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A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Teves 5765 - December 22, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Brisker Rov — New Findings

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Excerpts from volume 3 of the series HaRav miBrisk — a biography of HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik in Hebrew. HaRav Shimon Yosef Meller opens new vistas for us with his unique revelations.

Part II

The books of HaRav Shimon Yosef Meller need no introduction. They have become famed throughout the world and have become a cornerstone for every Jewish household, with every Jewish library respecting their reputation.

His supreme masterpiece, published in the last year-and-a- half, is the biography and excerpts from the life of the Brisker Rov, HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Halevi Soloveitchik. Recently, the author has been working hard to complete and publish the third and last volume, which includes chapters beginning from the year 5710 (1949) until that bitter day of erev Yom Kippur 5720 (1959) when the Rov ascended to the Heavens.

Volume Three will cover important aspects of the life of the Rov, such as "Chosomo Emess," a special chapter dealing with "Inyonei Chinuch," another on matters of hashkofoh, another on the time he spent in Switzerland, as well as special chapters on the controversies that swept the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel in his time, such as the drafting of women, the excavations of graves, a political coalitions with the National Religious Party, the swimming pool in Yerushalayim, the clubhouse dispute in Jerusalem, and more.

This is the first time a comprehensive work has been produced which is most particular about the accuracy of facts, is based on an in-depth investigation, a cross-check of information where possible, and an uncompromising criticism of the data collected on many incidents which then caused a storm among the chareidi sector in Eretz Yisroel.

Even though more than 50 years have passed since many of these events occurred, there are still a few important personages, rabbis and public figures left, who were very much involved in all aspects of these affairs. Exclusive material of the rarest type was gleaned from these people, and others, together with documents which have not as yet been released to the public, which shed new light on many facts that were unknown to the public in those days.


No Flattery Will Come from Him

During the period when the harsh and painful battle was underway in Israel to prevent drafting women into the army or Sherut Leumi, Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz suggested to the Chazon Ish that he apply in writing to Prime Minister Ben Gurion on the matter.

This issue was more serious than any of the other edicts. Those in power in the State sought to undermine the most vital and basic foundations of Judaism in a way that was seen as wickedness. It completely disrupted the peace of mind of the gedolim of those days, and they completely dedicated themselves to thwarting it.

When Rabbi Lorincz was asked, "Who do you think should sign this letter?" he said that in addition to the Chazon Ish they must get the Brisker Rov to sign the letter, to ensure that the letter would evoke the right response.

"Your suggestion," responded the Chazon Ish, "will be accepted, but only halfway."

In other words, he himself was willing to apply in writing to Ben Gurion, but the Brisker Rov would not agree to sign such a letter.

"Why not?" inquired Rabbi Lorincz.

The Chazon Ish replied: "It is not possible to apply to the Prime Minister with a request of this type without bringing in a touch of flattery (chanufoh) and the Brisker Rov, who is entirely emess, would never be able to sign it."

Indeed, when the Chazon Ish's words were conveyed to the Brisker Rov, he nodded his head to confirm that he would not indeed sign such an application.

So the letter was sent on its mission with only the Chazon Ish's signature on it!

This was heard from Rabbi Lorincz, who added that after the Chazon Ish's passing, a few outstanding talmidei chachomim examined the letter that was sent and found not the slightest trace of flattery in it. However, the Chazon Ish, with his deep perception, felt that there was a touch of flattery in the very fact of their applying to the Prime Minister, and he therefore decided that the Brisker Rov would not wish to include his signature on it.

It is hardly necessary to add that this dreadful edict, which threatened to tear down the foundations of the sanctity of the Jewish home for generations to come and affected every single person who had a daughter at home, disturbed the Brisker Rov's peace of mind to the very depths of his sensitive soul. He worked night and day to abolish it, his heart torn inside, until his health was affected, though his efforts to save the remnants of his people did, by the Grace of Hashem, eventually bear fruit.

However, this was not sufficient reason to permit him even a shade of flattery which might even slightly deviate from the emess. His commitment to truth was like an iron barrier preventing him from taking this kind of action, negating the option entirely as if it had never existed.

Vedovor zeh, lo lelamed al azmo yotzo, elo lelamed al haklal kulo! This thing is not singled out from the general statement in order to teach only about itself, but to apply its lesson to the entire corpus [of the Brisker Rov's actions]!

