Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Sivan 5766 - June 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty-Five: "One Must Act According to the Whole Truth"

There is obduracy and there is firmness. There are people who are unyielding, in which their strength is ingrained in their very nature, a product of excessive self-importance. A person like this does not recognize another person's right to an opinion; he does not even see the other side of the coin. The result is an obstinate adamancy.

Maran was the symbol and example par excellence of gentility of spirit, of humbleness and self-effacement. And yet, his solid stance in all matters of yiras Shomayim was famous. This adamancy stemmed from his uncompromising quest for the truth and from an absolute dissociation from anything smacking of self interest.

"I am Still Alive: and I Am Still Standing Vigil"

This strength of character found expression in the affair of Jewish marriage law which began with the chief rabbi of the IDF and carried over with the chief rabbi of the State of Israel. In his highly attuned sense of leadership, Maran regarded the initial breach with great severity, understanding intuitively that a red line had been crossed. If the matter had been allowed to pass without reaction on the part of Torah leadership, it would snowball with very serious repercussions for the whole future of Yiddishkeit.

Even though up till then he had refrained from appearing on the public platform as a leader and religious pacesetter, Maran decided that now was not the time to retire to a passive corner out of innate reticence. He asked me if there was any public forum in which he could appear in order to voice his objections and bring down the rafters over his protest over the disgrace that had been perpetrated upon the Jewish people.

I told Maran that on that selfsame day there was scheduled a meeting of the Agudath Israel administration. Maran asked me to bring him to that meeting in order to voice his message. His appearance stunned the members of the central leadership of Agudath Israel for he had never heretofore attended such gatherings.

Maran spoke vehemently against the breach and mentioned the words of the Rashbo where he refers in a halachic responsa to one who had purposely misconstrued the intent of the Torah. "Did he imagine that the Torah had no defenders, no one responsible for its sanctity and purity? That anyone and everyone could feel free to come and interpret things to his heart's desire? I am still alive, and I am still standing vigil to preserve the integrity of the Torah against any infractors, be they who they may be. And if anyone dares to attempt to touch as much as a lettercrown of a single yud in the body of the Torah — I shall decree a cheirem upon him!"

And then Maran added, "I am unable to say the words that the Rashbo uttered, but this is what I can declare before one and all: So long as there exist the holy yeshivos which produce rabbonim, morei horo'oh and dayonim who are what they should be, as they have been throughout the ages, we shall not allow such a thing to happen!"

Maran quoted the words of the Steipler in his letter, "May a thousand and their like be uprooted, but not a single letter of the Torah be violated!" "The Torah gives us the guarantee that it `will not budge from your mouth and the mouth of your seed . . . ' There will always be proper rabbonim amongst Jewry, and if they are only two then `I and Chanina my son' shall be they!" (Based on letters and essays, Vol. III, p. 117)

"I Have Not Requisitioned a Single Donkey of Theirs"

This obduracy seemed to stand in blatant contradiction to his humility. We have already dealt at length in a previous article with his extreme humbleness, and this was really exceptional in my eyes until once I actually asked Maran how at times he actually ruled contrary to the opinion of the majority of gedolei Yisroel. From where did he derive the self-reliance, the confidence, to do so?

Maran replied very emphatically, "Because I have no self interest. This is why my decisions are pure and untainted."

Upon several occasions, Maran reiterated this concept, "Open up my heart and you will see that it is wholly clean! I am prepared to stand before the Heavenly Throne and testify that it is pure and devoid of any special interests."

This approach was well-known, not only in the circles of bnei yeshiva but also in circles far distant from yeshivos.

On Shabbos Parshas Korach, during a period when a deep chasm gaped between the Lithuanian (yeshivishe) circles and Chassidim and the fire of dissension raged among the people, a certain well-known Torah scholar, one of the leading marbitzei Torah who identified with the chassidic camp, approached me during the reading of the Torah and said, "I want to tell you something connected to this week's parsha, on condition that you don't tell it over in my name, for I fear the consequences . . .

"Moshe Rabbenu said: `I have not taken one donkey from them nor have I harmed one of them.' Why did he say this? It is not an apt reply to Korach's argument. Did Korach accuse Moshe of requisitioning anyone's donkey or of accepting a bribe? All they said was that the whole body of Jewry is holy. Why must Moshe lord it over them? The controversy was ideologically over a very basic issue, as we see from Korach's examples: Does a house full of sacred writings require a mezuzoh? Does a tallis made entirely of techeiles require a techeiles fringe? And so on. Of what relevance was Moshe's answer have to this controversy?

