Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Kislev 5763 - November 13, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








How I Loved Your Torah! -- HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt'l, 3rd Kislev 5763, Forty Years Since His Passing

by B. Re'eim

Introduction: Beloved of Torah and of the Torah World

"In the fusion of body and soul that comprises a human being, each part exerts an influence upon the other. When a person lives properly, conducting himself according to the Torah in every respect, even where no explicit command is involved, i.e. he fully observes the general commandment, `You shall be holy' (Vayikra 19:2), every force within him inclines towards goodness and reinforces a powerful desire for the spiritual. Many pesukim [in Tehillim] demonstrate this: `My soul thirsts for G-d' (42:3); `My soul thirsts for You" (63:2). Thirst is a physical longing -- evidently, the body also thirsts for Hashem.

"There is also all-encompassing love of Torah, as the posuk says, `How I love Your Torah; it is my conversation all day long' (119:97). There is joy in Torah, as it says, `I rejoice over Your utterance . . . ' (posuk 162). Even generations close in time to our own have witnessed limitless love and clinging to Torah, literally with every drop of energy that the soul possesses. A person can find the pleasure of all the delights that mankind pursues in the love of Torah: physical pleasure, material gain and honor as well, as the posuk (19:11), says, `More precious than gold . . . ' and (119:72), `The Torah of Your mouth is better for me than thousands in gold . . . '

"Through Torah study and directing each and every deed - - including non-mandatory ones -- towards service of Hashem one will attain, to the degree of the toil one has invested, a hold on love of Hashem and love of Torah, which will become his main desire. [And henceforth] all his concern and preoccupation will be with his eternal life" (Mishnas Rabbi Aharon, vol. I, pg. 166).


The Chazon Ish zt'l, was sitting in a beis hamedrash in Vilna, learning together with Rav Shlomo Cohen zt'l. Suddenly, the Chazon Ish began to pace up and down, deeply immersed in thought. His nephew, HaRav Shlomo Shimshon Karelitz zt'l, approached the table that his uncle had been sitting at and saw an open issue of Knesses Yisroel with an article on a creditor's right to exact payment from improvements made to a mortgaged property, written by the rosh yeshiva of Kletsk. He remarked to Rav Shlomo Cohen, "I thought that you were surely contemplating some difficult piece of Rashbo!"

Upon hearing this, the Chazon Ish said, "Reb Aharon's chiddushei Torah are very deep indeed!"

Reb Aharon, who was known in his youth as "the Svislovitzer iluy," was a force in the Torah world for almost seven decades, from the early years when his flashes of genius passed by word of mouth around the Lithuanian yeshivos, until his old age when he bore the burden of leadership of his generation.

Torah scholars knew the effervescent, volcanic Reb Aharon. When he learned, he was surrounded by and immersed in Torah's searing, purifying fire. He taught with sound and spectacle that recalled Sinai.

Thousands of pupils of Chinuch Atzmai knew Reb Aharon's tenderness and his devotion to their Torah education. The Jewish masses of materialistic America were revitalized with the Torah spirit with which Reb Aharon infused them, in his unique way. And Torah Jewry in Eretz Yisroel felt the protection of his outstretched arm, shielding them from the attempts of the country's leadership to determine how they were to live.

The forty years that now separate us from Reb Aharon and his fire, dull our awareness of who he was. Thus, they make it imperative that we attempt to penetrate the obscurity that collects with passing time. In this article, we shall try to reawaken some of the images and teachings that so inspired during his lifetime and immediately following his passing.

The Most Sublime Pleasure

" ` "And He gave Moshe, when He finished speaking to him on Har Sinai . . . " (Shemos 31:18). Rabbi Yochonon said, "To begin with, Moshe would learn Torah and forget it, until it was given to him as a gift" ' (Nedorim 38). How did this gift afford protection from forgetting? Rashi explains that if the vowel of the letter lamed in the word cechaloso, `when he finished,' is changed (from a cholom to a komatz) the word means, `like his bride,' meaning that the Torah was presented to Moshe like a bride to a groom. This is wonderfully revealing about the conditions for attaining Torah. Torah can be forgotten unless it is acquired with pleasure and enjoyment, like a bride." (Mishnas Rabbi Aharon)

Some talmidim from Yeshivas Knesses Yisroel- Slobodka, were sitting one frosty evening in the early spring in the Druskenik forest. Their gaze was riveted by the sight of their friend the Svislovitzer, who had taken possession of a mighty oak tree. One of the group, HaRav Yechezkel Sarna zt'l, later recalled Reb Aharon standing there for hours, gripping the tree tightly, subduing his stormy emotions while his mind and spirit soared.

