"The Ner Ma'arovi Has Gone Out!" — Perspectives 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 IV of this series click here.
"They Loved Truth and Peace..."
"His Torah was a Torah of peace, for the Torah has come for the purpose of increasing peace in the world — peace between individuals and peace within the community, peace over minor matters and peace concerning momentous issues. Throughout his life he was careful to weigh every single issue in a scales which had peace on one side and truth on the other, seeing to it that one never outweighed and disturbed the other chas vesholom, to the slightest degree. He carefully maintained the balance between truth and peace, seeing to it that upholding the truth never shattered the peace, and that preservation of peace never involved any compromise of the truth." (From the hesped delivered by his son HaRav Avrohom Dov Auerbach at the levaya.)
Mediation is a task which falls to almost every practicing rav. Although over the years HaRav Shlomo Zalman resisted much pressure that was brought to bear upon him to take up various rabbinic positions, his objections were to the title and the honor inherent in the station for which he felt unsuited, not to any aspect of the work. Indeed, outside his fixed sedorim for learning and teaching, he was as fully involved in advising those who turned to him, as well as avoiding or resolving disputes between them, as any other rav.
In this area, he combined his brilliance of mind with his warmth of manner and his respect for his fellow Jew to defuse a myriad of difficult situations without veering an iota from halacha.
For example, when one of the residents of Sha'arei Chesed passed away on Rosh Hashanah, the levaya was held on the following day, the second day of Rosh Hashanah. One of those attending suddenly approached the bier and in the tone customarily used for hespedim began to speak: "Although today is Rosh Hashanah and according to the din no eulogies are said, however..."
HaRav Shlomo Zalman immediately said quietly to the man, "You are right, there are no hespedim today but I want to give you the honor of saying Kaddish before the entire assembly."
On another occasion, when HaRav Shlomo Zalman arrived at a hall to fulfill the request of one of his talmidim to be mesader his kiddushin, he entertained some doubt as to the validity of a certain distinguished person to act as a witness of the kiddushin at this particular wedding, as he had been requested to do. Without mentioning a word about his doubt, HaRav Shlomo Zalman turned to the man and said, "You will be mesader the kiddushin and I will be the witness."
All the man's protests were unable to prevent the elder rav from forgoing the honor that was to have been his. The situation was thus resolved without infringing either halacha or another person's feelings. (Both stories are related in the recently published book about HaRav Shlomo Zalman, Hamo'or Hagodol by Rav Yechiel Michel Stern.)
His handling of disputes also reflected great practical wisdom. An elderly couple once entered into an agreement with their daughter, who had lost her husband at a relatively young age. They were to remain in their home, while writing over ownership to her, and she would move in and care for them. The arrangement worked out until, as the parents grew older, the daughter was no longer able to cope alone with the burden of their care. She turned to her siblings for help.
A married brother then suggested that an extension be built onto the parents' home where he and his wife would live. They would thus be able to share in caring for their parents. The daughter however, strongly opposed this idea. She argued that according to the agreement, her parents home was hers and her privacy would be invaded by having extra people in the house.
The family presented this potentially explosive problem to HaRav Shlomo Zalman and asked him to decide who was right. He told them first that no changes should be made for a period of two or three months. Then he recommended the married brother's taking his parents to live with him in his present home for a period of time. After just one month had passed, the brother was unable to continue and he dropped the whole idea.
Once, when an argument erupted between two parties, one side harmed the other quite seriously. The injured party came to consult with HaRav Shlomo Zalman in order to arrive at the best strategy for returning fire in the hope that this would induce the offender to desist from his attacks.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman explained the concept of `might' as Chazal see it. A truly mighty man need not necessarily be a warrior but he must have the strength to subdue his inclinations. He then went on to advise that a counter attack would only encourage the first side to respond and the conflagration would grow greater and greater. It would be far better to ignore the injury entirely. In this way things were bound to quiet down and the quarrel would eventually be forgotten.
Quoting another great man, he explained the posuk: "And I, like a deaf man do not hear and like a dumb man who does not open his mouth." Why is the second part of the posuk in the third person? Surely it would have been more correct to say, "like a dumb man I will not open my mouth." The second clause however, refers to the other party in the dispute. If I am like a deaf man who does not hear the taunts and insults that are directed at me, then the other side will have no choice but to be like a dumb man who does not open his mouth.
