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8 Adar 5766 - March 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty-One: Master and Father of the Diaspora

from the memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, shlita

I have already mentioned what I heard from Maran ztvk'l, that greatness in Torah goes hand in hand with greatness in fine character traits. Indeed, Rabbenu practiced what he preached, and even though he was totally immersed in Torah, he was also absorbed in the attribute of chessed with all his limbs and sinews. Witness one who testified for him: the Mashgiach, Maran HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, who averred that Rabbenu was "one of the biggest baalei chessed in our generation" (as quoted in Shimusha Shel Torah). It should be remembered how careful the Mashgiach was never to exaggerate or veer from the exact truth.

Visiting Hours Twenty-Four Hours a Day

It sometimes happened that someone would knock at Maran's door as late as 2 a.m. Since everyone was already fast asleep, he would open the door himself to receive his visitor.

When he was asked why he agreed to see people at that unearthly hour, since it was taxing him beyond his capacity, he replied, "This is what I saw, and what I learned, by my uncle, R' Isser Zalman Meltzer — that one had to be devoted to the public twenty-four hours a day, and open the door whenever someone knocked — even at two in the morning. You never know when some brokenhearted person is standing behind that door . . . And so, being in doubt, I open the door for everyone; I receive whoever comes knocking."

When Maran was in a state of weakness, his family used to put a sign on the door that Maran was ill and couldn't receive the public. But when Maran began to notice that people weren't coming as frequently as before, he inquired about it and the family reluctantly admitted that they had put a sign on the door. Maran got up, went outside and removed the sign himself, saying, "I refuse to limit the visits. Everyone can come and see me, whether I feel well or not."

People used to come at mealtimes, too. When Maran saw he had visitors, he would stop eating and devote his attention to them. His family had to see to it that he did not notice people coming in while he was eating so that at least he could eat in peace.

What Occupied Maran on the Night of Bedikas Chometz?

A young man once came to Maran on the night of bedikas chometz and poured out a tale of woe. Maran realized that he needed professional help and immediately contacted R' Shlomo Hoffman from Jerusalem, asking that he receive him.

Rabbi Hoffman was surprised at the request and didn't hide his astonishment that he agree to see him on bedikas chometz night. Maran assured him, "Yes, I mean tonight. If a young man is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, one must help him. I am talking to him too, and I will accompany him."

Rabbi Hoffman said, "If the Rosh Yeshiva asks me to receive him, I will do so, even tonight of all nights, but only on condition that you don't trouble yourself to accompany him."

The young man arrived at midnight and remained by Rabbi Hoffman until 2 a.m. When he left the house, Rabbi Hoffman noticed Maran waiting for him downstairs. He quickly went to him and said, "But didn't I make up with you that I would receive him on condition that you not come? Why did you come after all?"

Maran's reply was, "One doesn't send a son in distress all alone . . . "

Who can explain this in mere words? You have to feel it . . .

What love, what concern, what kindness, what devotion! He was not a biological son; there was thousands of students like him. And yet, on the night of bedikas chometz (!) Maran picked himself up and escorted this young man all the way to Jerusalem. He had agreed to the condition not to come, because someone had been concerned not to trouble him, not to waste his precious time. And yet there he was, downstairs, having spent the past two hours waiting, so that when the young man left, he would have whom to talk to! And why? Because, "one doesn't send a son alone."

Travel Even on Erev Rosh Hashonoh

Maran once felt that a certain student required psychiatric treatment. It was two days before Rosh Hashonoh. Maran turned to his loyal student and confidant HaRav Meir Heisler, and asked him to make an appointment with the head of the yeshiva ketanoh which the said student had attended so that he might be able to get to the root of his problem.

"I understand that Maran wants to meet with him immediately after Rosh Hashonoh," said R' Meir to Maran.

But Maran replied, "I want to meet with him right away — before Rosh Hashonoh. Tell him that I will come to Jerusalem to see him tomorrow at two in the afternoon."

