Rav Galinsky possessed the spirit of Novardok, the yeshiva system that produced giants in learning, in avodah, and in self-awareness, with the ability to laugh at life and at oneself. In that school of mussar, they studied the frailty of the human condition and the slippery slope that we walk on in this world. Those who emerged from that cauldron came out boiling with a passion to share and uplift, with little concern for personal kavod and little use for pomp and ceremony.
Rav Galinsky, one of the fortunate few to survive the atrocities that decimated the network of Novardok pre-war yeshivos, was a vibrant, energetic man, diminutive in stature but a giant with a desire to do and accomplish. He lost much during the war, but with strong determination, his emunah and bitachon became the building blocks of yeshivos andkollelim he would establish and provide for.
He addressed the needs of immigrants in the nascent Jewish state and was one of the first Litvishe talmidei chachomim to open a yeshiva for newly-arrived Yemenites. He was also a beloved and welcome figure in secular Israel, where the ahavas Yisroel he exuded overpowered the fact that he represented people that the secular community resented. Around the world, he was greeted with happiness and appreciation. Wherever he went, all sorts of Jews would come and listen to what the short, spirited speaker had to say.
From Mexico City to Monsey, from Manchester to Modiin and Montreal, people associated his joyous countenance with inspiration. His healthy attitude, fashioned from a life of Torah, mussar andmesirus nefesh, and his self-effacing nature enabled him to relate to anyone, from the simplest person far from Torahto the greatest Torah scholars. He reached them all.
Often, he would begin his talks by singing the sweet timeless tune to the words of “Olam hazeh domeh leprozdor Olam Haba domeh letraklin – Prepare yourself in the anteroom before entering the ballroom.”
Now, with his voice stilled, as he, in Olam Haba reaps the rewards of his years of preparation, we are left behind in the prozdor, richer for having benefited from the transmission of chochmas haTorah by him, giants of his generation, and others like them.
Their words, their teachings and the way they lead their lives provide us with the opportunity to improve the way we live and ensure that we are productive in this world, enabling us to enjoy rewards here and in the traklin.
Rav Galinsky related that one of his cellmates in the Russian wasteland was a Polish national. Rav Galinsky noticed that the new prisoner had a strange custom of waking up in the middle of his sleep every night. As he watched in the darkness, he could see the man bending down to reach under his own bed, putting on a set of clothing and standing immobile. After standing that way for a minute or two, the fellow would remove whatever it was he had put on, return it under his bed, and go back to sleep.
Intrigued, Rav Galinsky asked the Pole what this strange custom was. The fellow prisoner wouldn’t answer, but the future maggid persisted and finally got an explanation.
“In Poland,” the man told him, “I was a general in the army. Here, as a prisoner of the Russians, they attempt to break and dehumanize me. I won’t let them. I don’t want to ever forget who I really am, what I represent, and what I will yet be. So, under the cover of darkness, I take a few moments each night to put on my military uniform and contemplate what it means to be a general. That way, they will never break me.”
The story is a reminder to us that no matter how dreadful a situation we find ourselves in, we must always remember who we are. We are bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, people with a past and a destiny. We cannot permit ourselves to be broken and become demoralized and depressed by forces beyond our control. We have to remember who we are and what is expected from us. If we suffer temporary setbacks, we must not let them discourage us from maintaining the forward march to our destiny.
One of Rav Galinsky’s stories involves a Jew with whom he had survived the war. The man, whose entire family was wiped out, suffered from a deep depression even after immigrating to Israel. He was unable to be consoled and could not function.
Rav Galinsky suggested that the fellow go to speak to the Chazon Ish. He was so dejected that he refused to go, saying that since he couldn’t bring his family back to life, going to see the Chazon Ish would serve no purpose. Rav Galinsky insisted and dragged the man there.
The Chazon Ish listened to the survivor’s heartbreaking tale and responded with a story about a woman who supported her family. She would travel to the big city with loads of cash and buy desirable merchandise at wholesale prices before returning home to sell it at a profit.
On one of her trips, she lost her bag of money. She searched for it to no avail, and she was heartbroken, having lost all the money she’d saved up with such sacrifice. In desperation, before heading home to inform her husband of their loss, she went to the city’s rov and asked him to announce that if anyone found her bag of cash, they should turn it in to him.
