Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Sivan 5762 - May 15, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








In Close Conversation: The Meetings Between HaRav Shach zt'l and ylct'a HaRav Eliashiv

Rabbi Uri Lapoliansky Shares His Recollections With Rabbi N.Z. Grossman

Introduction: Majestic Encounters

Over the years, HaRav Shach zt'l, held numerous private meetings with ylct'a HaRav Eliashiv. One series of meetings was held around the time of Degel Hatorah's founding. Some of them were held in HaRav Shach's home, some in HaRav Eliashiv's home and some in the Yad Sarah offices in Yerushalayim, at which Rabbi Uri Lapoliansky was present and acted as host. Drawing on notes he made at the time, Rabbi Lapoliansky told Rabbi N.Z. Grossman of Yated about some of the topics that were discussed during those thirteen meetings.

"The atmosphere in the room evoked an ancient glory, as the two exchanged `siach sarphei kodesh' " (kedushoh of Musaf). "I stood to the side, watching in awe as the Rosh Yeshiva conversed with HaRav Eliashiv, as the two of them discussed communal affairs together." This is how Rabbi Uri Lapoliansky, who today serves as deputy mayor of Yerushalayim for Degel Hatorah, recalls the series of thirteen meetings at which he was present.

The first meetings were held in HaRav Eliashiv's home but, when walking became difficult for HaRav Shach, he had to be carried in a chair up the narrow flight of steep stairs in order to reach the gaon's home. He was displeased at the idea of others carrying him. It was decided that we would look for somewhere accessible yet private, with no stairs, where the gedolei hador, ztvk'l and ylct'a, could meet quietly and hold discussions. Rabbi Lapoliansky suggested designating one of the rooms in the Yad Sarah offices in Rechov Haneviim in Yerushalayim, for which he received warm blessings from HaRav Shach, who expressed his thanks to the host following every meeting.

A Life of Public Service

Rabbi Lapoliansky recalls the advice he was given by HaRav Shach when he first began serving as a representative for Degel Hatorah on the Jerusalem Municipal Council.

"First," the Rosh Yeshiva said, "the main task of a communal representative is to devote himself wholly to others, to helping Yidden; to work for the communal benefit, while not forgetting the needs of individuals. Klal Yisroel's needs are great; you are not just discovering this now. You have been working in this field for years" [a reference to Rabbi Lapoliansky's work in founding and developing Yad Sarah].

Here, HaRav Shach added that he recalled from his youth, that there had been no mechalelei Shabbos whatsoever in his hometown. There was one individual who began to stray from the path but [even] he did not dare desecrate Shabbos. This was something unique in those times, when [everywhere else] large numbers were abandoning Torah altogether.

"Do you know why it was?" [he asked,] "[It was] because we had a rov who devoted a considerable portion of his time to sharing the burden of his community's troubles. He had assistants and activists who were involved in people's welfare on a daily basis, caring for needy families and for each and every individual who required assistance. Despite the fact that haskoloh was leaving desolation in its wake everywhere, it did not gain entry into our town. The conclusion one has to draw is that where there is bein odom lechavero, there is also bein odom laMokom .(Where caring relationships exist among people, there are also relationships between the people and Hashem.)

"The general community can see that Torah is a system of benefiting others and doing kindness and thus, even the simplest among them acknowledge the Torah's light. Of course, I'm not referring to simple social services, such as the gentile nations and the irreligious authorities provide but to welfare that is guided by rabbonim, goodness that is extended in accordance with the Torah's dictates. When people help each other with pure intentions, it leads to a diminishing in chilul Shabbos as well."

Another piece of advice which HaRav Shach gave Rabbi Lapoliansky as he embarked on the new stage in his career of public service, had been voiced by him to other communal activists and representatives as well. "You should be aware," he said, "that hitherto, none of your achievements as a private individual disturbed anyone. However, as a political figure and a representative of Degel Hatorah, you will find yourself beset by numerous opponents. [You must ] be prepared for this.

