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7 Nisan 5766 - April 4, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty-Three: Where His Greatness Is — There Lies His Humility

We have already mentioned the statement of Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk'l that Maran was one of the hidden thirty-six tzaddikim, since he concealed his piety and righteousness from the public. There seems to be, however, one particular trait which he was unable to hide, the one which was most noticeable: the middoh of humility and self effacement, not only towards great Torah scholars, prestigious figures, important people, but even in the same measure towards the most insignificant of all, the common Jew.

This humility was apparent in every act, each movement; it permeated his being to the degree that even one who never knew him or had never met him even incidentally, was immediately deeply impressed by him. Even when many were those who came to seek his counsel, when he was the uncontested godol hador, he frequently said, "Fortunate is the generation whose great ones are obedient to its small ones."

In his great humility, he attributed this saying to himself, when he couldn't help seeing that people sought and followed his advice.

The World is Making a Mistake about Me . . .

I don't know if I will be able to convey to the readers with my puny powers of description the depth of emotion which the following story evoked in me. Man can feel from the heart, but only Hashem can formulate the words.

I once went into the Maran ztvk'l and saw him very emotionally moved. I asked him what had caused this inner turmoil.

Maran began his tale but was unable to suppress his tears. He began weeping and sobbed without cease, unable to continue.

I waited patiently to hear the reason behind his emotional upheaval. Finally, after he had calmed down, he said:

"Let me tell you; a couple came to me with their son regarding a shidduch. The son had already met a certain girl and had basically decided that she was his Heavenly intended mate. The son spoke up and said, `I saw in her all the fine character traits, the personal perfection, that one could hope for and I feel this is my divinely chosen mate.'

"At this point, the parents concurred that the candidate pleased them too. But at the last moment, they discovered that she was a ba'alas teshuvoh, whereas they are a very well-born family and wealthy besides, truly a family of the elite. They were unable to make peace with the idea that their only son marry a ba'alas teshuvoh without yichus. The tension between the parents and the son runs very high; the son refuses to back down, for even though the matter was not finally settled between him and the girl, his word was as good as given and the matter closed."

The parents declared authoritatively that they were against the match but would not give their final word before asking Maran for his opinion. At this point of his narrative, Maran again burst into bitter tears.

"Everyone is making a big mistake regarding their opinion of me. They think I am someone, some authority . . . They come to me with such difficult questions, such difficult decisions. This is a matter which only a godol beYisroel can decide. Apparently, by my deeds, I am misleading the public into thinking that I am an authority in such matters . . . "

And he burst into another spasm of tears. "They are mistaken, and it is all my fault . . . "

After he had finished speaking, I asked Maran, "And what, actually, did you tell this family?"

"What could I do? I suggested that they go to one of the gedolim. I even told them to whom to go (I presume that he told them to go to the Steipler, who deals with this subject in his works), but they refused. I suggested a different figure and again they refused; they had agreed between them to do only what I ruled in the matter, and if I withheld my opinion, it would cause continued immeasurable friction in the family. What could I do? I told them that I would think about it and that they should return for my opinion in a few days time."

A week later, I again went to visit Maran and inquired about the resolution of that problem. At that time, Maran was in high spirits. This is what he told me: "After they left, I took my Tehillim and prayed that Hashem grant me wisdom. I then opened up a Shulchan Oruch Evven Ho'ezer and looked up every place that mentioned marriage with a baal teshuvoh who was not conceived in purity. I did not see any prohibition anywhere I looked, so I see no reason to forbid it.

"If, indeed, she is so perfect in character, and she appeals to this young man, who is also considered consummate in character and one of the best in his yeshiva and they have come to a mutual understanding and decision, the matter should be considered closed. The shidduch should be finalized.

"When I told this to him, he was overjoyed — and even his parents made peace with the idea and gave their blessings to my decision."

I have told the story from beginning to end, but the main point I wanted to bring out was the beginning. Maran wept without stop because he felt was he was deceiving the public, promoting the idea that he was one of the leading authorities of the generation. This humility belongs to another world.

Here, dear reader, I will ask you to stop a moment before continuing. Read the previous passage once more, and then again. And contemplate its message.

To what degree did Maran's meekness and humbleness reach. Maran — the unchallenged master of Jewry!

He cries and weeps from the depths of his heart, "They are mistaken about me. They think I am something, that I am somebody . . . I am apparently misleading the public by my actions, even if unintentionally. The public actually thinks that I am one of the gedolim."

