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2 Adar, 5783 - February 23, 2023 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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"The Ner Ma'arovi Has Gone Out!" — The Petiroh of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt'l

by Moshe Musman


This series of articles about HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l was originally published in 1995 (5755), soon after the petiroh.

For Part I of this series click here.

For Part III of this series click here.

Part 2

(We continue Rav Dinkel's portrait of HaRav Shlomo Zalman, the rosh yeshiva of Kol Torah, that appeared in last week's edition. )

When one talmid asked him a question from a Tosafos in Pesochim, he retorted, "I don't know what Tosafos says in Pesochim but I do know that Tosafos couldn't say such a thing."

Such was the clarity of his thought. It was not straight thinking so Tosafos could not have said it.

Gedolim of earlier generations had also noted this quality of his. The Tschebiner Rov zt'l, remarked that HaRav Shlomo Zalman's mind was "as straight as a ruler."

Decades earlier, in his haskomo to Me'orei Ho'eish, HaRav Shlomo Zalman's work on the halachic status of electricity, HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt'l had written, "I found therein a number of lucid comments and elucidations... with clarity, ideas that are correct [i.e. applicable] in practice."

His teacher HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, who was himself known for his rigorous adherence to clear thinking, also wrote of his pupil's "straight and deep thoughts."

All of HaRav Shlomo Zalman's vast knowledge of Shas, Shulchan Oruch, halochos and teshuvos of rishonim and acharonim, had this degree of clarity. Bekius, fluency, meant much more than simply being proficient. It meant clarity in every area of Torah, a clarity which strengthened his command of the material, enabling him to pose questions and solutions as to why the halacha was so in such a case yet different elsewhere in an apparently similar case, and then go on to cite support from Shas and poskim for the principle he would propound to resolve the difficulty.

A close perusal of the teshuvos in Minchas Shlomo, the chapters of Ma'adanei Eretz and even Me'orei Ho'eish, which he published in his youth, reveals that many of his chidushim were generated in this way, by the combination of his clear, straight thought and his broad and profound Torah knowledge.

Logical questions such as, "How is it possible that the Mogen Avrohom says this here and in another case mentioned explicitly in Shulchan Oruch, he says otherwise? What is the logic that this case should be more lenient than that one?" lead him to show, with both originality and characteristic straight thinking, that the cases are indeed unrelated.

The old Eitz Chaim building on Jaffa Road

Many times, the particular approach which he adopts to a sugya is prompted by questions like, "How is it possible that" this should be the halacha? or "How can this be understood?"

Such questions were his trademark—logical, incisive, straight questions, which ultimately lead him to conclude that "Indeed, it is not possible," and to proceed to cast a new light on the entire sugya, all his subsequent conclusions resulting from the commonsense and logic that had prevented him from understanding the apparent meaning. Such was his approach to his shiur, to his seforim and articles and to his practical halachic rulings.

The main entrance to the Kol Torah yeshiva in Bayit Vegan

Straight thought becomes the acquisition of a man who has toiled and labored in Torah study and who regularly checks to see how closely his logic matches the Torah's. This Torah wisdom is not an external, adopted quality. Quite the reverse. The Creator, "breathed into... [him] a neshamah of life, wisdom of heart and goodness of mind."

These qualities are therefore lying within each person. The extent to which they find expression depends upon how much comfort the person is willing to forgo "and rule over the body and all its functions." [Rabbenu Yonah zt'l] A man of true wisdom, who casts all the vanities of the world aside and plants himself within the dalet amos of halacha, removes all taint his neshomoh and it's innate "wisdom of heart and goodness of mind" therefore remain unspoiled.

Such was the nature of the wisdom which illuminated every aspect of life for HaRav Shlomo Zalman. He suffused every subject with which he dealt or about which he expressed his opinion, with this wisdom. His home, to which so many flocked, was a wellspring of wisdom, commonsense and straight thought which he applied to all manner of queries, halachic, spiritual, mundane and interpersonal. How great is our pain and anguish over the stopping up of this wellspring and over the extinguished light of his straight mind!

HaRav Shlomo Zalman's Living Torah

The Chasam Sofer zt'l, was once asked how it was that he was able to furnish such quick replies to the complicated queries which were referred to him. Many of his teshuvos are cornerstones of halachic ruling and are discussed and examined by the authorities who followed him. Strangely enough, it took him very little time to write these teshuvos. After brief contemplation, he would hurry to send his opinion.

