By Rabbi Yechiel Spero
“Naso es rosh bnei Gershon – Count (lift) the sons of Gershon” (Bamidbar 4:22).
In a sense, we are all the Bnei Gershon.
Rav Gershon Edelstein, the manhig hador, was niftar, leaving Klal Yisroel utterly bereft.
We all need to be lifted.
It is nearly impossible to fathom Rav Gershon‘s uninterrupted decades of learning, from the time he was ten. Nor can we comprehend how he taught and disseminated Torah every day for the past 80 years, including the day before he was niftar. Of this, we have no concept.
However, there is one aspect of his life from which we may be able to glean.
He knew the secret of the Bnei Gershon. Passed over by the family of Kehos, who spearheaded the avodah of the Mishkon, the family of Gershon, the firstborn of Levi, refused to be denied. They would pave their own path. But it required a “naso”; they had to lift themselves up and realize their value in order to be counted.
In our generation, the one who lifted himself up, thereby lifting the rest of us, was Rav Gershon.
He had every excuse to remain a forlorn Gershon. Yet, he grew from his experiences, choosing to transform that feeling of gorush (being banished) into shraga, a light that would spread the warmth of Torah to the world.
A champion for the underdog, Rav Gershon knew hardship and never took Torah learning for granted. Orphaned at a young age, he wasn‘t even living at home when his mother died, as he and his brother had been sent away to learn Torah clandestinely. Young Gershon only discovered that she was gone through a messenger. When the Edelsteins emigrated from Communist Russia, they settled in Ramat Hasharon, where the widowed father raised and taught his sons.
Ramat Hasharon was an irreligious community with few Gemaros. Yet there would be no excuses. With less-than-ideal living conditions, Gershon shteiged and became greater and greater. Sitting on orange or milk crates instead of chairs and sleeping on the floor would not hold him back.
And thanks to his example, Bnei Gershon know that they can still make it.
Acutely aware of the challenges of a lonely bochur, Rav Gershon made it his job to find the weak talmid, the one who was overlooked, and build him up. He often spoke about bitachon atzmi, believing in oneself, and emphasized it when speaking to mechanchim. Never push too hard. Never allow a talmid to fail. Never be harsh. Never force the issue.
He famously told a rosh yeshiva that the job of a rosh yeshiva is to find opportunities to do for others. In a yeshiva, there is so much goodness that can be done, but we must seek ways to help those in need. Every day, he would ask his chavrusa, a bochur, to let him know who needs chizuk so he could make the necessary overtures. And he did.
He found the time. The gadol hador, to whom Torah learning was invaluable, for whom every second was precious, found time to give words of chizuk and idud to those who needed it most.
To the Bnei Gershon. To those who felt overlooked and ignored.
But Bnei Gershon are not only people. They also represent the undervalued and underappreciated moments in our lives, opportunities of untapped potential.
Bein hazemanim. Bein hasedorim. Erev Shabbos. Shabbos.
The Bnei Gershon of time.
Rav Gershon frequently punctuated the importance of learning during these oft-ignored times of the day, of the week, of the year.
To that end, he shared a powerful story. The higher-ups in the army approached the Baba Sali, asking for a brocha for the welfare of the soldiers embarking on a most secretive and dangerous mission. The Baba Sali asked, “When is the mission scheduled?”
“Between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon,” was the reply.
Immediately, he instructed, “Delay the mission! It cannot take place during bein hasedorim, when the olam lacks the protection of Torah, making the mission that much more dangerous.”
They rescheduled — and were successful in their task.
Rav Gershon fought for the learning of Friday and Shabbos, which often suffers due to a lack of regular sedorim. He also spoke of the rebbi, who, looking to capitalize on those lost moments, began learning with his talmidim on Friday and Shabbos. They managed to “manufacture” 18 hours each Friday and Shabbos! He knew that hidden treasures of holiness and troves of greatness can be found within those moments.
In a shmuess given three years ago, Rav Gershon articulated the significance of capitalizing on the holiness of Shabbos, of not allowing the day to pass without learning. To illustrate his point, he vividly portrayed an image he had witnessed of an elderly Russian Jew singing “Ana Avda DeKudsha Brich Hu” on a Shabbos morning over and over again for a half-hour, maybe more. “He was a true eved Hashem,” Rav Gershon stated. When this fellow was incarcerated in Siberia, his superiors forced him to work on Shabbos and it pained him greatly. He had to find a solution. Finally, he did. He cut off two of his fingers. Now he couldn’t work. As the Ponovezher Rov described him: “Ah Shabbosdike Yid.”
Rav Gershon knew it would take sacrifice to learn during these times, to get the most out of the kedusha of Shabbos. Yet he pushed for this, and again and again he encouraged others to commit to learning during these precious pockets of time.
It could be done.
Bnei Gershon could prosper.
He knew it firsthand.
Rav Gershon knew from his own life experiences what we can accomplish when we learn to overcome challenges and persevere despite difficulties.
After the passing of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rav Gershon spoke to a gathering of thousands of women. To the question, “What should be our avodah now? What area should we work on?” he responded, “When a gadol dies, his kochos remain behind. They are there for the taking. Don‘t let them be lost. Hold onto them!”
Rav Gershon leaves so much behind. So much to take. We must all hold onto something.
Who will hold onto the Bnei Gershon?