A poor man found the bag and responded to the rov’s call, bringing it to his home. There, he explained that since he is learned, he knows that the Mishnah states in Maseches Bava Metzia that if one finds a lost object in a city with a Gentile majority, he is permitted to keep it. He told the rov that the found cash represented an answer to his prayers. He saw it as a gift from Heaven to enable him to marry off his daughter.
The rov was inclined to side with the poor man, but since it was obvious that he had found the money that the woman had lost, he told the man that he had to submit the question to Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, therabbon shel kol bnei hagolah, for a ruling.
Rav Yitzchok Elchononresponded that the money belonged to the woman. His reasoning was sheer brilliance. He said that the reason a person can keep an object found in a city with a Gentile majority is because we say that the owner surely gave up any hope of having it returned and was thus meya’eish. In this case, however, the money belonged to a woman, and the Gemara in Maseches Gittin (57a) states that a husband takes ownership of all his wife’s possessions. The husband was not aware that she had lost the money and thus could not have beenmeya’eish. Therefore, ruled, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, the money must be returned to the woman.
The Chazon Ish finished the story and looked the depressed man in the eye. “That same ruling applies to you,” he said. “Who gave you permission to be meya’eish? Chazal teach us that ‘afilu cherev chada munachas al tzavaro shel adam,’even if the executioner’s sharp blade is on a Jew’s neck ready to decapitate him, he must not be meya’eish, he may not despair, for Hashemcan still save him.
“Are you the boss over what happened?” asked the Chazon Ish. “Are you the owner over yourself? We are but shluchim of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. It is He Who determines the field that we operate on. He decides what happens to us. We have to do our jobs and pray that we succeed. Who gave you permission to give up and be meya’eish?”
Everyone has their own pekel. There is no one who coasts through life without challenges. There are many moments when the urge to give up is very strong. Sometimes it is brought on by economic matters. At other times, the temptation is caused by health concerns. Some people have it rough when it comes to shidduchim, while others can’t get their children registered in a good school. We must never give up. We must always do whatever we are able to, as difficult as it may seem. Often times, the impossible has been accomplished by those whose emunah and bitachon motivated and drove them to escape their problems and they have gone on to merit great accomplishments.
Communally, as well, we hear dejected remarks from people with their hands raised in despair. “Oy, there is no leadership,” they say. “Oy, there is so much machlokes. So many people can’t make ends meet. There’s nothing to do about it.”
People see terrible distortions taking place and become apathetic, saying that there is nothing to do. They fear taking a stand, lest they lose out somehow. They aren’t sure if the reformers will win, and there are perhaps financial considerations as well, so they stand quietly on the sidelines as Toras Yisroel is ripped apart, mocked and vilified.
We must know that we have no right to be meya’eish. It’s not yours to give up on. Our nation was around before we were born and it has survived so much. We weren’t put in this world merely to point out problems, but rather to work towards a better future. Anybody can criticize, but those who are important and truly great in this world, those who make a difference, are the ones who seek to find and provide solutions.
One of Israel’s earliest political leaders was Dr. Moshe Sneh, leader of the Haganah underground in the years leading up to the formation of the state of Israel. He could have remained in the upper echelons of the Zionist leadership, but he soberly foresaw a day when Communism would take over the entire world, undermining the existing governments in one country after another and exporting its revolution to every state.
Trying to be ahead of the curve, he founded Maki, the Israeli Communist Party, so that when the Communist hero Joseph Stalin would shine his light on Israel, he would be greeted by a political party that was already prepared to take up the reins of the government.
Stalin, the ever suspicious dictator, had thrown all of his most loyal followers into prison. In fact, those who ended up in jail were the lucky ones. Those who were less loyal were sent before a firing squad. Rav Galinsky was an expert in the Communist mentality, as he shared prison space with many of these captives and spent hours in conversation with them. Though they were in shock and felt betrayed, they remained loyal to the Communist ideal. They were confident that the Communist revolution would succeed and that it would ultimately take the world by storm.
During the heady days of Communism, a young lady went to the home of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l, rov of Slutzk. She told him that she had given birth to a baby boy, and her husband, an officer in the Red Army, adamantly refused to circumcise him.
