Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Seventeen: Wholly, Purely Torah

An introduction to the Memoirs relating to the author of the Avi Ezri ztvk'l, Maran HaRav Eliezer Menachem Mann Shach.


Before I begin to dredge up my precious memories of the master/teacher of the entire diaspora, Maran HaGaon R' Eliezer Menachem Mann Shach ztvk'l, I wish to first introduce a very important point which relates to his figure.

Throughout most of his life, Maran gave no acknowledgement and showed no deference to anything in the world, save one: Torah study and dissemination of Torah. This was not a form of isolation, hibernation or fleeing from worldly matters; Maran simply did not recognize a world other than the four cubits of halochoh. It was his entire reality, and therefore, one simply could not talk to him about any other subject.

When he joined the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in 5719 (1959) and I informed the Brisker Rov of the fact, he smiled and said to me, "Tell me R' Shlomo. Do you think that our R' Leizer'l is capable of sitting with the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah? He belongs only to Torah, itself. He has absolutely no knowledge concerning this world; he is wholly, purely Torah."

The Central Pillar of Klal Yisroel

Contrary to forecasts and completely against nature, Maran was transformed into a leader par excellence of all of Klal Yisroel, and his proverbial net was cast over the entire world. There was nothing big or small in the world of Torah in which he was not involved. He was accepted as the unchallenged universal leader and spokesman for Klal Yisroel.

It is only natural and understandable that a leader cannot be involved or be privy to every detail. He establishes policy in a general, basic manner, while leaving the actual implementation and execution of that policy to his trusted adherents, whose responsibility it is to translate and execute his will into action and render it into practical application.

In this fashion did Maran the Chazon Ish and Maran the Brisker Rov ztvk'l lead and guide our people. But in general, they did not supervise the direct pragmatic course of the `battle.' They were not an integral part of the institution of Agudath Yisroel; they did not sit in on the meetings of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah or of any other group or institution.

In contrast, Rabbenu's conduct and leadership were different. He was very active and personally involved with all the institutions of Torah Jewry. He was the very central pillar, like the supporting [horizontal] pole that ran through the beams of the Mishkon and held them together. He was the kingpin of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah; he sat at the head of the Vaad Hayeshivos and was the head of the Chinuch Atzmai hanholoh. He made it a point to attend all the meetings and had the first and last word in everything involving these bodies.

"In the Future, They Will Take Me to Task"

His sense of responsibility towards Klal Yisroel guided all his steps and actions. He felt personally accountable for everything, big or small, that happened to the public. He was often heard declaring, "In the future, they will take me to task for something that took place in my lifetime. `How were you not vigilant?' they will accuse me!"

This sense of responsibility provided those superhuman powers, the extent of which we cannot fathom, which enabled him to lead the nation with a tight rein for a period of some forty years.

His feeling of responsibility prepared him for that degree of leadership and, despite his being a symbol of humility, the knowledge and feeling that this mission had been assigned to him enabled him to fulfill it to perfection.

His was a stormy period during which harsh decrees were passed against the chareidi public, including the law on autopsies. We were forced to stand vigil day and night in order to prevent arbitrary autopsies.

Then there was the threat of the draft for Jewish girls; in order to be exempted from it, a young girl had to undergo a long and arduous process which included appearing before an interrogating committee of secular members and answering their questions to prove her level of observance.

Thanks to his strong leadership, Maran arrived at the solution to the knotty problems that faced the Torah public; he extricated his people from the straits and led them to wide pastures where they blossomed and flourished.

Rearing up Like a Lion

In order to bring home the power of leadership with which Maran was blessed, I will describe what took place in a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in 5737 (1977).

When Agudath Israel joined the Begin government that year, I was the one chosen to meet with Prime Minister Begin in order to deal with the question of the existing fiscal allocation for yeshivos and other Torah institutions, a sum which had been negligible to begin with and most discriminatory compared to what other, similar institutions were receiving.

To my utter dismay, the Prime Minister said to me, "I am not prepared to increase the allotment to yeshivos."

But the disappointment did not last long, for he immediately added, "Why increase? In my opinion, Torah institutions deserve to get the full 100 percent of their budget, the same as other educational institutions."

Immediately after our meeting, I rushed off to the meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah which was taking place in Kiryat Telz Stone. I bore the good tidings of the prime minister's decision to approve a full budget to Torah institutions. I have never been privy to as many blessings as I received from each and every member of the Moetzes upon that occasion.

In the end, Maran R' Shach got up, his face exhibiting visible signs of inner turmoil. He let out a mighty roar, proclaiming, "We must under no circumstances agree to the offer of providing the Torah institutions with 100 percent of their budget. This is a policy which I have as a tradition from the Chofetz Chaim."

Maran went on to present three main reasons why the Chofetz Chaim had thus ruled:

"First, the maintenance and support of the yeshivos and Torah institutions is the privilege of every single Jew; no one should usurp this right from them.

"Second, Chazal teach us not to become too close to the authorities (Pirkei Ovos). No government can be trusted, even the best of them. Today they decide thus and tomorrow, when their interests change, they will decide otherwise.

"Third, if in the future a government should decide to reduce the budget, the yeshivos will find themselves standing before a broken trough, at loose ends, having become accustomed, meanwhile, to having all of their needs met. They will have stopped raising money and will find it most difficult to begin fundraising all over again. Besides, the wealthy people will have become used to giving elsewhere and will have lost the good habit of giving for Torah.