"There is one solution, which I heard from an elderly Russian general whom I once met. The secret of success in battle and war is wholly dependent on the degree to which one maintains focus on one's objective. One must fix one's sight on an objective and actively and persistently pursue it. You won't always progress at the same rate and there will be times when you don't progress at all. Sometimes [instead of moving forward] one has to move to the right or to the left. Sometimes, one even has to take a few backward steps -- but one's sights must always remain fixed on one's objective, never giving up. You must know that any retreat or delay is only temporary. That way, one is assured of attaining the objective!"

Conduct of a Ben Torah

Rabbi Lapoliansky was present at all the meetings and sometimes, HaRav Eliashiv would discuss with him those parts of their conversations that he was able to divulge. Rabbi Lapoliansky made notes of the topics that were discussed, which he has kept. He asks us to note that not everything in his records can be related publicly and even the parts which can, are not a meticulous record of every word uttered, like protocols. They represent his immediate impressions of what was said and this should be borne in mind when reading the paragraphs which follow.

Our conversation began with advice concerning the role of a Degel Hatorah representative, which led Rabbi Lapoliansky to recall that one of the topics discussed at one of the meetings was a certain political maneuver which could have been carried out. The move under consideration was cunning and ingenious, and would have reaped important results and, in all likelihood, would not have been detected by anyone.

HaRav Eliashiv said, "Degel Hatorah represents bnei Torah, who do not grab and who will not do anything that is even slightly tainted, even if all the money in the world is at stake."

HaRav Shach agreed with him and said, "We follow the Torah's path, even if it seems that we will lose by doing so because in fact, whoever follows the Torah's path doesn't lose. We don't snatch things by force!"

Later, HaRav Eliashiv compared the situation to an explicit halochoh: while it is in order for ordinary people to buy on credit, it is considered a chilul Hashem if a talmid chochom puts food into his mouth before paying for it. Any improper or not respectable practice, even if acceptable in politics, is unbecoming for the representatives of the Torah world!

A Joint Protest

One of the meetings took place while the Rabin-Meretz coalition, which the gedolim felt posed a particular spiritual threat, was setting up a government. HaRav Shach led the campaign against that government and protested against those chareidi politicians who assisted it and cooperated with it.

He suggested issuing an open letter of protest. However, HaRav Eliashiv said that he felt that a protest would not help since the parties concerned were not interested in listening. HaRav Shach responded that there was still an obligation to protest. It was not possible to simply remain silent; gedolei Yisroel have an obligation to express their views publicly.

At the end of the meeting , HaRav Shach suggested that the two of them think the matter over and meet again in another few days.

At the next meeting, HaRav Eliashiv said that he still thought that the parties concerned would not listen anyway but he would join HaRav Shach in whatever the Rosh Yeshiva decided to do. HaRav Shach said that since at that stage, the matter involved the entire chareidi community, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Pnei Menachem zt'l, ought to be consulted. Rabbi Yechezkel Eschayek, HaRav Shach's personal assistant, and Rabbi Lapoliansky began trying to locate the Rebbe but HaRav Shach said that he wanted to go to the Rebbe because whenever he needed someone, it was his practice to go to them, rather than calling them to him.

In order to discourage curious onlookers from clustering around HaRav Shach's familiar car as it made its way through the center of Yerushalayim to the Rebbe's home, it was suggested that HaRav Shach travel in Rabbi Lapoliansky's car. As they were about to leave, word arrived that the Rebbe had heard that he was wanted and had already set out for Yad Sarah. The car was sent to collect him and met him striding vigorously from his home.

Rabbi Lapoliansky recalls that immediately upon arriving, before he had entered the meeting room, the Rebbe addressed his son ylct'a and said, "Put your gartel on right away! We are about to meet gedolei Yisroel!"

After this meeting, it was indeed decided to issue a protest.

Worthy of Close Study

Rabbi Lapoliansky remembers that in the meetings that were held during that period, the fundamental approach to the question of which side of the political spectrum it was preferable to support, was discussed. He shared his impressions of the conversation and its implications.

