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28 Adar I 5765 - March 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Lessons into the Human Soul — From the Beis Medrash of the Chazon Ish

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Six

Shlomo Hamelech delineated for us the advantages of the tzaddik, and taught that one must study his ways and conduct and tell of his praises. We must uphold the honor of the tzaddik, for this is beneficial to our thought processes. There is no doubt that praising the righteous and examining their ways is praiseworthy for the teller, and the more one does so, the better. Telling about tzaddikim is sweet like honey.

Each One According to His Blessing

In his commentary on Mishlei (16:1), the Gaon says on the verse, "The thoughts of the heart are man's, but from Hashem comes the utterance of the heart," as follows: This is the way a person should conduct himself to follow Hashem's will; it is good council.

"Every single person has an individual path to follow, for people are different from one another just as their faces are different. Their natures are disparate. When there were prophets, people would go to them to seek counsel and to learn what Hashem required of them. The prophet would then prophesy and tell them what path to pursue, each according to the particular root and origin of his soul. This is what is meant by, `The thoughts of the heart are man's.' A person had to prepare his heart to be willing to do what was right, while the prophet would tell him how to go about it, which is `the utterance of Hashem.' "

The Gaon adds that after prophecy was removed from us, the measure of Divine inspiration was transmitted, in some small measure, to each and every Jew. If his heart is pure and he is worthy, he will be able to divine the unique way which suits his own nature and inclination.

But who is to say, "I am worthy and am not fooling myself?" as Dovid Hamelech was able to declare, "Blessed is the man to whom Hashem imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile."?

The commentaries say something in the same vein concerning what is stated about the blessing Yaakov Ovinu gave to his sons: "Each one according to his blessing." Each one according to his particular character, his latent strengths and weaknesses. He `blessed them,' that is, he implanted deep into the soul of each one of his children the blessing that applied uniquely to him. Yehuda, for example, was blessed with royalty, Yissochor with the power to toil in Torah and so on.

We were able to discern this power by the Chazon Ish, as well. Maran had that insight of being able to look into the soul of the man standing before him and was subsequently able to guide him along the particular way that suited him according to his tendencies. He advised people to occupy themselves with things that were compatible with their strengths and leanings, and would even convince them that this was their mission on earth and that no other person could fulfill that particular role in the same manner. Therefore, a person was obligated to carry out that responsibility in the best and most perfect way he possibly could.

"You Are More Suitable"

When the time came to choose a representative of Zeirei Agudath Yisroel for the Knesset, there arose a difference of opinion between myself and R' Moshe Shonfeld zt'l, with each of us indicating that the other be chosen for the position. We decided to leave the decision up to the Chazon Ish. I argued that R' Moshe was undoubtedly more talented than I was in every area and that he was the best candidate to represent Torah-true Jewry in the Knesset.

Maran, however, decided on me, explaining why: "You may be right [as far as R' Moshe being more talented]. However, you are better suited for this particular role and you will be successful at it. R' Moshe will take upon himself a different office which is better adapted to his individual characteristics." And so it was. R' Moshe Shonfeld was very successful in the task he was given.

Borrowed Intellect

The principle that a person is only capable of acting according to his particular nature and to his way of thinking and understanding is well illustrated through the following story:

I once came to Maran accompanied by a prestigious Jew from America. In the course of our talk the guest made several suggestions to the Chazon Ish regarding communal matters. He added that if the Chazon Ish were to approve of these ideas and implement them, the public in Eretz Yisroel, as well as throughout the world, would embrace them.

Maran replied with a smile, "I cannot work with a borrowed intellect."

He explained, "If I do what you suggest, I will have to return to you the intellect I borrowed. Then I will be left without any intellect." [Editor: Perhaps the meaning is that even if he follows the specific suggestion made by the visitor, he will not have the benefit of the visitor's intellect to help him deal with the aftermath of the act, and will not be able to use his own intellect since the process was initiated with someone else's intellect.]

