Rav Aryeh Finkel zt”l

The Torah world was plunged into mourning with the passing of Rav Aryeh Finkel zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld and member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Degel Hatorah. He was 85 years old.

Rav Aryeh collapsed Tuesday and was hospitalized in critical condition. Tefillos were recited in yeshivos across Eretz Yisroel. Rav Finkel was niftar Tuesday night, as we were preparing to go to press.

Rav Aryeh was a son of Rav Chaim Zev Finkel zt”l, founder of Yeshivas Heichal Hatorah in Tel Aviv and mashgiach at Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim. He was a grandson of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, and a cousin of the late rosh yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l.

In his youth, Rav Aryeh learned at Yeshivas Ponovezh in Bnei Brak. After his marriage to his wife, Rebbetzin Esther Gittel, a daughter of Rav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevich, he learned at Yeshivas Mir, where he was eventually appointed as a R”M in the yeshiva.

Rav Finkel was a scion of the royal family of Mir. His grandfather, Rav Leizer Yudel, was the eldest son of the Alter of Slabodka. For many years, he learned with his uncle, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l. He also learned with Rav Nochum Partzovitz zt”l for many years.

Like his illustrious rebbi, he delivered a weekly shiur kloli and shmuess, and was considered one of the giants of machshovah in the Torah world.

Rav Aryeh was Rav Chaim Zev Finkel’s eldest son. Another son was Rav Moshe Finkel zt”l. His sons-in-law are Rav Aharon Chodosh and Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl.

In his shmuessen, Rav Aryeh explained Medrashim, Gemaros, and maamarei Chazal on the most straightforward level, but when he spoke, the words became luminescent, taking on a special meaning and form. Perhaps it would be fitting to quote Rav Aryeh’s own words from the introduction to his sefer, Yavo Shilo: “Even though these things are basically simple and well-known, the words of Torah are like a coal. Their light is evident only through extensive study and analysis, which brings out the light and causes the flame to shine with all its colors.” That is exactly what Rav Aryeh did: He ignited the “coal,” turning it into a glowing “flame” that radiated light and brilliant color.

Rav Aryeh’s renowned shiurim on Sefer Mishlei, which he began delivering in his youth, achieved widespread popularity throughout the yeshiva world. He delivered a weekly vaad on Mishlei every Motzoei Shabbos for nearly four decades, as well as another, similar vaad every Thursday morning to the avreichim in his yeshiva’s kollel.

His shiurim attracted a large crowd of avreichim, bochurim and residents of Yerushalayim, all of whom were drawn to hear Rav Aryeh’s brilliant blend of mussar and insights into life and avodas Hashem. The shiurim were later delivered at his home in Modiin Illit. Some of the shiurim were published in another sefer titled Har Yeiraeh. (The word “yeiraeh,” in Hebrew, is an anagram of his name, Aryeh.) In each shiur, Rav Aryeh took a posuk and proceeded to analyze it, turning it over and over, and examining each word. His audience would perceive the incredible depth of the posuk, the insights and secrets that it contains, in what seemed, just moments earlier, to be a bland statement with little significance beyond its surface meaning.

Rav Aryeh, in his great humility, always thanked the bochurim who attended the shiur for listening to him. In fact, he once wrote, “Hashem has given me the privilege of delving into the Torah in the presence of friends who listen to me.” Amazingly, this renowned rosh yeshiva used the term “friends” to refer to his talmidim between the ages of 20 and 25.

Rav Aryeh invested tremendous effort not only in his shiurim and shmuessen, but in everything he did. Nothing was done casually, not even answering amein to a brachah. In fact, there was a set minhag among the talmidim in Rav Aryeh’s daily shiur for each talmid to recite a brachah aloud so that the rest could respond amein, also aloud. Every one of Rav Aryeh’s practices was imbued with great meaning.

Every Friday night, Rav Aryeh delivered a shmuess at the yeshiva. These shmuessen, which invariably began with a topic pertaining to Shabbos and moved on to the parshah of the week, served as the basis of his sefer, Yavo Shilo. In the preface to the sefer, the editors point out that in his shmuessen, Rav Aryeh urged his listeners to perceive Hashem’s Presence, His kindness, and His incredible Providence in the natural world through the kedushah of Shabbos.

