Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Elul 5765 - September 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








In the Proximity of Maran R' Yitzchok Zeev of Brisk, Ztvk'l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Thirteen

Let Justice Cleave the Mountain: Loyalty to Shabbos is Repaid Doubly

Even when Maran was in the midst of a very crucial, fateful battle, waging a holy war in which many heavyweight issues of Torah hung in the balance, he fulfilled the dictum of Chazal, "Let justice cleave the mountain." And when there was even a remote chance of violating even one paragraph in the Shulchan Oruch, he would call a halt to the entire campaign.

Maran would tell the following story and noted that it taught that if one was on guard and very heedful for the honor of Shabbos, even for a remote chance of a small infraction that one need not even have anticipated, Hashem would see to it that he would not lose out but, on the contrary, would actually gain!

When elections were first held for the official Vaad Hakehillah, the community trustee committee, in Brisk, Maran asked those loyal to him to establish a chareidi list which would compete against the lists of the Zionists and the Mizrachi. This was in 5688 (1928), when the Polish government required all congregations by law to establish a representative administrative body. The Zionists, headed by Yitzchok Greenbaum, took advantage of the opportunity and launched a campaign under the motto: "Capturing the Kehillas."

Their list was established and the election race on. Maran decided that it was necessary to expose to the general public the whole truth about the Zionists and the Mizrachi. With his guidance, a public letter was prepared which enumerated, point by point, all of the sins and failings of the candidates on the Zionist list.

The public poster was prepared in a printshop that belonged to a man close to the Zionist leadership. Of course, he revealed the move, as well as the acerbic contents of this poster, to the opposition — which was terrified. They feared that it would be their downfall. As a countermeasure, they prepared their own poster, which was a personal, very vicious attack against Maran.

Maran did not know that the contents of his poster had been revealed to the enemy or even that they had prepared a personal counterattack against him. The elections were scheduled for Sunday, and the posters were to have been plastered around town before Shabbos, at the last minute, to strike a mortal blow to the enemy.

The printing was all finished on Friday, about an hour-and-a- half before Shabbos. Maran summoned one of his followers and said, "You have missed your chance. It is already too close to Shabbos and I am afraid that if you go to paste up the notices, you may come to violate the Shabbos in some way. No, you were not efficient enough and have lost out . . ."

The people involved argued that this was the last chance before elections. If they didn't act now, there would be no point in it afterwards, and they were likely to lose the elections.

Maran was firm in his resolve and refused to allow them to publicize the letter so close to Shabbos. They begged and he refused. They pleaded with him, "We are your loyalists. We will do everything exactly as you instruct and not, G-d forbid, risk even the slightest chance of chillul Shabbos."

But Maran would not budge from his decision, saying that even though so much stood in the balance still, the thought of a remote chance of chillul Shabbos was not worth the gain. "I know how cautious you would be [in your work], but I cannot allow it. It is forbidden."

He did not suffice with that. He ordered all the placards to be brought to his house, fearing that his confidants might not be able to withstand the temptation and would plaster the signs, against his ruling. And so, they were all brought to him.

In the Zionist camp, they believed that the chareidim still intended to post their signs right before Shabbos in order to surprise them and prevent them from posting their own counterattack. It never dawned on them that they would not put up the signs that they had prepared. And so the Zionists proceeded to put up their own signs right before Shabbos.

On motzei Shabbos Maran called his followers and told them that they could now distribute their signs. As it turned out, after the rivals' posters had been exposed all Shabbos, these signs now served as a defense, rather than an offense, and they carried much more clout. They provided an answer to a very sharp and personal attack against Maran, and a justified one, it seemed. And as a defensive counterattack, it seemed relatively milder by contrast.

Maran's expose opened the eyes of many a potential voter. It showed the true nature of the Zionist candidates. To begin with, the Zionist assault roused much opposition for it was a spontaneous, apparently uncalled-for attack on the universally respected rov. These two facts combined to turn the public's favor towards Maran.

The chareidi list won a majority of eight seats, as opposed to the mere three seats of the Zionists and Mizrachi. Thus did the chareidim gain control of the Jewish community vis-a- vis the government, and all because Maran had not wanted to risk even the slightest chance of chillul Shabbos.


Maran was once asked by an American rabbi where he had found in the Torah a prohibition against National Service for Women (Sheirut Leumi). He replied, "You may not find such a law in the Shulchan Oruch or in the Be'er Heiteiv. But you will find it in the Aseres Hadibros" (heard from HaRav Moshe Dovid Soloveitchik shlita).

