Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Nisan 5766 - April 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








A Head in the Heavenly Domain and a Heart of Gold
Twenty Years From the Untimely Petiroh of HaRav Alter Yitzchok Dershowitz zt'l

written by B. Ram and C. Zilberman

Part II

R' Yitzchok would encourage even baalei batim who were occupied over their heads in their livelihood to take time off to study in a kollel or in any way possible so that they too could utilize every spare moment for limud haTorah. At the shiva some people related that in his zchus they started studying Daf Hayomi and even finished the whole Shas.

Whenever R' Yitzchok would meet someone in the street, he would start off by talking with him in divrei Torah. "What chiddush did you say or hear in the yeshiva or kollel today?" he would ask.

He would also tell that person what chiddushim he had innovated, and wanted to hear any chiddushim or vorts that person had to tell him. HaRav Hillel Zaks, a grandson of the Chofetz Chaim and rosh yeshiva in Chevron Yeshiva of Yerushalayim, remarked that before he would meet R' Yitzchok he would make sure to have a good chiddush ready to tell him.

R' Yitzchok endlessly wanted to absorb more and more Torah. HaRav Mordechai Cohen, a rosh yeshiva in Slobodka Yeshiva, said that R' Yitzchok was always like a boy who just became seventeen years old and is now entering a yeshiva gedoloh. He always had the same vigor and liveliness and fervent will to shteig in Torah learning.

It was not just that R' Yitzchok loved Torah; love of Torah was his whole essence. R' Yitzchok and ahavas Torah were the same. "Anyone who saw R' Yitzchok would clearly see what Torah really is and could not remain indifferent to Torah" (an excerpt from an eulogy delivered by HaRav Sholom Noach Krol zt'l, the rov of Moshav Chemed).

His younger brother Zecharya, a musmach of HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, psychologist and Professor of Education in Bar Ilan University of Ramat Gan, moved to Israel after R' Yitzchok and lived with his family in the Bar Ilan campus that is adjacent to Bnei Brak, just across the intercity Geha Road. Although the two differed sharply in ideologies, they remained loving brothers and would always maintain strong and warm family ties and hold frequent family visits.

All the seven sons and one daughter of Reb Yekusiel Yehudah (Leibish-Louis) zt'l remained frum and their offspring are prominent in religious and general Jewish life in Eretz Yisroel and America.

Chessed Activities

Although he himself was content with whatever he had in life (which unquestionably was not much) and detested the luxuries of life, he provided financial support for many needy families, particularly before the yomim tovim. He did all this without fanfare, quietly, with unbelievable tznius. His concern was with the livelihood of others, not his own.

His sister Mrs. Sylvia Fuchs a'h commented (Jewish Press, Jan. 10, 1986, pg. 56B), "All his life, Yitzchok, in his very quiet way was involved in gemilus chassodim, a love of learning, and askonus, exhibiting stubbornness to pursue his goals despite all obstacles . . . No memorial to Itzie can end without the knowledge that, as with Rebbe Akiva, none of this would have been possible without the loving devotion of Shoshanah, their sons and daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren."

How did R' Yitzchok excel in gemilus chassodim? He knew well that money is not the only thing that people need. Some people need solid moral support and words of encouragement to lift their spirits. R' Yitzchok was always ready with a warm word of praise or encouragement to uplift others.

He would, however, not employ false praise or flattery in his efforts to raise people's spirits. R' Yitzchok would never have anything to do with falsehood; he dealt only in truth and hated the opposite. As Dovid Hamelech wrote, "I hate falsehood, It disgusts me. I love your Torah" (Tehillim 119:163). The Malbim (Ibid.) explains, "I love your Torah that is all truth and therefore I cannot possibly love falsehood. To love Your truth is to hate that which is the opposite of truth. Falsehood is the antithesis of truth, and therefore Dovid Hamelech despised falsehood." Indeed, R' Yitzchok exhibited both an ardent love of Torah and an abhorrence for anything lacking emes.