Rav Aryeh himself wrote in the introduction to his sefer, “The Torah is called shirah because it awakens the sense of life in the Next World. Therefore, on Shabbos – which represents the emunah on which the Torah is based – the strengthening of that emunah reinforces the sense of eternal life that is within us, and from that rises the song of the sweet singer of Yisroel [i.e., Dovid Hamelech in Sefer Tehillim], ‘Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos…’”

The stories of how Rav Aryeh toiled in his Torah study are known throughout the yeshiva world. He delivered shiurim regularly since he was 18 years old, but he approached every shiur as if it was his first. He was capable of spending many days laboring over a single sugya, delving into a single line of reasoning in the Rishonim or a single line in the Gemara for hours on end. He toiled over the teachings of his own rabbeim, and he stressed in every shiur that he is not presenting his own ideas, even when, in fact, he was delivering his own scintillating chiddushim.

He often beamed with joy over a chiddush in learning. He was known to quote a vort from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz with such enthusiasm that he exclaimed, “This is Torah min hashomayim!”

Rav Aryeh was always a paragon of hasmodah and of total absorption in Torah learning. In the bais medrash of his yeshiva, he was a living example of a person whose world contains nothing but Torah.

Born in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Finkel was raised in the world of the Mirrer Yeshiva. He grew up in the yeshiva. As a child, he was part of it. The yeshiva was his life.

When Rav Aryeh’s father, the mashgiach, passed away, someone needed to take his place delivering shmuessen in the yeshiva. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz was asked to assume the responsibility, but he suggested that Rav Aryeh be given the position instead. Rav Aryeh, for his part, attempted to persuade his rebbi, Rav Chaim, to deliver the shmuessen himself. Veterans in the yeshiva recall that at that time, Rav Aryeh and Rav Chaim could be seen walking back and forth together along Rechov Shmuel Hanovi, which runs adjacent to the yeshiva, as they discussed the situation. The ultimate result of that shared walk was that Rav Chaim indeed agreed to deliver the shmuessen.

Rav Aryeh deserved partial credit for the development of Sichos Mussar, the compilation of Rav Chaim’s shmuessen that can be found in almost any Torah home. It was Rav Aryeh himself who transcribed the shmuessen and prepared them for publication. In his home, Rav Aryeh possessed an old copy of Rav Chaim’s printed lectures, in which Rav Chaim himself penned a warm inscription, noting that if not for Rav Aryeh, the sefer never would have been published.

In recent years, Rav Aryeh’s daily routine began very early, with a learning seder preceding Shacharis. His day concluded with learning as well. Every day was a succession of tefillos, shiurim, shmuessen, and sessions of personal guidance for his talmidim. He rose early in the morning to learn before davening, after which he davened Shacharis in the yeshiva. During Pesukei Dezimrah, his voice could be heard chanting each word slowly and with great intent.

After davening, he delivered a shiur in mussar in his private room in the yeshiva. The shiur, at one time, covered sefer Mesillas Yesharim, and Rav Aryeh then switched to Pele Yoetz. After this shiur, Rav Aryeh met with avreichim and bochurim seeking his guidance, counsel, and blessings. He then learned until the afternoon, when he delivered his daily shiur. During the lunch hour, he learned Mishnah Berurah, and he delivered an additional shiur in the afternoon, as well as a vaad or two every evening.

Rav Aryeh was blessed with astounding psychological insight. He had the ability to understand every individual, the very trait that none other than Moshe Rabbeinu desired in his own successor – “to deal with each person according to his spirit,” in the words of Chazal.

Once, a bochur went to Rav Aryeh and related that he was ashamed to tell the rosh yeshiva what he had done wrong, but he was constantly troubled by his failings. Rav Aryeh encouraged the bochur, and he finally revealed that he was struggling with improper thoughts. Rav Aryeh embraced the boy and whispered, “Is that the problem? Let me tell you a secret: I also suffer from that, and I fight against it every day.” The bochur’s face shone with relief, and he happily listened to Rav Aryeh’s advice on how to free himself from those troubling thoughts. Rav Aryeh later told someone, “That bochur impressed me. He speaks the truth.”