Let us not forgot that in those times, a trip to Jerusalem took two hours one way: first by bus to Tel Aviv and from there to Jerusalem. And then a return trip from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak.

The Rosh Yeshiva was taken aback when he heard the request. But one did not refuse Maran and so the meeting took place on Erev Rosh Hashonoh in the afternoon.

How Maran Supported an Unknown Avreich

Rabbi T. from Yeshivas Torah Ohr approached me one day and said, "I have a story to tell you involving Maran."

It took place when Rav T. was a member of a certain kollel. At the end of the zman, he was informed that he wouldn't be able to continue on there. Rav T. was at a loss. He felt that finding another kollel would be particularly difficult for him. He had no one to ask for advice. Where could he turn?

He had heard that everyone went to Maran for advice and he decided to turn to him as well, without any introduction from someone who knew him or having had any previous contact with him. He asked Maran what to do in his situation. Without a kollel, he would have no choice but to go out to work in order to support his family, since the many kollelim he had approached had no opening for him.

On the spot, Maran handed him a sum of money that would tide him over for the entire coming winter and said, "Go and learn wherever you like, wherever you think you will advance best. You don't have to take money from any kollel. If you have problems after that, come to me again and I will continue helping you out."

Rav T. told me this with great wonder in his voice. "He didn't know me at all. I was a nonentity with no connection to him whatsoever. I had merely come for advice, not for money, and lo! He had given me a sum large enough to support me for months, so I could continue to be a ben Torah!"

"Your Son Said an Excellent Svoroh in the Shiur Today!"

Whenever a certain orphan, whose widowed mother toiled very hard to support her family, said a good svoroh in the shiur, Maran would take the trouble to call his mother and convey the good news to her. "Know," he would inform her personally, "that your son said something excellent today!" (Shimushah Shel Torah)

A Good Feeling about Torah Study is Virtual Pikuach Nefesh

The following story was told to me by R' Meir Heisler, one of Maran's favored and beloved disciples.

He was present when Maran called a meeting of public figures, primarily from abroad, to discuss an important public matter. It was decided that since this was a very important conference, no one would be allowed to see Maran that day. But along comes a father with his fourteen-year- old son, asking all those present to grant him permission to speak with Maran alone for just a few moments to receive a blessing that his son be successful in his Torah studies. Those gathered agreed that if it was for only a minute, they were prepared to wait.

The two went in to see Maran, but remained inside for a long time, relates R' Meir. "If my memory serves me, it was for an hour, or maybe, an hour and a half."

When they left, the distinguished people who had been left waiting outside expressed their anger, "How could you do such a thing? You said a minute, and stayed well over an hour!"

The father replied, "It isn't my fault. I really only expected to stay for a minute. When I asked for a blessing that my son advance in his Torah studies, Maran turned to him and asked if he enjoyed learning. My son replied that he did not especially like it. `Why?" asked Maran, and my son replied, `Because I never understand what's going on.'

"Maran asked him what they were learning, and he replied, `Eilu Metziyos.' Thereupon, Maran took out two gemoras and spread them on the table, one for him and one for my son. He began explaining to him the topic of yi'ush shelo mida'as as only he could explain it. Finally, he asked him, `Do you understand it now?' My son said, `Yes, I understand it very well now,' and began crying. Maran asked him why he was crying and he said he was crying from joy, the joy of finally, for the first time in his life, being able to understand thoroughly what he had been learning. `This is the first time that I actually found joy and taam in what I am learning.'

"After that, Maran gave him a blessing and said, `If that is the case, I bless you to always be able to find taam in your study and to be successful in it.' So you see," he concluded, `it wasn't my fault. I certainly couldn't interrupt Maran while he was sitting and studying with my son!' "

Maran emerged immediately after and excused himself for having kept everyone waiting. "I couldn't have cut that visit short," he apologized. "It was important that I devote my full attention and time to it." He was so exhausted however, that he asked for the meeting to be rescheduled for the following day.

