Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Teves 5765 - January 5, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz Shlita

Chapter Two

This article is the second in a series of chapters of the memoirs of one who, for many decades, was an esteemed representative of Gedolei Hador in the battle for all that chareidi Judaism stood for. He stood firm throughout the stormy political times, on the frontlines of those battles, and engaged in lobbying and intercession in the more peaceful times.

Rabbi Lorincz was born in Budapest and moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1939. He was a member of Knesset from Agudas Yisroel from 1951 starting in the 2nd Knesset in 1951, through the 10th Knesset that ended in 1984, having served as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee for more than a decade. He subsequently became chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Bank of Israel.

Musaf Shabbos Kodesh, and now the English edition, feels privileged to present chapters of the impressions of one who served for dozens of years as the emissary of our Torah leaders, shlucho derabbonon, in the battles to preserve Jewish tradition and institutions, and who stood in stormy political times at the spearhead of the struggles and the lobbying, in the most turbulent and difficult chapters known to chareidi Jewry, such as the draft for yeshiva students, the draft for women, the fight against autopsies and other issues.

Throughout all those years, Rabbi Lorincz took notes for his own benefit about all that took place in the homes of the gedolim. Many people begged him to record those notes in a formal and permanent manner to serve as a memorial of those historic times, lest they become lost to posterity, especially the words and directives of the gedolim, for this constitutes Torah that must be studied, and the lessons distilled, for future generations.

Upon leaving the field of public activity, Rabbi Lorincz for many years devoted himself entirely to Torah study, and turned down all such requests most firmly. But of late, he became attuned to the great need for such a record, and after hearing repeated explicit pleas from the very mouths of our Torah leaders who guide us, and who aroused the great need and benefit in recording his memoirs from his close contact with the historic figures of the previous generation, he acquiesced.

The first chapter in English appeared in our issue of parshas Vayeitzei.

The Approach of the Chazon Ish in Building Up the World of Torah

"Speech is to be praised as an intellectual or ethical advantage . . . to illuminate the soul through illustrative stories . . . and to praise those who are important and acknowledge their strong points, to raise on high their advantages, in order for people to appreciate their ways and follow in their footsteps" (Rambam on Ovos 1:17).

He Merited Many Things

"R' Meir says: Whoever occupies himself with Torah in purity merits many things" (Ovos 6:1).

Who can be said to have studied Torah purely for its own sake, very literally speaking, if not the Chazon Ish ztvk'l?

For many decades, the Chazon Ish was unknown. He studied in a simple beis knesses in Kaiden and later in Vilna, and no one knew of him. People studied his published work, Chazon Ish, without knowing who the author was. Is not such humility and self-effacing conduct the height of Torah lishmoh?

Indeed, the Chazon Ish studied Torah purely for its own sake and therefore, he merited many good side blessings. I was privileged to be near him for a period of fourteen years, day in and day out. I saw in the flesh how R' Meir's words were realized in him.

It was a most wondrous thing. Maran was very knowledgeable in medical matters and knew anatomy like the greatest of doctors. There are numerous stories of the effective advice he gave to sick people. He was equally familiar in matters of astronomy and his phenomenal knowledge came to light when he clarified in depth the subject of Shabbos and Yom Kippur in the Far East, including the International Date Line, for students of the Mirrer Yeshiva during the Second World War when they were in Japan and China.

He also possessed an uncanny business acumen and would give excellent tips to big businessmen. Money magnates often came to him with complicated economic questions and he would suggest brilliant solutions that astounded them.

Where did he come to such information? It must be that Heaven endowed him with this knowledge as a gift. This was part of the `many things' which he merited.

Small wonder then, at the many marvelous tales that enshrouded his figure. But surely, his uniqueness did not lie in miracle works, even though there was no lack of these. Rather, he was special in the small things, the everyday practices that highlighted his personality.

I have no intention of telling stories just for the sake of the stories. Rather, the vignettes I chose to bring are didactic, meant to teach us profound lessons in Torah. Each one has a lesson directly applicable to every one of us, as in the words of the Rambam above concerning speech.

I hope and pray to Hashem that these vignettes and descriptions which I present to the public, per the counsel and guidance of our present day gedolim, will achieve this purpose, as the words of the Rambam in the letter to his son, "And when you rise up from your book, seek to find what you just learned and see if you can implement it in any way."

A Ben Torah is at the Epicenter of the World

He devoted extraordinary time and effort to the questions relating to bnei Torah, to whom he felt like a virtual father. When a ben Torah came to him, he would focus his undivided attention and give him unlimited time and intense thought as how to find the best way to help him, be it in his diligent application, piety, good character or through developing his talents in learning.