His Advice to a Woman to Donate Only One Third

In 5709 when I was in the States, I made the acquaintance of a wealthy woman who wanted to give a huge sum for the establishment of a yeshiva which would bear her name.

I was overjoyed at the proposition, and suggested that she give the money for Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim for Aguda youth in Kfar Saba which was, at the time, one of the best and most famous of yeshivos. Its rosh yeshiva was HaGaon R' Aharon Leib Steinman shlita.

She showed interest in my suggestion and said that she would like to visit the yeshiva and when she next made a trip to Eretz Yisroel, she promised to bring along her donation.

She arrived, went to visit the yeshiva in Kfar Saba and duly expressed her intention to donate the large sum she had promised. She had one request, however: that the Chazon Ish give her his blessing before she gave the money.

I brought her in to the Chazon Ish and introduced her. Instead of giving her his blessing however, the Chazon Ish began asking her all kinds of questions. "Who are you? Where are you from? How do you come to have such a large sum of money?"

She told him that she had worked as a nurse in a hospital in the U.S. Over the years, she had put aside most of her earnings, stinting on her own living expenses so that eventually she would be able to donate a large sum to a yeshiva. In her childhood, she explained, she had repeatedly heard from her father that this was the most important thing on earth and now the time had come to realize her dream in life.

Maran advised her not to donate her entire savings. "Give only a third and leave two thirds for yourself, lest you need it when you grow old. In addition, you must stipulate that the portion you donate towards the yeshiva be legally recorded in your name. If you do this, I shall confer my full blessing upon you and your generous gesture."

I left Maran's house in a turmoil; my head was in a whirl. I simply could not understand what had taken place there. Why hadn't the Chazon Ish allowed her to donate the full sum? Why only a third? And most puzzling of all was the condition that her part of the building be registered on her name! These questions perturbed me no end and that evening I felt I had to go back to the Chazon Ish for an explanation.

Maran smiled at me with his famous smile and said, "Why don't you understand? This woman came to ask for my blessing. This requires something real and substantial upon which the blessing can rest. She claims she wishes to donate that huge sum but I, personally, do not believe that she can do so. Any normal person is incapable of giving away his entire fortune to the very last penny all at once — it is simply against human nature, even if it is to the worthiest of causes, unless he is really an extraordinary person.

"I saw that she really did wish to give, and I really wanted to bless her, for she wanted a blessing for something good and beneficial. I also wanted to help your yeshiva. So I tried to figure out a reasonable, practical scheme to do so, to make it easier for her to part with such a huge sum. If she gave only a third of her intended donation, and this third was legally registered on her name, it would go more smoothly. It would be money that was given and yet still remained in her possession in some way. I reckoned that a blessing would have a good chance to taking hold upon such a condition.

"I am afraid, however," concluded the Chazon Ish, "that in the end, she will find it difficult to even part with the third she has promised. But I hope that my blessing will prevail."

The end of the story actually bears out the dictum that a wise man can be better than a prophet. When it came to the act, the woman was unable to part with even that third. We went to the American embassy several times in order to have her sign upon a transfer of Israeli bonds to the yeshiva's possession, but each time when it came to the actual signing, she felt a queasiness in her heart and had to take pills to calm down.

She returned as she had come, not having fulfilled her promise at all.

The Chazon Ish's wisdom had prevailed. He had foreseen, from the short exchange with her, that this woman was simply incapable of carrying out her own wish, even in the watered- down form that the Chazon Ish had so wisely suggested. I had been afraid that his advice would ruin our chances of receiving a huge donation when, in truth, even the third of our expectations was more than she was capable of handling psychologically, which is what the Chazon Ish had foreseen and tried to forestall.

After One Understands, Everything is So Simple...

