“You must go meet with this man in the Lakewood Courtyard!” I was told. “He is biz hundred uhn tzvantzig in his nineties and he knows everything. You can talk to him about virtually any inyan in kol hatorah kulah and he knows it. He learned in Lakewood in 1943 not long after the yeshiva was opened by Rav Aharon Kotler. He was also one of the early talmidim of Rav Ruderman. You must go and see him. He gives a shiur every Thursday night in the Courtyard Shul.”
I decided to take my friend up on his urging to go to the Lakewood Courtyard, the assisted living home where Rav Shulman lived, to hear his shiur.
As I made my way into the faculty, I was expecting to see a bent old man, past his prime, trying to deliver a shiur. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Sitting at the front was an elderly man, vigorously delivering a shiur, taking questions and exhibiting a breathtaking bekius in halacha, poskim, Rishonim and Acharonim. To my mind, the shiur was one of the best kept secrets in Lakewood. As I left, I couldn’t help but think of the famed words of the Gemara that state, “Torah muneches bekeren zovis, Torah is laying in the corner; anyone who wants to come and partake should come and partake!”
When I returned home, the shiur was still ringing in my ears. I went to my computer and opened the Otzar Hachochmah program that features access to tens of thousands of seforim. I typed in the name Rav Shmaryahu Shulman and a slew of seforim popped up. This man was a mechaber of numerous seforim on topics including sugyos in Shas, halacha and Chumash. I opened the sefer Be’er Sarim that Rav Shulman published 65 years ago, when he was a young rov in Norwich, Connecticut. The sefer was prefaced with two enthusiastic haskamos, one from Rav Moshe Feinstein and the second from Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, rosh yeshivas Ner Yisroel. While reading Rav Ruderman’s haskomah I blinked, paused and read it again, awed by what I was reading.
He begins by praising, “My dear talmid, the rov and gaon, the wondrous boki in every area of Shas, Rav Shmaryahu Shulman, rov of Norwich, Connecticut.” After expressing his profound joy upon reading Rav Shulman’s chiddushim, Rav Ruderman writes, “I know how much you toiled over these divrei Torah with your tremendous intellect. From heaven you have been assisted and your hard work has reaped blessing producing many chiddushei Torah with great bekius in the Rishonim and Acharonim.” Then Rav Ruderman writes something startling: “This joyous occasion that you are the first of all of those who were born in this land (the United States) to write a sefer of such quality and that you are able to be mifalpel in many different areas of Shas with an abundance of wisdom and understanding, adds a special amount of consequence and chashivus.”
The following week I visited Rav Shulman at the Lakewood Courtyard and spent nearly two hours in a most enjoyable conversation. Any time a gadol was mentioned, Rav Shulman almost immediately quoted a shiur, a chiddush, or a vort that he had personally heard from that gadol.
During the course of our conversation, Rav Shulman enriched me with a better understanding of America over the last 85 years, its yeshivos, its rabbonim and its small towns.
A Young Boy From Pinebrook Becomes A Talmid Chochom In Ner Yisroel, Baltimore
Rav Shulman, please tell us about yourself. Where were you were born and where did you grow up?
Rav Shmaryahu Shulman: I was born in Pinebrook, New Jersey. Pinebrook is a small town in Morris County where my father, Rav Pinchos Elya Shulman, served as the town’s rov and shochet. Actually, let me clarify: I was born in Brooklyn, in the Brownsville section, where my maternal grandfather was a shochet. My mother would go to her mother to give birth, so I was born in my grandparents’ home. Either way, I grew up in Pinebrook. Inasmuch as it was impossible to earn a parnossah as a rov, my father also owned a butcher shop. My father came to America from Minsk to escape conscription in the Russian army. He was one of eight brothers who came to America. My father came from a small town called Razeveh. Interestingly enough, Rav Aharon Kotler’s mother also came from that town and Rav Aharon would constantly tell me that we were somehow related. I never understood exactly how, but Rav Aharon had it all figured out.
