Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Shevat 5762 - January 16, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Tears of Light: The Sixtieth Yahrtzeit Of HaRav Dovid Leibowitz, zt'l

by D. Tzfatman

Talmidim of Maran HaRav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt'l of some thirty to forty years ago vividly remember how, every Wednesday, the Rosh Yeshiva traveled to Yerushalayim to take part in the Chinuch Atzmai board meetings.

For a long time this meant he needed to take three buses: the number 54 Dan bus from Bnei Brak to the Tel Aviv Main Bus Station, a ride of at least a half an hour; then a 405 "Tiger" Egged bus to Yerushalayim that took much more than an hour in those days, and, after arriving in Yerushalayim, he needed to take another local Hamekasher bus to the Chinuch Atzmai offices. Moreover, besides the ride itself, HaRav Shach needed to wait a considerable amount of time for each of the buses. Although this undoubtedly detracted from his precious time for studying Torah, Maran was determined to attend those meetings. Later he went in a special car.

In the year 5726/1966, HaRav E. Sorotzkin, the head of the Chinuch Atzmai board of directors, became ill and couldn't continue undertaking the heavy responsibility. According to the recommendation of Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l it was decided to request Maran the Rosh Yeshiva zt'l to join the Chinuch Atzmai board. Maran agreed, and since then he did not miss even one meeting.

HaRav Avrohom Yosef Laizerson, told us that the Rosh Yeshiva's participation in those meetings was of such major importance to Chinuch Atzmai that their exact time and date was set according to his schedule.

HaRav Laizerson longingly recalls those Chinuch Atzmai meetings. The day when such a meeting took place was like a yom tov for Chinuch Atzmai. For those active in the daily running of Chinuch Atzmai, discussing issues and sitting together with the gedolei hador was truly inspiring.

Around tables placed in a "u" sat HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky, Maran, HaRav E. Sorotzkin, the Slonimer Rebbe, and the Gerrer Rebbe -- the Pnei Menachem. Near them sat the Agudas Yisroel MKs and also heads of the Chinuch Atzmai educational network, led by HaRav Shraga Grossbard zt'l, HaRav A. Laizerson and HaRav Meir Luria.

Reports and urgent questions were presented by the Chinuch Atzmai heads. The MKs, especially Rabbi Shlomo Lorencz and Rabbi M. Porush, updated those attending the meeting about possibilities of governmental budget support.

Although Maran's presence was a dominating factor in the meeting, he consistently and adamantly refused to sit at the head of the table.

He would speak little at these meetings but would listen attentively to every single detail. This became noticeable to all, stresses HaRav Luria, when the protocol was written up and read, since then Maran would correct every inaccuracy even if it was minor.

During the last period of his participation in these meetings it sometimes seemed that he was napping. But then, he would suddenly awaken and criticize some topic that disturbed him.

We would be happy to hear of an example, an occurrence, in which Maran took a firm stand concerning Chinuch Atzmai matters.

HaRav Luria: He would get terribly upset when he heard about any intention to shut a Chinuch Atzmai school or class. Once when we were undergoing a difficult budgetary crisis we devised a plan in which a number of small schools would be transferred to another chareidi educational network that was prepared to accept them. This transferal would help Chinuch Atzmai recover from its financial difficulties. When we suggested this at the meeting, Maran ardently objected: "Are they experienced? How can we endanger the children? No! The schools must remain and the budget problem will have to be solved in other ways!"

That was his policy. I always felt that he saw the children standing opposite him. He would yell, "Where will they study? Can we possibly throw them out into the street?"

HaRav Laizerson: His opinion was, as he told us many times, that Chinuch Atzmai is intended to help the Sephardic children in Eretz Yisroel. Accordingly, when a question arose concerning a school in which Sephardic children studied or even one Sephardic child, he did all he could so that they remained in the framework of the school. Once when the question of financing a school was brought up, he remarked, "I am ready to sell my coat to pay for this."

