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20 Teves 5764 - January 14, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Some Lines in His Memory -- 29th Teves 5764

by Rebbetzin Yaffa Malin-Ebner

It seems to me that the past is not of the past. It has never really passed us by because in some measure, it always remains with us. It is a part of our lives of whose presence we are continually aware. At every moment of our lives -- our past is here.

Forty-two years have passed since the day that my husband, the gaon HaRav Leib Malin zt'l, departed from us.

Every year, attempts are made to record something in his memory, to portray his character, his life and his deeds. And amazingly, there is always a problem. There are no "stories." A great man without "stories" -- is it possible? Yet, that is indeed the truth.

His was a wondrous character that is difficult to describe because it defies description.

Reb Leib was a man who lived and breathed the spirit of the pillars of Torah and mussar [of the past generation]. His entire way of life revolved around toil in Torah. This -- and nothing else -- preoccupied him and was the driving force behind everything that he did. To him, the essence of Torah and its defining feature was "there is nothing besides." [It is all inclusive and therefore all exclusive.]

In his introduction to the first part of Hatevunoh he writes, "If even the greatest man has not been deeply involved in Torah study at every moment, if the finest conduit within him is empty of Torah, he enters a general state of bittul Torah . . . . Torah's essence is that it has no interruption; there are no difficult circumstances that can interrupt it. By nature, it never stops. If it is interrupted by some problem, no matter what kind, it is not Torah."

In one of his letters, the Chazon Ish zt'l, writes, "Knowledge of Torah does not represent the expounding of a single, isolated aspect of human life for didn't Chazal say, `Divrei Torah are only to be found with someone who puts himself to death over them?' The `death' referred to here denotes the movement away from a superficial grasp of life to an appreciation of the profundity of life [and comprehension] of life's innermost content. Such `death' revitalizes its owners and divrei Torah remain with them."

All this constituted the kernel of Reb Leib's teachings and was the essence of his life.

In the world, both natural beauty and spiritual beauty can be encountered. In developing novel Torah ideas, a person constructs a beautiful and glorious spiritual edifice. That was his nature and his life's goal -- to erect an edifice of Torah in its full beauty.

The Maharal writes, "There is a difference between the holiness of Yisroel and that of the nations. The holiness of Yisroel is collective, while that of the nations is individual. In the same way, there exist private, individual souls and collective souls that feel responsibility and are inspired to shoulder the common burden."

A Torah personality feels that he belongs to the collective group, not to his own, private self. This quality could be discerned in Reb Leib throughout his life, both in the old Yeshivas Mir and when he was in Lithuania at the height of the dreadful war. The moment that an avenue of deliverance opened up, he knew no rest and urged the rest of the group to lose no time in nervous dithering from giving in their papers in order to obtain a visa and escape from their place of approaching danger.

This characteristic of concern and responsibility towards others was apparent at all times and in every situation. In Shanghai, he was one of the pivotal figures in maintaining contact, by letter and telegram, with those who were working to save the yeshiva and deliver it from its exile. All this can be ascribed to "collective holiness."

In 1947 (5747) they left Shanghai and reached America.

In order to continue writing about Reb Leib, I must recall those days. That year, 5707 (1947), we were living in Tel Aviv. My brother-in-law the gaon HaRav Dovid Povarsky zt'l, rosh yeshivas Ponovezh, and his family also lived with us after having managed to escape from Lithuania in 5701 (1941).

After my father, the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Dovid Dov Halevi Kreiser zt'l, was niftar in 5691 (1931), my brother-in-law filled his position as a father figure. As was his wont, Reb Dovid was not a man of many words and he sometimes surprised me with the steps that he took. I did not fully understand his reasoning or grasp his plans beforehand. Over the years, I became used to this conduct.

[One day] in Av 5707, upon returning home from my work as a Bais Yaakov teacher, Reb Dovid handed me a sefer -- Hatevunoh part one -- which had just been published and, without any further explanation, asked me to read the introduction. I read it once and then read it again to understand it better. I looked for the author's name and couldn't find it. My first question to my brother-in-law was who had written it?