"The answer is," continued that scholar, "that Moshe argued thus: They know the unspoken truth, which is that each and every one of them wants to be in power. Korach and his cohorts speak in philosophic, ideological terms, claiming that every Jew is holy and do not even need a spiritual leader. But the truth, the real motive behind his argument, is his desire to lead. Each of the two-hundred-and-fifty men also wanted power. Ohn ben Peles' wife understood this truth and rescued her husband through her cleverness, saying: `Either way, whoever wins, it will make no difference to you since you won't become a nosi, no matter what. So why get embroiled in this argument?'"

The man now switched to Yiddish to emphasize his point. "We all know the truth, don't we? said Moshe. You speak loftily, but the truth is that each of you wishes to become a leader.

"But know that none of you can replace me as leader. The first requirement of a leader is clean hands. He must not covet or seize another person's donkey or property. You, Korach, and your henchmen, want power for your own benefit; not so I. Only I am capable of declaring that I have not taken anyone's donkey, that I have no personal, ulterior interest in leadership. Even when I went from Midian to Egypt on Hashem's mission, I could have by right taken one of your donkeys — but I only took my own, because this is how a leader should behave. A true leader is careful not to glean any personal benefit from his position or derive any good from the people, for only when he is totally neutral and disinterested, when he does not profit from his high position, can his decisions be correct and true.

"If so, then Moshe Rabbenu did reply to the point, saying that the Jewish people needed a leader who was not interested in personal gain. A leader such as this in our present times is HaGaon R' Shach," concluded that chassidic figure with finality.

The Controversy with Chassidim

In truth, Maran was a great concessionist, that is, a vatron. His motto was, "Better to be defeated than to be victorious." This, of course, only applied to financial and political matters and the like. He used to say, "One must give in, give in, again and again." He was the epitome of vitur.

Maran was not a strict, exacting authoritarian type. He forgave those who insulted him. But when people spread the slander that he was against Chassidus and chassidim, he took great offense. In a letter which was printed together with his responsa and essays (Vol. 5, p. 532), he writes, "G-d forbid that it be said that there exists a controversy between misnagdim and chassidim. This is pure intentional maligning and hatemongering . . . a reprehensible sin, which cannot be pardoned. I do not forgive this libel, and all the students who studied by us can testify that we never differentiated or discriminated between chassidic students and yeshivishe ones. Each one respects the other."

This libel threatened to turn Maran into a baal machlokes, while by nature he was a peace-loving person, a boundless pursuer of harmony. This is the reason why he refused to forgive those who spread that malicious slander.

HaRav Shmuel Auerbach testified for Maran, in his eulogy:

"I bear full witness that the Rosh Yeshiva was an averred hater of controversy and dissension; he despised it. One cannot describe to what extent it was abhorrent to him. He was an extreme pursuer of truth but without allowing any forgoing of kvod Shomayim in the least. He would not permit any leniency on fundamental, ideological issues of Torah and Yiddishkeit; these were things relegated to a trustworthy heart . . . Maran said to me, `This can I testify before the Heavenly Court: I dealt with communal matters with honesty and trustworthiness.' "

When it came to truth, he was not willing to budge as much as a hairsbreadth. In this aspect, he was firm and unyielding: "If one compromises on the truth and suffices with half truths, it is false. Sometimes, a half truth is far worse than a whole lie. Therefore, when it comes to truth, I cannot compromise or allow concessions."

Alone in Battle

Only with this strength was Maran able to wage the great battle against the Messianic movement of Chabad, a war which he fought single-handedly, without any aid or support from the outside. The knowledge that he was in the right and that he had no personal or ulterior motive in the matter enabled him to withstand all pressure in the face of all the warnings he received that he was virtually endangering his life.

Maran proclaimed that even when Eliyohu Hanovi fought against the priests of the Baal and declared that "Hashem is Elokim!" he stood alone in battle. Only after the truth was proven to one and all did the multitude rally to him.

"And so is it here," he said. "We must not be discouraged that we are few against many. It is our duty to proclaim the truth and, empowered by the truth, we will win!"

