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21 Cheshvan 5762 - November 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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From the Pages of Yated Ne'eman about Maran HaRav Shach ztvk"l
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

This is a sampling of stories and anecdotes told by HaRav Shach and about HaRav Shach that appeared in the pages of Yated Ne'eman in the past few years. Where necessary we have provided a few remarks to make the context clear.

From HaRav Nosson Einfeld

Maran HaRav E. M. Shach [shlita] told me that he once served as a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Slutsk, which was headed by Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l. After Communist and Bolshevik harassment intensified, Maran HaRav Kotler decided to transfer the yeshiva to Kletsk, in Poland. He moved with part of his talmidim and the other part, that at the time could not leave Soviet Russia, remained in Slutsk under the leadership of Maran HaRav Shach.

HaRav Shach said that as rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Slutsk he was strongly against bochurim making a mishmar (studying the entire night) on Thursday nights. Even erev Shabbos is a day like any other day: we must daven a yeshivisheh davening, study during the seder, and attend the shiur. Students who have studied the whole night daven vosikin hastily and afterwards they sleep until the afternoon. Their gain becomes a sure loss.

Some talmidim did not heed the Rosh Yeshiva's warning and continued studying the whole night. "What did I do?" says HaRav Shach. "I remained awake and studied with them in the beis midrash until morning. They davened vosikin and then went off to sleep, but I continued studying until the regular Shacharis of the yeshiva. I was present at the seder and even gave a shiur. Why did I remain with them the whole night? I had to watch over them to ensure that they truly studied."

Saying Tehillim

Many wonders have been performed through the merit of saying Tehillim. The book Orchos Chasidecho (pg. 247) relates the following incident involving Maran HaRav Shach, [shlita]. When HaRav Shach was still a bochur in the Yeshiva of Slutsk, he and a group of bochurim passed a certain cemetery in a small Lithuanian town. The young Rav Shach entered the cemetery. After some time had passed, he came out and enthusiastically told the others to go in and look at the inscription on one of the tombstones: "Here lies Ish Elokim the holy Reb Nochum the Tehillim Zogger [the one who recites Tehillim)."

At that moment, HaRav Shach resolved to himself that he would also say Tehillim every day, a custom that he kept up even after becoming a rosh yeshiva and leader of Klal Yisroel.

One day, a certain rosh yeshiva entered HaRav Shach's room at eight o'clock in the morning and saw him bent over a sefer Tehillim. HaRav Shach looked up at his visitor and detected a look of amazement on his face as if to ask, "How does the Godol Hador have time to say Tehillim?"

Answering the unasked question, he explained that for decades, since the time that he visited that cemetery, he says Tehillim very early in the morning before davening. However, due to certain disturbances the previous night which caused him to go to bed very late, he had to postpone his Tehillim until eight o'clock.

Maran went on to say that the tzaddik Reb Nochum was known to perform great miracles in the merit of his diligence in reciting Tehillim. (Vayeitzei, 5760)

Klal Yisroel's Sole Surviving Child

The following is an excerpt from a hesped on the Brisker Rov delivered at his levaya by Maran HaRav Shach [yblct"a]. The same can certainly be said of HaRav Shach in our day, more than 40 years later.

Impossible to Appreciate

No matter what words of eulogy or appreciation we use, they will only serve to detract from the stature of the niftar, for we are not capable of grasping what he really was. We find something like this in the gemora (Bovo Kamo 59), where Eliezer Zeira, wanting to mourn for Yerushalayim, donned footwear that was customary for mourners, and the members of the Reish Galusa's household asked him, "Are you worthy of mourning for Yerushalayim?"

The explanation of this gemora is that no external action could possibly encompass the dimensions of the dreadful loss that befell us with the churban Beis Hamikdosh. Performing such an act would actually lessen the significance and belittle the dimensions of the tragedy, because it could not possibly express or represent what in truth happened. We, who are able to mourn for Yerushalayim, are only permitted to do so inasmuch as we are fulfilling the halochos fixed by Chazal for all generations and are obeying their command.

This occasion, the petiroh of our great teacher, the gaon and av beis din of Brisk zt'l, is the same. It is impossible for any words to properly evaluate and to eulogize such a great man. Instead let us talk about the event, as people discuss what has happened to them with each other. Everybody is able to take part in such a discussion, arousing one another to the terrible calamity, sounding the alarm and crying out.

For example, if a man sees that a fire has broken out at night in a house where men, women and children are all sleeping, unaware of what has happened, he certainly has to yell and wake them up from their slumber. No excuses, such as his inability to shout and arouse people, are at all relevant. Even a dumb man would have to find a way to arouse the people and save them.

That is our position; we have been literally left orphans. We have to cry out at our situation, having been left by ourselves, utterly alone -- who will now fill the breaches? From whom will we be able to seek counsel and advice? We are orphaned in every sense. (Succos, 5760)

On the Necessity of Fighting

In the famous address by Maran HaRav Eliezer Shach [shlita] at the Degel HaTorah Movement Founding Convention more than ten years ago, the Rosh Yeshiva chose to focus on this point: We must guard the Torah and the genuine hashkofoh transmitted to us from Sinai, even when doing so requires forgoing aspirations for popularity and specious "unity."

