Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








In the Proximity of Maran R' Yitzchok Zeev of Brisk, Ztvk'l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twelve

The Daas Torah of the Generation: The Chief Rabbinate Will Not Lead Klal Yisroel

Maran's opposition to the Chief Rabbinate was not directed specifically against the figure of the Chief Rabbi: he regarded the very institution as something altogether negative and was, therefore, opposed to every act that might grant the chief rabbinate any stamp of approval or any measure of authority or leadership.

In 1941, the students of Yeshivas Mir succeeded in fleeing Poland and, with heavenly mercy, reaching Kobe, Japan. Since the area is near the halachic line for when the day changes - - providentially near what the nations of the world have recognized as the International Date Line — the question arose as to which day they should keep as Shabbos and, perhaps even more important, when to fast on Yom Kippur. The question was whether they are within the same day as we in Israel, only eighteen hours later, or they are after the border for the new day in which case they must begin their day six hours earlier than Eretz Yisroel.

This was especially relevant with regard to fasting on the upcoming Yom Kippur since one could not expect them to fast two days just to be on the halachic safe side. It was a question of pikuach nefesh.

Maran R' Yechezkel Levenstein ztvk'l, the Mashgiach of Mir, together with other rabbis, sent off a cable to HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel ztvk'l, rosh yeshivas Mir, and he referred the questions to the Chazon Ish ztvk'l for his final decision.

As is known, the Chazon Ish emphatically ruled that in Japan one must keep Shabbos eighteen hours later than Eretz Yisroel [according to the local time and calendar]. Conveying this ruling, he sent a cable on Erev Yom Kippur saying: "Dear Brothers, Eat on Wednesday and fast the Yom Kippur Fast on Thursday. And have no compunctions whatsoever (See his Kovetz Igros Vol. II, Number 167).

Maran R' Yitzchok Zeev concurred with the Chazon Ish, relying upon the opinion of his father, Maran HaRav Chaim and the Dayan of Brisk, R' Simcha Zelig Riger zt'l. But when the Chazon Ish was asked to affix his signature upon that telegram he refused to do so, because it was sent on Tuesday and he feared that it might reach its destination after they had already decided to usher in their `Yom Kippur.' Once they had begun the fast, they would not wish to break it, but would continue to fast for two consecutive days and this would be a life-threatening matter.

One of the rabbis who had been involved in this question presented it as well to the Chief Rabbi, HaRav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi Herzog zt'l. When he learned of this, Maran the Brisker Rov was very disturbed and inflamed at this rabbi, who was a prestigious figure and one of his close confidants. Maran felt it was forbidden to direct a question of this nature to the official rabbinate.

When that rabbi learned of his feelings, he immediately went to Maran and asked why he was so angry at him. Maran said, "I have a claim against you, I am full of rancor. I am very angry at you."

The rov was alarmed and asked, "What did I do? Why is the Rov angry at me?"

He replied, "It is written in Vayeishev, `And the butler told his dream to Yosef, and he said to him: In my dream, lo, there was a vine before me. And on the vine were three twining branches that blossomed, budded and ripened into clusters of grapes.' The gemora in Chulin 92 discusses this as follows:

"`R' Eliezer says: This vine represents the world. The three branches are the three Patriarchs: Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. The blossoms and buds are the Matriarchs and the grape clusters are the tribes. Said R' Yehoshua: The vine represents the Torah. The three branches are Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. The blossoms and buds are the Sanhedrin. The ripened clusters of grapes are the tzaddikim in each generation. Said R' Gamliel: We must still resort to the Modaii [in order to understand the dream] . . . R' Elozor Hamodaii says: The vine is Jerusalem. The three branches are the Mikdosh, the king and the Kohen Godol. The blossoms and fruit buds are the young pirchei kehuna and the ripened clusters of grapes are the princes.'"

Maran continued his explanation, adding, "What is written right afterwards? `And I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup. And I placed the cup on Pharaoh's palm.' This means to say that the butler dreamt that he was taking the Ovos, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, together with the Imohos; the Tribes; Moshe, Aharon and Miriam; the Mikdosh; the king and the Kohen Godol; the fledgling priests and the princes — all of these he squeezed and served up to Pharaoh . . . He delivered the rulership over Klal Yisroel entirely into his hands.