R' Meir added that Maran had explained why he had spent so much time with that boy who had experienced `no geshmack in his learning.' "Enjoying the taste in Torah study," Maran declared, "is a matter of pikuach nefesh. Anyone lacking enjoyment in study is like someone mortally ill, and for this matter of pikuach nefesh, it was necessary for me to devote some time, even if it was at the expense of important people waiting outside."

A Place in a Vacation Resort

I heard the following story from R' Mordechai Apolion, a rosh yeshiva of Kiryat Telz. He approached me knowing that I had been very close to Maran, and that everything that had to do with him was most treasured and cherished by me.

Rabbi Apolion told me that his father had been registered in a vacation resort in Chazon Yechezkel which had been organized by the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel movement. The demand was great and the number of accommodations very limited. After having registered, my father changed his mind, cancelled the reservation and got back his down payment.

A short time later, he regretted the cancellation and wished to register again. But it was too late; by then they were completely filled up. He had forfeited his chance.

"I was then a boy of about 17. My father asked me to go to see Maran and ask him for help. It was very common practice then that whenever someone needed something, Maran was the address even though he didn't know me.

"I was reluctant to do so and said to my father: `How can I ask him for help in a matter like this? It has nothing to do with Maran! Besides, I have no connection to him. I am only a young student in the yeshiva; I really don't dare go to him for such a thing.' "

R' Mordechai's father begged him and even commanded him as his obligation for kibbud ov. And so, he had no choice but to go.

"I entered Maran's room, trembling all over. I literally couldn't open my mouth for fear but I finally was able to tell him the whole story, explaining that my father had expressly commanded me to ask him for his help. I added that my father worked very hard all year long and needed to refresh his energies in relaxing surroundings."

Thereupon, Maran went over to the telephone and called up the Zeirei office. He told them the story, adding, "I understand that when someone cancels a reservation, his place is given to another person. I also understand that you don't have any more room or else you would surely accept him. But this is a man who works very hard all year long and needs the recreation. He has no other place to go. Please, I am pleading with you, add an extra bed somewhere and find a way to accommodate him, after all!"

After a personal request like this, to be sure, they found a solution and made room for him.

We are talking about a working man, not a ben yeshiva, someone who had no connection to Maran. But Maran understood that someone needed his help, and that whoever turned to him, expected to be helped and would not go away disappointed. And Maran, as a true baal chessed, loved every single Jew and felt he had to help them without any exception, even if he was not a Torah scholar, for after all, he was a Jew, a son . . .

Like One Helps a Son . . .

The daughter of a storekeeper from Cholon to whom Maran was beholden for a favor, became engaged and her father came to Maran for a blessing. Maran gave it wholeheartedly and then asked, "Is there any way I can help you?"

The Jew admitted that he needed a loan, and that there was a big free loan gemach in Jerusalem but since they did not know him, he needed a recommendation. Could Maran vouch for him? Maran was very happy to oblige.

But Maran did not recommend. He picked himself up and went to the gemach in Jerusalem himself, arranged for the loan and upon his return, informed the storekeeper that he had the money and he could come and get it.

The Jew was beside himself. "What do you mean? I didn't dream of bothering you to such an extent! All I wanted was a letter of recommendation. Two lines with your signature would have been sufficient!"

Maran laughed and said, "If one wants to help, you have to do it with all your heart, just like one would help out a son. I would not have acquitted my duty with a mere recommendation. One has to do something properly, from beginning to end."

Why did Maran go to Jerusalem?

A young avreich was offered a position in Bnei Brak and another one in Jerusalem. Which one should he take? He went to Maran for advice and Maran told him to come back in a few days time, when he would have an answer for him.

When he returned, Maran advised him to take the job in Jerusalem. He went there for the interview and was accepted. In the course of the meeting, the Rosh Yeshiva asked him, "Tell me, what is your connection to Maran? Are you related?"

