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29 Adar 5766 - March 29, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty-Two: Master and Father of the Entire Diaspora

The Father of the Ohr HaChaim Students

Maran HaGaon R' Shach ztvk'l was the acknowledged father and spiritual patron of the girls studying in Ohr HaChaim. These were girls who generally did not have anyone to whom to turn with their problems. Maran was like a merciful father to them, and they would allow themselves to approach him with every question.

The administration, however, reached the conclusion that one could not impose upon Maran to such a great extent. And so, orders were issued that the girls could not have carte blanche to go to the Rosh Yeshiva whenever they wished without first getting permission from the principal.

Maran felt very quickly that the students had stopped coming and inquired as to the reason behind it. His family told him that the administration had decided to curtail the visits, allowing these only with special permission from the principal.

Maran asked that this new directive be abolished, and that any girl who felt the need to ask a question should be allowed to come with her problem, without any limitation whatsoever.

One Among a Thousand

One particular student, whose parents were dissatisfied with the seminary and wished to remove her, came crying to Maran for help. She well knew that once she left Ohr HaChaim, she would eventually lose all of her gains in Yiddishkeit, all her yiras Shomayim, all the progress she had made in spiritual areas.

Maran calmed her and said reassuringly, "Don't worry. You will not have to leave Ohr HaChaim." He asked the parents to come to him and he spoke to them. They finally understood how important was the education she was getting in Ohr HaChaim and agreed to let her remain. Maran summoned the girl and informed her personally that he had been successful in receiving their permission.

This girl was one among thousands, yet Maran the Rosh Yeshiva devoted his precious time for her cause; he summoned the parents, coaxed them, influenced and finally, even made sure to tell the girl personally that he had succeeded. This is extraordinary devotion, the extent of which is difficult to fathom. The only explanation for it is that by Maran, every girl was like his only child.

His Advice: It's Not Worthwhile Complaining

A young girl came to Maran and said that she had grievances against her teacher. Apparently, she understood that he was the address for her gripes, since he was willing to listen to everyone's troubles. She poured out her heart to him and said she felt her teacher was persecuting her unjustifiably.

All of us are familiar with this type of complaining and grumbling; it is commonplace for students to find fault with their teachers. Maran listened and said quickly, "First of all, one must hear both sides of the story. I cannot listen to just one side; I have to hear you together with the teacher.

"But in addition, I want to tell you something: you are a young girl and you will have to get married, build a house, raise children and establish future generations. Your trait of complaining is a very negative one; it will present obstacles in the course of your life. One must not complain and not look for faults in someone else. Rather, try to think of all the favors and good turns that this teacher does for you, as well as the whole school, the administration, the teachers who are at your service, there to help you, as if, `for me was the world created.' Look at this side and then you will know later how to look at your husband and how to look at your children . . . "

To be sure, she never returned with her teacher. She told her teacher and her friends that Maran had illuminated her entire life. He had opened up her mind, her heart; he had transformed her into a happy person, because after his words, she actually stopped complaining and finding fault with others. Maran had devoted a great deal of his precious time to her, because a father does not spare his time when it comes to educating his daughter.

Maran's Dedication in Checking out Shidduchim

An orphan studying in Ohr HaChaim came to ask Maran's advice regarding a certain shidduch that had been suggested to her. Maran promised to inquire about the young man for her.

If the reader thinks that all Maran did was call up his rosh yeshiva to get the needed information — he is sorely mistaken. Maran traveled all the way to Jerusalem to meet personally with the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Peretz. The latter was very surprised that Maran had gone to all this trouble when he could have gotten the information via the telephone.

Maran explained, "If it was my daughter, I would surely not suffice with a mere phone call to get a complete picture. One has to sit face to face with the person conveying the information in order to get the full impression and to clarify the subject through and through. You should know that I consider an orphan student from Ohr HaChaim like my very own daughter."

And this is exactly how it was when one of my own sons went to seek Maran's advice regarding a shidduch. Maran told him to come back in a few days for an answer. When my son returned, the answer was very positive. We later found out that in the interim, Maran had made extensive inquiries about the girl in question, and truly investigated the matter very meticulously — in fact, probably more thoroughly than we had, ourselves! And only after receiving a good and well- researched report did he give his approval.

