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14 Tishrei 5765 - September 22, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Customs and Practices

from Maran HaRav Shach, ztvk'l

Temporary Residence

Maran was very particular that the sechach covering of his succah be very thick so as not to have any holes (air spaces) and that it remain dark to the eye from the outside, also that it be impervious to rain.

He was careful that there be no invalid covering, either in the middle or on the sides. In his new residence, where the walls were already standing, he asked that the boards be dismantled since it was not to his liking. On Rechov Wasserman, there was a large shade tree that overhung the succah a little bit. He did not rest until he saw to it that the extra branches were completely removed to his perfect satisfaction.

(Notes from HaRav Bergman, shlita)


He spent a great deal of time in the succah and this mitzvah was particularly beloved by him. In his later years, when his eyesight weakened and he was unable to arrange proper lighting in the succah, he would go into the house to study, excusing himself on the grounds that he was exempt because Torah study required a clear mind. He made sure, however, to sleep in the succah under all circumstances.


He was very careful not to be lax in any facet of the mitzvah of succah and not to rely on the blanket leniency of mitzta'er (it is uncomfortable). He actually regarded the phenomenon of giving various external excuses to avoid sleeping in the succah as a veritable inroad against the halochoh.

When his grandchildren complained (in the old apartment) that cats were sleeping on the roof of the succah, he said that this could not be [i.e. that he could not come to harm because of it] since one who kept the commandments would suffer in no way due to his observance.

He once heard about a certain old man who pleaded mitzta'er, that he was greatly inconvenienced and discomfited, and would not sleep in the succah. This old man would eat his festive meals by his children except for a morning bite, which he took by his neighbors. Maran regarded it unfavorably that the sons did not build a succah for their father, at least one that fulfilled minimal requirements.


Rabbenu used to drink tea outside the succah and would even partake of fruit as well, saying that he had seen this done by his own teachers.

(Notes from HaRav Chaim Bergman)


When he was still vigorous, Rabbenu would make it a point to lend a hand in the covering of the roof of the succah by at least laying several of its branches.


It is known that Maran's succah was heavily decorated with the pictures which people would send him for hanging, and which duly served as segulos for the donors. (Some considered sending a picture to HaRav Shach to be a seguloh for a shidduch.) Rabbi K.Y., who was appointed to arrange the decorations and hang them, tells that there were times when Maran was very particular about what to hang and where.

He paid special attention to the hangings right above his seat, or above his bed in the small succah. In a moment of light humor, he once remarked, "Just make sure you leave enough room for me to enter the succah."


Hanging all around the walls were pictures of Maran R' Akiva Eiger, the Beis Halevi, R' Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish, R' Isser Zalman and R' Aharon Kotler, ztvk'l.

Sometimes he would inquire if they had already hung up the picture of the Chofetz Chaim.

(Peninei Rabbenu Ha'Avi Ezri)


On the first night of Succos, after having made kiddush and partaken of an egg-measure of challah, he would listen as a list was read before him of all the people who had sent decorations to be hung in Maran's succah. He would then pray for them and bless them.

One time, when there were a great many names with many of the donors being young women who needed to find their mates, he said, "A rachmonus! Where will I find so many suitable matches for them?"

But then he added, "But after all, Hashem is the Father of orphans, the [merciful] Judge/Protector of widows, Who is near to all the broken-hearted. He is Omnipotent."

And then he would begin to pray for them all.


Since he used to light candles in the succah before Yom Tov (he was accustomed to lighting the candles beforehand, even on Yom Tov), he would send someone in the middle of the prayers to check that everything was alright. (See Mishnah Berurah siman 639:8).

On Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, when the services are long, he would send someone to his house to check that all was well for he felt that as a trustee over hundreds of thousands [of shekolim] of charity money deposited in his care, he was a shomer -- and accountable.


Succos was for Rabbenu a time of great joy, of jubilation. He was fond of expounding a great many commentaries pleasing to the ear and telling numerous stories. Many of the stories publicized by word of mouth and which appear in writing in Shimusha Shel Torah and Mishulchono Shel Rabbenu, were told over by Rabbenu during Succos.