It was on the communal level that HaRav Shlomo Zalman's maintenance of peace and harmony was better known. His home stood, figuratively speaking, upon a crossroads on which the many and varied paths which traverse the religious world all converged. Remaining squarely within the dalet amos of halacha, he trod along a narrow path, which at times was no wider than a thread, as he navigated all manner of disputes and controversies on the communal level. He drew upon his ingenuity and inventiveness of mind to preserve the harmony while at the same time taking care that the truth neither be, nor appear to be compromised.
Taking a Stand
Respect and consideration for the other side's feelings notwithstanding, on those occasions when it was necessary to take a stand and state the truth, this was done. Once, while discussing spending money on mitzvos with talmidim, HaRav Shlomo Zalman related that in the morning, while on his way home from tefillah, he had been approached by a bareheaded man who requested, `Let the Rav give me a blessing that I should win the lottery. Let the Rav bless me...'
"Since I saw that his head was uncovered," said HaRav Shlomo Zalman, "I told him, `A man needs money so that he can do mitzvos. Even what he needs to eat and drink is also only for the purpose of doing mitzvos. Are you a shomer mitzvos? No! So what do you need money for? No! I won't bless you!'"
And he repeated, "I told him, `I won't bless you'."
His generosity did not extend further than the bounds of halacha. How could he help someone who would misuse what he was given?
The board of a certain Jerusalem institution with which HaRav Shlomo Zalman was connected had to select a new director. HaRav Shlomo Zalman felt that the man of their choice was incompatible with the institution's religious requirements and he severed his official connection with the institution. He declined the board's request to meet him in order to discuss the matter and he even contacted the new head and told him not to take up the post. The man did take the new position however and one day he very nervously paid HaRav Shlomo Zalman a visit.
To the amazement of his family, HaRav Shlomo Zalman received the man warmly and had a long talk with him. When the visit ended, HaRav Shlomo Zalman honored the man by escorting him to the edge of his yard. He then called his family and explained that he wished them to learn from the episode how to conduct `a controversy [entered into] for the sake of Heaven.'
It was true that the board members had not acted correctly but he had no quarrel whatsoever with the new head. He had been offered a position — why should he not accept it? He had explained to the man that his own concern was solely for the institution's benefit, for which he felt he was unsuited. However, since he had been unable to persuade the man to back down, he had no personal grievance against him.
Another episode which took place recently serves as a perfect example of the maintenance of the balance between the truth and peace. It happened that HaRav Shlomo Zalman was in urgent need of treatment for one of his eyes, at Hadassah Hospital. At the time, another rav was hospitalized there with pneumonia. This other rav had enjoyed general acceptance in the religious community until he joined into political alliances with spiritually subversive elements, on the occasion of which HaRav Shlomo Zalman signed a strong letter of protest. The rav's followers tried to persuade HaRav Shlomo Zalman to pay their mentor a visit, arguing that this would represent no more than fulfilling the mitzva of bikur cholim.
Despite his personal regard for this rav, HaRav Shlomo Zalman refused to do so. Throughout his life, he said, even when he had been well, he had been careful never to do anything that was open to false interpretation. How could he pay such a visit now, when it would obviously be regarded as an expression of support for the rav's policies and actions?
On the day of his appointment, HaRav Shlomo Zalman was in a quandary. On the one hand, it would be downright insulting were he to be seen in the hospital's precincts without visiting the rav and this he was something he was loathe to do. On the other hand, to pay the visit would be viewed as giving his seal of approval to something which he strongly opposed. Since there seemed to be no way to maintain both truth and peace, he considered cancelling the appointment, despite his own urgent need for treatment of his eye condition. He only agreed to go when a solution was found — he would enter the hospital through a back entrance so that nobody would be aware of his presence there.
Especially in recent years, powerful forces pulled on him from many quarters to `take sides,' but Heaven granted him the opportunities to resist them. He was never thrust into the role of a public leader. There is no doubt that had he been, he would have risen to the occasion. HaRav Shmuel Auerbach recalled that, "He would say, `Boruch Hashem, Klal Yisroel has a leader,' meaning the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Shach, may Hashem lengthen his days and years."
HaRav Auerbach added that his father, "merited [upholding] both truth and peace in that whoever wanted to know his views, to whichever circle or community he belonged, knew them, while whoever did not want to know, remained unaware of his opinion, so as not to make matters worse. He used to say that he would pray a great deal that Heaven's Name should be sanctified through him. This doesn't happen by itself, only through prayer."
