Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Sivan 5764 - June 9, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Oleinu Leshabeiach on Sefer Bamidbar

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The recently released, Oleinu Leshabeiach on Bamidbor is the fourth volume in the series based on the material of HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein, arranged and edited by R' Moshe Michoel Tzoren.

As the previous volumes, this one is full of stories, practices and facts about gedolei Yisroel of this and previous generations. They are illuminating, inspiring and very authentic, written in the language of the heart, heavily intertwined with open and subtle mussar. As in the previous volumes, this also has a section of responsa of HaRav Zilberstein, the rov of Ramat Elchonon, Bnei Brak, directly relevant to these times.

All that Maran R' Chaim, ztvk'l, Said, Came True

In Yeshivas Volozhin, some of the boys used to go to the tischen held by the Admor R' Mordechai of Lechovitz, a widely revered chassidic leader, a journey of many hours. R' Chaim was not pleased with this and forbade the students to leave the yeshiva for this purpose.

One time, the Rosh Yeshiva had to go away for Shabbos. The students seized the opportunity to leave, as well, and go to Lechovitz to the Admor.

Hashem ordained it that on their way home, who should alight in their very coach but R' Chaim, himself, also homebound. They quavered at the sight, but he merely smiled at them and asked them genially what they had seen in Lechovitz.

They eagerly began to describe their deep impressions of their visit and cited several examples of amazing ruach hakodesh they had witnessed on the part of the Rebbe. The Rosh Yeshiva listened and then said, "And for that you had to leave the yeshiva and travel all that distance? I can also show you similar examples of prophetic insight."

Their eyes opened wide in amazement and they were `all ears' as their rosh yeshiva began a vivid, detailed description, "Indeed, at this very moment, I can tell you exactly what is going on in my home. My rebbetzin is spanking one of our children for having sat in my seat and transgressed kibbud ov."

The students took note of the exact time this was said, intending to verify it. Upon reaching Volozhin, they quickly went to the home of the rosh yeshiva and learned, to their astonishment, that what they had heard was perfectly true. He had not omitted or changed a single detail.

When they returned to yeshiva, R' Chaim called in the students for a serious talk, in order to explain to them that such supernatural vision stemmed from the prodigious power inherent in Torah. When a person studies Torah purely for its sake, he went on to emphasize, he gains a great many things, including the power to dominate nature and be above it.

The Chosson Prayed

In 5663, a precious Jew by the name of R' Moshe Gertner zt'l passed away in Bnei Brak. A marvelous story is told about him during the period he was studying in Yeshivas Ponovezh.

R' Moshe was extremely punctilious in attending every single mussar talk given by the Mashgiach. He never missed a shiur or a shmuess throughout the years, and his determined devotion gained wide acclaim throughout the yeshiva. "The world can go under," people would say, "but R' Moshe will be there, no matter what!"

He was able to follow through even during the period of his engagement and never took advantage of extenuating circumstances which would surely have been recognized as valid reasons for absence. Like a loyal soldier, he appeared at all the Rosh Yeshiva's shiurim and the shmuessen of the Mashgiach of Ponovezh, Maran R' Yechezkel Levenstein ztvk'l.

R' Moshe's wedding was to take place on a Thursday, and his mother was due to arrive from America the day before. Our chosson was faced with a serious dilemma: On Wednesdays, the Mashgiach always gave a talk. What should he do? Miss it for the first time? But what about his mother? How could he let her arrive and not be there to greet her?

R' Moshe decided to cast the decision upon the Mashgiach and do whatever he advised. R' Chatzkel said that his first duty in this case was towards his mother and that he must go to the airport to pick her up.

The chosson bowed to this decision with a heavy heart but went off to pray to Hashem that somehow, he be able to fulfill both obligations -- even though this seemed impossible.

The talk was scheduled for 7 p.m. and the plane was scheduled to land at the same hour. R' Moshe decided to go to the airport two hours early -- that is, at five -- and await his mother's arrival. Who knows?