With Regard to Pikuach Nefesh, One Must Rule Without Hesitation

Maran was known as one who feared to make definitive halachic decisions; he was ever reluctant to voice any resolution in halachic matters. But there was one area in which he ruled without any hesitation — regarding matters involving life preservation. Maran used to say, "In questions of pikuach nefesh, the Admor, Rabbon shel kol Yisroel, ruled that one must made decisions without any hesitation, fear or reservations . . . At the very time that he shunned any question involving money and would not say a word either way, when it came to lives he did not vacillate, and issued a very clear, decisive ruling."

Maran was once concerned about a certain Torah scholar who was not in good health. He feared the man would insist on fasting on Tisha B'Av, and sent one of his sons to tell him, in his own name, that he forbade him to fast because of his poor health. The scholar ignored the ruling and insisted that he would fast. No message was effective in making him change his resolve.

In the end Maran sent another warning, noting that even if he fasted on Tisha B'Av, he would not be fulfilling the requirement of fasting, since he was halachically absolved, and it would be regarded, instead, as a voluntary fast, a taanis nedovoh. If so, he proceeded to argue, why fast a voluntary fast in the long days of Av when one could postpone it to the shorter days of Teves?

After he heard Maran's cogent argument, which highlighted the ineffectiveness of his stubbornness, aside from the danger to his health, he finally accepted the ruling and refrained from fasting that Tisha B'Av.

And another story: Maran sent a message to the administrator of an senior citizens' home, ordering that he cook fresh food on Yom Kippur for the residents. The administrator was a simplistic, honest Hungarian Jew who sent back the message that in that area, he refused to accept any ruling from any rabbi whatsoever, except the gaavad of Pressburg, HaRav Akiva Sofer (zt'l). When he turned to the rov of Pressburg, the latter replied, "You must obey the rov of Brisk in every matter, for the halochoh abides by him in every instance!"

You Shall Not Abuse any Orphan or Widow

The following fact was quoted in Nichochoh Shel Torah in the name of Rosh Yeshivas Beer Yaakov, HaRav Chizkiyohu Moshe Shmuel Shapira shlita, may Hashem send him a refu'oh shleimoh.

A question once arose in the yeshiva regarding the dismissal of a widow who was an employee and who demanded an astronomical sum for severance pay. Since this claim involved a widow, I brought the question before the Brisker Rov to receive his clear-cut decision.

Upon hearing the question, Maran opened up the Rambam to Hilchos Dei'os and read: "One must be extremely cautious regarding orphans and widows because their souls are very depressed and their spirit is very downtrodden, as it says, `An orphan and widow you shall not maltreat.' How must one treat them? By only speaking to them gently and dealing with them with utmost respect."

The Rambam did not suffice with quoting this prohibition from the Torah. It is not enough that one refrain from abusing them when one is confronted with the opportunity, when it comes to a positive act. He adds that this command includes preemptive special conduct with regard to these unfortunates, and goes into how one must deal with them, at length and in detail — by speaking gently with them and treating them most deferentially.

The Brisker Rov suggested that they indeed pay up all that she asked so as to avoid any question of distressing "an orphan or widow."

Theft of Sleep

One Friday night during ma'ariv at Maran's house, the two-year-old son of one of the mispallelim fell asleep upon Maran's very bed. When the prayers were over, the father wanted to wake his son up so that they could walk home [since he would not carry him in his arms on Shabbos, even within the eiruv] but Maran objected. "If we do not carry on Shabbos, it does not mean that we may wake up a child and force him to walk," he said.

"But he is liable to sleep here the whole night," noted the father.

Maran insisted that he be left alone. "So what? Let him sleep!"

The father was disquieted. "But he is sleeping on Maran's very bed!"

"And what of it? I can find myself another bed to sleep on!"

Apprehension About an Esrog

Maran went to extreme pains to secure a most perfect esrog that did not have the slightest hint of being a hybrid. His followers saw to it that he obtain an esrog from a certain orchard in Morocco which was beyond doubt, as it was supervised by trustworthy dealers all the time.

Close to Succos of 5718 (1958), a special messenger left Morocco with a perfect specimen for Maran. But when he arrived at the Lod airport, the customs people detained him and confiscated his esrog, for fear of contamination by plant disease or insect pests. No agricultural produce was permitted to enter the country that year. It was already erev Succos and the messenger had no choice but to go to Maran and break the bad news.

