Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5766 - January 11, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Eighteen: The Days of Maran's Life — Days of Heaven on Earth

Whoever looked casually at Maran could not help but discern that here was a man who was not removed from the masses; he was one of us, an earthly being. He prayed, studied, ate, slept, just like any of us. Indeed, who was more involved, more attached to the here-and-now world than Maran who, from his small room, encompassed the entire world and its fullness? He knew everything that went on, was actively concerned and involved with both the spiritual and material deficiencies of Torah institutions and of countless individual Jews.

The truth, however, is far removed from this. His feet were affixed in this nether world, but his head reached the very heavens. The foremost part of his existence, of his nurture, was derived from the upper realms. He lived and operated in this world, but his spirit and thoughts cleaved to the other world, the World that is Wholly Good.

I Will Soon Meet R' Akiva!

On one of the final mornings of the Rosh Hayeshiva's life, he turned to me and said, "I would like to convey to you some important things. I would like you to record what I am about to say." This request was not an uncommon one.

Maran began:

"In all my life, I did not have one good day, for I always suffered from troubles, pain and anguish. Notwithstanding, I consider myself a happy man. Soon — and this may happen a year from now or in a month or a few days, or even while we are talking — I will part from this world. When I reach the World of Truth, I will be called upon to make a reckoning before Hashem. I know that I will be flogged for anger, pride, and a desire for honor (on other occasions, he also included bitul Torah). But after it is over, I will hear Hashem say, `I forgive.'

"Afterwards, I will be allowed to enter Gan Eden and meet R' Akiva and his companions. Can you imagine what a pleasure, what a privilege it will be to meet R' Akiva? And since I can already feel that deep sense of joy, I am happy already now, despite the difficult, harsh days which I suffer through. Why, it is like nothing compared to that wonderful feeling I will experience when I get there . . . "

The suffering he underwent in this world, which he had in plentiful measure, made no impression on him whatsoever because his heart was not here; it was already there, together with R' Akiva. It is like a man who was on his way home after a long separation. Out of sheer joy of anticipation, he did not even feel the trials and tribulations of his journey.

The Best Days

Maran often told me about the difficult times he experienced in his life. He even reminisced about them in public on various occasions, such as the weddings of his grandchildren.

"I have always been bashful. When I studied in Slobodka, the students ate `teg — days' by baalebatim. But because I was so reticent, I couldn't bring myself to do that. I sufficed with what good women brought to the beis medrash — the dry crusts that remained from their table. Water there was.

"I lived on bread and water during the week, `Bread with salt shall you eat.' Shabbos was an exception, because then you are obliged to eat. I went to baalebatim for two meals but preferred to abstain from seudah shlishis, maintaining that one should `make your Shabbos like a weekday but not rely on people.' And so I went hungry.

"I slept on a bench in the beis medrash and laid a log under my head. I never owned a pillow . . . It was cold. Someone saw me freezing, had pity on me and covered me with a torn coat . . . "

On another occasion, Maran related:

"I never owned a pair of whole shoes. I had no money to repair my soles and they became full of holes. They were also too small for my feet and finally they fell apart altogether and my toes poked out from them . . . My jacket was threadbare; I owned only one shirt which I used to wash on Friday so that I would have a clean shirt for Shabbos. In time, this also wore thin and tore."

While he was talking, Maran showed me how he used to close his jacket so that no one would notice the torn shirt.

In spite of this, declared Maran, "These were the best days I knew. I was completely immersed in my study and had no idea what was going on outside."

As a young boy, Maran had already lived a life of Olom Habo, that is, one foot in the other world. His days of suffering were happy days, his `best days,' better than the days when he enjoyed world fame because then he lived a life of "heaven on earth." All of his troubles and pain in this world were dismissed like nothing in his eyes. Even then, he was happy, for his this-world was not a material, physical world. His Olom Hazeh was already wholly Olom Habo.

There are No Two Worlds — Everything is One World

Maran HaRav Shach would open the annual Yeshivas Ponovezh Yarchei Kallah, year in and year out, with a quote of Chazal from Yalkut Shimoni on the verse, "You protected my head from above on the day of neshek" (Tehillim 140). The word used is a homonym for `battle' and for `kiss,' thus alternately rendering the translation of the verse as: " . . . on the very day that two worlds tangentially kiss: this world exiting and the future world being ushered in."