“Go back home and tell him that the rov wants to speak to him,” Rav Isser Zalman told her.
Out of respect for the rov, the man went, insisting that his visit would be in vain. There was no chance that he was going to change his mind and permit the religious ritual.
The rov understood, he said. If it became known that he had given his son a bris, his advancement through the ranks would be halted and he might even be exiled.
Rav Isser Zalman offered a suggestion: The father should leave town on a mission, and in his absence, the rov and the mohel would enter his home and perform the bris. If the incident became known to the authorities, the rov would accept all the responsibility upon himself.
The officer stared at the rov in astonishment. The rov didn’t understand, he maintained. His opposition was on principle. The rov was living in a bubble. The world had changed.
The revolution had swept away the dust of the past; everything had been erased. The workers of the world had united and there were no more class distinctions, no more divisions or barriers between different parts of society. Bris milah creates a barrier, separating Jew from non-Jew. It had no place in the new world of equality, the world that had been created with blood and fire.
Rav Isser Zalman said to the man, “You are a Jew. Tell me, did you ever play with a dreidel?”
“Of course,” the man replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Let me tell you something: The dreidel stands on a narrow point. How is this possible? The answer is that the force of its spinning keeps it upright. As that power weakens, it eventually falls.
“I want you to know that the popular notion that every individual can work according to his abilities and everyone will profit equally is a foolish idea that is contrary to human nature.
“Shlomo Hamelech has already said (Koheles 4:4), ‘I have seen all the toil and all the successful deeds, for it is a man’s envy of his friend; this, too, is futility and frustration.’ In other words, it may be a negative and shameful trait, but it is also a fundamental one. Envy, the desire to be superior and to push others down, is the only driving force of mankind. It will appear here, as well, in one thousand and one different forms. Don’t try arguing with me based on the kolkhozes, the cooperative settlements and the nationalized industry. It is all running based on the inertia and excitement of the revolution. When that fades away, corruption will reign supreme and everything will collapse.
“And when everything falls apart, everyone will go back to their own people and culture. Where will your son return to? Put the seal of the Jewish people on his flesh, so that he will know where to return.”
The officer stood up, tired of listening to the rov. “In my opinion,” he said, “the revolution will last forever. But how long does the rov think it will last?” he asked mockingly.
“No more than 70 years,” Rav Isser Zalman answered him.
Seventy years later, Moshe Sneh, the leader of the Israeli Communist Party, passed away. His family was astonished to learn that in his will he asked to be buried in a tallis and for someone to say Kaddish for him.
Meir Willner, his successor, went to the podium in the city of Acco and announced to his supporters, “We have made a mistake.”
When that happened, Rav Galinsky spoke. He had seen it all. He had observed the dreidel beginning its furious spin, at the height of its powers, and he had seen it slow down and finally topple.
“We – not just I, but all of us in the gulag – knew all along that justice was with us,” said Rav Galinsky. “Truth was on our side and we would ultimately prevail. We knew that we were like the oil that rises to the surface of the water. We knew that the false ideas would ultimately dissipate and vanish, crumbling away to nothing. I am glad that I was fortunate enough to see it happen. I had the privilege of seeing Stalin, the mighty idol, whom people worshipped as ‘the sun of the nations,’ smashed to pieces. I saw the fall of the Iron Curtain and the shattering of Communism. I saw the privatization of the kibbutzim and I saw people abandon their reliance on illusory benefactors and return to the Source of true life.
“People’s eyes had been opened to perceive the falsehood and vanity of it all, and they understood that they had traded the source of true life for empty, broken pits.”
As this maggid, whose eyes had seen a false god erected and then rejected, pointed out the folly of the current trends and the prevailing zeitgeist, they listened closely. He could gently mock movements or ideas that, for a time, seem so attractive but are really just smoke and mirrors.
He would illustrate this point with the story of a Polish maskil named Prusken who led many astray with the power of his poisonous pen. During the war, this immensely popular writer became a baal teshuvah and returned to Yiddishkeit.
The Ponovezher Rov told Rav Galinsky that he met the former maskil during one of his fundraising missions to the United States and asked him what caused him to give up Haskalah and adopt a life of Torah.