Let us ask ourselves: what pains do we go to, what means do we take to make people respect us more — and do so with full intent and purpose.

After introspection, please continue reading, but not as one reading for enjoyment and leisure. Read this as one would study a work of mussar, in the way our teachers taught us to approach a work of mussar, and then we may hope that some shred of Maran's greatness will adhere to us as well.

In this vein, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky said in the name of Maran the Chazon Ish ztvk'l: "In our times, the best mussar works are the stories told about our great Torah sages."

"I Dwell in the Midst of My People"

During the time that the rebbetzin was ill, as well as after she passed away, Maran tended to his own needs and did not allow anyone to serve him, not even his grandsons.

It was a common sight to witness Maran going by himself to the grocery; every resident of the neighborhood remembers it. He stood in line along with everyone else. To be sure, the grocer wanted to serve him first but Maran refused, even when everyone was certainly glad to waive their turn. But no, Maran insisted that he was no different from anyone else and had to wait his turn like everyone else.

When people wanted him to be served before the children, at least, he said: "That is surely forbidden! Adults are able to forgive and forgo their turn but a child cannot halachically waive his rights and so the matter is much more stringent; it is even considered gezel."

This is how he conducted himself at home, too. After every meal, he would take a broom and gather up the crumbs that had fallen, lest someone step on them. He took care of the house cleaning by himself, and while washing the [stone] floors he would discuss some Torah topic with his grandchildren. Sometimes he even hung up laundry to dry!

Many times, especially in the late hours of the night, when someone knocked on the door Maran would open it himself. Occasionally during the day, even when there were grandchildren around he wouldn't wait until they were free to open it but would go and answer it himself.

It was this selfsame unpretentious, unassuming, unsophisticated conduct that characterized him at the yeshiva as well — despite his special stature — not only as rosh yeshiva but as the godol hador.

Maran used to arrive at the yeshiva early in the morning and immediately begin arranging the seforim that remained abandoned on the various shtenders, putting them back in their right place on the bookshelves. He would explain that not only was it disrespectful for them to be lying around like that but if someone needed them and had to look for them, it would waste a great deal of time, constituting, bitul Torah. (Lulei Sorosecho Sha'ashu'oi)

"As if they were Cutting into My Own Flesh with a Knife"

When Maran was mesader Kiddushin or served as sandak at a bris, he would stipulate that they not call out his name. "I know when to approach," he would say. "I will come at the right time without having my name announced."

He did not want to hear the usual titles that went along with the announcement: HaGaon, Maran and so on.

At the wedding of one of his nephews, they erected a makeshift elevated dais in Maran's honor. When he arrived, he immediately noticed that the head table was raised upon a platform. His face turned livid and he cried out with obvious rancor, "What have you done here?"

He was so irritated with it that he decided to return home immediately. He could not bear all the fuss and fanfare people made about him. Even when they begged him to wait for the chosson and kallah who were about to emerge from cheder yichud, he refused. Would he wait at least until some of the distinguished people who were on their way to the wedding made their appearance? No, he was determined to go.

"Who asked you to invite them?" he asked, referring to the important people. And he turned around and left, weeping all the way home about the embarrassment they were causing him by the exaggerated demonstration of deference.

Maran told me that whenever he saw his name appear in the paper or on written announcements, he was always deeply pained. He said he felt as if they were making deep incisions into his flesh with a knife. There are no words to convey this, but anyone who was ever by him felt and knew that he meant everything he said; it was genuine and true.

The Greatest Pleasure — to Sit Like Any Jew

Whenever Maran called anyone by phone, he was always very careful to address the person respectfully. When calling my home, for example, he always asked, "Could I speak with Rabbi Lorincz?" And if the person at the other end of the line did not recognize his voice and asked that he identify himself, he would reply simply, "This is Shach speaking." He never presented himself as "Rav Shach."

HaRav Yosef HaKohen Roth zt'l eulogized Maran and said, "When Maran would pray at one of the shuls in the neighborhood, he used to stand in the back, with the rest of the worshipers. When I asked him why he did not go up to the Mizrach, he would reply, "If you only knew what great pleasure I derive from sitting among the regular worshipers, you wouldn't ask a question like that!" (Orchos Habayis)

Smacking of Pride

In his will, Maran asked that he be subjected to the `four death punishments of beis din' after his death, a practice which is found in many holy works. However, R' Refoel Wolf, a close confidant of Maran, said that Maran had told him that even though he had written this in his will, he had subsequently thought the matter over and decided against that practice since it might be smacking of pride.

How did I Merit to Author the Avi Ezri?