The previous story taught me to what extent we must embrace emunas chachomim. When we are at a loss to fathom what a great man wishes to convey, as happened to me we must, nevertheless, firmly believe in what he says and attribute our astonishment and misunderstanding to the fact that we are too simple and puny to grasp what he really meant.

I learned how profound is the wisdom of our Torah sages.

Even after a great deal of time passed, I was still filled with amazement at how I had not thought of what seems to me now, with hindsight, so simple, logical and lucid. But that is the way of Torah. Until the sage comes along, everything is obscure and impenetrable and everyone gropes about in the darkness. But after that wise man comes along to illuminate the way, everything becomes so clear and obvious!

If You Grasp Too Much, You are Left With Nothing

What Maran said upon that occasion — that a person is incapable of parting with all of his wealth and giving it to another, and it were better that he give something that is commensurate to his real capacity — was for me an important lesson and I made extensive use of it subsequently.

I was acquainted with a wealthy but very stingy person. When I met him shortly after the passing of his wife, he was amenable to my suggestion for a sizable donation. He was in a dispirited state and, in pouring out his woeful soul, he confessed that life was all vanity and that he was prepared to give me whatever I had asked of him previously and that he was allocating all of his money and assets to the Sdeh Chemed Youth Village institutions.

To be sure, I was very excited over his generous suggestion. According to my estimate a donation the size of what he was talking about could assure the future of the entire project forever after! However when I asked him to actually draw up a contract with a legal signature, I suddenly was reminded of the previous story with the Chazon Ish. I understood that this person, too, would find it difficult to give away all of his money to charity when it came to the actual transfer.

I told him that his intention of giving away his entire fortune was certainly most praiseworthy, but that I didn't want him to do so right now but only after one hundred and twenty — after he died, in a will. As for the present, I suggested he give a much smaller sum, enough to cover the cost of one small building in Sdeh Chemed. He agreed to this on the spot.

His original gesture never came to fruition. After the emotional excitement quieted down he forgot the entire matter. But thanks to what Maran had taught me, I gained something substantial and I was also able to help this intrinsically stingy man do what he would have been incapable of doing when it came to the bottom line.

A Personal Self-Interest Creates a Blemish in a Person's Character

Maran was capable of plumbing to the depths of a person's psyche and fathoming the very components that constituted his soul. In accordance with this knowledge, he was able to size up a person and assess which problematic trait could be let alone, and which needed to be dealt with in all seriousness.

A certain person, who was a great Torah scholar and disseminator as well as great in acts of chessed and full of worthy traits and attributes, was held in high esteem by the general public. The Chazon Ish however, did not respect him to any great extent. On one occasion I asked him why he related to him with such dismissal. This man had so much to his credit; he did such wonderful things. Why didn't the Chazon Ish hold him in the same esteem as other Torah figures?

Maran replied, saying that this person was incapable of rising above his personal aspects of self-interest.

I pressed him further, "But this man has so many wonderful traits. If his only fault is that he is not free of personal interests, is that a reason to dismiss him entirely?"

Said Maran: "One single fault is truly not enough to disqualify a person or to nullify his personality. A person can be a worthy man in spite of a particular shortcoming. But being weak in the matter of personal involvement, in negiyos, is completely different since it affects his entire personality. A person who has a negiya will teach Torah with his personal interest, will do chessed with a personal interest, and everything praiseworthy that he does will be tinged with that self- interest."

The Chazon Ish went on to illustrate a long list of fine things attributed to him, showing me how they were tinged with personal leanings. "Negiya," he explained, "is not a single fault but a very encompassing blemish. Its influence runs like a thread throughout all of his actions and subsequently, all of the positive attributes which are attributed to him are not really positive."

"He Will Survive the Crisis"

One of our group of students in yeshiva was about to become engaged but in the end, the match fell through. The young man was understandably very emotionally shaken up and even hinted that he was about to take a very drastic step. We were all alarmed and began keeping vigil over him day and night. We did not leave him alone for a moment, but we soon found it too difficult to keep this up and were at a loss for what to do. In the end we decided to go and ask the Chazon Ish, and I was appointed the representative.