In response to all those who maintain that fighting for the truth and only the truth generates a machlokes, the Rosh Yeshiva cited what the Maharil Diskin zt'l once said: When Moshe Rabbenu was niftar, the Torah writes, "Bnei Yisroel wept for Moshe" (Devorim 34:8). Chazal (Ovos DeR'Nosson 12:4) explain that the posuk is emphasizing that not all of bnei Yisroel wept over Moshe's departure, as is written explicitly about Aharon Hacohen: "When all the congregation saw that Aharon was dead, they mourned for Aharon, thirty days, all the house of Yisroel" (Bamidbar 20:29). This needs to be better understood. These pesukim are apparently coming to praise Moshe Rabbenu, but what praise is there in that not everyone cried when he died?

Chazal are teaching us that since Moshe Rabbenu was a leader of the Jewish Nation he needed to make decisions concerning the public in general, and "of necessity there would be complaints against him. He was forced to be a `person who makes a machlokes.'" The Torah commends Moshe Rabbenu for the fact that not all of bnei Yisroel wept after his death, since "of necessity there would be complaints against him" (VeZorach HaShemesh, pg. 138).

Maran [shlita] recommended this approach to us for constant use. We are living in a generation when many have deviated from the Torah's way and have adopted bogus ideologies. We must stand firm to protect the true Torah outlook and the stature of the Torah World. There is no other way. The Chovos Halevovos writes about the yetzer and its agents that "you are oblivious to them but they are conscious of you."

If a person does not attack all contemporary trends that are improper they will instead overwhelm him. There is sometimes no choice. We must occasionally employ the "negative approach and style" to say "No" and to protest against what is unbefitting the Holy Nation. This must be done, even though we will be looked upon as people who start machlokes.

Maran [shlita] has often emphasized that the most prominent title to be awarded a communal activist in our generation is that of a fighter. Maran used this concept often when he praised the precious young people who are working with great dedication for the klal wherever they are. He wanted to implant within those who are fighting in the front for Yiddishkeit, and within the entire public, the concept campaigning for the principles of our religion and to elevate the Torah's honor is not a "negative approach" but an obligatory goal. This is true even though we may be stuck with a distorted image of being persons making machlokes. Being a fighter for such sublime matters is not a disgrace but rather a badge of honor. (Behar, 5759)

"If Not -- I'll Write the Opposite"

Maran the Rosh Yeshiva [shlita] spoke about a difficult question he had asked the Griz about R' Chaim's words. The question was straight from a gemora and they could find no way to solve it. "I remember," Reb Velvele responded to the question, "that when Father wrote this chiddush, this gemora was open in front of him," referring to the gemora from which HaRav Shach asked the question.

According to HaRav Shach's students, Maran HaGriz first tried to solve the question. When he was unable, the Griz said, "I don't have an answer, but I can tell you a story pertaining to the matter. I remember that when Father put this chiddush onto paper, I was also in the house. In the middle of writing, Father called me and asked to bring him this gemora. He opened it to this very page, the site of your question, looked at it for a few minutes, closed the gemora and continued writing."

The Griz looked at those sitting in front of him as if he wanted to say, "Father saw the gemora, thought of the question and nevertheless wrote what he did."

But Maran the Rosh Hayeshiva replied, "If you have an answer, good. If not, I'll write the opposite." HaRav Shach did not flinch. (Beha'alosecho, 5760)

Life and Death Decisions Made for Irrelevant Considerations

Maran HaRav Elazar Shach [shlita], in a shmuess delivered in Ponevezh Yeshiva during the Sholom HaGalil Operation in 5742 (1982) after which Israel originally established the buffer zone in Lebanon, spoke painfully about the rashness with which those who have cast off the Torah's yoke make life-threatening decisions. They act irresponsibly in connection with questions of life and death.

[Referring to the invasion of Lebanon:] "Whether it was right or not, whether they needed to do it or not, is a legitimate question. There are so many casualties, so many wounded because of it.

"In the outside world, the secular world, this is not taken into consideration at all. Lives are not precious to them. What is chiefly important to them is high governmental positions, being in power, staying in power and running the country. Their glory is more precious to them than anything else. For the sake of such a disgusting sin as running after glory and power -- a sin one ought to be ashamed of -- they are ready to send Jews to their death. Where is their conscience? Do they think they were born this way, in power? What will happen to them when they lose their positions? Is it justified, in order to gain this power, to act so wickedly towards so many Jews?

"But what is there to ask about conscience and morality when they are bribed by their lust for glory? They are enwrapped in personal interests and this bribery blinds them. Bribery applies not only to great issues -- even the smallest bribe is included. It is therefore prohibited for a dayan even to borrow a scythe from a litigant; that is already bribery. Even shochad devorim (the most minimal amount of benefit from a litigant) is also forbidden. (Kesuvos 105b). When a person is bribed he is blind and cannot see the truth. Try to talk with a blind person and tell him how bright the sun in shining; he will not understand, since he cannot see. These people are bribed by their high governmental position and they see only that.