From Inside and Out

His grasp of the middoh of emess in all his ways had two sides to it, two sides that were really one: the inward and the outward. It was not a demand for the truth, where one makes a public condemnation when the occasion warrants it. It was a real inward demand for the truth. It was a complete attachment to the truth even when it involved monetary loss, unpleasantness, or possible loss of status, as it were, which a regular person would have difficulty withstanding, and would easily find some heter or another to extract himself from that feeling of discomfort that the pursuit of emess necessarily brings with it.

To illustrate, here are some examples, as cases in point:

A trustworthy fundraiser, Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Izkov went to the Brisker Rov and offered to go overseas and knock on the doors of potential contributors to get them to donate to the kollel the Rov had founded. This occurred not long after the kollel had opened, when its maintenance cost him considerable effort and when more than once he was left on erev Rosh Chodesh without sufficient funds to distribute to the avreichim.

Nevertheless, the Brisker Rov was only willing to consent to the suggestion on one absolute condition: that Rabbi Izkov would tell everyone to whom he applied for a donation that in the Brisker Rov's kollel there were no more than three avreichim studying!

Truth to tell, the kollel contained additional students, besides also the Brisker Rov's own sons [thereby numbering much more than three]. And there were also those who participated in his shiur who studied in the kollel hall.

However, since in the Rov's mind this figure [3] constituted the real number of avreichim who were then in need of the monthly stipend or who, in his broad estimation, really deserved it without the shadow of a doubt, and since he knew that, as fundraisers tend to do, he might exaggerate its size, he was afraid the man might create the impression that the `Brisker Rov's kollel' was massive.

The Brisker Rov saw in this a trace of geneivas daas and possibly gezel, and he was only willing to accept the offer of fundraising on condition that the man promised him faithfully that he would say the absolute truth as he saw it, without any additions! (Heard from Rabbi Izkov zt"l himself)

Another story: Once an eminent and wealthy man came to his residence and told him that he would give $10,000 — an enormous sum in those days — to the kollel. This would have provided relief on a long-term basis, and would have prevented a great deal of anguish—especially taking into consideration the Brisker Rov's pure sensitivity and how particular he was in money matters.

"No," the Brisker Rov replied. "The kollel does not need so much right now!"

I Had Not Intended to Go Any Further

Following a visit that HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky once paid to him, after the gaon had said his parting words, the Brisker Rov asked if he could fulfill the mitzvah of accompanying his honored guest. As he escorted him outside, HaRav Yechezkel kept telling him, "The Rov does not need to go to all this trouble to escort me. Let him please go back home."

Meanwhile, both continued with their conversation on divrei Torah and halochoh that they had discussed during their meeting. Then, at a certain point, when HaRav Yechezkel reiterated his request that the Rov not trouble himself to escort him, the Brisker Rov said: "Mehr, hob Ich taka nisht getracht" (I had not intended to go any further). And so they took leave of each other.

Later the Brisker Rov explained that if he would not have said this there would have been an element of geneivas daas to HaRav Abramsky, as if he had actually intended to escort him another few steps and that it was only because of HaRav Abramsky's insistence on not troubling him that he had gone back home. He therefore felt impelled to tell him that he had truthfully never intended to walk him any further, but had intended to take leave of him at that spot. (Heard from HaRav Meshulam Dovid HaLevi Soloveitchik).

One of the geonim of Yerushalayim once discussed with him a certain sugya in the seder Taharos at his home. During the conversation, the gaon posed him a kushya, and the Brisker Rov gave his response. The person, who was certain that the answer did not work because of the halocho that tumoh belu'oh (enwrapped tumoh) does not transmit tumoh, began to respond to what the Brisker Rov said. No sooner did the words "tumoh belu'oh" issue from his mouth, than the Brisker Rov, with a tremendous shriek that reverberated throughout the house like someone who put his hand in boiling water, confirmed that he was right in front of the entire company: "Richtig. To'us, to'us. Ir zent gerecht. To'us, to'us." (You are absolutely right: It's a mistake, a mistake!). (In the name of HaRav Zeev Chechik.)

"No! I Do Not Know."