You were raised in the 1920s and 1930s in a small New Jersey town without a chinuch infrastructure and you attended public school. Most Jewish boys your age were not shomrei Torah umitzvos. How did you remain frum and become a talmid chochom?
My father learned with me! From a young age, my father made a point of spending hours learning with me. He was my very first rebbi and he taught me how to learn.
Also, my parents’ home was a home of Torah and chesed. Not only was my father always learning and learning with his children but our home was an open house for chesed. In those days, many meshulochim and rabbonim would visit the numerous towns dotting New York and New Jersey. It was known that in the home of the rov of Pinebrook, they would always be welcomed with open arms. I remember the father of Rav Nisson Alpert, Rav Shabsi Alpert, who served as rov of Polonka, Poland. He was a true talmid chochom, and he came to America to raise money for the Kletzk Yeshiva. Three weeks after he arrived in America, he came to us for Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Ultimately, he got stuck in American when the war broke out and his family was left behind, stuck in Europe. They survived by spending the war years in Shanghai.
How long did you remain in Pinebrook?
How I left Pinebrook and went to yeshiva is connected to my parents’ hachnosas orchim. When I was about ten years old, two bochurim once came to Pinebrook for Shabbos and stayed at our home. These bochurim were learning in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, then located in Williamsburg and led by Rav Dovid Leibowitz. Rav Dovid sent the bochurim to raise money for the yeshiva and they would also speak at the shul. At the seudah, the bochurim asked my father if he would consider sending me to yeshiva. They realized that there was no future for a frum boy in Pinebrook. My father took their words to heart and travelled to Brooklyn to see Rav Dovid. Rav Dovid told my father that I was too young to come to his yeshiva but he recommended that I learn in Torah Vodaas. Indeed, the next year I went to Williamsburg to learn in Torah Vodaas.
Did you get to know Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz during that period?
And how! He would teach us Tanach and Nevi’im. He taught with great passion and made a profound impact on the talmidim. He was also a tremendous talmid chochom and would liberally quote from all over Shas and meforshim. Despite his extensive knowledge and despite the fact that he was the menahel, he nevertheless stood before the rosh yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Heiman, like an eved, with complete bittul.
Did you hear shiurim from Rav Shlomo?
I only heard one shiur from him. I was very young at the time, not much more than bar mitzvah. I also once saw Rav Elchonon Wasserman walking in the streets of Williamsburg. It was probably around 1938. I will never forget the impression that made on me.
You left Torah Vodaath at a young age.
Yes, when I was about fifteen, my parents moved from Pinebrook to Washington, D.C. so I transferred from Mesivta Torah Vodaas to Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in nearby Baltimore.
Why did your parents move?
Oy! [Rav Shulman gives an audible sigh] I had an older, sixteen-year-old brother at the time. He was walking from shul when he was hit by a car. His levayah was on Hoshanah Rabbah. Oy! He was a strong bochur, a strapping, sixteen-year-old. My father was absolutely devastated. Being in Pinebrook became a nightmare for him. He had to get away. That is why my parents decided to move to Washington, D.C., where my father became the shamas in the largest shul in DC.
What was Ner Yisroel like in those times?
I came to Ner Yisroel in 1939 when the yeshiva was just six years old. It was a small yeshiva at the time. There were maybe thirty bochurim.
Did they already have their own building?
