Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar II 5763 - March 19, 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 III

Friend and Support

"Like a face's reflection in the water, so are the hearts of men to one another (Mishlei 27:19)." When people feel that they are encountering someone whose concern for them is genuine, they respond in a similar manner. The best possible demonstration of the warmth with which Rav Ginsberg reached out to others is to hear some of the reactions of the beneficiaries of his friendliness. Many of those who had contact with him over the years -- some on a casual basis, others with greater exposure -- felt that they had lost a very close and special friend.

Among the visitors at the shivoh were a number of meshulochim who spoke unabashedly in terms such us, "I had a special relationship"; "Me and the Rosh Yeshiva"; "He kissed me, not once but twice"; "Ich hob gedavent far em und ihr far mir (I davened for him and he davened for me)"; "I told him my tzores and he told me his" . . .

Upon hearing this, a communal leader who also felt that he had enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Rav Ginsberg, remarked in amazement, "Do you mean to say that he said, `I love you' to everyone?"

The truth was that each and every one of them was special and enjoyed a unique relationship with him. He would invariably call people his brothers. One of Rav Ginsberg's sons-in-law recalls when he became a chosson, being introduced to acquaintances and being told, "This one is like a brother to me" until the Rebbetzin a'h, asked her husband, "How many brothers do you have?"

His concern for others often went far deeper than friendliness. There were many occasions when he stepped into a situation to fill a role and lend support when it was needed.

When a young local family lost their mother, he would call up every evening to wish them a good night. A young boy lost his father several months before his bar mitzva. Rav Ginsberg would make the twenty- five minute journey from the yeshiva into town in order to review the boy's droshoh with him. He told the yosome, "I'm your zeideh. Call me whenever you need me."

In cases where it was necessary, he made himself available at any hour for individuals who needed his counsel urgently.

If his fellow Yidden were his brothers, his talmidim were literally his sons and they felt this as strongly as he did. A talmid from Toronto wrote, "Ask any talmid -- the Rosh Hayeshiva treated each one mamesh like a son and each talmid considered the Rosh Hayeshiva like a father. These are not mere words . . . I cannot begin to say how much fatherly love he gave us and what concern he showed for all of us, and we all felt it.

"He was not only concerned with our ruchniyus but very much with our gashmiyus. In fact, on many occasions the Rosh Hayeshiva would call me into his office and spend tremendous amounts of time discussing personal things with me. I was (in the beginning) shocked that a Rosh Yeshiva showed such an interest. He had a sixth sense. He always knew when a talmid needed encouragement and he of course provided it, with his soft loving words and his loving hugs and kisses. He was . . . always going over to talmidim and asking them how they were feeling.

"When I broke my ankle, he himself made many phone calls to get me seen by a top doctor. He even gave his own car to take me downtown to the doctor and to my many appointments with the physical therapist . . . There were countless other times that I witnessed his fatherly love, his literally going through `hoops' to do anything and everything for his children."

Even less successful individuals felt the power of his love for them, which, because it was genuine, never resulted in a blurring of the line separating right from wrong. Sometimes, it was necessary to expel boys from the yeshiva's dormitory. One such fellow visited the shivoh and recalled that having been a yosome, after being asked to leave, the Rosh Yeshiva had taken him into his own home. He realized that he had not lived up to the yeshiva's expectations, nor those of the Rosh Yeshiva but at the same time, he knew from the way he was treated that he was loved and respected.

A friend in Eretz Yisroel observed that Rav Ginsberg was always a dynamic person with a direction in life. He never simply walked; he moved, with a sense of mission, never a shpatzier (a stroll). He was always on the move yet he was soft-spoken with a tremendous power of persuasion. He was able to talk to people and was extremely calming.

One would have thought that his dynamism would give him an agitated air, as is often the case, but he could also speak gently and soothingly to someone with problems. Busy as he was, he lived with time. "If he was with you", this friend concluded, "you were everything; you were the ben yochid, the only one with whom he was dealing."

Say It, My Child

His love for his fellow Yidden expressed itself in many ways, both in his interactions with them and in his efforts to better their situation and his striving to bring them closer to their Father in Heaven, of which his prayers for them were an integral feature. He would beseech his Creator as a child begs his father. One observer described his tefilloh as having had "a childlike innocence about it." (See the Mishnah Berurah at the beginning of siman 98, quoting Teshuvos Maharshal, describing the tefilloh of the RaSh as having been "like that of a young child.")

