Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Cheshvan 5762 - November 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Rabban Shel Yisroel zt"l

by Yisroel Friedman


"And Avrohom came to mourn for Soroh and to weep for her." If a person loses a relative Rachmono litzlan he bursts out crying. Only afterwards does he eulogize the deceased. Why did Avrohom first eulogize Soroh and only then cry over her? After giving a hesped there is a greater understanding of the extent of one's loss. Then the weeping is deeper and more genuine. We no longer cry only out of pain, but out of recognition of what we have lost and of the void that has been created.

We do not have the faintest notion of the greatness of the Rosh Yeshiva ztv"l. How, then, we asked ourselves, could we possibly approach the task of describing his personality? With deep humility we turned to the gedolim to ask their advice. Only they, with their superior powers of perception and insight, are capable of describing to us what we have lost. We asked them to tell us about the essence of great men and daas Torah, who fits into this category, and how do they attain these qualities, and to hear about the Rosh Yeshiva ztv"l, the leader of the Jewish nation, about his roots and deeds. The following statements of the gedolim clarify the correct approach to these matters, especially since they all come to the same conclusion: his ability to lead the nation with daas Torah stemmed from his omol and yegias haTorah. We have endeavored, with Hashem's help, to reproduce the exact text of their answers, in the hope that we shall not fail in this mission.

HaRav Eliashiv: His Power of Leadership stemmed from Toiling in Torah

It is difficult to give expression in just a few words to the great loss to Klal Yisroel with the passing of the unique one in his generation, HaRav Eliezer Menachem Man Shach ztllh"h, but we should draw attention to a special point about him: in addition to his holy labor in disseminating Torah he took upon himself the yoke of leading the whole generation.

The yeshivas have indeed lost a rosh yeshiva who guided them in the paths of Torah and yiras Hashem and Klal Yisroel has lost its leader. Everybody knew already during his lifetime that he was carrying the burden of the generation [on his shoulders]. Everyone remembers how HaRav Shach ztllh"h fought for the preservation of religion and acted on his own with mesirus nefesh, and Hashem granted him success in putting religion on its proper foundations. His whole leadership ability stemmed from his omol and yegias haTorah.

I heard once that one night the Rosh Yeshiva ztllh"h came to the Brisker Rov ztllh"h to ask him about a Rambam he had great difficulty with. The Brisker Rov mulled the matter over but could not come up with an explanation to the problem and the Rosh Yeshiva went home. Very late that same night the Brisker Rov woke up one of his sons, told him to recite the bircas haTorah and go to the Rosh Yeshiva to tell him the Brisker Rov's solution to the contradiction in the Rambam. The son said to his father that the Rosh Yeshiva would surely be sleeping at such a late hour. The Brisker Rov replied, "I am convinced that Rav Eliezer would not go to sleep until he had found a solution to this problem in the Rambam."

He merited a lot of things by virtue of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah and by his omol haTorah.

(These statements were made privately by HaRav Eliashiv and quoted by Rav Shmuel Deutsch during a hesped assembly. They give us an insight into the correct approach to Rav Shach's personality and allow us to appreciate the greatness of our loss.)

HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira: His Clear Daas Torah Was Based On Immense Yegias HaTorah And Depth In Torah

The Mishna says in Ovos (6:1), "Whoever labors in Torah for its own sake merits many things; moreover, the whole world is indebted to him: he is called friend, beloved, a lover of Hashem, a lover of mankind: it clothes him in modesty and reverence; it prepares him to become righteous, pious, upright and faithful; it keeps him far from sin, and brings him near to virtue: through him the world enjoys counsel and sound knowledge, understanding and strength, as it says, `Counsel is mine and sound knowledge; I am understanding; I have strength . . . to him the secrets of the Torah are revealed; he becomes a never-failing fountain . . . it magnifies and exalts him above all things."

The Rosh Yeshiva ztv"l was the personification of Torah. His very existence was for toiling in Torah for its own sake. His mind was always taken up with Torah. I already knew him in Lomzhe Yeshiva and the Brisker Rov's house, and he knew of nothing other than Torah. His main occupation was the search for the truth in a sugya and this was his whole life.

Although he was an immense iluy and genius, he still toiled in Torah with all his strength, always [throughout his life]. This toiling in Torah for its own sake magnified and exalted him above all things, for anyone who saw how, many years ago, he was totally cut off from his surroundings, dealing only in Torah, could not understand how he could [later] lead the klal, being familiar with each individual down to the smallest details.