When he heard this, Maran turned to me and asked if there was anything that I could do through my political connections. He did not suffice with a simple plea but begged me and explained at length how important this particular esrog was to him and what a great favor I would be doing, how happy I would make him to enable him to recite the blessing over an esrog that was above all suspicion of being a hybrid. He asked me to make the effort by myself, and not to delegate the matter to anyone else. He pleaded with me so profusely that I really felt as if this were a request of "my life hangs upon my plea."

I promised him to try my utmost and said that I hoped that I would be able to bring him the coveted esrog in person before the festival.

I traveled to Lod and went to the customs clerk who had confiscated the esrog to personally ask him to release it. I told him who the Brisker Rov was; I explained how important it was to him and how perturbed he was over the fact that he did not have his esrog yet. The clerk was understanding and would have agreed, this time, to release it but did not have the full authority to do so.

I asked him who, then, was so authorized. He sent me to a second clerk, who sent me on to a third one and so on down the line. If, until then, I had not known what Israeli bureaucracy was, I now had a perfect lesson in it.

One hour passed, and another. All the clerks exhibited good will and, as a Member of Knesset, I was accorded all due respect. They also appreciated my mission and the fact that I was taking such great pains, but not one of them was able to actually help me. It was getting late. Soon the festival would be ushered in and I came to the realization that only the administrator of the airport would be able to help me. I went to look for him, but he wasn't at the airport. I called his home and every possible place where he could be, but he was nowhere to be found.

I kept Maran abreast of my progress as I went from clerk to clerk through a go-between whom I periodically called, and who had to go to Maran's house each time I reported to him by phone. He conveyed to me Maran's great anxiety and told me each time that Maran had urged me not to spare any effort in obtaining that esrog. It was very crucial to him; in fact, a question of performing the mitzvah or not.

Meanwhile, they began closing the customs offices at the airport. When it became absolutely clear to me that the esrog would not be released, I saw that I would have to return to Jerusalem empty-handed.

And so I did, presenting myself at Maran's home, with only disappointing news. I had done my utmost — and failed.

It is difficult to describe his dismay; I could not do so even if I were gifted with the pen. His face was literally black with sorrow and pain.

In the end, Maran turned to me and said, "Even if I cannot have an esrog above suspicion of being a hybrid for Yom Tov, I would still like to have it for Chol Hamoed, at least." And he urged me to renew my efforts, even on erev Yom Tov and on motzei Yom Tov to obtain it. The sooner he got it, the happier he would be, he assured me.

And so I did renew my efforts. But again, I was not successful.

I repeatedly tried to establish contact with the manager of the airport, but there was no answer. He had already gone away for the Succos vacation. I tried again on the first day of chol hamoed, mobilizing the various clerks for the cause, but they could not locate where he was staying.

Days passed during which, every half hour Maran would send a messenger asking for a progress report. I replied that I had made some progress, but that it was insignificant. I cannot describe what turmoil of spirit, tension and pain he experienced during this time. He was uneasy all the time and kept on suggesting new ideas for releasing the coveted esrog from customs' custody.

In the end, I did locate the airport manager. I don't remember if he was in the country or abroad. I spoke to him and asked him to issue explicit instructions to his clerks at the airport to release the esrog. He said that he would gladly do so, but he was not authorized to so, either. Who could? I asked.

The Minister of Agriculture.

It was already Hoshanoh Rabboh. I began a search for Kaddish Luz, the Minister of Agriculture, who lived in Kibbutz Degania. When I called the kibbutz, they told me that he was ill; only a few hours before he had been taken to the hospital. I saw that Heaven was fighting this battle and all the while, Maran was getting a play-by-play report.

When I learned that Mr. Luz had been taken to Hadassah Hospital, I hurried off there. I arrived at the ward where he was being treated and met his doctor in the doorway. He would not allow me to enter, as I had feared.

I told him that I had a very urgent request and promised that I wouldn't stay longer than three minutes. I asked the doctor to ask the patient if he would agree to see me for three minutes. The doctor did so and Mr. Luz gave his consent.

I went in and told him as succinctly as I could what was entailed. Kaddish Luz was most impressed by the matter and said that he would consider it an honor to fulfill this request, but being in the hospital, he had no official stationery from the ministry upon which to issue his orders. Without such formal stationery, his directive would have no validity.

I told him that I would obtain official stationery for him within a short time. I called up the Ministry of Agriculture in Tel Aviv and asked them, in the name of the minister, to send me some official stationery via a messenger. After some time, I had the paper. I went in to Kaddish Luz, who wrote out a clear directive to immediately free the esrog which Rabbi Lorincz was involved with.

I called up the customs office at the airport and spoke to the clerk in charge. I told him that I had an explicit written order from Kaddish Luz to release the esrog. When he heard this, he said that he would wait for my special messenger and would give him the esrog.

