Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Teves 5763 - December 25, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Relationship between Father-In-Law and Son-In- Law -- A Torah View

by his grandson HaRav Chaim Charlap

HaGaon HaRav Mordecai Gifter zt"l, Rosh Yeshivas Telshe And HaGaon HaRav Ephraim Eisenberg zt"l Yeshivas Ner Yisroel

The Second Yahrtzeit of HaRav Mordecai Gifter zt"l: 23 Teves

Two years have gone by since the passing of Rosh Mishpachteinu, a leader of Klal Yisroel, the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Mordecai Gifter, zt"l. What more can be said? Yet, one aspect of his life has not been addressed: his warm and deep relationship with his first son- in-law, HaRav Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l, a master maggid shiur at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, who was niftar this past year on 16 Sivan 5762.

My father-in-law, HaRav Ephraim, zt"l, was a talmid muvhak of HaRav Yaakov Ruderman, zt"l, founder and rosh yeshivas Ner Yisroel. HaRav Ruderman loved his prize student and suggested him as a son-in-law to his close friend HaRav Gifter. After the engagement, HaRav Gifter wrote a letter to the Steipler, zt"l informing him of the shidduch. He asked the Steipler to please send a telegram to the chosson and kalla to give them a brochoh. The Steipler answered Rav Gifter, "Although it is difficult for me to stand in line in the Post Office, I know I am obligated to do so out of respect for Rav Gifter's greatness in Torah."

The Steipler then wrote a heartwarming brochoh: "May they be zocheh to a beautiful marriage . . . upright children . . . good fortune in ruchniyus and gashmiyus . . . May the chosson . . . grow in Torah and yiras Shomayim and be marbitz Torah in Klal Yisroel."

The Steipler's brochoh was fulfilled and Rav Ephraim zt"l became an exceptional marbitz Torah and molded hundreds of talmidim in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

HaRav Gifter left a treasure trove of letters written to HaRav Ephraim's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Herman (Chaim) Eisenberg z"l, founders of Torah education in Hartford, Connecticut. These letters are testimony to HaRav Gifter's great love of my father-in-law, HaRav Ephraim. In one letter the Zeide writes: "Ephraim's Torah is of inestimable value. I consider him a yochid segula b"H in many respects."

He then relates the following story that has been passed down for generations in our family. Our great- great-grandfather, R' Leizer Telzer, married the daughter of R' Avrohom Itzel Novazer zt"l, a dayan in Kovno. His father-in- law helped him financially for many years as the family grew. Once his mother-in-law asked, "How long will we continue to support him? When will he go out and get a rabbonus?"

Reb Avrohom Itzel answered, "I do not know if he is living from us or we live from him." Meaning, HaRav Gifter explained, in the zchus of his learning we live.

The day that Reb Leizer left for his first position as a rov, his father-in-law passed away. This is our mesorah.

Then he added: "I consider Ephraim's Torah a zchus for all of us."

This is how the Torah wants us to view our children who are sitting and learning. We are being sustained by them.

A similar lesson can be learned from the following story I heard from a close talmid of Maran HaRav Shach, zt"l. Once a talmid came to HaRav Shach in despair. Two of his children were suffering from a serious medical condition. The extreme burden of the situation left him financially and physically drained. HaRav Shach told him, "The best chizuk I can give is to tell you a story I heard from my uncle HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l. One of his disciples in Kletsk had a paralyzed daughter. The care involved was enormous. Every motzei Yom Kippur he would go to HaRav Isser Zalman for chizuk -- moral support. Rav Isser Zalman would dance with him, singing the famous tune of the Vilna Ger Tzedek. One motzei Yom Kippur the man refused to dance, saying that he could bear no more. A short time later his daughter passed away, and it didn't take long before the man died too. Rav Isser Zalman then pointed out that we never know who is sustaining whom. This man thought he was supporting his daughter and all the time his daughter was the one who gave him life."

In another letter the Zeide writes: "I spoke yesterday with the dear chosson who is so close to my heart, Ephraim, and I told him that I bought for him a Shas just like my own, b"H. I told him that all my hopes and tefillos are that he should become great in Torah according to the inherent talents that Hashem gave him. Therefore, I am giving him the materials needed, i.e., all of Shas, and his job is to simply learn and become a boki in Shas."