I heard about the Rosh Yeshiva's iluyishkeit from the Brisker Rov z"l when I was learning at Lomzhe Yeshiva. The Rov asked me whom I spoke to in limud and I told him with Rav Shach. The Rov told me that he also derived special pleasure from speaking to Rav Shach in limud. One of the things the Rov pointed out was that Rav Shach was an iluy with a very quick grasp.

Anyone who knew the Rosh Yeshiva z"l saw that even later on his life when he was occupied all the time with public affairs, his mind was mainly taken up with Torah and this was his whole vitality. Due to his toiling in Torah for its own sake the secrets of the Torah were revealed to him, and he became a never-failing fountain who had the merit of teaching thousands of talmidim all of whom study his illuminating Torah.

I still remember how he was meshamesh the Brisker Rov to understand his actions, interpreting them and investigating them well, and especially how he learned Toras emes from the Rov, how he rejoiced in his words treating each one as a special treasure. It was presumably the same with his uncle HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer z"l to whom he was very close, and with the other gedolim of the previous generation. This way he became one of the transmitters of Torah whom Hashem plants in every generation.

Because of his toiling in Torah and profound understanding of it and due to his shimush chachomim, his insight was clear daas Torah which illuminated the eyes of the nation.

HaRav Boruch Ber z"l explained to me the difference between talmidei chachomim and non-Jewish scholars. A talmid chochom considers himself small compared to the previous generation and each previous generation greater still. With non-Jewish scholars the opposite is true: the further back a generation is the less importance do they attach to it. He said that the further away something is [in time] the more insignificant does it seem to man. Therefore, the further removed non-Jewish scholars are from their predecessors, the more do they feel superior to them, and that they are the wise ones.

With the chachmei haTorah, on the other hand, with whom a covenant was made that the Torah shall not be forgotten amongst them and that each generation passes on its knowledge to the next generation, it is different. Although this generation did not receive its Torah from the Rambam but through the Rashbo, the Re'oh, and the Ritvo from them, the Ran and the Nimmukei Yosef from him, the Rivosh from the Ran and so on, we have a direct connection all the way to the Rambam and therefore we are close to him and see how small we are next to his great light.

Similarly we saw with the Rosh Yeshiva how he was responsible for transmitting the derech haTorah he received from his rabbonim of the previous generation.

For an opinion to be daas Torah it has to be free of any negios. And that is how he was in reality. It was like that with limud Torah and with everything else: emes without any negios. Apart from the fact that the trait of truth was engraved into the Rosh Yeshiva without ever deviating from it, after his toiling and study of Torah any negios disappeared in any case, for what value can the pleasures and negios of this world have when compared to the joy of limud haTorah and other spiritual matters? The Rosh Yeshiva was the embodiment of Torah and so it was not possible for him to have any negios.

Morenu the Rosh Yeshiva ztv"l was the father of the nation, as Elisha said about Eliyohu Hanovi, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horseman!" Although Eliyohu was the chariot of the nation and its horseman, and suffered and carried the burden of the generation on his shoulders and protected the fortress of religion for the whole nation, he was still its "father" -- the father of every individual, both great and small.

If someone takes the burden of the klal upon himself this stems from concern for each and every individual. We find this with the gedolim. I have heard that Rav Chaim Ozer z"l said, "In his youth I used to think that the main thing was to write lots of books, but now I think that the main thing is to make people with a low spirit happy."

This means that although the foundation of our life and our vitality is certainly limud haTorah and delving in Torah is inestimably greater than gladdening the hearts of the dejected, but where there is no one to make them happy the Torah itself obligates those who study it to go and cheer their spirits.

That was the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l. He was the father of individuals and thereby carried the burden of the klal.

I heard from the Brisker Rov z"l that there was once an important meeting of all the gedolim about public matters in which the Beis Halevi was supposed to participate. On his way to the meeting a non-Jew told them that some distance away there was a sick Jew who had no one to look after him. The Beis Halevi, instead of continuing his journey, went straight away to this Jew's house and remained there for a week to look after him. Only then did he continue his journey to the meeting of the rabbonim.

I remember a problem with a public dimension to which there seemed to be a solution, but HaRav Shach zt"l refused to consider it, stating that a certain Jew would be harmed by this solution. This was because his concern for the public stemmed from the fact that he was the father of each and every individual and it was not possible to hurt an individual.

