Dei'ah Vedibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tishrei, 5780 - October 11, 2019 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by











Yesodos Ne'emanim
Yesodos Ne'emanim

A Torah Sense of Smell — A Hesped on the Brisker Rov

By HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l


The following hesped has become in itself a classic work that is often referred to, because of the fundamental ideas that R' Chaim elaborated therein. It is certainly a tribute to the great niftar, but it is also a tribute to the great maspid. The Brisker Rov was niftar forty years ago.

We first published this essay almost exactly 20 years ago.

Unequal to the Task

Chazal tell us what happened when Rav's talmidim returned from his levaya (Brochos 42). After having torn keriah as halocho requires, they sat down to eat. A question arose concerning the halochos of brochos (either bircas hamozone or the first brocho, according to the different explanations there), and they were unable to resolve it. They came from a levaya, having already torn keriah for their rebbe, yet they couldn't even determine how to eat [so deeply were they affected]. "Rav Ada bar Ahava arose, moved his garment round [so that the place where he had already rent it would be behind him] and rent it in another place. He said, `Rav has passed away and we do not even know how to say the brocho over food.' "

We too, need to tear keriah again. All the hespedim that have been said are not sufficient. Today, a question arose which gedolei olom discussed — and there was nobody to ask! We ought to tear an ongoing keriah, without stopping! The Rebbe has left us — "and we do not know how to say the brocho over food"! If our rebbe were with us, all our queries would appear differently.

In preparing to eulogize, the problem arises of how to go about doing so. What does one say? How well did I know the Rebbe? Well enough to eulogize him? And I would like to pose an even greater difficulty.

There is a universal error, whereby people imagine that one can relate a handful of stories about the Rebbe to help in eulogizing him. This is a complete mistake. An isolated story teaches nothing. Everything depends upon understanding who the protagonist is.

We learn in the Mishnah (Sotah 8:) that, "In the same measure that a man uses for others, they [in Heaven] use for him. Miriam waited one hour for Moshe Rabbenu and Klal Yisroel waited for her for seven days in the desert." The measure that was dealt to Miriam corresponded to the measure which she used for others, in accordance with the Mishnah's principle. We see that actions are rated according to their inner value [not their outer aspect] for we also perform similar deeds to these, yet they are not the same.

This honor, which Klal Yisroel bestowed on one individual, was all because Miriam had waited one hour for Moshe Rabbenu. Tosafos (Sotah 11), quoting the Tosefta, says that she didn't even wait for him for an hour — only for fifteen or twenty minutes. In a quarter of an hour, she achieved something of such value. This is an example of the difference between small things that are done by great people and by ordinary people.

And so it is with the actions of the Ovos. See what their deeds were! Avrohom Ovinu gave butter and milk to his visitors — the mal'ochim — and in this merit he sustained Klal Yisroel with mon, measure for measure. For his "now let a little water be taken," the well of Miriam came into being (Bava Metzia 86).

We also serve our visitors with butter and milk. We do the very same thing — it's wrong to argue that what we do is in some way different — yet will we receive such a reward? The very same thing can be done by more than one person, yet everything depends upon the stature of the doer. This is the key to the significance of the deeds of the Ovos.

One can understand this principle by means of a parable. When one sees [part of] an enormous palace, if one is taking an overall view, it looks wonderful. Yet another person [seeing the same palace] may just be looking at one single stone, without seeing the total picture. Without the ability to see an entire vista, one will simply see a stone like any other.

Or, to give another example, there exist certain enormous creatures, as Chazal relate, and if one looks at the whole animal, one appreciates its size, whereas someone who looks at a single spot on the animal will see nothing.

The same small deed — giving butter and milk. How is it then that, according to the rule of "measure for measure," the corresponding recompense is mon? The answer is as above: it is not a person's deeds that elevate him; it is he who elevates his deeds. A man who sees things as he is supposed to, sees a stone that is part of a palace, whereas somebody else, with stunted vision, sees just an ordinary stone.

What benefit is there from hearing a story about the Rebbe? The story does not heighten my appreciation of him. It is an understanding of who the Rebbe was that makes the story special, not the other way around. How can our duty to eulogize him be fulfilled like that?

And moreover [when it comes to resolving] questions of great importance — "Men tappt a vant, un men treft di vant oichet nit — One bangs against a wall yet one can't even find the wall."

Illuminating Chazal's Meaning

There is just one possible way to eulogize. When we see Chazal's words, we perceive them as fearsome and unique. When one sees what the Rebbe was, the words of Chazal appear with heightened clarity.