The man told him that when the war began, he was in Warsaw. With great difficulty, he managed to make his way to Vilna, where he straggled about as a refugee. His entire world had been destroyed. He told the rov, “Without the newspaper as my platform and without my audience of admiring readers, I was like a leaf blowing in the wind. I had no food to eat. I ate at a communal kitchen and I was dressed in tatters. I was struggling just to have a roof over my head. Then, suddenly, an air raid began and I had to scramble for shelter.
“I ran into a nearby building, which turned out to be a bais medrash. It had been years since my foot had crossed the threshold of such a place. The explosions were terrifying and I was cowering beneath a table, as if that would help me. Suddenly, I realized that I was not alone. There were two yeshiva bochurim kneeling beside me, with their heads next to each other, and they were learning and exploring a sugya.
“That was when I realized that I had found the true wellsprings of eternity. I decided to join them.”
Rav Galinsky could look at any sort of audience – left-wing kibbutznikim to yeshiva bochurim and everyone in between – and speak about our mesorah with experience and the wisdom of age, having seen so much.
When our fundamental beliefs are under attack, we must remember that they are eternal and will stand the test of time. The mesorah provides the path for our people to follow if we wish to persevere. Only by remaining loyal to all sections of the Shulchan Aruch can we count on fulfilling our missions in this world and transmitting it to our children. Cavalierly choosing which observances to follow and which to ignore leaves a Jew vacuous and as fleeting as the social mores he seeks to conform to. Being in vogue may appear good for the moment, but, in the long term, it guarantees obsolescence and failure.
Rav Galinsky possessed tremendous courage and wouldn’t tolerate any hint of mockery of the Torah and its holy words. He related that he was once hospitalized and a high-ranking doctor, a secular Israeli, entered the room. The professor was surrounded by a phalanx of admiring students who hung on to his every word.
The arrogant doctor looked at the old religious rabbi and said, “Ah, rabbi, I have a question. Lama katuv, why is it written, baGemara shelachem, in your Gemara, that ‘tov sheberofim l’gehennom, the best of doctors are destined to be sent to purgatory?”
The deferential students snickered as their hero put the rabbi on the spot.
“I knew,” Rav Galinsky later said, “that this arrogant doctor could not get away with using the word shelachem, your Torah, when it is really his as well. He needed to be put in his place.”
Rav Galinsky didn’t hesitate. “Why is the question relevant to you?” he asked with a straight face. “The Gemara is only referring to good doctors!”
Then, with the doctor defeated, Rav Galinsky explained the true intention of Chazal.
We need to develop the courage to stand up for the truth and do what we can to repress the scoffers and those who seek divergence from our traditions.
There was a period of extremely tense relations between the religious and secular communities in Israel. It was just after the decision was reached to close Bnei Brak’s central Rechov Rav Kahaneman on Shabbos and many irreligious people were unhappy. On Shabbos, groups of motorcycle-riding secularists would tear through quiet Bnei Brak, their rumbling roar disrupting the Sabbath peace, loudly making their point.
One Shabbos, a young Israeli named Dvir drove down the road at breakneck speed, unaware that a chain-link divider blocked it off. He caught sight of the obstacle too late and was killed when he smashed into it. The secular community exploded with anger and recriminations.
With that backdrop, the maggid was invited to address a crowd at a secular kibbutz. In the middle of the speech, a heckler suddenly called out from the back of the room, interrupting the lecture. “Lamah haragtem et Dvir?Why did you kill Dvir?”
There was a moment of silence, but the wizened speaker was undeterred. He looked the heckler in the eye. “What’s the question?” he asked. “We needed his blood for our matzos.”
The meaning of his answer was clear. Secular Israelis using the unfortunate, tragic story to depict thechareidim as murderers were no different than the many blood libelers throughout history who battled against their own grandfathers.
The heckler was silenced.
How do you silence bitter critics? With a sharp rejoinder.
How do you teach tolerance and non-judgmentalism? With a good story. Here’s one:
A Bnei Brak family was asked by a kiruv organization to host a Russian couple for Shabbos meals from time to time. He was a doctor, she was a professor. They lived in nearby Ramat Gan and it was a good match. The family was mekarev them and their efforts bore fruit as the relationship progressed nicely.