"What you did," explained Maran, "is no less severe than the dream of the butler. You did address the question to a person who is a great Torah scholar, but it is impossible to crown the official rabbinate as a halachic authority for all of Klal Yisroel, our yeshiva public inclusive."

When that rabbi realized how seriously Maran regarded his act, he said to him that he wished to right the wrong he had done. He asked Maran what he must do to make amends.

How does one get out of the sticky quagmire? he wished to know.

Maran answered him through the following story:

There was once a rich man who suddenly lost his wealth. Remaining without any source of livelihood, he decided to become a wagoner. With the few pennies remaining him, he went and bought a wagon with two horses. When the other wagoners of the village heard this, they were greatly concerned at this new source of competition, since as it was, business was not very good and now it would be even scantier.

They gathered to take council and to decide which steps to take to protect themselves and prevent this new competition from affecting them. At the meeting, one of the veteran wagoners rose to his feet and said, "Don't worry. I will see to it that he doesn't become a wagoner."

The veteran wagoner went to the newcomer and said to him, "I heard that you've decided to join us."

The former rich man nodded. "Yes. To my regret, I have lost all my money and I need a source of livelihood. Not only have I decided to become a wagoner; I have even bought myself a wagon with two horses and I expect to begin working this very week."

Said the seasoned wagoner, "Do you know what responsibility this job entails? Are you really prepared to assume such a great responsibility on your shoulders?"

The rich man was surprised. "What responsibility are you referring to?"

"Just imagine," the old timer continued, "that you are driving along with a wagonload of passengers and suddenly, in the middle of the night, you get stuck in the mud in the midst of a lonely forest. There you are, surrounded by wild animals, all alone and helpless. How are you going to protect your passengers? What are you going to do?"

The newcomer thought for a moment, then said, "I don't understand the problem. I've already bought myself a whip, and if the wagon gets stuck in the mud, I will whip the horses; they will make a supreme effort and release us from the mud. And then we will continue happily on our way."

"Right," said the old timer. "But your whip will only be of use if the mire is not too thick and deep. What will you do if the mud is so deep that your horses won't be able to extricate the wagon even if you beat them with all your might?"

"Oh, but I am very strong, myself," said the rich man. "I have powerful shoulders. I will put my shoulder to the wagon, beat the horses and then, together, we will all heave until the wagon is free."

"And what will you do if the mud is so dense that even with the whip, with your own powerful muscles and the strength of both horses — and even after you have told all the passengers to get out and maybe mobilized the men to lend a hand — the wagon still remains trapped hard and fast? What will you do then? Will you remain there all night in the forest, in the dark, at the mercy of wolves and other wild animals? Don't you realize that you will be risking the lives of your passengers? Where is your sense of responsibility? How can you enter a profession and endanger people's lives?"

The formerly rich man was all confused and did not know what to reply. He thought again, and finally said. "You are right, I wouldn't know what to do in such a situation. So tell me, yourself; you're the one with the many years of experience. What would you do in such a situation?"

"I am willing to tell you," said the veteran wagoner, "but only on condition that you promise me not to become a wagoner."

The novice wagoner was so curious to hear what he had to say that he thought to himself, "The old-timer is right. I cannot become a wagoner for there are too many pitfalls and dangers that I would not know how to handle, not having any experience in the field." His curiosity overcame him and he promised that he would forget about his plans and leave that profession for others with experience.

"Alright. So now, tell me, what would you do in such a situation?"

Said the veteran wagoner, "If you had gotten yourself in such a quagmire that with all the combined efforts you found yourself stuck fast, there would really be nothing you could do about it. As for me, and any other wagoner worth his salt - - we would never have gotten stuck in such mud to begin with!"

This was the story Maran told that rabbi, concluding, "A good wagoner does not get himself into a mess, but now that you've gotten into it, there is nothing whatsoever that you can do. I have no advice to give you. It is too late now. What is done is done. You're stuck in the mud and that's where you have to remain."