In his opening words of 5744 (1984), Maran said: "There is no day when the two worlds, Olom Hazeh and Olom Habo, do not kiss. For these two worlds are in one day. The notion that they are separate is a misconception. Chazal called this world a corridor and the next world, a palace. But an anteroom and a main hall are not to be found in separate houses. They are both in the same house, only they are designated for different purposes."

Maran added, and to this very moment, I can hear him declare:

"Ribono Shel Olom! While I am living in this world, I beg that You protect me from mistakes in my understanding of the meaning of life; may this day that I am living not be one of this world, but may it [be lived] as part of Olom Habo . . . " (printed in Machsheves Mussar p. 522).

The Dance in Auschwitz

Maran frequently repeated the famous story about Simchas Torah in Auschwitz. It is familiar, but the way he told it changed it into a different story, to a living tale with a poignant impact. I heard him tell it several times and knew it well, but each time he retold it, it was presented in a new light. Maran lived the story with all his 248 organs, which made it so real and concrete to me.

It tells of a group of Jews who were brought to Auschwitz, to the gas chambers. When they already stood before the incinerators, stripped of their clothing, one of the Jews suddenly reminded himself, "Brothers! Today is Simchas Torah. We are commanded to rejoice!"

Those around him asked in amazement, "To rejoice? What is there to be happy about? We don't have a Sefer Torah with which to dance. We have no schnapps to toast one another with a lechayim. We don't even having clothing. We don't own a single thing, not even our own names! They've taken away our very Divine image, our tzelem Elokim. How do you want us to be happy?"

But the other rejoined immediately, "We still possess one thing: the Ribono Shel Olom. No one can take Him away from us. Come, let us rejoice; let us dance together with the Ribono Shel Olom!"

Here Maran began to describe how they broke out into a dance, in those last moments of their lives, before they were led into the crematorium. And he would conclude, "All the forms of joy that exist in this world are like nothing compared to the joy of those naked Jews who danced before being led into the gas chambers."

This was not just any story. It was Maran's life; this was how he lived, himself. What is joy in this world? Rejoicing with Hashem, Jews expressing their joy in Him even as they were being shoved into the crematories. Dancing with Hashem - - that is the only possible, the only authentic joy in the world.

Joie de Vivre

Only in this way can one understand Maran's joy-in-life. Maran testified of himself that he did not experience one good day in his lifetime. And yet, he was overflowing with joy. I was always amazed — truly astounded — by Maran's joie de vivre which radiated to all those in his proximity.

I went to him many times full of disappointment, crushed by failures in my work in the Knesset, not having succeeded in passing certain laws or measures that were the very lifeblood of the Torah public. But even during those times when I was discouraged and depressed for one reason or another, when I entered his room I was immediately caught up with his contagious joy for living. And then, suddenly, all my worries, all the painful things that pressed on me, suddenly vanished. I couldn't understand how I had been able to be so concerned; Maran's joy banished all care and stress.

When Reb Moshe Reichman, the famous Canadian philanthropist who was privileged to support Torah institutions so generously, visited Maran, the latter said to him, "I envy your Olom Habo, but you can envy my Olom Hazeh."

R' Moshe Tikochinsky, the menahel ruchani of Slobodka, once asked him why he ate so sparingly. Maran replied, "Must I then prepare generous food for the worms to dine on after I die?"

Eating played no role in his life; what interested him was the spiritual afterlife.

Upon many occasions, after having prepared his regular shiur, he would say, "I will deliver this shiur either here, in the yeshiva down on earth, or there, in the Yeshiva Shel Maalah . . . "

He was always prepared [for death], he used to say, as I mentioned in his name previously, "I am on my way out . . . It might be in another year's time, in another month, or even right now, as we are talking . . . "

A Mere Temporary Thing

Whenever he went on a condolence visit after some tragedy, Maran would say, "My sons, how can I comfort you? My fourteen- year-old daughter also passed away. She was our whole life, the diamond of the family . . . R' Chaim Ozer came to console us and said, `Know that this is a very temporary thing. Death is a short and temporary thing.' This was his consolation and indeed, I was comforted by it."

Maran would add, "Know that this is not a mere story, it is a fact — death is a very short, temporary affair. And therefore, you can be comforted."

See the introduction of the Rambam to Seder Zeraim where he writes about the death of Moshe Rabbenu: "Death is a passing phase and having no experience in it, we cannot understand it . . . But it is said that Moshe Rabbenu did not die. He simply ascended to Heaven and serves there . . ."