Finkel_03Rav Aryeh could not hide the depth of his compassion. Word of another Jew suffering invariably moved him to tears. He wept when he davened for a person who was ill. Troubles of the community and individuals alike pained his heart. There were times when he would stand up in the bais medrash and call on everyone to daven along with him for a choleh to be healed.

At the time when the entire country was searching for the three abducted youths, he was in absolute turmoil. Then, too, he went to the amud and led a tearful recitation of Tehillim, drawing the entire yeshiva along with him. After the news arrived that the boys had been murdered, Rav Aryeh went to pay shivah calls to their families. After the massacre in Har Nof, as well, Rav Aryeh delivered a fiery vaad, asking everyone to join him in a campaign of increased respect for the sanctity of a shul.

Rav Aryeh was asked to serve as sandek at brisos almost every day. Once, he implied that he accepted the honor because it gave him an opportunity to daven for Klal Yisroel. On those occasions, he used the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, “They are Your nation and Your inheritance.”

When he lived in Tel Aviv, the poor and downtrodden were constant guests in his home. Every Shabbos, his seudos were attended by unfortunate people he had met who had nowhere to eat. In the year 5714, when his father left Tel Aviv and moved to Yerushalayim, Rav Aryeh followed him to the Mir.

Once, a child collecting food for a chesed organization knocked on the family’s door, and Rav Aryeh, who was home alone, opened the door himself. When he learned the reason for the child’s visit, Rav Aryeh greeted him with great respect, inviting the child into his home and offering him a seat while he rummaged through the cabinets until he found a can of preserves to give him.

As mentioned, Rav Aryeh was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman insisted on his presence at every meeting of the Moetzes, an insistence with which Rav Aryeh complied, despite the fact that he generally shied away from receiving any sort of honor or respect.

When Rav Aryeh was 16 years old, he was in Yerushalayim during the War of Independence as the city was under siege, while his family remained in Tel Aviv and he lost contact with them. During that time, Rav Aryeh spent bein hasedorim every day tending to the needs of his suffering brethren. Among other sacrifices that he made, Rav Aryeh donated blood time after time to the wounded. Every blood donor received a hardboiled egg and a tomato in exchange for his donation. During that period of austerity, those food items constituted a veritable treasure. Rav Aryeh would give the egg and tomato to the starving bochurim in the yeshiva. He also spent much time running from one position to the next to relay instructions and information that had been sent from the command. Rav Aryeh held on to a certificate of appreciation that he received at the time.

Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel, wife of Rav Aryeh’s brother, Rav Moshe zt”l, noted the two major themes of Rav Aryeh’s life: chesed and feeling. “He was all heart,” she said, relating that the entire family was astounded when the young Rav Aryeh and his first wife, Esther Gittel, took Rav Aryeh’s elderly, ailing grandmother, Rebbetzin Sonnenfeld, into their home. Rebbetzin Sonnenfeld was Rav Aryeh’s maternal grandmother and had married Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld after the passing of her first husband. After Rav Yosef Chaim passed away, the rebbetzin remained widowed and alone. Her final years were spent in the home of Rav Aryeh and his wife. Not every young couple would be capable of performing such an act of chesed.

“Everyone remembers the respect and deference they showed her,” Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel recalled. “It affected their children as well. Their young son, Binyomin, used to run to his great-grandmother whenever she came into the house. He would take off the high shoes that she wore and bring her a pair of house slippers.”

Chesed was a foundation of the Finkel home. Rav Aryeh was a master at displaying kindness and warmth to others. “He treated everyone with respect, even children and youths. His level of bein adam lachaveiro was rare indeed,” said Rebbetzin Finkel.

Rav Aryeh was a man of great emotion. This capacity was manifested first and foremost in his tefillos, but it also could be seen throughout the course of his daily life. “He had a highly developed emotional world, as well as a very special sense of humor,” Rebbetzin Finkel said. It was no wonder, she added, that Rav Aryeh was not merely a rosh yeshiva, but a veritable admor as well. His thousands of talmidim followed him almost like chassidim, watching his every move and thirstily drinking in every word.

