Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Teves 5766 - January 18, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Nineteen: Dissemination of Torah and Daas Torah

Maran HaGaon R' Eliezer Mann Shach ztvk'l, was a rosh yeshiva in all of his 248 organs and 365 sinews. On one occasion, he taught me the meaning of the concept "rosh yeshiva." For him, the office of rosh yeshiva was not one of prestige but servitude, in the most literal sense.

This was when I went in to Maran one time and found him greatly perturbed. I saw that he was very overwrought and when he realized it, he turned to me and said, "I'll tell you what is upsetting me; perhaps you can offer some advice. For some time now, I have been thinking that I am not fulfilling my responsibility as a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Ponovezh, and that I do not deserve a salary. I said as much to R' Avrohom Kahaneman and asked him to stop giving me wages, but he was adamant. Against my will, he comes in and leaves me my salary on the table. Tell me, how can I stop him?"

I asked Maran if he permitted me to be so bold as to speak as one person to another. After he agreed, I told him that I did not concur with his words. Maran, as the rosh yeshiva, is always among the very first ones to appear for davening; he remains in the yeshiva until minchah and sometimes even later. Whenever I have something urgent to discuss and I come to yeshiva to speak with him, I see him with a long line of students waiting to speak to him, and the Rosh Yeshiva is exerting himself with all his might to answer them, one by one, with the vigor of a young person.

"The Rosh Yeshiva," I continued, "toils in the yeshiva with great effort from morning until afternoon. In addition, he says a shiur klolli, and delivers Mussar talks . . . How can I agree, or even understand, the Rosh Yeshiva's argument that he doesn't deserve a salary?"

Maran listened to me patiently without interrupting, even though I spoke at length. Finally, he turned to me with his reply, "Let me explain to you what the position of a rosh yeshiva truly entails. In Kletsk, I already served as a rosh yeshiva. There, I did not wait until the students approached me; I already knew the level of each and every one and what he lacked. I spoke with each student individually, trying to raise him to a higher level, to guide him along the right path suited to his capabilities and nature. In Kletsk, as opposed to here, I stayed in yeshiva day and night.

"There, I worked for my wages and deserved them. But here, my work is finished by the afternoon . . . "

I told him that I did not know any other rosh yeshiva who worked nonstop until two in the afternoon and who related to every student as he did. In addition, he was available to everyone in the afternoon and evening hours; one and all came to his house and consulted with him on all kinds of subjects. Thus, it emerged that the Rosh Yeshiva was devoted to all the students, even in this present day, without limitations of time.

Maran, however, reiterated his argument: "This is still not considered fulfilling my duties as rosh yeshiva. I still maintain that I do not deserve a salary."

I thought and thought. What is disturbing the Rosh Yeshiva so much about his accepting wages which he feels is undeserved? Doesn't he know that this is the accepted norm throughout the country? That there is no other rosh yeshiva who devotes more time than he to the students, despite his advanced age?

I really think that Maran wanted to bring to the attention of other roshei yeshiva the fact that the duties of their office did not stop at merely saying a shiur, but included the obligation of knowing every single student, of being aware of what he lacked. A rosh yeshiva was required to supplement, to build up and complete the character of each student, just as he was telling me he had done back in Kletsk.

"I devoted myself to their success in Torah study."

In a letter from 5748, Maran testified of himself, "And whoever knows — knows that I exerted myself in this all the days of my life. My responsibility was to strengthen the students and to make their Torah study dear and beloved to them. All my days, from my youth to this very day . . . " And he repeated this theme in his will: "And I, too, devoted myself to your success in study."

Maran was sensitive to the needs of his students like a father, even at an advanced age. He drew them close, elevated them, honored them. He related to each and every one as an only child, as stated by the Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah, "Just as the students are obligated in the honor of their teacher, so must the rov show respect towards his students and befriend them. Thus did Chazal say: `Let the respect towards your student be as dear to you as that of your friend. A person should be vigilant with his students, and love them, for they are the sons who bring one pleasure in this world and reward in the next one.' "

"I remember that when a student posed a question on the shiur, Maran would repeat the question for all to hear, for weeks and sometimes months following, mentioning each time the name of the student who had asked it."