Maran's Vehement Opposition to the Joining of Poalei Agudath Israel

Maran amazingly combined a boundless awe and fear of halachic decision-making together with clarity of thought that brooked no doubts. When a decision crystallized in his mind, it remained firm and adamant.

Not only did the Torah world in its entirety surrender itself to his opinion, but so did even the outstanding gedolei hador bow in deference to his stand and view.

Shortly before the convening of the Fourth Knessiah Gedola in 5714 (1954), a question arose about inviting Poalei Agudath Israel (PAI) to join. Maran's opinion was an emphatic, `No.' He even went so far as to declare that if they participated, he would prohibit attending it.

Maran's outspoken stand was surprising to me and he must have noticed this, because he turned to me and said, "Let me tell you a story about my father:

"As is well known, R' Chaim zt'l banned the Mizrachi movement in his time. He came out very sharply against it, in fact. Once, several Mizrachi-supporting rabbis came to me and asked: `We know how cautious you and your father both are with regard to halachic decisions and are even loathe to deal with a simple question, for you are afraid to rule in a matter that will affect tens of thousands of Jews. And here is an issue involving hundreds of thousands of Jews, a movement headed by prestigious rabbonim and Admorim — yet you do not hesitate to consider them outside the camp?'

"R' Chaim answered and said: `Your very question substantiates my position. You see that when I entertain even the slightest doubt in some matter, I am afraid to make a decision and I refrain from ruling. Consequently, if I do rule that Mizrachi is posul, it means that I don't even harbor a shadow of a doubt in the matter.'

"And I," said Maran, "say here the very same thing. You know very well that I am also extremely cautious about halachic rulings. But if I do state a position, you can be certain that I have no doubts in the matter."

Maran asked me to publicize his view at large. Since, in general, he did not want his position stated with his name, I said that this time I couldn't do so unless he gave me permission to back it up with his name. Without it, the public would not understand what he meant and would not accept his view.

To this request he said, "You can send anyone and everyone to me personally, and I will repeat my words to them again and again."

And this, mind you, was despite the fact that he generally did not approve of too many people coming and going by him. Indeed, with regard to this question of PAI joining the convention, many people did come to hear him state his opinion. And as he had promised, he repeated his words, time and again.

"I will Argue with the Brisker Rov"

For their part, the people of PAI did not wish to join the Knessiah Gedola either, unless their conditions were met. With regard to this, a special meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, attended by all of its members, was held to discuss the question. Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l entered in the middle of the meeting, having arrived straight from the airport. When he heard the subject under discussion, he rose to his feet and began speaking in favor of including PAI. He said that it was important to befriend them.

When I heard this, I sent him a note stating that I begged forgiveness, but I must inform him that Maran the Brisker Rov was opposed to it.

When HaRav Aharon read the note, he stopped speaking at once and requested a recess. He then asked me to join him in another room, together with the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Maran HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt'l. I repeated to them what I had heard from Maran, adding that I didn't know what to do. On the one hand, I was a representative of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and I was obligated to accept their decision. On the other hand however, I knew how Maran the Brisker Rov felt about the question and I had always followed his instructions.

HaRav Aharon Kotler said, in these words, "There will never be a difference of opinion between the Brisker Rov and myself. Whatever he says is holy. The halochoh is always according to him. But I am unable to accept this secondhand, from you. I must hear it directly from him."

He returned to the meeting and asked for an hour's recess. We went together to Maran, and R' Aharon said to him what he had heard from me. "That is the absolute truth," said the Brisker Rov. "You can rely on R' Shlomo to repeat my words with perfect precision. That is my view and in this, there is no shadow of a doubt."

After hearing these words, Maran R' Aharon went back to resume the meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Without a thought to his own pride and honor, he backtracked upon what he had previously said and launched into a fire-and- brimstone speech against the joining of PAI. And thus it was decided not to make any concessions to them and not to include them in the Fourth Knessiah Gedola of 5714.

Why Did Maran Come Out Against a Certain Talmid Chochom — On Erev Yom Kippur, of all Times?