Slowly, little by little, logic and intuition began working together, illuminating a path to understanding the teshuvoh of Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt'l, whose meaning had been eluding him. Four hours later, having released his grip on the ancient tree and arranged his systematic and orderly approach to the subject in his mind, Reb Aharon started to present his ideas to his friends. When he finished, close to daybreak, he was surprised to see that they were all sound asleep.

Reb Aharon's Torah thought was tempestuous and fiery. Whenever he conversed with his dear friend HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, the latter would try to steer the conversation to the realm of Torah. To those close to him he explained that he longed to hear how Reb Aharon pronounced the word "Torah," with longing and yearning; how his soul leaped with the very mention of the word.

One of the finest moments in Reb Aharon's Torah itinerary was the closure -- or, more correctly, the non-closure -- of a shiur. When he realized that the shiur would have to draw to an end, he was unable to end the pleasure of involvement in the sugya abruptly. He would repeat the points again and again, caressing each idea, wistfully, almost painfully, before parting. Then he would burst into a hearty laugh, suffused with happiness.

Family members viewed this burst of laughter as the most sublime manifestation of Reb Aharon's spiritual elevation. It was a grand vision of the sentiment expressed by the posuk (Shir Hashirim 5:6), "My soul went out when He spoke." The human body is too puny to encompass the entire Torah, and this acknowledgement found expression in the laughter that burst forth from the weak and murky repository of his sublime and glorious soul.

In an Instant

One of Reb Aharon's distinguished talmidim once went to speak with him. He saw Reb Aharon going into the building where he lived and he hurried into the vestibule after him, only to see the elevator doors closing on Reb Aharon. Hurrying up the stairs, he saw that the elevator was ahead of him. He arrived on Reb Aharon's floor in time to see the door of his apartment closing behind him.

The talmid went to the door and knocked. The Rebbetzin opened it. Could he please speak with the Rosh Yeshiva, he asked? "Certainly," said the Rebbetzin and motioned to him to enter Reb Aharon's room. When he went inside, he found Reb Aharon sitting down immersed in a gemora, just moments after arriving home!

Reb Aharon would immerse himself in learning in an instant. At one point in the war, amid fear and confusion, crowds of yeshiva bochurim were trying to board a train. They crushed and pushed, while Reb Aharon awaited his turn. However, he was being looked for. Bochurim lifted Reb Aharon up and passed him through a window onto the train, where he was met by outstretched hands that brought him inside. Immediately, he posed a question and a moment later, he was offering an answer . . .

One Thursday, towards evening, Reb Aharon arrived back in Lakewood tired and exhausted. He delved into his learning and for the seder mussar, he came to the beis hamedrash where he learned Shaar Habitochon in Chovos Halevovos. After ma'ariv, he remained in the beis hamedrash and watched as the bochurim filed out to go and eat. He called one of them over and asked him, "Did the yeshiva learn well this week?"

"Boruch Hashem, with fire and brimstone."

"Are there any questions?"

"Of course -- the sugya was very difficult and we had many probing questions and different ideas . . . "

"So why is nobody coming over to ask me?"

"Because they saw that the Rosh Yeshiva is tired and they decided not to trouble him . . . "

"I'm certainly tired," said Reb Aharon, "but not too tired to answer questions."

A line formed immediately.

HaRav S. D. Warschavtchik zt'l (who was one of the roshei yeshiva of Knesses Chizkiyohu), related that while serving as Rosh Yeshiva in Kletsk, Reb Aharon once visited Baranovitch in order to raise funds for his yeshiva, which was in desperate straits (in a letter, Reb Aharon wrote, "there is no money for gemoras").

When Reb Elchonon Wasserman, zt'l, Hy'd, heard that Reb Aharon would be visiting his yeshiva, he decided to despatch a group of bochurim to invite Reb Aharon to deliver a shiur in the yeshiva. The bochurim arrived at Reb Aharon's lodgings in the morning. He asked them what sugya the yeshiva was learning and what they had said about it. They told him and he responded and the discussion went on as the time for the shiur drew close.

They all went back to the yeshiva together for the shiur, following which Reb Aharon was surrounded by bochurim with questions, which he proceeded to elucidate. The Torah debate continued after mincha and, following ma'ariv, bochurim accompanied Reb Aharon back to his lodgings, all the while engaging him in heated Torah discussion, which continued after he was back in his room and went on until the morning. Only then did the bochurim return to their yeshiva, while Reb Aharon carried on learning.