Hearing him daven for the amud on the Yomim Noraim was an incredible experience. He poured out his heart during davening. He uplifted everyone who heard him. At certain points in the davening, he literally sobbed. There were people who went to the yeshiva on the Yomim Noraim specifically to hear him.

Rav Aryeh and his brother lost their mother at a young age. Rav Aryeh was 15 years old when she passed away, while Rav Moshe was 13. Their father, Rav Chaim Zev, then married Rav Chaim Shmulevitz’s sister. Naturally, the situation was not easy for the small children in the family. Rav Aryeh, the eldest son, worked to make sure that his stepmother would be welcomed by his siblings. “He honored her in an incredible way,” a family member related. “At that time, Rav Aryeh’s greatness was truly revealed.”

Talmidim remember Rav Aryeh’s compassion, good heart, and humility.

“His anivus was genuine,” a close talmid related. “It wasn’t a show. It was part of his personality. He recoiled not only when people praise him, but even when they merely spoke about him.”

That humility was expressed even in his shiurim. A careful examination of Rav Aryeh’s shiurim and shmuessen will reveal that his own chiddushim are deliberately hidden in the midst of each presentation. The close confidants who worked on his shiurim with him were often astounded. He would spend hours toiling over a certain topic, developing chiddushim and shedding tremendous light on the subject, yet when the time came to deliver the shiur, he would devote only a sentence or two to the major insights that took him hours to develop. At the conclusion of each shiur, he stressed that he was presenting only the words of Chazal and his rabbeim, not any novel ideas of his own.

Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel spoke about Rav Aryeh’s humility, describing how he allowed the position of rosh yeshiva to pass to other members of the family. “His grandfather, Rav Leizer Yudel, and my father, Rav Chaim Zev, passed away in quick succession, and there was a question as to whether Rav Beinish Finkel or Rav Chaim Shmulevitz would be the next rosh yeshiva. Rav Chaim didn’t want the position. He said that it was enough that he had been the rosh yeshiva in Shanghai. Rav Beinish therefore took the responsibility on himself.”

When Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel later became the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aryeh submitted completely to his authority. “That was also the product of his good heart and humility,” the rebbetzin asserted.

Rav Aryeh’s power in learning and mussar was phenomenal, and he spent many years learning with Rav Chaim Shmulevitz. For Rav Aryeh, those years were a formative period of his life, when he absorbed much of his approach to learning. And Rav Chaim’s respect for Rav Aryeh, who was relatively young at the time, says a good deal. Rav Aryeh referred to Rav Chaim as “our master and teacher, master of the entire Talmud, the living lion.” In a similarly effusive comment, he referred to Rav Nochum Partzovitz, with whom he also learned for many years, as “the great gaon, the light of whose Torah illuminates all the ends of the earth.”

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz always asserted that he was not delivering chiddushim of his own; he was merely pointing out relevant sources. “I am like the tiny drawing of a hand that appears in old printings of the Gemara,” Rav Chaim would say. “I am the hand that points to maamarei Chazal.” Rav Aryeh, his talmid, expressed himself in a similar fashion: “I am just a baal korei,” he often says. “I am merely reading the words of Chazal.”

A paragon of humility and self-effacement, Rav Aryeh was a gadol baTorah who impacted generations of bnei Torah. This life of total devotion to Hashem and His Torah came to an end on Tuesday, leaving thousands of talmidim and admirers mourning their great rosh yeshiva and leader.

Yehi zichro boruch.

*****

Excerpts of a Yated Interview with Rav Finkel, Erev Shavuos 5775

By Tzvi Yaakovson

The stories of how Rav Aryeh toils in his Torah study are known throughout the yeshiva world. He has been delivering shiurim regularly since he was 18 years old, but he approaches every shiur as if it is his first. He is capable of spending many days laboring over a single sugya, delving into a single line of reasoning in the Rishonim or a single line in the Gemara for hours on end. He toils over the teachings of his own rabbeim, and he stresses in every shiur that he is not presenting his own ideas, even when, in fact, he is delivering his own scintillating chiddushim. He often beams with joy over a chiddush in learning. He has been known to quote a “vort” from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz with such enthusiasm that he exclaims, “This is Torah min hashomayim!”