Ach! Of course not! Let me give you a tiny bit of history about how Ner Yisroel started. There was a European style yeshiva in New Haven that had been established in 1922, led by Rav Yehuda Heshel Levenberg. The mashgiach in that yeshiva was Rav Sheftel Kramer. Rav Sheftel had been r”m at the Yeshiva of Slutzk and was a brother-in-law of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. He came to America and ultimately became the mashgiach in New Haven. In 1930, Rav Sheftel moved to Cleveland, where the yeshiva eventually relocated. He asked his son-in-law, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, to join him. There were difficulties at the yeshiva in Cleveland and once, when Rav Ruderman came to Baltimore to raise money for the yeshiva, some of the ba’alei batim there told him, “Why do you stay in Cleveland with all those difficulties? Why don’t you open your own yeshiva in Baltimore?” Baltimore in that time was an ir ve’eim beyisroel. It was even called by some “the Yerushalayim of America.” Rav Ruderman did the smartest thing; he left Cleveland and started the yeshiva in Baltimore. There was a large shul located on the outskirts of town. It was a dilapidated building. The shul’s leadership asked Rav Ruderman to be their rov and they simultaneously agreed that he should open a yeshiva in the shul. He was paid $10.00 a week to serve as rov. When I arrived in 1939, the yeshiva was still located in that shul.
Was there was enough room in the shul?
There was plenty of room! The building was a five-story building. The bottom floor was the weekday shul and the dining room. The second floor was the large Shabbos shul. The third floor contained the dormitory and the apartment where the shamas lived. The fourth floor housed more dormitory rooms. There was a fifth floor but that floor was not heated. In the ArtScroll book written about Rabbi Moshe Sherer, there is a picture of the bochurim in the yeshiva standing on the steps of the old shul. I am there, my brother is there and many of our chaveirim from that period are there. It was a small yeshiva then.
I interviewed Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, who said that in Baltimore, they would learn large amounts of Gemara, not like what is done in yeshivos today. One of the reasons he gave was that there were not so many seforim in the yeshiva for the bochurim. They had a Rishon and one of the Acharonim and that was it.
Yes, that is true! I once heard from the rosh yeshiva [Rav Ruderman], in the name of Rav Chaim Ozer, a melitzah on the Gemara that states, “Whoever has more twenty-four seforim brings chaos.” The simple pshat is that the “more than twenty-four seforim” are a reference to the seforim of Tanach, meaning whoever adds to the Tanach brings chaos into the world. Rav Chaim Ozer said, “Bederech melitzah, the more seforim you have, the less you learn.”
I vividly remember when Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky came to yeshiva. He came shortly after I came. His brother, Rav Binyomin, learned by Rav Dovid at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim but after Rav Dovid’s passing he came to Baltimore too.
Can you describe what the yeshiva was like at that time?
It was not a large yeshiva. The rosh yeshiva would always say that he doesn’t need a big yeshiva. The rosh yeshiva had a close connection with all of the talmidim.
We got so much from the rosh yeshiva. Every day he would say a blatt shiur from around 11:30 until 1:00. It wasn’t just a shiur where the rosh yeshiva spoke and everyone listened passively. He wanted everyone to participate. He would often stop in the middle and exclaim, “Do you hear what we are saying? Say it over!” We were able to ask questions whenever we wanted. Once a week he would say a shiur kloli, a major pilpul shiur in the big shul. There was also a mussar seder every night before Ma’ariv. I remember when the rosh yeshiva himself would learn mussar together with the yeshiva every night.
Another very important seder during my first years in Baltimore was the halacha seder after Shacharis. While the rosh yeshiva was still in his tallis and tefillin, he gave a shiur in Mishnah Berurah to us. He learned fast. He proceeded at a fairly quick pace. Still, he succeeded in giving us such a geshmak in the Mishnah Berurah, a real appreciation for the absolute gaonus that was inherent in each piece of Mishnah Berurah. I remember covering a lot of material during the shiur but he only gave the shiur during my early years in Baltimore; later, he stopped.
Another fascinating memory I have was during the war. Perhaps it was 1942 or 1943. It was during the week of Parshas Mishpotim. The rosh yeshiva summoned the entire yeshiva to gather in the big shul on the second floor and told us that we would be starting a new shiur wherein we would learn Chumash, Rashi and the commentary of the Mizrachi. What a shiur it was! You could lick your fingers, it was so geshmak! That, however, was the first and last time that he gave that shiur. I have no idea why he stopped.
