Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, the premier posek of the previous generation, allowed himself one title: “avuha d’Shmuel — the father of Shmuel,” an allusion to Abba bar Abba, the father of the great Amora, Shmuel.
And now, Rav Shlomo Zalman’s son — our Shmuel — is gone.
Rav Shmuel Auerbach zt”l, a giant in every nuance of every letter of every miktzoah of Torah, has taken his place alongside his father. We can only imagine how much Rav Shlomo Zalman must be kvelling in Shomayim: “That’s my Shmuel.”
It is almost impossible to describe Rav Shmuel’s all-encompassing knowledge of Torah. On Friday nights, he would chazer the Mishnayos of the entire Seder Taharos baal peh.
There was not a syllable of Torah in which he was unfamiliar. Not a syllable.
Bavli. Yerushalmi. Rishonim. Acharonim. Shailos uteshuvos. Sifrei Kabbolah. Sifrei Chassidus.
It was all on the tip of his tongue.
A virtual living Har Sinai, the embodiment of Toras Chaim.
And it all brought him singular joy. Torah was the only comfort he afforded himself. Basking in its embrace, Rav Shmuel relished every moment of limud Torah. Every word.
During the week of “meisah olai Rochel” (Bereishis 48:7), as Rav Shmuel’s wife, Rochel, slowly slipped away from This World, Rav Shmuel did not leave her side. They had never had children of their own; it was just the two of them and they shared everything. When she passed away, he was utterly alone.
At that moment of intense grief, Rav Shmuel asked one of his talmidim to bring him a Gemara, and he read the Gemara (Brachos 60b), which tells us that a person must bless Hashem for the bad just as he does for the good: “Lekabulinhu b’simcha, to accept it with joy.” Then he closed the Gemara and recited the brochah of Dayan Ha’emes. When he finished, one of his talmidim asked why Rav Shmuel needed to hold the Gemara and look inside. Didn’t he know the famous Gemara by heart?
Rav Shmuel explained, “There is only one thing that brings me joy: Torah. Now that my wife passed away, I am completely broken. In order to regain my menuchas hanefesh, I have to hold onto a Gemara. That’s the only way I can cheer myself up.”
Indeed, it was.
Rav Shmuel used to tell the following story:
One of the elders of Yerushalayim of the previous generation was in possession of an authentic kemeiya, which had effected great yeshuos and truly wondrous salvations. Through many generations, if someone was sick or in need of an easy childbirth, he or she wore the kemeiya. If a fellow struggled in areas of parnassah or tzaar gidul bonim, the zechus of the kemeiya helped bring about the yeshuah. It was widely accepted that this kemeiya was written by none other than Rav Dovid Halevi Segal, known as the Taz, who lived in the 1600s.
One of the rules of a kemeiya is that once it is sealed, it can never be opened. When opened, it loses its power. Although aware of this condition, the owner of the amulet was very curious as to its contents. Even if this one were to lose its power, he reasoned, he wanted to see the various holy Names of the Al-mighty written inside of the amulet, so that he could use the knowledge to create others just like it.
Word spread that the fellow was planning on opening the kemeiya. Even those who disagreed with him regarding opening the kemeiya were curious about what was inside. Only a few distinguished individuals were invited to the fellow’s home for the event, and what a special event it promised to be. Not often does one have the opportunity to discover such secrets.
Finally, the big moment arrived. The small metal ornament, which had been sealed for generations, sat there in front of them on the table. The owner picked it up carefully and slowly bent back the metal folds. Inside was a piece of paper that had been folded for centuries. He opened it gently, expecting to see the holy Names of the Al-mighty or His celestial angels inscribed there.
What he saw was way different from what he had envisioned.
The Taz had written on the kemeiya‘s parchment: “Ribbono Shel Olam, give a yeshuah and much brochah to the one who wears this kemeiya in the zechus of the effort I invested to properly understand the words of Tosafos, Maseches Chullin, daf 96.”