On a trip to England, Reb Aharon was invited to visit Gateshead and its Torah institutions. A reception was arranged and all the rabbonim of the yeshiva and the talmidim went to the railway station to meet Reb Aharon. Immediately upon arrival, Reb Aharon wanted to know what the yeshiva was learning and the decorous silence came to a sudden end as a boisterous Torah debate ensued.

The Present World

One of Reb Aharon's maxims was, "One should learn from this at all times and imagine that his entire spiritual standing is literally dependant on [how he utilizes] the present moment, for the time that comes afterwards is a completely different entity." He himself exemplified this approach.

Once, a talmid accompanied Reb Aharon when he went away during the summer. HaRav Moshe Feinstein was vacationing in the same place, as were several other families. On Thursday, Reb Aharon called his talmid and asked him to put up a sign in the beis haknesses with a list of references for a shiur. Although he was on vacation and in unfamiliar surroundings, it was natural to Reb Aharon that there be a shiur on Shabbos. He delivered the shiur and adjusted it to the level of his audience, adding explanation. Everyone understood.

When visiting London, his host's son asked Reb Aharon if he could speak to him. Reb Aharon promised that he would have time for him late at night. Returning that evening, after a day of travelling and overreaching his limits, Reb Aharon looked at his watch and told the young man, "I am a rosh yeshiva and I live by the yeshiva's timetable. Right now, according to my watch, they are learning in the yeshiva. At such and such an hour, they will go to eat. If you agree, I would like to learn until then and while they are eating, I will be available to speak to you . . . "

Fighting for Life

While the hakofos were at their height on Simchas Torah, silence suddenly descended. Reb Aharon wanted to deliver a shmuess in the Torah's praise. He began with the medrash, " `From His right hand [He gave] a fire- law to them' (Devorim 33:2): Were it not for the fact that law was given with Torah, no man would be able to withstand Torah's fire." His face was aflame and tears choked him. He motioned with his hand for the hakofos to continue. Let them just know what they were rejoicing with. Let them know that Torah is fire. Let them be careful!

When HaRav Yoel Kluft zt'l arrived in Kletsk, he was amazed by the shiur he heard; by the rapidity of Reb Aharon's delivery, the scope, the depth, the intricate chains of reasoning and by the investigative questions and their resolution. He described it as, "a six- hour shiur packed into an hour-and-a-half." When the shiur was over, the bochurim formed groups to review the questions and their solutions.

"We were standing and reviewing," HaRav Kluft recounted later, "when we were suddenly terrified by a tremendous noise. From where he had been sitting, Reb Aharon could hear the voices of the bochurim in the groups. He had picked up a `kink' in the way one of the ideas he had presented had been repeated and he had rushed over to us to put us straight, knocking over a row of lecterns in his hurry."

A kink in logic amounted to a kink in life; Reb Aharon defended his ideas like a man fighting for his life. Once he was taking part in a rabbinical gathering and one rosh yeshiva said that bnei yeshiva to Torah are like a craftsman to his craft. Reb Aharon cried out, "A ben yeshiva to Torah is like a warrior in battle!"

Reb Aharon imbued his talmidim with the recognition that Torah was something that affected their very lives. Hearing an unsustainable line of reasoning called for spirited opposition. Once, at an opportune moment, one of his talmidim was bold enough to ask Reb Aharon for an explanation of his demeanor when involved in Torah debate. "Why the heat? Why the show of fury directed towards the questioner?"

"We have a tradition from Rav Yisroel Salanter," Reb Aharon replied, "that Torah must be learned with venom (Az Torah muz men lernen giftig)," not with calm equanimity, not with coldness and apathy.

The following story shows the extent to which Reb Aharon actually lived his shiur. HaRav Eliyohu Lopian was spending some time in the United States and he was invited to deliver a shmuess in Lakewood. The beis hamedrash was packed and Reb Aharon was also there. Reb Elya spoke and when he completed one topic, he turned to Reb Aharon and asked him, "Noch (More)?" Reb Aharon nodded his assent and Reb Elya continued, building up another fundamental lesson on the foundation that he had laid.

When he had finished conveying that idea, he again asked Reb Aharon, "Noch?" and again Reb Aharon nodded. The shmuess went on for two whole hours, ending with a rousing perek of Tehillim, as was customary.

Several days later, Reb Aharon was told that Reb Elya had fallen sick from the exertion of delivering such a long shmuess. Reb Aharon was amazed. "He became sick because of the shmuess? My shiur invigorates me. Sometimes I am burning from fever when I arrive and by the time I finish I am healthy!"

