Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Le'Oro Neileich — Stories about HaRav Shach

16 Cheshvan marks the fourth yahrtzeit of Maran HaRav Shach. Amazingly, there are still amazing stories to be told about him, and wonderful words of wisdom that have not yet been published (in English). Here is a sample.

Venosnim Reshus Zeh Lozeh . . . "

HaRav Moshe Mordechai Halevi Shulsinger told the following story:

I was once asked by an avreich at Ponovezh to ask the Kehillos Yaakov (the Steipler Rov) a question regarding a serious matter on Even Haezer. I handed him the question in writing, as usual. Rabbenu read what I had written and said, "I am not a rov. This shailoh must be posed to rabbonim. They have studied in a way that allows them to render halachic rulings—the Tur, the Beis Yosef and Shutim. Although there is a section in my sefer, Kehillos Yaakov, regarding this matter, I only studied it as pilpul and to extract chiddushim, but not in a way that would allow be to make halachic decisions. You need to ask a rov who knows how to pasken."

"Then tell me Rabbenu, which rov should I go to—who can I be sure has studied the matter through to the halachic maskonoh?

Rabbenu the Kehillos Yaakov pondered for a moment then said, "Go to HaRav Shach."

"Has HaRav Shach studied in the above manner so that he can issue halachic decisions?"

"I do not know how HaRav Shach studies," said Rabbenu. "But one thing I am sure of: his initial impression is the psak halocho. He does not have to look it up in any sefer, just ask him the question and the first thing he tells you is the psak halocho."

I made my way to the home of Maran HaRav Shach. I did not tell him all of the above about how I had been referred to him by the Kehillos Yaakov. I just presented him the question. Right away HaRav Shach said, "I am not a rov. This is a matter for rabbonim."

I told him the name of the person who had originally sent me with the question. Right away the Rosh Yeshiva said, "If that's the case I have an obligation to reply since he is a talmid at the yeshiva. Tell me the question."

I posed the question to HaRav Shach and he told me what the halocho lema'aseh was, on the spot. He didn't open up a single book, he just said the first thing that came to mind, just as the Kehillos Yaakov had said.


Continues HaRav Moshe Mordechai Halevi Shulsinger:

On one of the nights of Chanukah, one year, a question arose regarding a living will for one of the lomdim in the Yarchei Kallah shul. (HaRav Shulsinger gives a regular shiur there.) We (I and Rav Shmuel Halevi Lieberman) went in to speak with Maran HaRosh Yeshiva HaRav Shach late one night about our question.

He said "I'm not a rov, ask the rabbonim."

Maran smiled his warm smile overflowing with goodness, went over to the bookcase, took out a copy of Ketzos Hachoshen, opened it to a certain page (Simon 212, if I'm not mistaken), drew his holy hand across the whole page and said, "When you learn here you'll know what to do."

I said, "Rabbenu, . . . what should we do in the meantime?"

Rabbenu smiled and said, "What should you do? Go to Rav Yaakov! He doesn't need to look in any sefer. He'll just read the shailoh and right away he'll tell you the halocho lema'aseh! The first thing that comes to his mind is daas Torah, that's the psak halocho!"


In 5740 (1980) a respected woman, a rebbetzin and a tzadekes, felt various symptoms and went to see several doctors. They ordered several tests and said she has some sort of glandular problem that was causing her bones to excrete excessive amounts of calcium, which was then being absorbed in the blood stream, resulting in the unpleasant symptoms. They said her condition could deteriorate further to the point of pikuach nefesh, and advised her to undergo surgery to remove some of the tissue above the gland.

The Rebbetzin asked me to seek Rabbenu's opinion on the proposed operation. When I went in and asked him, Rabbenu the Kehillos Yaakov said, "I cannot consent to an operation, even the simplest operation, for the very act of surgery is already a matter of pikuach nefesh and I cannot give a horo'oh in matters of pikuach nefesh. It has to be verified whether this applies to Achiezer, Volume 10, at the end of Simon 16. Hashem Yisborach should help her be well and may she have a refuoh shleimoh and arichus yomim."

I went back and notified her that I had carried out her request and told her Rabbenu the Kehillos Yaakov's reply. At that point she stopped speaking about surgery because of course she would not go through with it without Rabbenu's consent.