The details of this story were told by R' Osher Zelig Rubinstein, a Ponovezher living in Yerushalayim who was a chavrusa of R' Moshe Gertner at the time. R' Moshe sat in the large lobby at Ben-Gurion airport when suddenly, precisely at 5:00, the loudspeaker announced the arrival of his mother's flight. He got up to verify it and sure enough, the passengers began coming out. Minutes later, he was reunited with his mother.

The plane had made the trip in two hours less than usual, setting an unprecedented record for this routine transatlantic flight!

R' Moshe managed to question the pilot as to how this had happened. He replied, "To tell the truth, I can't explain it, myself. In all of my twenty-seven years flying this route, I have never seen anything like this. A very strong southerly wind just seemed to push us along. I felt as if we were being propelled forward all the time by that very wind." He shrugged his shoulders in sheer amazement and walked off.

The pilot couldn't explain it. But R' Moshe Gertner could. The chosson knew. This was, in fact, very natural and normal in the eyes of a chosson who, twenty-hours before his chuppah, is vitally concerned about missing the Mashgiach's talk for the very first time and prays with all his heart that he be able to fulfill his filial obligation and still, somehow, be able to attend the shmuess.

The practical lesson we must derive from this amazing tale is in recognizing the tremendous power of Torah. Here sits a yeshiva bochur in Ponovezh, and decides that he wishes, at all costs, to be present at the Mashgiach's talk. And Heaven moves heaven and earth, so to speak, and changes the course of nature, shifts the realities of technology, just in order to satisfy him!

There is yet another fascinating aspect to this story, which is that R' Gertner himself did not regard it as noteworthy in the least and therefore did not bother to tell his children. It was only revealed `incidentally' by his chavrusa, R' Rubinstein. And when R' Osher Zelig actually asked him why he never told his children, he merely replied, "What's so special about that, anyway? If Hashem can split the sea, why can't He push an airplane to go faster so that a ben Torah can adhere to his schedule of study and not miss anything?"

In other words: When a Torah scholar desires with all his heart and soul to utilize all of his strength and capabilities for the sake of Torah and to serve Hashem, nothing can prevent him from doing so, no natural force can stand in his way. He must simply desire it intensely enough and pray for it persistently enough, and Hashem will take care of the details.

"Who Says She Did Not Have Ulterior Motives?"

Even in this very generation, we are able to witness the fact that whoever adheres to Torah with all his being is capable of answering any question whatsoever.

A difficult question came to Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, involving a couple who had lived in harmony for many years until one day, the woman capriciously decided that she wished to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel. She opened up a copy of maseches Kesuvos (Perek 13:11) and showed her husband, "Anyone can force the other [spouse] to go to Eretz Yisroel." She then launched into a speech lauding the advantages of the Holy Land and the merit of living in it, and served him an ultimatum for their emigration.

The husband, established in the community, enjoying a prestigious position in his company with a handsome income, refused to make the move, but his wife was adamant that she insisted on going, even without him.

This is precisely what she did. Packing her belongings, she made the move all by herself. Her husband was incensed however, and demanded a divorce on the grounds that she was rebelling against him.

This question was brought before HaRav Eliashiv. On the surface, it seemed to lean in the woman's favor, but he surprised everyone by saying, "Who says that her motives for coming to Eretz Yisroel were pure, that she came here only for spiritual reasons?"

Friends and acquaintances in Brazil testified that these were truly her reasons for coming, and that she really wanted her husband to come, too, but R' Eliashiv was not convinced. "I believe she had ulterior motives for coming," he insisted.

There was no choice but to contact the rabbi of San Paulo and find out more about this couple. Something amazing was discovered: This woman was married to an elderly husband. According to Brazilian law, she would not inherit his estate after he passed away. However, in Eretz Yisroel she would inherit from him.

Suddenly, everything became clear. It was exactly as R' Eliashiv had surmised.

Each Apartment in a Different Corner of the Ghetto

The Nazis ym'sh had earmarked the Admor of Belz as a dangerous person and listed him for elimination. Seeking to protect their revered and beloved leader, R' Aharon, the chassidim whisked him away and kept on changing his whereabouts to confuse the Germans.

One of his way stations was in Budapest, Hungary, where he was hidden among fellow Jews. The chassidim rented an apartment for the Rebbe, but after a week he requested to move. He designated a place where he wished to live.