As part of his carrying the public's burden on his shoulders and of his concern for the klal, he made boundaries and stood in the breach. He fitted the description in Koheles: "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails well fastened." Chazal said that just like the goad guides the cow in its furrow, so do the words of the chachomim direct man in the paths of life, and they are as nails well fastened because they are as secure as nails. When something affected kvod Shomayim he fought with all his strength and energy and did not favor anybody. When kvod Shomayim was at stake he was moser nefesh for kvod Hashem, because he felt that he himself did not exist since kvod Shomayim was hanging in the balance.

How much thought he invested into each individual and into the klal as a whole. He dedicated his whole being for the benefit of the klal both by disseminating Torah and educating each and every talmid in Torah and yiras Shomayim and by dealing in public affairs.

We also saw fulfilled in him the Mishna, "It clothes him in modesty": although the truth consumed him more than anything else, it could be seen how he listened to another person's opinion and thought about it and how he related to each and every individual's opinion.

Rav Boruch Ber z"l used to say that the posuk, "Do not take your ruach hakodesh from me" refers to the gedolim of each generation. How much bnei Torah and the yeshivas received from the Rosh Yeshiva's great spirit as long as he was alive! Now that he has been taken from us all that remains for us to do is to learn from his way and strengthen ourselves in Torah and cleave only to it.

HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitch: "His Whole Being Was Only Torah and Limud, and This Gave Him the Ability To Lead The Klal"

The origin and basis of his leadership of Klal Yisroel was not his bearing the burden of the public, but feeling responsibility for each and every individual, both in gashmiyus and in ruchniyus.

This quality, stemming from his concern for each individual, necessarily led to his shouldering the burden of leading the nation.

He was unusually dedicated to each talmid. How happy he was with each talmid when he heard a good question or a good teirutz from him! How he encouraged them! All this stemmed also form his immense simchas haTorah and from his modesty and the purity of his midos bein odom lechavero.

His dedication to families and individuals needing help was also amazing to behold! I remember how he went out of his way to exert himself for the widow of a great talmid chochom who lived in Bnei Brak, doing things for her and cheering her spirits. I also remember how he took the trouble to arrange a shidduch for a girl who had been orphaned from her father, a young maggid shiur, and how he made arrangements for her to be able to live comfortably. He was moser nefesh for the individual and there are hundreds of similar stories.

We cannot imagine how much he exerted himself for each individual, even in situations and places where it seemed to be a case of zokein ve'eino lefi kevodo. He never had any considerations of kovod. He nullified himself, and was far removed from any trace of negios.

The trait of modesty was implanted in him, having received it from his rebbe HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztv"l. Rav Isser Zalman considered himself insignificant because of his great modesty. When he heard a sevoroh from a talmid he would not stop praising him and would not stop telling others about the talmid's pshat. This is the trait of modesty which the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l acquired from him.

It is not just that the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l had the merit of leading Klal Yisroel: it was mainly the privilege of the nation to have had an "individual" whom Hakodosh Boruch Hu planted to be a faithful shepherd for our generation, which is one of darkness in very sense. Moshe Rabbenu asked Hakodosh Boruch Hu that the leader of the congregation should be "a man in whom the spirit rests." We see that the Jewish nation needs this and that it cannot continue to exist without it. We in our generation were privileged to have been led by a man "in whom the spirit rests."

He had pure daas Torah. Daas Torah means [having the merit of] sharing the views of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. "Hakodosh Boruch Hu made man upright but they have sought out many reckonings." As long as a person does not seek many reckonings he remains with the straight view, the view of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

When a person is the embodiment of Torah and his whole being is immersed in Torah and he is totally removed from the matters of this world, and without any personal negios, and he has unlimited devotion to his fellow man, then he necessarily has daas Torah and is protected by Hakodosh Boruch Hu from failure. Such is the siyata deShmaya of a leader of Klal Yisroel, and such was the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l.

From his childhood he was immersed in Torah, hidden away in the yeshivas and removed from all worldly affairs. He even left his house as a very young child and studied Torah all his life in terrible poverty! It is miraculous to consider how a child who almost did not grow up with his family dedicated himself to such an amazing extent to Torah and removed himself from olom hazeh growing up to become a leader of Klal Yisroel: this is not a natural phenomenon! It is a special gift bestowed by Hakodosh Boruch Hu upon this generation.

