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10 Kislev, 5781 - November 26, 2020 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Clarity in Torah and Character: HaGaon R' Shlomo Heiman

by C. Zilberman

HaRav Shlomo Heiman

The yahrtzeit of HaRav Raphael Chaim Shlomo Heiman, gaon and true Torah pioneer in America, is 17 Kislev. He was niftar in 1945 at the age of 52, so this is his 76th yahrtzeit. We first published this 26 years ago, in the year of the 50th yahrtzeit, in our print edition in Eretz Yisroel. This is a major addition of information on HaRav Heiman to the Internet. It was written by Rabbi Zilberman originally in English specifically for the Israeli English Yated Ne'eman.

Part II

Method of Learning

In his learning R' Heiman concentrated on seeking amitah shel Torah — nothing less than the true interpretation. He would use his talents of profound understanding and straight thinking to delve deeply into the gemora and rishonim. Likewise, his main goal in his lifetime of teaching talmidim was to give them a true understanding and the ability to be able to think logically. He constantly aimed at this goal. He could not bear anything that was not logically straight. For this reason he preferred the blatt shiur in which he worked out the meaning of the gemora and commentaries together with his students. Every point he brought up was systematically and clearly arranged in his mind — he was a walking Shitah Mekubetses.

The Rosh Yeshiva used to tell his students, "It is better to have a small library with every volume in its place and readily accessible rather than a large library in a jumbled condition" (Orthodox Tribune, Teves, 5705/Jan. 1945).

HaRav Reuven Grozovsky zt'l, said in his eulogy for R' Shlomo that he had scales in his mind with which he was able to weigh each line of logic: not only to know whether or not it was correct, but also to gauge the measure of straight thinking, depth, and amitah shel Torah it had.

R' Shlomo once said a shiur klali on a Tosafos in Kesuvos about tnai koful. For three quarters of an hour he explained the Tosafos, and then closed his gemora. He turned to the talmidim and said: "You might ask me what chidush I was telling you today? I did not ask any kushyos and therefore did not reconcile any difficulties; I did not even mention any rishon or acharon. The chidush that I said today was that to learn a Tosafos le'amitah shel Torah. That is in itself a shiur klali!"

HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz remarked that R' Shlomo used to show how all the difficulties in the gemora could be reconciled after deep and straight comprehension of the sugya. Other roshei yeshivos would erect long-drawn-out, elaborate structures to reconcile such problems, while R' Shlomo, by grasping the sugya from a fresh angle, would solve everything clearly. The difference between his understanding and that of other roshei yeshivos would seem extremely subtle at first, but ultimately would prove to be a vast contrast. Many sages held that in clarity, his shiurim surpassed those of his rebbe, R' Boruch Ber Leibovitz!

A close talmid of R' Shlomo's wrote an appreciation in the Orthodox Tribune a few weeks after R' Shlomo's demise. He recalled the Rosh Yeshiva's shiur: "There was never a dull moment in his shiur. Every line of gemora, each Rashi and Tosafos came to life. The problems that had confronted them became our own. We saw Rebbe, z'l, grappling with these problems as matters of the most vital and urgent importance. Rashi and the Ramban were not characters from the past; they argued with us and taught us in our own Beis Hamedrash. They were our living companions and teachers."

During a shiur one day, after presenting the various difficulties in the sugya, he opened a Machaneh Efraim and read from it the author's approach to reconciling the difficulties he had mentioned. Everything became so clear after the Machaneh Efraim's explanation that R' Shlomo said: "Chazal (Shabbos 129b) write that a person should even sell the rafters of his house to buy shoes [rather than go barefoot], and I add to Chazal that a person should even sell his shoes to buy a Machaneh Efraim."

Just like his rebbe, R' Boruch Ber, there was a special love in his heart for the Chidushei HaRashba and he would find depths of meaning in its every word. He always imitated his rebbe's way of learning by making his entire objective to truly understand what the rishonim are teaching us ("Introduction to Chidushei R' Shlomo").

When his talmidim offered a way to answer the kushyah of one of the geonim, he was accustomed to say, "That does not answer the question." R' Shlomo would explain to his amazed listeners that one should not try to find an answer to a gaon's kushyah but rather work on finding a way to obviate the kushyah and show that it had never existed (ibid.).

He would always sprinkle some mussar in his shiur, to strengthen his students' diligence. Once HaRav Ungarisher heard the following parable from him: Reuven knocked at Shimon's door. Being a total stranger, he refused to enter Shimon's house although Shimon invited him in. He said that he did not want to disturb him and would talk to him from outside the door. The next time Reuven called to talk with Shimon he agreed to stand just inside of the door. The third time after Shimon's invitation to come in, he felt quite at ease in entering the apartment. The fourth time he felt so at home — so heimishe — that he entered Shimon's house without even knocking.