The posuk (Devorim 28:13) says, "You will only be ascendent," on which Chazal ask, "Can this mean [to be ascendent] in the same way that I [meaning Hashem] am?" . . . Chazal ask this question about human beings, and they answer, "The posuk says rak, only, which indicates some exclusion, and we learn from the wicked Pharaoh, who said to Yosef, "Rak, only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you" (Bereishis 41:40), [hence, Klal Yisroel's ascendancy will not be to quite the same extent as the Creator's].

It emerges that without the word rak, we would say that "you will be ascendent," indeed means "in the same way that I am"! People like ourselves are shocked by such a comparison. Fear grips us, not because of our far-reaching comprehension of Hashem yisborach's existence but because of our ignorance of how great man is!

And the medrash continues, "You shall be holy" (Vayikro 19:2), and again asks the same question, "Can this mean [to be holy] in the same degree that I am? [No, for] the posuk says, `For I am holy.' My holiness is above yours." We see again that there is initial assumption that man could be holy "in the same degree that I am!" And this shocks us! But now we understand.

The Torah says (Vayikro 26 11-12), "And I will place My mishkan among you . . . and I will walk among you and I will be a G-d to you . . . " In explaining the meaning of this reward Rashi comments, "and I will walk among you . . . I will stroll with you in Gan Eden like one of you and you will not quake because of Me. Does this mean that you will not fear Me? [No, for] the posuk says, `and I will be a G-d to you.' Here, Hashem Himself says to Klal Yisroel that there could be a way in which He is like one of us . . . like an equal . . .

"And you will not quake because of Me" . . . not only will we stroll with Hakodosh Boruch Hu like an equal but "you will not quake because of Me" as well! And all this would come about as a result of what? It would be the result of fulfilling the condition appearing at the beginning of the parsha: "If you proceed in My statutes — that you should toil in Torah." Fulfilling mitzvos alone does not suffice to attain the level that is being spoken of here.

To me, it is as clear as day that the Rov is now strolling in Gan Eden, "like one of you."

For I have no greater comprehension of the meaning of "toiling in Torah" than the Rebbe's toil in Torah. That is the highest level of understanding that I can reach in Chazal's words. And that is the eulogy that I can give!

I did not gain this understanding from stories. But whereas I can now understand stories in this light, I cannot comprehend the Rebbe and his greatness. While the initial assumption of being "like Me" is disregarded because of the posuk, the "strolling in Gan Eden like one of you" remains. That is the conclusion.

This much I can understand — the Rebbe is strolling in Gan Eden "like one of you."

Justified Reservations

Something easier to explain was the conversation that I would hear from the Rebbe. Somebody once asked him a question and received the Rebbe's reply. The questioner then asked, "Perhaps the Rebbe is being too suspicious and the risk of danger is not really so great?"

The Rebbe answered, "I, suspicious? I'm not even suspecting one percent of what one could suspect or be afraid of!"

Let us explain this. Although I cannot explain a story, for its meaning depends upon understanding who was taking part, I do have a source for the Rebbe's speech in Chazal and in the Torah itself. The Oruch gives an extremely difficult explanation of a gemora, and his words can be elucidated in a marvelous way.

The gemora says in Gittin (45), "Rav Ilish was taken captive. A certain man was sitting together with him." The two of them were in captivity. The second man understood the language of the birds. "A raven came and called out. Rav Ilish asked his companion, "What did it say?" You understand the language of the birds. He told him, "[The raven said,] `Ilish run away, Ilish run away.'"

Rav Ilish's companion was apparently a gentile who understood the speech of birds. And Rav Ilish apparently did not understand it, for he asked the gentile what the raven had said. The man told him that the raven had said, `Ilish run away."

[The gemora continues,] "He [Rav Ilish] said to him, `Ravens are liars and are not to be relied on.'

The first thing we can learn from this is that liars cannot be relied upon, even if they are acting contrary to their natures. Although the raven had behaved unusually, banging on the window, his words were still unreliable because he is a liar.

The next day "a dove came and called out." Rav Ilish again asked his companion "What did it say?" and he told him that the bird had also said, "Ilish run away." Rav Ilish said, "I can see from here that a miracle is taking place for me." And so it was.

The Gilyon HaShas cites the Oruch who maintains that Rav Ilish understood the language of the birds, citing this very gemora as a proof. The author of Seder Hadoros points out that not only is there no proof, but the very opposite appears to be the case from the gemora, for Rav Ilish had to ask twice what the birds had said. He does not answer this question.

To me, this Oruch is harder to come to terms with than the Oruch's opinion about Pesik reishah delo nicha lei, for this is something which concerns me personally. It touches on the essence of man. It is Torah that is truly for me. There is however, something deep to be explained here.