Once, when he was speaking to a certain talmid chochom about a particular sugya, the Brisker Rov gave over his own chiddush on the matter. In the opinion of that rabbi, the chiddush seemed to contradict what the gemora said explicitly in a certain place, and he commented gently: "Der Rov vaist doch mistoma funn di gemora . . . " (The Rov surely knows [what it says in] the gemora), and he mentioned which gemora he meant.

The Brisker Rov responded instantly: "Nein! Ich veiss nisht" (No, I do not know!)


One Purim, a certain person who had great yiras Shomayim was at the Brisker Rov's house, and as he was sitting at his table the cup of wine by his side spilt onto the tablecloth and stained it.

On motzei Purim, the same man came to his house again, his heart stricken, and begged forgiveness from the Rov for unintentionally staining his tablecloth. The Brisker Rov did not answer him right away, as people usually do in such cases, when they say something like: `What kind of question is that? It is really nothing.' The Rov thought for a while first, and only when he had internalized it in his heart did he say aloud that he forgave the damage.

(Heard from mori verabbi HaRav Meir HaLevi Soloveitchik.)

See in the book, part II, on what the Rov once said of himself: "Ich bin achro'i oyf yedder vort vos ich red arrois funn moil" (I am responsible for every word that comes out of my mouth).

Truthfully, I Did Not Recognize You

One of the former residents of Brisk, who was once close to him and one of his trusted friends, came to Israel after many years had passed since their last meeting, which had been before the onset of those dreadful years when the institutions of the world collapsed and the survivors fled Brisk and its sister cities in stricken Europe.

The Brisker Rov had received notice that this person wished to come to his house, so that he was aware of the intended visit. When the man arrived and was welcomed into the house, he asked the Brisker Rov if he had recognized him immediately by his face.

Here, it is worth noting how far people are from the way of emess in such cases, in their desire to feel closer or endear themselves to the person asking the question. But the Brisker Rov was of a different brand. He did not refrain from saying explicitly: "Truthfully, I did not recognize you. And I do not even know if I would have recognized you at all if I had not been told in advance that you were planning to come to me . . . " (Heard from HaRav Menachem Zvi Berlin, rosh yeshiva of Rabbeinu Chaim Ozer, who witnessed the incident.)

Drafting Women — Servants and not Partners . . .

During the harsh controversy over giyus bonos, when a compromise was proposed to offer Sherut Leumi (National Service) as an alternative to army service and it was accepted by the heads of the government, all the Israeli gedolim of those days, led by the Brisker Rov and the Chazon Ish, declared a milchemes mitzvah even against this pathetic "compromise."

In no way did the gedolim see the "compromise" as changing the essence of the wicked decree one iota, and they therefore came out with the famous psak halocho of `yeihoreg ve'al ya'avor" (prefer death and not commit the sin).

There were certain activists who went to the Brisker Rov and argued that if the staunchly religious sector in Israel would continue to fight even this compromise proposal of Sherut Leumi as well, the government would not only harden its stance and revert to their original demand of full conscription for women, but they might also revert to their former demand for compulsory conscription for bnei yeshivos in Israel as well.

These activists argued that it was absolutely necessary to compromise on this matter, in order not to put at risk even what they had achieved in terms of the yeshiva bochurim. At face value, this argument appeared logical and was based on a fear that certainly had a realistic basis.

But the Brisker Rov answered: "We are not the baalebatim of Yiddishkeit, that we can sell parts of the Torah in order to save other parts. Our duty is to stand firm as a rock before this intent to undermine this sacred wall, and we have no authority to reach a compromise on matters that we are commanded to fight for."

The Rosh Yeshiva of Beer Yaakov, HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro shlita, from whom we heard the abovementioned story, added for emphasis: "We are not partners of HaKodosh Boruch Hu, we are His servants."

The rov of Kommemiyus, HaRav Binyomin Mendelson, said at the time that just from looking at the Brisker Rov's face on a given day you could judge how the situation stood in terms of the Sherut Leumi bill, and whether the danger still hovered over the people of the Holy Land.

At the time, somebody came with a complaint to the Brisker Rov: "I cannot comprehend it," he said. "The Rov rejects any compromise or suggestion out of hand, and is not even willing to hear it."