He also writes, "I pray with all my might that our grandson . . . will grow up to be a gaon and tzaddik, and that our granddaughter . . . will be worthy to be the wife of a gaon and tzaddik because that is the purpose of our being."

In the Zeide's letters we not only see the fervent tefillos of a grandfather for the success of his grandchildren, we see the Torah view of a godol -- that the whole purpose of our being is Torah and mitzvos.

From where do these values come? When my father-in-law, HaRav Ephraim, was maspid the Zeide, HaRav Gifter, he started with a question that he heard from the Zeide on the posuk " . . . Amolek came and fought with Yisroel in Refidim . . . "(Beshalach 17:8). Chazal tell us in Sanhedrin (106a) that the word "Refidim" is coming to indicate to us that Klal Yisroel was lax in Torah learning. The Zeide asks, "How could they be weak in Torah when this incident took place before the Torah was even given?"

He explains that the period between Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah was a time of anticipation for Kabolas HaTorah. In order to be zocheh to Torah one must yearn for Torah. One's Torah study must be accompanied by great enthusiasm, for that is the proof that the Torah is truly part of him. Klal Yisroel was lacking in its anticipation for Kabolas HaTorah.

HaRav Ephraim went on to say that with this the Zeide explains what Tosafos says in Brochos. When one makes a brochoh in the morning on learning Torah and then goes out to do his errands, he need not make a new brochoh upon returning to learn because the errands are not considered an interruption. The Zeide reasons: by a ben Torah there is nothing other than Torah. Everything a ben Torah does (eating, sleeping, etc.) is for the purpose of returning to the beis medrash.

If I may add, the Rambam (Talmud Torah 3) says, "For a mitzvah that cannot be done by others one is permitted to leave the beis medrash. After completing the mitzvah he returns to his studying." The question is, it is obvious that when he finishes he should return to his learning. Why does the Rambam need to mention this? The popular answer is that the Rambam is telling us that the ben Torah's return is a precondition for the hetter to leave the beis medrash.

I think the explanation is deeper, based on the insight above. The Rambam is telling us that the whole hetter for leaving the beis medrash is based on the fact that even when the ben Torah is out, he is constantly yearning to return. Therefore, his leaving is not considered an interruption.

My father-in-law's hesped of the Zeide was also, in effect, a description of himself. Both led a life of continuous Torah learning without interruption -- a life in which discontinuity was not possible, because everything was done for the purpose of returning to Torah study. This is the family legacy the Zeide zt"l and my father-in-law left us -- that through striving for Torah comes greatness in Torah and the understanding of the purpose of one's being.

With enthusiasm for Torah we grow to become fathers who value sons who sustain the world with Torah learning. It is an inheritance that is everlasting -- passed on from father to son to grandson. Ad Bi'as HaGoel. Yehi zichrom boruch.

NOT JUST A REBBE: A Tribute to HaRav Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l, Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, Baltimore

by his son-in-law HaRav Chaim Charlap

Shortly after Shavuos, the Yom Tov marking the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai, the Torah world mourned the loss of a unique marbitz Torah, my father-in-law, HaGaon HaRav Ephraim Eisenberg zt"l. It was a loss for the Torah world at large, and particularly for Yeshivas Ner Yisroel where HaRav Ephraim was marbitz Torah for over 35 years.

A native of Hartford, Connecticut, HaRav Ephraim arrived at Ner Yisroel as a student in 1957 and soon distinguished himself for his diligence in the study of Torah. He became a talmid muvhak of the rosh hayeshiva HaRav Ruderman, zt"l. HaRav Ephraim was the fulfillment of the dream and vision of HaRav Ruderman in the founding of Ner Yisroel -- that American boys could become Torah scholars of the caliber of the Talmudic scholars of pre-war European Lithuanian yeshivos.

During and after the shiva, dozens of letters poured in from talmidim. One talmid wrote, "I recall a private conversation with Maran the Rosh Hayeshiva Rav Ruderman, zt"l. He was emphasizing that the real goal of a yeshiva is to produce an odom godol. He pointed to R' Ephraim as proof that this goal can be achieved. There was no mistaking the pride in his voice that he was zoche to have such a talmid."

Another talmid wrote, "I once told Reb Ephraim, `I'm an all-American kid. What do I have to do with a life in the Yeshiva world?' Reb Ephraim answered, `I was also an all- American kid, and so was my shver. If we did it so can you.' "

Molding Talmidim

Reb Ephraim molded his talmidim and taught them how to learn. "Rebbe expected nothing less than 100 percent effort from all of his talmidim just as he himself gave to learning Torah.