Rav Aryeh has always been a paragon of hasmadah and of total absorption in Torah learning, but today, he epitomizes those qualities more than ever. In the bais medrash of his yeshiva, he is a living example of a person whose world contains nothing but Torah.

I ask Rav Aryeh if Yeshivas Mir has some special distinction, but Rav Aryeh is also a paragon of humility, a trait that makes him reluctant to sing the praises of the yeshiva that was the setting for his own development and is the creation of his grandfather. “It has its history,” he says simply.

You have been learning in the yeshiva since your childhood.

“I was born in Mir!” he exclaims.

Of course, Rav Aryeh does not mean to say that he was born in the town of Mir in Poland. On the contrary, his place of birth is Eretz Yisroel. What he means is that he was born into the world of the Mirrer Yeshiva.

“We grew up in the yeshiva. As children, we were part of it. My father, after all, was the son of the rosh yeshiva. The yeshiva was his life.”

You were very close with Rav Chaim Shmulevitz. It would be interesting to hear some of your recollections of him.

“Rav Chaim was kadosh. He was a man of mussar and Torah. But what do you expect me to say when you are asking about my uncles and my grandfather?”

Rav Chaim was Rav Aryeh’s uncle through marriage. His wife, Rebbetzin Chana Miriam, was a sister of Rav Chaim Zev Finkel, Rav Aryeh’s father.

With which of the roshei hayeshiva did you have a close relationship?

“I was very close with Rav Chaim. I was also close with my grandfather, Rav Eliezer Yehuda. I was a child at the time, but I lived with them.”

Did you speak with Rav Chaim often?

“I learned with him for decades.” Rav Aryeh humbly tries to downplay the extent of his connection with Rav Chaim. The two learned together for many years and prepared Rav Chaim’s shmuessen together. When the shmuessen were delivered, Rav Aryeh was responsible for transcribing them and preparing them for publication.

Was it regular learning or did you learn mussar together?

“We learned both Torah and mussar together.”

Was Rav Chaim’s greatness more prominent in mussar or in his regular shiurim?

“He was great in both areas.”

One of Rav Aryeh’s talmidim, who is present for our discussion, interjects, “They say that the rosh yeshiva prepared Rav Chaim’s shmuessen together with him.”

Rav Aryeh is quick to dismiss the idea. “I transcribed the shmuessen and converted them into written form. He seemed to be pleased with my work. I had grown accustomed to his style of expression and to his thought processes. He approved of what I wrote.”

Rav Chaim had a burning dedication to bein adam lachaveiro. He made a well-known comment that a transgression in the realm of bein adam lachaveiro is like fire. Even if you have the best intentions, you will be burned.

“Rav Chaim himself was a fire. But what you are saying is true. He burned with passion about anything having to do with other people.”

The talmid speaks up again. “Did the rosh yeshiva accompany Rav Chaim on his famous visit to Kever Rochel, when he asked Rochel Imeinu to continue weeping?”

“No,” Rav Aryeh says.

Did you go to other places with him?

“Many.”

I ask for examples of such places or stories from those trips, but Rav Aryeh is reticent on the subject. “He was very interesting. He was also very sensitive. He was a very emotional person.”

Do you have an example of that?

“There were many examples, but I would detract from the picture if I gave examples. He was a man of unparalleled emotion. He was moved by everything. In fact, many people did not understand him enough because he was so emotional.”

What do you mean?

“The talmidim in the yeshiva didn’t always fully grasp his intent. For instance, he once said in a shmuess, ‘Do you know what it is like for a mother to go with a child to buy his first pair of shoes? Do you know what that is?’ The bochurim truly didn’t understand what he meant. He had an incredible depth of emotion.”

Rav Aryeh has mentioned this incident in the past. At the time, he related that this took place during Rav Chaim’s first shmuess in the bais medrash of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim, and when he spoke about the mother and the “shichelach,” tears rolled down his cheeks, surprising the bochurim in his audience. At that time, they were unaware of the depth of emotion that he was capable of experiencing.