Maran calmed me down and said, "Leave him be. Don't talk about the matter at all. Just ignore it. You need not fear. He will pass the crisis and everything will straighten itself out."

In order to allay my fears and to help me understand his reply, the Chazon Ish explained, "This young man has probably read some novel (bichele) which described a similar situation and he therefore feels that he must follow the plot as it is written there. But there is no danger that he will actually dare to take his own life."

As a result of his reassurance we stopped the strict vigil over him as well as the pep talks, and soon the matter was forgotten and our friend returned to his normal routine.

One Needs Farsighted Vision When it Comes to Shidduchim

The Chazon Ish's intuitive understand of the human soul found expression in other aspects of the subject of shidduchim as well.

A rabbi once came to seek his advice regarding a match for a young woman in his family who wished to establish a Torah home. She herself was the daughter of a renowned talmid chochom who had been killed in the Holocaust. The rabbi mentioned several suggestions of fine scholars but Maran rejected them all. Finally, Maran himself suggested a young man who was not considered particularly scholarly. The rabbi voiced his surprise at the choice.

Maran explained, "When it comes to a shidduch, one must look at things with a far-reaching vision. A young man can be a well-versed scholar and the son of a scholar, but because of his character traits he might not be best suited to carry on the golden family line. On the other hand, there can be a young man who is not such an accomplished scholar at this point but, being sincere and G-d-fearing, he can be expected to establish a fine family of upright bnei Torah which will continue on through the generations" (Heard from HaGaon R' Chaim Kreiswirth zt'l, av beis din of Antwerp).

A Good Shidduch

One of the people close to the Chazon Ish once told him of an excellent match that was suggested for his daughter. He began to enumerate all of the candidate's fine attributes: he was an accomplished scholar, a marvelous innovator, boasted superb lineage, good financial circumstances and so on.

"In my opinion," he summed it up, "I couldn't possibly ask for anything better!"

Based upon this he sought Maran's blessing to go ahead with it.

"I have one question," said the Chazon Ish. "Having made all of your inquiries and knowing all of the candidate's fine qualities, did you ask if he would make a good husband? If this particular aspect is lacking, it cannot be a good match, in spite of all of his advantages."

Bas Plonis Destined for Ploni

A dear Jew from Tel Aviv once came to Maran and told him of a match that had been suggested for his daughter, and sought his blessing. Maran asked him which daughter was in question and he mentioned her name.

"Indeed?" said Maran. "That particular girl deserves someone far better."

How amazing this is. All the man asked for was a blessing, but the Chazon Ish was not prepared to give a blessing before knowing if his blessing had staying power — if it had a foundation upon which to rest. He wanted to know precisely who was the girl in question, and was able to differentiate between that man's several daughters. He knew at what level each one was and which shidduch was most suitable for each one! And in the end, he advised the father that this daughter deserved a better match than the one suggested for her!

Maran's Intuitive Understanding of the Depth of a Person's Soul

Maran had his own characteristic insight into the human soul, as we find expressed in his work "Emunah Uvitochon (Chapter Four, Os 14)":

"The improvement of one's character traits does not preclude self love, for the tendency to seek honor and pleasure is a positive drive in the makeup of the living machine called man. Denying these natural drives does not build up a person but destroys him. True mussar tells a person to love himself and to seek honor but, `know what your source of happiness is on earth, and what honor really is.' [Real] honor is Torah. [Real] honor is humility. Real honor is rejecting [false] honor. Happiness is liberating oneself from one's natural tendencies and submitting oneself to Hashem and to His Torah, which is the goal and purpose of life in this world and the next."

Maran's approach was totally different from the accepted one. The common approach is that an aspiration for pleasure and honor is a negative attribute which we must fight against and uproot. According to this opinion, uprooting the need for recognition and pleasure is the most beneficial thing towards building up one's character.