You Must Do Everything for the Whole Truth

I have previously told what Maran said to me in one of my last visits, shortly before his passing. Here is the place to fill in what was left unsaid and to be convinced to what degree Maran revered the truth, and only the pure truth, and how he utterly dismissed anything that even smacked of falsehood.

On one occasion Maran turned to me and said, "I want to tell you some very important things and I ask that you write down what I am about to say." This was a common request of his.

He began: "In all my life, I never enjoyed one good day, for I always had troubles, misery and wretchedness. Notwithstanding, I am a happy man. Very soon — perhaps in a year, a month, in a few days or even right now while we are talking — I will take leave from this world. When I reach the world of truth, I will have to present an accounting of myself before Hashem.

"I know that they will flog me for the sins of anger, pride and self-esteem (upon another occasion, he added bittul Torah), but when it is all over, I will hear Hashem pronounce, `Forgiven.' After that, I will be permitted to enter Gan Eden and meet with R' Akiva and his colleagues. Can you begin to imagine what bliss and happiness it must be to meet R' Akiva? I can already anticipate that feeling, and being so, I am already happy right now, despite the difficult days I am experiencing at the present. This hardship is like nothing compared to the joy I will feel over There . . . "

Maran repeated these words upon several occasions when I visited him during this period. Upon another occasion, he added, "When I get There, I will experience more embarrassment from my own self than from Hakodosh Boruch Hu."

Upon hearing this, I begged permission to interrupt him with a question. "Go ahead and ask," he said.

"I simply don't understand what the Rosh Yeshiva just said. Is there another single person in our generation who taught and spread so much Torah as the Rosh Yeshiva? From North to South — all the yeshivos, Talmud Torahs [chadorim], the Chinuch Atzmai network with its tens of thousand of students. The kollelim, yeshivos ketanos — why, there is no place in the whole country where the Rosh Yeshiva's hand does not reach, helping, supporting, encouraging, both spiritually and materially! Your influence extends much farther than the borders of Eretz Yisroel: Mexico, Chile, Australia, in the Lakewood yeshiva and throughout the United States. The Rosh Yeshiva is the guiding light of the entire Jewish people. You are the mainstay, the kingpin, the central pillar; everything is done according to your direction and supervision."

I continued to elaborate upon his importance and all the things that he was responsible for, all of his accomplishments, like preventing the draft of Jewish girls into the army or into Sherut Leumi National Service, autopsies and so many other things.

"If this is true, and it surely is, how can the Rosh Yeshiva say that `they will flog me' in the World to Come? Or that you will be ashamed from your own self?"

Maran listened patiently as I made my long enumeration, which took up a great deal time since I was very emotionally overwrought. When I had finally finished my monologue, he exclaimed aloud, with full vigor despite his weakness:

"You are right, R' Shlomo, but all this must be done with ehrlichkeit, integrity. In pure truth." And he repeated this several times.

Maran did not deny my words or qualify them. He did not say I had exaggerated or been inaccurate. And yet, out of his extreme humility, he still feared that he had not done his utmost in the light of the attribute of Truth.

I listened to him in fear and trepidation, with emotion that defies description. Maran, Rabbon shel Yisroel, had his doubts about himself. And if that was the case, what could we say for ourselves?

In the light of those words, we can understand more deeply the words which he wrote in his will: "One can deceive and be deceived regarding good and evil, to think that something is a mitzvah when it is really a sin . . . "

The Protest which Brought Maran to Jail

Maran was already known as a man of truth from his youth and it was recognized that a zeal for emes burned within him.

In 5697, Maran was chosen by the Admor of Karlin zt'l to head Yeshivas Karlin. While serving in that position in Karlin, Maran was arrested by the local police when he went to the market to protest the purchase of fish on yom tov by Jewish women. Maran told about that event in the following letter:

"Monday, the ninth of Sivan, 5697.

To the Rabbonim Geonim, Administrators of the Vaad Hayeshivos in Vilna:

You have surely read in the newspapers about what took place here, and I wish to fill you in on the details.

On Friday morning, after prayers, after the yeshiva students had stayed up all Shavuos eve in study as is the custom, and prayed at dawn, I was informed that two fishermen were selling fish to Jewish customers. I immediately went to the market and spoke to the women; I reproved them for the terrible sin of desecrating the festival in public. Two policemen immediately appeared and arrested me. They took two gentile witnesses who testified that I had urged Jews not to buy from non-Jews.