One of Reb Aharon's talmidim recalled the time that the Lakewood Kollel was learning Chulin and, in the course of their study, the avreichim encountered two alternative ways of understanding a certain principle that had been broached by Reb Elchonon. The avreichim found what seemed to be a conclusive proof to one of the sides in the sugya and try as they might, they were unable to refute it in order to sustain Reb Elchonon's second approach.

The yeshiva's cook asked this talmid to take a tray of food in to the Rosh Yeshiva's room. He took the tray and used the opportunity to present both of the approaches to Reb Aharon, adding that in fact there were not two approaches and he presented the proof they had found from the gemora. Reb Aharon opened the gemora and sat with it for one minute. Then he looked up and said, "Stuff and nonsense."

With that, the "proof" that all the scholars of the kollel had been discussing for two days, simply evaporated.

His Kindness to a Generation

" `And talmud Torah balances all of them' (Pei'oh 1:1). [How can this be?] Chazal have stated that not even all the mitzvos together are equal to one part of Torah. What the mishnah wants to tell us is that even in comparison to other deeds of kindness, such as hosting guests, visiting the sick, or marrying off a bride, the kindness of learning Torah is the greatest. Torah itself is the most merciful act of kindness that it is possible to do for creation." (HaRav Aharon Kotler)

Two tattered suitcases, four hundred dollars and a churning heart, were all that Reb Aharon brought with him when he arrived in the United States in Nisan 5701 (April 1941). He disembarked from his boat at San Francisco and traveled by train to New York. He said, "For myself, I wouldn't have come. I have come in order to help and to save, with your assistance, American Yidden, the centuries-old Torah centers [of Europe]."

It is impossible to portray the material and spiritual difficulties that Reb Aharon had to overcome in his attempt to plant the seeds that he had brought with him from Lithuania, into the harsh soil of America. The ground had to be patiently prepared using new tools in order to plant the seeds, but the measures involved in their very cultivation embittered his spirit. He had to protect them continually from the erosion which the winds of materialism that swept the land always threatened and, ultimately, to ensure that the emerging shoots were faithful to the spirit of Slobodka and Kletsk.

Reb Aharon's herculean efforts ultimately placed a deep imprint upon American Jewry. Many thousands received a solid Torah education in or because of the yeshiva and its branches its first fifty years. Reb Aharon brought with him powerful measures to relieve the spiritual blight that afflicted the land: tangible faith in the power of Torah [to affect change]. Since the Torah promises, "It shall not be forgotten from their descendants' mouths" (Devorim 31:21), it follows that this promise must even be able to find fulfillment in the bleak conditions of America.

As Reb Aharon wrote in one of his articles, "The great benefit that a yeshiva brings to Klal Yisroel accords to the entire nation, even to those who have distanced themselves from the Torah's ways. For the Torah and its scholars are the heart of the nation that gives vitality to all of Am Yisroel."

From the day he arrived in America, Reb Aharon abandoned any considerations of personal status or needs. He did not conduct himself as a Torah personality to whom honor was due on Torah's account, but as a Torah emissary who was burdened with heavy responsibilities towards his cause, and on whose behalf he was obliged to be a mouthpiece for eternal truths.

Once he commented sadly that the American magnates were so far from a whiff of Torah to the point where, on many occasions, they didn't even take offense at the sharp things that he told them. Once, he was asked to repeat what he had said, but this time calmly. Reb Aharon reacted bitterly, "Is Lakewood my `business,' that I have to compromise myself and die for it? Let it fall down and never rise. Let everything collapse, but let not a single nuance of daas Torah wither [and decay], choliloh vechas!"

Reb Aharon once arrived at New York's central bus station on his way to Lakewood, only to discover that he had no money for the fare. He did not recognize a single person among those standing in the long line before the ticket window. He nevertheless went to stand at the end of the line and began moving closer to the window, from time to time looking behind him at those who had joined the line -- but to no avail.

Finally, his turn arrived. Reb Aharon looked round just once more . . . and saw an avreich from Lakewood approaching. He borrowed the fare from him and went over to buy a ticket. He lived not only with complete trust but with the knowledge that Hashem was with him. He weighed up and evaluated everything that happened to him in the light of this knowledge.

Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz relates that in 5714 (1954), he accompanied Reb Aharon to the meeting hall of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, and he noticed that a bochur was standing behind the seat of one of the leading members. Rabbi Ravitz decided that he too, would stand behind Reb Aharon in order to honor him. Reb Aharon suddenly asked him, "Where is Rabbi Stefansky? I need him." Rabbi Stefansky was his driver.