A godol hador is someone who has nothing out of this world, and such a person was the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l. The only thing that mattered to him was to resolve a tzorich iyun. Even during public gatherings, when there were negotiations between the participants he prepared his shiurim. The whole course of his life revolved around limud, as is true of all gedolei Yisroel: HaRav Yosef Dinkeles zt"l would leave Eretz Yisroel during Shmittah years. During one of his stays in chutz lo'oretz he met HaRav Chaim Ozer zt"l. They talked in limud, and when they parted there was still a question unresolved with a tzorich iyun. Some 20 years later when they met again HaRav Chaim Ozer immediately mentioned the same question and suggested a possible resolution to the problem.

The whole course of a godol's life revolves around the gemora and limud, and this we also saw with the Rosh Yeshiva. His whole being was only Torah and limud, and this gave him the ability to lead the klal. He felt the grave responsibility on his shoulders of being the "eyes of the congregation," and he therefore answered any question, whether in the private or public domain, after great deliberation and after having clarified all the details as much as he could.

Although he gave rulings and expressed his opinion, daas Torah, about everything that happened, it was as if he was not actually there. He always lived with the ever-present thought of the yom hamiso.

From what we have seen and heard about his behavior, it is clear that it was based on constant mussar study and introspection. Towards the end of Shabbos I would hear him when he sat in the dark beis hamedrash of the Yeshiva learning mussar and engaging in a cheshbon hanefesh. His cries and sighs shocked anyone who heard them, and this happened on a regular basis, without any changes. He also deeply admired the mashgiach, Rav Yechezkel zt"l.

Absolute absorption in Torah to an amazing extent, removal from worldly affairs, modesty, and dedication to the Torah and other spiritual and physical needs of his fellow man -- this was the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l. With his greatness in these middos he was able to bear Klal Yisroel on his shoulders.

Now that he has gone to his eternal resting place, we have lost everything . . .

HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman: "He Became The Leader Of The Nation Because He Was Totally Immersed In Torah"

I heard that when they wanted the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l to join the Moetzes Gedolei haTorah they went to the Brisker Rov, who was surprised: "Him? He's totally immersed in Torah, he has no connection to anything except limud haTorah!"

It was true. He was immersed in limud haTorah to an unprecedented extent. He knew of nothing other than limud haTorah. Subsequently he became a leader of the Torah world and of Klal Yisroel. It was just because he was so totally immersed in Torah that he became the leader of the nation! We can apply to him what they say about the Chofetz Chaim in the name of the Chazon Ish, that for sixty years he learned Torah lishmoh and afterwards he became the leader of Klal Yisroel. The same could be said about the Chazon Ish himself and also about Rav Shach.

For as long as he thought that the responsibility was not his, he sat and learned on his own with amazing hasmodoh, but when he felt that the responsibility was his, he did it with the utmost seriousness and out of a feeling of responsibility for Klal Yisroel. He invested a very large amount of time thinking over the issues and it took him a long time to make decisions. He worked and worked, thought and thought, considered all the aspects and, with his daas Torah, made a ruling.

The Rosh Yeshiva zt"l learned all his life in conditions of terrible poverty. His opinions and rulings were certainly literally daas Torah. Daas Torah means expressing what the Torah says. Rav Chaim Volozhiner says that if a person wants to take advice from the Torah he should learn with a great cheishek "until it seems to him that he is learning Torah for its own sake. Then he should think about whether to go ahead with his original intention. He should act in accordance with whatever comes to his mind then; that is the Torah's advice." This is brought in Keser Rosh (siman 69). Therefore, if a person is immersed in learning all his life and the only thing in his life is limud then [his views and rulings] are certainly daas Torah and based on this he leads Klal Yisroel.

That was how Rav Shach was able to make rulings on any issue that arose. This gave him the authority to make rulings about such critical questions affecting Klal Yisroel. Since the days of Chazal and even before that, the Jewish people would go out to war only with the [permission of the] Urim Vetumim. Sometimes they said "yes" and sometimes "no," and even when they said "yes" but did not say that they would succeed, they went out to fight and were not successful. Today we do not have the Urim Vetumim but we do have gedolim. Of course they are not on the same level as the Urim Vetumim, but at least we have them.

Naturally a godol hador has such daas Torah. Everybody certainly knew that Rav Shach is the godol hador, first and foremost in Torah. Nobody thought himself a bigger lamdan than Rav Shach. Everyone who studied Torah knew that the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l was above everybody in his understanding of the Torah.

