A Talmid Reflects

By Rabbi Rueven Gerson


When Rav Tzvi Markowitz zt”l, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan was asked why he doesn’t tell stories of his great Rebbe, Rav Shimon Shkop, he would say, “generally people who tell stories about their rebbe are usually telling stories about themselves, I don’t like talking about myself.”

Writing about our Rebbe Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l, after 20 years, is an expression of how the void created by his passing is still evident. Hardly a day goes by without the feeling that his wisdom and guidance are sorely lacking. The years spent in his presence created the perimeters in which future growth were possible, always building on those foundations and returning to those lessons.

It is my hope that this short compilation will arouse an interest in the hadracha of the Rosh Yeshiva that is available in his seforim and hundreds of tapes. Throughout his legacy he touches on a myriad of topics and issues that are as vital now as they were when the Rosh Yeshiva first addressed them.

In a Hesped that the Rosh Yeshiva delivered on the yarzheit of the Alter Telzer Rov he stated [1], “Although I did not know the Rosh Yeshiva personally, my knowledge of him is from his Torah. But this is the true way to recognize a person. Just as our recognition of Hashem is only through His Torah.” The same can be said of the Rosh Yeshiva, even though he lived amongst us, he was not of our dimension. As “talmidim” we can gain a glimpse of his stature from his writing. In this regard a special measure of gratitude is due to Rav Zalman Gifter for his continued efforts in publishing the multitudes of manuscripts that the Rosh Yeshiva left. The Rosh Yeshiva’s words impacted the listeners as they emanated from a heart that was saturated with the very ideas that he imparted.  The truth of the message, even when the demand was beyond our grasp, penetrated the heart and left a tangible impression.


Early years

Rav Gifter would often tell that as a youngster he would spend time in the Baltimore shul with the children of the local Rabbi. One day Rav Shimon Shkop visited the Rabbi. The Rabbi brought the young boy to receive a brocha from the sage. Rav Gifter said “the appearance of Rav Shimon was akin to that of a malach” and the brochaZolzst vellen lernen”, you should want to learn, inspired him throughout his life.

He never disavowed his years in public school and would often remark that in public school they would wash a boy’s mouth with soap for speaking inappropriate language.

Rav Gifter’s uncle, Rabbi Samuel L. (Yehudah Leib) Sar ע”ה, was the Dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological Seminary (RIETS). He convinced Rav Gifter’s father, Reb Yisroel, to send his son to high school at RIETS. Notwithstanding the paucity of his Talmudic knowledge, he was accepted. In fact, the comment that he was placed in the first shiur because there was no shiur lower in which to place him, was a cause for added effort on his part.

His mentor and Rebbe in those formative years was Rabbi Moshe Aaron Poleyeff zt”l. A relationship that spanned many decades was forged at that time. Rav Gifter would fondly recall his years in Rav Poleyeff’s class, and Rav Poleyeff’s special control over the students with love and affection. Their correspondence of almost 30 years, which was printed by his son Rav Zalman Gifter, is a window into many personal aspects of Rav Gifter’s life. The Rosh yeshiva’s progress in learning is evident in the changing titles that he received from Rav Poleyeff, at first my dear talmid culminating in Harav hagaon!

After a year and a half, the young Mordechai was promoted to the shiur of Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, the Rosh Yeshiva.

His life changed completely with his decision in תרצ”ג to relocate to the Telzer Yeshiva in Lithuania. He was forever grateful to his uncle, Mr. Shmuel Leib Sar who was the force behind the idea. He left America on the Bernengaria [2] steamship on Oct 26, 1932 when he was 16 years old.

The Berengaria was the pride of the Cunard fleet and included many entertainment options on board. At the outset of their voyage the ship was struck by a severe storm. In seconds, the party atmosphere was replaced with fear. For about fifteen minutes, the ship buffeted by the storm struggled to retain an even keel. When the storm abated, the young Mordechai expected a sense of solemnity to reign on the ship. He was shocked to see that almost immediately the passengers returned to their partying. This, he retold, was the first question he asked his Rebbe, the Rosh Yeshiva Harav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy”d, how is it possible that they did not stop for even a moment afterwards? The Rov explained that the nature of a human is such that true change is not achieved by momentary inspiration [3], but only after serious effort [4].