HaRav Shlomo Zalman used to daven at the Gra shul in Shaarei Chesed
Here are some of the reminiscences of Rav Menachem Porush, one of the central figures in religious politics for many years, as a Knesset member for Agudas Yisroel who was a cousin of HaRav Shlomo Zalman's.
"He evinced great strength of character in that despite living amongst his fellow Jews, not isolating himself from them in any way, living in Yerushalayim through years of tension between great people and large groupings, living in the neighborhood of Sha'arei Chesed which also experienced years of severe tensions, living as an active member of the Porush family when communal tensions over sharply differing points of view on important issues infiltrated the family ranks — in all these different situations, under all conditions and despite all the tensions, despite the fact that he was aware of everything and was familiar with everything, he raised himself above it all and enclosed himself within the dalet amos of halacha. Heated arguments would get underway in the beis haknesses while he would be sitting in the corner learning assiduously. That was HaRav Shlomo Zalman's uniqueness — even when he was amid a stormy sea, he rose and floated above the waves."
The respect which he accorded to every community and group in the religious world was attested to by the universal expressions of grief over his petiroh which emanated from every single quarter.
His concern for all sections of the religious community also had its reflection in his yeshiva's admissions policy. HaRav Shlomo Zalman saw to it that the yeshiva accepted bochurim from all communities, arguing that it was necessary to see that spiritual leaders would be trained to serve every different community. There was no attempt to cast the student body in one particular mold by employing devices such as a quota system. What united the bochurim was the love of Torah and the desire to grow and develop in learning which their rosh yeshiva radiated and with which the atmosphere in the yeshiva was suffused. It was this which bridged all the gaps to which their differing backgrounds could have led.
The Man of Halacha
A sefer Torah was once brought to HaRav Shlomo Zalman where the `vav' in the word sholom at the beginning of parshas Pinchos (which must be written specially, with a small gap towards the letter's bottom) had been written normally. The problem was that not a single sofer could be found who was willing to rub out part of the `vav' since the opinion of Tosafos is that the name "Sholom" is one of the Divine names that must not be rubbed out even in part.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman's idea was simple but ingenious. He suggested adding ink to all the letters in the word so as to lengthen them, then to simply add a spot of ink underneath the vav, which would then have its gap, yet not appear abnormally long. (Hamo'or Hagodol)
"I heard from him a number of times that he had no [one particular] teacher. He had attained all his Torah achievements from within himself, through intense application of his intellect and understanding, without any `derech.'
"He could not bear it when someone commented to him that he had a `way' of learning, as if there is a `way' to think. One must always aim for the truth, to understand the plain meaning and the underlying logic as deeply as one can but never to exaggerate [and attempt to grasp] more then one is capable of grasping [for complete comprehension of the Divine wisdom always lies beyond us] and we are only able to understand what we can." (HaRav Shmuel Auerbach)
"Everything stemmed from the fact that he learned Torah lishmoh. In all his learning, he would reach the point of the practical application of what he had learnt." (HaRav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg)
"My father z'l, was particular about there not being any empty `frumkeit' [i.e. behavior which is in excess of what is required by halacha, that is unmatched by genuine inner purity of intention] in our home. What was permitted was permitted and what was forbidden was forbidden.
"[Nonetheless, once] when I was young and was together with my father in a distinguished place, the talk turned to telling stories against frumkeit. I saw how his bones began to shake. Afterwards he said to them, `When I am here, don't speak about this.' He was afraid that there was an element of levity [in their negative attitude]. Despite the fact that it was very difficult for him to say it, he asked them not to speak about the topic when he was present. They were all shocked. Yiras Shomayim was of paramount importance for him." (HaRav Shmuel Auerbach)
We have endeavored to portray HaRav Shlomo Zalman as the marbitz Torah that he principally viewed himself as being, and as the man of the community in which capacity he gave vast amounts of guidance and counsel over the years. However, it was through his halachic rulings that most people benefited from him, and consequently, he was most widely known as a poseik. Before describing some of the areas in which his rulings were most famous, a few general words about his work in psak halacha are called for and a misconception that has arisen in the weeks following his petiroh must be corrected.
His learning and his psak halacha went hand in hand. Each was a part of the other. Learning a sugya for him meant arriving at the sugya's practical conclusions.