A talmid from Toronto wrote, "Who can forget the Rosh Hayeshiva every morning . . . literally crying out before Shema to the Borei Olom, "Ovinu Ov horachamon, hameracheim, racheim oleinu . . . "? I merited seeing the Rosh Hayeshiva's avodas Hashem close up many times. I would frequently daven before the omud and each time I would watch him in awe, davening with such tremendous bren. You could see his entire body became energized. His face would become fiery. He would get all worked up, with all his kochos . . . When I looked closely, I mamesh saw tears in his eyes. During his long Shemoneh Esrei, he would wrap his face in his tallis and I could hear his muffled cries. When he finished, I would see his face, so shaken up, full of fear, his eyes teary . . . "

His supplications after the main Amidah prayer were lengthy (he would knock on the wall as a signal for the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei to begin). He had lists of people to pray for -- one section for the sick, another to merit children and yet another for singles -- and he often wept copiously on their behalf.

Once while staying with a daughter and son-in-law, his daughter offered to repair her father's tallis. It was very frayed but it was so worn that the stitches wouldn't hold. She then offered to buy him a new one but he found it impossible to accept her offer. He asked her, "Do you know how many tefillos I davened, how many tears I shed and how many tefillos the Ribono Shel Olom answered, [when I was] in this tallis? And I should get a new one?"

The effects of his efforts in tefilloh may have been noticeable but the respective proportions of his prayers for his fellow Yidden and those for what he referred to as, "my sole desire in this world . . . to spread Torah, yiras Shomayim and [to make] public kiddush Sheim Shomayim . . . " remained hidden. All we have are the clues -- which the following incidents provide -- to judge the extent of his concern for and his preoccupation with increasing and enhancing the revelation of his Creator's glory in the world.

This was a factor of which he was always aware when he spoke in public. Prior to addressing a large audience in Eretz Yisroel several years ago, he made a decision. He had always been a dynamic and impassioned speaker. While his thunder-and- lightning delivery used to get people to sit up and listen, he had the feeling that there was an element of personal pleasure in this style and this bothered him. He therefore resolved that on this occasion, he would simply repeat some divrei Torah and let them speak for themselves.

Following this gathering, he addressed a letter to the Ribono Shel Olom. After having spoken this way, he wrote, he wondered whether there might not have been something missing from the kevod Shomayim that he could have engendered had he been more forceful. He therefore asked the Ribono Shel Olom to allow him another chance to correct his omission. By that time though, he was unfortunately already sick and he never got a second chance.

On one trip to Eretz Yisroel, Rav Ginsberg approached HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l with a query concerning his practice during tefilloh. While he understood the reply he received in a certain way, family members who later heard the exact wording of Reb Shlomo Zalman's response, as Rav Ginsberg repeated it to someone else at the time, were convinced that in his humility, he had not realized what the Yerushalmi poseik had really meant to convey to him.

The Mishnah Berurah rules that if the tzibbur reaches kedushoh while one is saying the supplications following the Amidah, one should say "Kodosh, kodosh . . . " and "Boruch kevod . . . " but not "Yimeloch . . . " Rav Ginsberg told Reb Shlomo Zalman, "I make lengthy supplications because I need to pray for the Ribono Shel Olom's children. I daven for each one of them. But how can it be that I don't daven for Malchus Shomayim (by having to remain silent during `yimeloch')?"

Later, Rav Ginsberg expressed his amazement over what he saw as the power of a renowned poseik like Reb Shlomo Zalman to take issue with the ruling of the Mishna Berurah, for he had told him that he should say it.

Reb Shlomo Zalman's intention only became clear during the shivoh for Rav Ginsberg, when an avreich who had heard the story from him when it happened, repeated the gaon's exact words. Reb Shlomo Zalman had said, "Zog, mein kind, zog (Say it, my child, say it)."

Clearly, his meaning had been, "You can say it. Your concern and worry over omitting it demonstrate that for you, it is one of the supplications."


While his absolute reliance on and openness with his Creator, like a child's total reliance on and lack of guile with a parent, was most noticeable in his prayer, it extended to every facet of his life. He would speak to talmidim and audiences about the requirement to constantly maintain awareness of Hashem's Presence: `Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid' (Tehillim 16:8). This was something that he himself worked on and practiced constantly.

"His perfect trust and simple faith in Hashem were . . . incredible," wrote a talmid in Toronto. "So many times, we actually saw how, `One who trusts in Hashem is surrounded by kindness' (Tehillim 32:10).

"In one instance, we were to go back to New York for Shabbos Chanukah and we were to leave the yeshiva after second seder on Thursday night. That morning, the weather forecast a tremendous snowstorm in Toronto. We called the airlines and they told us that due to the weather predicted, we could change to an earlier flight. We asked the Rosh Hayeshiva for permission to leave early and he unequivocally said, "Learn till after second seder and don't worry; you'll all go home for Shabbos Chanukah". And so it happened. The big storm never came! He visibly demonstrated to us what it means to put your entire trust in the Ribono Shel Olom."

