Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5766 - August 9, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty-Seven: I Gave My Blood and Soul

Maran R' Shach's leadership was not confined to the boundaries of the Torah and the chareidi world. He felt a deep sense of responsibility towards all of Klal Yisroel. When he saw a need to react, he expressed daas Torah on any subject that required attention, even if it was not directly connected to Torah-Judaism.

When the U.N. adopted the decision categorizing Zionism as racism, Maran felt the need to publicize his response. And so, despite Torah-true Judaism's unilateral opposition to Zionism, he saw in this ruling a direct blow to all of Judaism.

Famous is Maran's appearance in 5750 (1990) at the Degel HaTorah rally in Tel Aviv's huge Yad Eliyahu stadium before more than ten thousand people, accompanied by full media coverage by satellite communication throughout the world. Maran took the leftist kibbutzim to task by shooting a direct question at them: "In what way do you call yourselves Jews?"

This speech actually triggered a polemic revolution within many a kibbutz and a number of them, in fact, turned to him, asking, "What does being a Jew actually mean? How does one express one's Jewishness?"

Many of them were indeed privileged to do teshuvoh in the wake of this broad challenge.

Maran maintained a clear-cut stand regarding the return of the captured territories. On every occasion, he declared that the Zionist ideal of settling every inch of Eretz Yisroel had absolutely no value, no place in the Torah's world outlook. The Jewish nation had survived the millennia of exile only by virtue of the Torah, nothing else. Consequently, if it will preserve and protect Jewish lives, it is permissible — and even mandatory — to give back portions of Eretz Yisroel.

Furthermore, he maintained a very tough attitude against building and settling in captured territories since, in his opinion, this was an unnecessary, forbidden provocation of our enemies, and of the world at large. When a group of chareidi people decided to establish the town of Emanuel in the Shomron, he opposed it vehemently and even declared his opposition in his annual opening oration of Yeshivas Ponovezh's summer Yarchei Kallah. Whoever asked him about buying an apartment in Emanuel was told not to do so.

Maran stressed that aside from the fact that he was ideologically opposed to settlement in the occupied areas, whoever invested his money in such an apartment was throwing his money to the winds, so to speak. In the end, the endeavor collapsed, went bankrupt, and many actually did lose their investment [besides which they were saddled with mortgages to pay on unfinished apartments]. Later, to our greater sorrow, there were even losses of lives R'l.

In contrast to the policy of Zionist leaders whose only goal was to sponsor and support the State of Israel, Maran warned politicians that they must not do anything that endangered Jews anywhere on earth. After the victories of the War of Independence and of the Six Day War, when the general populace was drunk with euphoria, Maran announced: "We must take into account the Jews of the rest of the world. We cannot cause them any damage or put them in danger as a result of what has transpired here. We dare not stir up antisemitism and we must always take into account the worldwide repercussions of what we do here, even twenty-five years hence.

"I am certain," said Maran "that I will meet with opposition in what I state. People will say that I am a golus-Yid who is dancing sycophantically before the goy in fear. Well, my friends, that is true. We must reckon with them; we must fear the goyim. We are living in exile, and we are responsible for Klal Yisroel wherever our people may be."

This declaration was made in 5742 (1982). And today, twenty- four years later, we can all admit that a "wise man is superior to a prophet."

Responsibility for all of Jewry

There were times when it seemed as if Maran was not consistent, that he acted in completely contradictory ways, even when our own interests were involved. For this reason there were many who saw no rationale or reason behind his actions.

But Maran was not the leader of this faction or that community; he was the leader of the whole body of Klal Yisroel. Thus, he felt responsible for what went on even in other circles when he felt that his intervention would make a difference.

Shas: Reward for the Initiative, Reward for the Departure

This sense of responsibility, which transformed Maran into a leader of all Klal Yisroel, was what brought him to support the efforts of organizing and uniting the Sephardi Torah-true public.