For this, One Must Lay Down One's Life

There is no doubt that an outlook like this on life endowed Maran with the courage and strength which characterized his manner of guiding Klal Yisroel. He feared no man and assumed upon his shoulders responsibilities that were technically beyond his strength.

Maran fought many great battles — against the secular camp, against people with misguided ideas who sprang up from within the chareidi community such as: Chabad, P.A.I. and others. Here, too, he did not act from a viewpoint of This- World; rather, he drew his strength from the future World to Come.

I once permitted myself to comment to Maran that in my opinion, it was worthwhile to somewhat temper his battle against Chabad for I feared that they might come and throw stones through the window! It might reach very dangerous proportions, for I knew what Chabad was. I, myself, had already been targeted with medium-sized stones, while attending the wedding of my good friend, R' Yaakov Mizrachi (z'l) in Kfar Chabad. It was a miracle that none hit their mark.

Upon hearing this, he became very serious all of a sudden. His expression changed completely, as if a new person had just come on the scene. He arose abruptly and said, no — he verily shouted, for this was a cry straight from the heart which reverberated to the very rafters: "R' Shlomo! Listen here: Even if I knew for certain that they would burn me alive, I would not abate from my battle against this messianic mania. For this is bona fide avodoh zorah."

Gehennom is Open Before Him

When I asked Maran, upon a different occasion, how he was not fearful of coming to harm, for a person is obliged to naturally take caution, he answered:

"I am not afraid, for Gehennom is constantly open before me, and I must choose whether to do what is required of me — or to desist, and accept that Gehennom which I verily see gaping at my feet."

On another occasion, he replied: "I have no personal interest or involvement in this matter, and I am altogether convinced that I am right."

There was hardly a single conversation in which Maran did not bring up the subject of `being ultimately accountable.' He once noted, "Know that even when I am speaking to you, in communal matters or other affairs, my thoughts are riveted upon the Gehennom gaping before me. I do not waver my attention from the fear of the ultimate judgment."

Maran once described to me, in the name of R' Dovid'l Karliner, what Gehennom really was like. One Friday night, he encountered a particularly difficult passage in the Rambam and succeeded finally in reconciling it. All he needed was to look up the exact wording in the passage. But when he went to look up the Rambam in the source, the candle went out. That, he said, constituted Gehennom.

Maran added that this was, indeed, his form of Gehennom. "I wish to study but I am continually forced to interrupt myself in order to receive those who turn to me for help or advice. I cannot make up the loss and achieve what I would like: this is my biggest Gehennom."

Before Whom are you Destined to Render an Accounting?

There was hardly a single conversation in which Maran did not mention `a future accounting.' The feeling one got in his proximity was always that we are on our way out of this world and soon entering the atmosphere of another one, an aura of Olom Habo.

In 5741, Maran spoke in a public hall, Heichal Hatarbut, before a Torah public regarding the Knesset elections. Present were roshei yeshivos and heads of kollelim from all over the country. This is what he said to them: "When we arrive in the World of Truth, we will have to give a reckoning, among other things, for desecration of the Shabbos, and this will be dreadful and frightening . . . What terrible punishments await those who were mechallel Shabbos!"

The audience was surprised. Why was Maran expanding upon the punishment for chillul Shabbos? Could anyone in the audience be suspect of violating the Shabbos? Besides, this was not the purpose of the rally.

Maran explained, "You are probably wondering what I am driving at. Does anyone here actually desecrate the Shabbos? Let me tell you, then: In the future, they will hold us accountable, each and every one of us. They will ask: Was it in your power to prevent chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv? In Haifa? Eilat? Had you voted for Agudath Israel, you might have helped prevent it, for the more we support the chareidi representation, the better chance we have. If we did not fulfill our duty, if for some reason we did not vote, or did not try to convince others to vote for Agudath Israel, we will be held accountable for the selfsame Shabbos violation. This is why I am describing the punishment for chillul Shabbos."

Even during the electioneering, when everyone was focusing on practical results, political gains and losses, on "tachlis," his thoughts did not center on immediate election results, in this world of here-and-now, but on the World to Come, on the question whether he had done all he could to prevent chillul Shabbos. He warned: "You are endangering the sanctity of the Shabbos . . . " And he went on, then, to itemize a list of other sins for which our public could be held accountable . . . He saw the elections as an opportunity to prevent halachic violations upon violations.