HaRav Shach said that there is no doubt that the Left want to uproot Torah and Yiddishkeit. Even those among them who disclaim such ambitions are far from having any idea of what Judaism is about. They are interested in neither the Jewish people, nor in Eretz Yisroel. However, the nationalistic approach, which is liable to lead them to take a hard line politically and to antagonize the nations, is also cause for concern. The fact that there is constant American pressure on Israel, though, will force them to behave realistically.

HaRav Eliashiv added that sadly, one aspect of the collapse of the Left is their unmitigated joy over losing parts of Eretz Yisroel. Though the Right also understand that we must consent to return territories in order to safeguard lives, they behave like bargainers and do not declare their intention of doing so right at the outset of the negotiations.

Various lines of reasoning were put forward on both sides of the question, with each godol analyzing the issue from his own viewpoint. Agreement was reached regarding the issue that was then current.

Rabbi Lapoliansky recalls the wondrous scene, when HaRav Shach's letter was finally brought to HaRav Eliashiv for him to sign. The latter examined the text thoroughly, reading each line and each word, over and over again, analyzing and clarifying it, as though it was a sugya of gemora. It was apparent that he viewed HaRav Shach's letter as something worthy of study.

He also recalls that when he would come to the beis hamedrash Ohel Soroh to tell HaRav Eliashiv that HaRav Shach was on his way to Yerushalayim, the former would always say that he must first go home to change his ordinary, everyday coat for a more distinguished one.

As the Day Wanes

Rabbi Lapoliansky is pained as he remembers the last meetings, when HaRav Shach would complain that he was growing weaker by the day. Even before this, he would always ask HaRav Eliashiv to bless him that he should be able to devote himself to learning and teaching and that all the communal affairs for which he was responsible would not affect his Torah. HaRav Eliashiv would give it as his opinion, that everything that the Rosh Yeshiva did was Torah!

Latterly however, HaRav Shach would groan, "I can't see well. I can hardly hear and walk. I don't feel that I'm bringing any benefit to the world. What am I living for? [Just] to eat and drink? I can hardly daven or learn!" Here he addressed HaRav Eliashiv and said that in this situation, he had two requests to make of him.

"First, I have a personal question in halochoh. I am supported by the yeshiva, though I don't have the strength to deliver shiurim or to guide talmidim. How am I allowed to benefit from the yeshiva's funds? I have been wrestling with this question for a long time. I have spoken to several people and they have offered me a room where I can live for a monthly rent!"

HaRav Shach began going into details of what he had found out about the cost and how he had made an exact calculation that he could afford it from his pension! "I checked everything and I asked to pay like anybody else," he said.

HaRav Eliashiv replied straightaway that he should not consider it. His very presence in the yeshiva contributed to the yeshiva, both to the bochurim and to the staff and even to the yeshiva's upkeep, due to the fact that he stood at the yeshiva's head. He therefore had full rights to benefit from the yeshiva's funds and property.

HaRav Shach then said in a choked voice, "I will soon be standing in front of the Heavenly Court and they will ask me, `Did you conduct your business affairs in good faith?' I don't want to there to be the slightest possibility of my having misused anyone else's property, or the yeshiva's funds. I am perfectly able to rent a room."

HaRav Eliashiv repeated that he should not leave the yeshiva, which badly needed him and to which he contributed simply by being there.

HaRav Shach again asked, approximately the following question: "I want to know if Reb Yosef Sholom is giving me a halachic ruling, or if he is just saying what appears to him. Is this a ruling?"

HaRav Eliashiv replied, "It's a ruling!"

"My impression was," says Rabbi Lapoliansky, "that he said it in a forceful tone, in order to put the Rosh Yeshiva's mind at ease." He then goes on to describe his impressions of the conversation, based on the notes which he made at the time.

Take the Burden

This ended discussion of HaRav Shach's personal question and he continued, saying that the state of his health no longer allowed him to carry the burden of communal affairs and of dealing with the public. He wanted to ask HaRav Eliashiv to assume responsibility. The latter asked if he was referring to a specific issue that had arisen, which the rosh yeshiva wanted him to consider and give an opinion about. HaRav Shach said that he was making a general request, that HaRav Eliashiv should become involved in communal affairs.

