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10 Cheshvan 5763 - October 16, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Shach as Rosh Yeshiva

"The Father of the yeshivos" at the Helm of "the Mother of Yeshivos"

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Almost exactly fifty years before his petiroh, HaRav Shach was asked by the Ponevezher Rov to become the rosh yeshiva of the largest home of Torah. Throughout his life, the Rosh Yeshiva would recall the Ponevezher Rov as the creator and generator of the large yeshiva, the largest in Eretz Yisroel. Many regarded Ponevezh Yeshiva as the heir of Volozhin, in fulfillment of the Chazal: "All the botei medrash of Bovel will become established in Eretz Yisroel." The Rosh Yeshiva himself wrote about the Yeshiva in a letter that "it should be called the Mother of yeshivos." For fifty years he was at its helm, charting its course and zealously guarding its purity as the "flagship" of all the yeshivos.

The Ponevezher Rov said that he was astounded that he had just decided the day before, and then he met HaRav Shach in Tel Aviv.

HaRav Karelenstein said that bochurim from the Yeshiva used to go and speak with the Chazon Ish in learning on a regular basis, and they used to come back and report on the extreme praise that he heaped upon HaRav Shach. Every Tuesday, someone used to tell over to the Chazon Ish the shiur of the Rosh Yeshiva.

The Early Days of the Yeshiva

After the yomin tovim of 5712 (1951), according to one version, the Rosh Yeshiva gave his first shiur on the 15th of Cheshvan. The Yeshiva was already firmly established, and the initial, difficult years of the founding of the Yeshiva and the first phases of integration were over.

Thanks to the efforts of HaRav Abba Grossbard zt"l, a group of bochurim from the Lomzhe Yeshiva in Petach Tikva came to Ponevezh. HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky came together with this group, and was asked to be the rosh yeshiva. For a while he stood at the Yeshiva's head and left his imprint for many years. Later the famous mussar gaon HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler and HaRav Dovid Povarsky also joined its ranks. All this was with the advice of the Chazon Ish who wanted to raise the spiritual level of the Yeshiva and appoint a world-renowned personality to join its ranks.

The lot was cast, "It shall not be forgotten from the mouths of his offspring." Sura, Pumbediso, Volozhin and Pressburg now had a secure future. Another link was formed in the golden chain.

It turns out that already in 5704 (1944) the Chazon Ish expressed his opinion, but for some reason it did not work out. The time had not yet come for the Yeshiva and for the whole Olam HaTorah.

Not to Hurt Anybody

The Rosh Yeshiva's refined and noble character prevented his immediate acceptance. He was reluctant because he felt that the position belonged by right to HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky and he asked to meet with him in order to receive his permission. They met in an apartment in Ramat Gan. HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky gave his consent immediately and when he saw that the Rosh Yeshiva was still hesitant, he insisted that he accept the offer. Only then did the Rosh Yeshiva agree to accept the position from the Ponevezher Rov.

From then on a strong friendship sprung up between the two roshei yeshivos. This deep relationship continued throughout their joint leadership until 28th of Tammuz 5739 (1979) when HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky passed away.

The Rosh Yeshiva's great respect for Rav Shmuel was seen on his first day in the yeshiva. The Ponevezher Rov took him to his seat, opposite and parallel to his but to the left of the Aron Hakodesh. The Rov sat on the right of the Aron Hakodesh and HaRav Povarsky sat next to him. HaRav Shach understood instinctively that he was being offered HaRav Shmuel's seat and he refused to take it.

"A Lion has Come Up from Bovel"

The Ponevezher Rov was very joyful during the beginning of Cheshvan. It was not just another Cheshvan. It could be that the Rov sensed the extent of the greatness of the lion that had come up from Bovel and his immense potential influence.

Talmidim recall that during this time the Ponevezher Rov was very excited and could not contain his happiness. He would tell his close students over and over about his satisfaction at having obtained such a huge personality as the Rosh Yeshiva for the Yeshiva leadership. One of those close to him relates: "The Rov was fully aware of the great metzia he had secured. He was very excited about him and walked around full of joy. He felt a need to share his high spirits with us and we would hear him murmur once in a while, `What a success! What joy! A lion has come from Bovel.' "

The Meeting in the Central Bus Station

The first meeting between the Rov and the Rosh Yeshiva about this matter was right after Yom Kippur in the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.