A Shiur With Vitality

On a certain occasion I asked Maran: "Maran has been a rosh yeshiva for at least fifty years. Why do you still need so much time to prepare your shiurim?"

This is what he said: "Every subject which I cover in my shiurim I learned many times over, perhaps even as many as a hundred! But when I begin to prepare, I approach the material anew, as if I had never studied it before, beginning with the mishnah and the gemora, rishonim. I try my utmost not to repeat any chiddushim I have already said. Let me explain to you why.

"Every rosh yeshiva needs to think and to ask himself why he is airing out his own chiddushim. Surely, the chiddushim of the Ketzos and the Nesivos are far better; in fact, no comparison can be made to those which the rosh yeshiva says. And so I ask myself before each shiur: `What right do I have to waste the students' precious time and make them listen to my chiddushim as opposed to those of the Ketzos and the Nesivos?'

"The answer which I give myself is: The chiddushim which the Ketzos and the Nesivos made are hundreds of years old; you can't call them `living chiddushim' any more, while those which I say are fresh and vibrant; they are recent. But I allow myself to present them only if they are truly new, if they were innovated that same day. If I repeat my novellae from a year or two ago, they are also not pulsating and innovative chiddushim. And then, it were preferable to say the ones of the Ketzos and the Nesivos rather than mine!"

This testimony is without precedent. A rosh yeshiva of ninety and up who is capable of producing new shiurim and not repeating anything said in the past!

Maran once mentioned a certain approach to a Talmudic problem. One of the veteran students reminded him that six years prior, he had said that this svora was inaccurate. To this, Maran replied, "Do you think that the R' Leizer [himself] of today is the same R' Leizer of six years ago? During the past six years, I shteiged, I grew, and today I think that this approach is correct and valid."

Maran told me that when he immigrated and needed a job, he told R' Isser Zalman that he felt it would be difficult for him to find a position since his study approach was not the accepted one in the yeshivos here. Perhaps, he suggested, he should change his school of thought to conform and be able to find a job. R' Isser Zalman said: "You continue to persevere in your own way. Before very long, all will recognize your unique path in chiddushei Torah and will properly appreciate it."

The Shiur Did Not Conform to the Rules of Medicine

In his old age, Maran sometimes had bad days when he did not feel well and a doctor had to be summoned. When he arrived one time, Maran asked him to make a quick examination because he had to go to yeshiva and deliver a lesson. The doctor insisted that in his condition, he was forbidden to leave the house and exert himself thus.

Maran persisted that he must give the shiur, and if his health did not allow him to walk up to yeshiva, he could be taken by wheelchair. The doctor still refused to allow him to go. In the end Maran persevered, and he went to the yeshiva, accompanied by the doctor himself.

The doctor observed Maran's delivery: his loud, vigorous voice, his energetic hand movements — the way his whole body participated, "All my bones shall declare . . . " He watched how the students argued with him and how Maran parried with them dynamically for a long time.

When the shiur was finally over, the doctor summed up his observation: "What can I say? The conventional rules of medicine do not apply here. According to the expected norm, the Rosh Yeshiva would not have been capable of saying more than one sentence."

"During the Preparation of the Shiur, it is possible that the Answer to a Non-related Question Might Not be Relevant"

Maran devoted a great deal of time to the preparation of his shiurim, which were scheduled for Tuesdays. Already on Monday, he would closet himself in his room and refuse to see anyone, so as not to disturb his thread of thought. I asked Maran what I was to do if some urgent problem arose, like an issue up for a vote in the Knesset or some other decisive matter, that needed immediate attention. Would I be allowed to go in to disturb him? And if not, what was I supposed to do?

Maran replied: "If such a question truly arises that cannot brook any delay, just inform me that you are waiting outside the door and I will allow you to enter. Present the question very succinctly and I will try to answer you curtly, as well. But know, that I am so deeply engrossed in my preparation that I might not even hear the question properly. Furthermore, I am not sure that my reply will be altogether relevant since my mind is not clear to concentrate on anything else.