The Forgotten Mashgiach, Rav Yitzchok Boruchson
Did the yeshiva have any maggidei shiur besides Rav Ruderman?
During the early years it was only the rosh yeshiva. A bit later they organized a second shiur as well. That shiur was given by Rav Shimon Schwab (later rov of KAJ of Washington Heights), a rov in Baltimore at the time. He would come each day to deliver the shiur but he didn’t stay in the yeshiva much after that. He was also very busy with his rabbonus.
At the beginning of my time in Ner Yisroel the yeshiva brought in Rav Dovid Bender. Rav Dovid Bender was an American who had traveled to Europe to learn in the Mir. He had recently returned and was full of enthusiasm. He was fresh and geshmak and we really loved him. Unfortunately, he only remained for half a year. He then left for Williamsburg to become menahel in Torah Vodaas.
The rosh yeshiva then brought in a gaon and tzaddik, Rav Yitzchok Boruchson, who became a maggid shiur and mashgiach. He was a great ba’al mussar, a talmid of the Alter of Slabodka. I vividly remember his marvelous shiurim on the sefer Kodesh Hachoshen. We got a tremendous amount from him in learning and mussar. I don’t know how he came to America, but he was here alone when the war broke out; his family was stranded in Lita. He was in Baltimore throughout the war years. Shortly after the war he found out that two of his children had survived the war and were in Eretz Yisroel. He moved to Eretz Yisroel, where he became the mashgiach in the Lomza Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah. He remarried the mother of Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht, rosh yeshiva of Keren B’Yavneh.
After Rav Boruchson left, Rav Dovid Kronglass came. He was a very different nussach. He was a talmid of Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, the Mirrer mashgiach, and a very strong personality. The rosh yeshiva basically gave over the day-to-day running of the yeshiva to him.
Were there any other rabbonim whom you got to know during your stay in Baltimore?
Yes. Baltimore had some great talmidei chachomim as rabbonim in those years. I remember one rov, Rav Michael Forschlagger, a talmid of the Avnei Nezer. I had a good friend in Ner Yisroel named Rav Moshe Burack. He later became a rov in Toronto. Rav Moshe liked to visit Rav Forschlagger and at times he would shlep me with him. Rav Forschlagger lived in an old part of town in a long, old, railroad apartment. It was filled floor to ceiling with thousands upon thousands of seforim. The apartment was dark. When he wanted a sefer, he would take a flashlight. He knew exactly where each sefer was located and what was contained in each sefer. Rav Forshclagger was a charif. Later, after I had left Baltimore, I heard that he moved near the yeshiva and would daven there. He was a kohein. I was told that on yom tov, it was a sight to see the rosh yeshiva, who was a Levi, washing his hands before Birchas Kohanim.
Learning By Rav Aharon Kotler In Lakewood, 1943
I heard that you had a close connection with Rav Aharon Kotler. How did that come about and when did you first meet Rav Aharon?
The first time I saw Rav Aharon was in 1942 in Baltimore. Rav Sheftel Kramer, who was Rav Aharon’s uncle, was niftar and Rav Aharon came to be menachem avel. While in Baltimore, the rosh yeshiva was mechabed him to deliver a shiur. The shiur was fire. I still vividly remember the sugya and the shiur. It was on the topic of yad and chotzer in Bava Metziah. That taste gave me a tremendous cheshek to go learn by him and, in the summer of 1943, I spent the summer learning in Bais Medrash Govoah. We learned Masechta Gittin that summer. I remember how Rav Aharon would come to Lakewood on Thursday night looking completely exhausted after having spent the week in New York completely immersed in hatzolah work. When he came to Lakewood, he was so weak, so weighed down by the tzaros to which he had been exposed. Yet five minutes after arriving, he was already sitting with a cup of hot tea and learning. We would watch the transformation take place before our very eyes. He would suddenly look like a new person, so infused with simchas hatorah. When he learned he entered into a totally different world.
