Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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23 Shvat 5772 - February 16, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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"Reb Berel" — HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 2 Adar

From that fateful day onwards, the day of the passing of his father R' Yitzchok Zeev, zt"l, HaRav Yosef Dov didn't stop giving shiurim. Reb Berel, as he was known, was commanded by his father to continue teaching the talmidim, a command which he carried out even with mesirus nefesh at times, until and inclusive of his dying day.

There were days in his later years when he was physically unable to do anything and, his failing strength notwithstanding, he would still give over the shiur. He expended tremendous effort into preparing what to say to the talmidim and perhaps even more effort into deciding what to refrain from saying. Thus, he would often tell his students, "Here in Brisk, far more than learning what to be mechadesh we have to learn what not to be mechadesh and not to explain."

At the levaya of Reb Berel his son, HaRav Avrohom Yehoshua, now rosh yeshiva of Brisk, quoted the niftar as having often said: "Mesirus nefesh is needed not only for limud Torah itself, but also for amoloh shel Torah. One has to toil selflessly to understand a difficult svoroh. That is what is required of a ben Torah." He would add that this type of selflessness is the most difficult, for it is constantly hidden and no one will ever know or realize the extent of yegiyah that went into understanding a fine profound svoroh.

In addition to the regular shiurim in Kodshim, from the year 5720, the year of his father's petiroh, Reb Berel gave shiurim in Zeroim and Taharos to a group of outstanding talmidim. Unique in their pleasantness, these shiurim would begin at nine in the evening and continue into the late hours of the night as each talmid tried to attain the maximum learning while savoring the special taste of the shiur.

During one of these sessions, the group finished learning maseches Pei'ah in the middle of the zman. Without stopping for a moment, Rabbeinu asked the talmidim which masechta they would like to begin next, and upon their request immediately gave a full shiur of several hours in maseches Ma'aser Sheni, as though he had been prepared for it.

It is no wonder, therefore, that streams of people came knocking on his door begging to learn under the wings of the great Rosh Yeshiva. One of these was HaRav Elya Lopian, zt"l, mashgiach of Kfar Chassidim, with a grandson whom he wished to enroll. Reb Berel showed him the small, packed-full room where shiurim took place and no explanation was necessary. There was simply no room for another bochur. Reb Elya beheld the size of the room and the number of talmidim therein and insisted: For so many talmidim to fit into such a small hall there cannot be anything but a miracle taking place. And if it is ma'aseh nissim, then one more will make no difference! Somehow, the ness extended to squeeze in the grandson of R' Elya too.

The love of Reb Berel towards his talmidim was soul- binding, extending far beyond the regular rebbi-pupil relationship. With fatherly care he imbued in them yiras Shomayim, exemplary middos and clear, pure hashkofoh.

In earlier years, the Chumash shiur was known to go on for many hours, while R' Yoshe Ber transmitted the daas Torah of his father, Reb Yitzchok Zev, zt"l, exactly as he had received it in turn from his father, Reb Chaim Brisker, zt"l.

However, in later years the Chumash shiur would only take about two hours. The reason is given by a talmid who was present at the time of the abrupt change.

On a motzei Shabbos, Rabbeinu was teaching Chumash and, in connection to the parsha, strongly protested the actions of an askan that had caused a serious breach in the wall of Yiddishkeit.

Nodding in agreement, one of the talmidim exclaimed, "Oh yes, this askan is a thief," and went on to relate all the fellow's misdeeds and bad character traits.

Rabbeinu stopped him in mid-sentence. "That is loshon hora. Are we discussing people here? We are protesting against the actions and the shittah, not the man personally. I see I have been misunderstood," he added sadly. "And in that case I will have to shorten the shiur." From then on the shiur was considerably shorter to avoid a similar occurrence.

