by R' Zvi Yabrov
The Tzaddik is the Foundation of the World
Eighteen years having elapsed since the passing (on 23 Av,
5745) of Maran the Steipler, HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Kanievsky
ztvk'l, author of Kehillos Yaakov. We present a
collection of illuminating vignettes and practices, published
in English for the first time, from the archives of HaRav
After his tefillin once fell on the ground, Rabbenu
said: "Fasting decreases Torah study while taanis
dibbur, abstaining from speech, increases study. I,
therefore, prefer to abstain from speech. (He apparently
based this upon the work Givas Olom by a disciple of
the Gra.) He said that it was not necessary to carry this
commitment out immediately, but that one could postpone it to
a later date. A person should, however, prepare a memorandum
upon which was written, "I require a taanis dibbur
because my tefillin fell upon the floor" (From R'
Nochum Minkowitz, a witness to the fact).
He once told an avreich to preoccupy himself with
doing some chesed, adding, "But know that Torah is the
first priority. Torah study provides greater merit. But
immediately after that, what will earn a person merit in the
World to Come is chesed!"
He once said to his grandson, "People come to me asking for
advice on how to retain what they have learned and not
forget. Were I to tell them to jump up and down on their bed,
everyone would do so. But if I tell them to review the
gemora four times, no one will heed me!"
He used to study with a chavrusa and cover every
daf with Rashi, Tosafos, Rosh, Rif. Upon completing
each chapter, he would review it all thoroughly several
times, saying, "Our study resembles passengers on a train. If
a train passes through a town, can those aboard in all
honesty claim that they have visited that town? We, too,
cannot claim to have fully studied any subject until we have
entered its intricacies in depth."
Whenever they completed a very difficult passage in Tosafos
which had stymied them, he would say, "This is the Torah of
the Ribono Shel Olom," and he would immediately review
it again with identical exertion in order to understand and
retain it. (HaRav Yosef Greineman)
A House That Doesn't Incorporate Good Traits -- is a
Someone once presented a question to Rabbenu: "Two marital
prospects have been presented to me for my daughter. One of
the suggested young men is greater than the other in his
achievements in Torah, but the second surpasses him in fine
character traits. What is preferable?"
Rabbenu did not reply directly to the question, but expressed
himself thus: "A home that does not incorporate good traits --
is a virtual Gehennom!"
The son of a certain Jew who was a frequent contributor to
Rabbenu once came to him and wished to give him a sum of
money. Rabbenu said, "I am not in the practice of accepting
money any longer. But since in former times, when I was hard
pressed, I did accept from your father, I will agree to take
from you as well." (Apparently this was a gesture of
gratitude, since he realized that he would make the person
happy by accepting the money.)
R' Nechemia Citron came to Rabbenu one erev Pesach and
said that he had come late to shul that morning. Being
a firstborn, he did not know what to do regarding a
siyum, and he did not wish to fast. Rabbenu told him
to return in another hour and sat down to study Maseches
Horayos. When R' Nechemia returned, he said, "I have a
siyum all ready for you." He noted that he had done
him this favor as a sign of appreciation for R' Nechemia's
having donated a portion of the publishing expenses for his
work, Kehillos Yaakov. (Heard from HaRav Yosef
Greineman who heard it from his rebbe)
Fear of Sin
A young man once came to ask a question: Was it permissible
for him to go to sleep late and not fear oversleeping in the
morning? Rabbenu was overwrought, as he replied, "One must be
afraid of sinning!"
He used to say, "It says in Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas
Bolok) that an old man used to pound on the bench and
declare, `In these times, we don't have the strength for
that.' And he would add, `But when one receives a rebuke from
a scholar, once should rejoice in the fact!' "
The subject of this story said: "One Friday afternoon,
Rabbenu arrived at the Lederman shul. I studied his actions
and saw him going over to a bookcase and taking out a
Tanach. Seeing that I was observing him, he showed me
that on the front page was written the name of a
goyish priest. Then he wryly commented, `Anyone who
possesses something he doesn't need, dumps it here in the
beis knesses.' Rabbenu then began taking the book
apart, page by page, saying, "I can't burn it, but in any
case, it should be put in genizah.' He asked me to
continue to rip it apart and he, himself, returned home."
(Heard from R' S. Weintraub)
On one occasion he felt obliged to make a reproving remark to
someone but for some reason, he thought that his rebuke would
fall on deaf ears and there would be no purpose in it. He
then remarked that we find it written in Ovos deRabbenu
Nosson, chapter six, that R' Akiva extracted a lesson
from a stone that had been eroded by water. If mere drops of
water -- say, altogether forty million drops -- over a period
of time are enough to erode a stone, then we must admit that
the first drop is included amongst them as well, even though
we might tend to think that it had no effect whatsoever.