Maran was deeply pained by the deprivation and discrimination of the Oriental Jewish communities within the Agudath Israel movement. They were not being sufficiently represented according to their numbers: not within, in the institutions of the movement, and not without, in proportionate representation in the Knesset and the local councils.

His pain and disappointment reached a peak after an agreement was decided upon and signed, with the approval of Maran and the then-current Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simchah, that the Gerrer MK or the Vishnitz MK would serve in the Knesset on a rotation basis, to step down after two years tenure in favor of R' Yaakov Mizrachi, the Sephardic representative. But when the time came for that move they did not honor the agreement.

Maran decided that he was obligated to take action and therefore he encouraged the Sephardic representatives to create a separate list which later took on the name of the Shas Party. Thanks to Maran's fervent support, Shas was successful in garnering a large representation in the Knesset, as is known, in spite of a nefarious attempt to leave them with only half a seat which would have disqualified them.

Shas, however, joined the Rabin government years later, in 5754, whose tone was set and exemplified by the Minister of Education, Shulamit Aloni, who fought bitterly against everything we hold holy and dear, over the vehement objection of Maran's daas Torah. Maran did not hesitate to draw the necessary conclusions and after that he severed all contact with this movement which he had helped bring into being.

It was a decision that required great courage, for it appeared like a tacit admission of failure. It gave the appearance that his initial support and encouragement of Shas had been erroneous to begin with. But that was Maran's way: when he saw a need to change his mind, he did not reckon with his personal prestige and, even though he had been positive about and supportive of Shas in the past, he did not hesitate to change his mind now.

I have already written in a previous chapter that I permitted myself to remark to Maran that I feared that the public was reading him wrong. People speculated why Maran changed his mind frequently. Maran answered me: "You surely mean to indicate that I am ruining my own reputation, that I am striking a blow against daas Torah. But you are overreacting. First of all, my kovod does not exist. Who am I, anyway, to be concerned about my honor? The public may regard me as a Torah scholar, and therefore I should take that into account, for the sake of the Torah. But know that the value of truth supersedes everything. And if I conclude that I erred or was misled, as in the case of Shas, then the value of truth surpasses everything else and I must change my mind and admit to my error for the sake of truth. Chazal say this many times: `Things that I said in error were in my hand.' No stumbling block can ensue from the truth."

The Students of Michlalah Also Need the Figure of a Ben Torah

In his time, Maran came out vehemently against the Michlalah college for women in Jerusalem. Subsequently a ben Torah who served in a significant position in this institution once came to Maran, saying that in view of Maran's negative opinion of the Michlalah, he had finally decided to leave the job.

But Maran replied, "G-d forbid! Don't leave, even though my opinion of it is not positive. It is clear that fine Jewish girls will continue studying in this school, regardless, and one must be concerned for them, too. It is important for bnei Torah like yourself to continue being in this school, for you will radiate the proper spirit, a Torah-true outlook." (Lulei Torosecho Sha'ashu'oi)

To Reduce Dissension to the Barest Necessary Minimum

Maran fought with all his might against the people of Poalei Agudath Israel who strayed from the Torah path, but at the same time he sought to avoid discord and machlokes in the Torah community, shunning even to hide behind the mask of ideology when there was no need for it.

When Maran, together with the other chief Torah leaders in Eretz Yisroel, decided to oppose full force the Poalei Agudath Israel movement in 5720 (1960), it evoked a strong initiative showing support on the part of bnei Torah and chareidi askonim in Europe. Maran informed them, however, not to express it in any public forum, explaining that it would endanger the very unity of European Orthodoxy. His responsibility was to preserve the unity of Klal Yisroel as best he could, at all costs. (From `Hadrochoh L'ben Yeshiva')

The Message Sent to the Bnei Akiva Yeshivos

One time, I think in 5735, there appeared a short notice in Hatsofe informing the public about a soccer game to be held on Yom Yerushalayim in one of the yeshiva high schools. The match would pit a team from Bnei Akiva yeshivos in southern Israel against a team made up of yeshiva students from the north. Somehow, this information was passed on to Maran.