HaRav Luria: At this point I want to tell an interesting story that I myself witnessed. One of my frequent visits in Maran's house happened to be directly after the Israeli registration period for elementary schools. He asked me: "R' Meir. For already two days I am not at ease. Three Sephardic children are sitting on the steps outside. They don't have a school. I cannot eat or drink until they are set up somewhere." I told him: "Another six are sitting on my steps." His face mellowed and he decided: "We have altogether nine children. I will arrange for three to enter a certain school in Bnei Brak. You take care of another three, and HaRav S. Grossbard of the last three."

Without delay Maran zt'l started attending to this matter. He got up and went with those boys to the school that he had mentioned. To the principal's complete surprise Maran appeared in his office with the three boys and told him in no uncertain terms: "They are studying here." The principal, although astounded both by Maran's appearance and that he had issued him orders like a drill sergeant, naturally did exactly as requested. The story passed quickly among the Chinuch Atzmai schools and when I arrived at another school to arrange the other three the principal wanted something in exchange: "I want Maran HaRav Shach to come to my school and test the talmidim." I immediately agreed in Maran's name ... and with that, six were taken care of.

I continued to look for a school for "Reb Shraga's three." One principal told me: "Maran HaRav Shach anyway tests the students each year, so therefore I have another request. Since I am planning a large Chanukah gathering for the students, I would want Maran to promise he will participate." I immediately agreed in Maran's name and in that way all nine children were enrolled in Chinuch Atzmai schools.

I returned to Maran and straightaway told him: "Maran the Rosh Yeshiva took care of all nine children." The Rosh Yeshiva answered: "But I only made arrangements for three."

I told him: "This is what happened and this is what the principals demanded, and I agreed in the name of the Rosh Yeshiva."

Maran was delighted: "That is all? That is all they wanted? Most surely I will come to test them and participate in the Chanukah gathering. Without any doubt whatsoever I'll do it!"

We wrote that Maran firmly opposed expelling children from a Chinuch Atzmai school. Were there limitations to this refusal?

HaRav Laizerson: His opinion was that if a child harms others it is impossible for him to remain within the school. But as long as it is possible to save him we must do so.

HaRav Yaakov Neiman (a supervisor in Chinuch Atzmai) recounts the following: One teacher insisted that a girl be expelled from a Bais Yaakov school. That student was not only insolent, she would even vilify the teacher. I told her that such a drastic step must be endorsed by Maran the Rosh Yeshiva. I paid him a visit and presented the whole case to him. Maran asked me: "Will other girls learn from her?" I answered: "No! This is a case that can be taken care of."

The Rosh Yeshiva answered: "Under no conditions should she be expelled from the school. Tell the teacher that sometimes I also suffer from talmidim . . . as the Mishnah teaches us in Pirkei Ovos, Hashem will reward the teacher according to her degree of suffering."

Were there cases in which Maran agreed to close a Chinuch Atzmai school?

HaRav Luria: I told you that a principle of his was that it is totally impossible to consider closing down a school. Naturally because of his concern for the children there were exceptions, such as with a school in a certain city in which we had an argument with the city's rov. We asserted that the school should be closed and the children transferred to a nearby town but the rov argued that the school should continue. I asked Maran the Rosh Yeshiva what we should do. He carefully weighed both sides and at the end accepted my stand. The rov later said that he wanted to present his side to the Rosh Yeshiva himself. We both visited Maran and the rov enumerated his arguments at length.

After he concluded, the Rosh Yeshiva said: "HaRav Luria also told me your sides of the argument and didn't hide anything. The reasons to close the school are, however, stronger than those to have it continue and I remain with my decision."

His decisions were always to the point, without any irrelevant matters taken into consideration. For instance, because of a specific spiritual consideration, I wanted to dismantle a class in a school in Haifa. After I told my intentions to Maran he opposed them staunchly and suggested solutions, although they were definitely inadequate ones. What he mainly wanted was that the children not be sent away from the school.

Later I had a similar problem in Tzfas with a class in English and in that case Maran agreed that I should dismantle the class. I asked him: "What is the difference between the problem in Haifa and that of Tzfas?" He explained that closing a whole class and sending the children away means taking responsibility for the children, and although with the suggested solutions we cannot altogether remove the spiritual problem, the fate of the children is what is important. But as far as closing only one English class the spiritual problem outweighs its continuance, and what will be so terrible if they won't learn English.