"Therefore," declared Maran in an assertive tone, "we must not accept from the government more than 50 percent of the respective budgets of the Torah institutions. We will raise the remaining deficit as we have done up till now, and I ask that it be recorded in the protocol not to accept more than that 50 percent of the budget, or at worst, up till sixty percent."

His outspoken, definitive words shocked the members, who had been prepared to accept the prime minister's generous offer of a full 100 percent of the yeshivos' budget. But since Maran had been so adamant, no one dared to react, and his words were accepted as the unchallenged ruling and policy.

I asked Maran upon this occasion, as at many other occasions, from where he derived the assertiveness, the broad shoulders, to make such a decision which was so opposed to the consensus of the Moetzes members! He humbly replied, in a very thin voice, "Because I examine myself and I know that I have absolutely no personal interest in those matters where I take an unequivocal stand."

A Man of Manifold Talents

I was very closely acquainted with the gedolei Torah who had a pronounced effect upon the public for the past seventy years. But an impact of such scope and power throughout the world as wielded by Maran — that was not to be found elsewhere. He was a one-of-a-kind, unique. Maran was not only the initiator but also the executor, the implementer.

Towards the end of his days, when he approached his nineties, he set out to rebuild the yeshiva world. He initiated and carried out the plan of publishing a new newspaper reflecting the daas Torah of the Bnei Torah public: Yated Ne'eman, both in Hebrew and in English. He also established a new organization and political party, Degel Hatorah, which unites and represents the Torah-true population.

This scope of leadership would be sufficient in itself to fill a twenty-four hour day of an average energetic person, if not more. But by Maran, we saw the unbelievable take place: alongside his leadership activities on behalf of Klal Yisroel, he was still totally immersed in Torah. For most of the hours of the day and night, he dedicated himself to his students. He gave shiurim kloliyim, daily shiurim and mussar talks. On the days that he delivered his Shiur Kloli, he would be totally engrossed and focused upon the subject and one could hardly speak to him about anything else.

Notwithstanding, every person who approached him for advice or a blessing received his full attention and, often as not, Rabbenu did not suffice with merely giving counsel but would immerse himself deeply in the subject, clarifying it and dealing with the problem personally until a solution was arrived at.

When a sign was once posted in Ohr HaChaim forbidding the girls to go to Maran and disturb him without receiving express permission from their teacher, he quickly sensed that they had stopped coming and inquired what had caused the change. When he was told about the notice, he immediately demanded that it be removed, saying, "I want to be accessible to everyone who needs help."

When I, Myself, Don't Know a Thing

Even though he led the generation with a powerful, courageous leadership, he used to say, "For my part, I don't know a thing. Whatever knowledge I possess comes to me from the Chofetz Chaim and from my master, R' Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. If any question arises regarding public matters or even private affairs, I seclude myself and think: `How would R' Chaim Ozer and the Chofetz Chaim rule in this matter?'"

I saw fit to present several unique features of the figure of Maran, R' Shach, in my introduction so that those young men who were not privileged to know him will be able to conjure up something of his exceptional qualities and thereby be able to better understand my future essays on him. The upcoming articles will give a wider expression to each of the points mentioned in my brief introduction.

Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk'l: What is Hidden in Him Surpasses What is Visible to the Eye

"We undoubtedly do not possess the tools to grasp the powers which Maran possessed or to understand how Maran, who was wholly immersed in Torah, was simultaneously capable of leading all of Klal Yisroel. And all this — together with his devoted dedication to every individual. It is a sealed enigma in our eyes how he was able to encompass all this, how the little embraced so much. We thought that we knew him, but we were far removed from this by thousands of miles."

My son, HaRav Yitzchok, who is married to his granddaughter, once asked Maran R' Shlomo Zalman: "It is traditionally accepted that every generation has its thirty-six hidden tzaddikim (see Succah 48b). Do these still exist in our generation?"

Maran R' Shlomo Zalman replied: "Certainly, yes."

My son continued to ask: "But they say that those tzaddikim conceal themselves in the garb of simple laborers, and in our generation, they say the names of certain laborers who appear to conduct themselves as simple laymen while in reality, they are those very hidden saints."

Maran replied firmly and surely: "No! Those are not the hidden lamed-vovniks!"

R' Yitzchok continued to ask, "Well, then. Who are these hidden figures of our generation?"

Rejoined, R' Shlomo Zalman, "You know one very well. He is your own master-teacher, HaGaon R' Eliezer Menachem Mann Shach."

"But I don't understand why Zeide determines that R' Shach is one of those hidden thirty-six. There is no one more famous in our generation than he!"

R' Shlomo Zalman responded, "As famous as he is, there is no one who truly knows the extent of his inner greatness. The portion concealed inside him is immeasurably greater than what is revealed to the eye!"

R' Shlomo Zalman then added, "Were it not so that the hidden far exceeds the revealed, it would be impossible to reach that height of spiritual stature which is visible to the public eye. To what can this be compared? To a building that towers up very high; it would not be able to stand so high were it not for the deep, very strong foundation that is buried underground."

Here is the place to add that Maran, himself, was accustomed to say in the name of R' Yisroel Salanter zt'l that in our times, there cannot exist a tzaddik nistor. Why? "A Jew whose heart is infused with the reverence of Heaven cannot conceal himself within four cubits at the time that fire consumes all around him — and still ignore that fire. He is compelled to go forth in battle and do whatever is in his power for the honor of Hashem and His Torah."

Maran, himself, mentioned this selfsame concept in his speech at the founding rally of Degel HaTorah which took place in Binyanei Ha'Uma.


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