• • • • •

What should a bochur do if he finds it difficult to learn?

“He shouldn’t be surprised that he finds it difficult. It is difficult for everyone. We all have a yeitzer hara.”

Not everyone… Certainly, the rov doesn’t have a yeitzer hara.

Rav Aryeh laughs. “There is no one who doesn’t have a yeitzer hara. Only the holy avos, with their great service of Hashem, freed themselves from the yeitzer hara.”

What should a bochur do if he finds it difficult to sit in the bais medrash, if he feels that he is “going crazy” after sitting for merely half an hour?

“That is the work of the yeitzer hara, and he has to fight. It is a war – and not a small war, but a major one.”

What are the weapons to use in this war?

“The Torah. He must learn it, attach himself to it, think about it, be close to it, and become kadosh through it. He must distance himself from everything bad and draw close only to things that are good. The Torah is good. He must be good to others, not just to himself.”

It seems that the rosh yeshiva and the bochurim exist in two different worlds. How do you understand a bochur’s problems? How does the rosh yeshiva know how to advise a bochur?

“I understand very well. I understand as much as you do, and as much as the bochurim do. I know that the yeitzer hara wants to destroy a bochur, to remove him from every world. That is what the yeitzer hara does. And in order to combat it, a bochur must extricate himself from his situation and place himself in a position of good – and that is possible only through the Torah. He must cling to the Torah. The Torah, after all, is Hashem. It is a manifestation of Hashem’s Kingship. It is an instruction manual for how to behave in a way that will elevate us from one level to the next, until we become kedoshim finkel-interview-1_03and tehorim, far removed from all evil.”

When you deliver a shmuess, how are you able to speak to every bochur on his own level? Clearly, every bochur is an individual and exists on his own individual level.

“It’s impossible to aim for the level of every bochur, but it is necessary to encourage every bochur to grow and to give him the feeling that he must cleanse himself of evil.”

When you give a shmuess, whom are you addressing?

“Everyone, without exception.”

But sometimes you might speak about shteiging or learning for hours on end and there are bochurim who aren’t even close to that level!

“But they know what they should achieve. They know what they need to aspire to achieve.”

What about tefillah? Where does it fit into the picture?

“Tefillah is the act of turning to Hashem, Who is the Master of everything, and asking Him to help us. If we say to Him sincerely, ‘Help us. We want to free ourselves of evil and it’s hard for us,’ then He will help us. He helps everyone who asks.”

• • • • •

When a question arises about expelling a bochur from the yeshiva, do you take a compassionate approach or do you act strictly?

“We need to be compassionate, just as Hashem is compassionate. Hashem treats all of His creations with mercy, and He runs the world with kindness.”

Then a rosh yeshiva needs to think ten times before expelling a bochur?

“Why should a bochur be expelled? Everyone has his own struggles. If someone gives himself over to the yeitzer hara and shows no interest in the Torah, if he doesn’t even try to take advantage of its ability to counteract the yeitzer hara, then that is very bad. But if a person wants to fight the yeitzer hara, the Torah can help him succeed. Torah silences evil. It repels the yeitzer hara and conquers it. The Torah is the cure.”

I have heard your shmuessen. You quote a Medrash and offer one or two explanations, and then suddenly everything can be seen in a new light.

“A Medrash is Torah, and the Torah is light. That is all. In order to see the light, a person has to think about what the Medrash says and ponder its deeper meaning.”

“A person must think. He must contemplate what the Torah says. The Torah is all that is good in the world; the world was created for its sake.”

I relate to Rav Aryeh that the Yated of America is the newspaper of bnei Torah, and I ask for a special message for the Jews of chutz la’aretz. Rav Aryeh responds that he has a message that is relevant to every Jew, regardless of where or who he or she is.

“Every Jew is special. Every Jew has a neshamah with its own unique qualities, but the soul of every Jew longs for good and desires to distance itself from evil in its own way. Everyone has those desires within him and everyone has his own struggles. The yeitzer hara is the evil in the world and the Torah is the good. Therefore, everyone must desire to be close to the Torah, which is good.”