R' Yitzchok attained the middoh of being an ish emes, a man of truth, from his rosh yeshiva, Maran R' Aharon Kotler ztvk'l who carefully molded his character during the period that R' Yitzchok studied in his yeshiva. "If someone came to the Rosh Yeshiva with a plan — even a plan that was lesheim Shomayim — if it wasn't truth, he would not hear of it." (HaRav Stefansky shlita, a mashgiach in Lakewood Yeshiva).

In practical terms, R' Aharon would not build or support Torah with falsehood. He would not allow any fundraising for the yeshiva it if included anything that could be misleading to a potential donor or had other traces of falsehood. The Rosh Yeshiva was well known for his adamant opposition to even seemingly innocent "artistic license," such as his famous directive to the yeshiva's office to dispose of receipts in which the graphic artist added nonexistent shrubbery to a picture of the yeshiva building. He also considered it wrong to accept donations for his yeshiva when the contribution involved a change from the original purpose for which he approached the potential donor. (Excerpts from A Living Mishnas Rav Aharon, written by Rabbi Yitzchok Mordecai Dershowitz, the son of HaRav Menashe).

Everyone was R' Yitzchok's friend. HaRav Elya Svei shlita said in his eulogy: "R' Yitzchok was able to talk to everyone: with bnei Torah, with baalei batim, and even with those without any connection to Torah observance . . . He loved every person and had the middoh of an ayin tovoh."

At the shiva a young mailman came to console the family. After the sons asked him what connection he had with their father, he answered that R' Yitzchok would always treat him as a mentch, not just as a person doing his job. Every morning when R' Yitzchok would see him he would go over to him and greet him with a wide and warm smile. All this was done naturally and offhandedly. This was greatness in Torah mixed with simplicity. He would chase after chessed . . . and catch up with it.

When R' Yitzchok was about to marry off one of his children, a friend of his who knew that R' Yitzchok was lacking money even for the bare necessities for such an endeavor wanted to give him a considerable amount that could greatly help him. R' Yitzchok, however, flatly refused. He was not interested in gifts from people; he only wanted loans that he would, with Hashem's help, be able to return.

His friend, who wanted to convince him to take the money as a present, answered: "I do not have the time to get involved in loans. Either take the money or else . . . " R' Yitzchok then took the money but opened up a gemach under his friend's name and afterward repaid the loan to the last penny.

A bank manager who knew R' Yitzchok to be a Jew who barely made a living but one who never complained, heard one day that R' Yitzchok's parnossoh took a turn for the worse. The manager was happy that he succeeded in arranging a bank loan for him. But suddenly R' Yitzchok returned to the flabbergasted bank manager and asked: "Maybe someone else needs the money that I am borrowing? Maybe I am harming someone by taking this loan?"

On one erev Shabbos an acquaintance saw R' Yitzchok trudging from one hotel to the other in Tel Aviv. "Where are you going at such a late time of night?" his friend asked him.

R' Yitzchok answered: "I heard that someone who once studied in a yeshiva but afterward deviated from the way is staying in one of the hotels. I am looking for him. Maybe I'll be able to help him become a baal teshuvoh."

These brief glimpses into R' Yitzchok's life clearly show his ahavas chessed, love of acting with kindness toward anyone, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it was for him.

Singing for Chessed and for Mishpat

Throughout R' Yitzchok's last stage of life he suffered excruciating yissurim, but as is evident from the following short accounts, he never let up on his pressing desire to help other Jews, his unrelenting efforts to fulfill all of Hashem's mitzvos with shleimus and his fully accepting yissurim with true love:

A long and tiresome day finally came to end. This was not a wearisome trip to Acre in the north to save a boy, not to a Shabbos protest in Beer Sheva in the south, not a flight overseas back to America to help found the Pe'ilim Movement, but a day of exhausting medical tests before an operation.

R' Yitzchok fell asleep for a moment and then quickly woke up. He was agitated. How can one possibly sleep before an operation? It was now important to make use of every moment to do teshuvoh. His sickness could not destroy his spirit.

HaRav Elya Svei shlita remarked that R' Yitzchok reached the special madreigoh of those who knew how to bear yissurim and misfortune in a way that would not at all harm their ahavas Hashem. That whole terrible period in which R' Yitzchok suffered excruciating pain, which in the end terminated his short but rich life, could not take away R' Yitzchok's everlasting smile from his face and could not stop him from studying Torah. Whenever he had a little strength he would drag himself to the beis medrash.

