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19 Shevat 5763 - January 22, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Yeshiva's Home: HaRav Aryeh Leib Malin, 29th Teves 5763, His Forty-First Yahrtzeit

by A. Hacohen and Yated Ne'eman Staff


The story of HaRav Leib Malin's life holds much to interest. One could describe his illustrious family members, his great teachers, his standing in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Europe, his pivotal role in the yeshiva's dramatic experiences during the war years, his founding of Yeshivas Beis Hatalmud and his untimely death which, as HaRav Aharon Kotler said at the levayoh, deprived Klal Yisroel of the godol hador of the next generation. A portrayal of his story would clearly contain a wealth of instruction and inspiration.

Yet remarkably, many of his talmidim and acquaintances, when approached for help in the preparation of such an appreciation, felt that there would be little point in it. By way of response to our request, many of them directed us to a well-known article entitled Beis Chayeinu (a synopsis of which accompanies this article), which HaRav Malin wrote as an introduction to the Torah journal Hatevunoh, which his yeshiva published. "That was Reb Leib," they said, "you can work the rest out for yourselves."

Apparently, they felt that a conventional account would obscure more of him than it revealed. It would miss the crux of his character around which all else revolved which, if properly grasped, would afford the correct insight into every other aspect of his life. Individual incidents, dates and places are far less important than understanding who and what Reb Leib was.

Indeed, after gathering the comments of other gedolei Torah who knew him, and viewing them in the context of what we know about the unique internal dynamics of the prewar and wartime Mirrer Yeshiva, a picture -- perhaps more accurately, an idea -- emerges to which words can hardly do justice. It is in this spirit that the following lines are offered.

Reb Leib's memory is deeply engraved in the annals of the yeshivos. He was, perhaps, the quintessential ben yeshiva -- the greatest repository of the lomdus, the mussar teachings and the striving and aspirations of the Lithuanian yeshivos in his generation.

He was a gifted talmid who channeled all his energies into faithfully absorbing all that he could from his great teachers, developing his own greatness in the process. He was a friend and mentor to both peers and younger students. And eventually, he was a transmitter of this heritage which he had worked through and to which he added, to a new generation who, through him, forged their own links to what was by then a vanished world. More than the story of one man then, his is the story of a chaburoh.

Noch Lernen

Prewar Mir was a `senior' yeshiva. Bochurim arrived there after having spent years in other yeshivos gedolos, such as Grodno, Kamenetz and Kletsk where the great roshei yeshiva opened the gates of learning to them, each following his own approach. After several years of absorbing Torah at the feet of these great teachers, it was common for the better students to travel to Mir.

Alumni of all the yeshivos converged there, forming one great group that learned together and shared the ideas and approaches that each of them had brought with him.

This arrangement -- which HaRav Nochum Partzowitz zt'l, used to call noch lernen -- formed the basis of the way in which the entire Mirrer yeshiva was run and directed, and it also shaped the shiurim. Its particular delight and attraction lay in learning through the cycle of masechtos that the talmidim had already learned with their roshei yeshiva, while this time their main rebbe was "the yeshiva itself," as HaRav Chaim Shmulevitz zt'l put it. In this case, "the yeshiva itself" meant the pooled learning of some of the finest, matured minds of the yeshiva world, who brought with them the reid of the great masters.

This was what made Mir unique. The reden in lernen (speaking in learning) took place among older, experienced scholars, who had already learned the masechta several times and who were finely attuned to every nuance of its understanding. To be able to take part and to excel in this type of discussion was the common ambition and this was one of Reb Leib Malin's great strengths.

His friend and colleague HaRav Michel Feinstein ylct'a, once remarked, "How wonderful it was to see Reb Leib `getting into' Bovo Kammo as though he'd never learned it before, when in fact, since I had got to know him, he'd learned it seven times in the yeshivos."

This added dimension might be a factor in the great popularity of the posthumously published Chidushei Rebbi Aryeh Leib. Aside from his own chiddushim, Reb Leib presents well-known questions of understanding that his own teachers raised -- such as whether the ruling to divide at the beginning of perek Shnayim Ochazin is based on doubt or on definite knowledge (Shanghai 5704). His presentation and exposition of the fine details of this and other issues with added depth and clarity, puts them in a new light.