Boruch Hashem, after much intercession in Pinsk by the mayor, after my sitting in jail for two days, I was finally released. I am not sure whether there will be a further trial on this matter but the newspapers have lied in their claim that I incited Jewish women not to buy from gentiles. I hope that tomorrow the newspapers will report the true details of the event. May the terrible fright I suffered be an atonement in this city, especially after the occurrence in Brisk."

(Letters and Essays)

The Testimony of the Chazon Ish: Truth is Greatly Beloved unto Him

Maran was impervious to influence as to changing his manner of study. He did not seek brilliance or genius, only the truth. He wrote as much himself in the introduction to the final edition of his work, Avi Ezri:

"Whatever was far from the truth — I distanced from me, for I knew that this is the work of Heaven and that Hashem's eyes survey everyone, especially so regarding divrei Torah, where it is obligatory to seek out the truth."

The Chazon Ish, himself, also testified to this trait in Maran when he sent a letter to him referring to chidushei Torah published in the monthly publication, Knesses Yisroel. The Chazon Ish shied away from polemics in Torah. However, here he decided to voice his opinion on the article. At the end of his letter, he wrote:

"Even though I am not accustomed to discourse with sages, but in the honor of his Torah I do so, for the truth is greatly beloved upon him . . . "

After learning that the Chazon Ish maintained differently (in the matter of the Torah obligation of bringing shalmei simchah), Maran sought to retract his words, even though his uncle HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, had said that there were different possible ways of understanding certain things in Torah and that there was no need for him to withdraw his words. But when Maran saw that the Boruch Taam (in his annotation to Turei Evven) upheld his view, he decided to publish that opinion in his Avi Ezri, with the attached letter of the Chazon Ish. (Shimushah Shel Torah)

Love of Truth and Hatred of Bribery

The following story exemplifies not only his love of truth from his youth, but also Maran's abhorrence of bribery. His adherence to truth surpassed his distaste for anything close to personal interest when it came to money.

HaRav Simcha Zelig Riger zt'l, the dayan of Brisk, brought his young son to the yeshiva in Kletsk where Maran was studying. He asked the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, to choose a study partner for his son, who had not yet turned bar mitzvah, for pay. Maran was penniless, and R' Aharon asked him to study with the boy.

After some time, R' Simcha Zelig wished to pay him but Maran refused to accept any money, saying that the boy did not need a tutor at all since he was very gifted and capable of studying by himself.

The matter was brought to the rosh yeshiva for arbitration. The latter could not believe that a boy so young was able to study on his own and insisted that the money should rightfully be paid over to Maran. But since Maran still maintained that the boy did not need his tutorial, the rosh yeshiva decided to test the boy himself and have him prepare a selection from the gemora which he had never yet studied. This would prove who was right.

The boy was determined to excel and he did his utmost to understand the material by himself. He passed the test. Maran actually beamed with joy, for this proved him to be right. And thus, he was not `forced' to accept the tutorial fee . . . (Orchos Habayis)

Even in a Mitzvah-Battle One Must Not Cheat

When Maran decided to establish the political party Degel HaTorah, in 5748, whose banner declared its abiding allegiance to daas Torah, he was fully aware of what hung in the balance. The chance of winning a seat in the Knesset combined with some clout among the public, was very dubious. Every vote was critical.

Maran invested superhuman effort in this campaign. He prodded and urged the askonim onward, stressing the importance of every single, even lone, vote, which might very well prove decisive.

One of Maran's confidants told me that there was one rosh kollel from the Satmar chassidim who asked Maran what he must do if, because the campaign was so decisive this time, he should make an exception and vote. Maran replied without hesitation: "Don't vote!"

The rosh kollel continued to ask whether he should lend his identification card to someone else so that a potential vote not go to waste. Maran replied, "Chas vesholom! There is no permission to lie and deceive, even if this might be the very decisive vote!"

When Maran Forcefully Removed the Speaker from the Bimah

The Admor of Slonim, R' Sholom Noach Berzovsky zt'l, told me the following story. Upon one occasion, I asked Maran if it was true, and he verified that it happened as it had been told.

In his youth, Maran studied in Slonim, possibly serving there in some capacity. It was customary for the son-in-law of the gabbai to visit occasionally, and to be asked to speak in public.