Several weeks passed and her condition did not improve. The discomfort bothered her. Other doctors were consulted and all of them were of the same opinion. The Rebbetzin's family members brought me photocopies from medical books and journals regarding her problem and all of them had the same approach. I was asked to consult Rabbenu once again.

Once I had updated him on all of the new developments Rabbenu said, "You think this represents numerous opinions by numerous doctors. But did even one of them actually see how this gland excretes large quantities of calcium from the bones into the blood stream? This is just speculation by a single doctor who printed it in this medical text, and then everyone copied it. Thus all of these books and all of these doctors represent just a single opinion, not based on firm evidence but on mere speculation, and I cannot issue a horo'oh in the matter of an operation that may involve pikuach nefesh."

Once again the proposal was dropped.

Several more weeks passed and she still showed no improvement. The Rebbetzin went to see a renowned professor who reiterated what all of the doctors had already said. Said the Rebbetzin, "But Rav Kanievsky does not give his consent, so another type of treatment is needed."

"We have no other treatments available besides surgery," said the professor. "I'll write a letter to Rav Kanievsky."

I went to see Rabbenu for a third time, showing him the letter from the professor. Upon reading the letter the Kehillos Yaakov mumbled to himself, "He thinks he knows . . . "

"What should I do?" I asked.

"I cannot give you a horo'oh in this matter. Go to see HaRav Shach and ask him."

That same afternoon I went straight to the home of Maran HaRav Shach. I told him everything that had transpired over the course of the previous six months regarding the matter, everything the doctors had said, how I had consulted the Kehillos Yaakov on three separate occasions and everything he had told me, and that this time he had told me to ask Maran the Rosh Yeshiva.

The Rosh Yeshiva listened to every word and then answered with a smile, "In my opinion the surgery should definitely be performed, but on one condition: that Rav Yaakov daven and give a brochoh. If R' Yaakov gives a brochoh then the operation will definitely be successful and then there will be no issue of pikuach nefesh, even according to his shittah."

I hurried back to the Kehillos Yaakov and repeated HaRav Shach's response word for word. Rabbenu breathed a sigh of relief and exclaimed, "Boruch Hashem! He ruled that the surgery has to be done, so that's daas Torah, that's the halocho. Now I have no need to be concerned over pikuach nefesh. He is the true talmid chochom of the generation!

"Let me explain something to you: He is the one who always, without exception, is immersed in his studies. There isn't a single moment when he is detached from Torah study or Torah thoughts, even when he speaks with people; anytime he is asked a question the response comes from the Torah thoughts he is immersed in, so this is daas Torah. Certainly the operation should be performed and I no longer have any concerns of pikuach nefesh because the Torah ruled that it has to be done, and Hashem Yisborach will help her fully recuperate."

* * *

Sayings and Observations from HaRav Shach zt"l

The Average Person Cannot Detect False Views Easily

"Lately, everything anyone thinks in his heart, whether, good or bad, is printed and most of the public cannot discriminate what to draw near and what to keep away from, what is allowed and what is forbidden. Most of the newspapers are full of heretical ideas, and they inject poison and false viewpoints about everything holy to us. Sometimes things do not, on the face of it, seem like heresy and apostasy and fallacious views. But these things are absorbed into the heart, because people read superficially without delving into the matter, and many stumble through them, because even in the better papers, the journalists do not express daas Torah and the Torah viewpoint.

(Letter from 25th Shvat 5746 [1986], Letters and Essays, 3)

It is Preferable that a Rosho not Reflect and Examine

"Chazal say about the posuk `and Bolok saw' it is better for reshoim to be blind, for their eyes bring evil to the world, as it says `and Bolok saw,' `and Chom saw.' The meaning of this is that the sense of sight arouses the person to consider what he sees and this speculation leads him to delve more deeply into the matter.

It is preferable for a Rosho, whose ways are not good, to be blind so that he will not speculate and delve into his ways thereby increasing the evil in the world. We, bnei Torah, on the other hand, have no other derech than that of the Torah which is the true derech. There cannot be any deviations and stumbling blocks in its path."