The chassidim dutifully fulfilled his request and found a suitable apartment. But to their amazement, after merely a week he asked to be transferred to yet another location, again indicating exactly where. The chassidim found him an apartment there and the rebbe was transferred there with his belongings.

Another week passed, and although no danger was in sight, he again asked to be moved and so he was relocated a fourth time, again according to his specification.

No one knew why the Rebbe was doing this, what he wished to accomplish. It all become clear however at the end of the war. The four locations represented the four corners of what became the ghetto that was erected in Budapest. It had become circumscribed by the Rebbe.

It is general knowledge that this particular ghetto enjoyed the highest rate of survival in all of Europe.

Maran HaRav Eliashiv Braces a Talmid Chochom

Among the many people who find themselves hospitalized, there are some who suffer so greatly that they cannot help but succumb to despair and wish that death put an end to their pain. How vital a mitzvah it is to encourage them and renew their will to live!

There was one particular talmid chochom, a most devout, G-d-fearing man, who became ill and was beset with terrible pain. When Maran HaRav Eliashiv came to visit him, he confided that he could no longer bear the pain and wished that death would release him.

Said the godol hador, "The Torah enjoins us to choose life, as it says, `And you shall choose life,' (Devorim 30:19). Many explanations have been said upon this, since it seems puzzling why the Torah needed to say it altogether. Does not every person naturally choose life? Are there people who choose death?

"The simple explanation of this commandment," said R' Eliashiv to the Torah scholar, "applies to people in your circumstances, people who are suffering excruciating pain and reach the stage where they can no longer bear it and seek death. Without the explicit commandment of the Torah to `choose life,' they would desire an end to such an existence. But the Torah tells us that in all circumstances one must desire to live and consciously choose to live."

Maran Eliashiv's words should mitigate the suffering of such people and instill in them a will to live, for the sake of Heaven. But his message has further- reaching implications.

Every person experiences times of unhappiness and dissatisfaction which stem from events that overtake him, even if they are not so extreme as to make him seek to die. During these periods, a person may become despondent, apathetic and unhappy. Life does not seem rosy to him and he feels generally depressed.

Even in such circumstances, during such moods, a person must not lose his zest for life but must "choose life." As R' Eliashiv said, "A person must choose to live and not despair of life."

There is another aspect which we can learn from his words and the manner in which he reassured and revitalized that scholar and that is that we can always find encouragement for any given situation in the very words of the Torah. R' Eliashiv was able to extract everything just from those two words, "Uvocharto bachayim -- You shall choose life."

This is the essence of everything; it embodies whatever one can ever need to know or do. It encompasses an entire weltaunschauung. It teaches us the approach that the Torah is the source of all the encouragement a Jew can want or need. We must also seek in it joy and life, and surely, we will find ourselves happier than any creature on earth -- even if at times, we are beset by suffering and bitter pain, G-d forbid.

They Began Dancing with Vigor

R' Shalom Schwadron's love for Torah was immense, boundless, incredible. Among his personal diaries can be found entries stating that he had studied seventy pages of gemora in one week. His prodigious abilities stood by him to sustain such diligence and to acquire expertise in all areas of Torah.

Aside from his close ties with all contemporary gedolim and the study partnerships which he established with giants of spiritual stature, he also enjoyed a very deep and abiding relationship with his brother-in-law, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l who lived in the house adjoining that of R' Shulum, as he affectionately called him. For hours on end, these two great minds would seclude themselves and revel in the treasures and pleasures of vigorous Torah exchange.

Shaarei Chessed old-timers recall the memorable night when snowflakes embellished the quaint old houses of the neighborhood and a biting cold pierced the bones, shooing the last of the study stalwarts into their protective homes. Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and HaRav Sholom Schwadron were the only figures braving the elements. There they were, out in the fierce cold -- dancing in the snow, no less! And the time? Two a.m.

It all began, so tells us R' Sholom's son, in the home of R' Shlomo Zalman, with heavy knocking upon the window-pane. At first, the family thought it was snow turned to hail, but the knocking increased. They went to the frosted window to see what could be causing the strange ruckus in the middle of the night. To their astonishment, there in the snow stood R' Shulum, the brother-in-law, screaming at the top of his lungs, "R' Shlomo Zalman, open up! R' Shlomo Zalman, open up, already!"

