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3 Teves 5765 - December 15, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Brisker Rov — New Findings

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Excerpts from volume 3 of the series HaRav miBrisk — a biography of HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik in Hebrew. HaRav Shimon Yosef Meller opens new vistas for us with his unique revelations.

Part I

The books of HaRav Shimon Yosef Meller need no introduction. They have become famed throughout the world as unique and superlative works which have become a cornerstone for every Jewish household, with every Jewish library respecting their reputation.

The books include the series "Shai LaTorah" in five volumes, the four volumes of "Uvdos Vehanhogos leBeis Brisk", "Nasich Mamleches HaTorah" — excerpts from the life of HaRav Simcha Zissel Broide.

But his supreme masterpiece, published in the last year-and-a- half, is the biography and excerpts from the life of the Brisker Rov, HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Halevi Soloveitchik, in two volumes. Recently, the author has been working hard to complete and publish the third and last volume, which includes chapters beginning from the year 5710 (1949) until that bitter day of erev Yom Kippur 5720 (1959), when the Rov ascended to the Heavens.

Volume three will cover important aspects of the life of the Rov, such as "Chosomo Emess," a special chapter dealing with "Inyonei Chinuch," another on matters of "hashkofoh," another on the time he spent in Switzerland, as well as special chapters on the controversies that swept the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel in his time, such as the drafting of women, the excavations of graves, a political coalition with the National Religious, the swimming pool in Yerushalayim, the clubhouse dispute in Jerusalem, and more.

Those chapters which deal with the Brisker Rov's leadership role have tremendous importance. Indeed, this is the first time a comprehensive work has been produced which is most particular about the accuracy of facts, is based on an in- depth investigation, on audio and visual testimony, a cross- check of information, and an uncompromising criticism of the data collected on many incidents which then caused a storm among the chareidi sector in Eretz Yisroel.

As in the previous volumes, massive and intensive research was carried out, which spanned years and continents, in order to fully cover each subject and each event, with clarity, caution and enormous responsibility.

Even though more than 50 years have passed since many of these events occurred, there are still a few important personages, rabbis and public figures left, who were very much involved in all aspects of these affairs. Exclusive material of the rarest type was gleaned from these people, and others, together with documents which have not as yet been released to the public, which shed new light on many facts that were unknown to the public in those days.

The overriding need for and striving for maximum precision with regard to every detail, however trivial and unimportant it may seem, is the main reason for the delay in publication of the book.


HaRav Meller says:

I recently heard an amazing incident from HaRav Avrohom Erlanger, one of the rosh yeshivas of Kol Torah, as he heard it from HaRav Dovid Auerbach — who heard it directly. Here is the story:

Once the Brisker Rov was talking with a rabbi about a certain issue, and during the conversation he mentioned a story involving a certain watchmaker. As hard as he tried, the Rov could not recall the name of that watchmaker around whom the story revolved, and since his attempts to bring up the name from the recesses of his memory were unsuccessful, he stopped telling the story . . .

`What is this?' he was asked. `Surely the story can just as well be told even without the minor detail of the watchmaker's name?'

The Rov replied that it was true that this detail was not of such vital importance that if it were left out it would detract from the story. But if he were to continue relating the story without mentioning the name of that watchmaker, he was afraid that one of the listeners would eventually forget the fact that the person's name was unknown, and he would think that he needed to make up the name of another watchmaker in order to pass the story on to others — and he would thereby be responsible for bringing falsehood into the world. Therefore he was unwilling to continue telling the story!

Rabbi Meller continues: If the Rov thought it appropriate to relate this story, there must have been some important and necessary purpose to it, since the Rov took from his most valuable time to tell it over to the rabbi. Nevertheless, if it turned out that this involved possibly leaving out a detail which might not be expressly true, better the story be buried and not told!

It has now been 45 years since the Brisker Rov ascended to the Heavens, to the Yeshiva Shel Ma'aloh. So many years have elapsed since the Rov was swept up to the Heavenly regions. Can there still be some new findings?

Rabbi Meller: It is definitely a unique situation! Hardly a week goes by that we don't come up with some new information from the members of the Brisker household. Sometimes it is an unknown dvar Torah, other times a new `Brisker Rov story,' or some new letter or picture.

