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15 Av 5763 - August 13, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Tzaddik is the Foundation of the World

by R' Zvi Yabrov

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 Mordechai Weisfish.


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 Virtual Gehennom!

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 briefcase."


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!"

Good Advice

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 tzitzis.

Off went the matchmaker and produced a young man who played piano, spoke French, and even knew how to knit!

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