His special relationship to bnei Torah stemmed from an outlook prompted by the teaching of Chazal, "Hakodosh Boruch Hu has nothing in this world besides the four cubits of halochoh." He took this literally.

Everything else in the world was subsidiary. Everything in the world revolves around the yeshiva, around its scholars. One must help that which surrounds them, though the prime purpose is that very Torah scholar. And that was the first and last thing that interested the Chazon Ish.

The First Shmuess: "Everyone Must Strive for Greatness"

I would like to convey here the content of my first talk with Maran the Chazon Ish, in which he transmitted to me an important principle in the education of bnei Torah.

I first visited him at the beginning of 5700, shortly after I immigrated to Eretz Yisroel. R' Chaim Zeev Finkel zt'l, who then served as the menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Heichal HaTalmud in Tel Aviv where I was learning, brought me to him to Bnei Brak.

After I introduced myself and told him where I grew up and in which yeshivos I had studied, I asked him a question concerning the method of study.

Eretz Yisroel at the time was a melting pot of Jews from all the exiles and encompassed all the various approaches to study then accepted in the various yeshivos throughout the world and adopted in the yeshivos in the Land.

Some yeshivos embraced the Lithuanian approach of learning in depth. Others adapted the Hungarian way of study which placed emphasis on proficiency in scope, and also understanding the text thoroughly but basically according to pshat and the practical application. Then there were other approaches, as well.

It occurred to me that it might be advisable to categorize students and to direct each one to the yeshiva that best suited his natural inclination. Some students are not suited for in-depth study and if they attended Lithuanian-type yeshivos they would not amount to much — certainly not to roshei yeshiva or marbitzei Torah. What most of them would end up being was decent laymen. And this would bear out the statement, "One thousand start out academically but only one is produced for horo'oh." The mediocre students would surely not become the "one-in-a-thousand." Better, I felt, to direct such students to yeshivos where they would be expected just to understand a blatt gemora according to pshat, and to understand Rashi and Tosafos, to study the Shulchan Oruch and the practical application in daily life, as is the regimen in very many yeshivos.

The end product would be substantial, learned baalei batim, who were thoroughly familiar with gemora and halochoh.

I defended my suggestion with the argument that mediocre students would easily get lost in Lithuanian yeshivos and forfeit what they could have gained through study in different yeshivos. I, myself, saw from my experience in Yeshivas Mir, that students who heard concepts that were beyond their depth thought they understood, when in reality they didn't. And they built whole theories on their misconceptions that came out sounding ridiculous. There was nothing in common with what they had heard and what they had construed therefrom. Their minds had made a hodgepodge — which they believed made sense.

In contrast, the Hungarian yeshivos with their direct approach produced upright laymen with a basic knowledge of Torah who continued to study while pursuing a trade or earning a livelihood which was secondary. These decent men would get up at three in the morning to study, and even during the day they would devote a good portion of time to learning. They were well-grounded in gemora, Rashi, Tosafos, halochoh.

And since all of these types of yeshivos existed in Eretz Yisroel, did it not make sense to refer each type of student to the learning approach that best suited him, according to the different yeshivos? Wouldn't it be better in the long run, I asked?

Maran rejected my words altogether. "It is our duty to transform every single student into a godol beTorah," he maintained staunchly. "We must provide every one with that chance of becoming a Torah giant. According to your theory, we are assuming that one who is not particularly gifted can become a good baalebos. But we are not allowed to assume that. We are commanded to aspire to transform everyone into a godol — or at least give him the chance of becoming one."

Refuting my premise that not everyone is capable of Torah greatness, Maran replied two fascinating things, and I quote him verbatim:

"You are right, that in order to become great one must have the potential, the tools. Nevertheless, there can be a person who is not born with talents, who proceeds, reaches the corner, turns into another street and there, suddenly, the gates are opened before him. The wellsprings of knowledge are opened for him and he is granted that capacity to become a great scholar."

He refused to elaborate on this.

I think he meant to say that a person can actually change his allotted, innate talents. If he truly desires it and yearns for it, the gates of understanding will open to admit him. That's how I understood his words, and from what he said later I was convinced that that was what he meant.

Maran went on to tell of one of the outstanding Torah leaders of the era who was not particularly promising as a young man. "He was such a blockhead that at the age of eighteen, he once asked me to explain a certain passage in Rashi which reads: `Every word which was supposed to have a lamed in the beginning, can have a hey at the end, instead.' For example: `Mitzraymoh.' And that young man actually asked, `But the word Mitzrayim does not begin with a lamed?'