One night in the hospital R' Yitzchok picked up his head and again asked: "Nu, now?"

When the answer was negative, his head dropped back on the pillow. This was the last night of that month in which one could recite the kiddush levonoh and it was as if the moon was deliberately hiding. The sky was overcast with clouds and the moon did not shine through. Almost at the break of dawn R' Yitzchok scanned the sky from his bed. This time he could clearly see the moon.

R' Yitzchok was almost delirious with happiness. Boruch Hashem, he would again be zocheh to recite kiddush levonoh! Only someone with colossal powers of spirit could act like that. It is therefore truly understandable, as mentioned above, that HaRav Y. Y. Kanievsky ztvk'l (the Steipler Rov) attested of him: "R Yitzchok is both a talmid chochom and a yirei Shomayim."

On the day before his operation on his spinal cord R' Yitzchok was angry with himself because his medication caused him to wake up late in the morning. How could he prepare himself spiritually with so little time?

R' Yitzchok was wheeled on a stretcher to the operation room, and such a sight as this no one ever saw before: R' Yitzchok was singing out loud a merry song full of simchah and trust in Hashem. "`Of chessed and mishpat do I sing to You, Hashem, do I sing praise' (Tehillim 101:1). If chessed happens to me, I will sing; if mishpat happens to me I will sing" (Brochos 63a).

Following the operation, when he was in the recovery room, immediately after he opened his foggy eyes, he began discussing with those around him what he had studied last year with his son after the previous operation.

The doctor who was checking the X-rays exhorted the family: "The patient is suffering terribly! How can he be disturbed now?"

"Really?" asked the family.

"What do you mean by `really'? Can't you tell?" asked the amazed doctor.

The members of family shrugged their shoulders. They could not possibly be aware of R' Yitzchok's suffering since he was always happy, always smiling, and his eyes were always shining. One never heard even a slight sigh or a complaint coming from him.

Between operations, R' Yitzchok recuperated in his sister's house in NYC and hardly ever missed going to shul to daven with a minyan. Even when the wound from the first confined surgery was infected, he insisted on walking to shul to be with a minyan.

His Last Day on Earth

During R' Yitzchok's final week in Olam Hazeh and his last day in this world he remained the same R' Yitzchok, the same fervent oveid Hashem:

Simchas Torah, 5746. Everyone was joyful and dancing in honor of the Torah. R' Yitzchok who was sitting in a wheelchair also shared in the simchah although he could not dance with others. In addition, R' Yitzchok was thankful for every breath of air that he inhaled.

The gabbai called R' Yitzchok up for the aliyah of chosson Bereishis, a great honor. A few days afterward on Shabbos Bereishis R' Yitzchok was brought to the main Ramat Elchonon shul where he recited bircas haTorah on the krias haTorah. We were again beginning from Bereishis . . . "For the Torah, for the avodoh . . . for this Shabbos day." But a few hours later R' Yitzchok at the age of sixty-six had started another Bereishis. His neshomoh ascended to Heaven.

Heading R' Yitzchok's large levaya was Maran HaRav E.M. Shach ztvk'l, rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh Yeshiva, HaRav Michel Feinstein zt'l, rosh kollel of Brisker Kollel of Bnei Brak, HaRav Nissim Karelitz shlita, rosh kollel of Kollel Chazon Ish, HaRav Yitzchok Silberstein shlita, rov of Ramat Elchonon neighborhood of Bnei Brak, HaRav Dov Shwartzman shlita, rosh yeshiva of Beis HaTalmud Yeshiva of Yerushalayim, and many others.

R' Yitzchok was always a person who stood with his feet on earth but his head reached Shomayim. R' Alter Yitzchok whose accomplishments were innumerable was taken away from us! Yehi zichro Boruch!

Interview with HaRav Yehuda Sheinker

HaRav Sheinker shlita served as a mashgiach in many yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La'aretz

Yated: When did your close acquaintance with HaRav Alter Yitzchok Dershowitz zt'l begin?