Rabbi Ravitz went to look for him but could not find him. He looked again and again but was unable to find him. Meanwhile, the meeting ended and Rabbi Stefansky was nowhere to be seen. They took a cab to Reb Aharon's hotel and that later evening, Rabbi Stefansky returned.

"Reb Aharon was looking for you. Where were you?" Rabbi Ravitz asked him.

"Reb Aharon sent me to Bnei Brak on an important errand," was the reply.

Reb Aharon wanted to demonstrate that he could not bear the idea of a bochur standing behind him as a guard of honor, but neither did he want to tell Rabbi Ravitz to simply stand outside.


It was decided to carry out renovations in the yeshiva and a gentile contractor was engaged. The man came with his workers and did the job with great dedication, without asking for a penny more than the agreed sum. All he asked for was a chance to meet the teacher of the students who had not taken their minds off their studies, despite the work that had been going on around them. He went in to see Reb Aharon, exchanged greetings and left.

Reb Aharon asked that the man be called back. He declared that the man was a Jew.

The man admitted that his father had been a Jew who had cut himself off from any connection whatsoever with his religion. He, the son, had grown up utterly estranged. Here, in the yeshiva, something inside him had moved . . . Reb Aharon did not let up and tried to ignite the spark.

There was a Jewish cab driver in Lakewood who did not keep Shabbos. Every time the man drove him, Reb Aharon would speak to him about the sanctity of Shabbos. Slowly, the man's attitude softened. Once, during Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh, Reb Aharon was in the car and suddenly cried out, "This Shabbos is Shabbos Shuvoh. This Shabbos, you won't drive!"

The Jew became Shabbos observant.

We end with an amazing story: It is well known that Reb Aharon bore the burden of supporting Chinuch Atzmai but what is not so well known is that he stipulated that a fifth of whatever he raised was to go towards supporting classic chadorim.

One day, Reb Aharon was leaving after a shiur, accompanied by a group of talmidim. On their way, they encountered a close talmid, who had a question. "I have a spare dollar, which I've promised to tzedokoh. Who shall I give it to? To Chinuch Atzmai, or to a talmud Torah?" There was silence.

Reb Aharon thought for an instant and ruled, "Give it to a talmud Torah."

Then he went over to a nearby counter and banged his hand on it and said, "But still, one can't just abandon forty thousand Jewish children!" Then he left.

It was as if he had said, "If a talmid has a dollar that he wants to give to tzedokoh, then the more deserving address is a talmud Torah whose curriculum is virtually wholly devoted to limudei kodesh. But I, Reb Aharon, don't think about myself but about forty thousand children. I can't abandon them. I have a responsibility that extends beyond any personal consideration!"

"Through the methods of acquiring Torah, the light of the soul itself shines through Torah and merits the crown of Torah" (Mishnas Rabbi Aharon).

Reb Aharon indeed, merited the crown of Torah!

They Loved Him Dearly And Were Frightened To Death Of Him

An Interview with HaRav Ezra Novick

by B. Re'eim

Chazal tell us, "A person does not fully understand his teacher's intention until forty years have passed" (Avodoh Zora 5). The passage of forty years this year thus calls for renewed reflection and contemplation. We visited the home of one of HaRav Aharon Kotler's oldest and most distinguished talmidim, HaRav Ezra Novick, to hear about his esteemed rebbe and about life in Lakewood with Reb Aharon sixty years ago.

When Rav Ezra joined Lakewood, there were three talmidim in the yeshiva. Reb Aharon used to learn in his room adjoining the beis hamedrash and when he needed a sefer, he would come into the beis hamedrash to fetch it. In portraying Reb Aharon's tremendous application, Rav Novick cites his own experience, when he sought entrance to the yeshiva.

Upon arriving to be tested, Rav Novick went into Reb Aharon's room, where the latter was sitting by his gemora. Suddenly the telephone rang and Reb Aharon spoke for half an hour, during which time he learned two blatt of maseches Shabbos, gemora, Rashi, Tosafos and Maharsha. He was a masmid on a par with earlier generations. Even when he wanted to call a bochur, all he would do was motion and say the bochur's name, then he continued learning.