Had I not known what I have previously stated, I might have thought that my son received preferential treatment because of my relationship to Maran. But it turned that it was not preferential at all; this was Maran's way, his approach, to relate to every individual as an only son, whether he knew him well or not at all.

Attention (T.L.C.) — That's What She Was Missing

A young girl who had recently emigrated from the Soviet Union together with her family enrolled in Bais Yaakov. In the course of the lessons, she asked all kinds of heretical questions until one day, the principal decided that he had had enough: this girl had to be expelled from school.

My wife, who had taken Russian immigrants under her wing, told the principal that before taking such a drastic step as expelling a student from Bais Yaakov, which was virtually throwing her out into the street, one had to consult with Maran. Maran agreed to give them an appointment and he and my wife went to discuss the matter.

The principal presented his side of the problem, and even went into detail with examples of the questions she had been asking in class. Maran said, "Naarishkeit! Nonsense! All this girl wants is some attention. Tell the teacher to devote some extra attention to her and you'll see that she will stop asking such questions."

The principal did as he had advised and told the teachers to give her some positive attention. How right Maran had been in his assessment! The student soon stopped asking such questions and became one of the top students in every sense, even in yiras Shomayim. She went on to marry a talmid chochom and established an outstanding home.

A Pampered Person is a Poor Shidduch Candidate

A young student went to Maran to seek advice concerning a certain shidduch. Everything seemed all right except for one drawback: one of the children in the girl's family was afflicted with a disease.

Maran said: "The illness is not hereditary. In this case, I maintain that it is an advantage, since the girl in question, as well as her entire family, are devoted to the sick child and they help out all the time. This assures you that the girl is not spoiled. In fact, it is a definite benefit in a shidduch!"

The young man continued to ask, "Might we not think that the sick child become a burden on the young couple; they might be called upon to help out, too."

Maran replied, "You must be happy at this opportunity to do chessed."

In this case, too, it later became clear that before Maran gave a positive answer to this suggestion, he looked into the family thoroughly and then said to the candidate, "You should know to appreciate that in this family, never is there any shouting heard!"

Excessive Tzidkus and Modesty are not Disadvantages

Someone in my family once inquired by Maran about a certain shidduch, since the girl in question was said to be farfrumt (over-pious). Maran said, "And so what? Is this a drawback? What is frum? It means she has a great measure of yiras Shomayim. There is nothing wrong with that."

The young man continued to press. "Perhaps there is some disadvantage, after all?"

Maran remained adamant. "The shortcoming of over-piety is only until the wedding. Afterwards it passes, and all that remains is the pure yiras Shomayim. That being the case, you have nothing to fear."

The young man brought up the fact that she did not want to be seen together in public, seeing this as lacking in modesty. Maran enthused, "You are a lucky young man to be matched up with such a girl. She is altogether superlative and you have nothing to worry about whatsoever!"

How Can One Withstand the Tears of a Jewish Daughter?

One kallah asked Maran to officiate at her wedding. She had no connection to him at all, but pleaded with all her might that he be her mesader kiddushin.

"But that is impossible," Maran explained. "Your wedding is on the day when I prepare for my weekly shiur in yeshiva."

Upon hearing his refusal, she burst into tears. When Maran saw this, he turned to her and said, "Don't cry. I agree to be your mesader kiddushin. All I ask is that the chuppah take place at the exact designated hour so that I will not waste any unnecessary time."

Maran's family was most surprised and asked why he had capitulated, when he did not even know the kallah. We have already stated in previous chapters how important was the day that he prepared for his weekly shiur. But Maran explained, "How can one hold out against the tears of a Jewish daughter? Those tears are decisive, and I had to take them into account, as if she were my very own daughter."

`Abba' is Mesader Kiddushin

Maran participated in the wedding of his talmid who married the daughter of R' Shalom Schwadron zt'l. When he spied Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, the kalla's uncle, he approached him and said, "You are the uncle. You must officiate at the marriage."

R' Shlomo Zalman's pleading was of no avail until R' Shlomo Zalman said, "I really am the uncle, but you are the `father.' "

When Maran heard these words, he agreed to be mesader kiddushin.