This man had strong Communist leanings and was, in fact, half a Communist already, while still retaining Jewish practices. He kept mitzvos but his outlook was totally distorted.

Maran once chanced to be in this synagogue when he went up to speak. When the speaker uttered thoughts that were altogether forbidden, making a mockery of the commandment of Poroh Adumoh, Maran leaped to his feet and shouted, "Sheigitz! Get off the bimah!"

When the congregation heard him referring to the gabbai's son-in-law in this manner they were up in arms, since this particular gabbai was very powerful. Maran had to flee for his life, with a good portion of the congregants pursuing him to beat him up. Another segment of the congregation restrained them, however, having opposed this speaker from the beginning but not having had the backbone to come out and stand up to him. But now that Maran had made the initial protest, they were very satisfied and sought to protect him. And so, while Maran ran for his life, the two factions fought it out in the synagogue.

Maran was a young man at the time, whose greatness was not yet recognized. Still, he had been willing to risk a thorough beating for the sake of truth. When one must voice a protest for the sake of truth, it is imperative to do so, no matter what the consequences. This was an initial show of his strong defense and uncompromising stand for the sake of emes.

Without Truth, a Good Deed can Turn Into Corruption

Maran himself devoted one of his mussar talks to this point — that without the attribute of truth, even a positive and beneficial deed can become one of wickedness.

"A person can perform a good deed with a most wicked motive. King Og did an act of kindness. He came to Avrohom to tell him that Lot had been captured, so that Avrohom would go to rescue him. He intended, however, that Avrohom be killed in the process so that he would be able to marry Soroh." (Sichos Rabbenu, Elul 5749)

The Things I said were Mistaken

Maran was ever so careful that the shiurim he delivered be built wholly on truth. If a question ever arose as to the veracity of their foundation, in spite of the fact that he had many ways of reconciling those questions and difficulties, he would refrain from presenting that shiur.

Many were the times that he stopped his delivery in the middle when students raised certain points refuting his basic premise, even though he was able to reconcile them with his main idea. This happened once, causing Maran to stop in the middle. A short while later, he approached the selfsame student with an apt answer to his question, upholding his original premise.

The young student couldn't help asking why Maran did not continue with the shiur if he had such a ready answer. Maran replied, "The answer did strike me at once, but I needed time to think it over, to test if it was good and true. I did not want to interrupt my own shiur while I thought it out, and decided to stop speaking altogether."

Incidentally, that young student was none other than R' Yehuda Adess, today the rosh yeshivas Kol Yaakov.

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky studied in his early years in Yeshivas Lomzha in Petach Tikva, where Maran served as a Ram. R' Chaim told that sometimes after his shiur, questions arose in Maran's mind whether what he said was accurate and valid. In such an event, he would go from one student to the other in order to reconcile any error that may have arisen in their minds. (Orchos Habayis)

Upon one occasion, I approached Maran and asked him why he often changed his mind after having made a certain decision, on the grounds that the first decision was mistaken.

I told him that I felt this diminished his prestige and undermined his own authority. The public, I argued, was incapable of understanding why he was retracting his own statement and this could cause a weakening of his influence and authority.

Maran replied very sharply: "Regarding your fear as to my lessened prestige — my prestige has no consequence or value. I have no kovod, and any despicable honor will not prevent me from doing what I feel is right and emes. As for your fear that my authority be weakened and diminished, there is no sanction in the world that can justify abiding by a lie!"

CAPTION: In a meeting of Chinuch Atzmai.

As an additional example of Maran's uncompromising stand in matters of Yiddishkeit, one can cite the following letter which was written in 5741 to HaRav Shraga Grosbard zt'l, Director General of Chinuch Atzmai, on the subject of discrimination in accepting students of Oriental and Sephardic extraction.

Maran expands on the subject and explains that according to halochoh, there are no grounds whatsoever allowing discrimination between various ethnic communities. In conclusion, he writes:

"I request from you to convey to all the school principals that under no circumstances, with no justifications or excuses, are they to deny acceptance of any students from the Oriental communities . . . And I write this as an outright halachic ruling from which one may not swerve." (Letters and Essays, Vol. II, p. 43)

Maran never imposed his opinion on others and never said, "Accept what I say." Yet here he veered from his usual practice when his public responsibility demanded it.


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