"Of paramount importance," the Steipler would say, "is
This was his advice to bochurim who came to seek
his guidance in their derech to Torah and fear of
Rabbeinu's own complete segregation from earthly
concerns was amazing and his immense shemiras
einayim no less.
Towards the end of a cold winter, a strange thing was
noticed on the coat of the Steipler. Although only one
season had passed wearing this particular coat, parts
of it were rubbed and threadbare. Upon closer
inspection, those near Rabbeinu noticed that it was
only worn out down the outside of the sleeves, while
the rest of the coat had retained its perfect
It turned out that the cause was the way Rabbeinu
walked on the street. With eyes downcast, he would keep
to the far end of the sidewalk as close as possible to
the wall, house, or bushes — in fact, so close that
his sleeves were rubbed and torn from the constant
At the wedding of a respected Yid, a buzz of excitement
passed through the hall as a wealthy-looking man
entered. Everyone present rushed to greet the
philanthropist from America who had come especially for
the occasion. Knowing full well, as did the rest of the
crowd, that this guest, aside from his generous
donations to yeshivos, had little to do with
Yiddishkeit, the Steipler turned his head the
other way and was heard mumbling to himself, "Al
tistakel bifnei odom rosho."
"How did Rabbeinu R' Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky become
the godol hador?" asked Maran HaRav Shach
zt"l rhetorically, at the Steipler's
levaya. "Because his conditions were so difficult
in life and he managed to prevail. This is why he
merited that every day we mention his seforim in
learning: `The Kehillos Yaakov asks . . . The Kehillos
Yaakov answers . . . '"
Indeed he had a difficult life, but the Steipler too
believed that it is not despite his hardships that a
person shteigs, but because of them.
"Without yegiyoh there is nothing," he would
exhort the boys and young men who asked for
chizuk. "And no one person's difficulties are
akin to his friends'. One may have trouble with
sholom bayis, another may struggle with rearing
his children, a third with parnossoh, and a
fourth, lo aleinu, with health problems. Each
person will get their individual decree. The one thing
they all have in common is that the yegiyoh will
help them be successful in serving Hashem."
Concerning his own yegi'as haTorah, he would
point out that before he had learned the gemora
four times over, he did not understand it at all. Once
he had done so he would review the learning several
more times and only then could he be mechadesh.
"True chiddushei Torah are not just novel
thoughts that come on their own, but are the result of
hard work and toil."
He instructed roshei yeshiva and maggidei
shiur to encourage their students to be diligent,
for diligence is the direct path to hatzlochoh.
A well-known rov related that when he was at one point
ram in a yeshiva he had cause to take a
bochur to the Steipler for advice. The boy had
already been in yeshiva for five years, yet had not
seen success or a rise in his standard of learning.
Dejected and despondent, he considered his next step.
Should he give up learning and rather find a job in a
Torah environment? After all, we are told by Rashi that
five years is the amount of time that is needed to try
something out, and if one doesn't succeed, it's a sign
that he should change occupations.
"I felt inadequate," said the rosh yeshiva, "to
take upon myself the decision that would affect this
bochur's entire future. Since anyway I used to go
the Steipler every erev Rosh Chodesh, I persuaded
the boy to come with me and present his situation
before the gaon.
"We traveled to Bnei Brak, where Rabbeinu listened
carefully to our sheiloh.
"Turning to the bochur, Rabbeinu gently inquired,
`Are you able to learn gemora?'
"`No,' replied the boy.
"`What about a perek mishnayos?'
"Again the reply was negative.
"`Can you manage a seif in Mishna Berurah?'
persisted the Steipler.
"Embarrassed, the bochur lowered his eyes as he
answered, `Yes. That much I can learn.'
"`Before you entered yeshiva, could you have learned
even this minimal amount?'
"Immediately the Steipler turned to me," continued the
Rosh Yeshiva. "`This is called not seeing a siman
brochoh in his learning? Before he came to yeshiva,
he knew nothing, and now he can learn Mishna
Berurah. I assure you that with diligence he can
continue to learn and achieve.'"
So saying, he warmly gave the boy his blessing and bade
"The bochur stayed on in yeshiva," concluded the
Rov. "And by the time he married, he knew all six
chalokim of Mishna Berurah by heart!"
In his own diligence, the Steipler was no less
demanding. His family related that when he was
preparing his sefer, Kehillos Yaakov, he would
review each siman again and again and yet another
time until he was sure that it was ready to print.
Often, even after a chapter had passed his scrutiny and
was about to be put aside for publishing, the Gaon
would take the papers into his hands, sit down once
more and go through them yet another time in order to
reconsider: are my words clear enough for even a young
yeshiva bochur to understand? Perhaps a few more
words need to be added, or another explanation for
(The latter was just another manifestation of his
ultimate consideration for others, even if the person
in question was a young yeshiva bochur.)
When the Steipler sent one of his volumes to Maran the
Rosh Yeshiva zt"l, he told the messenger that he
was a bit agitated that in the printing process, the
address of the mechaber had been omitted, and if
anyone wanted to buy the sefer they might not
know where to get hold of it.
"Nu!" shrugged the shaliach, "everyone
knows where Rabbeinu lives."
The Steipler, however, was still perturbed. "Perhaps
someone will want to buy the sefer and will have
to go to the bother of inquiring and searching out my
"My whole sefer is not worth printing for me if I
cause one Yid bother and agmas nefesh
One day, when the Steipler was already advanced in
years and in weak health, he asked to be taken to the
bar mitzvah of a boy in the neighborhood. His family
and attendants were somewhat puzzled, for the boy was
neither related nor the son of a close talmid. In
fact, no one could recall any connection between the
Steipler and the bar mitzvah boy.
"A few years ago, I scolded this boy in the beis
medrash and later found out that he was innocent,"
explained the Steipler. "I immediately apologized to
the boy, and he duly forgave me. However, subsequently
I realized that a koton cannot give a proper
mechiloh, so I promised to come to his bar
mitzvah. Tonight he is no longer a koton and I
can go and ask him for complete forgiveness."