Rav Aharon would say shiur on Shabbos and would often repeat the shiur again on Sunday before returning to New York. When Rav Aharon said the shiur, he was on fire. He really didn’t like when someone would ask a question in the middle of the shiur. That was akin to someone cheppering with his baby. He would lash out very sharply at those who asked questions that he did not feel had merit. There was a joke that the Kletzker talmidim would say. One of the lines he would say in Kletzk when someone asked a question that he held was out of place was, “You know the shiur like you know Peking, China!” When some of the Kletzkers came to China during the war, they would quip, “Now we know China!”
I remember in 1943, when the rov of Lakewood, Rav Nisson Waxman, would come to the shiur and ask a question in the middle of the shiur, Rav Aharon would restrain himself from responding sharply. Instead he would say, “Ich farshtei nisht vos ihr vill, I don’t understand what you want.”
Was that the only time you learned by Rav Aharon?
After that summer, I returned to Ner Yisroel but in 1947, I returned to Lakewood for a short period. After that, I availed myself of the opportunity every time I was able to go hear Rav Aharon’s shiurim. There was an organization of Rav Aharon’s former talmidim called Agudas Talmidei Kletz and Rav Aharon would periodically deliver shiurim to them in New York. I would go to hear those shiurim in New York. Whenever he came to Queens in the interests of the yeshiva, I would always go to hear him and talk in learning with him. I was also a member of the Agudas Harabbonim. Rav Aharon, one of the leaders of the Agudas Harabbonim, would often come to address the rabbonim.
I want to share an interesting thing about Rav Aharon that I heard from the rosh yeshiva, Rav Ruderman. Rav Ruderman told me that Rav Aharon had a tremendous desire to prove that his chiddushim were correct. Rav Ruderman told me that the first time Rav Aharon visited him in Baltimore was before the war, when he came to American to raise money for Kletzk. The rosh yeshiva explained that Rav Aharon was busy raising money for the yeshiva from morning until night but when he would finally return home at night, he would relate some of his chiddushim to the rosh yeshiva. Rav Ruderman said that if Rav Aharon would sense that Rav Ruderman did not completely agree with the chiddush, he would bring another proof and yet another until he knew that the rosh yeshiva was truly satisfied. Rav Aharon was also loath to leave a question without an answer. He never wanted to remain with a question. He needed to find an answer or at least give an eitzah.
How long did you remain in Yeshiva Ner Yisroel?
I remained there until 1947. I got semicha from the rosh yeshiva in 1947 and not long after I was asked to become the rov of the Kesher Israel Shul in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. At that time there were several Orthodox shuls in Washington. Most of them are long gone by now. The neighborhood changed. Kesher Israel is still in existence. It was and is still a small shul. In my time we had a minyan on Shabbos, Sunday, Monday and Thursday. I was there for approximately one year and then I moved on to become rov at the Shomrei Shabbos-Chevra Shas Shul in Washington, D.C.. I then became the rov of a larger shul in Jersey City, New Jersey. While I was in Jersey City, my good friend and chavrusah, Rav Chaim Zimmerman, arranged my shidduch and I got married
Close Connection With Rav Moshe Feinstein
There are numerous teshuvos addressed to you in the sefer Igros Moshe by Rav Moshe Feinstein. How did you get to know Rav Moshe?
I got to know Rav Moshe during my rabbonus in Jersey City. Jersey City is just across the river from the Lower East Side and I would regularly take the ferry across the river so that I could go speak in learning with Rav Moshe. Almost every shtickel in my sefer Be’er Sarim on sugyos Hashas was discussed in learning with Rav Moshe. He knew kol hatorah kulah! I also had the zechus to get to know Rav Moshe’s nephew, Rav Michel Feinstein, and talk with him in learning. At that time, Rav Michel was also on the Lower East Side. He was a real Feinstein, and possessed gaonus, eidelkeit and such special middos!