In this connection, Rav Novick recalled two incidents that took place while Reb Aharon was visiting Eretz Yisroel. Reb Aharon traveled to the cornerstone laying of Yeshivas Kletsk in Rechovot, which was led by his brother-in-law HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Meltzer zt'l. In the back of the car sat HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer and HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky zt'l. Reb Aharon, who found long car journeys very difficult, sat in the front next to the driver. Rav Novick ylct'a, sat in the middle and watched Reb Aharon closely.

He was learning all the time. His lips didn't stop moving. From time to time, he would turn around and nod when his father-in-law said something but he didn't interrupt his learning for a moment.

On another occasion when Reb Aharon was in Eretz Yisroel, he immediately delivered a shiur in Yeshivas Eitz Chaim, as he was accustomed to do. After the shiur, a messenger arrived from Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Levin z'l, asking if the latter could come to see him. Reb Aharon replied that he could come.

After the messenger had left, Reb Aharon said, "Why did I tell him to come today? I've hardly learned anything today so far. He can come tomorrow as well . . . " And this, after delivering an in-depth shiur at his usual speed, just as he did in Lakewood!

Reb Aharon used to deliver his shiur in the yeshiva on Shabbos and he was thus very particular that talmidim should not travel home for Shabbos. Before Shabbos Chanukah, Rav Novick approached Reb Aharon and, with great respect and deference, asked him for permission to travel home that week. Reb Aharon fixed him with his gaze. "To leave the yeshiva? There's a shiur!"

When Rav Novick moved to leave Reb Aharon added, "You should know that from the shiur, one can make the same progress as from ten blatt of gemora!"

Another time, Rav Novick came to take his leave of Reb Aharon prior to leaving to settle in Eretz Yisroel. Reb Aharon again stared at him in surprise and said, "To go away from the yeshiva?"

"I'm not going alone", Rav Novick clarified. "All my family is going to settle in Eretz Yisroel and I'm accompanying them."

"Nu," Reb Aharon smiled. "If your whole family is going, you can fulfill [the mishnah (Ovos 4:13)], `Go into exile to a place of Torah,' and stay here in the yeshiva!"

Rav Novick related that when he left for Eretz Yisroel, Reb Aharon gave him a verbal message for his father-in- law, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, something that he did not want to commit to writing. Arriving in Yerushalayim, Rav Novick met Rav Yitzchok Zalaznik zt'l and asked him where Reb Isser Zalman lived. It was erev Shabbos when he came to Reb Isser Zalman's house and the latter was learning together with Rav Dovid Finkel zt'l,to whom he introduced Rav Novick as a talmid of Reb Aharon who brought a message from his son-in-law.

Reb Isser Zalman sighed and called to his Rebbetzin, "Baila Hinda, look! A bochur from Lakewood has arrived, who has heard shiurim from Reb Aharon!"

To all appearances, it sounded as though the speaker was an ordinary householder, whose son-in-law was a talmid chochom.

Reb Isser Zalman was extremely fond of Reb Aharon. Once he even pronounced the brochoh, Shehecheyonu (or Mechayei hameisim) over him. For his part, Reb Aharon annulled himself entirely beside his great father-in-law.

Rav Novick told us another story that took us back fifty years, to the time when the Pe'eylim organization was campaigning to purchase kipot for the youngsters among the many Sephardi immigrants who were brought to Eretz Yisroel in the State's early years. The organization's leaders (Rabbi Shlomo Noach Krol zt'l and others), visited Reb Aharon and told him about the current drive. Reb Aharon took a very generous sum from his pocket and gave it to them.

Upon hearing that the plan was to provide kipot, he removed the rabbinical yarmulke from his own head, put on his hat and handed them his yarmulke.

Once, while Reb Aharon was in Eretz Yisroel, he received an early morning call from Rav Mordechai Winkelstein zt'l, the principal of Talmud Torah Achiezer in Haifa. Rav Winkelstein described his work -- establishing a solid Torah presence in the infamous secular city -- to Reb Aharon with great enthusiasm. The Rebbetzin o'h however, was dissatisfied. She complained, "They don't even let him eat breakfast in peace . . . Do you think that you are an `only child?' "

There was an uncomfortable silence, which was broken by the sound of Reb Aharon's voice, "Yes indeed, he is an `only child' . . . " To Reb Aharon, they were all "only children."

We asked Rabbi Novick, "We heard that you accompanied Reb Aharon to the famous wedding of Rav Yitzchok Dershowitz zt'l in Yerushalayim." Rav Novick smiled and told us the story.