The vision that accompanied the Rosh Yeshiva for his entire life was his first sight of the Beis Hamedrash. He would recount the powerful impression the sight of the Beis Hamedrash made on him, and in his stentorian voice he would exclaim, “Un keinem batelt,” no one was idle. Yet, in time this same impression, as deep as it was, would deepen. In a letter that he wrote in 1935 to Mr. Morris Siegel (who also had a hand in encouraging him to study in Europe) he writes, “The spiritual enjoyment to be had from study of the Torah is beyond all description. It is only to be felt, and that, only for one who studies in the yeshiva of Telz.”

His vision of a Yeshiva in which no bochur ever bateled, was explained by a colleague, “in his four amos it was impossible to battel, he himself did not know how to battel!” The Rosh Yeshiva was a genial person, and anyone could talk with him, but he did not suffer fools or foolishness lightly. An off color or flippant comment would result in a harsh rebuke. He pointed out the incident recorded in Chagigah 3b as a lesson how a Rebbe must relate to a talmid. The harsh rebuke stands in contradistinction to the current attitudes of educators. It must be stressed that the response of the Rebbe was not caused by negative character traits, but from the realization of the detrimental effects of the talmid’s lack of reverence [5].

In his first letter to Rav Poleyeff from Telz, in תרצ”ד, he describes his learning regimen and that he spoke in learning with the Rov. He never said it, but others said that at the time he was regarded as the American illuy. Rav Zalman Kramerman relates that in his day one of the tone setters in Telz was Mordechai Gifter. His voice reverberated in the Beis HaMedrash as he and his chavrusah argued as they learnt, his face would turn red from the exertion and the shouting [6]

Once in conversation he commented that in Telz there was no access to the indulgences that are all so common today, all they had was sweet fresh water from a nearby well. The Rebbetzin remarked that there was a kiosk wherein they sold ice cream. The Rosh Yeshiva in total amazement replied, “in all my years there I did not know about it.”

He would stress that in order to be successful in learning it is necessary to prepare oneself and the best preparation is feeling the chidush and sensation of Matan Torah. But grabbing a bite or a drink in the dormitory detracts from kabolas HaTorah [7]. After a strong worded shmuesss against the pizza generation, the organizers of the Chanukah Melava Malka were nervous to serve the standard pizza. They sent a bochur to ask the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva replied that it is a healthy food with protein and starch. For Melave Malka it is fine but not as a food to grab and eat in the gourmand manner common in the modern world.

The Mesorah of Telz was to become his mesorah. Although the yeshiva was founded by Rav Leizer Gordon, for whom the Rosh Yeshiva had immense respect, the unique Telzer hashkofa was created by Rav Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch zt”l, known in the Yeshiva as the Alte Rov. His Shiurei Daas were the cornerstone of many of the Rosh Yeshiva’s shmuessen. Unique to the Telzer Yeshiva was that the mussar shmuess was called a “shiur”, to convey the integral importance of Hashkofa nechona to the talmidim. Just as halocha has a shiur so does machshova. The Rosh Yeshiva called his shiurei daas a shmuess and printed them under the title Pirkei Emunah, subtitled Shiurei Daas. He explained that neither he nor the listeners are holding by that elevated level that the shmuess could be defined as a shiur daas [8]. In numerous shiurim the Rosh Yeshiva references the Alte Rov’s Shiure Daas.

He forged a strong bond with the Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy”d. Besides for the Yiras Shomayim he learned from him, many of the Rosh Yeshiva’s fundamental hashkofos were gleaned from his interactions with the Rov. In a letter, the Rosh Yeshiva wrote, “if I was zoche to anything in Torah it is from him [9].” For years after hearing about the murder of the Rov by the Germans, he would cry at the mention of his Rebbe’s name.

Like all bochurim, he boarded at the home of one of the local families. He would always say that for most of the time he was comparatively rich and so he stayed at the home of Rav Zalman Bloch who had running water and electricity. In his letters to Rav Poleyeff he describes the close relationship that developed between him and the Bloch family. He even spent a summer together with them in a resort. Rav Zalman also learned with him, and they finished Yevomos together. Later, the Rosh Yeshiva got engaged to the Rebbetzin, Rav Bloch’s daughter.

