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29 Tammuz, 5782 - July 28, 2022 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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A Telzer In Europe: HaRav Nosson Ordman zt'l

By Moshe Musman

The Telz Yeshiva building in Europe, as it appears today

Part III

This was first published in the print edition in 1996, 26 years ago. HaRav Nosson Ordman was a talmid of the Telz yeshiva in Europe who made it to England and spent his life there as a talmid chochom of the highest caliber. He taught and later became rosh yeshiva of the Eitz Chaim yeshiva in London.

In this part, the author shows how HaRav Ordman embodied lessons that were taught by his Telzer rebbeim, through quotations from their works.

The Intellect, the Intelligent and the Intelligence

"One should try and make sure that one's mental reckoning is not too removed from one's inner awareness, rather, that they should accompany one's thoughts on each matter. In explaining the difference between men and mal'ochim, the seforim say that while in humans, the man, the intelligent being (maskil), the knowledge acquired, the intellect (seichel), and the end product, the conclusion or intelligence (muskal), are three distinct components, with mal'ochim, being wholly spiritual beings, they are one and the same. (The mal'ach is simultaneously his own knowledge and the product of his knowledge.)

"The more a person elevates his understanding however, the smaller grows the gap between he himself and the results of what he learns. The true intelligent is someone whose knowledge is so assimilated with his inner being that it is akin to something inborn. When he is presented with a situation which calls for a response or for action, he will not need to start making calculations on the basis of what he has learned, in order to determine how he ought to behave. He will experience immediate awareness of the end result of all the calculations; unlike those who engage in lengthy reckoning every time, as though they were in one place and their reckoning in another.' (Shiurei Da'as, cheilek II, note on pg.112)

HaRav Ordman's Torah was so close to him, so enmeshed with his being, that there was virtually no distance between what he knew and what he was. His reactions were always direct and to the point. They were determined by his deepest convictions.

Arriving at a kiddush one Shabbos, he noticed that some of the ladies had entered the men's section. Immediately, he stood squarely in the doorway, one hand on each side so that nobody else would come in and declared emphatically, `Ladies over there! Men over there!'

He was dedicated to the truth heart and soul and brooked no falsehood either in himself or others. One of his sons recalled the time he was in his parents' home when a call arrived for his father. After listening to the message, HaRav Ordman told the caller that at some future time, he and his group would be called to account. Then, he replaced the receiver and burst into tears.

It transpired that he had just been informed of a `compromise' reached in a certain monetary dispute, according to which one party agreed to release the other party's funds `on condition' that a percentage would be paid to some specified institutions. He could not bear to see that kind of extortion dressed up as a compromise. Any dishonesty, whether on an individual or communal level caused him acute emotional pain.

A shul in Golders Green

Neither could he countenance any real or apparent bowing to falsehood, whatever the circumstances. His attitude to Zionism is a case in point. While in his youth he had been a fiery and outspoken opponent of Zionism, events such as the creation of the State and the decision of the gedolim that the Aguda should join the Government necessitated a modification of sorts. It was perhaps one thing to heighten the European Jewish public's awareness of the dangers of the Zionist movement's agenda for Klal Yisroel, especially at a time when many of the religious youth, even from yeshivos, were being swept up in the general enthusiasm over the hopes it seemed to offer but to continue voicing fierce opposition to a fait accompli, even though the threat it posed to Yiddishkeit had not diminished, could not have the same effect.

When he travelled to Yerushalayim in 5714 for the Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel, HaRav Ordman spent time in discussion with the Brisker Rov zt'l. His conclusion after this interview was that while in essence, opposition to Zionism remained complete and unchanged, most gedolei Yisroel had decided that it was necessary to meet the challenge by fighting from within.

When HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, visited England in 5719, he and HaRav Ordman had a long conversation in learning, as well as the way the Aguda had to work in those times. All this notwithstanding, when he attended a wedding and the band suddenly struck up Hatikvah, HaRav Ordman remained firmly seated in his place, although some other rabbonim who were present rose.

His own dedication to the truth at any cost can perhaps best be illustrated by the following two stories. HaRav Ordman was happy to speak at simchas and he was often asked to do so, especially by the regular mispallelim in Eitz Chaim. He liked to be informed a few days beforehand and would usually gladly agree to speak.