The Chasam Sofer himself addressed this paradox in a letter which is quoted by his son in the introduction to teshuvos Chasam Sofer on Yore Deah. On the one hand, Chazal explain the posuk in Tehillim (127:4) to mean that those who are awake at night applying themselves to Torah learning are like arrows in the hand of a warrior who does not delay in firing off his ammunition quickly. These scholars are also quick to reply to questions of halacha that are put to them. On the other hand, one of the attributes of a wise man enumerated by the mishna ( Avos 5:9) is "eino nivhal lehoshiv," which is simply understood as meaning that he doesn't rush to give his reply, a seeming contradiction to the first remark. Another explanation of "nivhal" is that the wise man is not confused when asked a question and does not need time to collect his thoughts, answering straight away. These two explanations thus contradict each other.

The Chasam Sofer answers that both attributes have their time and place. While awake during the night learning Torah, the wise man examines and sifts everything he learns very closely, until every detail and every halacha is clear to him. He is in no hurry to decide until he has achieved clarity. He then stores away the information, keeping it ready to summon when called upon to answer a question, which he then does with alacrity.

The Chasam Sofer thus explained that he had already devoted much careful, painstaking thought to the principles upon which his replies were founded. In other words, the queries which came to him were not really "new" questions for he had already thought about them and had the results of his thorough study close at hand, enabling him to respond without delay.

In order to anticipate all the possible applications and ramifications of a sugya, as though seeing the cases before one's eyes, one has to actually `live' whatever one is learning.

I remember witnessing an incident which demonstrated the message of the Chasam Sofer. I heard a talmid arguing with HaRav Shlomo Zalman over his interpretation of the sugya of kefiras shibud karkaos (the denial of debt for which land has been mortgaged) which differed from that of Reb Chaim Brisker zt'l. Whereas the latter maintained that such a denial amounts to just a denial of the mortgage, HaRav Shlomo Zalman maintained—going to great lengths to prove his point during a shiur he delivered before the entire yeshiva—that it was simply a denial of the loan itself. (See Minchas Shlomo, siman #77)

In the course of his discussion with the talmid, HaRav Shlomo Zalman's voice was suddenly heard rising, adopting the tone of a furious creditor. "Give me my money!" he cried, continuing, "That is what the lender is demanding and when the borrower denies his claim, he is denying that he owes money! Why does Reb Chaim say that he is denying a mortgage simply because there happens to be a mortgage as well? I, the creditor, demand money! Why are you [with a look at the talmid] talking to me about mortgages?"

Seeing things from the creditor's point of view, he adopted a different view from that of Reb Chaim.

HaRav Shlomo Zalman's cry of "Give me my money!" led him to differ with Reb Chaim because Torah was alive for him.

When the Chasam Sofer learned a sugya he anticipated the practical questions that he would later be asked. When HaRav Shlomo Zalman learned a sugya, he took the part of the borrower or lender, actually seeing himself in the beis din. That is the degree to which a great poseik lives what he learns.

He experienced every other part of Torah in the same way that he experienced the halachos of business dealings. When he learned the third perek of Shabbos, which deals with the halochos of cooking on Shabbos, leaving food on a fire before Shabbos to continue cooking, keeping cooked food warm, he visualized all aspects of the questions that could arise, whether they concerned the electric hotplate, the meat or even the chicken bones.

When he studied the sugyos which deal with the melochoh of building, he considered the possibility that the closing of an electric circuit could be classed as a type of building. He prepared a lengthy deliberation of this proposition, which, as is well known, he ultimately rejected.

His treatment of the discussion was to have formed an entire chapter of Me'orei Eish. That chapter was not included in the sefer however, after several talmidei chachomim in Yerushalayim expressed their opinion that there was no way that closing a circuit could be thought of as constituting building something.

When, ten years after the appearance of Me'orei Eish, the Chazon Ish published his sefer on Hilchos Shabbos, which included his view that causing electricity to flow in a circuit was indeed prohibited because of boneh, HaRav Shlomo Zalman greatly regretted having removed the chapter which dealt with this thesis.