In the following story, I wish to show how circumspect and fearful Maran was about hashkofos that did not meet the standards of pure, unadulterated daas Torah, especially when these had gained a foothold with Torah scholars. Because of this, he never hesitated to talk to me about the shortcomings and misconceptions in the worldviews of certain people. He did not even caution me to keep his words secret.

One Erev Yom Kippur, I attended the funeral of an eminent scholar together with Maran, the Brisker Rov. En route, Maran told me that some of that man's views were not proper, and he elaborated upon them, pointing out to me exactly where his errors lay.

I was taken aback by this. After all, when one goes to accompany a deceased to his final rest, it is accepted to speak in his favor, to praise him, and if Maran saw fit to participate in the funeral on Erev Yom Kippur, he must have held the man in esteem. If so, why was he speaking about the negative side of his opinions — and on Erev Yom Kippur no less?

Since I had previously received permission from him to present my questions to him whenever these cropped up, whenever I didn't understand anything, I now took the liberty and summed up my courage to ask a question of this sort, which was not at all simple . . .

Maran heard me out attentively and then said: "You are asking an appropriate question. What you probably mean to hint, without being explicit, is that I am speaking loshon hora and even furthermore, that I am speaking ill of the deceased at the very time that I am escorting him to his rest, and on Erev Yom Kippur. It is good that you ask, but one must understand what is permitted and what is forbidden regarding the laws of loshon hora.

"If someone wishes to enter into partnership with another, for example, and asks your advice if it is recommended, and you know that the person in question is likely to cheat him, even if it may involve a paltry sum of five lira, there is no halachic doubt that you are permitted to tell the truth and are even obligated to do so. That should be clear. And if you do not tell him that you suspect he might be cheated, you are going against the halochoh.

"If this is true regarding a small loss of five lira, how much more so must one tell the truth about false views that might cause harm, for this involves an incredible loss. And if this applies to a simple, average person, then surely one must tell the truth regarding a public figure. For if one withholds this information, the entire public can suffer. Since you are a communally active person, I am duty- bound to inform you that in spite of the deceased's greatness in Torah, his views were not aligned with daas Torah and some of his views must be looked at askance, for in my opinion they were not good.

"As for your question," he continued, "why do I say these things precisely when we are attending this very person's funeral, and on Erev Yom Kippur no less? The answer is: This is precisely why! The laws of loshon hora are complex and difficult. When there is a hetter to say things that are in the category of loshon hora, a person should ask himself if his purpose is only to save his friend from a loss of five lira or if his intent is also, incidentally, to talk loshon hora. If a person suspects that he is not completely free of personal motives, then he is forbidden to tell the truth, even when this is required.

"As we accompanied the bier of the deceased, on Erev Yom Kippur, I asked myself this question. I weighed the matter and when I reached my decision as a result of careful thought, that this was the time and this was the place, even I — the rabbi of Brisk — had no cause to suspect myself of harboring any intents of speaking loshon hora just for the sake of speaking. And so, I decided to tell you what you need to know."

(It is very well known that the Rov was extremely circumspect and wary about himself in even the smallest things, and was always very stringent lest he stumble in any prohibition whatsoever.)

From this we learn something else: Maran refrained from taking advantage of a thousand possible openings of hetter so as not to stumble in one single incident of issur. But he did not do so categorically, sweepingly; rather, every single step was measured and weighed upon the scale of halochoh, with his characteristic exemplary, finely-tuned clarity of thought whether here was the place to be stringent, or if it was an instance of an unnecessary stringency which might lead to an undesirable leniency, of the kind referred to by Rabbenu Nissim Gaon in the Viddui as, "The things You permitted, I made stringent."

In Addition to Being a Rov, I Am Also a Jew

Maran said to me: "Doctors forget that science is there to serve man and not man to serve science. Generally speaking, doctors regard a sick person as an object for enriching their knowledge. They are deluding themselves that the goal of their research is for the benefit of mankind, but very few actually achieve this purpose."

During his illness, Maran said to one of the doctors attending him, that when he was still in Brisk he was once asked how it could be that as the rabbi of Brisk, he was so hostile and antagonistic to the Zionists and the Mizrachi party. Was he not the rabbi of the entire community? By distancing them from him, he would be limiting himself to a small segment of the Jewish population.