While in Telz, the Rosh Yeshiva would correspond with Rav Ezra Altshuler, the Vinuta Rov. Once, a bochur of Telz from Vinuta came to visit Rav  Altshuler. He asked the bochur who is this Rav Gifter in Telz, to which the bochur   answered, he is not a Rov just an American bochur. Rav Ezra expressed his surprise. When the bochur came back to Yeshiva he told Rav Gifter what transpired so Rav Gifter wrote a letter asking why the Rov was surprised that he was an American bochur and not a Ram in the Yeshiva or a Rov in the city of Telz as he had spent his time in America in the Beis HaMedrash. Rav Ezra, responded as follows. The Torah tells that when Avrohom and Sorah got close to Mitzrayim Avrohom told Sorah, “now I know you are a beautiful woman, and therefore my life is in danger.” Why does the Torah tell us that as they approached Mitzrayim this happened? Rav Ezra explained with a parable. When a plague breakes out in a city the people in the immediate vicinity are most affected. However, the people that share the same atmosphere are also affected, albeit to a lesser degree. The atmosphere of Mitzrayim was so suffused with immorality, that Sarah’s beauty took on a different quality even to Avrohom. Since the very atmosphere of America, he explained, is the antithesis of Torah, even the atmosphere of the Beis HaMedrash can be affected. Insulating oneself from the outside world and all its influences was a cornerstone of the Rosh Yeshiva’s outlook on life. After this incident Rav Ezra continued to conclude his letters by calling the young “Rosh Yeshiva” HaRav hagaon [10], and he added אהובי יקירי.

On his trips to Kovna he made a point of meeting the Gedolim there and sharing divrei Torah with them. The discussions and their outcomes were reported to Rav Poleyeff with the obvious excitement that accompanied his growth in Torah.

He developed close relationships in learning with other members of the faculty. Notable among them was Rav Azriel Rabinowitz Hy”d, the son of Rav Chaim Telzer. In many shiurim he quotes chiddushim that he heard from Rav Azriel, whom he calls Mori veRabi. He would often tell of the amazing clarity and ability to transmit difficult topics that Rav Azriel possessed. The Rosh Yeshiva dedicated the first addition of his Pirkei Torah in Rav Azriel’s memory.

While in Telz he suffered from frequent weakness in his ability to concentrate. He consulted his Rebbi, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, who told him that it is a result of straining his mind and that he should learn a little less intensely for a while. The Rosh Yeshiva was concerned because it did not help, and he worried that he was sick. He even went to a renowned neurologist in Kovna who suggested that he take a vacation. For the vacation spot he went to Palongen where he met Rav Mordechai Pogermansky for the first time. Reb Mottel was a well-known brilliant Talmid Chachom who possessed an acute understanding of people and the world.

He unburdened himself to Reb Mottel. Reb Mottel explained that in psychology there exists a level of consciousness that is called subconscious. It is possible that a subliminal thought is interfering with your thoughts in learning and the best way to overcome it is by applying yourself to learning with more intensity. In a short while, this approach worked [11].

Many of the lessons that he learned from Reb Mottel became foundations of his own hashkofos. The Rosh Yeshiva was always lavish in his praise of Reb Motel, and his ability to clarify and elucidate the words of Chazal whether in Halocha or Agoda. He described an occasion that Reb Mottel taught him a page from the Leshem, for the time he was there and learning till he left he felt like he was in a different world, and all of the words of the Leshem were clear to him. Once he left, however, it all dissipated [12].

In a conversation with Rav Gavriel Riklis z”l, an older alumnus and mashgiach in Telz, they discussed the impact of Reb Mottel’s shmuessen. Both acknowledged that it was impossible to recreate the shmuess that Reb Mottel had said, even though they had followed the train of thought. They concluded that the level of the shmuess was above them. At the time it was like a bolt of lightening that illuminated their world for a moment only to disappear immediately afterwards [13].

In a memorial shmuess in memory of Rav Pogermansky he mentioned the only remaining printed Torah thoughts of Reb Mottel. He elaborated on the theme that the Sechel HaTorah and the sechel ha’adam are different in kind not in quantity. It is the mission of the Ben Torah to actualize his sechel and to bring it in line with the Sechel HaTorah. This yesod he said, Reb Mottel would drill into the bochurim at every opportunity.

