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1 Adar 5766 - March 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty: A Store of Salvation, Wisdom and Knowledge

"And He Shall Be the Stability of Your Times, a Store of Salvation, Wisdom and Knowledge; the Fear of Hashem is His Treasure" (Yeshayohu 33:6).

"I have always wondered why they call this commandment emunoh. For ostensibly, belief in Hashem should be self- evident, elementary. For how can the world function without a Coordinator? Besides, `I witness Hashem from my very own flesh.' The wisdom that is incorporated in the workings of every single tiny creature is unfathomable; all the more so in the creation called Man! How can one conceive that all this came about without a Creator?

"I posed this question to Maran HaGaon R' Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt'l, and he said to me that it also puzzled him. He had presented it to his father, HaGaon R' Chaim ztvk'l, who told him that this is truly self- evident to any thinking person, to the extent of his intellect, and that this is not considered faith in the Creator, for it is knowledge. The obligation of faith begins at that point where knowledge [common sense and logic] leaves off" (Avi Ezri, Hilchos Yesodei haTorah).

These words which Maran wrote were not abstract theory, in the category of philosophical sophistry, but words that issued from his heart, words that suffused his organs and sinews. By Maran, faith was not simply a commandment which one was obligated to keep but a primary fundamental of life, a cornerstone; he lived his emunoh in the flesh, in all his senses and very bones, to the point that he could not comprehend how any person with a brain did not possess true and perfect faith!

The Magic Apple

Maran regarded every single thing as a marvelous creation of Hashem. When eating an apple, he once turned to me and said, "Look at this marvel! This apple has a few seeds in its core, each one capable of producing a whole tree which can, in turn, produce hundreds of hundreds of sweet, delectable apples which are a pleasure to behold, as well." He repeated this thought at each opportunity, with the same enthusiasm.

"Before I begin to pray, I am forced to clarify and restate to myself my emunoh."

Maran did not mind repeating such thoughts time and again. He did not intend, specifically, for others to hear him; he restated them for himself. He would reiterate, unceasingly, his feelings about simple, fundamental faith. He told me that one Yom Kippur before the prayers, he said to himself: "I must clarify for myself my emunoh shebalev before I begin to pray.

"I sat in a corner in the beis medrash and thought about the marvelous, perfect creation. How it came about. And I began talking to myself: What foolishness, what nonsense is the notion that atheists promote that all this came about by itself through a Big Bang — one huge explosion of matter, resulting in this intricate world. From where did that matter come from to begin with? One cannot help but ask how such a cataclysmic explosion could result in the creation of a whole world, so precise and perfect? The distance of the sun from the earth is exactly what is necessary [to support life]. If it were even a bit closer, everything on earth would be burned. If the moon was just a little bit closer, life would similarly not be able to be sustained. One must be altogether crazy not to feel one's faith in the very flesh from all the signs of wisdom incorporated in the workings of the world as revealed by science."

Only after he had reviewed and clarified his faith for himself in his mind was he able to begin to pray . . .

"I Am Continually Becoming Stronger in My Emunoh"

In his old age, when he was already weak and feeble, Maran showed great anxiety. "I toiled. I studied. I reviewed. And now come the days when I am beginning to forget what I once knew. How will I be able to present myself in the Olom Ho'emmes?"

And then he would rally and say, "I will come with my emunoh in hand. My emunoh is lucid and clear, as vivid as I see this table before me."

Upon another occasion, he said, "My sight and hearing have weakened; I can hardly hear or see. But one of my senses is becoming stronger all the time; the older I get, the stronger is my emunoh."


Maran told me several times about the special Divine Providence that brought him to Eretz Yisroel. When the Second World War broke out, he was in Vilna. He was deliberating whether to remain in Lithuania, where he held the position of Rosh Yeshivas Kletsk, or to take his family to Eretz Yisroel to evade the war.

The rebbetzin was at home in Kletsk at the outbreak of the war. He had to inform her of his decision so that if need be, she could bring the family to Vilna and from there, emigrate to Eretz Yisroel. But he could not decide what to do.

He, therefore, prepared two telegrams: in one, he asked her to join him in Vilna so that they could go together to Eretz Yisroel. The second telegram told her to stay put in Kletsk and await his imminent return. He figured that by the time he reached the post office, he would have made his mind up as to which of the two to send.

He arrived and, to his joy, the line was very long and he still had time to deliberate. Finally his turn came and there he stood, before the clerk, with the two forms in his hand. The gentile clerk got angry at him and shouted, "Why are you holding up the line?" He grabbed one of the forms and sent it.

The one which was sent was the telegram telling his wife to join him in Vilna so that they could go to Eretz Yisroel together. He felt this was a sign from Heaven since the gentile certainly did not know what he was doing. "In the merit of that decision, we were saved," he would later relate. It was all in the hands of Hashem and He had decreed that they go to Eretz Yisroel.