HaRav Laizerson: I want to tell a story that shows the degree of closeness he felt to each child, so you can comprehend his fear of expelling a child.

We would regularly bring children to his house for Maran to test. One test was scheduled for a certain day and it just so happened that this day was right before a fateful political decision concerning putting together a new government in Israel. Everyone was waiting to hear what Maran would say. I remember hearing on the radio that "the president of the U.S.A. is waiting for Maran's decision."

Some among us argued, and were certainly justified in thinking so, that this isn't a proper day for a test. In the end, however, it was decided that we will bring the children.

It is impossible to describe the serenity and the concentration that Maran devoted to those children. It seemed that he had all the time in the world to devote to them. He asked each one questions and enjoyed "talking to them in learning." The atmosphere was altogether detached from the outside turmoil. He didn't even forget to give each one of them chocolate squares from the cupboard to reward them for their excellent answers.

Later I explained that when you think about this more you understand that all of Maran's intensive intervention in setting up the government and all matters concerning it, was only because of his concern for guaranteeing "the transmission of the Torah and its continuance." If so, it is no surprise that he set aside time and heart to encourage the children in their studies.

HaRav Neiman: Being a "frontier teacher" is an alternate framework for military service in Israel. Instead of being drafted to the army the man serves as a teacher in a peripheral settlement.

A certain teacher, however, wasn't a good teacher. The children didn't pay any attention to him and he just couldn't control them. He lacked the skills and personality to maintain discipline in the classroom. In that settlement lived a rosh yeshiva, a noted Torah scholar, and the school was under his patronage. He tried his best to prevent that teacher from being fired, since that would mean he would immediately be drafted into the army. Chinuch Atzmai attempted everything to help that teacher but it was obvious that he had no hope of ever being a qualified teacher.

It was the month of Tishrei. In the afternoon of erev Yom Kippur I visited Maran the Rosh Yeshiva zt'l to request a brochoh for the coming year. Maran was after his preparations for the holy day and the atmosphere was in accordance. When my turn came to speak to Maran, to my surprise Maran took me to the side. I, of course, wondered what it could be that Maran wanted from me at such a sublime time as erev Yom Kippur.

The Rosh Yeshiva asked me why they want to fire that teacher? I described exactly the problem with that teacher. He asked whether the principal's backing up the teacher would help. I answered that we also tried this but it didn't help. He thought a little and decided, "If so, there is nothing to do." I asked: "And even if because of that he will be forced to go to the army?" He gave an unequivocal answer: "You are only responsible for the children's fate. You must only concern yourself with that."

HaRav Luria: The greatness of Maran was that he was like the "ladder placed on the earth but its top reaches the heavens." On the one hand, he was a great Torah disseminator: he toiled over the Torah and produced abundant chidushei Torah. On the other hand, he could descend to the depths of the soul of even simple people.

I also saw his pragmatic approach to solving problems in the many meetings that I had with him. I remember an incident that was not altogether connected to Torah education but because of my position in Chinuch Atzmai I had to take care of it.

A kollel student complained about the difficulties his wife had in teaching and demanded that she be transferred to another school where teaching would demand less from her. After discussing the matter with him for a while, I understood that he didn't help his wife at home at all. I told him that according to what he has told me, his wife deserves help from him at home and not a teaching job in another school.

He went to Maran and complained that I "hate Torah" since I said so-and-so. Maran told him that what I said was true. A husband must help at home and that doesn't take away from his studying Torah and is not at all considered bitul Torah -- on the contrary! When I visited Maran he told me what he had said to that kollel student and that he had warned him that if he won't change the way he acts at home he will order the Chinuch Atzmai management to fire his wife altogether since it is forbidden for him to demand so much from her.

Maran enumerated several things a man must do to help at home. I asked him how can he be so informed about these matters. He answered: "Do you really think that I don't do all this?"