"I heard from the Rov," says the rosh yeshiva of Grodno, HaRav Karelenstein, "that the decision to ask the Rosh Yeshiva to come to the Yeshiva was made during musaf of Yom Kippur. The chesbon hanefesh of the Rov on Yom Kippur was always about the future of the Yeshiva."

He went the morning after Yom Kippur to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv on yeshiva business. As the Rov was walking down Mikveh Yisroel Street he saw the Rosh Yeshiva who had come to Tel Aviv to search for arba minim in the market there! The Rov considered this as a special siyata deShmaya for the Yeshiva. He told those close to him, "I went up to him and said, `Reb Leizerel I am on my way to you!'"

And so in the middle of the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv he made the proposal, an appointment which, in retrospect, set the tone for the Torah's character for future generations.

It is interesting to note that the idea to appoint Reb Chatzkel to be the mashgiach in the Yeshiva came to the Rov a year or two later, also in the middle of Yom Kippur. He had known the Mashgiach for many years, going back to the period when they were together in Kletsk. This was [also] an important nomination for the future of the Yeshiva and character of the bnei Torah, which the Rov consummated the day after Yom Kippur as soon as he had received the Rosh Yeshiva's agreement.

The Rov and the Chickens

The Rov spoke about the next meeting he had with the Rosh Yeshiva in his home. The Rosh Yeshiva lived in Yerushalayim at the time, and the Ponevezher Rov came to him to speak with him about running the Yeshiva. During the visit the Rebbetzin served mezonos and a drink. Suddenly with no prior warning the Rosh Yeshiva got up, excused himself and left the room. The Ponevezher Rov sat and waited.

Some minutes later the Rosh Yeshiva returned and they resumed their discussion. Later they agreed on the matter and the Rosh Yeshiva's acquiescence became a fait accompli.

Then the Ponevezher Rov could not contain himself and expressed his astonishment at the Rosh Yeshiva's disappearance in the middle of the discussion. He may have interpreted his action as an expression of hesitation on the Rosh Yeshiva's part, and wished to hear more about it.

"It's nothing," the Rosh Yeshiva replied. "I realized that as a host I would also have to eat something and I remembered the chickens in the yard which had not had their breakfast. A person is not allowed to eat before feeding his animals so I went outside to give them some seeds."

The Ponevezher Rov told this story many times. "Now you too will understand my joy," he would finish. Then he would add, "Such a man I wanted as the head of the Yeshiva, a man whose every action is great and without any distractions."

"Di Toireh is Eyere"

The Rov understood immediately the decisive role of the Rosh Yeshiva in the Torah and the formation of the image of the Yeshiva. During one of his visits to the Brisker Rov, the Ponevezher Rov discussed the quality and level of the Yeshiva with him. He then added a statement, which reflected his point of view beautifully.

"Di vent zennen meine," he said "ober di Toireh is Eyere. Reb Leizer is doch deine." -- "The walls are mine, but the Torah is yours. After all, Reb Leizer is yours!" (Heard from Rav Dovid Frankl zt"l)

The Shabbos Table Before Candle Lighting

The Rov saw the Rosh Yeshiva as the pearl in the crown of the Yeshiva's leadership. He did not hide his appreciation. He boasted it and expressed his admiration before donors and friends of the Yeshiva.

Reb Eliezer Dunner, a member of the Shearis Yisroel Beis Din who had the merit of dining at the Rov's home many times with his father-in-law Rav Binyomin Wolf zt"l, a wealthy man from London who was known as a great Torah supporter and was a dear friend of the Rov, recalls the following:

"The Rov would constantly boast his success in having obtained a gavra rabbo such as HaRav Shach to head the Yeshiva. On one occasion, during an erev Shabbos meal he told us enthusiastically: "I will tell you who is HaRav Shach." (This was during the period when Rav Shach was just becoming famous throughout the Jewish world.) "Today erev Shabbos the phone rang. A Jew from America was on the line and needed Reb Leizer urgently. He does not have a telephone, so the Jew called me. It was late, nearly candlelighting time. I left my house to go call him.

