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29 Iyar 5774 - May 29, 2014 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Many are the anecdotes and inspiring stories told of the amal beTorah of our gedolim. Many more are yet to be told.

In honor of Shavuos, we will present here a few of those Sparks of Greatness.


The holy Chasam Sofer zt"l would give his shiur to his talmidim as though he had never learned the topic before, starting with the dibbur hamaschil and its simple translation and then, step by step, one stage at a time, go deeper into the sugya, so that even the weakest of his pupils would understand. This, he taught, is the obligation of every rabbi: to teach his pupils on their level.

The greatest of his pupils would relate that during the shiur, the Chasam Sofer's mind would suddenly fill with wonderful chidushim, allaying difficult kushyos. This overflow of thoughts would disturb his track of learning.

The Chasam Sofer would stop mid-sentence and daven the tefilloh of Ahavoh Rabboh, accompanied by loud crying and copious tears, begging HaKodosh Boruch Hu that the chidushim be revealed to him later and not now, when they were confusing the shiur.

Once, the wife of the Chasam Sofer, together with several family members, were sick and in dire need of a refuah. The entire yeshiva of Pressburg gathered to say Tehillim, followed by a heartfelt recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. The very walls seemed to shake with the storm of emotions poured out within them.

As soon as the tefillos were over though, the Chasam Sofer sat down as always in the shiur shtub to learn the shiur as normal. "Anyone who did not witness the mesirus nefesh for learning has not seen mesirus nefesh for Torah, as all his life," his talmidim said of the immense strength over mind and body: that a human being could, after such an emotional tefilloh during which the lives of his own family hung in the balance, just discipline himself to sit and teach Torah to his talmidim.


An aura of excitement and joyous anticipation wafted in the air of Volozhin. The daughter of R' Zelmale, brother of R' Chaim of Volozhin, was to be married that day.

"Come, let me show you," said R' Chaim, to his close talmidim, "what the words amal beTorah denote. Follow me to the house of my brother, R' Zelmale," he beckoned.

The group hurried after R' Chaim. Upon entering R' Zelmale's house, they were greeted by the loud music of the klezmer who had set up their band and were playing stirring melodies to precede the chuppah tunes.

R' Zelmale himself stood in the middle of the room, his face suffused with a joyous light, apparently immensely enjoying the music.

"Now, I'll tell the klezmer to stop and let's see the reaction of my brother," whispered R' Chaim.

Obeying R' Chaim, the band duly stopped in mid-music, but R' Zelmale's expression did not alter at all. His eyes remained fixed ahead and the delight on his countenance seemed to radiate from deep inside, extending outwards on a different plane entirely.

It was then that R' Chaim's talmidim understood that this was R' Zelmale's preparation for his daughter's chuppah. Deeply engrossed in his Torah thoughts, his mind taken up with wonderful chidushim, he was oblivious to the loud music being played right near him, in honor of the great day.


During the earlier years of World War II, Pressburg had not yet been ravaged by the Nazi beast, but the threat hung in the air and it was not uncommon for Jews to be attacked randomly in the streets. HaRav Michoel Ber Weissmandel, while walking through the streets, was suddenly set upon by Nazi thugs who beat him badly. Upon finishing their entertaining "game," they sauntered off, leaving him bruised and bloodied. R' Michoel Ber painfully made his way to the house of my grandfather, R' Binyomin Shlomo Stern zt"l, whom he knew well (as recounted in his sefer Min Hameitzar, they worked together to try to save Hungarian Jewry from annihilation at the hands of the Nazis).

Shocked to see R' Michoel Ber in such a state, my grandmother Hy"d understood what had occurred and tried to offer him a warm drink, some food, perhaps a bed to lie down on and recover a little, but all her offers were politely refused.

"Perhaps you could lend me a spare hat of your husband's," was R' Michoel Ber's sole request. The hooligans had taken his. As soon as she had complied, the Rabbi took a gemora from the shelf. Standing straight with one leg up on a chair, he began to learn without stop. After two consecutive hours in this manner, R' Michoel Ber closed the sefer and turned to my grandmother a"h with a sigh of relief.

"Nu. Now I've recovered a little. The learning has refreshed me and I can have a drink."


R' Arye Leib, the son of the Chofetz Chaim zt"l, related that he once saw Reb Chaim Brisker zt"l in Mintz, where he lived as a refugee during World War I.

For six consecutive hours the Grach stood in one position, engrossed in his Torah thoughts. After six hours, when he had finished with his topic, he looked down in wonder, asking, "What is hanging on me?"

His two hands were hanging heavy at his sides, having become numb from not moving in the past six hours.


HaRav Shimon Shkop, author of Shaarei Yosher, recalled one incident from his days as a yeshiva bochur in Volozhin under the Netziv. Reb Shimon had, for a number of days, had difficulty in understanding a Rashbam in Bovo Kama, to which he could find no solution. Late one night, as he continued struggling, the Netziv came to the beis medrash to urge the bochurim to go to sleep and gather strength for the morrow, which would soon be upon them.

"How can I go to sleep if I cannot understand the words of the Rashbam for a few days already?" asked R' Shimon.

Retorted the Netziv, "And you think you can understand the Rashbam just like that? How many times have I prostrated myself over the grave of my grandfather R' Chaim of Volozhin, begging Hashem to grant me understanding of the Rashbam."


The Admor of Vishnitz, the Imrei Chaim zt"l, recalled that when the First World War broke out, he was with his father in the city Visnitsa. "My father was learning with myself and his brother, the Damasek Eliezer zt"l, in the sefer Bris Kehunas Olom, when the first explosions of artillery were heard. Our house was close to the border and the fighting was frighteningly close. All the residents of the town fled their houses to hide in sheltered bunkers, and many of the town's Jews came running to the Rebbe, begging him to take steps to protect himself."

The Ahavas Yisroel, however, refused to stop learning for a moment. Even when his two sons claimed they could not concentrate in this manner, he would not let them off, but continued despite the danger.


Following their difficult sojourn in Shanghai, the war- weary bochurim of the Mirrer Yeshiva finally boarded the ship that was to bring them to Eretz Yisroel. Each day at sea seemed to stretch into eternity as the dream of stepping onto the holy soil came ever closer. Only one passenger seemed not to notice the length of the hours and days. Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz sat absorbed in his learning as he had in Mir, in Shanghai and in all the places in between.

After a few interminable weeks at sea, the joyous day arrived. The cabin boy atop the deck, raising his binoculars to his eyes, was heard to shout, "Land ahoy!" Seeing everyone running to the deck to catch a glimpse of the approaching land on the horizon, a bochur who was not yet in the know asked excitedly, "Vu halt men?"

"Shmaatso Gimmel, Perek Daled," called out Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz spontaneously.

Even at such a time, it did not occur to him that such a question could be asked concerning anything but Torah learning.


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