"I Know What is Bothering You"

Maran arrived in Eretz Yisroel with nothing to his name. When he was offered a position with a handsome remuneration in the Yishuv Hechodosh yeshiva in Tel Aviv where secular studies were being learned, he consulted his uncle, Maran R' Isser Zalman Meltzer, who ruled that considering his financial condition at the time, with no means of providing even bread for his family and no other source of income, he could take the job.

Maran accepted the position and became a maggid shiur in that yeshiva, despite his reservations about whether that was really the place for him. He decided, nonetheless, to go to Bnei Brak and consult the Chazon Ish. Here it turned out that his doubts were justified; the Chazon Ish said that in his opinion, he should leave the job. But he added, "This is what I advise, but I don't have another position to offer you."

The Chazon Ish already foresaw what would become of that yeshiva — that it would eventually turn into a yeshiva high school [as opposed to a pure yeshiva].

Maran related that the Chazon Ish said to him then, "I know what is bothering you. You are concerned that when your time comes to appear before the Heavenly Court, they will ask you why you were delinquent in providing a livelihood for your family. Well, if they do ask that question, tell them that I ruled thus and they should not blame you on that account."

Maran accepted this psak but said, "Before I hand in my resignation, I first wish to go home to notify my family that I am leaving."

"Don't do that," said the Chazon Ish. "Go immediately to the yeshiva's administrator and hand in your resignation."

He was afraid that the rebbetzin would weep and be concerned about the children and so on. It is difficult to describe to today's readership what the brink of starvation meant in those days. Maran related that when he returned to the yeshiva to announce that he was leaving, the principal thought that he was angling for a larger salary and promised to double it. But Maran said, "That is not the issue. I am leaving, and that is final."

Some time after Maran went to live in Jerusalem, he received an offer from R' Ben Zion Bruk to be a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Novardok. The salary offered was one lira per month, while in the yeshiva he had just left, he was receiving thirteen lira a month — a sum which the administration had been willing to double! But this meant nothing to him after he had received the Chazon Ish's ruling to leave.

He was not concerned about what would happen to him and how he would manage. He was concerned about what he would have to answer before the Heavenly Court when the time came. As soon as the Chazon Ish stated that "you can say that I made this decision for you," he no longer harbored any doubts in the matter.

Maran lived "like the days of heaven on earth." He lived his Olom Habo here on earth. He had no means of livelihood? So what? He was not disturbed. He would not be held responsible for not have adequately provided for his family for he would have a ready reply: "The Chazon Ish made this decision for me."

The Serenity of Erev Shabbos

Those who frequented Maran's house knew that on Friday and Shabbos, he was always more relaxed and felt better than usual. He explained why: It is written in holy works that whoever dies on Friday or Shabbos is spared the terrible suffering of after-death. He used to say, "Fortunate is one who dies on Friday or Shabbos." The thought comforted him. But when Shabbos was over, he would say, "Now my anxiety has returned to me as it was before."

His entire life, all of his days, were only Olom Habo, Olom Habo, Olom Habo. If the suffering of death is easier on Friday, then he felt eased, for he lived days of Heaven- on-earth.

I once heard say that he expressed a wish to die on a Friday. And indeed, so he did. He then added, "Ten people should be present at the time of burial. I am afraid that there won't be a minyan because many people are angry at me and many people bear grudges against me and harbor resentment. But ten people, at least, there will be . . . " It will be remembered that his was the biggest funeral ever seen.

Advice with Full Accountability

A man once came to Maran for advice but Maran said he had none to offer. The man persisted, "But I must know what to do!"

"What am I supposed to do if I don't know what to tell you?" he said.

After the man left, those in the room asked Maran, "Why didn't you suggest something, like you do for everyone?"

His answer stunned those present, "When I offer advice, I think it out first and make a personal reckoning: Will they ask me in the World of Truth if I was certain that the advice I suggested was good and proper? I must be sure that what I say is 100% true. This time, however, I was not so convinced."

Maran made a cheshbon hanefesh at every step he took, with everything he did. He continually asked himself: How will I justify myself or what I did in Olom Habo? The World to Come was not something removed and intangible; he felt it as if it were right before him.

Whoever was privileged to be near R' Shach, even if he was very far from a level of feeling Olom Habo in this world would, nevertheless, know clearly that the importance which people assign to worldly matters is out of proportion and not justified.

Worries, concerns, suffering over worldly affairs are superfluous. Whoever was fortunate to be in his proximity felt that it was quite possible for the "days of Heaven" to be "on earth." As the words of Chazal which Maran so often mentioned, "There is no day when Olom Hazeh and Olom Habo do not kiss."


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