Unparalleled in our times was his amazing power of bitochon. His yeshiva was run without an office, fundraisers or accountants. Yet every Rosh Chodesh one way or another, the necessary amount of money was there to be given to those whom he had to give. Never once did he worry about the next month. Every talmid would receive according to his needs, and Reb Berel knew exactly in whose home expenses had risen, who had an upcoming wedding with extra expenditures to cover — each one receiving as much as he needed that particular month.

When he wanted to boost the bitochon of one of his talmidim, he would allow him to have a share in the "accountancy" so that the man could see with his own eyes how just in the month when not much income arrived, many talmidim did not come to ask for their money, each one for his particular reason.

Not every donation was accepted without question. If a woman donated the money, then her husband's permission had to be confirmed or the money would be returned.

An anonymous donation brought with it a flurry of detective work, for it could not be accepted until the identity and behavior of the giver was discovered and approved of.

A large sum donated anonymously was duly returned when it was discovered that the sender was living with a gentile woman.

It is told that a certain philanthropist came to Reb Berel with the intention of giving a large sum for the yeshiva. He had almost reached the Soloveitchik house when he was stopped by a Jew who worked for a different yeshiva who tried, with all means of persuasion, to coerce the man into giving his money to the other institution.

Enraged, a talmid of Rabbeinu burst into his room and told him what was going on outside.

Unmoved, the Rosh Yeshiva placated his loyal pupil, telling him calmly, "The money that has to pass our hands will reach us anyway and that which doesn't get here is a sign it wasn't destined for us at all."

How astonished were those present when a while later the aforementioned nadvan came into Reb Berel, explaining that he had almost come in earlier but someone had tried to persuade him to direct his good intentions elsewhere.

"Boruch Hashem I finally arrived here," he exclaimed and so saying withdrew a larger sum than he had originally intended.

Despite his exalted middos, Reb Berel always attributed his greatness to his father. From his youth, he walked hand in hand with his father, cleaving to him and etching every nuance into his memory.

Each word or opinion of his father's would be looked into and clarified with the utmost precision, until Reb Berel was sure he understood the Griz's line of thought. In fact, Reb Yitzchok Zev himself would teach his talmidim his son's ideas on difficult sugyos, so similar were their derech halimud and hashkofoh.

Once Reb Berel came to his father, saying he had heard that the Griz had been mattir a certain halocho.

"Did you doubt what you heard?" asked his father. When his son answered that he had indeed suspected the report was an unfounded rumor, his father was very pleased.

"My father Reb Chaim Halevi zt"l told me," said the Griz, "that if I ever hear something quoted in his name that to me does not sound likely, I should doubt its authenticity. For I understand his style of opinion and if to me it seems unlikely it is probably not so."

Already when he was young his father foretold that Reb Berel would one day be a great rosh yeshiva. He even handed him a large sum of money, saying that he had received this for the yeshiva building.

"I feel that I will not build this edifice, but you, be'ezras Hashem will be the one to build it."

An amazing fact was told by HaRav Avrohom Yehoshua.

"At the time when the yeshiva was being built, I as a young boy was often sent to give over the payments in their installments to the contractor. The last time that my father the Grid gave me the money to pay, he said to me: `Listen my son, this money is the sum I received from my father for the yeshiva building. Take it and pay the contractor.'"

So saying he carried out the will of his father, HaRav Yitzchok Zev zt"l.

"There's a well-known story that Reb Chaim of Volozhin knew of a woman who had received a brochoh from the Sha'agas Aryeh that she would merit to build a shul in Yerushalayim. When he heard that the woman wanted to travel to Eretz Yisroel to fulfill the blessing, he told her, `What's the hurry? You have the promise of the Sha'agas Aryeh!" She waited until she had lived to a ripe old age and only then went up to Eretz Yisroel to build the shul. Having done her life's task, she then passed away.

"So too my father," continued HaRav Avrohom Yehoshua. "After he had carried out the shlichus of his father and given over the money for the yeshiva building, he passed on to chayei Haolom Habo."


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