One of the present roshei yeshiva of Mir, a talmid of Reb Nochum, told us that the latter once told him that, "Just a few hours of conversation with Reb Leib zt'l were enough for me to understand how one is supposed to learn."

During the Shanghai period, much of Reb Leib's time was taken up with yeshiva administration and this prevented many of the bochurim from learning with him regularly. One of Reb Nochum's sons reports however, that his father said, "Even if there's only one hour left for me to learn with him, it's worth my while."

On another occasion, Reb Nochum recalled that he and Reb Leib had learned together so vigorously that they had gone through entire passages of Mishneh Lamelech that are renowned for their length and depth "in the blink of an eye," while fully absorbing the content.

Prior to coming to Mir, Reb Nochum had studied under HaRav Elchonon Wasserman zt'l Hy'd, and HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt'l and he was one of their foremost talmidim. His own talmidim maintain however, that his unique method of arriving at a profound understanding of a text by reading it with precision and scrutinizing it for every nuance, was the fruit of the hours that he spent learning with Reb Leib in Shanghai.

Loaded with his Teachers' Torah

Reb Leib's own contribution to the Mirrer Torah "exchange" was massive, encompassing both what he brought with him and what he went on to receive during the time he learned in Mir. He initially learned in Grodno under Reb Shimon Shkop zt'l who was known to respect him highly.

There are two versions of the form that this took. According to one, whenever Reb Leib visited Grodno, Reb Shimon himself would come to meet him at the train station. The other version is that Reb Shimon would don festive garments in Reb Leib's honor. Many of the other great roshei yeshiva also took a special liking to him, foremost among them, the Brisker Rov zt'l.

At HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l's request, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt'l, sent a group of his finest scholars to Brisk to hear the Rov's shiurim. Among the group that heard the Rov's shiurim on Kodshim were Reb Leib, Reb Yonah Karpliov and ylct'a, Reb Michel Feinstein.

The Rov became especially fond of Reb Leib, whom he befriended. Aided by his excellent memory and writing ability, Reb Leib recorded the Brisker Rov's shiurim (they were later published in "stencil" format). The Rov even let Reb Leib see notebooks of his own chiddushim and those of his father, Reb Chaim zt'l, which were in his possession. Reb Leib would memorize the chiddushim, return the notebooks and be given a fresh batch.

Reb Leib absorbed the Brisker Rov's approach to such a degree, that he became a virtual mouthpiece for his way of understanding. Rav D. Finkel zt'l related that Reb Leib once sent the Rov a letter containing chidushei Torah of his own. After reading the letter the Rov commented, "Who wrote these chiddushim -- Reb Leib or I? Reb Leib seems to have written them -- he even sent them to me -- yet I feel that I wrote them."

Reb Leib's nephew, HaRav Berel Povarsky of Ponevezh Yeshiva (who edited and published Chidushei Reb Aryeh Leib) classes his uncle's Torah as "Brisker Torah. He reaches to the profoundest depths of every sugya that he deals with, bringing hidden points of understanding to light, that bring tremendous joy [of comprehension]. Obscure points are revealed in their full grandeur." He notes that despite his having learned in Grodno and from the Mirrer roshei yeshiva his uncle was one of the handful whose Torah can be viewed as, "Toras Brisk, in all its perfection and splendor. His genius was the Brisker genius; he also merited being laid to rest near the Brisker Rov, in the family plot."

Reb Leib's utter self-negation before his rebbes enabled him to encompass both the Torah of Brisk and the mussar of Kelm. In the realm of mussar, he was considered the closest of Reb Yeruchom's talmidim. At Reb Yeruchom's levayoh in Sivan 5696 (1936), a group of the Mashgiach's closest talmidim walked behind the bier all the way, emitting heart-rending sobs, as though part of their own souls had been torn from them.