What is the definition of “good”?

“Hashem is the height of goodness, and the Torah is entirely good. ‘Good’ means benefiting other people, being kind and merciful to others. It means wanting others to live and to be happy. The opposite of that is evil. If someone wants to pull another person down and to make him suffer, that is evil.”

You are a member of the Moetzes….

“What can I do? Why, am I a gadol?”

In response to my question, Rav Aryeh reveals that every member of the Moetzes is given the opportunity to speak, but he does not take advantage of that opportunity. “I have nothing to say,” he explains.

finkel-interview-2_03Why?

“Because I am small. After all, am I a gadol?”

But still, you are a member of the council.

“I have no explanation for that. I am not worthy. I shouldn’t be a member.”

Have you had the opportunity to speak with Rav Shteinman at the sessions of the Moetzes?

“Certainly. I ask for his brachah and he grants it to me.”

I presume that he also asks for a brachah.

“He does, but not from me.”

Rav Aryeh is a staunch supporter and good friend of Lev L’Achim. Recently, he attended the organization’s annual convention despite being confined to a wheelchair, with which he went up on stage. I quote a comment of Rashi on Sefer Yeshayah to the effect that a person who causes others to engage in teshuvah has the power to annul a Divine decree of punishment.

It would seem that it is a good idea to ask for a brachah from a person who is involved in promoting teshuvah.

“Absolutely!”

You are a good friend of Lev L’Achim.

“Yes. Every person should be mekarev his fellow Jews.”

Is there an obligation to engage in kiruv?

“It is a tremendous obligation!” Rav Aryeh’s voice rises emphatically. “Chazal say that when the Torah commands us to love Hashem, it means to cause Him to be loved by others. That is what every Jew is commanded to do – to cause every person to come close to Hashem so that he will be happy and will earn eternal life.”

Where should one invest efforts?

“In everyone. It is not in our hands to determine how much each person will benefit, neither in quantity nor in quality. Each person will be affected in accordance with his own degree of yearning for good and his own inner purity. The war against the yeitzer hara is a major war. Evil fills the world and Torah is the cure for that evil. The Torah gives us the ability to understand that we must distance ourselves from the yeitzer hara.”

What can you tell us about Rav Eliezer Yehuda’s greatness?

“He was a holy man, a man who was entirely good and filled with Torah. He used to give out monetary payments to anyone who developed a chiddush and toiled over his Torah study. Every day, he would sit and listen to divrei Torah, for the sake of the Torah’s honor. He used to pay bochurim, even those who didn’t learn in the yeshiva, so that they would apply themselves to their learning and develop chiddushim.”

Are you referring to the Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel who lived in Mir, Poland?

Rav Aryeh smiles and grasps my hand. “There was only one Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. He lived in Mir and then he lived in Yerushalayim.”

How does the Mir manage to deal with its financial burden?

“Only with Hashem’s help. I have no idea how. There are Jews in the world who have it in their hearts to support Torah study, which sustains the world. Without the Torah, there would be no world.”

Is there a reason for them to give specifically to the Mir?

“Why should there be? They can give to any makom Torah. But the Mirrer Yeshiva is a very large makom Torah. Everyone is drawn to it, and it is a place where people sit and learn day and night.”

Why are people drawn to it?

“If so many people desire to go there, it is a sign that they understand that in the Mir, it is possible to grow.”

Is it truly possible to grow in Mir more than anywhere else?

“Anyone can grow in any good place, but there is an advantage to learning in a place where there are many people, because the presence of so many people creates a power that includes each individual and helps him grow.”

One of the bochurim in the room asks, “If a bochur asked the rosh yeshiva where to go, would he advise him to go to the Mir?”

Rav Aryeh replies, “I would tell him to go wherever he would be successful in learning. It seems that Mir is a place where a person can grow in Torah, probably because of the zechus and power of the large number of people who are there.”

• • • • •

As my discussion with Rav Aryeh draws to a close, I say thank you for giving me some of your time.

“Why not? You are a Jew! You are a tzelem Elokim!”