"When I opened the door to his house I found him sitting by his table. On the table were piles of seforim, some opened, some closed and he was completely engrossed in his learning. Candlelighting was in a few moments, but Reb Leizer was oblivious of anything other than his daled amos. He was totally absorbed in his sefer. He started at my unexpected appearance and asked: `What happened?' I told him that nothing happened, and that I only came to call him to answer a transatlantic telephone call. He calmed down and even apologized for the mess in the room.

"This is our Rosh Yeshiva," the Rov concluded in admiration. "This is what his Shabbos table looks like moments before Shabbos comes in."

Happy is the man who was fortunate enough to witness this.

Everything is Attributed to His Merit

The Rosh Yeshiva greatly appreciated and respected the Ponevezher Rov's great personality and huge visionary spirit. He was very grateful to him for giving him the opportunity to teach Torah on such a grand scale. In all his droshos and his speeches he would extol the Rov's great enterprise. He would always make a point of mentioning that everything was in the Rov's merit, that everything was to be to his credit and everything came from him and because of him.

He constantly mentioned the Rov's noble character, his great dedication to resurrect the dry bones of the remainder of the Jewish nation, the concentration camp refugees, and his great hopes for the coming of Moshiach.

Once he said that the Rov stored within his heart a whole world for each and every Jew. He said that the burden the Rov carrieds on his shoulders cannot be imagined, and he himself felt the tragedy of the Holocaust on his own flesh. Despite this, the Rov was always smiling, loved his fellow men and brought them closer to the Torah.

The Rosh Yeshiva was always very particular to show his great respect for the Rov in public, and he expressed his admiration for him at every opportunity.

The Rosh Yeshiva participated in the Rov's shiurim which took place on Shabbos. He would concentrate and take part in the shiur from his place. This gave the shiur extra strength. Sometimes the Rov would discuss the sugya dealt with in the shiur with him.

It is told in Shimusho shel Torah that once the Rosh Yeshiva told the Rov about the matter of "Kinyon melech bepilegesh," that he was preceded in his brilliant chidush by the amazing gaon HaRav Reuven of Danenburg in his book Rosh Loreuveni. On motzei Shabbos the Rosh Yeshiva brought the sefer to the Rov's home who, with his great love for Torah, was excited about as if it were a great treasure. The sefer stayed with the Rov and the Rosh Yeshiva did not ask for its return because of his great deference for the Rov, until after the Rov's passing, although it was very precious to him.

The Sefer "Toldos Odom"

Thirty-three years ago in his hesped on the Ponevezher Rov in the Yeshiva during his levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva praised the Rov greatly and described him as a very active and energetic person.

Only a few days before this, the Rosh Yeshiva had exhibited his great admiration for anyone who established places of Torah. When the Rov's condition deteriorated, the Rosh Yeshiva took his grandchild, Avrohom Yeshaya, to receive a blessing from the Rov before he passed away.

During the same hesped he related that he had once asked the Rov why he did not write his many chidushim and distribute them amongst Torah scholars.

The Rov's reply amazed the Rosh Yeshiva:

He said, "The book I write is different from other books. It is a book about the history of man [filled with people]. My `books' consist of people."

To this the Rosh Yeshiva remarked that the Ponevezher Rov did not write only one or two books, not hundreds, but thousands and thousands of books were created by the faithful hands of the man who had a great love for everybody, the Rov who produced many talmidim and worked so hard in order that the Torah not be forgotten from amongst the Jewish nation.

Also in the introduction to his book, he mentions the "Rov the great Gaon, full of energy and activity, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who was the one who established the Torah here in our Holy Land from the day he arrived in Eretz Yisroel.

"Hashem allowed him to survive and open up many Yeshivas here," the Rosh Yeshiva concluded.

For many years the Rosh Yeshiva would mention the Rov in his opening address of the Yarchei Kalla Yeshiva, which was heard by thousands of people every year. He would begin his speech every year with the posuk, Sakoso leroshi beyom noshek -- [You Hashem] have screened my head in the day of battle (Tehillim 140:8). This posuk was mentioned by the Rov in his opening speeches of the Yarchei Kalla.

Each year dozens of perushim were said on this posuk, which became a kind of memorial to the initiator of the Yarchei Kalla.


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