Sometimes, when I went in to Maran, I would find him studying his own work, Avi Ezri. And he would turn to me and say, "I marvel that I was able to produce such chidushim. Where did it come from? I really don't know how I was capable of doing this! Where did I glean all the knowledge, the expertise, that is found here, to know all the sources which I quote?"

I didn't quite understand at what he was driving. Why was he so surprised? Had he not toiled endlessly over it and produced it after great labor?

In his great humility, Maran was sure that he could never have produced such a work of marvelous chidushim all by himself. He must have had a great measure of Heavenly assistance, as King Shlomo said, "For to the man who has good before him has He granted knowledge, wisdom and joy." Chazal in Avodoh Zorah (20a) commented, "Torah brings to deed, deed leads to caution, caution leads to alacrity and so on until ruach hakodesh and techiyas hameisim."

If a person toils in Torah, Hashem grands him knowledge and wisdom. And if he does not toil to the limit of his powers, Hashem does not help him. The Chazon Ish told me this and explained the whole subject in a long discourse.

The Approbation of Maran R' Yitzchok Zev

Maran was privileged to get a haskomoh from Maran the Brisker Rov ztvk'l before he printed the second volume of Avi Ezri. Very few were those who received such an approbation and surely not one of them received the accolade that Maran R' Shach did.

He wrote: "He does not need any haskomoh whatsoever from any person, for the man is great and very mighty in Torah, acuity, expertise, depth of understanding the pshat in all the branches of Torah, like one of the greatest of our generation . . . And it is not my place to testify for him and his novella."

It is simple to imagine that any other person would rush off to print up such a haskomoh at the very beginning of his work. But in his great intuitive wisdom, the Brisker Rov understood that Maran's sheer humility would not permit him to publicize this approbation. He, therefore, sent his son to Maran to tell him outright that he insisted that he print this haskomoh and not hide it away or ignore it. (Orach Habayis)

"I Wanted to Come in Person to Wish you a Good Year"

In my eulogy on Maran, I mentioned a most moving story which always reduces me to tears. Had I not been witness to it firsthand, I would not believe it myself.

On Erev Rosh Hashonoh, I think it must have been about ten years before his passing, the phone rang in my home. A voice said that Maran wished to speak to Rav Lorincz. I went to answer and Maran was on the other end of the line. "I want to wish a shonoh tovoh to you, your rebbetzin, your children and to the entire family."

He concluded his blessing and added, "I would really like to come to you personally to extend my wishes for a good year, because that is how it is supposed to be. I am obligated to come to you in person. But what can I do? I am so weak that I cannot make the trip to Yerushalayim. And so, I am apologizing and asking your forgiveness."

I began weeping. I was ashamed of myself.

I then heard Maran saying to R' Dovid Zimmerman, "Ask him if he heard well what I just said to him." R' Zimmerman asked me and I replied that I had heard every word. Maran continued to ask, and I could hear him in the background, "Did he hear that I wanted to come in person, and that I feel obligated to do so, but I am unable because of my weakness, and that I ask him forgiveness?" R' Zimmerman conveyed the message and I rephrased, "I heard. Maran wanted to hear and to determine that I heard that he was asking my apology for his not coming himself."

Maran then took the receiver again and said, "Now I want to wish you again a shonoh tovoh, to you, your rebbetzin etc."

I told this over to my family with tears: There is no need to describe what an impact it made upon everyone.

My heart was bursting inside me. Such humbleness — simply incredible. But as difficult as it is to believe, still, I am obligated to publicize it for there is a great lesson in it. Just imagine, if you heard Maran uttering these words to a simple person, "I wanted to come to you . . . "

And why did Maran want to come? Because he thought that perhaps, perhaps, I had done him a good turn. When the truth is that I never did anything for him. In fact, he never needed anything . . . Perhaps, then, I had done something for the sake of the public? And for this he felt obligated to apologize, to ask forgiveness? It is inconceivable!

The stories which I bring were not read somewhere or even heard from others. I experienced them myself! And I was simply beside myself. Where does one see such self effacement? I asked myself. If this is how the acclaimed leader of Jewry conducted himself, where was I? How was I supposed to act?

We are all so careful about preserving our own pride; we think we have things coming to us, that we deserve to be deferred to, and are resentful when that due respect is lacking, feeling that we are deprived.

I think that anyone who lived in the proximity of Maran had his own trait of pride and self-importance crushed. It is impossible for someone to have witnessed his deep humility and to remain with his own sense of self worth.


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