HaRav Sheinker: About forty years ago I began studying in the kollel of HaRav Yitzchok Nesher zt'l in Tel Aviv, which was founded by HaRav A. Y. Dershowitz together with HaRav Ezra Novik shlita and HaRav Nochum Ber Kreisman zt'l — who all studied in Lakewood Yeshiva.

Yated: Did R' Yitzchok start off as a mashgiach in the kollel?

HaRav Sheinker: No, he certainly did not. He sat and learned like a regular kollel talmid. In the course of time, HaRav Nesher observed how R' Yitzchok would learn with great cheishek and diligence, and would seriously immerse himself in mussar seforim to further refine himself. He also noticed that the other yungerleit respected him immensely, and therefore at a meeting one day he announced that from now on R' Yitzchok was the mashgiach of the kollel.

Yated: Someone once told me that a mashgiach is 99 percent a policeman and 1 percent a tzaddik. Was that true of R' Yitzchok too?

HaRav Sheinker: He would never go over to anyone who was just talking instead of learning, and reprimand him directly. He wasn't that kind of person at all. R' Yitzchok would simply approach him and start asking him a kushya or request an explanation for a difficult passage in the gemora. The avreich would realize that it was time for him to get back to his learning. R' Yitzchok was a true onov. Even if it happened that a yungerman was discourteous to him, he would not notice it. He was the epitome of, "hearing oneself being disgraced but not responding" (Shabbos 88b).

Even though gedolei Torah thought highly of him (such as his neighbor the Steipler Rov zt'l, and HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l who invited him over for the seder), he never boasted about that. He would always be mevatel himself without ascribing importance to himself, despite his enormous ma'alos that were evident to all. He would labor over his Torah studies without any thought of honor. R' Yitzchok would run to whomever he could to hear a kushya, teirutz, pshat or dvar Torah even if that person was far younger than he or far less knowledgeable.

I remember that we once rode in a taxi with the Strikever Rebbe from Tel Aviv to Bnei Brak and R' Yitzchok took advantage of the opportunity and began conversing with the Rebbe in learning, asking him to explain a complicated passage in the gemora that the kollel was learning. The Rebbe, who was a major talmid chochom, answered him and a heated discussion developed on the way back home around the correct pshat in that sugya.

Yated: Did he excel in any other way in his position?

HaRav Sheinker: Well, R' Yitzchok was a baal chesed who would concern himself much about how each yungerman was making out, and when he heard of a need, he would hand him some money on the side to help him out. If he noticed that a yungerman was depressed, he approached him and tried his utmost to encourage him. He even would arrange for the yungerleit to receive CARE packages that were coming from the USA at that time. Once there wasn't enough money to pay for the trip to the kollel from Bnei Brak to Tel Aviv, and R' Yitzchok paid from his own pocket although he himself barely made a living.

Yated: Did you ever have a closer relationship with the niftar?

HaRav Sheinker: Yes, for a period of time I studied with him bechavrusa. I remember one occasion in the middle of our studies when he stopped to tell me that he felt he has to ask mechiloh from me. It seems that he felt that he had spoken something improper to me or had demanded something he should not have, but to tell the truth, I couldn't grasp what that possibly could have been. R' Yitzchok couldn't bear improper behavior and was particularly strict with himself.

Yated: Do you remember any particular anecdote of R' Yitzchok with an odom godol ?

HaRav Sheinker: Here is a story that you can learn something from. From this story you can see how gedolei Torah act and what concerns them most on the holy day of Purim.

This happened on Purim 5730 or 5731. I don't remember exactly which year. R' Yitzchok met me and asked me to accompany him to engage in a big mitzvah. He took me to visit HaRav Naftoli Teply zt'l, who was an eminent talmid chochom but unfortunately crippled and never married — a lonely eltere bochur. When we arrived there, we saw that HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, HaRav Dov Weintraub and HaRav Akiva Tennenbaum were already at HaRav Teply's house. If I recollect correctly, it was R' Yitzchok who organized this whole mitzvah. The whole chaburah kedoshah sang songs of bygone days full of emunoh, bitochon and ahavas Torah. That was a real simchas Purim and mitzvah that I will never forget. That is how gedolei Torah celebrate Purim!


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.