"You must take this into account. Listen to my reply and judge for yourself if it is pertinent and appropriate. If it does not strike you as such, just disregard it . . . "

Public Bittul Torah is More Stringent than Kibbud Eim

When the Rebbetzin, Maran's wife, passed away, his son was in America. Upon hearing the news, the son asked that the funeral be delayed so that he could attend. Maran, however, decided that it was impossible to wait a full day and the funeral took place without the son.

When Maran passed away, I stood next to his son and he said to me, "I will never be able to forgive my father for not having agreed to postpone my mother's levayah."

I was greatly overwrought at this covert criticism against his father and I reminded him of the severity of bittul Torah in his father's eyes. I explained to him that Maran had ruled thus in order to avoid the bittul Torah of the thousands of his yeshiva's students. Undoubtedly, postponing the funeral for a whole day would have resulted in that very thing. My words opened his eyes and he then said, "Now I understand. Now I forgive my father wholeheartedly. I was mistaken, and my father was so right!"

A Yeshiva in Every City

Maran bore upon his shoulders the yoke of the entire yeshiva world. His concern was the firm establishment of yeshivos. He never — I emphasize, never — asked me for a special favor for Yeshivas Ponovezh, or for his son-in-law's yeshiva, or for any yeshiva in which he had a personal interest. He only knew yeshivos as a generic subject.

The rabbi of Carmiel, R' Avrohom Zvi Margolis, asked Maran what could be done for the secular city of Carmiel. Maran encouraged him to establish a yeshiva there. On one occasion, he said to R' Margolis: "I envy you for having rescued a city from secularism."

R' Margolis was surprised, "But the city is still as secular as it was before. All I did was establish one small yeshiva."

To this, Maran replied, "When one establishes a yeshiva in a city, it is a hatzolah for the entire city!"

Indeed, ever since the yeshiva's foundation, Carmiel made a turnover; additional Torah institutions were launched, including chareidi elementary schools, yeshivos and kollelim, and all because of the initial opening of a small yeshiva.

Chinuch Atzmai is the Lifesaver of the Generation

It is well known that Maran stood at the head of Chinuch Atzmai for many decades. He was always the first to arrive and the last to leave its meetings, for there were always additional questions to be dealt with, as teachers and principals presented their problems to him.

His devotion was boundless, equally from the aspect of time, effort invested in this organization, and the thought he gave to it. He argued that in our times, Chinuch Atzmai is the lifeboat of the generation; this is what would save the yeshivos, small and big. We saw this realized.

On various occasions, he said to me: "Let the secularists do what they will; we will build yet another Talmud Torah, another yeshiva ketanoh or yeshiva gedoloh, and this will be our victory."

This was also the Chazon Ish's view — that it was a waste to expend our time over a battle against `them.' Rather, it was necessary to build another and yet another place of Torah education. This was the true solution to our problems.

Maran determined that Chinuch Atzmai deserved priority over any other Torah institution. To be sure, every administrator of a Torah institution must be concerned for his place, but with regard to Klal Yisroel, Chinuch Atzmai deserved priority.

Maran R' Aharon Kotler was of the same mind. When I was in New York, the secretary of the Lakewood Yeshiva, R' Yaakov Weisberg zt'l came and, in R' Aharon's presence, complained that the salaries in Lakewood had not been paid for six months! Could it be, he remonstrated, that the Rosh Yeshiva had forgotten his own yeshiva in favor of devoting all of his time to Chinuch Atzmai?

R' Aharon replied, "I understand your position. You are right. But what can we do if it is clear to me that Chinuch Atzmai has preference over the Lakewood Yeshiva? Even if I stand at its head and it is my yeshiva."

"I Will Sell My Frockcoat"

At one of the meetings of Chinuch Atzmai, HaRav Shraga Grossbard zt'l, the director-general of Chinuch Atzmai, reported that the government was canceling its allocation for the transportation of students living at a distance. This would mean fewer students in the Chinuch Atzmai network.

When Maran heard this, his expression altered. He arose and declared, "We must not discontinue the transportation of students if this means they will stop coming to our schools. This is robbing the Jewish community of the opportunity of learning Torah through the Chinuch Atzmai elementary schools, and then continuing on in yeshivos ketanos and yeshivos gedolos. We must somehow obtain the necessary funds! I will sell my frockcoat," he said, and thereupon, began removing his coat, "in order to raise the money. I will go myself and mobilize the funds!"

