of the Rosh Hayeshiva?"


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