From You — To You — Do I Flee

Preceding the Gulf War, the students from abroad asked Maran whether they should return home. Maran said, "There is no way of presaging the ways of Hashem and determining that outside of Eretz Yisroel it is any safer than here. Therefore, there is no reason to discontinue your regular learning in yeshiva."

When Al Qaida carried out the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, the questions pointed in the opposite direction: was it safer to leave the U.S. and come to Eretz Yisroel?

It was later discovered that Al Qaida had two alternate plans: Either to destroy the Twin Towers or to wipe out Boro Park, with a population of half a million Jews. Who could say that staying in America was safer?

Success of the Children by Virtue of the Parents' Yiras Shomayim

HaRav M. Shulsinger told of a student who had a question regarding a shidduch. He said that the girl had a fine reputation and was known to possess a sterling character, but that she was not particularly clever or talented.

"What do you care if she is not so bright?" Maran asked him.

"But if the parents are not intelligent, the children will not be smart either," said the student.

Maran smiled. "The aptitudes of the children and their scholastic success does not necessarily depend upon the parents' brain power. Some parents are intelligent but their children are not, while the opposite can also be true, where children are very successful in their Torah studies but their parents are simple folk. This depends on only one thing: the yiras Shomayim of the parents."

"And what does yiras Shomayim entail?" he asked.

Replied Maran, "A yirei Shomayim is an ehrlicher Yid. The father must possess the fear of Hashem and the mother must possess the fear of Hashem."

"But what, exactly, is an ehrlicher Yid?" he continued to ask.

Maran replied, "It means that a person must be in constant trepidation of Hashem, or from Gehennom. Every deed, utterance or thought of a person should be accompanied by the consideration of whether it is the will of Hashem or not. One must be constantly apprehensive of not insulting anyone, not doing damage to anyone's property or money, of maintaining a happy atmosphere in the home — and realize that joy and happiness can only come through mitzvah acts. Sadness is an expression of failure by sinning. All this is included in yiras Shomayim.

"A woman must be as afraid of sinning as she is afraid of fire. She should show love towards her fellow man, do good for them, be kindhearted, a baalas chessed, but the main thing — she should not be drawn towards materialism. Her primary aspiration should be that her children study Torah. If parents are like that, they will have righteous children who are Torah scholars, children who are truly G-d- fearing."

Resolutions Through Careful Deliberation

At the funeral of R' Yonah Ehrentreu zt'l, Maran said, "We must do teshuvoh and accept resolutions upon ourselves."

He suggested that the public assume the practice of saying Bircas Hamozone from a written text for at least the first blessing. This was his way: he was able to gauge how much each person could handle and by undertaking one easy thing, a person could progress, step by step, and aspire to greater things.

When he came to my house to visit me when I was recuperating from a heart attack in 5750 (1990), I asked him, "After Hashem was kind enough to remove me from danger, what good practice does Maran suggest that I take upon myself?"

Maran said, "Only small things; don't assume anything big because you might not be able to abide by it." He even went so far as to suggest several easy things which I could do.

I asked him, "And what about middos?"

He replied, "Middos? There is nothing more difficult than effecting one single change for the good, no matter what character trait is involved. I advise you not to assume anything regarding middos, for you won't be able to hold out. Changing even one single middoh is more difficult than studying a whole masechta. Decide that you wish to improve, that you feel that you are in need of improvement, and embrace it very slowly, without undertaking any specific resolutions."

Who is Happy With His Lot?

Maran asked: "Chazal teach us: `Who is rich? One who is content with his lot' (Ovos 4:1). But how can someone be content with his lot if: `Whoever has one hundred portions, wants two hundred'? How can a person be happy with his hundred if he desires two hundredfold? We are talking [even] about someone who doesn't own a thing, and he is considered rich if he is satisfied with his lot. How then, can one who doesn't possess anything be happy with his portion?"

He replied: "One who does not possess anything, doesn't experience the taste of this world and is not missing it. One who is happy with his portion is, therefore, only one who has never savored the attractions of this world."

This aptly fits the one who said it. Maran did not possess anything of value. He never tasted the `flavor' of this world and therefore, he was happy with his lot. He was always happy, as if he truly lacked nothing.

A Believing Jew Always Has It Good

In one of his talks Maran said:

"The Jew who studies Torah has a ready solution to every question and problem. He entertains no doubts, either for the good or otherwise, for the true believer knows that everything derives from Hashem. He watches over us, instructs us, guides us along, and this is the solution to his problems.

"He knows that the Creator conducts his affairs and directs everything. Thus, he has no claims or arguments against anyone. He always has it good, for he always has a Father standing behind him, guiding him. When all goes well with him, he knows it is because his Father provided him with his needs."

