With the progression of World War II, the large city of
Vilna became a haven for Jews of all the areas around
it. Hoping that the Nazi scourge would take longer to
reach and overcome Vilna, they converged on the city,
swelling its population day by day.
As the Rov, R' Chaim Ozer had much of the
responsibility for everyone on his hands, his house
became not only a "beis vaad lachachomim" but for
everyone and anyone who was going through a hard phase
(and who wasn't?). All found an open door and an even
wider open heart ready to come to their aid.
A classic example of R' Chaim Ozer's ability to
"multitask" was told by the Brisker Rov, R' Yitzchok
Zeev Soloveitchik, zt"l.
When the latter arrived in Vilna, he went straight to
the house of R' Chaim Ozer, where the conversation,
beyond the initial greeting, turned into a deep Torah
discussion at once. The Griz began with the
chiddushim he had worked out while fleeing Warsaw
to Vilna, and R' Chaim Ozer continued in pilpul.
When they had finished their lengthy discussion in
Divrei Torah, R' Chaim Ozer amazed his guest by
telling him that while they had been talking he had
arranged board and lodging for R' Yitzchok Zeev and
that a meal was ready for him. Thus he was known to be
able to learn Torah, listen to the brokenhearted tale
of a widow pouring out her woes to him, while at the
same time reading the many letters sent to him from all
over the world.
R' Chaim Ozer's care for a fellow Jew above and beyond
his own concerns was legendary.
R' Chaim Ozer's daughter was deathly ill, her condition
deteriorating daily. On the day that was to be her
last, Rabbeinu mysteriously locked himself into his
room, leaving strict instructions that under no
condition may he be disturbed, even for a matter of
pikuach nefesh, until he would leave his room.
In the adjacent room, the sick girl lay surrounded by
the doctors who had been summoned by the family. As the
minutes ticked by, those present saw her life ebbing
away. Their fervent whispers of Tehillim were
transformed into a loud, desperate cry, culminating in
a calling out of Shema Yisroel. Much as they
wished to call R' Chaim Ozer, his forewarning
restrained them and nobody dared to knock on his door.
Surely he was pouring forth the prayers from the depths
of his heart for the recovery of his only daughter.
Apparently, however, the gates of heaven were closed to
their prayers, and the girl's gezeiroh had been
sealed. She breathed her last without her father's
presence at her side, and still no one dared to call
the now bereaved R' Chaim Ozer. He had explicitly
forbidden them to call him even for a matter of life
and death, and so the family waited.
After an hour, the Rov emerged from his room and
inquired as to his daughter's welfare. Upon being told
the bitter news, he tore keriah and then entered
her room to mourn his loss.
During the shiva, a family member asked R' Chaim
Ozer what he had been doing when he was alone in his
room during his daughter's last moments. Why did he
forbid the family to disturb him? Surely he was aware
of the severity of the situation as well as they were?
Surely he too felt that the end was near. Why did he
not allow them to call him?
Rabbeinu's reply supersedes all we have heard or seen
in bein odom lechavero.
"Yesterday I received a difficult sheiloh
concerning an agunah, a woman whose husband has
disappeared without a trace. She has suffered to the
end of her tether and is waiting for a heter to
remarry. Due to the complexity of the situation, I knew
the matter required learning hilchos agunah well
and concentrating fully on the subject so that I could
determine the correct psak.
"Knowing full well that my daughter's life was slipping
through my hands, I realized that if I would have to
sit shivah, I would be forbidden as an ovel
to learn. The unfortunate agunah would have to
wait another whole week to receive an answer. Another
agonizing week of painful uncertainty. How could I be
the cause of such sorrow for such an extended amount of
"I decided to gather my wits and concentrate on the
subject with all the power I could muster in this
difficult time, to look into the halachos and
permit her to marry again and start her life anew.
"After I had done so I would find out what had happened
to my daughter."
His greatness not withstanding, R' Chaim Ozer's
humility almost reached a degree of self-deprecation.
The great war against the spiritual foes of Klal
Yisroel, the maskilim, was on in full force.
It was just during this time that R' Chaim Ozer was
appointed rov of Vilna, much to the chagrin of his
They fought against the new rov tooth and nail,
spreading rumors about him and causing him no end of
trouble, until the Chofetz Chaim publicized a letter in
which he made clear his support for R' Chaim Ozer and
his opposition to the maskilim.
They then turned their wrath on the Chofetz Chaim,
announcing that he himself had fallen into the trap of
A second public notice was sent out by the Chofetz
Chaim, proclaiming that in a case like this, where the
kovod haTorah of R' Chaim Ozer is at stake, not
only is it allowed but it is even a mitzvah to write
such a letter.
The Brisker Rov related that at this point they spread
terrible libelous reports about R' Chaim Ozer, hurting
him to such an extent that he was heard to say
concerning one of them:
"What does the fellow want of me? Don't I send him food
every Friday morning, for him and his family, to last
him all through the week?!"
Added the Griz, "Even following this incident, R' Chaim
Ozer continued his great chesed towards this
particular person, sending him the weekly food packages
as always, despite the anguish he was continuously
The dayan of Krinick, HaRav Chizkiyohu Yosef
Mishkovsky, zt"l, relates a story that occurred
in his presence while he was discussing divrei
Torah with R' Chaim Ozer.
"We were in the middle of talking when someone burst
into the room and began shouting at Rabbeinu, berating
him for not recommending that his father be appointed
rov of a certain kehilla (for according to R'
Chaim Ozer the man was not suitable to the post).
Since Rabbeinu did not reply to the man's ranting, he
turned even worse and spoke in a terribly
chutzpadike manner, spewing out shameful epithets
and expressions. Retaining his calm demeanor, R' Chaim
Ozer arose, moved over to the next room and continued
his Torah conversation with me.
"When I asked him," continued the Rov of Krinick,
"`Doesn't patience have a limit, too? Can one just
allow such a brazen person to speak to the Rov as he
wishes?"' The Rov answered me in his sweet, sincere
way, 'What do you want of him, he is just concerned for
his father's honor!'"
One summer, R' Chaim Ozer was going out of town. He was
offered a choice of two houses for his holiday. One was
spacious, beautifully kept and clean, but the kitchen
was set apart from the other rooms. The other lacked
the luxury of the first, but its kitchen was close to
the dining room.
Naturally the Rebbetzin wished to take the first house
and R' Chaim Ozer, too, was so inclined. However, he
suddenly had a change of mind.
"Let's ask the opinion of the maid. After all, she's
the one who has to go to the trouble of bringing the
food from the kitchen to the dining room, where she'll
serve us. Perhaps, just for the sake of luxury she will
not be too pleased to go to the other end of the house
from the kitchen." And so the decision was made
according to the wishes of the maid.