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15 Cheshvan 5766 - November 16, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Memories of the Steipler Gaon

by HaRav Avrohom Horowitz zt"l

The Shiur in His Home

I recall over forty-five years ago when I studied in the yeshiva where Rabbenu, the Steipler ztvk'l, was Rosh Yeshiva. It was once announced that the Rosh Yeshiva would not be saying the usual shiur in the yeshiva, but in his home. We all came to his house, only to find him abed. We gathered around him and thus, covered by a sheet, he delivered the shiur.

When we turned to leave, I inquired after his health, for I wished, at least, to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim. He confessed that he was not ill at all, but that his trousers had torn and he did not own another pair into which to change . . . This was no reason for him to call off the shiur, however, and therefore, the only way he could still deliver it was in this manner, until his Rebbetzin succeeded in mending the tear.

Why Are There Troubles in the World?

The Steipler once told me why there is so much suffering in the world. In ancient times, poverty was rampant even in extreme form. People were accustomed to hardship, penury, deprivation but they did not complain. They accepted their lot, even willingly. This attitude actually averted many a tzoroh.

Not so in our present day where there is no real extant poverty with which to compare; today's Jew has become inured to comfort and yet, is not satisfied with his lot but wants more and more. This brings on much suffering and distress.

He added that people need a rebbe. "They come to me, thinking that I am an Admor who can help them. This world is full of troubles and people think that I am the address to provide their solutions . . . "

The Mashgiach's Question

The Steipler once told me that HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l came to him with a question. He had been accustomed, all the years, to eat only two slices of bread per meal, but now that he was weak, he sometimes felt the need to eat more. Was he permitted to eat more without saying another blessing, since he may not have had it in mind at the beginning of the meal?

The Steipler replied that he should state this conditionally one time, and that statement would suffice for the rest of his life. Each successive meal he ate would be on the precondition that if he felt the need to eat more, he could. Thus, it would not be considered an afterthought that would require a new blessing.

Avodas Hashem in Old Age

My master-and-teacher once explained a verse in Koheles (7:10) to me: "Do not say that the former days were better than these, for you do not inquire wisely concerning this."

He said that in one's youth, a person is more effervescent, driven, high spirited, and his avodas Hashem is similarly more fervent and energetic. When he grows older, his vigor wanes and loses momentum, as does his G-dly worship. Shlomo Hamelech reassures the older man that this is how life is and he must not be distressed over his lack of vitality.

The Steipler's Orphanhood

The Steipler told me that his father used to study with him every Shabbos from the age of seven until he was eleven, when his father passed away. They studied Emek Hatefilloh together. This is the first volume of Emek Habrochoh by the Admor, HaRav Mordechai Dov zt'l of Hornesteipel, the son-in-law of the Divrei Chaim zt'l. The Steipler told me that his father was his chossid; he traveled to him every year. His father taught him this particular volume in order to instill in him yiras Shomayim, since all the other volumes involved pilpul dialectics.

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita told me that in his youth, his father, the Steipler, taught him the work Bas Eini as well as the chassidic and mussar works of the Admor of Charkas zt'l, who was the aforementioned Admor's grandfather; in fact, the Steipler was named after him.

The Steipler told me that he was five when his father took him to the Rebbe, R' Mordechai Dov, whose figure he still remembered very vividly.

The Steipler did not have the opportunity to fully fulfill his filial obligation of kibbud ov, since his father passed away when he was eleven. He then traveled to the yeshiva in Hommel. Subsequently, the yeshivos in Poland and Russia were his home; he never again saw his mother, who remained in Russia.

When he came to Eretz Yisroel, the Steipler renewed contact with his mother by correspondence. She lived to a ripe old age and died in Russia in 5697 (1937), when her son sat shiva over her. She was a righteous woman, as the Steipler's wife testified. The Rebbetzin told that she had written to her mother-in-law to request a photo of her so that the Rebbetzin would know, at least, how she looked. She replied that she had never allowed herself to be photographed and did not wish to do so now, either.

The Steipler honored his parents, nonetheless, by naming his work Bircas Peretz for them. This is what he writes in his introduction: "And in order to fulfill the commandment of kibbud ov vo'eim, as is brought in Kiddushin 31b, to honor them in their lifetime and to honor them after death, I have called this work Bircas Peretz, in memory of my father R' Chaim Peretz z'l (whose yahrtzeit falls on Rosh Chodesh Nisan), and in memory of my mother Brochoh o'h (whose yahrtzeit falls on 2 Iyar). May they repose in Gan Eden until they arise in techiyas hameisim together with all other deceased, speedily, in our days."

Plea for Pardon from the Rebbetzin

After his Rebbetzin passed away, the Steipler gathered ten men to her room, where she had been lain on the ground, and tearfully asked her for forgiveness, twice, in his name and in the name of his daughter Yosefa and his son Chaim, and all the children.

He said: "I hereby ask forgiveness if I did not treat you properly in your lifetime, or they, either. Please forgive me and them."

Three Garment-Rendings over Gedolei Yisroel

R' Chaim Kanievsky told me that his father instructed him to rip his outer garment on the left side, by the heart, and with a blessing, over the Brisker Rov zt'l. He declared that the Brisker Rov was the godol hador.

When the Steipler heard of the passing of the Gaon of Tchebin zt'l, after Shabbos, he went to his room and made a tear — in the hem of his coat, I believe. The Steipler told me that he, too, was the godol hador and his passing represented the last of the great figures.