"Could there be anyone stupider than that?" Maran asked me with a smile. "According to your way, you would surely have categorized such a boy, who had nothing to show for himself at the age of eighteen, as one who would never amount to more than an upright layman. Certainly not a Torah scholar! But in reality, he actually became one of the most esteemed Torah leaders of our times!"

I was very surprised at his words and begged him to reveal to me who this was. But Maran refused. He asked me why I felt I had to know his identity. I explained that it could serve as a source of great encouragement to people who consider themselves mediocre, and incapable of greatness. Such people have a low self-esteem and lack the confidence that they can amount to anything, certainly not to a scholar of note. If such people hear that so-and-so, who was once just like them if not less, became a very famous person, they will surely take hope and apply themselves.

Maran thought for a long time until he finally said, "Even so, my conclusion is not to reveal who this person is, for perhaps it will insult or hurt him in some way." And he refused to expand on this and never did disclose to whom he was referring.

When I came back two or three years later and again asked him to tell me who that person was, he again refused and said that now it was already impossible to tell me, for that personage was no longer alive. This comes to teach us how very careful one must be in guarding one's tongue!

The Chazon Ish also said a second thing: "[Success in study] is not dependent upon talents alone, but also to the extent that one's grandmother prayed and wept for her grandson . . . " What he meant was that greatness in Torah depends in a great measure upon zchusim. How does one gain such merit? Even through the heartfelt prayers of one's grandmother.

He spoke to me for a long time, trying to convince me thoroughly of the invalidity of my interpretation of "Train the boy according to his way" which denied a Jew the birthright possibility of becoming great in Torah because he did not seem particularly bright or gifted. For, he maintained if in order to reach such greatness one needs to apply oneself in a certain way, through a certain approach, then one must do everything possible to enable him to learn and achieve that goal. One must see to it that everyone is provided with the opportunity to become that "one-in-a- thousand" even though it appears to be at least unrealistic, or even impossible.

This conversation is deeply engraved in my memory, partly because it was my first conversation with Maran and extended for two whole hours, and also because Maran gave me, in a very personal way, tremendous encouragement and hope that every person, without any exception whatsoever, can become "one-in- a-thousand."

Every Yeshiva, Even the Smallest, Stands on a most Exalted Position

The extent that the yeshiva occupied a prestigious position in his world was conveyed to me from an incident involving him.

Before one of my trips abroad I went in to Maran — as I always did before embarking — to ask him if there were any urgent things that needed attention and could not be postponed until my return.

I asked him if there was anything specific I could do for him before leaving. He replied that there was a yeshiva that could not complete its construction because it lacked five tons of cement. He asked me to obtain it, somehow. At that time there was a general shortage of cement and its purchase was rationed. Maran explained to me that this matter could not suffer any delay but was most urgent and begged me to take care of it before I left.

I expressed my surprise. Was this something of such great importance? I had really meant to ask if there were any general communal matters that needed urgent attention. This was so minute and specific — a matter of five tons of cement for an unknown yeshiva that certainly did not figure in the larger picture of prestigious yeshivos.

Maran replied: "Know that a yeshiva is a most exalted thing; it is supreme. Know that whatever is outside the concept of yeshiva is subsidiary to the prime thing. The goal and purpose [of the world] is yeshiva. Not only a large yeshiva is considered by us as prestigious and important and something to be esteemed, but every single yeshiva — be it the very smallest and even if it is taking its first steps, like this very one whom you never heard of — is something of primary importance. It is worthwhile for you to devote your time to it so that it can carry on with the construction and its students can begin studying therein."

Personal Accompaniment

Maran's strength and vigor in the spiritual plane found expression not only through major activities on behalf of the general Torah public and in ideological battles but also in his activities for the sake of individuals, for which he truly required a great deal of strength.

Maran gave guidance to thousands of young bnei Torah as they made their way upward. Every young man who encountered difficulty in his progress, in his diligence and application, or who was engaged in a battle with his yetzer hora and did not know how to overcome it, would go in to seek counsel from the Chazon Ish.

The latter always had time for him, plus infinite patience and a willing ear. He gave advice, guided and would urge him, "Come back to me and report to me about your progress." And when the young man did return, he would again insist that he come again and again. Thus, he would accompany him along the way until he felt sure that the young man was already launched on the proper road and could proceed on his own.

It was marvelous to see such a great man, a gaon, master and teacher of the entire Diaspora, who was involved in his Torah novella and exerting himself to record them and bring them to print, and also toiling day and night over fundamental issues pertaining to the general public, and yet, with it all, finding time to devote his attention to young teenage boys who came to him to ask their simple questions in learning or to ask him to explain a difficulty in their study. And he would exhibit tremendous patience and devote a great deal of time to each one of them.