"I replied to them that as far as the laws applying to the rabbinate, without doubt he was right, and that in order to do justice to my office, I had to serve the entire kehilloh of Brisk. But what can I do if, in addition to that position of rabbi, I am also a Jew, and as a Jew, I cannot act in any other way than how a Jew must act."

And in saying so, he turned to the doctor and asked, "I would like to know if, in addition to being a physician, you are also a mensch. For if not, I don't want you to treat me . . . "

Wherein Lies His Greatness, There Too is His Humility

Maran's firm, unyielding nature, which favored no man, was in no contradiction to his measure of humility. In the following factual anecdote, we see how both of these traits - - adamancy and humility — rode in tandem.

At one time, the Minister of Religion, R' Y. L. Fishman, better known by the name of Maimon, wrote a fiery article, denouncing and debasing Maran, which was printed in Hatzofeh. The chareidi public was up in arms. The Yishuv in Eretz Yisroel had not yet seen such a disgraceful thing in all its history.

I remember that on the day it was published, HaRav Shalom Schwadron zt'l and HaRav Chaim Shaul Karelitz zt'l came to me and told me that they were coming from a meeting of bnei Torah where it had been decided to defend the honor of Torah and register a vehement protest. The public needed to be told who, exactly, was the Brisker Rov, the Leader of the entire Diaspora, who had been affronted by R' Fishman-Maimon.

It had likewise been decided to organize public protest rallies in many places, to issue written protests and to engage in other activities to register an indignant reaction. Since they believed that the most suitable vehicle was through Zeirei Agudath Israel (of which I was the representative), they asked me to personally back and organize the many facets of the public outcry and to thus guarantee its success.

I told them that I agreed with their decision and promised that as soon as I could free myself from other urgent matters, I would devote myself to this vital effort. However, I noted, before doing so, there was one thing I had to do. I told the two eminent representatives that Maran had once requested that I do nothing that was connected to him, be it even in the best of interests, without receiving his express permission. And since he had so requested, I must inform him that we — Z.A.I. and Bnei Torah — were organizing a protest campaign.

Upon hearing this, the two representative expressed their doubts about going to inform him, especially since it involved upholding his honor. I insisted that I had no recourse. I felt absolutely obligated to obey his own directive.

I went to Maran and told him the entire episode. He listened and then said, "It is very good that you came to me and good that you are fulfilling my request. Listen carefully to what I am about to say: Do not lift a finger! Do not attempt to do a single thing for the sake of my honor, nothing in the world!"

I told Maran that I did not think that in this matter, I had to honor his request. There is a specific paragraph in Shulchan Oruch Yoreh Dei'ah (243:9) which states: "If they besmirched him in public, one must not forego a protest for his honor . . . " Before going in to see Maran, I reviewed this paragraph several times to myself and when I presented my question to him, I quoted it verbatim.

Maran reacted with a smile and said: "R' Shlomo, review what is written there in Shulchan Oruch just once more." I did. "You are being accurate," he said, adding with a smile, "and perhaps you can also quote for me what is written there in the Ramo in paragraph 7, as well as what the other poskim say?"

That I didn't know — I admitted.

Still smiling, Maran said, "The Ramo says that there is no halachic application of talmid chochom in our times. The other poskim say the same."

He reiterated his decision not to react, adding, "I imagine that the editors of Hamodia will wish to print their own protest against the abuse. Tell them, in my name, to refrain from doing so. I assume that all kinds of protest letters and ads will pour into the newspaper offices (as they did). Ask them in my name not to publish any of these ads and notices. We must carry on as if nothing whatsoever had happened."

That day, or perhaps the following one, a large meeting was called by the Vaad Hayeshivos, with the participation of all the roshei yeshiva. The meeting was led by Maran HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky zt'l and it was decided that since the offense had been made against the Godol Hador, the Beacon Light of Israel, one could not simply ignore it and carry on. One must react.

HaRav Sholom Schwadron and HaRav Karelitz conveyed to the Roshei Yeshiva what they had heard from Maran, but notwithstanding, it was unanimously decided that in this matter, one could not accept his directive since this constituted excessive humility on his part, and one need not take this into account.