"Even During the Times that I am Very Busy, My Door is Always Open"

Upon some occasion, I asked Maran: "People approach me with many requests and I am very busy as a result. I have no time. I am not talking about time to rest but time to learn and study. In addition, I am sometimes left without any time to prepare my speeches and to put together the material I must present to the Knesset. (I was the head of the Knesset Finance Committee and this position required a great deal of preparatory background material and knowledge; I had to keep abreast and informed of many things.)

"People come: one person and then another, and they rob me of the little time I need so desperately. And in addition, many of the appeals that come my way have nothing to do with a public representative. Some of the questions should be addressed to a lawyer or to regular askonim and not to a Member of Knesset. My question is if I can tell my family to put them off, to tell people that I am not available at the moment so that I can get things done."

After hearing my question, Maran thought for a long time, and then, in his characteristic humility, replied, "I cannot really answer for you. But I would like to tell you what I do. I am also busy. I must prepare shiurim; I have to learn, and I am very deeply pained when I begin learning, sink my teeth into a sugya, concentrate upon it, and then I am interrupted. But I stop, nonetheless. If someone comes to discuss a question or problem, I stop . . .

"You argue that there are some things that are altogether not in your realm. Well, I can say the same for myself," confessed Maran. "Many things come before me that are very removed from me. Let me tell you a story by way of example:

"Last night, a woman came to me and said, `Rebbe, I want you to teach me in one quick lesson the attribute of simple faith.' I was very surprised. Whatever does that have to do with me? That I should teach a woman something about emunah? Well, I gave her an elementary lesson on what it entailed, she thanked me and then left.

"After about fifteen minutes, she came back and said, `Rebbe, I am afraid that I may forget what you taught me so I brought a notebook and pencil so that you could write it down for me. This way, if I happen to forget, I can look it up in the notebook.'

Maran continued, "So I took the notebook and wrote down what I had taught her about emunah peshutoh. A quarter of an hour passed and she was back. `I am afraid that I cannot make out some of the letters you wrote. Please go over them so that it is very legible and clear.' I did so. But the woman kept on coming back again and again, each time with a different request, and each time, I did as she asked.

"Why did I go to all that trouble?" Maran asked rhetorically. "Because I saw she was a nervous, high-strung person. By complying with her requests, I was able to soothe and calm her nerves. Another thing, I thought that by doing so, I was doing her husband a favor, too.

"And that is what I always do," Maran concluded, "even in matters that do not apply to me, and even if I am pressed for time. But I do it. By you, however, the question is much more serious and difficult . . . You are a public representative, a shaliach tzibbur. I imagine that the disturbances you get are much more numerous than mine, and therefore, I am not in a position to decide and rule for you."

His very words provided me with a clear answer. I was ashamed of myself, thoroughly so. I made a kal vochomer, an inference from the greater to the lesser. If Maran, who was the godol hador, and whose every moment was more vital and sacred than many hours of any other person, showed such devotion and selflessness towards others, verily like a father to an only child, how much more so . . . And so I have tried to conduct myself accordingly.

What `business' was it of Maran's to teach a woman simple faith? She could learn it from a seminary teacher. But as we have already said, this is how a father relates to a daughter. One does not refuse the request of a child, a daughter. And by Maran, everyone was like a son or daughter.

I have visited many a home of great figures, but acts such as this, inexhaustible commitment to each and every single person, the fuss and bother over every individual, or as Maran, himself, put it, "A father doesn't send his son alone," — I saw only by Maran.

Love of Chessed is a Subject One Must Study Thoroughly

Maran was immersed body and soul in Torah study. This was his whole world, while all the petty particulars of everyday physical life played no role in his hierarchy of priorities. But when the benefit of a fellow Jew was in question, everything was different. Here he would descend to the smallest details and dig and delve as if it were a difficult sugya in Bovo Kama.

A family moved from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, settling in Maran's neighborhood. Maran came knocking on their door in person to inform them of certain pieces of information which they might not be aware of, relating to their new location. Fresh chickens, for example, could not be obtained on Friday, he told them, so that they should know to buy them on Wednesday or Thursday (Orchos Habayis).