Wherever You Find Derech Eretz — There You Will Find Emunoh

The trait of derech eretz — decency, propriety, consideration for others, common courtesy — is what is known in Yiddish as menschlichkeit. And this attribute was deeply ingrained in Maran to an amazing degree.

Rashi explains why the Torah states the verse, "Let us make man in our likeness," in the plural form. "Even though the angels did not assist Hashem in man's creation, and there is an opening here for heretics to err [as if some power did participate in the making of man], nevertheless Hashem did not refrain from teaching derech eretz and humility: that a great being should consult with lesser ones and ask permission to proceed, as it were."

Maran expressed surprise at this: Are we not talking here about a flaw in a doctrine of faith? About the fear that heretics will find substantiation in the very Torah for their misguided ideas? Is not the damage here tenfold worse than the benefit of teaching derech eretz and humility?

Maran himself supplied the answer: "Wherever you find courtesy and humility, there is no fear that faith will be undermined. A person with common sense, common decency, who is not swayed by any negative character traits and physical desires, is sure to have a strong faith. Whereas a haughty, arrogant person is automatically distanced from Hashem."

To Make an Appearance Before the Appointed Time

Maran was always very careful not to cause the public any discomfort. When he was honored with sandeko'us or siddur kiddushin, he always made sure that no one would have to wait for him even a minute. He always came at the appointed time — much earlier than everyone else.

As I have already stated, Maran always participated in the hanholoh meetings of Chinuch Atzmai, as well as those of the Vaad Hayeshivos. He always made sure to arrive a quarter-hour before the appointed time designated in the invitations, even though these meetings invariably began at least half an hour after the stated time, and often an hour. This meant that he had to wait three quarters of an hour or an hour and a quarter before it began, and often even longer.

I used to beg Maran not to come so early, but he remained firm. It was only right and proper to come before the appointed time, and this rule of propriety guided all of his steps. He explained to me that he had learned this from Hashem's example, coming to the [rendezvous of the] Giving of the Torah before the Jewish people.

In the end, someone suggested an idea to solve the problem: It was decided to invite Maran specially and separately, one hour after the stated time in the invitation, so that if the meeting was scheduled for 4:30, he would be told to come at 5:30. Maran invariably arrived at 5:15, a quarter of an hour before the real time, and all he had to wait was fifteen minutes, as he wished.

For the Sake of Derech Eretz, One Must Sweat

Every time I entered his home, Maran would immediately rise and put on his frock-coat, even on the hottest summer days. I begged him not to bother, arguing, "But I am veritably like family. I come and go here freely, sometimes even two and three times a day! Why, then, does the Rosh Yeshiva act as if I were a guest coming specially to visit?"

I did not manage to convince him. He held his ground. "Common courtesy, derech eretz, obligates that when a visitor enters, I be properly attired." It was very difficult for me to see him perspiring, and I felt terribly uncomfortable on his account, until a brilliant idea struck me.

I turned to him and said, "I am very hot. If I take off my jacket, will the Rosh Yeshiva still remain with his frock- coat?"

He replied, "If you remove your jacket, I am not obliged to look any different than you, and I will remain in shirt sleeves, too."

And from then on, I always took off my jacket as soon as I entered and Maran did not trouble himself to put on his frock- coat.

Do Not Rejoice With the Fall of Your Enemy

In 5740 (1980), when elections to the Knesset came up, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah decided that Agudath Israel would appear in a separate list from Poalei Agudath Israel. As is known, Maranan the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov, and in their wake the Kehillos Yaakov and Avi Ezri, waged a bitter battle against this movement which had rebelled against the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah when it was headed by R' Isser Zalman Meltzer (in the early days of the State), and had joined the government despite the Moetzes' ruling that the Sherut Leumi national service for girls was forbidden and one could not join a government which promoted it.

The battle was pitched between the two lists. Maran invested all of his strength and energy towards the success of Agudath Israel, together with the Steipler, and even stated explicitly that they were out to break the PAI party. The result was that the latter in fact did not pass the threshold and subsequently, it disappeared altogether from the political map.

The ranks of Torah-true Jewry exulted over the PAI downfall and the success of their own campaign, which was a vindication of the will of their gedolei Torah. But when they came to break the good news to Maran, his reaction was unexpected. "One must not rejoice over the defeat of others. They are Jews who are chagrined and upset. We must not react with joy over the distress of others and thereby ruin our own character traits. One must not exult over the sorrow of others."

See how far-reaching matters extend! The result was exactly what Maran wanted, what he had been fighting desperately for. He had been determined to uproot this rebel movement and had invested all of his energies in a pitched battle against it. But to rejoice, even when one had achieved one's goal — at the expense of another's sorrow — that was a self- defeating blow to one's character.