He made many extra efforts in matters concerning this festival, the succah and the special segulos involved in building and decorating it. Great indeed was his joy when it was satisfactorily completed.

He had two succos in the apartment on Rechov Raavad, one large one for eating and receiving guests and a small one for sleeping. Both of these were erected by people who were in special need of yeshuos of various forms.

In his latter years, he refused to bless those who helped him, nor did he want to bother people to help him for nothing. Nevertheless, there were many who sought to help out even if they would not receive his explicit blessing.

Rabbenu would ask that the matted (manufactured) sechach coverings be checked over, so as not to trouble the few people who were still involved in building his succah. Several types were brought before him and he looked into their respective halachic sufficiency by himself. He inquired what other rabbinical opinions were regarding the different kinds and finally sent over a trusted confidante, HaRav Dovid Zimmerman, to HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner with a mat that he had himself selected, for his approval. He awaited his return and then ordered that it be placed as a covering on his succah.

(Even then, there were a few individuals who participated in this mitzvah and who were duly blessed.)


He was not particular about ma'amid dema'amid [that something holding up the supports of the sechach not be potentially tomei as the Chazon Ish ruled] based on the Mogen Avrohom and the Gra for, he said, the Rambam maintains that even ma'amid is kosher, as is the opinion held by the majority of poskim. This is what he saw by HaRav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, ztvk'l.

Arba Minim

He was very meticulous about the kashrus of his arba minim. When he was younger and still saw well, he would tour the markets himself in a search for his own set. Later, people would bring specimens for him to select. He had his steady suppliers who brought him choice lulovim and esrogim.

Nevertheless, once he felt he had found perfection according to the halochoh, he did not spend extra time on finding a more beautiful specimen, feeling that this constituted bitul Torah, a waste of precious time.


He was very careful in selecting triple leafed haddasim and did not rely on chut hamakif [that a single thread passes through all three leaves]. He wanted them to be actually triply aligned. He often expressed his pain to those who came to visit that he only had one hadas that satisfied his stringent requirements.

One time, walking along Rechov R' Akiva, he could not help lamenting his woe before random passersby. R' Dovid Shmidel brought him haddasim many times, and Rabbenu was especially grateful to him for this.

His fear, anxiety and distress when he did not have adequate haddasim is impossible to describe. In his later years, when he could hardly see at all, he would rely upon the inspection of his son-in-law, HaRav M. Bergman.


One of the people who used to bring him lulovim to choose from told that the tree in the Lod area from which he had been accustomed to pick the palms leaves had not been tended well one year and had dried up almost altogether. The wonder was that, nonetheless, he was always able to procure at least one very perfect lulov. Until the last year . . .


Rabbenu was of the opinion that one should take the lulov after shacharis, since the davening is the steady mitzva (todir), whereas the Four Species is the rarer one.

When he was in Kletsk however, where the custom was to take the Four Species before shacharis and recite the blessing over them in the succah, he was reluctant to practice his own custom and be different than the rest. What did he do? He said his prayers at home, alone, so as not to transgress the practice of todir -- the more prevalently practiced mitzvah -- according to his opinion, and then he would take the arba minim and recite the blessing over them.

Afterwards, he would go to the synagogue for Hallel.


When he came to live in Eretz Yisroel, he would say the blessing over the arba minim before Hallel. One time on the first day of Yom Tov when he would usually go to daven in the yeshiva, he decided against it; he said that it was not seemly for him to arrive with an array of esrogim. It smacked of pride he said, also because everyone would rush and crush to recite the blessing over his set. Besides, he preferred not to recite the blessing before davening, since this was not his custom either, being contrary to the rule of todir.

In the end, he decided to daven shacharis elsewhere.