Master and Father of Diaspora Jewry

Maran HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztvk'l commented on the teaching, "One who established students in his youth, should also establish students in his old age," as follows: Chazal wish to say that we should not presume that old men cannot teach, even though we find that an old man is not appointed to the Sanhedrin because he lacks mercy [perhaps, patience]. A master who teaches Torah needs to have the attribute of mercy as well. What Chazal wished to teach here was that a teacher who instructs his students is also merciful, even in his old age.

We saw and felt this in the full by Maran. Whoever talked to him got the feeling that he was not speaking to the master of the entire diaspora (rosh kol hagoloh), but also to the father of the entire diaspora. Furthermore, he conveyed the feeling to whomever he spoke that he was his only son. One could speak to the leader of all Jewry and still feel that he was talking to his father.

This is usually self-exclusive, a contradiction, but by Maran it was not an inconsistency at all. One who is great in Torah and truly perfect in all of his ways and traits can, indeed, serve as both a master-teacher-rabbi and as a father simultaneously.

In my opinion, in addition to the title of Rashkebahag — Rabbon Shel Kol Bnei Hagolah, he could equally have been called Ashkebehag — Avihem Shel Kol Bnei Hagolah.

Advice Coupled with Cheshbon Hanefesh

Thousands and ten thousands benefited from Maran's advice and wise counsel. Many times however, his beneficiaries did not fully assess and appreciate the tremendous effort which Maran invested in every piece of guidance that he dispensed. The following tale, in which he withheld his advice, highlights this immense input.

One time, people came to ask Maran's advice in a certain matter but Maran refrained from expressing an opinion. When they pleaded with him, he said, "What can I do? I cannot give any advice in this matter."

His family was very surprised since this was very unusual for Maran but he explained, "With every piece of advice, I first make a personal reckoning if I will be able to justify myself in the World to Come. When the time comes for me to stand up and be accountable for what I said, will I be able to do so? In this particular instance, I wasn't sure that I would be able to justify my advice in the next world, so I felt it were better if I remained silent."

We will conclude with the words of Rabbenu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuvah (Shaar Shlishi, os 13) which Maran was wont to repeat often, "For a person must toil . . . and be diligent in working on himself with regards to his relation to his fellow man. And this is one of the most stringent, and the most basic things demanded of a person, as it is written, `He has told you, man, what is good and what Hashem requires of you, but to do justly and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G-d.' " (Michah 6:8)

Why Maran Did Not Go Away for Vacation

I once noticed that Maran had overexerted himself beyond his strength and as a result, had become weakened. I asked how he felt and he admitted that he had taxed himself too much. I knew that Maran would never go to a hotel or vacation spot, and so, I suggested instead that he come to me to rest up for a few days until he felt better. This way, he would be removed from the public and all of its demands upon him.

At that time, Bnei Brak was not as built up as it is now, and our house on Rechov Hashomer was isolated from the rest of the city. I told him that my wife heartily extended the invitation as well and would be honored if he came.

Maran replied, "I must not sever myself from the public. I cannot allow that someone in need will not find me accessible. You want to seclude me so that no one know where I am, but I must remain in my house in order to help anyone in need, despite my own frailty."

It is known that all Torah leaders were accustomed to traveling to a resort spot for vacation, but Maran felt that it was his duty to answer to the needs of the public at all times. "Who knows?" he said once. "Perhaps behind the door there may stand someone with a broken heart. How can I disappoint him?"

This is exceptional conduct. Truly, common folk such as we cannot begin to reach such a level. But I was, at least, able to learn — to a degree which I never dreamed of — from his words and deeds, and to recognize for what to strive: to desire to help everyone and to be dedicated and attuned to people's needs.

Why Maran Didn't Dance at the Wedding

HaRav Yechezkel Eschayek served Maran for many years with a devotion that defies description. Maran's affection and esteem for him was, accordingly, exceptional, just like a father-son relationship. And yet, Maran did not dance at the wedding of R' Yechezkel's son.

Why not? Maran was asked, when he did dance by the weddings of his students, especially when it was known how he favored R' Yechezkel.

Maran replied that one of his students had told him that day the bitter news that the doctors diagnosed that he would never be able to sire any children. Maran was so distressed by this information that he found it impossible to rejoice fully, and could not bring himself to dance.


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