Following the publication of the two volumes on HaRav miBrisk, Rabbi Meller received hundreds and hundreds of letters: letters of appreciation, responses — and even new findings.

Many of the letters contained supplementary information, or new and unknown details about the life of the Rov, as well as pictures or letters which had been passed around in the course of time to various people throughout the world. They were most happy to submit them for publication in the books, and to participate in this unique documentary venture.

For example, Rabbi Meller showed us a letter he had recently received in the Rov's handwriting addressed to HaRav Meir Karelitz, with regard to changes that the Ministry of Education then wished to implement in the chadorim and chareidi talmud Torahs. In it, the Brisker Rov writes brokenheartedly about this grave calamity, expressing himself in the harshest and gravest terms:

"When everything is said and done, we feel but we do not do anything about this major and dreadful issue which takes precedence over all those minor matters that everyone is putting all their energies into, and all their heart and soul, etc., etc. And then there is no time to think about this most central of all issues, upon which the entire future of Judaism depends, so that we should at least be left with some remnant of those homes which were built on Torah. It leaves the impression that we are not in the least interested in this matter."

Following is a hitherto unknown letter written by the Brisker Rov.

All the brochos to my loyal friend, the renowned and great gaon, etc., etc., HaRav Meir Karelitz, shlita.

May there be pleasantness in our days forever.

"After the blessing from heart and soul. I very much wanted to know whether the eminent gaon had already met with the Minister of Education, and what the results were. In the opinion of R' Yitzchok Meir Levin, a tremendous amount can be accomplished through him. He already spoke with him about this. But it is crucial that the rabbonim follow up on this. This must be done very soon, as he told me when he came to my house on motzei Shabbos, since the government is already busy preparing everything for the next school year, by which time the law of compulsory education will already have come into effect.

"I have not as yet received any information from the eminent gaon as to what is being done about this. I spoke to the Ponovezher Rov about his joining the efforts with the above mentioned . . . the Prime Minister as we had agreed upon, but his response was negative.

"I really have no idea whom to ask and whom to apply to. When all is said and done, we feel that we do not do anything about this major and gravely serious issue which takes precedence over all those minor matters that everyone is putting all their energies into, and all their heart and soul, etc., etc. And then there is no time to think about this most crucial of all issues, upon which the entire future of Judaism depends, so that we should at least be left with some remnant of those homes which were built on Torah. It gives the impression that we are not in the least interested in this matter.

"I have poured out my heart bitterly to the eminent gaon, for there is no one even left to talk to about it, and I await the eminent gaon's response, for this matter demands a solution as soon as possible. I remain his dear and beloved friend who honors him and desires his peace and well-being . . . "

28 Nisan, 5709 (1948), Jerusalem

Stamp of Truth

Excerpts from the chapter, "Chosom Shel Emess" from the book HaRav miBrisk, part three, soon to be published in Hebrew.

One of the talmidim and those close to the household of HaRav Eliezer Plachinsky described beautifully the fear and trepidation that gripped him at the mere mention of the name or allusion to the Brisker Rov, when he said that the basis of the feeling of fear that he had was—the feeling of the Rov himself. He brought down the words of the Gemora in Horayos (10) which speaks of a king who is in a situation of, "ein lo al gabov elo Hashem Elokov" (he has no one over him except Hashem).

In the Brisker Rov too you saw clearly that ein lo al gabov elo Hashem Elokov. He lived the truth as it was, without any dependence on anyone or anything.

He had absolutely no fear of any human being, whoever the person was, and no fear of any event or of anything else. There was only one, single yoke that he bore, the yoke of his G-d. Him alone did He fear, and that fear that he himself felt, was felt by everyone around him. And it was because of that bare truth, which had no tinge of personal desire or the desire to curry favor, that people both far away or near felt the fear!


Let us take an example. When he first came to Eretz Yisroel and heard a rumor that there were certain people who were not careful about separating terumos and ma'asros, he replied in a shocked voice: "How can it be? Are they not terrified of the aveiroh?"

