In light of the sudden petirah of Rav Shmuel Auerbach zt”l, I thought it would be appropriate to listen to some of his own words upon the passing of other gedolim. Many of his insights and divrei hesped are eminently applicable to the rosh yeshiva himself, and I hope that they will serve as a proper tribute to his lifelong mesirus nefesh for Torah. Although each hesped or tribute was formally dedicated to a particular gadol, the rosh yeshiva often wove into his presentation original and inspiring remarks about others as well. I have also added a section about his view of this time of year from the Torah perspective.
Upon the Tenth Yahrtzeit of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l
(Printed in Ashamrena Bechol Lev)
Rabbeinu Hagadol (Rav Shach) used to speak often of the Chazon Ish zt”l, stressing his incredible devotion to learning Torah lishmah, purely for the sake of heaven. At these times, he would always say that “he was the greatest of them all.” I remember, and I am sure that many others do as well, how during his days, a new spirit of learning Torah lishmah permeated the air. Many avreichim – young kollel men – began to devote themselves to learning Torah for no other purpose than to live with the Gemara. They decided that this was the goal of life and it became their definition and raison d’être. This phenomenon was a fulfillment of the words of Chazal (Chagigah 13b and see Gilyon Hashas, Shabbos 88b) that Hashem “distributed the souls of the righteous in every generation.” Indeed, Hashem has demonstrated to us that although there has been a tremendous yeridas hadoros – a diminution of greatness from one generation to the next – at the same time He has given us incredible greatness in each era. This descent of man is not absolute (gezeiras hakosuv). Although there is clearly a downturn in the generations, Torah prominence returns regularly so that no one should despair. There is always the possibility of gadlus and noteworthiness appearing in our midst, with some rising to the highest of heights.
When we speak of greatness, it is not necessarily intellectual achievement we are discussing. The Chazon Ish revealed that he labored on his prayers as much as on his learning of the most difficult sugyos. We saw him fall back into his chair exhausted and spent after each tefillah. We must remember that we speak of people in our generation, not Tana’im or Amora’im. These are madreigos that we can all attain if we would only put in the same effort, which obligates us all to work much harder on our avodas Hashem.
We must mention that in these days, the yahrtzeit of the Tchebiner Rov falls as well. He was the very embodiment of Torah, despite all the tragedies that befell him in the churban of Europe. He lost a number of children there, including two sons who were already considered gaonim in those days. Nevertheless, he continued with his in-depth learning as if nothing had occurred. I remember very well that his rebbetzin a”h would sometimes unburden her heart when speaking of those horrific days. But when she heard that her husband was arriving, she immediately ceased. “The rov is coming, so we must not speak of these things,” she whispered. “He insists that we not speak like this. To him, it is self-evident that Hashem controls everything. That is the most fundamental teaching of Judaism. All that counts is to live with the Gemara, be attached to Hashem’s Torah with all your heart, and with great joy be submissive to Him.” These words are so simple yet extremely profound that we must strive to remember and live by them.
When I was maspid Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, I mentioned a conversation we had about founding a yeshiva for a certain group. I told him that, in my opinion, it was not worthwhile. However, he responded that, on the contrary, it was absolutely necessary. I cannot even begin to describe how his love of Torah literally overflowed its banks, pouring forth from him like a raging river… When this great person was in our midst, it had an effect upon us all… This is how all the giants of Torah lived and it is expected of us as well. We, too, can achieve the ideal of learning Torah purely for its own sake, not to achieve something in particular, only to learn and cleave to it forever.
The Alter of Kelm used the metaphor of medication to explain how to learn mussar. If the doctor orders his patient to take medicine, he must swallow it completely. It does no good to sit and stare at the bottle. It is the same with words of chastisement and admonition. One must accept them completely, take them into one’s system and internalize every word. The main thing is, as the rosh yeshiva (Rav Shach zt”l) taught, “not to be superficial.” One must turn the inspiration into concrete action.
Upon The First Yahrtzeit of
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l
(From Veyiheyu Chaim Lenafshecha)
Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni 436) teach us that “the passing of tzaddikim is more difficult before the One Who created the world than the 98 exhortations in Sefer Devorim and the churban Bais Hamikdosh.” Indeed, Hashem gave us all a gift that this great man was in our midst for so many years. Not only did his presence protect an entire generation with his Torah and yirah but…we saw with our own eyes how a true talmid chochom virtually exudes Torah with every breath he takes… In him we perceived the oneness of Hashem, His Torah and Klal Yisroel…
We may apply to Rav Elyashiv zt”l the famous moshol that the Dubna Maggid quoted from the Vilna Gaon (Ohel Yaakov, Parshas Tazria). He stated that although there are numerous ways in which a Torah giant influences his generation, the most authentic one is similar to the vessel which is filled until it overflows, causing many smaller utensils to achieve their own fullness. Rav Elyashiv represented this ideal by absorbing every possible bit of Torah he could and then becoming the conduit for its distribution to the entire generation. It was understood by all that Hashem had granted Rav Elyashiv long life so that he could be this bridge to earlier generations, transmitting the mesorah pristinely without any changes or compromises.
The Thirty Days Before Pesach: Insights for This Time of Year
(From Kol Chafotzecha Lo Yishvu Ba)
Boruch Hashem, in some ways the generations are actually improving. I can recall as a young man that there was nowhere to sit and learn. The shuls were closed for fear that someone would bring in chometz, a situation that caused great harm to the bochurim who were forced to wander the streets, with all that entails. Today, there is a new spirit of learning during this time of year, and this is to the credit of the new generation. However, we must remember that this time of year places tremendous spiritual obligations upon us. Three thousand years ago, when we left Mitzrayim though open miracles, one major neis was that we grew spiritually with great rapidity, beyond our natural abilities. The Chesed L’Avrohom teaches that this miracle is not repeated annually. On the contrary, we must prepare ourselves properly to receive the momentous light that was revealed to our ancestors as a gift. In our days, however, it is up to us pave the way for this new level of spiritual freedom and receiving the Torah.
After the sin of man catapulted man down to the depths of depravity, mankind had to wait for Avrohom Avinu to rediscover Hashem. This process recurs in every generation… Last Friday, a Russian refusenik passed away after having suffered much under the communists. For his sin of having sought permission to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel, he was placed in a dungeon, where, for many weeks, he could not discern the difference between day and night. When he was finally released, he suddenly saw trees and flowers blooming, the sun shining brightly, and a beautiful world before him. This wondrous sight caused him to think, “Who brought all this into being? Could this have happened by itself?” This led him to believe that there is, in fact, a Creator, and he began to learn Torah even while he was in Russia and he became a talmid chochom and a tzaddik here in Eretz Yisroel. This wonderful man, as it turns out, went through the same process as Avrohom Avinu. In fact, in every generation, Hashem reveals Himself once again to all those who thirst for Him and His truth.
• • • •
As we read Rav Auerbach’s words and read between the lines, we meet a man of profound optimism. He sees the bright side of generations that may be below the level of their predecessors but radiate great potential as well. He felt that every individual is given the ability to rise to greatness, if he only puts in the effort. He recognized the heroism of those who triumphed over adversity and personal tragedy, gently telling us all that we don’t have the excuses earlier generations could have used, even though they chose not to take the easy way out. The rosh yeshiva encouraged us to use every opportunity and seize every moment for learning, growth in middos and spiritual stature. He demanded much of us – but not as much as he demanded of himself – and expected us to accomplish it all because we could. May we live up to his expectations and may he be a meilitz yosher for us all.