It is the same, concluded R' Shlomo, with learning gemora. Only after learning it several times can one become heimish with it. In the beginning one does not feel at ease with it, but after working things out some more, one can eventually go straight into the sugya. We must feel at home with a blatt gemora.

His Fascination With R' Akiva Eiger

Many times the foundation of his shiurim was in R' Akiva Eiger's writings. Not a single week passed without R' Shlomo mentioning a kushyah or pivotal principle of R' Akiva Eiger. He said that where there is a comment from R' Akiva Eiger, one can be certain to understand the depth of the sugya because of his holy words. R' Michel Yehuda once heard him say that the biggest olam haboh and Gan Eden would be to sit with a gemora and a sefer of R' Akiva Eiger underneath its cover so that it is readily accessible.

In shiur the Rosh Yeshiva would exert himself to reconcile any problem that R' Akiva Eiger raised. Afterwards he would say an alternative way of understanding the sugya to explain why R' Akiva Eiger would not have accepted his way of reconciling the problem. He would never say that he had an answer to a kushyah of R' Akiva Eiger's, or that R' Akiva Eiger's question is rebutted.

R' Akiva Eiger frequently writes at the end of a comment or responsum: "May Hashem enlighten my eyes." The Rosh Yeshiva was accustomed to point out that this prayer did not stem from R' Akiva Eiger's tzidkus, although he was famed for his yiras Shomayim. Rather it expresses his Torah scholarship, his lomdus. R' Akiva Eiger realized the greatness of the Tosafos, and that if he found an unsurmountable difficulty in understanding what they meant, he assumed that it was only because of his own inferior comprehension. He therefore prayed to Hashem that he might be enlightened and find the correct understanding.

A renowned rosh yeshiva in Yerushalaim presented a parable to clarify what R' Shlomo meant. If a novice chess player were to play a game of chess against the world's chess champion, he would know from the start that his chances of winning the game are negligible. Suddenly his opponent makes a move which seems to be totally incorrect. The beginner knows that the chess champion can beat him blindfolded, but it still appears to him that the champion has made a bad move. Because his conviction about the champion's expertise is greater than his own ability to analyze chess moves, he therefore concludes that it his own lack of expertise in chess that is causing him to misunderstand the meaning of his opponent's move.

Likewise, when one has a kushyah on a Tosafos it is not piety if one asks Hashem for help, but rather it is because one realizes that the Baalei HaTosafos understood the gemora much better than he does. If it nonetheless appears to him that he has caught a mistake it is reasonable to assume that it is only because he has not truly grasped the gemora.

Respect From Other Gedolim

There are responsa from HaRav Shlomo Heiman and to him from other gedolei hador. R' Chaim Ozer, R' Dovid Rappaport (the Zemach Dovid), and R' Chanoch Eiges are just some of the many eminent Torah scholars with whom he corresponded.

A notable rav once argued with R' Chaim Ozer against the logic of his approach to a Torah subject. The heated discussion only ended when R' Chaim Ozer said that he had just talked the matter over with R' Shlomo Heiman and he had agreed with his logic.

R' Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz

In Chidushei R' Shlomo (p. 98) the Rosh Yeshiva writes that a certain chidush about pidyon haben occurred to him when he visited the city of Babroisk. He presented the chidush to R' Simchah Zelig Riger zt'l, the famous dayan of Brisk, and after a period of time, "he told me that when he met R' Chaim Soloveitchik in Minsk, he repeated the chidush in my name, and R' Chaim agreed to it . . . ."

Perfection In Character

"Rebbe said: What is the upright way a man should choose for himself? One that brings credit to the person who does it and earns him the respect of others" (Avos 2:1).

R' Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz commented that R' Shlomo was an example of good midos: "he was a prince in good midos." He was above all personal interests and got along well with everyone.

HaRav Simchah Shustal shlita, rosh yeshivas Beis Binyomin in Stamford, Connecticut, summed up R' Shlomo's essence as reinkeit in lernen un in midos (being immaculate both in Torah learning and in good personality). Just as he could not bear a line of thought that was not straight, so too he could not tolerate behavior that was not spotless.

During the last period of his life, when R' Shlomo was suffering from cancer, he had to be taken care of and watched over day and night. In order to free the Rebbetzin from the burden of being up all night, the students of the yeshiva resolved to remain awake by turns. It was decided that since R' Reuven Grozovsky and his wife lived on the next floor, the Rebbetzin would sleep there at night, while the bochurim would divide the night into shifts. One boy would remain up from seven o'clock at night until one, and another would take over from one until seven o'clock in the morning.

R' Shlomo asked HaRav Moshe Aharon Stern zt"l(formerly the mashgiach of Kaminetz Yeshiva in Yerushalaim) if he was sure he was able to stay up for six hours. R' Moshe Aharon replied in the affirmative. R' Shlomo then turned to the second boy who would be asleep until one o'clock and then take over from R' Moshe Aharon. He told him to make sure that he did not oversleep, because the first boy might not have the strength to stay up all night to take care of him. Even in this condition of failing health, R' Shlomo was still careful to be considerate of others.

When HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l arrived in America, he was invited to spend his first Shabbos as the guest of R' Shlomo Heiman. The bochurim were thrilled to hear that they would get to meet R' Aharon when he came to the yeshiva to daven. The time for Mincha on erev Shabbos came, but neither R' Aharon nor R' Shlomo arrived. The bochurim waited until near sunset and then they davened. For kabolas Shabbos the two rabbonim still did not appear. The yeshiva waited for Borchu, hoping that they would finally come, but when it was becoming late, R' Shraga Feivel told the shaliach tsibur to start Ma'ariv.

Instead of immediately going to eat their Shabbos meal, some bochurim went over to R' Shlomo's house to see what had happened. They were concerned, since according to R' Aharon's plans he was supposed to have come to the yeshiva to daven. Upon arriving they noticed R' Aharon was in the middle of saying Shemoneh Esrei by himself. R' Shlomo said to them: "You are surely wondering why I did not come to the yeshiva to pray. The gemora rules that hospitality is more important even than greeting the Shechina (Shabbos 127a). Even if we say that praying is greeting the Shechina, still, I saw that R' Aharon was exhausted from his trip and it would have been difficult for him to come to the yeshiva. I conceded my praying with a minyan and prayed with R' Aharon biyechidus so as not to fatigue him." After R' Aharon had finished praying he greeted the bochurim, and on Shabbos morning they both davened in Torah Vodaas.

Mesivta Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg

A boy who ate with R' Shlomo every Shabbos used to come to his house wearing a watch. There is a halachic doubt as to whether a man is permitted to wear a watch on Shabbos where there is no eruv, since it may be considered carrying. The difference of opinion is due to the question whether there is a concept of tachshit for men. For three weeks the boy came to the Heimans and R' Shlomo did not say a word to him.

On the fourth week the boy came without a watch. R' Shlomo tactfully asked him what the time was. The boy answered that he cannot tell him because he is not wearing a watch today since his stopped working. The Rosh Yeshiva took out a Mishnah Berurah and said that it is a mitzvah to learn during the Shabbos meal. He "happened" to read the section where the Chofetz Chaim writes that a man should not wear a watch on Shabbos because he will not wear it when it does not work, which therefore proves that it is not a tachshit. This was a typical sweet-as-sugar rebuke of R' Shlomo's, always being meticulous not to insult anyone.

On Purim a twelve year old boy, an out-of-towner from Chicago named Fishbaum, brought mishlo'ach monos from HaRav Nesanel Quinn to the Rosh Yeshiva. R' Shlomo greeted him warmly and told him to sit down to drink and have some chocolate and cake. He asked him how old he was and the boy answered he was twelve. "Oh," said R' Shlomo, "then you are a koton, and a koton cannot according to halocho be a shaliach."

The clever boy answered: "When the person who sends the shaliach is supposed to do the act himself, then the shaliach cannot be a koton, but with mishlo'ach monos, since the halocho is that it must be done by someone else and not by the one actually sending the mishlo'ach monos, then what difference does it make whether the shaliach is a koton or not?"

R' Shlomo ran over to the child, kissed him lovingly on the forehead, and told him that his teirutz is le'amitah shel Torah. That entire Purim the Rosh Yeshiva told everyone he met how he had he asked a difficult kushyah to a child called Fishbaum and the child refuted it. That whole day anyone who saw Fishbaum in the beis medrash went over to him and said that he heard that he had answered a kushyah of R' Shlomo's. Naturally the boy was in seventh heaven, and was thus encouraged to continue exerting himself in his Torah studies.

One Shabbos night, HaRav Yitzchok Sheiner shlita, now rosh yeshivas Kaminetz in Yerushalaim, was sitting with a group of bochurim around the Rosh Yeshiva, when an important rav came to visit and to talk to him in Torah learning. This rav made gross mistakes in what he said, and some of the talmidim immediately and sharply pointed out to him his many blunders. They virtually made mincemeat out of him. After the rav had left R' Shlomo rebuked his talmidim: "Where is it written that it is a mitzvah to argue with someone and show him that he is mistaken?" Although he was a firm believer in the truth, he knew that there are limits and that sometimes it is preferable to remain quiet.

"The Rosh Yeshiva had a peh kodosh that never uttered a word of discredit about another person; he was a pure neshomo who radiated friendship and respect upon all. When any person would approach him with a heart loaded down with worldly troubles, it took only a short while for R' Shlomo's warmth and light to chase away our troubles and relieve us" (Orthodox Tribune).

He would strengthen each person according to his individual character. This required mastering and perceiving his character and knowing the right words to say. Everyone felt comforted and satisfied after speaking with him.

His devoted care for others was renowned. He frequently complained, "We are not doing enough to save our brethren overseas from the Germans."

End of Part II


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