Without any ado he told me that it had been written by Reb Leib Malin and then he added, "And you are going to America . . ." I learned a little from Hatevunoh about the man that I was going to meet.

In the meantime, Av came to an end and Elul arrived. One Friday, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah when I returned from work, my brother-in-law, Reb Dovid informed me that I would be setting out on Sunday by boat for the United States. Without any earlier preparation, I had to ready myself for a hasty departure. It should be borne in mind that the situation in Eretz Yisroel was extremely tense at that time. Tel Aviv was subject to a nighttime curfew, during which it was dangerous to leave one's house. I had to prepare for a journey and it was almost Shabbos! I had hoped to spend the Yomim Tovim with my family but Hashgochoh planned otherwise.

I set sail as planned on Sunday morning for the United States aboard a U.S. Navy vessel that had served in the Second World War.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we arrived in New York and after Yom Tov was over I disembarked.

On Asoroh BeTeves 5708 (1948) we became engaged and in Adar II we were married.

A short time later, a meeting was held in our home and that day, Beis Hatalmud was established.

I heard it said that when Reb Leib arrived in America, the gaon HaRav Avraham Kalmanovitz proposed that he join Yeshivas Mir as a rosh yeshiva and that HaRav Moshe Feinstein had also offered him a position as a rosh yeshiva in his yeshiva, Tiferes Yerusholayim, but that Reb Leib, feeling a broader responsibility, had turned these offers down. He had other thoughts and other plans.

Beis Hatalmud started out with a group of ten. They were (in alphabetical order), Rav Sholom Menashe Gottleib, Rav Leizer Horodzhesky, Rav Levi Krupenia, Rav Aryeh Leib Malin, Rav Binyomin Paler, Rav Yisroel Perkowsky, Rav Leib Shachar, Rav Betzalel Tannenbaum, Rav Shmuel Wilensky and Rav Chaim Wysoker.

This group was the living core that served as the foundation of Beis Hatalmud. I had the merit to meet bnei Torah who bore the imprint of the old Yeshivas Mir. This was evident in their conversation, in their conduct and in their deeds. In founding Beis Hatalmud, Reb Leib hoped to blend the Torah and mussar paths of Volozhin, Kelm and Mir.

These men were Torah princes who carried blood-soaked memories of the dreadful war with them. They had lost their families and all that they held dear. It took strength and determination to bear the burden of their pain and grief. However, they did not swerve from their customary conduct and they remained firmly bound together as a group, occupying themselves with Torah and mussar.

The principle that "all beginnings are difficult" certainly applied to Beis Hatalmud. There were several problems to start with, such as finding a place to learn etc. In the end they found a beis hamedrash belonging to Polish chassidim in Crown Heights.

Our apartment was small but it had a roofed balcony and this was designated as the yeshiva's office. I became the first secretary, on a voluntary basis and I received another job at the same time, as distributor of the second issue of Hatevunoh to the bnei hayeshivos. I was working more than full time - - but I never looked at the clock.

After a time, they managed to buy a smallish two-story building and the yeshiva moved there. Young bnei Torah joined and the sound of fiery, intense Torah study could be heard. Beis Hatalmud became a great center of Torah and yir'oh, spurring Torah's growth and heightening its splendor.

Dealing with the financial aspects of running the yeshiva lay beyond Reb Leib's sphere of interest and he delegated this work to others. Just as he had no interest in money, it seemed to have no interest in him. However, he held himself responsible for ensuring that all incoming funds were from clean and untainted sources. He was most scrupulous about this.

It happened on more than one occasion that, standing next to him in the office, I felt my own smallness and my imperfect grasp of the tremendous trial involved in letting an opportunity to ease the difficult material conditions pass by. He was undaunted though. This was one area in which his particularity showed -- in everything connected with veracity.