An Everlasting Impression
On the second day of Adar I, the funeral of HaRav Yosef Dov
Soloveitchik took place in Jerusalem. A young man came to
Rabbenu to ask if he should travel to the funeral even though
he gave a shiur to his students and if he were not
present, they would not study.
Replied Rabbenu: "I am unable to answer questions regarding
bitul Torah. But incidentally, when young students
attend the funeral of a great man, it makes an indelible
impression on them for all time. It implants in them a love
for Torah, a bond to it, and a bond to the great man." He
added that the deceased was a true, genuine Torah scholar.
Rabbenu once differed in opinion with the Chazon Ish
regarding a passage in Noda Beyehuda. The Chazon Ish
said to him, "You presume to contend with the Noda Beyehuda!
[Meaning to say: this is going too far!] That scholar was a
leader of the entire diaspora in his time!" (HaRav Yosef
Greineman who heard it from Rabbenu)
Following the bris of a family member of Maran the
Chazon Ish which took place in Jerusalem, the Chazon Ish and
Rabbenu went to pay their respects to Maran the Rov of Brisk.
The Brisker Rov was in the midst of Shemoneh Esrei at
the time so the Chazon Ish sat in the hallway and bent his
head, better to hear the Rov's prayer. It was well known that
the Brisker Rov used to pray out loud and enunciate every
single word with care.
Rabbenu entered another room and began pacing the floor.
Suddenly, he noticed a sefer Torah resting on the
table. He rushed over to the Chazon Ish and said to him
excitedly, "Just like Rabbenu Tam! Just like Rabbenu Tam!" He
was referring to the opinion followed by the Brisker Rov that
it is more respectful to have a sefer Torah lying down
than standing erect. (HaRav Meir Soloveitchik)
"I Hold No Communal Position"
HaRav Shlomo Hershler zt'l once saw Rabbenu hauling a
block of ice and rushed over to help him. Rabbenu refused the
help, saying, "I hold no communal office. I am permitted to
carry this by myself." (See Kiddushin 7a which states
that one who holds a position over the people is not
permitted to carry out any physical or menial task in front
of three people.)
And a reverse incident. Maran HaRav Yosef Eliashiv
shlita relates that he was once walking with Rabbenu
along a street in Jerusalem when suddenly he felt someone
wrenching his briefcase away from him forcibly. It was
Rabbenu, who said, "You are forbidden to carry this
On the eve of Simchas Torah 5735, Rabbenu was accompanied
home from shul by a considerable coterie of the
worshipers in Lederman's to the resounding rendition of
"Ohr Zoru'a Latzaddik." Everyone trailed behind,
except for the children who ran up ahead. When they all
arrived at his home, he said to his daughter, "The children
ran after me and sang, `Tov li, tov li . . . ' "
HaRav Yosef Lis zt'l told that at the wedding of HaRav
Meir son of Maran the Brisker Rov ztvk'l which took
place at the Wagschal Hall in Bnei Brak, the Brisker Rov was
seated by the mizrach table together with all the
distinguished and prestigious figures. Rabbenu entered the
wedding hall and sat down at the very end of the table. When
the Brisker Rov learned that "Maran the Steipler" had
arrived, he rose from his seat, left all the honored guests,
and took a seat next to Rabbenu.
HaRav Yosef Lis added, "It was a most awesome sight -- those
two figures seated side by side!"
A young student came with a question. His stepfather had
suggested a match for him which was too modern for his taste.
If he refused this suggestion, it would have negative
repercussions for his mother. What should he do?
Rabbenu thought for a moment, then smiled and said, "I have
good advice for you. Don't tell him that you do not want this
match for spiritual or religious reasons, such as the family
not being on your level of observance, or because of your
Olom Habo and the like. He would not understand this
or would disagree with you. Rather, couch your refusal on
pragmatic, material grounds; say she is unsuitable for this
reason or that, so long as it is something that relates to
their modern outlook."
Between Holy and Profane
In his times, there were some simple, naive Jews who were
unable to grasp the vast difference between chareidim and
Mizrachi. They argued that the Mizrachi also had yeshivos.
Rabbenu told that Maran the Chazon Ish used to compare this
situation to one who was looking for a suitable young man for
his daughter. He insisted upon three qualifications: that the
candidate be able to blow the shofar, know how to read
the Aramaic Targum and that he know how to knot
Off went the matchmaker and produced a young man who played
piano, spoke French, and even knew how to knit!
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