One Shabbos, he had undertaken to speak at a bar mitzva kiddush which was to be held after musaf in the yeshiva. Until his last years, he lived about two-and-a-half kilometers away from the yeshiva and he and his rebbetzin would make the long walk there together each Shabbos. On that Shabbos, it was raining heavily and prudence would have dictated that as an elderly man, he not venture so far from home. The baalei simcha were truly amazed when the Rosh Yeshiva arrived to shacharis, his clothes completely soaked through and through. The boy's father thanked him profusely for coming, insisting that it had not been necessary and acknowledging the great kindness he had shown them. The Rosh Yeshiva however, saw things differently. "Tzu zogen is chesed, ober noch dem iz dos emes!" (i.e. it may start as chesed to agree to do something, but having agreed, emes binds one to carry out one's word).

And when it was not within his power, he received help to avoid failing to fulfill a promise. A bochur who was close to him once watched someone ask the Rosh Yeshiva on a Sunday to speak at a kiddush that Shabbos. Uncharacteristically, he declined, offering no reason for doing so. On the Thursday, HaRav Ordman suffered a slight stroke and fell in the street and for a few days, he was forbidden by his doctor to leave the house.

A park in Golders Green

Inner Order, Inner Control

"It is not long since we pointed out the importance of being orderly and the great benefit which it brings. It strengthens a person's sense of identity and brings all his powers and emotions together under his control, enabling him to review them, weigh them up and guide them according to his judgment..." (Shiurei Da'as, cheilek III, #7, pg. 87)

Orderliness, personal, interpersonal and communal, was one of the linchpins of the Telz approach, as it was in Kelm, where the MahaRY'L Bloch himself spent several years learning in his youth. HaRav Ordman's dress, his belongings and his affairs all reflected the inner orderliness of his personality.

His clothes were always spotless. His seforim were arranged in perfect order and he was able to find whatever sefer he needed without any delay. He once followed a grandson, returning home from yeshiva at the end of a zman, as he took his suitcase into his room. "I want to see how you open your case," he explained. He wanted to see how the seforim, clothes and other belongings were arranged. On that occasion, he expressed his satisfaction.

He would quote the Alter of Kelm as saying that he could tell the character of a bochur from the way he stuck a postage stamp onto an envelope. A stamp that was straight, with a uniform white margin around it, showed an ordered character while if it was attached untidily, this was evidence of disarray, in both material and spiritual realms.

He was always punctual in time keeping. In his later years, HaRav Ordman was collected from his home on thousands of occasions to be taken to tefillos, to deliver shiurim, to simchas etc. He was always ready and waiting before the appointed time so that his driver would have no delay. Someone is doing me a favor, he would explain. I should wait for him, not the other way around. At times, it proved embarrassing when HaRav Ordman arrived for a simcha at the time that was printed on the invitation and found he had to sit and wait for everyone else to come.

He could not bear to be late for tefillah. For many years, a rotation was arranged to collect him from home on weekdays and bring him to the yeshiva for shacharis. He would always be standing at the window waiting. If it seemed that they would not arrive with enough time to be in place with tallis and tefillin before bircos hashachar, he would begin to grow anxious.

Unless he was ill, he refused to cancel a regular shiur for any consideration. When one of the greatest gedolimin Eretz Yisroel passed away, hespedim were arranged on an evening that HaRav Ordman usually delivered a shiur. Those who attended the shiur put their predicament to him and asked him to change the arrangement but he would not hear of it, saying that one did not cancel a regular shiur and that people who had no shiur that night could attend the hesped.


`The true chochom is really affected — to the point of saying shira — by the things that exist in creation which he sees every day.' (Shiurei Da'as cheilek III #16, pg.184)

The menahel of a well-known English institution once approached the Steipler zt'l for a brocho. When he mentioned where he was from, the Steipler said to him, `You have a great man there [called] Reb Nosson Ordman who can give brochos. Why do you need to come to me?'

In fact, though, with regard to himself, HaRav Ordman echoed the Steipler's question. The gabbai of Eitz Chaim was very close to the Rosh Yeshiva. An acquaintance who was a divorcee told him how much she would like to receive a brocho from HaRav Ordman. When he spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva however, the initial reaction was, `Do they think I'm a rebbe?' Then he added, `If they think I can help, let her come.' The woman received her brocho and not long afterwards she remarried.