It was at the time of the [Fourth] Knessiah Gedolah. I accompanied him. He stayed in the King's Hotel and I took him to the wedding, where he conducted the ceremony. HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, HaRav Eliezer Silver and HaRav Shabsai Yogel zt'l, were also there. After the chuppah, an emissary came to take Reb Aharon to a meeting. Reb Aharon looked at me and I said that I had brought the Rosh Yeshiva and that I would take him back after the chosson and kallah came out.

Suddenly, there was a noise and everything grew dark. I was sure that it was the Mapai-niks, who were fighting with the chareidim at the time -- every Shabbos there was a fight with the bochurim of Chevron Yeshiva. However, really it was a shell bombardment. HaRav Eliezer Silver, who had come to the Knessiah, had called for Jews to be granted free access to the Kosel Hama'arovi and this was the Jordanian response.

I looked for the Rosh Yeshiva and I found him lying on the floor. I went over to pick him up and I heard him saying, "Ribono Shel Olom, I want to live in order to serve You (Tatte, ich vill dir noch badinen). Ribono shel olom, I still have things to achieve in the world (oof tzu tu'en)!"

The next day, I went back to the hall to fetch Reb Aharon's stick and when I brought it to him he said, "We shouldn't have started up with minhag Yerushalayim!"

There had been a disagreement over whether or not to hold the chuppah during the day, as is customary in Yerushalayim. Reb Aharon had asked that it be held at night. By the way, in the attack, a Jew who had come from France to take part in the Knessiah Gedolah was killed.

The hour had grown late and we were forced to conclude our talk. Before we parted, Rav Novick uttered two sentences: "He transformed the whole of America -- all the talmudei Torah in America are his -- yet he never became an American." And he summed up his rebbe with the reflection, "We loved him dearly and we were deathly afraid of him!"

Such was the love and the respect, which this gaon of Klal Yisroel inspired!

A Gaon of Torah Visits a Sanctuary of Torah

It was at the end of Tammuz 5714 (1954), we are told by HaRav Shmuel Shulsinger, rov of Kiryat Ata, when the Fourth Knessiah Gedolah was held in Yerushalayim. The following day, the wedding of HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky took place. Many distinguished guests arrived from chutz la'aretz, for both the Knessiah and the wedding. The Ponovezher Rov zt'l brought some of the guests to visit Yeshivas Ponevezh. Shabbos kodesh parshas Chukas was the Shabbos of the sheva brochos and Reb Aharon came to Ponevezh in honor of the simchah.

Following musaf, the Rov ascended the bimoh and quoted the Yalkut Shimoni (#759) that says: "And he shall burn the heifer before his eyes . . . " (Bamidbor 19:5- 6) -- "And he burned Hashem's house and the house of the king" (Melochim II 25:9)

". . . its skin, flesh and blood -- . . . and all the houses of Yerushalayim and the great house, he burned in flames. Why is it called `the great house'? This refers to the beis hamedrash of Rabbon Yochonon ben Zakkai, where Hakodosh Boruch Hu's greatness was recounted.

" . . . He shall take -- this refers to Nevuchadnezar,

" . . . Cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread -- this refers to Chanania, Misho'el and Azaryoh,

" . . . and cast it into the conflagration of the heifer -- . . . He killed them with the sparks of fire (Doniel 3:22),

" . . . and a pure man shall gather (posuk 9) -- this refers to Hakodosh Boruch Hu,

" . . . the ash of the heifer -- these are the exiles of Yisroel,

" . . . and he shall place them outside the camp in a pure place -- this is Yerushalayim, which is pure."

Then he invited Reb Aharon to deliver a shiur on the maseches that the yeshiva was learning.

The listeners were deeply moved. Just nine years had passed since the dreadful Holocaust and the wounds were still open. The Rov's words brought to life the destruction of all the Torah bastions in the dark years and the beginnings of the rebirth that were then taking place. His message penetrated to the very depths of the wellspring of Jewish tears. The holy yeshivos that had been spared from the furnace -- they would continue and would pass Torah on to the next generation. And here they were now, standing right here . . . the Rov . . . and Reb Aharon . . .

Rav Shulsinger then described how, on the following Monday, HaRav Eliyohu Meir Bloch zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, arrived in the yeshiva. The Ponevezher Rov said, "From all of Lithuania (Kletsk, Mir and Radin had been in Poland), only three roshei yeshivos survived. HaRav Isaac Sher zt'l has passed away, and now just the two of us are left, the surviving Lithuanian roshei yeshiva. Thirteen years ago, the gaon went to Cleveland, which was the bastion of Reform in America, and reopened his yeshiva there with great success."

Then the Rov invited HaRav Bloch to deliver a shiur.