This gesture left a tremendous impression upon the American roshei yeshiva who participated in the meeting. They unanimously proclaimed: "We are prepared to assume the full responsibility of supplying Chinuch Atzmai with the necessary budget for student transportation."

I recall that during the first period of its existence, there were strikes in Chinuch Atzmai which threatened its very survival. Maran sat together with the organizers of the strikes and negotiated with them. Sad to say, the talks were not always held with the proper respect and decorum. The strikers knew only one thing: They wanted their salaries, and these were often several months in arrears.

I participated in all of these meetings together with Maran. The words that were exchanged and the insults hurled at him were harsh, indeed. It amazes me how Maran was able to waive his honor to such an extent but he, the rosh yeshiva and godol hador, spoke with the strike organizers on an equal footing and pleasantly explained to them, "Stopping the strike is in your best interest."

Indeed, a whole book can and should be written about Maran's activities and initiatives on behalf of Chinuch Atzmai.

Whoever Institutes Change — Is at a Disadvantage

Maran was very guarded about not changing an iota from the paved path of yeshiva norms as they had been preserved throughout the generations. He was vehemently and vociferously opposed to any yeshiva that veered away from the accepted course of previous generations. Well known is his battle against the Maarava yeshiva [high school] which instituted secular studies; he regarded it as totally prohibited.

Furthermore, Maran was violently against all new approaches introduced in the study method. A cheder in Jerusalem, founded by R' Shlomo Wolbe zt'l, pioneered a novel method: to begin the study of Chumash from parshas Lech Lecho, claiming that five-year-olds were incapable of properly understanding the preceding chapters of Bereishis. Maran happened to hear about it and immediately contacted R' Wolbe's son-in-law, saying, "You are ripping out parchment segments from the very Torah scroll."

To his credit, it must be said that as soon as R' Wolbe heard of Maran's displeasure, he conceded to his will.

Maran told me how, in the past, it was customary to envelop a child completely in his father's tallis with his eyes covered, the first time he was taken to cheder, so that his eyes would not see anything impure. "Let the holy ones come and occupy themselves in the holy study," referring to the custom of beginning their study of Chumash with Vayikra and korbonos.

This is a time-worn tradition, he insisted, which must not be altered. "You cannot imagine the damage caused by any change," he warned.

And this damage is something that can only be discerned many years, even generations, in the future, when it is already too late. "We must not change by as much as a hairsbreadth!"

At one of his opening talks of Yarchei Kallah in Yeshivas Ponovezh, he came out against those who had instituted reciting an extra kinoh-lament on Tisha B'Av, over the Holocaust. He explained why: "We are poor and puny; we do not even know to what extent. We are not permitted to innovate something that was not introduced by previous generations" (See: Igros Chazon Ish I, Letter 97).

He came out tooth-and-nail against the Steinzaltz edition of the Talmud and denounced it completely, having found it to contain things that were contrary to our emunah. But even with regard to other things which were not ostensibly objectionable, if anyone veered from the conventional method of study he immediately reacted negatively.

Maran objected to changes and new initiatives, even if their purpose was to facilitate Torah study. The heads of the Toda'ah organization, which was established by none other than his own Degel HaTorah, sought to publish a new edition of gemoras in the Order of Nezikim, and to print the portion of Mishpotim in the beginning, since this is the source of most of the laws dealt therein. Maran, however, was opposed to it.

Included in this attitude was his opposition to the modern approaches and methods of education which came to "facilitate" the absorption of the material for the student. This included concretization through pictures and models. Maran explained that when a child is forced to exercise his intellect and his imagination in order to understand something, he is developing his independent mental capacity, and all educational aids simply serve to stymie him and retard his intellectual growth.

When R' Shabsai Frankel published his famous edition of the Rambam, it was welcomed heartily in most circles of Torah scholars. Gedolei Yisroel gave it their blessings, but when Maran was asked to add his own approbation, he refused, saying, "Perhaps it is permissible to print, but I am against any innovation."