"He once got very upset in shiur because he felt that we were not putting in the proper amount of effort. It was the first time I saw him visibly upset. He said, `Do you want me to give you the gemora on a silver tray? It won't mean anything to you if I do that. I want it to become your Torah and that will only happen if you work on it.' That was how Rebbe gave shiur -- solely with the needs of his talmidim in mind. He would go over every stage of the gemora and explain what problems we ourselves should have with it. He would very carefully show us how to take apart a gemora and rebuild it."

"As a talmid in R' Ephraim's shiur I saw every day the all-consuming ahava he had for Torah. When he presented a difficulty in a sugya and a bochur suggested a solution he found favor with, his eyes lit up with excitement. `Ah, that's very good, that's the pshat takka; did the oilom hear what he said?'

"You felt a terrific aliya when Rebbi liked what you had to say."

HaRav Ephraim did more -- he gave over his yiras Shomayim and ahavas haTorah to his talmidim. The Zeide, HaRav Mordecai Gifter zt"l discusses the Mishna in Pirkei Ovos (Perek 5): "Anyone who acts in three characteristic ways is among the students of Avrohom Ovinu, and anyone who acts in three opposite ways is among the students of the wicked Bilom . . . etc. A bad eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul are the ways of the wicked Bilom's students."

The Zeide asks, "Must one learn bad traits from the most wicked person? Bad traits can be learned from anyone. What then is the proof that one with bad traits is a student of the wicked Bilom?

"The mishna is not talking about a teacher of bad traits. Rather, the mishna is speaking of a teacher of wisdom. Chazal are telling us that it's not enough to learn Torah from one who knows how to say a good shiur, and to learn the traits necessary for life from someone else. This is not possible, for the two are inseparable. When one learns Torah from a rebbe, the rebbe's whole life style is transferred to his talmidim, with all his traits. That is what Chazal are teaching us.

"If we see a student with bad traits, we can be sure he is a student of the wicked Bilom, because with the wisdom he acquires the traits of his mentor. On the other hand, if we see a student with good traits, he must be a student of Avraham Ovinu."

From the character traits of HaRav Ephraim's talmidim it is obvious that they are talmidim of Avraham Ovinu, for Reb Ephraim gave over his whole life style to his talmidim.

A talmid wrote, "Rebbe not only taught us Torah, he taught us a way of life. He personified every vort he told us. I used to wait all week just to be able to go to his house on Shabbos night to hear how I should live my life and how I could better myself in my avodas Hashem."

Battling for Growth

On Chanukah HaRav Ephraim taught his talmidim the key to growth. He asked, "Why in Al Hanissim do we thank Hashem for the battles (ve'al hamilchomos)? War is devastating. Why would we give praise to it?

"A person's aliya in ruchniyus is only through battles and struggles. Without those fights a person would never grow. That is why we thank Hashem for milchomos -- because only through the milchomos can we grow."

HaRav Ephraim's refrain throughout his illness was, "We have to give praise to Hashem for every situation because every opportunity in life is a chance for growth."

HaRav Ephraim taught us never to be content with our growth; always to strive for more. The medrash says that at the building of the Mishkan Moshe Rabbenu gave Klal Yisroel a brochoh that they be free of the yetzer hora. HaRav Ephraim asked, "Why did Klal Yisroel need this brochoh at such a moment? What is the meaning of this yetzer hora?

"The answer is simple. Moshe was afraid that Klal Yisroel would be affected by complacency. The Mishkan, having been erected, might cause Klal Yisroel to feel that their goal had been reached. The yetzer hora wants us to feel satisfied with what we have accomplished. But we must strive to go higher and higher. The erection of the Mishkan should only be used as a stepping stone to higher achievements."

Never complacent with his accomplishments, HaRav Ephraim always strove for more. And he demanded this effort from his children and talmidim.

Surviving in a Working Environment

HaRav Ephraim taught his talmidim not only how to grow in the beis medrash, but also how to survive in a working environment. A talmid wrote, "Without a doubt, the only way that I have been able to survive in a working environment has been my sedorim around working hours. I can tell you first hand that Reb Ephraim, zt"l is very much responsible for the fact that I take my current sedorim seriously . . . A long work day can tire one out and make it difficult to learn with the same enthusiasm. I feel that my time in yeshiva with Reb Ephraim has enabled me to keep serious about my learning. The images of Reb Ephraim shtaiging, singing with true joy as he learned, his geshmak at saying or listening to chiddushim have inspired me. Those images, clear as yesterday, continue to provide me with the chizuk that I need.