I was relieved and happy, and informed Maran that I had obtained the letter and had already dispatched it via messenger to Lod. Before long, he would have the esrog in his very hands. When my messenger arrived at Lod, however, he found the office closed. It was already Hoshanoh Rabboh afternoon, and the office where the esrog was being detained had been locked, even though the clerk I had spoken to was awaiting my messenger.

I trembled with fear. Maran had told me that even if the esrog arrived very shortly before Shemini Atzeres, he would still be able to make the blessing over it, but it was clear to me that it was a hopeless case. There was nothing else that could be done at this point.

I couldn't help reviewing all that had taken place since the fateful erev Succos — all of Maran's hopes that had been dashed, time and again — and now I would have to inform him that there was no esrog. I went to him, all atremble and anxious. How could I break the news to him?

I went in. But to my great surprise, he looked at me with a smile and said, "Nu, R' Shlomo. So there is no esrog, after all?"

"There is no esrog," I echoed.

I could not help but ask, "So why is Maran smiling?"

I enjoyed a very open manner of communication with Maran and told him that I had trembled with fear before entering and had not known what to say, and now, to my surprise, I saw him in excellent spirits. Perhaps Maran had obtained another Moroccan esrog? What could have caused the change in a few short hours?

He replied, "Let me tell you a story, from which you will be able to understand why I am so relaxed now. `When there is none — one is absolved!'" he stated.

For the next three quarters of an hour, Maran told me this story:


There was a baalebos in Brisk who came to me several times, telling me about his elderly mother. "She is very advanced in age and lives in Rogava which is some distance from Brisk. I feel I am not fulfilling my obligation of kibbud eim towards her. It is difficult for me to travel to her city often because my family is here and I am preoccupied with making a living."

"So how can I help you?" I asked him.

He said, "I want her to come and live here. I have been begging her to do so for years but she stubbornly refuses. I wish the Rov would speak to her. I imagine that if the Brisker Rov told her she should move, she would obey."

I told him that he was right and suggested that the next time she came to visit him, he should bring her to me. And that's what happened. Some time later, he came with his mother. I turned to her and said, "Your son wants to fulfill mitzvas kibbud eim. It is a very important mitzvah and you are able to help him fulfill it. He is right, in my opinion, in asking you to move here. It will be much better for you materially and he will benefit spiritually by fulfilling the mitzvah as he should."

The woman replied, "Rebbe, you can ask of me what you like, except to leave Rogava. That I will not agree to do."

"Why not?" I couldn't help asking. "What is so difficult about living by a son who wants to care for you?'

She answered with a story of her own:

"My grandfather was a penniless pauper but he nursed a great dream of someday buying his own esrog. Everyone in his town was poor and very few people could afford to buy an esrog. The entire community used to buy one esrog which everyone would share.

"Nevertheless, my grandfather saved money all his life so that once, when he was old, he could purchase an esrog all for his own. He used to spare money from his own mouth, and every penny he could save, he would put in a sack. Thus, over several dozen years, when he was already very advanced in age, he decided that he already had enough to buy himself the coveted esrog. And so, he picked himself up one day before Succos, and took his wife and his sack of coins to Vilna to the esrog dealer.

"When they arrived, they went directly to the dealer. My grandfather told him how he had saved penny by penny for many years and how, gradually, he had exchanged the small coins for bigger ones until he felt that he had enough. He laid the sack on the table and the dealer began to count up the money. All in all, the sum fell short of purchasing an esrog. `I am very sorry,' he said, `but it just isn't enough.'

"My grandparents were grief-striken. When they stood outside the shop, my grandmother said to my grandfather, `We are already both very old. You have always wanted to buy an esrog and if not now, then when? Listen to what I have to say. We own a small house. Why do we need a home of our own? Let's sell it and rent a room in town. With the money we get for the house we can surely buy you an esrog.'

"And that is what they did. They sold their house, got whatever price they were able to, and returned to the dealer in Vilna. He was astounded at the large sum they now had. `For this amount,' he explained, `you can get the most beautiful esrog in the whole country! Next time I travel to purchase more stock, I will personally pick out the most beautiful esrog to be had.' Some time later, he was true to his word, and brought back the most exquisite specimen that could be had.

"My grandparents went to their rented room. My grandfather sat there and studied and all the townspeople gathered to admire his esrog which was the most perfect they had ever seen. Indeed, everyone was curious to see it and they all converged upon the tiny room. Grandmother took out the esrog lovingly from its box and proudly showed it to one and all.