The Rov saw the roshei yeshiva who survived from before the Holocaust, as angels of rescue, whom Hakodosh Boruch Hu had spared in order to continue the chain of Torah's transmission in Klal Yisroel.

Following in the Footsteps

"The likelihood of influencing someone through one's deeds . . . is very great. Chazal (Brochos 7) said, `Ministering to Torah is greater than its study,' meaning that in order to influence a friend or disciple, practical interaction -- by which he witnesses someone's actual conduct -- is more effective. Chazal cite the posuk's words about Elisha: ` "who poured water onto Eliyohu's hands" -- it does not say, `learned' but `poured'.' Rav Yisroel Salanter was once asked whether he had studied under HaRav Yosef Zundel of Salant and his reply was, "I saw him." (Rav Yisroel's talmidim wrote that he followed him and scrutinized his every movement and this was the cause of his staggering elevation, right to the top.) In this way, therefore, the object [of the mitzvah of reproof] can be attained." (Mishnas Rabbi Aharon vol. I pg. 252)

On Shabbosos and yomim tovim, Reb Aharon would leave his family and sit with his `yeshiva children' for all the meals. He would sing with them late into the night. He would relate riveting stories about gedolei Yisroel. He would longingly evoke the personalities of our master, the Vilna Gaon ztvk'l, and HaRav Meshullam Igra zt'l, whom Reb Aharon considered his spiritual mentors. He was gripped by awe at every mention of the Gaon's name.

Reb Aharon once wrote that in the Gaon's case, a genuine Divine revelation was discernible. The Gaon was able to show the explicit source in the written Torah of every single teaching of Chazal's, in both the revealed and concealed realms of Torah, in both Talmudim, in the Sifrei, Sifro, Tosefta and other midroshim, in the Zohar, Safra Detzeniyusa, Sefer Yetziroh and in other works, comfortably, without any forcing whatsoever. [Moreover,] the Gaon did not live in the ancient past. The Chofetz Chaim knew people who had seen the Gaon with their own eyes.

Reb Aharon's own conduct was modeled on that of the Vilna Gaon. He treated each letter of the Gaon's writings with awe and respect. "When I come across a difficult Biur HaGro," said Reb Aharon's great father-in-law HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, "I don't understand it but I continue. But he (Reb Aharon), won't budge from it!"

Reb Aharon was once speaking to his talmidim about ambitions of greatness. He said that one must want to know everything, to master every part of Torah, up to and including the Ma'aseh Merkovoh and onwards, up to Shulchan Oruch with Biur HaGro.

He would often tell the story of how the Chasam Sofer zt'l, visited Pressburg and wanted to recite the brochoh, "Who has apportioned His wisdom to those who fear Him," on HaRav Meshullam Igra. He opened a gemora to the place where the brochoh is mentioned and read the entire brochoh from it, "Boruch ato Hashem . . . shecholak meichochmoso . . . " [as though learning].

HaRav Meshullam grew angry and asked the Chasam Sofer, "Rebbe, why did the Rambam leave out this halochoh?" and he answered immediately, "For the same reason that he left out the halochoh that barren trees are planted at a distance of fifty amos from a city -- because he does not cite those laws that were only binding in the past and that neither apply nowadays nor will apply in the future. Today, there is no sage over whom it is fitting to make that brochoh and Eretz Yisroel is desolate. [Chazal tell us that] in the future, barren trees will bear fruit and [that] the whole land will be filled with knowledge of Hashem and everyone will be very wise."

Reb Aharon would conclude, "The amazing thing is that the Rambam does bring this halochoh, in Hilchos Brochos!"

It once happened that Reb Aharon took issue with the Chasam Sofer on a point of understanding, not concerning a practical ruling. That Friday night, the Rebbetzin was scalded. On motzei Shabbos he repeated the shiur and his daughter was injured. Reb Aharon saw this as a sign from Heaven that he had been remiss in disagreeing with the Chasam Sofer. "They were punished on my account, while I myself was protected by Torah's merit," he said.

Reb Aharon was asked to give a letter of approbation to a work written by one of the Chasam Sofer's talmidim that was to be republished. However, he kept the sefer and did not give a letter. When asked why, he replied, "I reviewed the sefer and saw that he disagrees with his teacher too easily."

At a later date, Reb Aharon's son, HaRav Shneur Kotler, zt'l, related the incident to the author's descendants. They told him that forty years after the Chasam Sofer's petiroh, their ancestor had gone to his grave to beg forgiveness for having taken issue with him so freely.


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