(From a speech in Av 5740 [1980], Letters and Essays, 1, 2)

A Deviation to Either Side Creates Perplexity

"Behold a nation who dwells alone and is not considered amongst the nations" — this is the path paved for us by our forefathers and any deviation from this path is fraught with danger for the Jewish nation. Any deviation, whether towards closer intimacy with the nations of the world or towards provoking them, is not the derech of the Torah, and is a consequence of the curse of two thousand years of yemos haMoshiach, which brings about confusion and the loss of the correct path."

(From a speech in Av 5740 [1980], Letters and Essays, 1, 2)

"And if you will go contrary to Me" — includes diverting lessons regarding "hints" of the era of Ikvesa Demeshicho

Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei: `Though you should bray a fool in a mortar with a pestle among groats, yet will not his foolishness depart from him,' because he does not yet clearly understand that he is being brayed. He is still unsure if the beating is for the sake of being beaten.

Let us not be compared to this fool. We must know what is expected of us. The world has a tendency to search and understand peripheral issues. A war has just finished, and a person living according to the Torah has to understand things on the simple[st] level: as a punishment for sins.

Those who are far from the Torah, on the other hand, instead of searching for the cause of the downfall, are seizing the snake by its tail. We, who do know where to search for the shortcoming, we who understand clearly what the Rambam says, that misfortunes are a direct result of "and if you shall not hearken to Me," also try to divert the lessons to be learned from our misfortunes toward other channels. People have already found "explicit" hints that the war is just the last step towards the coming of Moshiach, and one does not have to do teshuvoh any more, because it is not due to our sins but — Ikveso deMeshicho . . . When one does not hear what one is meant to hear, then the result is the opposite. Instead of doing teshuvoh, which is the ruling of the Rambam (Ch. 1 of Hilchos Taanis), they neglect this and depend on signs. They mean to ease ourselves of our burden, but this is not what Hashem wants. If we do not arouse ourselves it will be the fulfillment of the posuk, "and if you will go contrary to Me.

(Speech made after the 1973 war, Letters and Essays 1, 2)

Do Not be Amazed by Victories and Miracles

We, the Torah-true Jews, must have a correct understanding of current events. After all, the Torah makes a fool wiser — the Torah makes a person wiser and more insightful so that he should not be in the category of a fool, who lives in his world without deep thought. We are bnei Torah, we have to think deeply into matters. We should not be like any man on the street, like one of the masses who glances superficially at everything that happens to him. Therefore we should not see victory and salvation here. What seems to us to be some sort of victory here, we have already mentioned Rav Nissim Gaon's words a few times about the incident of the oven of Achnai (Bovo Metzia 59b, cited in the Shittah Mekubbetzes there): `It happened that R. Eliezer was helped by miracles and wonders, and these were not verified by the chachomim . . . and what it says, `a Bas Kol came forth' . . . R. Yehoshua stood up and declared, "It is not in Heaven," for the Torah has already been given at Sinai; we pay no attention to a Bas Kol . . . The purpose of this incident was to test the chachomim whether this Bas Kol would subvert them from their traditions or not, as it says: "For Hashem Your G-d tests you etc." . . . And Rav Yehoshua said: `It is not in Heaven,' because Hashem's Torah is perfect, and has already been given to us on Sinai, and He informed us that nothing in it would be changed, and nothing remains in our Torah which contradicts something else in it, nor is there any uncertainty that would require us to have a miracle from Heaven.'

Hashem tests us through this, whether we will withstand the nisoyon not to uproot the din Torah because of the miracles we see, there is no purpose to these miracles other than for us to take advantage of this period of trial in order to strengthen ourselves in Torah and yiras Shomayim. We must not chas vesholom grant sanctity to what is happening, saying that this is what Am Yisroel has to look like . . .

(From statements made during the Lebanon war in 5742 [1982], Bezos Ani Botei'ach 50)

A Generation of Confusion and Strange Paradoxes

We are living in a period of very great confusion, light and darkness mingled together. We see before us a strange paradox: You may find a believing Jew, who on one hand has no doubts in his emunah, but on the other hand — you will hear things from him which are absolute heresy: How does one reconcile these two things?

On the one hand this Jew keeps Torah and mitzvos, with stringencies, with the difficulties of shmittah — and on the other hand you see him stretching out one of his arms to people who uproot the Torah and mitzvos. The confusion is so great, that it is possible that one may say this is not confusion but complete darkness, darkness wherein they say a mountain is a pit and a pit is a mountain.