Maran was equally opposed to all change or innovation in halachic works. He said that one must not alter the format and layout of the Mishnoh Berurah as it was originally printed. He was even opposed to the publication of the Chazon Ish's addenda on the Mishnoh Berurah at the places where he differs, because one must not undermine the authority of the Chofetz Chaim, who was the last, final posek. One should print the words of the Chazon Ish in a separate publication, he maintained.

He was opposed to any changes in the customs of our ancestors. HaGaon R' Meir Heisler told me, "I approached Maran after the Rosh Hashonoh prayers to wish him a good year. He asked me which order of shofar-blowing I had heard and I told him, `The blowing at the yeshiva.'

"`But you come from a chassidic home,' he said to me. `You must hear the teki'os according to your father's custom!' I explained to Rabbenu that at that late hour, the only place where I could hear the shofar blown was in Vishnitz, and that would mean my losing out on the Yom Tov meal. `Never mind. You must adhere to your family tradition and fulfill `At titosh Toras imecha.' "

A Plea for Public Support Before Elections, and the Lesson Behind It

Whenever elections took place for the Knesset, the municipalities or the local councils, Maran directed the yeshiva students to mobilize themselves for action on the day preceding them and the actual day of the elections to promote the success of the Agudath Israel list. Even though its success was of top priority to him, still he was afraid of excess bittul Torah and would not permit more than that time allotment for electioneering, except in isolated cases of certain lax students who would have wasted their time in any case.

Elections and Torah study seem to be mutually exclusive, but Maran was able to ascribe to each a very definite area. Before elections, he spoke enthusiastically about the great duty to help the campaign, but afterwards, he explained very clearly that it was negligible compared to the importance of Torah study and the prohibition of wasting even one precious moment from it.

Those who heard him express this were surprised. Before the elections, he had encouraged the students to go out and drum up votes, and now he was saying the very opposite! Some even claimed that he was regretting his pre-election call to arms and showing remorse.

The truth was that Maran entertained no compunctions whatsoever in the matter for, in the following elections, this repeated itself exactly in the same fashion, and he again called for the students to rally to the aid of the party.

Maran reconciled the apparent contradiction himself, explaining, in the name of Maran R' Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l: "When Shaul Hamelech prepared for the war against Amolek, it is written, `And Shaul came till the city of Amolek and he quarreled in the nachal.' Chazal teach: `Said R' Mani — [he quarreled] about the matters of the nachal.' When Hashem told Shaul to go and smite Amolek, he said: `For the death [murder] of one person, the Torah tells us to bring an eglah arufah. For so many people, should it not be all the more so? Furthermore, even if one person sinned, wherefore kill the cattle which have not sinned? And if the adults sinned, why kill the children who have not sinned?' At this, a heavenly voice rang out, saying, `Don't be over-righteous.' "

R' Isser Zalman used to ask: "Is this not an illogical kal vochomer [learning the greater from the lesser]? For whom does the community bring an eglah arufah? For one who was murdered without reason. Here, Shaul was commanded to destroy Amolek. There is no reason for atonement, as in the case of the example. Indeed, the kal vochomer illustration is totally misplaced in the instance of an explicit command from Hashem stating, `Go and smite Amolek'!"

And he explained: "Shaul did not intend to undermine the command of eradicating Amolek. It was clear to him that this is what he must do, because the Torah said so. But Shaul was concerned that the genocide of an entire nation, old and young, being an act of great cruelty, might adversely affect the Jewish people and cause them to become cruel, themselves.

"This is why he sought to teach, or to remind the people, of the severity of taking a human life, to explain to them clearly the value of life and the stringency of killing a human, by citing the example of the commandment of eglah arufah, where the elders of the nearest city must bring an atonement for the murder of a single person within their territory. After this introduction, he felt it would be possible to go about fulfilling the mitzvah of eradicating Amolek, without fear that it would dull the people's sensitivity to the essential taking of lives. He wished to make clear to the people the distinction between the value of life and the obligation to take it when this was so commanded.

"But what came of it all? The lesson Shaul wished to impress upon the people backfired, and they took the example too much to heart, to such a degree that they failed to fulfill Hashem's objective. We learn from here that one must first obey a command and obey it blindly, unquestioningly, without hesitation. As for teaching lessons — this must come only after the act, not before. After one has acquitted one's duty."

