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19 Teves 5776 - December 31, 2015 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, zt"l, Rov of Antwerp

In honor of his yahrtzeit 16th Teves 5762

The name "HaRav Kreiswirth" needs no introduction, his memory being still so fresh in the mind of today's Jewry.

We will relate here a few detailed incidents that bring out the radiance of the multifaceted diamond of Antwerp; the godol beTorah and pillar of chessed who gave his life's energy for the sake of orphans, widows and any brokenhearted person.


Upon being asked why he did not author a sefer, as befitted his depth and sharp understanding in Torah, Rav Kreiswirth replied with a story that Reb Chaim Ozer of Vilna related.

When Reb Chaim Ozer went with his sefer Achiezer to ask for a haskomoh from the rav of Lodz, Reb Elya Chaim Meisel zt"l, the rov drew him into a Torah discussion. He became so amazed with the young genius that he exclaimed, "I didn't know that there existed in our generation a godol of the caliber of the Shaagas Aryeh!"

"In my youthful innocence," said Reb Chaim Ozer, "I asked the Rav of Lodz why he did not give out a sefer. Instead of answering me, Reb Elya Chaim led me into a side room, opened a thick book and showed me its contents: a list of names of the hundreds of orphans and widows that he had undertaken to help.

"`You see this book?' he said to me. `This is my sefer With this sefer I will ascend to the Olom Ho'emmes.' "

Reb Chaim Ozer added, "At the time I did not understand, for I thought that the most important thing in life is to write teshuvos and chiddushim, with pilpulim in the difficult inyonei agunah. By now, I've come to the realization that of even greater importance is to help these people and other needy individuals."

After repeating the above story, HaRav Kreiswirth told his questioner, "I too have taken that path," and he drew from his pocket a notebook wherein he had listed the names of all the needy people he helped and supported. "With this sefer I will go up to the Olam Ho'elyon."


On one of his regular visits to `his' widows in Yerushalayim, a brokenhearted almonoh poured out her bitter feelings and worries. "Here I am left alone with a family of children bli ayin hora," she cried, and then added with a deep sigh, "How will I marry them off?"

Rav Kreiswirth banged on the table and declared confidently, "I will marry them off."

He kept his word and before the chasunah of each child, sent enough money to cover all expenses, even adding into the envelopes extra `nosh' for the younger children.


The idea of lev almonoh aranein was for him an avodas hakodesh, a phrase that he would repeat to himself over and over as he went from the house of one widow to the next. The attendant who accompanied him retells with a smile how he watched the same scenario repeating itself numerous times in one day. The Rov, when offered a drink, would ask for a coffee. As he sipped it with pleasure he would exclaim to the delight of the lonely hostess, "Ahh, aza gutte kave, I've never drunk such a good coffee!"


One of Rav Kreiswirth's miraculous escapes during World War II he attributed to his having helped an old man during those trying times. Thus related the Rov:

"As I was making an attempt to escape from Poland, I was caught by a Wehrmacht SS soldier, who immediately took me to his commanding officer. The latter, yimach shemo, would shoot on the spot anyone who was unfortunate enough to be brought before him.

"This time however, the officer began to laugh wickedly. `Oh, I'm fed up with seeing killed Jews here in my office,' he declared. `Just take him to the outskirts of town and kill him there.'

"I was handed over to one of the soldiers who started to lead me on my own private death march, to the edge of the town.

"As we walked I davened to Hashem to save me and tried to recall a mitzvah with whose merit I could perhaps beg for rachamei Shomayim that my life be spared. Frantically, I tried to recall the deeds of a lifetime in those few minutes, until a picture flashed into my mind.

"It was when I was in Warsaw, that one of the great Rebbes there asked me to take care of a sick old man. Neither the Rebbe nor my patient knew that it was my own bed that I gave up for him — for I had no other. I tended to the old man's needs and served him devotedly for several weeks, until he succumbed and passed away.

"Grabbing hold of the picture of the old man in my mind, I held on for my very life, and prayed that in the zchus of this mitzvah I should survive.

"Just as I was finishing my tefillah, we reached the edge of the town. No one was in sight and all at once the soldier accompanying me changed his tone.

"`I too have a wife and children at home. I understand your feelings,' he said softly. He then shot three times into the air to pretend as though he had shot at me.

"`Run!' he hissed sharply. And run I did. I ran and ran throughout that night without stopping until I reached the relative safety of the next town."


Once, while visiting in Boro Park, a close acquaintance saw how HaRav Kreiswirth ran daily from one wealthy Jew to the next collecting for his tzedokoh cases.

"Is this something that the Rav has to do personally?" he asked. "Perhaps it is better to leave this type of work to the askonim, and the Rov should be marbitz Torah during all these hours. Thus the olam haTorah will gain more."

Replied HaRav Kreiswirth, "When I come to the Upper World they will tell me exactly the opposite. Learning, everyone can do. But to make money for worthy causes requires special talent and powers of persuasion, with which not everyone is blessed. If I have been endowed with these talents then this is my tafkid."


His use of humor as a tool in raising money for tzedokoh is illustrated by the following episode.

At a wedding in Antwerp, the Rov approached a wealthy individual, asking for a donation towards his tzedokoh activities. The man handed him one hundred dollars.

Looking at the hundred dollar bill in his hand, Rav Kreiswirth smiled and announced out loud, "Now you have given me sholom bayis." The curiosity of the nearby wedding guests was aroused and a crowd formed around the Rov to hear his explanation.

"It often happens that the Rebbetzin asks me for money for the running of the house," recounted the Rov, "and I give her a hundred dollars. At this she always complains that it is too little and will not get her very far. But now that you — one of the richest men in town — gave me — the Rov of Antwerp — the sum of one hundred dollars, she will have to agree with me that it is a substantial amount."


Rav Kreiswirth would prove the point of his life's work with a story of the Griz, HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik zt"l.

One of the sons of the Griz was a phenomenal masmid. Once, in the middle of his learning, his father called him and sent him on an errand to do a chessed. Those present were puzzled that the Griz caused the bitul Torah of his son. Surely some askan who wasn't learning anyway could have been sent on this mission.

Answered the Griz, "My father Reb Chaim zt"l used to say, `He who closes his gemora in order to do a chessed, the gemora is open for him. And he who opens a gemora so that he should not have to do a chessed, the gemora is closed to him.' "


Even towards the end of his life, when lying sick in bed, HaRav Kreiswirth would give instructions to those surrounding him to keep in constant contact with Yerushalayim, to update the list of the needy and to continue helping them.

Upon being told that the tzaddik Reb Michel Gutfarb, his fellow chessed activist in Yerushalayim, had been hospitalized, Rav Kreiswirth retorted, "And so what. From the hospital it is still possible, and indeed necessary, to continue doing chessed."

And so they both did, keeping up their tzedokoh until the very end.


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