The stage of careful, painstaking study which must precede the issue of practical rulings, described by the Chasam Sofer, was visible in the daily shiur in the yeshiva. The talmidim saw how a sugya was `translated' into practical everyday terms.

When explaining a novel teaching of Tosafos, he did not make do with merely explaining what was written in Tosafos. The chidush was brought into sharper focus when he observed that "According to Tosafos, it transpires that..." showing some practical application of Tosafos' teaching.

I even think it is accurate to say that a great number of his own novel ideas were arrived at in this way, with each new teaching of Tosafos or other rishonim containing the seed of a practical halachic ruling. And conversely, as we mentioned earlier, if Tosafos' apparent meaning would have some strange practical consequence, or if the way in which one of the acharonim had understood a point would lead to an unlikely practical ruling, then a siman in Minchas Shlomo would be devoted to providing a different interpretation of the Tosafos, or to explaining the point differently from the acharon, while all the time, HaRav Shlomo Zalman's guide was clear logic and sensible, straight thinking. An examination of the sefer's contents will show this to be the case.

When the sugya that was being learned in the yeshiva dealt with life and death questions like rodeif (one who is in pursuit of another's life), `mai chozis?' (the ruling that forbids giving one person's life preference over another's), `yehoreig ve'al ya'avor (the three prohibitions which the Torah requires we give up our lives rather than transgress), or lo sa'amod al dam rei'echo (the prohibition against letting harm befall a fellow Jew), the atmosphere in the room was noticeably different. Questions of life and death—no doubt practical ones!—were under consideration!

If a man fleeing from those who wish to murder him seeks refuge in a house and, as a result, his pursuers threaten to kill every one of the houses inhabitants unless they turn him over...Gevald!! Why isn't this fugitive a rodeif?! The difficulty here is posed by the Rambam's famous ruling that forbids a group of Jews to hand over one of their members, even under threat of them all losing their lives. The halachic definition of rodeif which HaRav Shlomo Zalman then elucidated had been prompted by the consideration of a practical question.

In the course of that shiur, he offered further explanations and definitions of the halochos of a pursuer, of `active' and `passive' and of deliberate and unintentional murder. He used examples to illustrate, "If a driver continues to drive straight, he will kill three people whereas if he veers to the side, he will kill only one (i.e. not one of the three.)" He was verily seething with the urgency of the question as if it had just been put to him.

Or, "A man sees his friend playing with an electric switch that can trigger a device that will certainly kill people. The friend who is playing with the switch certainly has no intention to harm, he regards it merely as an interesting plaything," he said, "but he is a rodeif!" The tension in the room was palpable.

Coming to "mai chozis?" he sketched another, tragically practical example. "An attack takes place chas vesholom, and there are several wounded. The doctor arrives, whom should he treat first? Is this a question involving the rule of "mai chozis?" And what would be the halacha once he has already started treating one of them?" He proceeded to a set of clear guidelines—as usual, definitions with their practical applications. That was a shiur that nobody would forget for a long time, a shiur in which HaRav Shlomo Zalman weighed questions of life and death, in the light of his living Torah.

Shortly after that shiur, I met a distinguished talmid chochom and author, who was about to publish a work in which he wished to include one of HaRav Shlomo Zalman's life-and-death teshuvos. This one concerned the question of whether or not to perform a certain operation. The scholar was astonished to see that the teshuva was not crammed with references, possible interpretations and points of view, proofs and refutations, as he would have expected to see in a "piece of Torah" written by HaRav Shlomo Zalman. To be sure, both sides of the question were presented, together with all the weighty considerations to deal with on both sides such as active intervention versus passive care, life ("As to life, we have no way to measure its value and importance, not even in terms of Torah and mitzvos") versus death and so on.

The teshuva opens with these lines, "I will mention her for good in my prayers, bli neder, and I will also make a supplication on her behalf in the yeshiva, and may Heaven have mercy." But to this scholar's amazement, the entire record of the learning process seemed to be missing.

The key to his puzzle lies, of course, in the words of the Chasam Sofer. This teshuva was an arrow fired swiftly from HaRav Shlomo Zalman's bow. This talmid chochom had not been present for the daily shiurim in the yeshiva on Pesochim daf 25, for the shiur on these topics that was delivered to the entire yeshiva, when the slow, painstaking examination of all the issues involved, had taken place, during the stage when the wise man "does not rush to answer!"

Continued ...


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