Although today it is almost the norm for great men, be they chassidic leaders, rabbonim or roshei yeshiva, to be approached by people for brochos, there do not seem to be legions of such stories about HaRav Ordman. People would often come to him for a word of sympathy, encouragement or guidance and his parting words, `Yemalei Hashem es col mish'alosecho letovah! May Hashem fulfill all your requests for the good!' were uttered with such sincerity and friendliness as to surely render them just as potent.

The wife of another menahel, whose husband had known the Rosh Yeshiva over many years, described him a `a generator of love and warmth.' HaRav Ordman loved his fellow Jews, and was always deeply moved to hear of another's joys or sorrows. His chavrusa related how he once arrived at HaRav Ordman's home and found him in an even happier mood than usual. The Rosh Yeshiva explained that the previous night, he had met a talmid of his. When the man had first come to him, he had been penniless and without any means of earning a living. `I taught him shechita,' said HaRav Ordman, `and last night I met him at a simcha. He has a job and he's earning more than I!'

He would never become involved in any machlokes in the community or within the chareidi world at large. He would quote the words of the Ibn Ezra: (concerning a posuk in the Torah that heretics wished to interpret falsely) `Vehamaskil bo'eis hahi yidom. (At such a time (i.e. when nothing can be gained by opposing those who vilify the Torah) the wise man remains silent).' He would add that while one would not lose any Olom Haboh by remaining silent, one certainly could do so if one spoke and said the wrong thing.

As much as he embodied the Telzer derech in which he was educated, he also felt at home in very different surroundings. He was often mispallel in the beis hamedrash of the Sassover Rebbe, which was next to his own home. Never did he comment about any of the minhagim that were so different from his own.

Being maspid, a London marbitz Torah said, "I remember when he sat at sholosh se'udos and the Rebbe wasn't there. He got up and said Hashem Melech with such enthusiasm, such concentration. He wasn't used to it. It wasn't his mesorah but he understood that the importance of a mesorah is not because it is my mesorah but that it is a mesorah [handed down to us] from our the accepted manner..."

According to one of the maspidim, his boundless love for Yidden emanated from the same source, and was in fact one and the same thing, as his love of Torah and of the Ribono Shel Olom. This love was continually on his lips as he would mention how good a life he had and how good the Ribono Shel Olom had been to him. He would always marvel anew at the wonders of nature and the many kindnesses bestowed upon each individual.

After his eye surgery, which concluded a very difficult period during which he had hardly been able to read from his seforim, he delivered a shmuess in the yeshiva which he devoted to the great chesed of being able to see and which moved all his listeners to tears. He would be amazed by all the different shades of green occurring in nature and would point out to visiting talmidim the beauty of a single leaf from the house plants in his room. He loved to watch the waves of the sea or the majesty of the lion in the zoo, where he sometimes visited during bein hazmanim. As he gazed, he could be heard to murmur, `Moh rabu ma'asecho Hashem!

In resolving an apparent contradiction between the Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:2, who writes that one becomes aroused to love Hashem by contemplating the boundless wisdom that is evident in creation and the Sifrei, quoted by the Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvos, which explains that love of Hashem is fostered by learning Torah, through which one comes to recognize and to love the Creator (see Rabbenu Eliyahu Mizrachi Devorim 6:6,), Rabbi Dovid Pardo says that a man who lacks Torah will fail to be moved by the wonder of the creation. Only a talmid chochom possesses the vision to look at the world, see the greatness of the Creator and be inspired to love Him. Thus, only by learning Torah can the world inspire ahavas Hashem.

To illustrate this, HaRav Avrohom Gurwicz, Gateshead rosh yeshiva, repeated a moshol that was coined by HaRav Mordechai Pogramansky zt'l. A gentile once wanted to show him some beautiful pictures, but for some reason, all Reb Mottel Telzer could see was dirt. Later he realized that his glasses were dirty. If one looks at the most incredible sight through dirty glasses, one still only sees dirt. A talmid chochom like HaRav Ordman, whose vision was clarified and purified by years of toil and labor in Torah, was able to look at the world and see what the Rambam saw.

The Bond Grows Stronger

"In many places in the Torah, we find that knowledge is synonymous with closeness and love, as Rashi explains, "`For I know him,' is an expression of love"...for one who loves a person draws him close, and comes to know and be acquainted with him...Love and closeness inspire deeper knowledge." )Shiurei Da'as cheilek III #2, pg.22)

To the conventional wishes extended to a bar mitzva bochur for success in learning and yiras Shomayim, HaRav Ordman would add that he should attain da'as Hashem, as the MahaRY'L Bloch used to do say.