Let me tell you a story about Rav Moshe’s middos. One time, Rav Moshe was in the Catskills during the summer. I called him and asked if I could make an appointment to drive from New York to speak to him about an important matter. I drove there and came to his bungalow. There was a bochur there, an arrogant boy who was standing guard and told me that I could not see the rosh yeshiva. I told him that I had made an appointment and the rosh yeshiva had agreed that I should come. “No!” the boy exclaimed adamantly. He wouldn’t even listen to me. I had no choice. I got in my car and drove back to the city. The next day, I got a phone call. I answered the phone to hear none other than Rav Moshe. He apologized profusely, begging my forgiveness.
While we are on the topic of the giant of middos, Rav Shneur Kotler was similarly a very eidel person with special middos. I had an uncle named Rav Yudel Shulman, my father’s younger brother. Rav Yudel was a talmid of Rav Elya Boruch Kamai, the Mirrer Rov before World War I and a great talmid chochom. He came to America long before the war and became a businessman. He always loved to learn. Seventeen years before his passing, he chose to retire. He gave his business over to his children and moved with my aunt to Lakewood, where he spent those final years learning with tremendous hasmodah in Bais Medrash Govoah. When he was niftar, Rav Shneur was maspid him like a talmid is maspid a rebbi. When my father was niftar, we sat shivah for him in my brother’s home in Kew Garden Hills. During the shivah, Rav Shneur called my uncle Rav Yudel Shulman to be menachem avel. A week later, I got a call from Rav Shneur and he told me, “Reb Shmarya, I didn’t realize that Reb Yudel’s brother was your father. I called him during the shivah but I didn’t speak to you because I didn’t realize you were a son.” He was then menachem avel me. Those were the middos of amuligeh Yidden!
Rov In Jersey City And Norwich, Connecticut
What happened with the rabbonus in Jersey City?
A couple of years later, I was offered a rabbonus in Norwich, Connecticut. Norwich was known as a choshuve kehillah during those years; it was even called the Yerushalayim of New England. They had very distinguished rabbonim who were great talmidei chachomim. The rov who preceded me, Rav Yosef Naftoli Rosenberg, was a great rov and talmid chochom who came to America sometime in the early 1900s. He was a grandson of the famed Vilkomirer Maggid and the first musmach of RIETS.
I was rov in Norwich for a few years, but truth be told, my wife didn’t like the life of the rabbonus and she preferred living in a large Jewish city with a developed frum population. We therefore moved to Queens and I left the formal world of rabbonus. I began selling insurance and later became a stockbroker as well. Nevertheless, I continued to give shiurim and remained an active member of the Agudas Harabbonim for the ensuing decades.
The Gaonus And Colorful Personality Of Rav Eliezer Silver
Can you delight us with stories of other Torah giants with whom you merited to interact over the course of the last eight decades?
One of the most colorful gaonim whom I merited knowing was Rav Eliezer Silver, Chief Rabbi of Cincinnati. In his time, he was one of the most prominent rabbonim, if not the most prominent rov in America. The first time I met him was in the 1940s, when he came to Baltimore on several occasions. The rosh yeshiva always honored him with saying a shiur in the yeshiva. He was a great gaon but he also had a great sense of humor and was full of life. I remember when he once came to Baltimore and asked a kushya during the shiur. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky got up and said that he had asked the same question last year when he gave a shiur and at that time he had given such and such teretz. Without missing a beat, Rav Silver replied, “That teretz haht getoigt oif kapparos, that teretz was awful, now I am going to give you a much better teretz!”
On that trip to Baltimore, Rav Silver gave $50, a very large sum of money in the 1940s, to four of the best bochurim in the yeshiva who spoke with him in learning. Boruch Hashem, I was one of them and the money came just in time. My sister was getting married at the time and I needed a suit, so I spent some of that money on a beautiful suit.