Those young men would feel that they had a personal bond with Maran. They felt like veritable "only sons" by him, and many of these selfsame boys did, in fact, grow up to become outstanding scholars and disseminators of Torah in their generation.

The Pen of the Heart

If we truly wish to focus upon an inkling of Maran's activities on behalf of the individual, let us take in hand a sheaf of his letters and we will get an idea of its scope.

Whoever reads his correspondence superficially will not find more than some words strung together into lines. But someone who looks closer and in greater depth — as one would study his Torah teachings — cannot help but marvel: how was he able to convey to so many people exactly the right guidance which he required and which best suited him? How much thought did Maran invest in every single Torah student, and with what depth!

Some five hundred letters were published in a Kovetz Iggeros. And this is probably not a complete set. I think that it would not be exaggerating to say that Maran must have written a thousand letters. How must energy did he put into each and every one! How much thought and individual attention did he devote to every single one.

Maran once said to me, "I do not produce decisions from up my sleeve. Every decision is the product of much exertion which costs me dearly, and in blood." One can assume that in each letter it was necessary to make a decision in dinei nefoshos, to invest thought as to how to save the soul of the inquirer, to extend help to him and to motivate him to a greater degree, or to help him contend with his evil inclination.

And this applies to not one but to one thousand letters. We cannot help but marvel and wonder from where he derived the prodigious energy to do this.

And the letter itself was not the end of the matter. Maran spoke with the people before and after he wrote to them; he knew each one and followed his progress all along the way.

The enigma is even greater: whenever someone came to Maran, he would invariably find him at study, either in a text or writing some of his Torah works which encompass the entire Torah. Maran invested a great deal of time and energy in his study. Where then, did he find the extra reserve of strength and time to help others — either the community as a whole, or the individual as a person?

"I Pine for Love of You [Hashem]"

In order to get an idea of how precisely Maran was able to understand his fellow man, each and every one, and how he was able to intuit the individual psyche, and how much time he sacrificed to his own rise in Torah and yiras Shomayim, let me quote some marvelous things which he wrote in a letter to a young man:

"I beg to differ with you. I see that you do not hold yourself in sufficient esteem and without realizing it, are belittling the value of Torah study. For truly, a person who merits Torah knowledge goes among other people and can be compared to one who appears like a mortal but is in fact an angel. Such a Torah scholar lives a more noble and exalted life.

"The wheel of life has brought you to a pure thought of establishing your goal on earth as acquiring much wisdom and Torah. You are also fortunate to possess talents to enable you to strive for this goal. But Torah demands additional sacrifice. It is not acquired by living a regular kind of life. My heart does not allow me to believe that by remaining alone you can accomplish such a goal. It is clear that you must be part of a society and that companions can help you to advance. It is not beyond you, though Satan will make a hairsbreadth appear to you as a mountain. You are not sufficiently fortified and equipped to surmount simple things of lesser import. And I am possessed by the desire to see you a true sage in Torah. I am looking forward to a person-to- person talk with you to steer you along the path which you have chosen. I await you at eleven p.m.

"One who devoutly loves you,

A. Y."

(Kovetz Iggeros I, Letter 13)

As is evident from the letter, it is talking about a young boy who decided to devote his time to study. Apparently, Maran should have been pleased with his decision, but Maran does not suffice with it and even makes claims against him. "I stand to argue with you . . . I see that you do not hold yourself in sufficient esteem . . . "

Why? Because according to his reading of that person's psyche and his capacity, Maran understands that he can achieve more and attain what such intensive Torah study should lead to.

"Truly, he is like an angel dwelling among mortals, living a noble and exalted life of blessing . . . " And since he understands that while studying on his own that young man cannot achieve the maximum, he writes to him, "But Torah demands an extra amount of sacrifice. And my heart does not allow me to believe that by your sitting alone and secluded, that you will acquire that acquisition of Torah." And knowing what he is capable of, he urges and exhorts him, "It is not beyond you."

He does not suffice with a mere letter but anticipates "speaking to you in person and to help you forge the path which you desire and have chosen." He invites him to a talk at eleven at night, after a full day's work — a workday of the Chazon Ish! We can assume that a talk revolving about blazing a path in order to reach the exalted level of an angel is not a matter of five minutes or even half an hour.

"One who devoutly loves you,


I doubt if the human mind can grasp the depth of these words. How much love of Torah, how much love for a ben Torah is embodied in these few words!

"Turn it over and turn it over again, for everything is contained in it . . . "


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