The solution during a period like this is: `They that feared Hashem spoke to each other' (Malachi 3:16), to meet and clarify to ourselves what we want. I do not mean to argue or influence, for surely I will have no impact on the non- religious Jews. I mean to clarify our position to ourselves.

(From Digleinu, prior to the elections of Av, 5751 [1991])

The Sheen of Falsehood Covers the Truth

There is nothing simpler than the truth. The truth, it would seem, one does not have to explain, because it is self- understood. The truth is enduring and eternal, whereas falsehood is unstable. It is actually a forgery.

Nevertheless, falsehood has an exterior luster, which attracts and sometimes conceals the truth. But we have to know that falsehood is just a cover. Under the cover, under the forgery, the truth hides. It is just hidden and we have to take off the covering of falsehood for it to be revealed.

However, we must know that as much as falsehood may obscure the truth it can never nullify it, because falsehood cannot exist on its own. We have an obligation to remove the cover of falsehood and discover the truth. This means that we have to look at everything with the correct outlook, not superficially, but profoundly. When one delves into the world, one understands everything differently, life looks different, we see that the purpose is self-improvement. To improve himself and the whole world, to increase kvod Shomayim! Contemplation can change man completely!

(Said in the Ponovezh Yeshiva 5734 [1974]. Printed in Hashkofoseinu 1)

Not to be Amazed by "Successes"

We must at least be wary of being swept up by the opinion of the masses. People of the world are swayed by the opinion of the masses and public opinion is formed without thought or rationale, and is only a superficial outlook.

However, the Torah teaches us not to be gullible and superficial or to get enthusiastic and amazed about anything happening on the street. We have our own way which is the path of the Torah; only the halocho determines, without taking into account public opinion. The halocho determines behavior in times of danger; and if according to the din one should not do something, even though it succeeds in the end this does not justify the action.

And just as one is not permitted to pass under a shaky wall, and someone manages to pass by — this is not a chochmoh and successes are not chochmoh. The real chochmoh is what the halocho determines.

When one follows the path of the Torah one loses nothing. Honor and help will come in the end. As we found with Tamar, even though she was moser nefesh and was in danger of losing kings and saviors [as descendants], she still was moser nefesh and lost nothing. One cannot lose from keeping the Torah. There cannot be any other wisdom, because Hashem looked into the Torah and created His world according to it. Therefore, anything created is a product of the Torah, and all the other wisdoms are just klipos as compared to the wisdom of Torah . . .

(From a speech said after the freeing of the Entebbe captives. Lechoshvei Shemo, Av, 5736 [1976])

Keep the Mitzvos Because Hashem Commanded Them, Not Because a Tzaddik Said To

Even though a person naturally wants to free himself of a burden, we see, to our great astonishment, an opposite phenomenon in man. This is one of the wonders of the Creator: the fusion of contradictory forces in the human being.

That is, there are times a person voluntarily takes upon himself a burden, without being commanded to do so, and this acceptance of a burden is a consequence of having freed himself from the yoke of Heaven. As it is already written: "You shall not make for yourself other gods . . . " And mitzvos and good deeds were also included in the acceptance of this yoke [of other gods].

This means that there is a willingness within man to keep the mitzvos commanded to us in the Torah — not as an acceptance of the yoke of Heaven but — because a man is willing to crown someone with the title of gaon and tzaddik and he will accept his yoke upon himself. He fulfills the mitzvos because that person tells him to and not because the Torah commands him to.

This is not the Torah way. Is the reason for us fulfilling what the rulings in the Yad Hachazoko of the Rambam, because that is what the Rambam said? Or what is ruled in the Mishna Berurah because it was pronounced by the Chofetz Chaim?

This is not correct! This is not the way! But we have to keep the mitzvos only because HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded us to keep them in the Torah. This is the yoke of Heaven, which obligates us.

If a person fulfills the mitzvos because he is told to by someone else, whoever it may be, he will not fulfill the desired purpose however good he may be, because their fulfillment does not stem from accepting the yoke of Heaven but from freeing themselves from the Heavenly yoke and this borders on "you shall not make for yourselves other gods . . . "

(From a speech given in Lechoshvei Shemo Adar 2 5738 [1978])


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