Family members and talmidim alike point to the period of the illness of his first Rebbetzin a'h, as being the prime example of this utter reliance. In the aforementioned address in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Ginsberg included some words of tribute to his late Rebbetzin (of the Schindler family of New York) and he mentioned this period.

"When I had the fortune to become a chosson," he said, "it was a time when virtually every bas Yisroel wanted a husband who was an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist -- a professional -- or a businessman. We were only a handful at the kollel at that time. There was no one. But fortunately there was a Bais Yaakov and that was our good fortune. She didn't want an accountant. She didn't want a businessman. She wanted kulo Torah. And because of her kulo Torah, I and my family merited Torah . . .

"When the doctor told her, `We have no further medical therapy to help you,' all she said to him was, `Well, this is it,' and she walked out.

"As she went out she said to me, `Ich vill veinen -- should I cry -- in front of the goy and show him that I have doubts in emunoh? Chas vesholom! I merited marrying off my children to Torah and I would have wanted to merit marrying off all of my grandchildren to Torah but "Hashem Hu hatov be'einov ya'aseh (Hashem will do what is correct in His eyes).' "

"After that she said no more. She guarded her lips to the end. I can honestly say that I learned more avodas Hashem from that last year than I did my entire life."

"Who can forget the days," wrote his talmid, "when the Rosh Hayeshiva's first Rebbetzin was deathly ill and he would sit over his gemora with a tremendous hurvanya! It was something none of us could believe. His mesirus nefesh for Torah in those days was mind-boggling! . . . Who can forget [that] Purim? We all thought that we wouldn't be able to have him celebrate the Purim seudah with us. To our great surprise he came. Not only did he come, he was marbin besimcha with us. In fact, I was told that I got into a long conversation with him and he listened to my every word as if there was nothing more important right now than his talmidim. Just a few days after Purim [on motzei Shushan Purim] the Rebbetzin passed away. It struck me how much the Rosh Hayeshiva loved and cared for us even during one of his most difficult times."

Another talmid who was leaving the yeshiva at that time, came to take his leave of Rav Ginsberg and thank him for the past three years. He had only discovered what had been going on after the petiroh. He remarked to the Rosh Yeshiva that he didn't know how he had been able to carry on delivering shiurim and shmuessen throughout the recent period. Rav Ginsberg picked up the gemora and began crying. "Yossi," Rav Ginsberg told him, "without this I wouldn't be able to survive."

Full Circle

Rav Ginsberg served as Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel in Toronto since 5748 (1988). He continued conveying the devar Hashem in his later years with undiminished zeal. His excitement and delight in repeating a chidush in shiur were just the same whether the thought was his own or someone else's. As had been the case in Telz, young talmidim in Toronto were still able to watch him move around excitedly and see how Torah was the source of his energy and vitality. His shmuessen too, remained as lively, as engaging and as practical as ever.

Throughout the years, his bonds with talmidim of the early years remained as strong as his more recent ones with younger talmidim in Toronto. Besides his own ongoing connection with his talmidim, he was also interested in their maintaining their connections with each other. On his frequent trips to Eretz Yisroel to visit and care for his mother a'h, following his stepfather's petiroh, he managed to speak with talmidim, advise them and address them. On these visits, he would also attend to Kollel International projects in Eretz Yisroel and would deliver shiurim in several yeshivos.

Despite his reticence to remarry, expressing his concern over his maasim (which the gemora says determine a zivug sheini) he did so almost two years ago (to the former Rebbetzin Grozovsky tbltv'a). His family saw this zivug sheini as ample evidence of the level of his deeds. Just as he had spent a lifetime devoting himself to furthering kevod Shomayim, he merited a zivug who selflessly devoted herself entirely to his welfare.

His legacy is vast, extending from the talmidim he raised and the Torah institutions that he helped establish, to the countless others whose lives he touched. While those who knew him can draw upon their memories of him to fuel their furtherance of the goals for which he strived, the story of his life will remain a powerful inspiration to engage in self reflection and heighten commitment to Torah and to being mekadesh Sheim Shomayim.

Acknowledgement: the writer wishes to acknowledge the extensive help of HaRav Greenberger of Ner Yisroel, Toronto, Mr. J. Koval of Cleveland, Rabbi Z. Klebenow and Rabbi Yonti Bursteyn of Yerushalayim and Mr. Y. M. Rosenthal of New York, in providing the material upon which this appreciation is based.


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