Indeed, the extent to which he viewed halacha as a part of learning and not as a separate discipline is reflected in the fact that as a general principle, HaRav Shlomo Zalman was of the opinion that bochurim ought not to invest an inordinate amount of their time in learning halacha. Small, fixed periods of time should be set aside for learning halacha while a bochur's major efforts should be devoted to the maseches being learned in the yeshiva. He ended a reply to several halachic queries which a grandson had sent him, with a note to this effect.
In addition, he would view literally every one of life's situations in terms of it's halachic ramifications, asking, "What is the din in this situation?"
For example, HaRav Goldberg recalled an occasion when his father-in-law had raised the question of why upsetting a child ought not to be forbidden because of the prohibition of, "You shall not cause distress, one man to his friend." Why should this not include distressing a child?
Rashi in maseches Shabbos was cited, according to which it seemed that the practice was permitted. Rashi explains that there was a custom to don masks in order to scare children. HaRav Shlomo Zalman replied that this was no proof that the practice was a permitted one.
HaRav Goldberg described how his father-in-law's innovative mind produced eminently practical ideas and solutions in all areas of halacha. For example, years ago, in order to avoid a problem of sofeik mamzer, he had the ingenious idea of writing a conditional get, leaving the wife free to decide whether she wished to fulfill the condition or not. Such a get would be regarded as entirely to her benefit.
When considering how long a tree had to be able to live in the earth around its roots which was taken along with it when the tree was transported (so that the tree would not have to be regarded as being planted anew with the consequent waiting for the three years of orlah to elapse), about which there are differing opinions among the rishonim, HaRav Shlomo Zalman contacted an agronomist to ask him what effect various fertilizing treatments would have on the tree's ability to survive. The man commented that this was an aspect of the question which HaRav Shlomo Zalman had been the only one to ask.
It should of course go without saying that the term `innovation' is used here to refer only to the innovative application of ideas that are rooted within Torah and are extracted through the traditional Torah learning process.
While HaRav Shlomo Zalman thus looked at everything through the prism of halacha, far more than frequent flashes of inspiration went into the apparent ease with which he was able to offer solutions. His ability to get to the heart of question, whether it involved gittin or a complicated medical procedure, was due to his complete command of the subject matter. He had learned the gemoras tens of times and thus was able to assign each component of a question to it's proper place.
Before writing his early work Me'orei Eish, he had learned through Bava Kamma, which amongst other things, clarifies definitions of direct and indirect actions, many dozens of times.
One rav who was close to him remarked that in his grasp and analysis of halachic problems, HaRav Shlomo Zalman started at the point where other talmidei chachomim left off. At times, other scholars would quibble with this or that argument that HaRav Shlomo Zalman advanced as support for a ruling he had made. A number of his lenient rulings aroused surprise in circles of lomdim because they seemed to go against the commonly accepted understanding of the matter. What they did not realize, said this rav, was the vast amount of groundwork which HaRav Shlomo Zalman had already done, which led him to his conclusion. The individual arguments with which they took issue were therefore often not the actual reason for the ruling so much as the way in which HaRav Shlomo Zalman presented what he knew to be the halacha.
The breadth, depth and clarity of his knowledge gave him a perspective which enabled him to rule leniently with confidence, not because the ruling involved any actual leniency but simply because halacha permitted the matter. Others, who were not on this level, felt themselves justified in attempting to refute him.
It should be clear therefore that it is completely inaccurate to maintain that HaRav Shlomo Zalman, to whom arriving at the true halacha was of paramount importance, had a tendency to be `lenient.' In an article which appeared in the National Religious newspaper Hatsofeh, the head of Tsomet, an institution which attempts to reconcile questions of science and halacha in line with that movement's current of thought, who had frequently consulted HaRav Shlomo Zalman over contemporary issues, wrote about his views of a supposed `lenient' approach, using a judicious selection of rulings, — including some remarks that HaRav Shlomo Zalman had specified were only for debating but did not constitute actual rulings.
Without providing any source whatsoever, the writer records the following story. "HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, was once asked by a ben Torah: `Since there are some who raise halachic objections to the use of a Shabbos elevator, is it correct to act stringently and refrain from using it?'
"The answer was not long in coming, `Oneg Shabbos is a definite obligation, which is learned from the words of the novi, `and you shall call Shabbos a pleasure,' whereas all the doubts that are expressed about Shabbos elevators are unnecessary stringencies. Oneg Shabbos should outweigh the stringencies. There is no need to go up or down four flights of stairs on foot!"
