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22 Av 5766 - August 16, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
"This is the Segulah of the Torah"

In the Home of HaGaon R' Chaim Kanievsky, shlita

Part II

"He left behind a son like him." This is how Maran the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Shach ztvk'l expressed it in his eulogy for Maran the Steipler ztvk'l. In a rare moment, the editor of the Hebrew Yated's Musaf Shabbos Kodesh, R' Yisroel Friedman, and writer of these lines, Rabbi A. Chefetz, were admitted into the inner sanctum of HaRav Chaim Kanievsky.

It is over twenty years since the passing of the Kehillos Yaakov ztvk'l on 23 Av, 5745. We lesser beings will always find difficulty in grasping the greatness of such cedars-of-Lebanon. But since it is our task as writers to present, to the extent of our own limitations, a portrait of the great life of the Steipler, we knew that only those of similar stature could even begin to approach the task.

So, one way to do this without being great enough to appreciate greatness ourselves, is to come and listen to the voice of one of the gedolei Yisroel whom Hashem has seen fit to leave behind for our salvation.

This is the approach of Musaf Shabbos Kodesh, and this is how we came to HaRav Chaim, fully appreciating the rarity of such a precious interview and the value of those moments.

We did not record everything; not everything needs to be written, not everything can be written. After we transcribed the recorded interview onto paper, we returned to seek permission to publicize the interview in the honor and memory of Maran the Steipler. And upon that approval, we hereby offer excerpts of the conversation which took place in the home of HaRav Chaim shlita, so that they serve as an illuminating beacon for days to come.


Did the Steipler write Chayei Olom to address the problems of the times?

He wrote it for those who asked. When he heard their questions, he felt it was necessary to publish his answers for future questioners and wrote a special work.

Maran the Steipler was ensconced in the four cubits of Torah. How was he able to be so proficient in life's problems; how was he able to offer advice on every subject, even in matters of mental health, for example, among others?

That is the special segulah property of Torah!

And with this, the interview was culminated, with his parting blessing . . .



Knowing that HaRav Eliyohu Mann shlita is fortunate to be very close to HaRav Chaim, one of his close confidants and always present in his inner sanctum, we turned to him with some additional questions, which he presented to HaRav Chaim.

Prepared by Rav H. Helman.

Maran the Kehillos Yaakov carried out the dictum of "belechtecho baderech -- when you go forth" literally, verbally reviewing chapters of mishnayos which he could say nonstop from memory. We know that many gedolei Yisroel were also immersed in thoughts of Torah, but not many actually verbalized them with their very mouths.

Why was the Kehillos Yaakov so particular about studying by mouth? Perhaps it was to fulfill a personal commitment to study eighteen pirkei mishnayos every day. Was this an actual vow he had once made?

I don't know if he truly studied those eighteen chapters, but I do believe that he completed an entire order every day. On Sunday, he completed Zeroim. On Monday, Moed and so on for the six weekdays.

They say that he never made kiddush on Friday night before he had completed reviewing them all, and the family had to wait. Is this true?

They waited until the Chazon Ish was ready to make kiddush, but Abba never spoke about his study of mishnayos.

They tell that once, when the Kehillos Yaakov was walking with his son HaRav Chaim, the former suggested that they mentally review the number of times the word `of -- fowl' was mentioned in maseches Chulin. They both began thinking aloud, reviewing page after page, until they completed the entire tractate. Is this true?

Absolutely not!

But my father told me that during the war, a group of students of the Novardok yeshiva was fleeing the enemy, traveling from place to place. What did they do en route?

Each day, one of the students would begin a discourse and the others would carry on. For example, if one began with the word `ein,' the others would continued with his choice of, "Ein odom lomed . . . A person should prefer to study something that appeals to him."

Then the others would quote excerpts from the entire Talmud with this phrase or word. On the morrow, a different student would offer, "Yesh . . . " and the rest would quote as many sources as they could find beginning with that word, trying to cover the entire Talmud in this manner, day by day.

Father also told me that when they were in Novardok, food was scarce. There was no bread but they did have meat in plentiful supply. During each of the Nine Days, a different student would make a siyum masechta so that they could all eat meat. I cannot recall if this was at every meal or only once a day . . .

We know that the Kehillos Yaakov, as well as many other gedolei Yisroel, would shun any assistance or ministration from others. He wished to do everything by himself. Was this an emulation of Hashem's attribute or simply a desire never to become dependent upon someone else and thus come under obligation? Was this a conduct of bein odom lechavero or did it stem from humility?

I know that Abba practiced to an extreme his self sufficiency and his refusal to let others do anything for him, even in his old age. And if anyone did succeed in doing something for him, he took great pains to recompense them in the same manner.

We do find that many gedolei Yisroel were extremely punctilious in this area, and even elderly laymen of previous generations practiced this to the extreme.

Hashem created man to be self sufficient; this is his design and makeup still from Creation.

But ultimately, there comes a time when a person cannot do everything by himself . . .

I once heard that HaRav Ben Zion Bruk zt'l was injured when a shell fragment penetrated his foot, handicapping his movements. He then noted that he now understood the meaning of the morning blessing, " . . . Who provided me with all my needs." We thank Hashem daily for being able to tend, personally, to all of our physical needs.

Abba would add, that he only began to understand the real meaning of this later in life. Perhaps, had he known this earlier and included it in his mental kavonoh during prayer, he might not have reached the state where he had to rely on others, where "all my needs" are taken care of by "me/myself."

Maran Kehillos Yaakov was very careful that a pen which had been used to write divrei Torah not be used for mundane purposes. Was this a personal strictness for the enhancement and importance of divrei Torah, or is this actual halochoh?

I don't really know, but it could be that he did so because it suited him. Very possibly, it is because of the reverence he accorded to Torah, while not being an outright halochoh.

They tell that during his early days in Yeshivas Novardok, Maran used to spend a great deal of time in the study of Mussar. Did he devote as much time in later years to such works as Mesillas Yeshorim and other such works?

Abba had a daily schedule of about fifteen minutes study of Mussar.

Which works did he study?

The ones that appealed to him, including works of Chassidus. He was especially fond of Shomer Emunim. Once, when the Admor was in Bnei Brak, I accompanied Abba for a courtesy visit.

When my father was an ovel, he asked the Chazon Ish if he was permitted to study Mussar, and the latter replied affirmatively.

What was Maran's opinion about the establishment of Yated Ne'eman?

He felt that under the circumstances, it was very necessary.

In the writings of HaRav A. Horowitz, we find something unusual about the Kehillos Yaakov, especially in his later years; he would sometimes shout at the people who came to him with their questions.

When HaRav Avrohom asked him about this, he said that he did this when he wished to evade an issue. When, for example, a Breslover chossid once asked him if he should travel to Uman at a time when it was still considered dangerous, he later explained his shouting and said, "If I tell him not to go, he will go anyway, ignoring my advice. To tell him to go -- I cannot do either. So I shouted at him!"

When the affair of grave desecration arose, askonim came to ask Abba if they should make a hue and cry and tell all yeshiva students to attend a national demonstration. He told me, "I shouted. To tell them to go all out and demonstrate -- I was unable to do. We cannot empty out the yeshivos for this even for one day. To tell them not to go and participate in the demonstration -- I could not declare, either, since it is a vital issue. So I shouted . . . "

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