HaRav Eliashiv said, "But boruch Hashem, we have the Rosh Yeshiva."

And then HaRav Shach started to cry, "But I can't see and I'm weak. I feel that I can no longer of benefit. I'm asking Reb Yosef Sholom to take the burden."

There was silence in the room. Then, HaRav Shach addressed HaRav Eliashiv again and said, "At least let Reb Yosef Sholom bless me!"

HaRav Eliashiv responded, that the entire Torah world blessed him with good health and a long life, "to rule his dominions."

HaRav Shach said, "But add a blessing that I should be of benefit."

And HaRav Eliashiv acceded: "The Rosh Yeshiva is certainly a benefit and will still be in the future, be'ezras Hashem."

It was apparent that HaRav Shach was not happy that HaRav Eliashiv had not given him a direct answer to his request and at the end of the meeting, he mentioned that he would speak about it again the next time.

At their next meeting, HaRav Shach repeated his request and HaRav Eliashiv said that whenever necessary, if a question was brought to him, he would answer. HaRav Shach pressed his hand warmly and said, once again in tears, "I give no benefit; bless me so that I should be of benefit."

Not a Man of Words

Another interesting incident which Rabbi Lapoliansky recalls, took place just before the rally in Yad Eliyahu in Adar 5750, while the country waited expectantly to hear HaRav Shach's views about the government's disbanding and formation. Rabbi Lapoliansky was called to HaRav Shach, who asked him to arrange for HaRav Eliashiv to speak at the rally as well. "I am not a man of words" was HaRav Eliashiv's response.

When Rabbi Lapoliansky delivered this reply, HaRav Shach said in amazement, "Reb Yosef Sholom has been delivering shiur every day for forty-five years, and he can't give an address?"

Rabbi Lapoliansky tried to explain that a keynote address at a mass rally was not the same thing as a daily blatt shiur but HaRav Shach interrupted him and said, "He can! He can! He can!"

Should he return to HaRav Eliashiv and tell him that HaRav Shach stood his ground and maintained his request, asked Rabbi Lapoliansky? The Rosh Yeshiva thought for a few minutes and said, "No. I've thought about it and I understand him."

Rabbi Lapoliansky returned to HaRav Eliashiv, who listened to his report of the conversation with a smile on his face.

Here is the story's conclusion, as related by Rabbi Lapoliansky, "I heard that afterwards, when he arrived at the rally, HaRav Eliashiv had a page with several points written down, in case HaRav Shach might ask him to speak while the rally was in progress."

His Only Regret

(From Hi Sichosi, HaRav Shach's Last Sichos, by Rabbi Meir Hershkovitz)

It was apparent many times that none of the suffering which HaRav Shach underwent throughout his life affected his spirit. He would divert his attention from his troubles and continue toiling in Torah. In his last years however, when physical weakness and waning eyesight affected his learning, he became discouraged.

Once (during the winter of 5754 [1993-4]), when talking of all the privations that he suffered during his youth with regard to food and drink, sleep, washing, clothes and footwear he said to us, "I had nothing but I was happy. While I was in Vilna (in 5740 [1940]), my daughter died. From then on, whenever he met me, HaRav Chaim Ozer ztvk'l, would say to me, `Rebbi Shach (that was what Reb Chaim Ozer called me), "Lulei soroscho sha'ashu'oi, . . . '" [if not for Your Torah that was my diversion, I would have perished in my affliction (Tehillim 119:92).]

When his sight failed him and he could hardly read, he pinned his hopes on undergoing an operation that would restore his ability to read. When the doctor informed him that it would be impossible to perform the operation, he despaired. On several occasions he remarked, "Without the gemora, why do I need to be alive?"

From 5752, when his weakness increased, he began to speak less. He would express himself in the words of the posuk (Koheles 5:1), "For Hashem is in the Heavens and you are in the world, therefore your words should be few." As the years passed, he spoke less and less.