R' Shlomo Zalman had already retired for the night. But out of respect and affection for his brother-in-law, he got out of bed and went to open the door. Breathless, overwrought with emotion, R' Shulum announced that he had just been struck by a brilliant method of explaining a most difficult subject. He simply had to tell it to someone!

Not wanting to disturb the rest of the family which was trying to get a night's sleep, R' Shlomo Zalman decided to step outside and hear what R' Shulum had innovated. And so the two stood there, in the falling snow, one expounding, the other avidly listening.

It was not all smooth. They stood there for a long time, arguing the matter back and forth to clarify it even further. Finally, everything fell into perfect place, to their united satisfaction. Overjoyed, his face beaming, R' Shulum turned to his brother-in-law and said, "Nu, don't you think this deserves a celebration? Let's dance to our solution!"

And the two clasped hands and broke out in an energetic dance. They danced and danced, oblivious of the snowflakes piling upon their houserobes.

R' Yitzchok Elchonon's `Macher'

Whoever is involved in collecting funds for widows and orphans merits a mighty measure of Heavenly favor and good will. The son of HaRav Reuven Fein zt'l tells the following story related to him by his illustrious father:

HaRav Reuven Fein studied in Yeshivas Mir in Lithuania. During the war, the yeshiva dispersed to several small towns so as not to attract the attention of the enemy and the students resumed their study in these locations. R' Reuven lodged in the home of a simple man who told him a story that happened to HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector ztvk'l.

Jews lived in mortal fear of being mobilized into the army in those days, which was a virtual spiritual, if not physical, death sentence. The only choice parents had to free their sons from the draft was a payoff. But huge sums were needed for this bribe. Not everyone could put together such huge sums. Besides which, there was the risk of it being seized outright and the givers punished for bribing an official!

In these situations, wealthy men found it best to use intermediaries, people with connections and glib tongues who could finagle the draft exemptions in the best possible way. Those who proved themselves adept at this were called machers or clever go-betweens.

A rich man once came to R' Yitzchok Elchonon with the woeful tale that his son had been served a draft notice. The son was a very learned and studious scholar and it was out of the question that he enter the army!

"I have at my disposal a large sum of money to buy his release. The problem is that I don't know how to go about doing it. I am afraid of losing the money altogether if this is not done right. The authorities might accuse me of bribery and where will I be then? What should I do?" he wailed.

"I know a very successful macher," said R' Yitzchok Elchonon. "He will know exactly how to transfer the money so that it will do the job in the best manner possible. Just leave it to me. Give me the money and rest assured that I'll take care of this for you."

The rich man was overjoyed. He ran home and brought an envelope thick with bills, which he handed over to the Rov.

A short while later, the rich man received an official letter stating that the son had been released from military service. Relieved and grateful to his intermediary, he rushed to tell R' Yitzchok Elchonon the wonderful news and to thank him profusely.

"If the Rov has such a successful macher, why doesn't he publicize his name so others can avail themselves of his excellent service?" he asked.

R' Yitzchok Elchonon smiled and said, "I'll let you in on a secret. Just before you came to me, I had an orphan girl in the other room who had just come in. She told me, amidst flowing tears, that no one wished to marry her since she was penniless and had no dowry whatsoever.

"I took the money you gave me and handed it over to her. She thanked me profusely and heaped a great many blessings and good wishes upon my head. Can you properly assess the value of such blessings coming from the mouth of a poor orphan? No, you cannot possibly know how great they are. In fact, Hashem promises a great reward to whoever helps widows and orphans. I understood that if you brought a large sum at this propitious time, it would stand you in good stead and that her blessings would have tremendous effect. As you see, your son was, indeed, released from the army!"

Who, these days, is not beset by all kinds of troubles? Is it not elementary that if people undertake to help widows and orphans that they will be helped in turn?