This is how Maran conducted himself regarding the elections. First and foremost, it was necessary to assure the success of the elections. During the elections, one must not raise the question of bittul Torah. Only afterwards, was it necessary to reinforce the importance of strengthening oneself in Torah study, making a self accounting, and distancing oneself from bittul Torah.

During the campaign, when he spoke publicly about the duty to ensure the success of the elections, Maran described the Kiddush Hashem that would result from an increased representation. The Torah public was convinced that it was a veritable mitzvah of primary importance; his talks aroused fiery enthusiasm in his listeners.

After the elections, however, when we heard his words on the magnitude of Torah study and the severity of not wasting time from study, we concluded that we must rethink the subject and make a comprehensive self reckoning about the time we wasted from study during the electioneering. His plea that we return to an intensive rededication became self evident.

The Entebbe Campaign: Success Does Not Justify the Risk

In 5736 a passenger plane was hijacked on its way from Tel Aviv to France. The terrorist hijackers had the plane land in Entebbe, Uganda. Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister at the time, decided not to give in to the terrorists' demands that Israel release 37 prisoners. Instead, it was secretly decided to try a daring rescue operation and release the hostages.

The Israeli Air Force received orders to land in the Entebbe airport and take it over by force. Very miraculously, the mission was very successful; the hostages were released and the number of killed and injured was remarkably small. The whole world, including Israel of course, hailed the heroes, and praise for the IDF ran sky-high, even in chareidi circles.

The only person who remained unmoved was Maran, R' Shach. In his opinion, it was too hazardous a venture; too many lives, of passengers and soldiers, were put at such high risk, with relatively little chance of success. Although Heaven had mercy and it did succeed yet this, he felt, should not change one's censure of the affair. It was wrong to begin with, a risk with a very narrow margin of calculated success which, according to daas Torah, was unwarranted. The end did not justify the means.

Maran expressed it thus in a talk: "The Torah teaches us not to be superficial, not to get carried away with any passing fad or fancy which strikes the outside world, read: the street. We have our own path, the path of Torah. Only the halochoh can determine what we must do, without taking public opinion into account. If, according the Torah law, one must not take a given risk, there is no justification to do so, even if it turns out to be successful after it has become a fait accompli, notwithstanding. This is the same as the prohibition of walking under a crumbling wall or taking other unwarranted hazards. If one emerges unscathed from a danger, it is no indication that he did the right thing to begin with. Success is no yardstick in this instance. The only truly wise thing to do is to follow the dictates of halochoh" (Michtovim UMaamorim I, p. 10).

Maran's Daas Torah, the Opposite of the Popular View

Maran was a living example of a person who was guided purely, solely by the Torah. It was the basis of his character and of his viewpoint. He was never swayed by public opinion or pressured by baalebatim. And even if the bnei Torah circles entertained strong differing opinions, he never hesitated to state his position in a firm, loud voice.

During the Six Day War, the public was united in a feeling of euphoria and unity that was coupled with an idolizing of the Israeli army. If, before the war, everyone felt as comrades in distress, afterwards, the spirit of victory ushered in an inebriation of senses that intoxicated the general masses.

Maran remained unaffected by it. When the country was on the brink of war, he was anxious and confused. "How shall I pray? That Zahal win? But this would increase the stature of the wicked and bring them honor — and cause untold spiritual damage."

The solution which he found was a marvelous fusion of love of Hashem and ahavas Yisroel. This was his prayer:

"Master of the world: I know that if I pray that the army win, the honor of the wicked will be aggrandized and the honor of Heaven will be subsequently diminished. If I refrain from praying, it may cause even one Jewish soldier to fall in battle . . . Therefore, I ask of You, Hashem, the Omnipotent, to protect every soldier from falling, but, nonetheless, to increase the prestige of Heaven."

When Maran heard the news that Har Habayis had been captured by Israeli soldiers, he burst into bitter tears. While all of Jewry was celebrating the victory and conquest, he was filled with trepidation: "What will be? The secularists will now defile and desecrate the Mokom Hamikdosh!" (Yosef Daas LeHagaon R' Y. Lis zt'l)


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