Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

Torah Royalty


I never learned at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, but have a special place for it in my heart. My relationship began when, as a young teenager, a mispallel in my father’s shul told me that he was going to take me to hear a ma’amar from his rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, the rosh yeshiva of that yeshiva.

From outward appearances, Reb Matis Greenblatt was a simple baal habayis, but even at that young age, I had come to respect him as a talmid chochom with a wide-ranging knowledge and deep understanding of Torah. He had a special neshomah and always spoke of his rebbi, “the rosh yeshiva.”

I was a young bochur from Monsey who had never been in Brooklyn, much less Chaim Berlin. I had heard of Rav Hutner, but had never been exposed to him except through his talmid, Reb Matis, and I figured that if this was the talmid, the rebbi must really be something very special.

I wasn’t let down. It was on Chol Hamoed Sukkos that we went. The maamar and everything about it was fascinating. The Torah was fascinating, and the style and content were like nothing I had heard before. The rosh yeshiva spoke softly and poetically, setting forth deep concepts beautifully and with much color in a way that the Torah he was saying danced in your head. The setting was fascinating. The rosh yeshiva was seated regally at the head of the table. Seated around the table were senior talmidim transfixed on the rosh yeshiva and what he was saying. It was mesmerizing.

All these years later, I still remember the maamar and the mark it made on me. Reb Matis took me to more maamorim, and although I never met Rav Hutner or learned as a talmid in his yeshiva, he opened the world of Maharal and machshovah for me, and a special place for him and his yeshiva in my heart.

I was reconnected to that bais medrash many years later when I became involved with Torah Umesorah. By that time, Rav Aharon Schechter, the foremost talmid of Rav Hutner and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, had established a reputation as a leading rosh yeshiva. He took an active role in several communal institutions and organizations, among them Torah Umesorah.

Rav Shea Fishman, who had learned with Rav Aharon under Rav Hutner, headed the organization and was very close to Rav Aharon. He introduced me to Rav Aharon, who was always very kind to me and was mekarev me. He was warm, kind and very aristocratic. He represented the gadlus ha’adam of a talmid chochom, always conducting himself with supreme dignity. He had a way of speaking to people that made everyone he spoke to feel special and appreciated. It was a pleasure to be in his company, automatically uplifted just by being in his presence.

For several years at the Torah Umesorah convention, I was privileged to eat at the rosh yeshiva’s table in his private dining room, together with his talmid and my good friend, Rav Chaim Nosson Segal, and several of the rosh yeshiva’s family members. During the week, Rav Aharon epitomized the portrayal of the glorious image of a talmid chochom. On Shabbos in that room, there was an illustrious sublime aura about him as he led the seudah, subsumed in the kedushas haShabbos, singing zemiros and discussing the parsha.

Though I was an outsider, I was welcomed and made to feel like a member of the family. Someone familiar with the way the rosh yeshiva guarded his privacy at the seudos there approached him and asked him why he had added me to his private sanctum, as I was not a talmid. He responded with a smile that he considered me an honorary talmid. He made me feel good then and many other times when we would have discussions.

The first time I was in Camp Morris I went over to the rosh yeshiva to say Shalom Aleichem and mentioned that I had never previously been there. He said, “Come, I will give you a tour.” He came into my car and directed me around the campus, pointing out with great pride all the various buildings and landmarks.

The rosh yeshiva attended the weddings of my children that were held in Brooklyn, as well as a vort. It was a great honor each time.

At Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, a talmid is a talmid for life, and the rosh yeshiva was always there for his talmidim, regardless of what it was that they needed. When he spoke with his talmidim, it was mitoch ahavah, and if it was necessary to be mochiach them, he did so very strongly, while reminding them that it was out of love. And he was that way not only with talmidim, but with other people with whom he came in contact. Because he cared so deeply about others, he always knew the right thing to say to put people at ease and explain to them their obligations, helping them work their way through challenging periods.

A young man made his way to a Torah life and davened in the shul of Rav Chaim Noson Segal. A talmid of Rav Aharon, he became engaged to a frum girl and was to get married. The boy’s father was adamantly opposed to his son’s embrace of Torah and was incensed that he was marrying a religious girl. He begrudgingly went to the wedding and was sad and forlorn.

When he was introduced to Rav Aharon, Rav Aharon took him into a side room and spoke to him privately for twenty minutes. When the conversation ended, the man came out with a broad smile on his face. He happily enjoyed the rest of the wedding and even danced with the rosh yeshiva.

Rabbi Segal asked his rebbi what he told the man that so changed his approach to the wedding and to his son’s path of teshuvah. Rav Aharon told him that he understood the man’s anguish. He was a stranger at his son’s wedding and had no idea what was going on and what to expect. “I went through the whole wedding with him and told him step by step what was going to happen with some explanation.”