"To me, Reb Ephraim was the epitome of what a Rebbe should be. He laid the foundation for the talmid to continue growth in Torah and ruchniyus, even after he leaves the yeshiva."

A Father to his Talmidim

Chazal teach us, "When one teaches Torah to a student it is considered as if he is his own child." (Sanhedrin 19b) The Zeide, HaRav Gifter, zt"l, would always relate the love our great-grandfather Rav Leizer Gordon, zt"l had for his talmidim.

Once a man came to the yeshiva looking for a shidduch for his daughter. He entered the beis medrash with Reb Leizer and inquired about a particular boy. "He is my ben yochid," was the reply.

The man then inquired about a number of other boys. The answer was always the same: "He is my ben yochid."

The man was perplexed. Reb Leizer explained, "Each of my talmidim is my ben yochid."

To HaRav Ephraim every talmid was a ben yochid. "As a talmid, I was zocheh to see firsthand how Rebbe truly loved all of his talmidim and treated them like his very own sons. Whenever Rebbe would invite me over for a meal he would always say, `I have to take care of your physical needs the same way I take care of your spiritual needs.'

"Every zman Rebbe would come over to me and ask who I planned on learning with. Sometimes Rebbe would suggest that the person that I was thinking of was not the best for me and recommend someone else.

"Once I told Rebbe that I did not have a chavrusa. He saw someone who he thought would be perfect for me on the opposite side of the beis medrash. I never saw Rebbe run so fast.

"Rebbe would never ask me where I was holding in my learning. He would always say, `How are you?' (in Yiddish) which meant `Where are you holding in learning?' To Rebbe, how your learning was and how you were, was one and the same.

"I felt so comfortable with Rebbe that I would go to him with any personal question that I had. He had all the time in the world for me. No question was too small for him to deal with. After each date he would ask me how it went and if I think that this would be a good shidduch for my long term plans of learning.

"To Rebbe there was only one concern in life -- growing in Torah. Furthermore, he would always make sure that I discussed the pros and cons of each potential shidduch with his Rebbetzin.

"Rebbe's gadlus wasn't confined to who he was and what he did. His gadlus was in the fact that he touched so many people and each of those people thought Rebbe was theirs."

Talking to Hashem

HaRav Ephraim served as shaliach tzibbur for the yeshiva on the Yomim Noraim. His tefillos pierced the hearts of the tzibbur which realized the pureness of his kavonoh.

"This Rosh Hashana was a very difficult one for me. I missed the tears that Rebbi's heartfelt shacharis used to bring to my eyes. Everyone knew that Rebbi was talking straight to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. There was nothing blocking his tefillos. His yiras Shomayim was heard and felt in every word that he said. He was a true servant standing in front of his master."

A daughter relates, "Witnessing my father saying Krias Shema on Friday nights after the seuda, was a profound chinuch in kabolas ol malchus shomayim. The intense concentration and careful enunciation required by halacha came to life and made a lasting impression on me."

Prompted by his own yearning for closeness to Hashem, HaRav Ephraim used to ask, "Why is it that we are judged on Rosh Hashana -- the beginning of the year -- and not at the end of the year? Wouldn't it make sense to finish up the old cheshbon before we start a new one?"

He would answer, "This is an ultimate kindness from Hashem. With a fresh start comes a new feeling of success. Hashem gives us the opportunity every year to do teshuva at a time when we feel rejuvenated, as opposed to the end of the year when we are tired and burnt out."

With this yesod, he explained the reason that Klal Yisroel accepts upon themselves chumros during Aseres Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, even though they do not expect to keep them the rest of the year. (Shulchan Oruch Or HaChaim 503).

He asked, "Are we trying to fool Hashem? Doesn't He know that we are not going to continue keeping those chumros throughout the year?"

He answered that these stringencies were for us. We accept them to bring freshness and fervor to our teshuva.

Ahavas HaTorah

Together with his yiras Shomayim came a tremendous ahavas haTorah. He well understood that people need outlets and he didn't condemn this need per se. But it gave him such frustration if a boy pursued other endeavors with great enthusiasm. "If only he would give himself a chance to develop a taste for Torah, he would realize there is really no greater satisfaction in this world."