Along the same lines, Maran used to say in the name of the Ponevezher Rov: "Chazal say in maseches Brochos 28b that Shmuel Hakotton established the blessing against heretics. Why was he chosen to formulate this particular blessing and not some other tana?

"In Pirkei Ovos we are taught: `Shmuel Hakotton says: In the downfall of your enemies do not rejoice; and in his stumbling let your heart not exult, lest Hashem see and it find disfavor in His eyes, and He remove from him His wrath.' Shmuel Hakotton was wont to repeat this verse frequently, and surely it was not an empty saying by him; he fulfilled it in the flesh. Who then, was better suited to fight against apostates? Only one whose whole intent was for the sake of Heaven and who harbored no smattering of exultation in winning the battle against them. Only he, more than anyone else, was most suited to establish this blessing against them."

Maran waged many a battle against the destroyers and demolishers of Torah, without and within. Among those people with a superficial outlook he gained a reputation for being a warmonger, but anyone who really knew Maran knew that this epithet was false and shallow. He was always saying: "Give in, capitulate, give in." "Levateir, levateir, levateir," was a phrase frequently heard on his lips. "Better to be on the losing side and not on the winning side."

Whenever he spoke about the Holocaust, he also used to say, "Fortunate are we who are the slain and not the slayers! How much better it is to be defeated, to be the murdered ones, for this is a decree from Heaven, whereas the act of murder destroys one's character."

The Rebbetzin Sat by the Table

We have already mentioned Maran's opposition to those yeshivos which veered from the true beaten path established through Jewish history. Inter alia is known his resistance to Yeshivas Maarovoh [which includes secular studies]. After Maran publicized his opposition, the head of Maarovoh came to Maran and said that he didn't understand why Maran was so vehemently against him, adding that his own master in America had given his blessing to the yeshiva since that was the format there, too. He argued that the public emigrating from the U.S. needed an institution such as his. "If I have already received a [legitimate] haskomoh, why is the Rosh Yeshiva so violently opposed to me?"

That American rabbi, upon whose approbation the head of Maarovoh relied, happened to be visiting Eretz Yisroel at the time. Maran decided to visit him and put things in their proper perspective that here, in Eretz Yisroel, one could not suffer a yeshiva that was not al taharas hakodesh. Maran arrived at his lodgings but left very shortly after without having said anything about the real purpose of his visit. He had not even clarified whether that Rosh Yeshiva approved of Maarovoh altogether.

On their way back, his trusted accompanier, R' Yechezkel Eschayek, asked him, "The Rosh Yeshiva traveled a distance for one specific purpose. If so, why didn't he even broach the subject?"

Replied Maran, "The Rebbetzin was sitting at the table. I could not insult the Rov before his wife."

It was worthwhile to forgo the very purpose of his visit so long as not to cause any discomfort to a talmid chochom.

One of Maran's students once consulted with him regarding the position of ram that had been offered to him. To his great surprise, Maran objected to his accepting it. When he asked why it was not suited for him, Maran explained:

"Another person held that position up till now and he was unjustly discharged. He is surely aware that sooner or later, a replacement will be found for that post. But one can assume that when he hears about it, he will be distressed. It is not feasible to accept an office where you know you will be causing another person pain."

Bikur Cholim Combined with Derech Eretz

When Maran learned that I had suffered a heart attack, he wanted to visit me immediately in the hospital, but felt it proper to first call my wife to inform her of his impending visit. My wife replied, "The Rosh Yeshiva can do whatever he sees fit, but I am of the opinion that a visit will be too strenuous and exciting. Perhaps it is better not to go right now."

Maran was in doubt. He called up my son, R' Yitzchok, who was a ram in Kol Torah, and conveyed my wife's reservations. He said, "If R' Shlomo's older brother wished to visit him, would the Rebbetzin also be opposed, that it might be too strenuous for him?"

My son replied, "But the Rosh Yeshiva is much more than a brother in my father's eyes. My mother is justified in feeling that it might be too stimulating a visit for him to take."

Maran persisted and asked, "And if his father were to come and visit, would she also object? You should know that I am just like a father to him."

I would like to note that the encouragement I received from that statement, that Maran felt he was "just like a father," is simply indescribable. I have no doubt whatsoever that those words contributed immensely towards my recuperation.

My son was finally convinced that Maran wished with all his might to visit and told Maran that he could come for who, better than Maran, knew, with his daas Torah, what was good and right. Finally Maran decided, "Since your mother is not in favor of my coming, I won't come . . . " He waited a few days until my condition stabilized and then he came.

Maran wanted with all his might to visit, but his sense of propriety, of derech eretz, obligated him to consider my wife's wishes, and this is what clinched his decision to wait.


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