(Notes from HaRav C. Bergman)


He told his disciple, HaRav Chaim Mordechai Osband, that even though the gemora explicitly states that the custom of Yerushalmim was, "A man leaves his house holding his lulov, goes to the synagogue holding his lulov, recites the Shema and prays with his lulov all the while in his hand . . . " it seems obvious that under these circumstances, they surely recited the blessing over it before they said Krias Shema and the rest of the prayers.

The Rosh writes in Succah (perek gimmel, siman 33) that even though one actually takes the lulov in hand before he recites the blessing over it, it is still considered the "blessing before the act" since we find that it was considered mitzvah min hamuvchor in Yerushalayim to continue to hold on to the lulov at all times. It seems clear that this was carried after having said the blessing over it, which they had surely said right at dawn.

Maran said that this is only according to their custom of holding onto the lulov all the while and thus fulfilling the commandment every minute. If one does this, there is no basis for applying the rule todir veshe'eino todir . . . for if that rule applied, they would have not fulfilled the mitzvah while walking to shul in the morning or during the time of prayer. Therefore there is no basis for applying the rule that the more common mitzvah comes first.

But we who only take our lulov for the Hoshanos and Hallel, the question is whether to take it for a moment before prayers or after prayers. Here we can apply the rule of todir veshe'eino todir.

(From Sefer Hazikoron Sakoso Leroshi, compiled by his grandson, HaRav Yissochor Bergman)


He used to say the blessing and make the ni'anu'im during Hallel over the most beautiful esrog available. It did not matter if the esrog was a descendent of those certified by the Chazon Ish or those certified by the Maharil Diskin. Sometimes, it was a Yemenite esrog with a very good chazokoh. Also, someone would provide him each year with a beautiful esrog from the plains of Morocco.

His disciple, HaRav Emanuel Toledano, once told him that he, himself, should surely say the blessing over a Moroccan esrog, for that was part of his ancestral tradition from generations back. Maran greatly praised this practice.


The haddasim and the arovos were bound to the lulov with a koishikel-holder braided from palm strands which his grandchild, HaRav Ben Zion Bergman, would make expressly for him. The actual binding together of the Four Species was seen to for dozens of years by HaRav Eliezer Markowitz. He said that Maran used to request that it be done in his presence. He would rivet his gaze upon the lulov throughout the process until completion.

Even when the first day of Yom Tov fell on Shabbos, Rabbenu was very punctilious that the lulov be already bound up on Erev Shabbos, even though it is very difficult to maintain the freshness of the arovos in this manner until they were first taken on Sunday.


On Hoshanna Rabba afternoon, he would ask to be given his arba minim again. Sometimes he would perform the ni'anu'im movements as one does during prayers. On the final Hoshanna Rabba of his life, when HaRav Aharon Nochum Miletzky brought the arovos to him, he burst into copious tears. When the former later told this to other great men, they became greatly alarmed at the implications.


He was meticulously careful that the lulov be green up to its very tip and fully closed and that it not have any brown crown (koro).

He was most careful that the leaves at the topmost point end together and not open to any question not going up together.


He made it a point to have arovos with particularly thin leaves, which are elongated like a stream. He did not generally look for arovos that actually grew by a stream. However, if they brought him arovos that actually grew by a stream, he preferred them.


He made it a point to have a fully yellow esrog, as is maintained by the author of Mishkenos Yaakov.


When everyone came to say the blessing over his lulov, he did not make a point of transferring ownership to each single person by himself, that is directly from him, but told each person to pass it on to the next in line.

Simchas Torah

Maran was careful to complete his weekly review of the parsha with the double reading of the text and the single reading of Onkelos [shnayim Mikro, echod Targum] of Parshas Zos Habrochoh before Shemini Atzeres.

One time, when HaRav Dovid Frankel zt'l came to visit, he asked him if he had already reviewed the sidra. He noted, "The designated time for it is today, not tomorrow."


Rabbenu was in a heightened state of jubilation on Shemini Atzeres (which is together with Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel), the day of rejoicing over the Torah. He would point out the illuminating story told of the Gaon who would glow like a veritable torch, rejoice and dance before the Torah. His joy was even increased during the hakofos and the removal of the Torah scrolls from the Oron Kodesh.