Maran had a different grasp of this altogether. He felt that denying these drives did not constitute the construction of a person's character. In other words, if one denied and eradicated the propensity for honor and pleasure, he was not building his character but destroying it. The proper way was to divert those drives to the right channels. "Know what your source of happiness is on earth, and what honor really is. [Real] honor is Torah. [Real] honor is humility."

You Cannot Deny a Person His Zest for Life

Maran's words in his work are reflected in the following story, brought in the work, Ano Avdo:

One of Maran's close confidants, R' Shmuel Tzvi Kovalsky zt'l, told him about a young man who came from an environment totally alien to Torah but was accepted in yeshiva upon the Chazon Ish's intercession. Sad to say, he was not integrated well in yeshiva and he continued to maintain contact with unsavory friends from his past.

Maran asked that he be summoned to him. He spoke to the young man at length, first asking him how he felt, how the learning was going, what he had heard recently in shiur and what he had innovated in his studies. He made no mention or even hinted at the boy's deteriorated spiritual state. The boy left Maran beaming and uplifted, and returned to yeshiva in excellent spirits.

After he had left, R' Kovalsky asked Maran why he hadn't made any mention of his lapses and general backsliding. Wasn't that the purpose of his summoning him?

Maran replied, "This boy does not have a zest for learning. The only pleasure he has in life is his association with the street friends. If I take that away from him, he will be left with nothing. I must first imbue him with a taste for learning and only afterwards can we remove him from the influence of the street."

Love Yourself and Acquire Respect

Maran continues to explain along this vein: "The study of mussar tells a person to love himself and to seek respect and honor. But know what constitutes happiness for you on earth. What is respect and pleasure? [Real] honor is Torah. [Real] honor is humility. Real honor is rejecting [false] honor."

Who is a respected person? How does a person acquire honor? When he abandons his natural quest for honor; when he is crowned with humility. "Happiness is liberating oneself from one's natural tendencies and submitting oneself to Hashem and to His Torah."

A person should not try to fight his natural inclination, for this is the way to destroy himself. A person is not an angel, without innate tendencies towards honor and the pursuit of happiness. What then? He must come to realize what truly constitutes pleasure and happiness in life, and what is true honor.

Anyone who had the privilege of knowing Maran saw how these things were realized in him. He was always so happy, and his honor was above and beyond. He was the most honored person and his honor was very real and true; it was kovod haTorah, as he wrote, "What is your honor? [Real] honor is Torah."

He earned honor, even though he didn't want honor and fled from it for dozens of years. When he sat and studied in a Vilna beis medrash he was unknown and unrecognized. Only HaRav Chaim Ozer ztvk'l knew his true worth. But "Real honor is rejecting [false] honor." When the Chazon Ish immigrated to Eretz Yisroel, R' Chaim Ozer wrote of him, "A lion has gone up from Bovel."

It is accepted thinking that a life of luxuries provides a person with happiness, and one who indulges in whatever he fancies will find pleasure. Maran says that only one who succeeds in liberating himself from his natural desires is a truly happy person. Only one who does not need those indulgences, comforts and pleasures is a truly happy person in life.

We sometimes meet people who toil in Torah and are steeped in avodas Hashem. But the expression on their face belies any happiness; it is full of suffering. They exemplify, "The tzaddik beset by hardship..."

Maran did not accept such an approach. He did not see such behavior as something positive but as a lack, a failing. Such a person is forfeiting his very purpose on earth. And the tochocho bears this out, " . . . [you will be punished] for not having served Hashem your G-d in joy and through the goodness of heart" (Devorim 28:4).

Whoever was privileged to be in the proximity of Maran, saw and absorbed his way, learned how one must relate to false honor and pleasure, and how not to pursue them avidly, but rather to aspire to genuine respect, the honor of Torah, and for the eternal bliss — to be subservient to Hashem and His Torah.


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