Speaking of Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, I am reminded of another gaon I met at Rav Shmuel’s chasunah. That gaon was Rav Dov Shwartzman, with whom Rav Shmuel later opened the Philadelphia Yeshiva. At Rav Shmuel’s chasunah, I went over to speak with Rav Schwartzman. What amazed me was how he was totally at home in the deepest depths of the sugya even though that was not what he was learning at the time. His clarity was astounding. He was a deep lamdan and an ilui otzum. I still can’t forget the sweet ta’am I felt after speaking with him in learning.
Getting back to Rav Eliezer Silver, his love of Torah was legendary. It was well known that Rav Eliezer would pay all of the expenses for any talmid chochom who would make the trip out to Cincinnati to talk with him in learning. Rav Silver had special expertise in Kodshim. His knowledge of all the intricacies of Kodshim was simply amazing.
At Rav Eliezer Silver’s levayah, one of the maspidim was Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, rosh yeshiva of REITS. He related that when he came to America, he was honored to deliver a shiur in front of the Agudas Harabbonim. That shiur transpired during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and he said a shiur on the areas of avodas Yom Kippur. Rav Yoshe Ber said that before the shiur, his illustrious father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, told him, “You don’t have to be scared of anyone other than Rav Leizer Silver. He knows every single Tosafos Yeshonim in Masechta Yoma!”
[Rav Shulman paused and then continued.] I know this generation likes stories much better than chiddushim. It is a generation of “lo hamedrash ikar elah hama’asah.” But I must tell you one beautiful, short vort that I heard from Rav Silver. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah states that the world is judged four times a year: once on Pesach on the produce, once on Shavuos on the fruits of the tree, on Rosh Hashanah the entire world is judged and on Sukkos, the water is judged. Rav Silver asked, “What about Yom Kippur? Doesn’t Hashem actually seal the psak din then?” Is that not a time of din as well? He answered, “On all of the other four times, the din can go either way, good or bad, depending on the person’s zechusim or lack thereof. On Yom Kippur a person can only get a better a din. He was already judged on Rosh Hashanah so the judgment is done. But Hashem gives a person a chance to better his din that was issued on Rosh Hashanah. Thus, Yom Kippur is not a day of din, it is a day of pure rachamim.”
With which other gedolei Torah did you have a relationship?
One of my close friends who was a tremendous gadol batorah was Rav Chaim Zimmerman. He was an ilui and a tremendously ehrliche Yid.
We learned seder Taharos together. It was gevaldig! I remember we once learned a very difficult kushya on a Mishnah in Masechta Keilim that no one could answer. Rav Chaim Zimmerman, however, found the peirush of the Vilna Gaon in Masechta Bikkurim that shed light on the question and answered it. Who has such wide-ranging bekius today?
Rav Chaim always had difficulties with parnossah, yet when offered a large salary by [the Jewish Theological Seminary] for doing nothing other than sitting and learning in their beis medrash (it wasn’t as bad then as it was today, and there were others who found heterim), Rav Chaim laughed at the proposal, not even entertaining it for a second.
Rav Chaim was a person with whom most people, with the exception of two people, were scared to argue. Those two exceptions were Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and Rav Moshe Soloveitchik. He also considered himself a talmid of the Vishker Ilui, Rav Yaakov Safsal.
How do you compare today’s generation with the generations in which you were born and raised?
When I was young the primary nisayon was the nisayon haoni, poverty. People had a very difficult time earning a parnossah and that is why chillul Shabbos was such a tremendous nisayon.
There were few yungeleit. Kollel wasn’t even a known entity. People struggled to make ends meet in a country with a different culture. Today, the nisayon is of osher, plenty. Young people have everything. Even those who are not rich have everything in comparison with what we had. The fact that there is so much is also a tremendous nisayon. Today people are running from place to place. We didn’t do that. We just sat and learned. Ah mohl, you didn’t travel around, you just sat and learned. Today, there are so many distractions.
What is worse, the nisayon of oni or the nisayon of osher?
There is a whole shmuess on this topic in the poskim and seforim (see the Alshich in Pirkei Avos and the Yalkut Yechezkel chap 2) but we will leave it for another time. The main thing is that Moshiach has to come already!