His children relate, "When we were kids, we would lay in bed at night listening to the melody of my father's Torah. It set the tone in the house and made us feel secure and calm."

Even the neighbors mentioned their appreciation of this experience. "At night I would hear HaRav Ephraim singing while he was learning. I would sit in my living room and just listen."

Then, every morning he would get up very early. He would turn up the steam so we wouldn't wake up cold and then spend an hour learning before shacharis.

Even his bedtime stories were filled with ahavas haTorah. They were such a success that now the grandchildren tell the stories over and over again.

Hakoras Hatov

Chazal tell us that Rav Akiva told his talmidim, "My Torah and your Torah belong to my wife, for it is she who allowed me to go and learn." HaRav Ephraim transmitted this to his talmidim.

He would say that the reason the wife lights the candles every Shabbos is that light represents potential and it is the wife who brings out the potential in her husband.

A talmid wrote, "Rebbe truly felt and understood that you, his Rebbetzin, dedicated your entire life to helping him become the Torah giant that he was. For that we are truly thankful and indebted to you."

A Godol in Bitochon

HaRav Ephraim never felt he needed anything more than what the Ribono Shel Olom had already given him. Even in his kollel years, when his parents would ask if he needed assistance, he would answer, "Boruch Hashem I have everything I need."

He constantly emphasized to us children to focus on the priorities in life. We have to take care of our responsibilities in ruchniyus and Hashem will take care of the rest. It was as basic as bread and water to him. He didn't preach -- he was an example.

During his painful illness he was heard whispering pesukim such as, "Hu heitiv, Hu meitiv, Hu yeitiv lonu" (Hashem did good, He does good, and He will do good to us).

When people would ask how he was feeling, he had two ready answers. On a good day he answered, "Chosh berosho ya'asok beTorah (The remedy for a headache is to learn Torah)."

And on a day of greater suffering, he answered, "Yeshuas Hashem keheref 'ayin (Hashem's salvation can come in the blink of an eye)."

As he was being wheeled into a risky surgery, he was saying, "Ein od milvado" (Hashem is the One and Only on Whom to depend).

At the shiva, his sister Mrs. Shultz related, "Whenever I would say to him, `It will be okay,' he would answer, `It's already good. Im yirtzeh Hashem it will be even better.'"

A talmid, Ariel Avrech (may Hashem send him a refuah sheleimoh) recalled, "Shortly after Reb Efraim first fell ill I visited him at home. It was then that I glimpsed the full extent of his temimus. With all he had been through, he had not one complaint. His simchas hachaim came from his Torah and from his closeness to Hakodosh Boruch Hu; physical ailments could do nothing to harm that."

"How can I even attempt to describe the shver?" HaRav Ephraim's son-in-law HaRav Aaron Landsberg poignantly asked in his hesped. "His gadlus is far beyond my understanding. The more I got to know him, the more I realized how much more there was to learn from him."

And the more we try to describe the Rebbe, the father, the ben Odom, the more we discover. When all is said and done, we still have not completely described this odom godol.

"As I seek to raise my growing family in the ways of Hashem, I am guided by what I have learned from Reb Ephraim. It may be only after many generations that the true extent of how I was affected by him is realized. I am sure I am but one of many of hundreds of talmidim who feel this way."

By applying the lessons we have learned from HaRav Ephraim, we hope to be a zchus for his neshomoh.

We have lost our father. The entire world has lost an odom godol. Have we the strength to say: "Hu heitiv, Hu meitiv, Hu yeitiv lonu"?

Yehi Zichro Boruch.

Excerpts from a Letter from the Steipler to HaRav Gifter

. . . Your letter arrived and I am answering on the spot because of the kovod.

[The letter asked for a brochoh for the chosson and kallah.] Sending a telegram is hard for me because of the difficulty in going to the post office and standing in line (and I have no one to send). And in any case, because of the [mitzvas] asei of kovod haTorah I would have to answer immediately but since they did not include the address, what could I do?

And I hereby bless the dear couple . . .

Who awaits the mercy of Hashem Yisborach and a Geulah Sheleimoh speedily in our days,

Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky

And to be mefayeis da'ato that the telegram was not received in time I will send bli neder my sefer Kehillos Yaakov on Bovo Metzia that was published in the last year, as a memento of friendship.


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