Even though on general principle, Maran did not like to bother people and summon them to him, here he made an exception and called up one of the Bnei Akiva roshei yeshiva who was an alumnus of a chareidi yeshiva, requesting that if he chanced to be in Bnei Brak, he come and see him.

When he made his appearance before Maran, the latter said to him, "You already know my opinion of the Bnei Akiva yeshivos, as well as my view regarding the so-called sanctity of Yom Yerushalayim. But I would like to ask you a question: How do the heads of the Bnei Akiva yeshivos understand, according to their viewpoint, the commemoration of this day through a soccer game? I might comprehend the celebration of this day by a tour of Yerushalayim, but of what educational value does the commemoration have in the form of a rowdy sports event?"

He continued, "I understand that there is no point in my saying anything to you, since you have no power to do anything in the matter and even if you were to voice a mild protest, you would be dismissed. Whatever the case may be, I felt that I had to express my opinion on the matter . . . "

That rosh yeshiva said in reply, "If Maran agrees, I am prepared to convey his words, in his name, to the central administration of the Bnei Akiva yeshivos."

At the next gathering of the Central Bnei Akiva yeshivos, in which all the senior rabbis and veteran leaders participated as well as the heads of all the yeshiva high schools throughout the country, that rosh yeshiva asked for the floor in order to convey the special message from Maran. The head of the Bnei Akiva movement, Rav Neriya, agreed to hear it.

Utter silence reigned when the chairman announced to the assembly that the aforesaid rosh yeshiva was about to deliver a special message from Maran HaGaon R' Shach to this gathering. Silence — mingled with astonishment and tension.

He began: "I was summoned by R' Shach and he asked me in deep pain, how Mercaz Bnei Akiva is able to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim with its students with a sports event. According to his view, R' Shach explained, this day had no special significance whatsoever. But according to our outlook, it was a festival. And he asked: What educational impact could this possibly have?"

He continued, "Just look! HaRav Shach, godol hador, who is ensconced in the four cubits of Bnei Brak, who is engrossed in Torah and prayer, whose hashkofos are diametrically opposed to ours! Nevertheless he is imbued with a sense of responsibility towards our students, even to a greater degree than we, ourselves. He cares even more than we do! Can we possibly ignore his words? Is it truly fitting and proper that we commemorate this day with soccer games?"

He later reported that the audience was deeply moved and tears were visible in many an eye of the heads of the movement. Rabbi Neriya then announced that Maran's protest had been accepted and henceforth, no sports events would take place to `commemorate' Yom Yerushalayim. (Orchos Habayis)

"I Gave My Blood and Soul"

In the final period of Maran's life, when he was already in his nineties, his mesirus nefesh for Klal Yisroel peaked. During this period, he cast his own welfare, his health, aside, and shouldered an unbearable burden, both in his battle against the "wily foxes" undermining the Jewish vineyard, and in building up the Torah world.

Very applicable to him is the saying of Chazal in Sifrei, Parshas Ha'azinu, "Thus did Moshe say unto Yisroel: How much did I distress myself over Torah, and how much did I toil over it, and how much did I labor over it . . . I gave my soul and blood for it."

Maran's Greatness is Beyond our Grasp

It is certainly not within my power, place or scope to encompass Maran's greatness. Only the Torah leaders of the previous generation, who saw in him the person suitable to be crowned the godol hador, are capable of doing so.

We have already brought the Chazon Ish's words in his letter where he addressed him as follows, "To kvod Toroso, to whom Truth is dearly beloved . . . " Also the words of Maran R' Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik, in his approbation, "He requires absolutely no recommendation from any person, for this man is very great, and his prowess in Torah is mighty . . . like any of the great men of our generation."

Whenever I addressed a question to the Steipler Rov, he used to say, "You should ask HaRav Shach. His guiding, primary axiom is daas Torah."