The Steipler likewise rent his coat over HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, before the burial. We arrived at the middle of the funeral in Jerusalem, coming by bus from Bnei Brak. The Steipler waited until right before the actual burial before rending his coat.

Guidance in Shidduchim

When I was looking into a match for a young girl in my family, the Steipler gave me two guidelines about what to look for in the chosson: the first was to seek yiras Shomayim, and the second, to seek straightforward common sense.

He also advised me to seek a young man with the following attributes: fear of Hashem, love for Torah, diligence in study. In our times, one who devotes ten hours to Torah study can be considered a masmid. He added that once, fifteen hours was the norm for such a title. The candidate should know how to learn and to thoroughly clarify a topic with poskim — Tur, Shulchan Oruch.

It was not necessary, he noted, for him to innovate or be exceptionally gifted. He mentioned the prayer of Channah in which she asked to be blessed with a son who was middling in everything. He added that it was important to ascertain these points by extensive questioning, and not to rely on the word of the bochur's rosh yeshiva alone.

The Steipler told me that generally speaking, the gifted, brilliant students become problematic after marriage when they see that they are not progressing as quickly or thoroughly as they would like, and sometimes they fall by the wayside.

I actually heard about a certain young man who was reported not to daven minchah. The matter was looked into and verified, upon which the Chazon Ish ordered that the match be dissolved without the need to ask mechiloh from him.

The Steipler Refuses to Impose Upon the Rebbe of Tchebin

There existed a very active correspondence between the Steipler and the rov of Tchebin for many years on various Torah subjects. HaRav Avrohom Horowitz was generally the go- between when he went to visit his father-in-law, HaRav C. Auerbach, in Shaarei Chessed. R' Avrohom was also the trusted messenger for verbal halachic questions.

R' Avrohom once summoned up his courage and confronted the Steipler with a question, "Why don't you find the opportunity to go to Yerushalayim and meet the Gavad of Tchebin, to talk with him in person?"

The Steipler replied, "I am hard of hearing and am certain that a conversation would be taxing on the Rov. I don't want to tire the godol hador."

Hashem Protects from Mishap

R' Avrohom told in the name of the Steipler Rebbetzin: When the Chazon Ish left over some of the food she served him, she would ask him why he had not eaten it. He would apologize and explain, "Just as I was about to eat, something came up to distract me. One person came in and afterwards another. I had to conclude that there was something amiss with the food if Heaven was thus preventing me repeatedly from eating it, so as to spare me from sinning."

The Rebbetzin checked into the matter and discovered that she had forgotten to ma'aser one of the ingredients. On another occasion, it was discovered that the food had been left uncovered for some time (meguloh). Each time that he saw an impediment in eating, he concluded that something was amiss, which was invariably verified.

Is a Ben Torah Considered a Pauper?

Regarding evyonim, paupers, Maran told me that one who begs for handouts on the street is not necessarily a poor man, for many of these street beggars have thousands of shekolim stashed away or in bank accounts. And it specifically says that one who owns 200 zuzim to his name for his year's outlay is not considered penniless. In today's terms, this is about ten thousand shekolim.

This being the case, a yeshiva student certainly qualifies as a poor man.

Seeking Counsel from Sages

R' Schneur Sholom Hakohen, an American Jew who was one of the steady mispallelim in the Chazon Ish's beis medrash, would give his entire pension to the Chazon Ish to distribute to poor Torah students. Maran showed special care towards him and would advise him concerning every letter he received.

One Friday, an hour before candlelighting, a water pipe burst in his home. He came running to the Chazon Ish, asking that he call a plumber. "I don't do a thing without first consulting the Rebbi," he said.

Maran told him to return home and he did so, only to discover that the pipe had stopped leaking. But when he came home right after Shabbos, he saw that the water was flowing again. Now he had no choice but to seek a plumber himself.

And the Plane Fell

HaRav Eliezer Horowitz heard the following story from Rebbetzin Kanievsky:

The Chazon Ish's sister, the wife of the Steipler, tended to her brother's needs in the latter years of his life when they lived under the same roof. About a year after the establishment of the State of Israel, a clean-shaven, impeccably dressed European came, asking to be admitted to the Chazon Ish. The Rebbetzin saw nothing unusual about this, since all kinds of people came for blessings. But when he went in and remained for a long time, she was very surprised.

When he had gone, the Chazon Ish emerged from his room and washed his face many times. The Rebbetzin could see that he had been weeping and couldn't help asking who had just been in to see him.

"Didn't you recognize him?" he asked his sister. She hadn't.

"As a youth, he studied with me. (The Chazon Ish had a few students in chutz la'aretz with whom he studied.) He went astray and became caught up with Communism and shook off all vestiges of his Judaism, as did many youths in that time. His talents propelled him forward in the party ranks and he eventually became a high-ranking diplomat in the Foreign Ministry until he was appointed supervisor of all the Russian ambassadors. At some point, he came to Eretz Yisroel the check over the embassy here, and he was looking through some documents involving Eretz Yisroel and came across the names of prominent rabbis. He saw my name and decided that when he came to Israel, he would pay me a visit a day before he left.

"I asked him if he wanted me to pray that he be killed. He did not reply. I understood from his silence that he agreed, or at least, was not opposed to the idea." I don't remember exactly which way Maran put it."

A day later, the newspapers had an item about a plane flying from Israel to Turkey with a Russian diplomat; it had crashed and he had been killed. When the Chazon Ish was informed of it, he said, "Maybe he repented right before his death."

The first yahrtzeit of HaRav Horowitz zt"l was on 26 Elul. This material is taken from the fifth volume of Orchos Rabbenu.

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