There are different types of particularity. Reb Leib did not suffer laziness and excuses and he saw to it that the times for prayer and learning were adhered to. However, his particularity did not interfere with his feelings. He shared the joy of the other members of the group and also their pain. One could often sense the emotions that filled his heart.

In the evenings, following the day's exertions, sometimes he could not return to the yeshiva. On those occasions, he would sit and learn mussar in the familiar, ancient melody, which had the power to transport the listener to a world of beauty, consolation and tranquility. That melody echoes in my ears to this day and I still long to hear it.

The inner essence of a man who has worked to perfect himself is discernible in his eyes and in all that he does. The Torah within him illuminates his eyes and face. All Reb Leib's efforts and determination and all his accomplishments in Torah and yiras Shomayim never prevented him from finding the time to ease someone else's distress and, sadly, this was necessary more than once.

I remember Shabbos nights when he was called away in the middle of the meal to the home of a neighbor who answered the telephone, to speak to a patient in hospital who wanted his help with some matter that was preying on his mind. He lived in such great closeness to the members of the group and he had time and attention for those of them who experienced distress and who went through painful and stormy times. They saw him as the only one who could extend the required assistance.

When one of the greatest members of the group, Reb Leib Shachar who had been Reb Leib's right hand, became seriously ill, Reb Leib's devotion to him was superhuman. He did everything possible to save him and to annul the decree but Heaven had determined otherwise.

It also happened that Reb Shmuel Wilensky (Charkover) was hospitalized and his conversations with Reb Leib are difficult to describe.

As usual, Reb Leib utterly devoted himself to his sick friend's welfare. He didn't return home from the yeshiva for a meal or to rest, instead spending hours in the hospital. There was only one thing I could do -- travel to the hospital with his lunch to revive him.

After Reb Shmuel's petiroh, Reb Leib's own health began to suffer. He grew weaker and he began to feel pains in his heart. Despite everything though, he did not rest for he wanted to realize his heart's desire of building a sort of complex for the yeshiva. A plot of land was obtained for this purpose and a way of financing the project had to be found.

I accompanied Reb Leib to the architect, so that he would prepare a model of the yeshiva's future building. On that Thursday, a meeting was arranged in beis haknesses Ohev Tzedek in Manhattan, whose rabbi was my cousin, Rabbi Tuvia Adams. He admired Reb Leib highly and tried to help him as much as he could. Reb Shabsai Fraenkel took part in the meeting, as did Reb Chaim Wysoker. Reb Chaim arrived a little late because he had been in the office helping with the preparations for the yeshiva's annual dinner which was supposed to take place on motzei Shabbos.

Then, in the middle of the discussion, Reb Leib collapsed and returned his soul to the Creator.

The large picture with the drawing of the Beis Hatalmud building remained forlornly on a wall in our apartment. Subsequently, they bought the Kalever Rebbe's building in Bensonhurst. The office moved there and I went to live nearby.

In the above lines, I have briefly sketched the background of that time in Reb Leib's life and have tried to convey the atmosphere of the times, his approach and his goals. He felt that he had a responsibility to realize his heart's ambition of recreating an edifice that had once existed and that was no longer. Together with the other members of his group, he wanted to build a mokom Torah and take up anew the same path of Torah study and mussar as it had once been. The light of Torah illuminated his spirit and shaped his world in the most uplifting and exalted manner and he was full of will and energy to attain his holy goal.

In closing, it is fitting to mention the lament of the novi Yirmiyohu: "How has gold dimmed, holy stones are spilled at the entrance to every courtyard" (Eichah 4:1-2). A craftsman can create a beautiful vessel out of clay but if it smashes, all that is left are worthless shards of pottery. By contrast, if someone takes a golden crown that is inlaid with precious stones and he smashes it, the stones retain their beauty and glitter. The great men of Yerushalayim were like precious stones. Even when they were cast to the ground, their radiance was not affected in the slightest.

That is how Reb Leib eulogized the Alter of Kelm. The very same thing can be said about him zt'l. There are very few, select individuals who are like precious stones, which continue to sparkle and gleam even after their departure.


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