At a different wedding, Rabbi Segal introduced the rosh yeshiva to a man who attended shul six days a week, but couldn’t bring himself to stay away from work on the seventh. Later on, Rav Aharon searched out that man and sat down with him. He held his hand and spoke to him about the beauty of Shabbos, discussing the various halachos and how the man could minimize his chillul Shabbos.

Shortly thereafter, the man approached his boss and informed him that he would no longer be coming in on Saturdays. He became a full baal teshuvah. His sons went on to learn in yeshiva, becoming full-fledged bnei Torah, and this man has already completed Shas twice. What led to him changing his life? He told Rabbi Segal that it was the way the rosh yeshiva held his hand as he spoke to him that evening. “With so much warmth and understanding,” he said, “he spoke to me about Shabbos and I began to understand how important Shabbos is.

As soft and gentle as he was, when it came to bizayon haTorah, when it came to a chillul Hashem, he rose like a lion. In matters of Torah, in matters of kavod haTorah, yoker haTorah and yiras Shomayim, he was as tough as could be.

When he was learning, he was most intense, sitting for hours on end horeving with great hasmodah and thus reaching the high levels he reached. His shiurim lasted for hours, as he would methodically go through every detail and aspect of the sugya. He was totally absorbed and demanded the same from his talmidim.

His attachment to Torah was his life and he strove to remain rooted in that ideal without permitting anything foreign to intrude. He was considered the greatest talmid of his great rebbi, drawn to the great light of the supremacy of Torah. Everything in his life was guided by the Torah his rebbi taught him and that he later acquired on his own.

He appreciated that as he learned Torah, he rose in heights and became closer to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. When he performed mitzvos, he reflected on all facets of the mitzvah and considered that by doing so, he was affecting creation. There was nothing more important at the moment than the mitzvah.

He loved all Jews because he appreciated that they are members of the Am Hanivchar, blessed with a neshomah, a cheilek Eloka mimaal and a cheilek in Torah.

Rav Aharon embodied the aristocracy of Torah. In this week’s parsha, the posuk (29:8) states, “Lema’an taskilun eis kol asher ta’asun,” and the common translation is that you should follow the Torah so that you should succeed in all you do.

But if you look in the Sefer Hashoroshim, you will find that at the root of the word “haskolah” is the word “seichel,” which means intelligence and understanding. He cites as an example the posuk which discusses when Yaakov Avinu switched his hands as he blessed the two sons of Yosef, putting the younger son before the older one.

The posuk says, “Sikeil es yodov,” which is simply translated as “switched his hands,” to place the right hand on the younger son and the left hand on the older one. The Sefer Hashoroshim writes that the word sikeil is used as if to say that Yaakov put seichel into his hands and they acted with seichel and chochmah. The Targum supports this explanation.

So we see that at the root of the word taskilun is the necessity to understand and be intelligent in Torah. We can explain that the meaning of the posuk is that if you set aside all other considerations and work to be thorough in your understanding of Torah, you will be successful in all you do, because Torah necessitates understanding and the dedication of all of our intelligence. Torah is not a casual external pursuit, but requires lots of work and horeving to properly grasp and comprehend the Torah and its mitzvos.

A person who thinks everything through very carefully grows in Torah and succeeds. A person who spends hours deep in thought, working through the intricacies of a sugya, is a maskil. A person who thinks before he speaks, who doesn’t answer a question until he has clearly thought through the issue, is a maskil. A person who thinks about each word he says and how he says it is a maskil. A person who thinks about every world of davening as he davens is a maskil, as is someone who thinks through each mitzvah he is about to perform prior to performing it.

A maskil is always growing, because he is always thinking and arriving at deeper understandings, reaching greater heights in Torah and in avodah. He is not stagnant, having arrived at a plateau, satisfied at having attained a certain height. Rather, he is never satisfied, and each time he opens a Chumash or a Gemara or lifts an esrog, he ponders again the meaning of what he is doing and learning.  Therefore, the Torah proclaims that he will be successful. He will be successful in his Torah learning, in his Torah comprehension, in his performance of mitzvos, in personal satisfaction with what he has done and accomplished, and in every facet of his life.

At the root of taskilun, success, is haskolahseichel. At the root of growth is the need to work to thoroughly understand what we are doing.

Such a person was Rav Aharon Schechter, who spent his life hureving in learning to understand the finer concepts of Torah. He was an ish maskil who worked with much effort, strength and patience to understand every sugya that he touched. He continued along the path hewed by his great rebbi, studying and teaching the sugyos of Shas, as well as the seforim of the Maharal, the Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon, to arrive at a deep and lofty understanding of Torah, mitzvos and all of creation.

Therefore, the promise of the Torah was realized in him and he succeeded in his task as rosh yeshiva of a foremost yeshiva, taking over from his legendary rebbi and causing the yeshiva and its talmidim to grow and succeed in their unique, glorious path in Torah.

May his memory and what he stood for be a zechus for his family, his talmidim, and all of Klal Yisroel.



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