One Friday night, the Bnei Brak family invited their Ramat Gan friends for aShabbos meal and the couple accepted, walking in for a joyous seudah. After they were done, the Bnei Brakers walked their guests to the door and watched them leave. They went back into their house and looked out of their window to make sure that their guests had safely made it down the flight of stairs. To their utter horror, they saw the couple hailing a taxi for the ride back home to nearby Ramat Gan.
They were so deeply hurt. Such a clear lack of courtesy and respect with brazen chillul Shabbos, hailing a taxi right in front of their building, was too much for them. They decided then and there that they would have nothing to do with that Russian couple any longer. They didn’t invite them again, and when the Russians called, seeking friendship and a meal, the response was curt and negative. They were burnt once and weren’t going to be burnt again.
Some months later, the Bnei Brakers received a call from the kiruv organization. “The husband died, the wife is sitting shivah, and it would mean a lot to her if you went to be menachem avel,” they were told.
They decided that although they had been hurt by the family’s obvious lack of respect for Shabbos and wouldn’t want them back in their house, the right thing to do would be to pay the bereaved wife a shivah call.
They arrived and she was gratified to see them. They began speaking.
“Thank you for coming,” the wife said.
“What caused his death?” they asked.
“He had a heart attack.”
“Was it sudden?”
“Did your husband have a heart condition?”
“Yes, he did. In fact, it began the last time we ate at your home. Remember that Friday night? I remember it so vividly – the meal, the children, the singing, the wonderful Shabbos atmosphere. As we were walking down the steps from your apartment, my husband felt pains in his chest and shoulder. As a doctor, he knew he was having a heart attack. Thankfully, as soon as we exited the building, a taxi happened by. We stopped it and rushed straight to the hospital. We got there on time and he lived.
“Last week, it happened again. But this time, we weren’t as lucky. He died.”
Relating such a story teaches the lesson without recrimination or hard feelings. Every audience gets the point and learns from it. We would do well to learn that lesson.
When things don’t go our way, we need to find a language that reflects the darchei noam of theTorahto strengthen ourselves. When situations call for rebuke and we are forced to discipline our children ortalmidim, we are much better off doing it with a smile and gentle tone.
Rav Galinsky once addressed a group of hardworking people, relatively unlearned in Torah. It was a time of economic recession and the people he faced were distressed by the sudden hardships in making a living.
He described the scene in Shomayim on Rosh Hashonah just a few months before. He recalled how thebaalei batim before him had fervently prayed for parnossah. On the day income is determined for the year, their prayers were heard On High. The angels charged with delivering sustenance were given orders to ensure that the petitioners below were blessed with abundance.
Then he leaned over the shtender and looked closely at the audience. “But themalochim remember Reb Moshe from Rosh Hashonah and they are looking for him. They remember a man standing and shuckeling over his shtender, davening like a mentch. He was serious in demeanor and speech. They remember how he spoke to his wife during the seudah, with such courtesy and aidelkeit, and how the entire meal was uplifting and filled withTorah and song. They are searching for that man… and they can’t find him. The Reb Moshe they see in his place talks during davening and is impatient at home, so the malochim conclude that this isn’t their man. They keep looking.”
The audience smiled, accepting the message, enjoying the sugar with which it was coated.
When proverbial medicine is called for, coating it with honey is often helpful. Heartfelt words of mussar and reproach cloaked in gentle humor and delightful anecdotes are better able to achieve their goal. We, and people of all ages, face an onslaught of challenges from within and without. Plain old negativity and cynicism don’t cut it anymore. People get turned off and don’t want to hear words of damnation. If we want to be effective – and who doesn’t? – we need to speak with intelligence, forethought and insight, in a package wrapped with love, concern and positive messages.
Rav Galinsky once asked Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach why the nusach of the brochah we recite each morning is “shelo asani Goy.” Why don’t we accentuate the positive and thank Hashem by saying “she’asani Yehudi?”
Rav Shach answered that the Ribbono shel Olam grants us a neshomah, providing us with the wherewithal to soar. “But to become aYid is up to you,” he explained. “It is up to us to develop that neshomah. You make the Yehudi.”