His advice was always practical and discerning. I remember that once an official reception was to be held for a governmental figure, who at that time had disparaged Chazal, Rachmono litzlan. The city government arranged that at the planned reception delegations of children from all the institutions in the city would take part. The city government also let Chinuch Atzmai know that they will set aside a special place where the children of Chinuch Atzmai will be concentrated, and a little before the event they will let us know where the exact place will be.

I asked Maran whether we should participate. He answered: "Under no circumstances!"

The Chinuch Atzmai school was afraid that their refusal to participate would create a clash with the mayor and the school would suffer because of it. Nevertheless since the Rosh Yeshiva ruled not to go they remained in the school. The date for the event arrived and to the complete surprise of the principal of the Chinuch Atzmai school no notice arrived from the city about where the Chinuch Atzmai children should be. The next day a secretary from the mayor's office called and apologized. "We forgot about you . . . we will compensate you in another way . . . "

When I visited Maran and told him what happened, his reaction was: "Do you think my decision wasn't risky? I sat the whole day and said Tehillim."

I remember a mofeis--a miraculous happening. I want to tell you something to which I myself was witness. In one of my visits, HaRav Eschaiek, his loyal and devoted talmid, gave him applesauce to eat, a food that was considered beneficial for his health. To his surprise Maran refused to eat it. HaRav Eschaiek took it to the kitchen and then called out to me: "Come here and you will see something interesting." In the middle of the sauce was a tiny mosquito!

HaRav Eschaiek opened a new can and offered some applesauce to Maran. How surprised I was to see that Maran agreed to eat this.

A few days later I happened to visit the Slonimer Rebbe zt'l and told him about the mofeis that I had seen. He wasn't impressed with it at all. I asked him, "Isn't that miraculous?"

The Rebbe answered: "You are astonished that HaKodosh Boruch Hu protects HaRav Shach from sinning? His spiritual level is much greater than this!"

Incidentally, between the Slonimer Rebbe and Maran was a feeling of partnership during all of their participation in Chinuch Atzmai and in general.

Why do you believe he particularly devoted himself to Chinuch Atzmai?

HaRav Laizerson: He once mentioned to me that Chinuch Atzmai is the "R' Yehoshua ben Gamla" of our times and therefore he wants to be active in it. He considered Chinuch Atzmai to be of primary importance for the generation and felt personally responsible for the whole system.

I remember that once, immediately after arriving at the regular meeting of the board, he began looking for a certain office worker. I showed him the room and I heard that he told the worker, visibly disturbed, that a certain teacher in Beer Sheva complained that Chinuch Atzmai didn't arrange for all the retirement payments they owe her. He saw straightening out that matter as a personal obligation.

R' Shmuel Weinberg zt'l once recounted that at the end of one board meeting the Rosh Yeshiva started on his way back to Bnei Brak. Suddenly he told HaRav Eschaiek to return with him to the Chinuch Atzmai building. He went into HaRav Weinberg's office and told him: "I saw that an elevator was installed in the building. All sorts of people come here. You must put up a sign that men and woman can only ride the elevator separately."

It wasn't enough for him to call up Chinuch Atzmai to tell them about the sign for the elevator. He felt personal responsibility for the workers of Chinuch Atzmai and didn't want them to suffer spiritually. This is the reason he bothered to drive back to tell them about putting up the sign.

HaRav Luria: I can tell you that I personally know that in general on the day when he was supposed to say a shiur kloli no one was allowed to visit him and disturb him with other matters. However, for anything connected with Chinuch Atzmai he would stop learning to hear and try to solve their problems. This itself shows anyone acquainted with HaRav Shach's ways how much he esteemed the Chinuch Atzmai.

Likewise this is an opportunity to point out the backing he gave me concerning questions that would pop up. Once a decision had to be made about a certain communal political matter. Before even making the decision I was afraid that I would later be under fire. Maran zt'l told me that if necessary he will back me. And indeed what I feared happened, and then I saw that not only did Maran back me but he took upon himself all of the responsibility for what was done.

When we finished the interview we went outside and met kollel students who had in their youth graduated Chinuch Atzmai. We thought to ourselves: Do the children of Chinuch Atzmai throughout the land know who constantly thought about them, who fought for their future? How terrible is the loss!


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