If we study the high esteem in which these giants of spirit held Maran, we will invariably reach the conclusion that we, with our limited grasp, are unable to know who Maran was. But this I can say: I was familiar with gedolei Torah who wielded their influence upon the Torah public for the past seventy years. But an impact of such major dimensions, as was made by Maran throughout the world, was nonpareil.

He was unique and special in his leadership. Not only did he establish the path upon which to tread, he also led the flock in practical terms along that path. He was actively involved in every aspect of its implementation, even though at the same time he was wholly — body and soul — immersed in disseminating Torah. He never ceased learning, teaching, and producing written chidushei Torah. We can only conclude that Heaven ordained and aided him in fulfilling this mission in a way that is beyond human comprehension.

We, with our myopic, limited vision, lack the tools with which to grasp Maran's greatness. But we can avail ourselves of his own words in the spirit of, "One does not make memorials for tzaddikim. Their own words are their commemoration."

In his introduction to Nezikim, Maran explains the words of R' Nechunya ben Hakoneh in his prayer, "May it be pleasing before You . . . that I not stumble in words of halochoh, that I not rule what is pure as impure and what is impure as pure . . . And that I not stumble in any aspect of halochoh, and that my colleagues be happy with me."

Why, he asks, is the phrase "that I not stumble in any aspect of halochoh" repeated?

He explains it according to the gemora in Perek Hazohov 59, regarding the oven of a gentile, over which R' Eliezer and the rest of the Chachomim held such strongly opposed views. A Heavenly Echo resounded, declaring that the law was according to R' Eliezer.

"Thereupon, R' Yehoshua rose to his feet and declared, `[The Torah] is not in Heaven! It is written in the Torah that one must follow the majority,' and the majority [of the sages] ruled according to R' Yehoshua. So we see that in order to establish halochoh, it is not enough to concur with the truth as it is in Heaven. It is also necessary for one's colleagues in Torah to agree.

"This is why the above phrase was mentioned twice in the prayer. `That I not stumble in words of halochoh," that is, that my ruling coincide with the truth of the Torah, and the second time — that I not stumble but gain the approbation of my colleagues. That they not contend or disagree with me. That the majority not be against me, for when a Torah sage rules contrary to the concurrence of the Torah majority, it is also considered `stumbling in halochoh.'

"But the first condition to all this is only after one has toiled and labored in Torah to the necessary extent, that is, to the limit of his intellect, without any personal interest or inclination whatsoever. His mind must become pure, chaste and uncontaminated. This is what is known as hispashtus hagashmiyus, the shunting off of materialism. When one can rise above this-worldliness, then his mind and intellect verily becomes daas Torah."

It seems that these words written by Maran seem to describe him best. They were written as it were, based on his personal life experience, and they define Maran's level better than anyone else could have done.

"And the Wisdom of the Wise Shall be Lost"

We will conclude with a message which Maran Hachasam Sofer said in his eulogy over R' Mordechai Banet, av beis din of Nikolsburg:

Yeshayohu says (29:14): "Therefore behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." Why does it not say that the wise shall perish, but only that their wisdom shall vanish?

The Chasam Sofer answered: The passing of a wise man is surely a difficult blow to the world. But one can be consoled by the fact that there are others in the nation, and Israel will never be bereft of leaders for his disciples will fill the gap created by his passing.

The truth is, however, that a wise man's death also has an impact upon his disciples. So long as he was alive, they were spiritually nurtured from the Divine bounty that was channeled through the conduits which their master opened. With his passing, these became clogged and the people need another wise man of stature to reopen those channels to allow the divine bounty to descend our way.

Chazal said that upon Eliyohu's ascent to Heaven, the measure of prophecy was denied to the bnei haneviim, his disciples. Therefore did Yeshayohu say, "The wisdom of the wise men shall perish." Not only does the wise man leave us, and leave a lacuna in his passing, but all of his wisdom is no longer there to channel goodness.

This, then, completes this section of the memoirs dealing with Maran, though it is by far not conclusive. The work is not mine to complete, but neither am I absolved of doing what I was able to do.


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