Such is the tone of the whole piece, leading the reader nicely to the conclusion that HaRav Shlomo Zalman's clear mind and knowledge of the facts led him to make little of `doubts' and `unnecessary stringencies.'
A follow-up call to the author of that story in Hatsofeh produced the following conversation:
Q. Who was the ben Torah who asked HaRav Shlomo Zalman [this question]? Can you identify him?
A. No. Actually, I heard these sentiments myself a number of times from HaRav Shlomo Zalman himself.
Q. In other words, that story never actually happened — that question was never asked and that answer was never given?
A. No, there was never an actual incident.
Q. But dear Rabbi, doesn't the article seek to convey a message that HaRav Shlomo Zalman used to rule leniently in halacha?
A. That's correct. It's open to discussion...certainly he ruled leniently. Look, if someone came to him who wanted to act stringently in a certain matter and he asked HaRav Shlomo Zalman, it could certainly be that he would receive a positive reply. Why not? HaRav Shlomo Zalman was good natured — if someone wants to be stringent, why should he prevent him?
Q. Is that so? Then maybe HaRav Shlomo Zalman was really a machmir in halacha but a Rabbi came to him and asked if he could act leniently, so HaRav Shlomo Zalman, being good natured, allowed him to?
Evidently, a story was fabricated to cast HaRav Shlomo Zalman in the image of the views of the writer.
As if to show the correct way of viewing all his life's work in halacha, the last major psak issued by HaRav Shlomo Zalman, some two months before his petiroh, was also controversial — but this time, it was a stringent ruling.
Asked about the use of crock pots on Shabbos, in view of Chazal's decree against hatmonoh bedovor hamosif hevel, i.e. encasing a pot of cooked food (even before Shabbos), in a material or environment that generates heat, HaRav Shlomo Zalman devoted much time and consideration to the issue and was unable to find a way to permit the practice.
Characteristically, along with his stringent ruling, he suggested making a special inner pot (which should emerge around the top of the pot and be clearly visible), which would separate the pot holding the food from the electrically heated casing. Since the heating element is thus completely covered, fully cooked food could be left inside the crock pot, even if it is improved by further cooking.
There are a number of other areas of HaRav Shlomo Zalman's avodas Hashem that we have not touched upon and which are just as full of practical lessons for us as the ones which we have discussed.
For example, the great stress which he laid upon praying, making brochos with proper concentration and upon pronouncing each word slowly and carefully, the part that tefillah played in his own spiritual striving as a well as in his efforts on behalf of others, his burning love of truth and sincerity, his numerous chesed activities many of which he carried out without the knowledge of his own family to the extent that during the shiva, as stories poured in of things their father had done for others, his sons remarked that they were discovering an entirely new aspect of their father, of which they had previously been unaware, his tireless efforts on behalf of the National Center for Family Purity which he headed for the last sixteen years of his life and to whose work in upholding and increasing the observance of taharas hamishpocho he gave freely of his time and energy, and also his presidency of Vaad Hayeshivos.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman was both a reflection of Yerushalayim as well as modern Yerushalayim is to some extent a reflection of him. He was a product of the old yishuv of half a century ago and he exemplified the humility, the simplicity and the spirituality of the Yerushalmi way of life. He, in turn, both through his personal example and guidance, and through the extended family and the circle of disciples which he raised, had a large part in shaping today's yishuv. If life in both the older and the newer religious neighborhoods of Yerushalayim reflects something of the spiritual nobility of the Yerushalayim of old, this can be ascribed in large part to the influence of HaRav Shlomo Zalman.
To have contact with him was an experience which overwhelmed one with the beauty of Torah. The Or HaChaim writes that if people really knew how sweet Torah is, nothing would hold them back from it.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman's petiroh has been a severe blow for all the members of his close and his extended family, his own talmidim of every age and standing, as well as the talmidim of his talmidim, the sometimes three generations of families who constantly consulted him, the talmidei chachomim who waited to catch every word of the dvar Hashem which issued from his lips or his pen, the thousands upon thousands of shomrei mitzvos whose Shabbos is shaped by the guidance he gave and whose myriad interactions with the modern world are conducted along the halachic lines he mapped out, those who were helped by his deeds, those who were comforted by his words, those who were inspired by his example — in short, the whole of Beis Yisroel.
Few met him yet all knew him and now feel the loss of a part of themselves. The only way to fill the aching gap is to redouble the efforts in striving for the ideals he achieved.