Every generation has such personalities. There are people, for example, who ask difficult questions on Rav Chaim Brisker in limud, but did anybody think that he is greater than Rav Chaim? The same is true with the Brisker Rov. People have asked questions on and given answers to points made by the Brisker Rov, but everyone knows that he is not the Brisker Rov. The same is true about the Chazon Ish. And in the last generation, everyone knew that he was not Rav Shach.

He had a wonderful yegias haTorah and very great talent, but my father zt"l once told me that a godol only becomes famous for his good middos. Anyone who knew Rav Shach saw his gutkeit and his feinkeit. That was also how Rav Chaim and other gedolim became famous, and of course, they were very great in Torah.

Rav Shach was also incredibly intelligent. The Rosh Yeshiva was a combination of genius in knowledge and understanding of Torah, immense toiling in Torah, good middos and intelligence. He also had incredible mesirus nefesh. The same person with such good middos was not afraid and fought against his own middos when he was sure that he needed to insist on the observance of fundamental religious requirements. Once he even said that he was going somewhere where they would be sure to throw stones at him. That was the extent of his mesirus nefesh. He was certainly totally uninterested in matters pertaining to kovod.

His levaya was attended by hundreds of thousands, but I heard that he had said that he does not mind if there will only be a minyan of people at his levaya, and if there will not be that many either, it would still be a valid kevuro. Everybody is amazed by this statement but the truth is that when we are dealing with a person of the stature of the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l, this is not a novel matter. For someone not used to this it is a big chidush.

In the gemora (Pesochim 50b) it says that those who perform the rotzon Hashem not lishmoh [Hashem's mercy is great] until the heavens, and to those who act for its own sake His mercy extends above the heavens. Does a person as great as Rav Shach care how many people come to his funeral? Yaakov Ovinu buried Rochel on his own. Did Rochel miss anything because of this?

The public, in its masses, may have wanted to honor the godol hador but Rav Shach himself certainly did not care. This is not a chiddush. The unique thing is that we had a person like Rav Shach who throughout his life learnt Torah lishmoh and did the rotzon Hashem lishmoh above the heavens.

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky: "How He Protected Us!"

On the morning of that bitter Friday when the Rosh Yeshiva was taken from us, Rav Eliyohu Man, who is close to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, went to speak to the rov. It was shortly after the terrible news had become known. We asked Rav Man to tell us details of their conversation, which took place at the height of the pain felt by the Rosh Yeshiva's passing. (Rav Chaim saw the following text before Yated Ne'eman published it):

On the morning of the churban that Friday I asked the Rov to say something and he said, crying at the same time:

"My feeling is that the world is a different world now, a different country, a different heaven, different people. In the Yeshiva (Petach Tikva Yeshiva where the Rov was his talmid) they loved him and heard his shiurim."

I told him that I heard from Rav Mordechai Kreitman zt"l, who was also his talmid in Petach Tikva, that people in the Yeshiva said of the Rosh Yeshiva that he could do three things: learn, learn and learn. One of the Rosh Yeshiva's talmidim also told me that the Rosh Yeshiva told him once that he stayed up all night working out a Ramban. This gives us some idea of his omol haTorah. I once asked the Steipler zy"o a question and he told me, "Ask Rav Eliezer, he has more daas Torah than me. He is always in limud, always in limud!" and he gesticulated with his hands how he was always immersed in his studies.

Rav Chaim added: "My father was grateful to the Rosh Yeshiva zy"o for having lightened his burden in dealing with the public."

On the other hand, when the Rosh Yeshiva was maspid the Steipler, he cried, "I have been orphaned."

"It is true. He would send [people] to my father, and my father would send to him."

Rav Chaim concluded: "How he protected us!"

Several days later Rav Chaim made some more short statements illustrating the extent to which the Torah of the Rosh Yeshiva was Toras emes. I told him that the story goes that once after a shiur in Lomzhe Yeshiva, Petach Tikva, one of the bochurim made a comment on the shiur, which the Rosh Yeshiva said was correct. Due to his love of truth and his modesty the Rosh Yeshiva went to the beis hamedrash walking between all the talmidim and telling them, "I made a mistake, I made a mistake." I asked Rav Chaim if this story was true.

"The story is true. It was Rav Yitzchok Wasserman shlita who asked the question. Rav Shach told him, "You're right," and then he announced to the bochurim that Yitzchok Wasserman had asked a question on the shiur, "Und er is gerecht."


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.