We all have the potential to be great and formidable. Nothing is given to us on a silver platter. We must work and strive for greatness. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
Few remember that prior to Israel’s Six Day War, Israel’s prime minister delivered a live address to a very anxious nation. He was so nervous about what would happen that he stammered, worrying a frightened people even more. Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin was tasked with leading the campaign. He was so overwhelmed by the impossibility of the challenge facing him that he had a nervous breakdown. The mission he had been handed was impossible.
By now, all of that is forgotten, as Jews the world over revel in the amazing victory of the Israeli armed forces over Arab armies invading from all sides.
Following the war, Rav Yaakov Edelstein asked Rav Galinsky to address a seudas hodaah for a group of career soldiers who had made it through the war. He said to them, “Essentially, this was not the first lightning-quick war fought by the Jewish people. Shimon and Levi, thirteen- and fourteen-year-old teenagers, invaded Shechem, killed all its men and captured the women, the children and all their belongings.
“However, twenty years later, when Yaakov Avinu handed Shechem over to his son, Yosef, he told him that the city of Shechem was his because ‘I took it from the Emori becharbi ubekashti, with my sword and arrow’ (Bereishis 48:22).
“Targum Onkelos on that posuk states that the two weapons Yaakov referred to were ‘bitzlosi ubeva’usi, my prayers and supplications’ to Hashem.”
Said Rav Galinsky: “In other words, Yaakov was telling Yosef, ‘Do you think that Shimon and Levi captured the town? I captured it with my tefillos on their behalf!’”
We say it every day and we also say it in time of war. Every morning, when I recite lamnatzeiach, I hear echoes of the way we said it berabim during Israel’s wars. “Eileh vorechev, ve’eileh vasusim, vaanachnu beSheim Hashem Elokeinu nazkir.” It is not with armies and not with might that we win wars. “Heimah koru venafalu, vaanachnu kamnu vanisodad.” Large armies were defeated and the Jews who placed their faith in Hashem emerged victorious.
Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman delivered a brief hesped on his dear friend, saying that Rav Galinsky swallowed bizyonos, humiliation, for all of us, beingmechaper for the dor. Collecting money for Torahis never easy, but to do it as he did, running from one end of the globe to the other, and smiling throughout, while never giving up on his mission or on personal growth, is extraordinary. He was makpid on his tefillah kevosikin and learning regimen wherever he was, whenever possible. He was a bright light that shone into outposts across the golus, a spark of Novardok to remind us about truth and reality, a talmid chochom to expose this world for what it is: a prozdor before the next.
Now he is in the traklin, together with all the great people who walked this earth before us, enjoying the fruits they labored for in the prozdor.
We would do well to sing to ourselves that timeless tune of the words of Chazal that contain a most enduring and relevant lesson.
When the Chazon Ish arrived in Bnei Brak, it was a small, dusty and hot town. He lived on the street known today as Rechov Chazon Ish. When he moved there, his apartment was on the outer boundaries of the city, among the eucalyptus trees, and at night he could hear the cries of jackals and hyenas. Because it was frightening to walk in the dark there, the mayor, Rav Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, had a street light installed outside the Chazon Ish’s building
One day, when Rav Galinsky visited the Chazon Ish, he turned to him and said, “Nu, Reb Yaakov, what do you say about the new street light they put up here?”
He then explained to his young visitor the lesson he learned from the streetlight.
“You see,” he said, “when I leave my house, I notice that I have a large shadow that stretches into the distance. The closer I come to the electric pole, the more my shadow shrinks. When I pass beneath the light, the shadow disappears altogether. As I continue walking, the shadow once again stretches out behind me, and the further I go, the larger it grows.
“From this I have learned that the further we take ourselves from the light, the more we feel that we are ‘something.’ But the closer we are to the light, to the wisdom of the Torah and its sages of earlier generations, the more we realize how puny and insignificant we are!”
We are far from the greatness the Chazon Ish spoke of. We are far from the light, and all we have around us are lengthening shadows. We were blessed to have a personage such as Rav Yaakov Galinsky among us, passing along the wisdom, teachings and Torah of giants he met throughout his long life. With his passing, we are that much further away from the sources of truth.
May we merit the return of the ohr gadol that will shine forth from Zion speedily, in our day.