The Rov responded as follows:

"There was once a teacher of beginners who tried with all his might to teach his young pupil to pronounce the word `Kedorlo'omer' properly (in sefer Bereishis), but he could not manage it. Again and again the child would go over the word with some mistake or other. When the rebbe managed to get him to stop saying `Kaldaromer,' the boy would say `Karladomer,' and when the mistake was pointed out to him the child would say `Kalradomer.' He pronounced the word in every possible combination besides the correct pronunciation of `Kedorlo'omer.'

One day the rebbe's patience ran thin, and he thundered at him: "Why are you so stubborn? Say Kedorlo'omer already!"

A look of astonishment came over the little child's face and he said to the rebbe plaintively: "You call me stubborn, but I have been saying that word in so many ways. You are the one who keeps stubbornly insisting that it is not right."

The Brisker Rov needed to supply no further explanations with regard to the man's complaint.

(Heard from Rabbi Avrohom Ehrlanger)

Pain over the Desecration of the Graves of Tzaddikim

The Brisker Rov could find no inner peace on account of the digs being carried out at the ancient graves near the grave of the Rambam in Tiberias, and took all kinds of actions to try to stop them. Among other things, he summoned one of the leaders of the Mizrachi movement who held a senior public office, whom he blamed for having a hand in that treachery.

After some argument, during which the Brisker Rov spoke to him in harsh terms about his part in that serious affair, the man gave his word that he would instruct the authorities concerned to stop the desecration of the graves and the excavations on the site. However, the Rov was not satisfied with just a promise, and informed him that he was sending two of his sons with him to make sure that he would stand by his word and give the proper orders.

As Rabbi Lorincz relates: "The Brisker Rov told me later that the man was apparently very deeply offended at the total lack of faith shown in him — so his sons informed him. They said that he lost his temper and said some very angry words about the fact that the Rov was sending them after him to check that he would really stand by his promise.

"I was baffled," added Rabbi Lorincz. "What did he mean by, `My sons told me . . .?' Didn't this take place in the presence of the Rov, with the man facing him as he made his harsh outburst?

"The Brisker Rov responded: `When it happened, my ears did not absorb the words, and I did not hear a single one of the harsh words that the man directed at me.'

"When I continued to express my amazement at how he could reach such a high madreigoh that when he was attacked so harshly he did not physically hear one word that was said, the Rov answered me in a way from which I was able to grasp how deeply his heart trembled over the disgraceful excavations of the deceased, the ancient graves. This is what he said to me:

"This is not a madreigoh at all, nor is it an especially good trait. It is just something very simple. During those weeks and days when the danger of the excavations of the graves was still there, I never had any peace of mind. I was totally absorbed in anger and pain over the affair, to the point where I could not absorb anything else in that period that did not pertain to it.

"`It happened not infrequently,' added the Rov, `that people would talk to me about various subjects and I — I simply did not hear their words, just simply not . . . My mind was occupied the whole time with the effort to bring about an abolishment of that evil decree and I was just not able to take in other matters.

`The Mizrachi person's outburst over the lack of trust I was displaying in him and in other people had no bearing on the desecration of the graves itself, and therefore my ears completely failed to absorb any of it. . . So that I would not have known anything about it had it not been for my sons who told me about it after the decree had been rescinded, when the excavations on the site had been halted.' "

Religious Coalition — Duty of Hishtadlus

During the battle and the enormous controversy which ensued over the idea of establishing a `unified religious front,' when it became apparent that it would be removed from the agenda and not materialize at all — to the complete satisfaction of the Brisker Rov — someone discovered from reliable sources that various people who had an interest in the religious parties were attempting to reinstate the idea and to still bring about such a coalition.

This person, who was one of the Brisker Rov's friends, was very much afraid of the Rov finding out about this worrying new development and of it causing him excess anguish. He went to R' Yoshe Ber (the Brisker Rov's son) with the shailoh of how to proceed, and was told that for the good of the cause, he must inform the Brisker Rov so that he could take steps to frustrate the plan.

However, to his immense surprise, when this person approached the Rov with a trembling heart and with his knees shaking and told the Rov the news, the Rov's face remained as peaceful as ever. He showed no signs of any special emotion as he pronounced decisively: "Mir hobben gettoen vos mir hobben gekennt" (We did what we could to foil the whole business) — "but if HaKodosh Boruch Hu wants it to be, it is not our affair, since we have fulfilled our obligation of hishtadlus to the fullest extent."