Even at his very advanced age, he would clap his hands during the hakofos.


He would generally make the hakofos amidst a small minyan in the house of his neighbor and confidant, HaRav Yosef Neuwirth. Rabbenu would be honored with chosson Torah but in his unbelievable humility, he -- the pillar of Torah and its very crown -- would sincerely ask if there were not anyone else present "more worthy of the honor than me?"

In his latter years, he would weep profusely and say, "But I don't study or pray as I should. How can I deign to go up for the honorary chosson Torah?"

In his final year, he wept and wept before he could finally bring himself to actually say the blessing over the Torah.

(Notes from R' Chaim Bergman)


One of the reasons, apparently the main one, for his ceasing to go up to the yeshiva to participate in the hakofos was because everyone would crowd around him to pay deference to the [his] Torah. Actually, he regarded this as a slight to the Torah Scroll itself.

One year when he did go, arriving during the middle of hakofos, he made it a point to hold on to a Sefer Torah. When he saw that they had stopped singing in his honor but were still encircling him en masse he, nevertheless, feared a slight to the honor of the Torah Scrolls and returned home.


One year, around 5740, people begged persistently that he join the yeshiva in their hakofos. He finally capitulated, on condition that they not sing in his honor. And so, he went there in the afternoon. But when the public saw him in the doorway, they spontaneously burst out in a rousing, thunderous rendition of "Yomim al yemei melech . . . "

Rabbenu immediately motioned frantically with both hands that they cease but when that did not help, he turned around and went home.

On other occasions, this song was sung in his honor. For example, on Purim after the reading of the megilla when he was accompanied home. This demonstration distressed him greatly and he would make restraining motions with both hands that they stop. If this proved ineffective, he would simply run home at full speed.

(Pearls from Rabbenu HoAvi Ezri)


Rabbenu regarded it a most important aspect of Simchas Torah to increase one's diligence and application to Torah study, for this is the prime honor and joy of the Torah. He was very embittered over the fact that people had changed the nature of this day and that they no longer found time to actually study the Torah with which they were so exuberantly rejoicing.

He once remarked to his grandson, Mordechai Yosef, saying, "Today, when everyone goes up to dance, you go to a side room and rejoice with the Torah by taking a gemora and studying it intensely."


In his latter years, he was once visited by his trusted confidant, R' Chananya Cholek. Maran asked him, "Did you dance today?"


"Don't get insulted if I ask you if you studied today, either." And he added, "The main thing is not to dance with one's feet to and fro. On Simchas Torah one must rejoice with the Torah by studying it! And people tend to forget this."

He said that when he was still in Europe, he would stay awake every Simchas Torah night, all night, and study with joy in Torah, on the day of the Rejoicing of the Torah.

(Notes from R' C. Bergman)


When he asked his great-grandson, R' Chaim if he had already danced with the Torah, the latter replied that he hadn't been given the chance to do so.

"I'll tell you what to do. Take a Chumash Bereishis and dance with that!"

The Festival Days and Isru Chag

He would hand out lechaim drinks on Isru Chag Succos.


There were years when he put on tefillin on Chol Hamoed in private. This is what Maran HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, ztvk'l, had practiced.


He was careful not to engage in any melochoh de'Orayso even on Yom Tov Sheini, to comply with the opinion of the Rambam. He wore his festival attire on Isru Chag, too.

Once during shacharis in yeshiva, he greeted everyone with a "Gut Yom Tov." Sometimes he would rule according to the Rambam when asked by foreign students what to do about the second day of Yom Tov.


He would study Koheles extensively throughout the entire Succos.


When he entered his succah on Hoshanna Rabba to take leave of it, he would weep.


On the third day of Chol Hamoed, he would exhort everyone to study. He used to say, "Today one must intensify one's effort in study, for today is the yahrtzeit of the Vilna Gaon."

(Notes from HaRav Avrohom Yeshaya Bergman)

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