Following Reb Yeruchom's petiroh, Reb Leib was acknowledged as his foremost talmid. He would repeat the Mashgiach's teachings to the others, clearly and precisely. Most of the writings of Reb Yeruchom that were published in later years were the work of Reb Leib and Reb Yeruchom's son, Rav Simcha Zissel Leibowitz zt'l.

The latter's nephew, Rav Tzvi Kaplan, Rosh Kollel Shaarei Torah in Tel Aviv, says of Reb Leib, "He was a [true] talmid of his rebbes, both in Grodno with . . . HaRav Shimon Shkop . . . and in Mir, with my grandfather . . . It is impossible to describe such a degree of self-negation to his teachers. No such thing exists today. He wrote the ma'amorim in Daas Chochmoh Umussar Vol. II. He translated them from Yiddish into Loshon Hakodesh. With his masterful touch, he breathed life into them, bringing out the fiery mussar spirit that bursts forth from each and every essay and topic. He commented that Heaven had specially sent the elder [of mussar], Reb Yeruchom ztvk'l, to instruct the Jewish nation in the Torah of mussar. He felt that it was so. I remember [how] he used to say over the Mashgiach's maamorim to us and at the end he would say, `It's not for us. These are deep maamorim . . . '

"One could describe Reb Leib in the posuk's words (Bereishis 49:14), ` . . . a strong-boned donkey, crouching [for rest] between [the] loads [that he carries]; he inclined his shoulder to bear [burdens] . . . ' He carried the burden of authority. He had the characteristics required of a leader. To us all, he was a fortress -- an iron pillar raising Torah's banner high. He was literally a `beast of burden,' carrying both chochmoh and mussar on his back . . . "

The Mirrer Chaburoh

In this way, Reb Leib and the other senior bochurim developed in stature and in standing. Among the leading members of this older group were, Reb Chaim Kobriner (Wysoker) zt'l, Reb Michel Starobiner (Feinstein) ylct'a, Reb Zeidel Tiktiner (Semiaticki) zt'l and Reb Shmuel Charkover (Vilensky) zt'l. The greatest among them were Reb Yonah Minsker (Karpilov) zt'l Hy'd, author of Yonas Ileim and Reb Leib Bialystoker (Malin) zt'l.

Here is how another alter Mirrer, Rav Elchonon Yosef Hertzmann, described the yeshiva's senior cadre: "There were distinguished bochurim in Mir, great in Torah and yir'oh, who could have served as important maggidei shiur in the greatest yeshivos, even before the war. They were adorned with [all] the forty-eight crowns of our holy Torah.

"Nor did their work on good character traits, yiras Shomayim and mussar fall short of their Torah. They had worked over every inch of themselves, with the purest of intentions, like the preparation of parchment -- even though this was not [always] so apparent externally, because many [of them] went about this work in a quiet, concealed manner. Gedolei Yisroel of the time like HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky ztvk'l, respected them tremendously, for he recognized their greatness."

Reb Chaim Ozer once commented, "I am not afraid of any particular member of the Mirrer chaburoh, but as a group they are a force to be reckoned with."

Rav Tzvi Kaplan notes that the intensity of the learning in the old Mir was linked to the minimal material conditions that prevailed throughout the prewar yeshiva world: "True, there is a lot of Torah everywhere today, but in Mir they learned despite the hardships. HaRav Yosef Lis zt'l once said that there was simply no such thing in Mir as eating and being satisfied. Yet the learning was conducted with a ferocity that is uncommon nowadays. [Today's] learning amid plenty is not like the learning was then. And when Reb Leib in particular, used to learn intensely with ylct'a Reb Michel Feinstein, the entire yeshiva seethed."

Another alter Mirrer, Rav Sholom Shapiro zt'l, writes (in Hazericha Bepa'asei Kedem), "The yeshiva's most distinguished talmidim actually sat [not at the mizrach but] along the western wall, on the benches at the back. The first place was occupied by the gaon Rav Yonah Karpilov . . . and in the parallel row [sat] the gaon Rav Aryeh Leib. Whoever had any difficulty with what he was learning went to them and they would explain clearly and lucidly."