The Maharsha here asks how it helped Rav Ilish to ask the gentile what the birds said, for a gentile is also suspected of lying. The answer, the explanation of the matter, I divine from my own heart, from my own book.

We must concede that Rav Ilish understood the birds' language or else how would the gentile's words have helped him — he is also a liar! But Rav Ilish did understand what the raven and the dove said, and this is the Oruch's proof that he understood the language of the birds.

The reason why he asked the gentile and did not rely on his own understanding was because a man is unable to rely on what he himself understands, nor even on what he himself hears, for he hears exactly what he wants to hear! And even if it goes against his nature, he hears something because he wants to hear it.

That is why Rav Ilish asked his gentile neighbor, who had no particular interest [in the birds' message for Rav Ilish], and who would therefore hear the truth. If what the gentile heard would be the same as what Rav Ilish had heard, he would know that really was what the birds had said. Despite this, Rav Ilish did not believe what the raven said, for it is its nature to lie and a liar is unreliable even if he goes against his nature.

With the return of the dove, Rav Ilish again heard the message "Ilish run away," yet he did not rely on himself, for fear that he was hearing only what he wanted to hear. So he again asked the gentile, for despite the fact that a gentile is suspect of lying, Rav Ilish himself understood. Since the dove is a truthful bird and the gentile confirmed that he had heard the same as Rav Ilish, Rav Ilish was able to rely on what he had heard himself.

Such was the Rebbe's speech. He wasn't a suspicious person, not even one hundredth of a percent suspicious. But when one listens to a liar, there is no such thing as truth, even if miracles support what he says. And even when one is listening to a truthful person, one hears exactly what he wants to hear. Only when both factors coincide — the speaker is truthful and the listener is impartial — can the truth emerge!

This is stated explicitly in a parsha in the Torah. At the beginning of parshas Vayechi, we are told that Yaakov Ovinu asked Yosef to carry him up from Egypt and bury him in his ancestors' burial place (Bereishis 47:30). Yaakov knew that Yosef held something against him for having buried his mother, Rochel, along the wayside.

Yaakov wanted to explain to him that he had done everything in accordance with Hashem's orders, which he had received through prophecy, as Rashi (Bereishis 48:7), explains: "But you should know that it was according to Hashem's word that I buried her there, so that she would come to the aid of her descendants when Nevuzaradon exiles them and they pass by her grave, Rochel will go out and weep and ask for mercy for them as it says, (Yirmiyohu 31:14-15), "A voice on high is heard . . . " and Hakodosh Boruch Hu replies to her, "There is a reward for your actions, says Hashem . . . and the sons will return to their borders."

Now, when a prophet, like Yaakov Ovinu, wants to tell his son Yosef that what he did was Hashem's command, apparently, he only needed to say simply, "Do you hold anything against me? It is not in place, for that was what Hashem told me to do in this instance."

But this is not what we find in the Torah. Yaakov first says something else. "While there was still a distance of land before coming to Efros," which Rashi explains, "Don't think that the rains prevented me from taking her and burying her in Chevron" — and that was why I buried her at the roadside, because the rain prevented me from taking her elsewhere. No — kivras eretz — it was the dry season, when the land is full of holes and hollows like a sieve, and moreover, I didn't even take her right into Beis Lechem.

Amazing! Yaakov Ovinu wants to tell Yosef that he was carrying out Hashem's command. Why does he give such a lengthy preface? Here we see though, that if the situation had been such that rain could have prevented him, it would not have been possible for Yaakov Ovinu to receive Hashem's command. Yaakov loved Rochel so much, he had worked so many years for her and yet, had there been rain [or any other reason for not taking her to Chevron] he wouldn't have heard anything [of Hashem's command, only what he wanted]. That is the extent to which a person hides from the truth.

And even though each person carries the word of Hashem within him, this is what prevents him from hearing it . . . this prevents him. This is the other side of man's nature, the side of terrible darkness. This is where all the "suspicion" arose — for the Rebbe was able to hear the word of Hashem.

A Sense of Smell

We find further in Chazal, (Koheles Rabbah 3:11), that there was a certain doctor who lived in Tsippori, who knew the Sheim hameforash. He searched for someone to whom he could pass this knowledge on before he died. People told him of someone who was worthy of receiving it — Rabbi Pinchos ben Chamoh. The doctor called Rabbi Pinchos to test him and to see whether he was indeed worthy.

"Have you ever in your life accepted a gift from anyone?" he asked Rabbi Pinchos.

"Yes," he replied, "ma'aser."