Quoting HaRav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, HaRav Gurwicz noted that there is a kind of da'as, knowledge on a deep level of understanding, that leads a person to establish a connection with Hashem and which therefore was clearly bestowed by Hashem in the first place. It was evident to all who came into contact with him that HaRav Ordman possessed such da'as.

That he lived his whole life with an awareness of Hashem's closeness was clear from many of the things he said. He remarked to a grandchild that at every stage of his life, he had known what the Ribono Shel Olom wanted from him. In a similar vein he would say that he never took a step unless he felt that Hashgacha was prodding him. Thus, although he was invited to Gateshead on two occasions (the first time by HaRav Dessler in the forties and the second, after the petiroh of HaRav Leib Gurwicz zt'l), he declined both times since that feeling had not been there.

He would relate the story of a Jew from Eretz Yisroel who travelled to England in order to sell some merchandise. Business went extremely well and the man soon returned with a new batch of wares. To his dismay, he simply could not sell. It's simple, HaRav Ordman told the distraught man. The first time you were speculating so you asked the Ribono Shel Olom to help you and He did. The second time you relied on your own acumen, so He didn't help.

Once, when the yeshiva's gabbai arrived to collect the Rosh Yeshiva for shacharis, he found nobody waiting. When he called the Rosh Yeshiva later that morning, he was very relieved to hear that all was well.

The next day after shacharis, the Rosh Yeshiva called him over to apologize. Though the gabbai protested that apologies were unnecessary, HaRav Ordman declared that there was something he wanted to tell him. For forty years, he said, he had never risen late in the morning. He felt that the previous day's aberration had been a punishment because when speaking to the gabbai the evening before and confirming the morning's arrangement, he had forgotten to add the words "Be'eizer Hashem!" Two words, to whose utterance most people do not devote much attention, but to him they were a constant reminder of man's dependence.

Visitors during the last months of his life would hear him dwelling on the posuk, `Even though I walk in the valley of Tzalmoves, I fear no evil, for You are with me.' He would contemplate the chasm separating the way a gentile views death, as the final end to a life of worldly pleasures, with the Jewish outlook, whereby death is merely a passage to a world of spiritual recompense for a life of Torah and mitzvos. Why should I be afraid? he would ask, when my Tatte is standing over me to take me?

To a close talmid he commented `Believe me that I literally feel it with my senses, ki ato imodi. And it gets more every day...'

Conclusion: The Best Thing in the World

He was fond of quoting an halacha brought by the Ramo in Choshen Mishpat siman 282:1. The Maharam MiRottenburg was once asked about a man who left instructions that the best thing in the world should be done with his estate. The Maharam ruled that the man's heirs should receive his property, according to the order of inheritance, for there can be no better way of disposing of the estate than by doing with it what the Torah specifies.

HaRav Ordman would stress that what the Torah says is lechatchila, not bedi'eved. It defines what man's conduct should be; it is not a starting point for human calculations. He would emphasize that this rationale behind the halacha was also implicit in the Ramo's ruling.

Just as he did not countenance doing less than the Torah requires, he did not take kindly to those who felt that they had to add. Once in the East End, a man showed HaRav Ordman a bar of soap and asked him if it was chometz. HaRav Ordman looked at the man and then went into the kitchen and brought out a piece of bread. `Doss iz chometz!' he pronounced emphatically.

When asked how he was, HaRav Ordman would usually respond, `How am I? The posuk says, `Why should a living man complain?' and Chazal explain that `it is enough for him that he is alive.' I'm alive, boruch Hashem, I thank the Ribono Shel Olom that I am alive.'

One rav recalled the time he had been travelling together with the Rosh Yeshiva in a car and the answer had been different. `Have you seen the Or HaChaim hakodosh this week?' HaRav Ordman wanted to know. And he began to quote from the Or HaChaim in parshas Ki Sovo (Devorim 26:8), `If people would feel the sweetness and the pleasantness of the good of Torah, they would grow distracted and would run after it excitedly and a whole world full of gold and silver would count for nothing, for the Torah contains every good thing in the world...'

It was the overpowering sweetness of Torah that all who knew HaRav Ordman experienced.


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