All alumni of the old Mir mention this back bench in their recollections. One of HaRav Pinchos Scheinberg's family members told us that whenever HaRav Scheinberg, (who learned there as an avreich,) recalls that bench and the fiery Torah debate that used to take place there, his eyes fill with tears.

In this atmosphere of working and striving together towards a common goal, the bonds that bound the bochurim together developed and grew in strength. The older ones pulled the younger ones up; they befriended them and concerned themselves with their every need, both spiritual and material. This cohesion was one of the factors that enabled the bnei hayeshiva to weather the travails of the war years as a group.

An exceptional example of how the bochurim cared for each other is Rav Hertzmann's portrait of the bochur, Shmuel Charkover (Vilensky) zt'l, upon whose petiroh Reb Leib Malin remarked, "I feel that I have lost part of myself today."

Other alumni point out that Reb Leib himself and Reb Chaim Wysoker used to complement each other in their management of the younger bochurim. In keeping with his name, Reb Leib was the "fierce" lion whose spirit stormed, while Reb Chaim was calm and wise. The two of them remained partners in later life too. Together, they founded Beis Hatalmud.

The Yeshiva's Soul

The bonds among the older students and between them and the younger ones in fact constituted the soul of the yeshiva; any rupture in the former caused grievous damage to the latter. This is the gist of one of Reb Leib's wartime letters to the yeshiva's president HaRav Avrohom Kalmanovitz zt'l, who had been laboring unceasingly in the United States to extract the bnei hayeshiva from the Far East.

In 1941, Rav Kalmanovitz succeeded in obtaining forty- one Canadian visas which would have enabled a large contingent of bochurim to leave Shanghai. Reb Leib nevertheless wrote to him that, "the main reason [for their not having travelled immediately] is that all of us who have visas, are bound heart and soul to the other bnei hayeshiva. Our hearts' desire and our souls' deepest longing are to see -- and to be part of -- our holy yeshiva in its wholeness . . ." In this letter, Reb Leib also notes that, "despite all the wanderings that Yeshivas Mir has undergone, its spirit and innermost soul have not diminished by one iota . . . "

This resolve to maintain the chaburoh intact led to the subsequent decision to turn down this opportunity to leave the Far East altogether, until the entire yeshiva could go.

Early on in the war when the Russians expelled the yeshiva from the town of Keidan, it became necessary to split the yeshiva into several groups, each of which would learn in a different location. A committee was formed to decide who should be in each group -- by no means a straightforward task, for the yeshiva's survival depended on each contingent being able to function fully as a self contained unit until they could reunite.

Reb Leib played a major role in the committee's work. One of his important decisions was that all the groups should remain in the same district so that the mashgiach could visit each group frequently, instead of spreading out in order to avoid detection. He himself was the leader of one of the groups. The committee was still needed after this period and Reb Leib continued to serve on it. His contribution to the yeshiva's smooth running in the difficult period which followed was invaluable, due to his relationship with the bochurim, his qualities of leadership and the fact that he himself was one of the students. Throughout the war, he maintained contact with Rav Kalmanovitz and others, by letter and telegram.

He was fully aware of the responsibilities involved in navigating the affairs of a large group. In explaining to Rav Kalmanovitz why it had been decided that the yeshiva would altogether avoid the doubt over the international date line he wrote that, "Even though the members of the Lubavitch yeshiva and many others are travelling [before Yom Kippur to the area where the doubt existed], individuals are capable of fasting for two days and they are going as individuals. Not so for our holy yeshiva which is a collective group, whose actions as such must be absolutely untainted. They say in the name of Reb Yisroel z'l, that a group must conduct itself [with the utmost care and deliberation] like the greatest leaders and it is obvious that gedolim would not put themselves into such situations of doubt, under any circumstances whatsoever . . . "

Fiery scholar that he was, in all his letters, from both the Shanghai period and other times, Reb Leib's abiding -- somewhat bashful, even -- love for each and every ben yeshiva is apparent.

End of Part I


Accompanying article:

(Heading) "If you want to know who Reb Leib was, see his essay in Hatevunoh. That was Reb Leib."