He did not entrust the Sheim to him. If you've accepted something from someone, you could reach the situation where you ask him for something and he doesn't give it to you, and you will grumble about him and kill him using the Sheim hameforash. In such a case, giving over the Sheim would be like giving over a harmful weapon. This was the Rebbe's great asset — he did not take from others.

We also find in Chazal (Kesuvos 61), that Rav Ashi and Mar Zutra were standing together. Rav Ashi noticed that Mar Zutra had become pale — a sign that he had been overcome by bulmus (and his life would be in danger if he did not have food). Rav Ashi put his finger into a plate of food which the two of them were taking to the king, and placed it in Mar Zutra's mouth. Having now endangered his own life at the hands of the king's guards, because the food for the king had been eaten from, he told them that there was leprosy in the plate and it transpired that this was the case.

The rabbonon asked Rav Ashi, "Why did you rely on a miracle taking place?" for even though Mar Zutra's life had been in danger, Rav Ashi had done something that made him liable for the death penalty, which was a definite danger, and it is not permitted to place oneself in a situation of definite danger, for the sake of saving another.

Rav Ashi replied that he had seen a leprous spirit, for the meat that had been in the plate was from a leprous pig. Having seen this, he had not been relying on a miracle. Rashi however, explains that Rav Ashi had seen a leprous spirit hovering about Mar Zutra, that had given him leprosy. But how can this be, since [even according to Rashi] the source of the leprosy was the food in the plate?

The explanation is that Mar Zutra was attacked by a strong desire to eat the food in the plate — despite the fact that this was a desire to do a sin, and Mar Zutra was a very holy man. He was completely overcome — and nevertheless, the craving for the food caused the leprosy in the plate to attach itself to him!

When leprosy is attached to something, and people crave that thing intensely, the leprosy also attaches itself to the owners of the desire, the bulmus-niks!

In the medrash (Eicho Rabbosi 1:4), Chazal bring a story that appears straightforward, but which needs reflection in order to be understood. The inhabitants of Yerushalayim were extremely clever, as the medrash describes there. We are told that four Yerushalmim once visited Athens, where they found lodgings in which they had a meal. Their host gave them four beds and they retired to their room for the night.

The host thought to himself, "These people are from Yerushalayim and people say that they are extremely clever. I'll listen in to what they are saying."

The first Yerushalmi said, "I'm sleeping on a broken bed. The owner of the house did something to try to conceal it, and thought that nobody would notice, but I can feel it."

This is inexplicable! What example is this of Yerushalmi wisdom? It's something one can feel! Es shtecht do oif die zieten! It stabs one in the side!

Their host said to himself, "He's right."

The second Yerushalmi said, "The meat which we ate tasted of dog."

"Lies and falsehood!" said their host to himself, "It was meat like any other!"

The third one said, "The wine smelt of the grave."

"Lies!" said the householder to himself.

The fourth one said, "The householder is a mamzer."

"But I have a father," said the man to himself. "Just one of them is telling the truth and the rest are all lying." Yet he thought again and decided that since they were supposed to be so clever, he would go and check the things they had said. He went to where he had bought the meat from and began praising it, asking the butcher where he had come by such good meat.

"I had a little lamb," the butcher told him, "and its mother died so I brought a dog to it from which it suckled . . . ." The householder realized that it had truly been from a dog.

Next he went to where he had bought the wine and again praised it in order to find out its origin.

"The wine was so good. Where did you get such wonderful wine from?"

"I have one vine that grows over my father's grave," the seller told him, "and I don't sell its wine to anybody. When you came to buy wine I had no other wine, so I gave you that wine."

The householder saw now that three of the four had been telling the truth and he realized that the fourth must have been correct as well. He went to ask his mother and she ultimately confessed.

There is something that seems strange about this story. The things which the last three Yerushalmim said indeed showed their wisdom, but what was so clever in the first one's feeling the broken bed? Anyone would feel such a thing, so why is this cited with the other things, which really did need great wisdom to divine?

With this, Chazal want to teach us that just as it is a simple matter to feel a broken bed, it is also simple for someone who is gifted with wisdom and who has a sense of smell, to feel everything. It is as simple to feel a broken bed, as it is for someone with a sense of smell to "smell mamzer!" The Rebbe was able to smell from a distance . . . !

This, in brief, is what we wanted to say about our Rebbe:

Rebbe has died and we know nothing, There are no answers to the questions — gedolei olom do not know, to take what belongs to another is strictly forbidden, and one must recognize human weaknesses and characteristics!

(This hesped was delivered on the day of the sheloshim in Yeshivas Mir. It was recorded by Rabbi Moshe Rauchberger and was first published in Hebrew in Tammuz 5748.)


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