In this context, the Brisker Rov went on to explain the words of the Midrash brought down in Yalkut Shimoni (Shmuel II remez 163): "Four kings — what one demanded, the other did not. They were Dovid, Assa, Yehoshofot, and Chizkiyohu. Dovid said `I will pursue my enemies and overtake them . . ." Hakodosh Boruch Hu told him, `I will do it [for you].' As it says, `And Dovid smote them from evening until night.' Assa came and said, `I have no strength to kill, but I will pursue, and You do [the rest].' HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, `I will do so.' As it says, `And he pursued them, Assa and the men who were with him.' It does not say there that they were `broken before Assa,' but it says they were `broken before Hashem.'

"Yehoshofot came and stated, `I have no strength either to kill nor to pursue, but I will herewith sing a song, and You do [the rest].' HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, `I will do so.' As it says, `And when they broke out into song, Hashem placed ambushes.'

"Chizkiyohu came and said, `I have no strength to kill or to pursue, or to sing shira, but I will sleep in my bed and You do [the rest].' HaKodosh Boruch Hu told him, `I will do so.' As it says, `And an Angel of Hashem went out and smote the camp of Ashur." Here the Midrash ends.

These words require explanation. If behavior like King Chizkiyohu's was appropriate in that he said, "I will sleep in my bed and You will act," then why did the other three who were mentioned in the Midrash not act likewise? And why did King Dovid need `to kill,' Assa `to pursue,' and Yehoshofot to sing shiroh?

From here we learn, continued the Brisker Rov, that each one of us has an obligation to act as far as he can and as much as his strength permits. Dovid Hamelech, whose strength was in pursuing and killing, was obligated to do so.

Assa, who by then lacked the strength to kill, was at least obliged to do whatever he did have the strength for: to pursue. However, Yehoshofot, who had neither the strength to kill nor to pursue, was in any event expected to sing shiroh.

But since King Chizkiyohu had no strength for any of these three things — killing, pursuing, or singing shiroh — he said to HaKodosh Boruch Hu: "I will sleep in my bed, and You do [the rest]."

The words of this Midrash contain a lesson for generations: Each one of us has an obligation to act whenever necessary with all the strength he has at his disposal. But when it is something beyond his reach, he can say to HaKodosh Boruch Hu: `I will sleep in my bed, and now You do [the rest]. "

"It is the same with us," concluded the Brisker Rov. "We have done everything in our power to prevent the danger of the establishment of a unified front. We are therefore in the situation of not having the strength to do any more. So now we can lift up our eyes and say to HaKodosh Boruch Hu: "I will sleep in my bed and You do the rest."

You Would Make Conditions With Me?

Rabbi Amram Blau was once locked up in Ramla Prison for the `crime' of his vigorous protests against Shabbos desecration and breaches of religion. With Pesach coming close, various activists made every effort to get him freed for the Seder night.

One of the senior government officials in Israel was a prominent talmid chochom who would sometimes come to the Brisker Rov's house to bask in his Torah. That erev Pesach, Rabbi Amram's son went to the Brisker Rov to ask him to speak to that official to persuade him to wield his influence on the appropriate authorities who could authorize the leave.

The Brisker Rov did not hold any great hopes of that person's readiness, even maintaining that it was hardly worth the effort to try to convince him. Nevertheless, he told Rabbi Amram's son that if he really wanted him to speak to that person then he should have him come to his house.

Hardly was the person asked than he rushed over to the Rov's house and heard out his request. The man responded that if Rabbi Amram would declare that during the whole period of his leave he would not take part in any demonstrations, it would be easier to get the consent of the authorities.

When the Rov heard these words he shouted loudly: "You would make conditions with me? Did I call you here to make conditions with me?" And for a few minutes he did not spare his tongue on the man, expressing himself in the harshest terms.

Those who were present in the house and witnessed the harsh interchange, were shocked at the fierceness of the words, and feared the reaction of that distinguished person. But to their astonishment, in spite of it all, that public official wielded his considerable influence on the appropriate parties.

His efforts were crowned with success, and Rabbi Amram spent that Seder Night together with his family, as he did every year.

(Heard from Rabbi Amram's son, HaRav Yeshaya Blau).


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