(Title) The Focus of Our Lives

Reb Leib wrote this article when he opened Beis Hatalmud in 5707 (1947). It appeared in Hatevunoh, which the yeshiva published. This is a somewhat condensed version, to make its message more accessible to the English reader.

Part I

The Torah of Concealment

Our teacher z'l [Reb Yeruchom, the Mirrer mashgiach] used to point out something remarkable. When one considers what befell our holy nation at the time of the churban -- all the decrees and the suffering -- and when one examines Chazal's statements and stories, an astounding picture emerges. The entire churban and everything that accompanied it did not shake their faith in the slightest, nor did their spirits falter. Looking through medrash Eichah, one sees their boldness of heart and their greatness, the strength of their trust and their courageous spirit, as though all that happened had left them unaffected and the bayis still standing.

Picture the following: in broad daylight, things occur which seem to indicate that Heaven's power is terribly weakened -- wicked Titus enters the Kodesh Hakodoshim and brazenly rips the paroches without anyone protesting -- yet no ones's faith is shaken in the slightest. We find even more -- their faith was so strong and so tangible, that even one and two-year-olds gave up their lives in sanctification of Hashem's Name, with belief so solid that it led to action.

Our teacher z'l, said that this demonstrates an important principle: the Torah of Hashem's concealment is in no way any less significant than that of His favor. This idea is the basis of the lament, "When I left Egypt . . . When I left Yerushalayim" (Kinos of Tisha B'Av), which shows us that Tisha B'Av is on a par with Pesach.

"When I left Egypt," it was a time of Divine grace, of being led in a manner that superseded nature, a time of miracles; it was evident that everything is subservient to His will.

And what was missing "when I left Yerushalayim"! We saw the punishment that befalls those who transgress His will. We saw what sin is and what its consequences are . . . supernatural punishments, unknown in the normal pattern of things. They realized that their "having forsaken Hashem is evil and bitter" (Yirmiyohu 2:19), -- "You concealed Your face; I was alarmed" (Tehillim 30:8).

Wasn't it apparent from all of this that there is no success without closeness to Hashem and that in His concealment, the abyss is bottomless? Is it any wonder then, that they learned from the churban and from all the extraordinary massacres and slaughtering? They strengthened their faith from it, no less than from the departure from Egypt.

Learning From Our Punishment

The contemporary churban of the lands of European Jewry, the lands of the Torah, cannot be compared to anything besides the Churban Habayis. Because of sin, the Torah centers have been destroyed, the holiest part of Klal Yisroel exiled and a majority of the community has been killed. The words of the posuk, "one from a city and two from a family" (Yirmiyohu 3:14), have been fulfilled literally. The punishments went beyond human limits. In other words, they were supernatural. "Retribution is brought about through the guilty" -- the murderers, yemach shemom, were transformed into wild beasts . . . they carried out everything that Chazal say about Gehennom . . . limitless, endless punishment.

Were our holy sages alive today, they would teach us the Torah of punishment, of the Divine concealment that befell us. They would certainly demonstrate to us how everything was "measure for measure," until we saw tangibly that "all His ways are just; He is a G-d of faith, there is no injustice" (Devorim 32:4).

Would we have at least had the fortune not to have lost our pure and holy teachers . . . who established Torah and yir'oh in Klal Yisroel in our times, they would also have instructed us in the Torah of retribution, according to their approach. Woe to us, for we have been doubly smitten. We have been orphaned, having no father to teach us and we are affected by foolishness and closed hearts, that prevent us from coming to terms with the subject at least in general, if not in a detailed way.

The Torah of our churban is thus infinitely greater . . . there are a myriad lessons that we ought to learn and conclusions that we ought to derive. In a general way, we ought to dwell on Chazal's directive to work out the sin from the punishment, for Heaven repays "measure for measure." From the greatest of our punishments -- the killing of the Torah sages and scholars, the destruction of the Torah centers, teachers and their disciples, Torah and its receptacle, its scribes and students, whereby Torah has virtually been taken away from Klal Yisroel, chas vesholom -- it is clear that the main punishment has been for Torah's annulment. Torah is taken from Klal Yisroel when they are guilty of neglecting it . . .

To be continued in the next installment . . .


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