"We are living in a time of war. May HaKodosh Boruch Hu help us, that we be saved from our enemies! Yet all the same we must know what the Torah's outlook is and live accordingly. I am not talking about what was done here, but if we consider in depth, will we feel right in calling this a victory? We see that there are those, even gedolei Torah, rabbonim, who consider what happened here a milchemes mitzvah. Is this really a milchemes mitzvah? Was not the decision to start the war determined by a vote in the Knesset? That vote was entirely based upon collusive deals among the MKs: you say this and I will say that, I will support you if you will do so and so, as the gemora writes, `You watch for me and I will watch for you.' This is the way they reached the decision and obtained approval to launch a war. If the connivances had brought the opposite results, then the vote would have been different and another decision would have been reached. Can we rely on such decisions? Can personal considerations like this dictate the path of a whole people and decide life-threatening issues?" (Bamidbor, 5760)

Write them on the Tablet of Your Heart

Rabbenu, the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, Maran HaRav Eliezer Menachem Shach [shlita], had been suffering for many years from problems with his eyes. At one point, it was decided to call in a specialist who would check Maran's eyes and determine how to make seeing easier for him. The specialist designed a special type of magnifying glass [which would slide into the rosh yeshiva's eyes something like a contact lens] enabling him to read the small letters of the gemora.

The specialist arrived, and wanted to see how the Rosh Yeshiva read with the aid of the magnifying glass, so that it could be adjusted to his needs. He asked that the Rosh Yeshiva be brought a sefer with small letters. A copy of Shev Shemaitesah lay on the table and the Rosh Yeshiva began to read it aloud.

After a few minutes, the specialist stopped him and said: "Impossible! The Rosh Yeshiva can't be reading from the magnifying glass. He knows the book by heart, and that is why he is reading at such a rapid pace. The examination isn't an examination at all and doesn't reflect the state of his eyesight."

But that wasn't the end.

The members of the household placed another sefer before the Rosh Yeshiva -- Ketzos HaChoshen. The Rosh Yeshiva began to read but the specialist stopped the examination and once more said that the Rosh Yeshiva knew the material by heart.

A third attempt was made and this time Rabbenu's own sefer, Avi Ezri, was brought to him. But he remembered every word he had written many years beforehand.

There was no choice but to bring him a newspaper, and to ask him to read a few paragraphs. Only then was the specialist able to check the Rosh Yeshiva's eyesight. (Nosso, 5759)

Far-reaching Concern for Aveiros

When Maran HaRav Shach [shlita] was a yeshiva bochur, he used to say chaburos. He noticed that some of his talmidim smoked and he tried to convince them to stop smoking. Even when some of them refused to stop, he continued his efforts, asking them again and again to stop. In the end, some of them stopped.

One must remember that in those days there was no awareness of any danger attached to smoking. When he was asked why he tries to hard to get other bochurim to stop smoking, HaRav Shach [shlita] answered: "I see that the haskalah is spreading and who knows what will eventually come out of the bochurim. Chas vesholom, maybe the will go off the path and transgress serious aveiros. I at least want to save them from the serious aveiros of smoking on Shabbos."

Even many years later, in 5732 (1972), HaRav Shach [shlita] was hospitalized in the Tel Hashomer Hospital. When he was getting ready to leave, the staff asked for a brochoh from the Rosh Yeshiva. One in particular, who was a smoker, approached the Rosh Yeshiva and asked for a brocho. The Rosh Yeshiva said to him, "First of all, you have to stop smoking."

Later on, the Rosh Yeshiva explained that he knew that the man was not a shomer mitzvos, and therefore he took the opportunity to save him at least from the aveiros of smoking on Shabbos. (Vayikro, 5759)

Half a Million Dollars for a Yeshiva

HaRav Eliyahu Abba Shaul recalled the following story about his father, HaRav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt"l.

One day while he was learning in Ponevezh Yeshiva, he was called to come to HaRav Shach's home. After greeting him and asking him to convey greetings to his father, HaRav Shach handed him a folded check, which was to be given to HaRav Ben Tzion.

"I took the check innocently," HaRav Eliyahu related, "and placed it in my shirt pocket.

"`No,' the Rosh Hayeshiva motioned to me in frustration. With his finger, he showed me that I should open the check and examine it. I obeyed and to my astonishment I discovered that what I had put into my shirt pocket unknowingly, and had become a shomer and a shaliach mitzva for, was a check that had been made out for no less than half a million dollars!

"This was a donation from Rabbi Reichman which HaRav Shach had been instrumental in obtaining, and it was meant for the bolstering of the network of educational institutions which my father had begun to set up, in order to rescue Sephardic youth who had strayed far from their religion." (Ki Sovo, 5758)


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