That was the kind of response he had, like the shock of someone who approaches a furnace with his eyes wide open. (Heard from HaRav Rephael Shapiro, at a hesped for the Brisker Rov.)

You might say, it was his yiras Shomayim that was palpable. That was certainly true, but it seems that above all it stemmed from a clear and distinct awareness of the essence of the din of separating terumos and ma'asros, and an intense amazement that a person would not care to be particular with that mitzva.

Does he not know that this is an aveiroh? How can he possibly deny the reality and behave in contradiction to his knowledge of it being an aveiroh. How is it that the emess has not taken away his peace of mind and impelled him to keep the din as it is, without any arguments?


The spirit of emess shielded him all day long. Consequently: his whole mind and might was immersed in Torah and in the truth of its ways, and a steadfast faith in the Borei Olom was as simple for him as night and day. It is no wonder then that, in those stormy days when there was a sudden heavy bombardment of Yerushalayim and cannon balls were flying over the streets, then everyone ran for shelter — but the Brisker Rov, who also wanted to live and desired shelter and protection, just opened a sefer Tehillim and uttered a heartfelt prayer about the imminent danger.

You might say: that is the power of emunoh. That is certainly true. But it was more than that: reality had to be subordinated to the light of truth. And since we are ma'aminim bnei ma'aminim, the real truth is: what better or more appropriate refuge do we have than to open up our sefer Tehillim and pour out our hearts to Hashem that He should answer us in times of trouble and be our Fortress and Refuge!


And since the emess was like a crimson thread passing over all of his steps and his actions, ever since he was old enough to understand, the path ahead of him was crystal clear to him, without the slightest deviation, without any baseless doubts and fears, without any groping around in the dark. It was a level of emess which constantly examines what is the rotzon of Hashem, the Guide and Director of all actions. When should I be happy and when should I be sad; when should I fear and when should I trust; when should I act and when should I desist. Such was his way; the entire song of his life was a single encapsulation of the fulfillment of the rotzon Hashem in perfection, in truth, and in simplicity.

Acquire Emess

The Brisker Rov related: An author once brought the Gaon of Vilna the manuscript of his essay on the order of tefilloh for his assessment. The essay began with an explanation of why the prayer of Adon Olom was instituted to be said first, following the statement by Chazal: (Brochos 7:2):

"From the day that HaKodosh Boruch Hu created His world there was no one who called HaKodosh Boruch Hu `Adon' (Master) until Avrohom, as it says (Bereishis 15:8): "O L-rd, G-d, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it." From this they also made the deduction that the order of prayer should begin with the prayer of Adon Olom as a reminder of the zchus Avrohom, as it says in the Gemora that even Daniel's prayer was only answered in the merit of Avrohom.

The Gaon derived great pleasure from seeing that explanation and told the author: "Even if the book was printed just for that one thing it would be sufficient."

The HaRav Yitzchok Maltzan brings down this explanation in "Siach Yitzchok" on that posuk, in the name of the sefer Maggid Tzedek, and notes at the end: "The Vilna Gaon finds this matter correct he praised it."

In his introduction to the sefer Kanfei Yonah by HaRav Eliyahu Yonah Segal, av beis din of Ashminah (Vilna, 5646-1885), the story is brought down in the following words:

"I have heard it said about the Vilna Gaon that once a certain author came to him to ask for his haskomoh on a peirush of the tefilloh, and he saw at the beginning of the sefer the reason for beginning the order of tefilloh with the Adon Olom, . . . The Vilna Gaon commented: "Even if the book was printed just for that one thing it would be sufficient."

Someone commented on this story by asking the Brisker Rov: "Why was the Gaon so amazed? After all, the vort was so short and so extremely simple?"

The Rov replied: Torah shleimoh hi, hafoch bo vehafoch bo dechulo boh (It is a complete Torah [thought], learn and relearn it and you find everything in it). He went on to say:

Oib der Gaon hat meshabei'ach gevven dem vort, iz der vort emess, un in emess iz kein untersheid nisht do tzuvishen groys und klein (If the Gaon praised this vort it means it is emess, and when it comes to emess there is no difference between `big' and `small!').

Heard from HaRav Meshulam Dovid Halevi Soloveitchik.

End of Part I


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