After this meeting, messengers came to me asking, again, that I undertake the organization of the protest against the abuse of Maran's honor. I had no recourse but to accept the united decision of all the Roshei Yeshiva.

Still, I felt I could not do so without letting Maran know. I went to him and told him about the decision which had been unilaterally arrived at by the Vaad Hayeshivos. I told him that I felt that this time, I had no recourse but to obey them.

Maran repeated his stand and literally begged me not to listen to that decision. "They decided what they had to decide, but I am telling you, and I am asking you, not to voice any reaction. If you listen to me, I promise you that you will benefit."

After such an explicit request, and after Maran had been so adamant in his opinion, it goes without saying that I obeyed him and saw to it that there was no public response. All the editorials and articles that had been written in defense were buried; the vehement protests of the Torah institutions which reached the offices of HaModia by the hundreds were never published — all according to Maran's unequivocal will.

I was still not at peace with myself, however. On the one hand, there stood the explicit demand of Maran not to lift a finger in protest or defense. But on the other hand, the entire Torah world and all the Roshei Yeshiva, headed by HaRav Abramsky, demanded their say in a public protest. How was I to get out of this dilemma?

I decided to ask the Gaon of Tchebin ztvk'l. I went to him and laid before him the entire history of developments. I told him that I never did anything without the permission of the Brisker Rov but now, his very honor and reputation were at stake, as well as that of the entire Torah world.

The Tchebiner Rov said to me, "If this concerned me, I would do exactly as the Brisker Rov has requested; I would also ask that no rebuttal be forthcoming. But I cannot give you an answer to your question, for we are talking about the godol hador and perhaps in this case one should really act differently."

I went and told Maran about my visit. I told him that I had asked the advice of the Tchebiner Rov and repeated the reply he had given me. Maran was very pleased with his reaction and said, "The Gaon of Tchebin is one person who understands me."

And so, in the end we did as Maran had wished, and no response or protest was registered.

Rishonim Like Angels

During Maran's stay in the Bikur Cholim Hospital for tests, he found that he had to wait a long time between one x-ray and another. He would talk to me at length about the `generation gap' which Chazal touched upon. "If the ancients were like angels, then we are like mortals. And if the ancients were like mortals, then we are like donkeys . . . "

In order to illustrate the point he wished to make, he made a statement that I was unable to fathom: "Know, that the gap between me and my father zt'l is far greater than the difference between you and me."

"How can you say such a thing?" I asked. "You understand fully the teachings of your father HaRav Chaim zt'l, while I have great difficulty in understanding your teachings."

In addition, it is known how greatly R' Chaim esteemed his son R' Yitzchok Zeev. Familiar is the story when Maran was young and his father once entered the kitchen in a very joyous mood. He called out exuberantly to his rebbetzin, saying, "Mazel Tov! I am happy to inform you that our son Velvel knows how to learn better than I!"

If this was true, how could he say that the difference between him and his father was greater than the gap between us two?

I added that in my opinion, it was only to be considered excessive humility for a son to nullify himself thus with regard to his illustrious father, and especially one as famous as his!

Maran replied that as to the first claim: I should know that "if I understand what my father, R' Chaim, taught, it is because I invest a great deal of effort to do so. If you yourself exerted as much toil and effort, you would also understand what I teach, no less than I understand what my father zt'l taught.

"As for your second argument, there is no need for me to answer . . .

"But for the third one, that I am only saying this because I am his son, know that I say the same thing about other great Torah scholars of our generation." And here he mentioned the name of the one and unique Torah leader that all of Jewry looked up to, adding, "I understand and appreciate his greatness better than anyone else. And still, I say that the difference between him and my father, HaRav Chaim, is greater than the difference between me and you. When I said this about myself, one could have attributed it to extreme humility, but when I say this about others, you cannot do so. Therefore, accept this as my patent opinion."

Maran then went on to tell me about the greatness of the ancient gedolei Torah — in Torah, devoutness, wisdom, fear of Hashem, and even as to their powers to perform wonders . . . And all this so that I acknowledge his words and understand the depth of the chasm between the generations.


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