An Immediate Response for France

One day, Kollel Beis Dovid in Holon of HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein received an urgent fax requiring an immediate halachic ruling. A certain vital question had arisen involving the Jewish community in France and they were awaiting instructions regarding this decisive matter.

The people were participating at that very moment in a hachnosas sefer Torah ceremony that was taking place in a thriving Jewish community. Everyone in the city -- men, women and children -- had turned out to take part in the celebration. Cheder children were leading the procession with burning torches, and emotions ran high and fervent.

Amidst this celebration, a catastrophe occurred: the sefer Torah was dropped and the festivities were halted in one dreadful moment. People were stunned, shocked, speechless. The question that was sent to HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein was as follows:

The halochoh states that whoever is present when a sefer Torah is dropped is required to fast. Should all the festivities cease at once, asked the communal representatives? Should the parade be dispersed and the fasting begin immediately? Perhaps there was a way to carry on with the celebration and postpone the fasting for later. What to do?

The Rov replied that he had heard several times in the past from the mouth of his father-in-law HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv that when one was faced with two concurrent events, one of them with an earlier precedent than the other, one must carry on with the first and then proceed to deal with the second.

In this case, the French communal trustees were told, since the joyous procession for welcoming a new sefer Torah to its abode has its source in Nevi'im, and fasting for a fallen scroll is only brought in the Mogen Avrohom in the name of poskim, one should carry on with the festivities as before and begin fasting only on the morrow.

"I also Have a Decoration for the Succa"

One of the greatest, most difficult trials encountered by the Jews who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century was the sanctity of Shabbos. Not only was there a lack of work opportunities, but even those that were available demanded that employees work seven days a week.

Whoever refused to do so was dismissed and had to seek another job. Very often, families reached the point of starvation. People would be newly employed at the beginning of the week, only to be fired on Friday and to resume the cycle all over the following Sunday -- if they were fortunate enough to find work.

Many Jews stood their ground staunchly and courageously. Time after time, they were dismissed from their jobs and had to hope and pray they would find something after Shabbos. One particular Jew was very skilled in a certain area and was always eagerly hired, but his employers never hesitated to fire him when he refused to work on Shabbos.

Each time this particular Jew was dismissed, he would ask his employer to write him a note explaining that he refused to work on Saturday. They did not mind doing so and our friend began a collection of such papers.

Of what use were these signed notes? To whom did he intend to show them? What significance did they possess to anyone? When asked these questions outright, he would reply, "Just wait and see."

His secret was revealed on erev Succos. When his children began decorating the succah, he asked them to save a wall for him. "I want to hang my special decoration in the most prominent place, for all to see."

He was not artistic. They had not seen him prepare any decoration. What did he have in mind? They soon saw. He went to the drawer where he kept his papers and took out a whole packet of notes, his dismissal notes. "This is the nicest decoration I can hang up in our succah. This proves to Hashem that we believe He is our Provider. It shows my love for His commandment to keep the Shabbos and to do His will. It demonstrates my full faith in Him."

It is noteworthy to say that all of the children and grandchildren of this man grew up to be great Torah scholars and established exemplary families of devout Jews -- which cannot be said of many Jews in those trying times.

HaRav Eliashiv Would not Use the Bookcase

The well known Belzer chossid [and Knesset Member] R' Yisroel Eichler told that thirty years ago, the members of R' Eliashiv's family decided to buy him a bookcase for a gift. Nothing fancy -- just a set of wooden shelves supported by two metal poles, but they could hardly afford this either. They arranged with the owners of this furniture store in Geula, R' Eichler's parents, to pay for it in several installments.

The shelves were duly delivered to his home but shortly after, the Rebbetzin came to the store with money in her hand. She wanted to pay. "But it was already taken care of by your children," insisted Mr. Eichler.

"My husband says he knows that it is a gift to be paid out in installments, but he insists on paying for the transportation, at least," she explained.

HaRav Eliashiv had explained that even though the cost of the bookcase had been divided into equal payments, this included the transportation as well. However, he refused to use the bookcase unless the transportation fee was paid out fully in advance, since he intended to benefit from it directly. According to the halochoh, one must pay the fee of a job performed on the day it is performed. Unless this cost was covered in cash, he refused to make use of the gift.