"Not at all, I only went to him to ask his opinion if I should apply for this job or for another."

"That's all?" marveled the Rosh Yeshiva. "Then this is unbelievable! You should know that Maran came here in person to inquire all the details and conditions about the position. He must have done so in order to give you a well- informed opinion so that you could make up your mind which was best for you!"

This is how a father relates to a son. That young man was not the only one who asked Maran for advice and yet, Maran did not suffice with a superficial reply but actually took the trouble to investigate the matter personally and give him the best possible advice!

"I Still Pray for Him Three Times a Day!"

A Jew from England whose son was very ill asked Maran to pray for him. Several years later, Maran met him again and asked how his son was. The father replied that he had recovered very quickly and thank G-d, he was fine now.

"Why didn't you tell me he was better?" Maran asked. "Ever since then, I have been praying for your son three times a day!"

This was Maran's dedication. Even though he had received no communication for several years, he had continued praying for the sick child and not erased the name from his list. All this time, he was still praying for his recovery . . . (Shimushah Shel Torah)

Up from his Sickbed and Out to the Street . . .

One time, when Maran was ill and lay in bed with a forty degree C. fever (104F), he was told that a young man had come, seeking to talk to him. Maran knew the one in question and was aware that the matter he wished to discuss was very complex. Nevertheless, he immediately got dressed and went outside to talk to him.

Those attending him objected and said, "We understand that it must be an important matter. But why must you trouble yourself to go out to him with such a fever?"

"His problem is very difficult. I really don't know how to help him. I want, at least, to show how much I care, how concerned I am for him. I hope that in the merit of my mesirus nefesh, I will gain special Heavenly assistance to know how to help him."

What more is there left to say? An amazing story, almost incredible. Only one who is wholly chessed, goodness and kindness, who is overflowing with love for his fellow creature and devoted to every single individual, is capable of such an act of caring.

High Regard for the Original Work of a Young Torah Scholar

When my son R' Yosef Arye completed his first work, Mishnas R' Akiva Eiger, I brought him in to Maran to show him the manuscript and ask for a recommendation. Maran said that he no longer gave recommendations, since he found it very difficult to look the works through. But he added, "Leave the proofs here by me and if I have the strength, I will try to look them over."

When we returned a few days later, Maran said, "I succeeded in looking over several topics in the book and I have decided to give my haskomoh, since it is the kind of work that will always be on the shtender and not in the bookcase. It will be a work that is studied constantly and will bring much benefit to people."

My son was greatly encouraged by Maran's words. When the book left the printer, I again took my son to Maran to present him with the finished product. Maran was happy to receive it but insisted that he wished to pay for it. He got up, went over to his closet, took out a hundred dollar bill and gave it to my son, who was astounded and said that it only cost fifteen shekel.

Maran laughed. "I know that you don't charge $100 for your book. I am giving you that amount to show you how much I value it!"

You can imagine how encouraging those words were to a young scholar!

A year or two later, my son brought his second work to present to Maran. On the following morning, at six a.m., he got a call from R' Chananya Cholek, telling him that Maran had asked that he come to him. "But I haven't even davened yet," he said. "Let me first daven, eat breakfast, and then I'll go to Maran."

"What do you mean? You must come right now! Maran called me at four in the morning, telling me to contact you. But I said I didn't want to wake you up so early. But you should know that he has been waiting for you since four o'clock!"

Full of awe and trepidation, my son hurried off to Maran's house, wondering what was so urgent. When he went in to him, Maran said, "Last night, when you gave me the book, I was very tired and weak and didn't have the strength to thank you. Nor did I pay you for it. I feel very uneasy and uncomfortable about it. I want to thank you now and express my admiration for your work. And I want to pay you, too." This time, again, Maran went to his closet, took out a $100 bill and gave it to him like the previous time.

I am sure this was not an isolated incident. He was not so generous because it was my son; rather, this was his way of encouraging people and building up their self esteem so that they desire to continue to progress in Torah.


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