On the night of yom revi'i, parshas Vayeishev 5757, he said to me, "I can't learn and I can't daven," (obviously, he was measuring by his own high standards). He suddenly burst into tears for a moment and said, "Hot rachmonus, bet rachamim oif mir, Ba'al Rachamim, Have mercy, beg for mercy for me!"

On the subject of suffering , I heard him tell someone who was suffering (in 5758), "Don't part with the suffering that you have already endured, even in exchange for enormous sums. Pray though, that you shouldn't have any further suffering."

A Life without Faculties: His Comfort to Others

by A. Turk

In 5752, HaRav Shemaryohu Greineman zt'l, passed away after a long illness, during the last few years of which he had been in a vegetative state R'l. When HaRav Shach went to comfort the Greineman family, he was asked, what was the purpose in the kind of life that their father had led in his last years? HaRav Shach replied that it is known that Heaven's glory emanates from every animal or bird. To an even greater extent, this is true of a human being, whose very existence declares Heaven's glory, even in the midst of the most terrible illness. Sometimes, Heaven can be more glorified [in that way] than by a healthy person.

Moshe Rabbeinu too, wanted to enter Eretz Yisroel as a bird, or as an animal, even if people would have trodden on him like a doorstep. For the presence of [any kind of] life bespeaks Heaven's glory, so long as he would have been a means of promoting Heaven's glory.

On seeing the profundity of Divine judgment, how a talmid chochom appears when subject to judgment, Heaven is glorified. In the very worst situation, there is even more glory to Heaven and it is worthwhile for the deceased. He can now see what the gain was, now that he is in the World of Truth. It is a merit to be in such a state. Only great men are occasionally given this merit, to be the means of producing this sort of Heaven's glory.

In the Ovinu Malkeinu prayer, we ask, "Write us in the book of merits." This is hard to understand. How can one pray for such a thing? If one did mitzvos and good deeds, one has merits and if not, how can one ask HaKodosh Boruch Hu to write what is not true?

The explanation is, that a person can be going quickly on his way to daven, which of course is not an aveiroh but a mitzvoh. However, another person also on his way to daven, might be asked by a child to help him cross the road, then a poor man may ask him for tzedokoh, then he might encounter some other good deed and only daven after all this. The first one did no aveiroh but the second one did many mitzvos. We pray that Hashem should put many mitzvos in our way, so that we should be able to do more mitzvos, even without having intended to.

Similarly, we pray that we should be a means of revealing Heaven's glory, even without doing anything. Heaven's glory should be revealed in our very lives and the merit will be ours.

HaRav Shach was told that the Steipler zt'l, had been asked what the purpose was in such a life and had answered, "If we were to ask Reb Shmerl whether he wants to learn or to do mitzvos, he would certainly say yes. Therefore, he is like a person who intended to do a mitzvoh but was prevented, who is considered as though he had done it -- and receives reward." HaRav Shach greatly enjoyed this answer.

"And if I have Some Free Time . . . "

In the following letter dated 5732 (1971), Rabbenu Hagodol zt'l apologizes for not replying to letters on Torah topics due to his overloaded schedule:

To my dear friend and beloved, who has a great future HaRav HaGaon ------ Sheyichye

Sholom and much blessing to you and the entire family:

I have not received a letter from you for some time and rightfully so since you have not received a reply from me. Believe me, my dear friend, that I would very much like to answer you because it is a pleasure for me to receive a letter with your chiddushim, but what can I do? Not only has my health not been so good lately, but I am also very, very busy -- aside from the yeshiva -- [in a matter] where I am greatly needed and which I cannot refuse. And if I have any free time, it is the only chance I have to study topics not covered in the yeshiva, and I also write down a very few chiddushim that occur to me, and all of this takes time, so you will certainly forgive me for my failure to reply to several of the letters you sent.

How is the family? How is the child sheyichye doing?

I remain with great blessings and wishes of much success in whatever is necessary.

From I who love, value and respect you,

Elozor Menachem Man Shach

(This letter was generously provided by his grandson, Rav Osher Bergman. All rights reserved.)


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