"The Image of the Chofetz Chaim's Face"

It was during one of the mass rallies staged by Toda'ah for the children of Bnei Brak, taking place in the Ohel Kedoshim building at the foot of the Yeshivas Ponovezh grounds, that R' Mordechai Blau went up to the home of Maran HaRav Shach ztvk'l to plead with him to make an appearance before the thousands of children gathered there.

Very advanced in age and physically weak, HaRav Shach was reluctant to make the huge effort and was about to refuse, when in came HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Taub, one of the Rosh Yeshiva's close confidants.

"What do you say to this request?" asked R' Shach, knowing that R' Taub would take all the considerations into careful account.

R' Taub replied, "Who am I and what am I to tell the Rosh Yeshiva what to do? I can only repeat a story I heard from my own father-in-law, R' Michoel Fried (who also happens to be the father-in-law of HaRav Don Segal)."

His father-in-law experienced the gamut of suffering and horrors of the Holocaust, drinking the bitter dregs of the cup of wormwood to its final drops. He would repeatedly tell the family afterwards that the only thing that kept him going throughout this difficult period was a single event, the one time in his life that he saw Maran the Chofetz Chaim with his own eyes.

The glowing visage of that holy man, loving leader of the whole diaspora, was etched indelibly upon his memory.

"Each time I was threatened anew by the enemy, each time I had to witness the indescribable horrors of that Gehennom, I could only do one thing to maintain my equilibrium: I would pass before my mind's eye the holy face of the Chofetz Chaim and this alone filled me with the fortitude to keep on going. It suffused me with courage and gave me the power to overcome all the difficulties and bear all the suffering."

When HaRav Shach heard this, he immediately agreed to appear before the children. Despite his debility and age, it took him mere minutes to get to Ohel Kedoshim and go up to the podium.

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky's Advice for a Brochoh

A young Torah scholar had been married for many years without being blessed with children. He had visited all the holy sites, performed countless segulah suggestions, prayed fervently, asked numerous tzaddikim to intercede for him in prayer and blessing -- but nothing seemed to help.

This scholar had also visited HaRav Chaim Kanievsky several times. On his last visit, he had broken down in tears and begged for good advice as to what he could yet do that he hadn't already tried. He sobbed brokenly, waiting for an answer.

After a few moments punctuated by the man's weeping, R' Chaim spoke. He suggested that the man seek out someone who answered to the description of, "One who is insulted but does not answer back." He should ask that man for a blessing and this would help.

The man was greatly encouraged by these words and left the house in search for such a person. But it was not as easy as he thought at first. It was a search that would take some time, he learned.

One time, a vehement argument erupted between two men in a neighborhood in Bnei Brak. They could not settle their differences and the case was brought before almost all the rabbonim in Bnei Brak but the parties refused to accept the rulings.

Our young man attended the wedding of a relative and while all the guests were seated by the tables, a man entered the hall and whom should he see but the very subject of his dispute, his hated neighbor. He rushed up to him and began shouting and cursing him. He spoke so brashly and rudely that all the guests were stunned.

The man seated at the table, object of the venomous diatribe, continued to sit quietly without replying to the insults heaped upon him. The newcomer did not let up however, even though the other party was not defending himself.

All this was taking place close to the table where the childless man sat. He suddenly realized that this was the very opportunity he sought. He jumped to his feet and went over to the man being insulted, as if to make sure that he wouldn't reply. When the vehement diatribe continued on and on, the insulted party finally sought to call a halt to the disturbance and was about to answer. At this point, our scholar shouted, "Don't say anything! Don't answer him back. Do me a kindness and don't say a word to your accuser!"

The man looked at him in astonishment. He was about to ignore him and defend himself, but the stranger begged him again not to say a word. This repeated itself several times, throughout which the newcomer continued to rant and rave against his neighbor, while the stranger begged that he refrain from replying.

The accuser finally tired and left him alone. The childless man then asked the insulted man for a blessing and told him the advice he had been given by R' Chaim. The wedding guest was very surprised and confused by the entire episode but agreed to bless him that he have children.

Indeed, the blessing was fulfilled and nine months later a bris took place.


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