"The esrog was passed from hand to hand until — suddenly — it fell. The pitum-stem fell off, invalidating the esrog. She fainted on the spot but when she revived, she realized that she would have to tell her husband. But how could she? He might have a heart attack if he heard the news suddenly. How could she prepare him for the shock?

"She went into the room and began telling inspiring stories and parables. He couldn't understand what she wanted from him. Why was she acting so strangely? `Has anything happened?' he finally asked. `Has some misfortune taken place? Maybe to a grandson, G-d forbid . . . '

"My grandmother had no choice but to tell him. When he heard the news, he rose to his feet and said: `If a person doesn't have, he is pottur.'

"According to one version, he added, `The same Ribono shel Olom Who commanded us to take the esrog, also forbade us to get angry.'"

The old woman concluded the tale — said Maran — explaining why she refused to budge from Rogava:

"Every day, I pass by and see the house that my grandparents sold in order to buy the esrog. I derive such great pleasure from this that it veritably invigorates me. That is why I must stay in Rogava. I cannot forego this tremendous pleasure. So long as I live, I must stay near my grandparents' house, the house that was sold for an esrog."


"To be sure," explained Maran, "after I heard this reason, I couldn't urge the woman to leave Rogava. So that's the story. Do you understand the point?" he asked me.

"The lesson here is: Az menn hot nit — if one doesn't have [an esrog], one is pottur.

"So long as I thought that there remained some chance, I exerted every effort possible to obtain it. And as you well know, I was in a state of constant dread, tension, anticipation and anguish. And as much as you think you saw my suffering, in reality, it was many times greater! But after we did everything in our power, and I am certain that you did, we were left with `If you don't have, you don't have to have.' I was pottur. So why should I continue to be aggravated over it?

"And as for your question why, after all that, I am now at peace and even in good spirits, it is because I am now absolved of the mitzvah."

The Brisker Rov placed great stock in this story and every detail of its developments is indelibly engraved in my memory. Every year, at Succos time, I tell it again to my family so that they, too, can be impressed by Maran's tremendous desire to perform a mitzvah without any hint of doubt. And, incidentally, that they realize to what lengths a Jew will go, and the sacrifices he will make, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of esrog. Finally, I want them to realize that after one has done whatever is in his power to perform that mitzvah — but it is denied him, he must make peace with the fact that, "If you don't have, you don't have to have . . . " If one is pottur, one must regain one's equanimity and recapture his peace of mind.

I Sleep in my Bed — And You Do the Work

As is known, Maran was vehemently opposed to the idea of creating a united front of all the religious parties for the Knesset elections. He did everything in his power to foil that attempt, seeing in it an absolute prohibition and a grave danger to Yiddishkeit.

After it seemed that the idea was no longer relevant, several public figures revived it and sought to established such a joint religious coalition of parties, over his protest. This became known to someone close to Maran, who hastened to inform him of the scheme. He did not know, however, how to break the news to him, knowing that it would distress him greatly.

To his amazement, Maran received the news with complete tranquillity. "We have done whatever we could," he said. "Whatever Hashem does subsequently is none of our business, as long as we have discharged our duty to satisfaction."

To support his view, Maran quoted the words of Chazal in the Yalkut, "Dovid Hamelech requested: `Let me pursue them [the enemy] and overtake them.' Said Hashem: `I shall do as you ask.' Asa came and said: I don't have the strength to kill them. I will pursue them and You do the rest.' Said Hashem: `As you wish.' Along came Yehoshofot and said: `I have no strength to kill, nor to pursue. I shall, instead, recite a Song of Praise and You do Yours.' Said Hashem: `So be it.' Along came Chizkiyohu and said: `I have neither the strength to kill, nor to pursue, nor even to sing Your praise. I shall sleep in my bed and You do Yours.' Said Hashem: `So be it.'"

Dovid, who had the strength to pursue and kill his enemies, could not absolve himself of that obligation and lie in his bed without exerting that effort. He was duty-bound to fight the enemy hand-to-hand. Each succeeding king was likewise obliged to do what he was capable of doing. Chizkiyohu, who did not even have the strength to sing praise, was absolved of that obligation, and was permitted to rely on whatever Hashem chose to do.

We learn from here that a person must do his utmost, exert himself to the limit of his capacity — but beyond that, he is absolved from doing more. He need not concern himself with what will be. He can rest/sleep assured, and leave the remainder up to Hashem. "You do Yours" (from Maran's son- in-law, HaGaon R' Y.M. Feinstein zt'l)


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