That was it. Nothing more. No holy Names. No angels.
Just a request for assistance, based on the merit of the effort and toil of Torah.
While the owner of the amulet was disappointed that it could never be replicated, everyone gathered in that room walked away duly inspired.
For they learned a memorable lesson: The greatest segulah of all is ameilus baTorah.
And Rav Shmuel knew this. He knew it well.
But there was another side to Rav Shmuel. As astounding as his expertise in Torah was his care for others. He loved all Yidden.
It’s been said that Rav Shmuel and his wife had no children.
“Veshinantom levonecha…eilu hatalmidim” (Rashi, Devorim 6:7).
Through his days as ra”m and rosh yeshiva in Itri, Amshinov, Kol Torah, and Maalos Hatorah, his talmidim were his life. Together with his rebbetzin, he would daven at the Kosel on the days his talmidim got married. And how he davened. The tears streamed down his face, as he cried and cried and cried. For their continued success. For their future.
Is that not a father of children?
He used his personal challenges — and there were many — to help teach his talmidim how to deal with the challenges in their lives.
One younger talmid, Yishai (not his real name), who had experienced many challenges and also suffered slightly from paranoia, found himself in a depressed state and was unable to snap out of his funk. Rav Shmuel heard of the situation and set out to look for him, eventually finding him in the yeshiva’s dining room. Rav Shmuel walked over to him and sat down next to him.
Suddenly, Rav Shmuel began to sing a Breslover niggun (Likkutei Moharan, Torah 78): “Ein shum yi’ush, ein shum yi’ush, ein shum yi’ush ba’olam…” He wanted to cheer him up, and to impress upon his talmid that there is no giving up in This World. We can always find the determination to go on.
But there was another lesson for Yishai within the rosh yeshiva’s singing. As Rav Shmuel sang, Yishai glanced around the room — filled with bochurim eating their meal and enjoying the show that the rebbi was putting on in Yishai’s honor— and looked for a place to hide. But Rav Shmuel smiled. “Are you worried about what others think? Never worry. What they think doesn’t matter.” Lesson #2.
Indeed, Rav Shmuel lived his life that way. He did what he believed was right. What others thought never mattered.
Remarkably, with the help of Rav Shmuel, Yishai went on to live a productive life.
Yes, Rav Shmuel loved his talmidim. He backed them fiercely and guided them every step of the way. But as in the story of Yishai, he also utilized every moment to teach them.
A talmid’s marriage was on the rocks. He did everything he could to patch it up, to no avail; the couple was getting divorced. Even so, the day before the get, Rav Shmuel sat with the couple trying to work through their many issues. He cried throughout the day, hoping for some miraculous resolution. But none came.
That night, Rav Shmuel picked up the phone and called his talmid. “Tomorrow, you are getting divorced. It will be a challenging day for you, but even more so for your wife. She is going to be scared, sad, and bitter. Make sure to arrange for a car to bring her to the bais din and another car to take her home. She deserves her privacy and dignity on this very difficult day.”
Shmuel the Amora was not only a gaon, but a doctor and also an astrologist. The Gemara describes how he was as familiar with the cosmos as he was with the streets on Naharda’ah, where he lived.
Seder night was very special in the Auerbach home. At Rav Shmuel’s table sat many of the brokenhearted and lonely Yidden of Yerushalayim; this was where they felt comfortable.
They came because they needed a father. And a doctor, a rofei lishvurei leiv. And an astrologer to guide them through them complexities of life.
And so, they joined the thousands of Rav Shmuel’s talmidim.
They, too, soaked up his warmth, his concern, his tefillos, his love, his guidance.
They, too, became Rav Shmuel’s children, bonov d’Shmuel.
Now, all of them are fatherless.
Orphaned and lost.
Yesomim hoyinu v’ein av (Eichah 5:3).
Yehi zichro boruch.