In his letters to Rav Poleyeff his growth in learning both in breadth and depth is astounding. Yet, in many instances, he asks that his Rebbe confirm the accuracy of his Torah thoughts. In fact, every time he spoke in learning he seemed to need the corroboration from the Gadol that his divrei Torah were acceptable. This came to a head in ת”ש when he thanked Rav Leib Forer for his benevolence in corresponding with him, as he needs an ear and a sounding board for his Torah thoughts. Rav Forer responded [14], “You do not have to thank me. You do not appreciate your own statue as a Talmid Chocham and that there are few like you, both in America and Europe. How I wish I could spend more time with you and speak with you in person.”

It is worthwhile to note that Rav Forer was a well-recognized illuy in Europe and had earned a semicha from Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. He was already a Rov and yet he called the young Rabbi Gifter a gaon in his title. In some of the exchanges he concedes to the young Rabbi of Waterbury.


Ahavas Torah

The Rosh Yeshiva would often recount the words of his Rebbe, how is it possible to learn Torah lishma, as it is so sweet and pleasant to learn. The young Mordechai replied that it would seem to him that that is the essential lishma in learning.

One must cultivate a love of learning and that is in and of itself lishma. Later he found this idea in the words of the Eglei Tal (hakdomah). But more importantly he found the words of Rabbeinu Avrohom Min HaHar in Nedarim expressing the very same idea. In a letter to a talmid [15] he wrote, “I am happy as I found the words of Rav Avrohom Min HaHar to be a Gemorah, Chulin 133”.

Even when they were struggling financially, he would still buy seforim for his unslakable thirst for more Torah. The number of seforim that he quoted from, even in his early years, was unusual. Sometimes at night he would lay awake troubled, to the Rebbetzin’s concerned question as to what is bothering him, he would reply the Rambam or Rashba does not allow him to sleep. On one occasion he even asked Rav Poleyeff to make him a copy of a Teshuvas HaRashba as the volume was not available in Telz. He excused himself for bothering Rav Poleyeff, even though it was an imposition and Rav Poleyeff was his Rebbe, but he had to see the words in the sefer. [16]

From his youngest years he would write all his Torah thoughts. In his letters to Rabbi Poleyeff he bemoaned that he was not able to write down all his chiddushim on the extra masechtas that he learned while in Telz. Any correspondence that included divrei Torah he would request of the recipient to send the letter or a copy of it back to him so that he could save it. In a letter he laments the fact that he did not have time to write on Succah and Rosh Hashonah but time did not allow.

He would tell his talmidim to hold every thought in learning precious. And that every small question would one day, with maturity in learning, develop into a kuntres.

In his folders there are many letters filled with deep chiddushim written on hotel letterheads. Many beginning with a plea for forgiveness that he is not holding in learning as he was involved the entire day until late with fund raising, but then he goes on to write many pages of cogent chiddushim with quotations and insights on the question on the Yeshiva Masechta, or other sugyas that he was asked about. He also wrote notes on envelopes that he opened to use as writing paper. Astoundingly, he could write page after page with hardly a crossing out or correction. When necessary he did not hesitate to cross out a page or to write a marginal note, this idea is wrong.

To Rav Forer he wrote that he needs to write to him as he has no one in Waterbury to talk in learning with. In his introduction to Pirkei Iyun on Makos he described the pleasure he got from one of the participants in the shiur which he gave in Waterbury, “there was a Galciana Yid who would ask and also answer questions and that was a source of pleasure for me.” Talmidai Chachomim that used the sefer were amazed that he was mechadaish chiddushim, before the era of printed chiddushim of every Rosh Yeshiva, while he himself was so young.

In his later years when his health had deteriorated, he would lament his inability to write and hence his inability to learn to his full potential. He tried various methods to prevent his tremors. He even followed a segula, told to him by Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer, to have a live lizard held in a tube and tied to his wrist to be able to learn again. When that failed, he quipped it must be the wrong kind of lizard. The Rebbetzin, to her credit, would go to the pet store to buy the lizards. As his memory dimmed, he would still learn every day not knowing if he had already learned the page before. He would repeat, with obvious hope, the words of his doctor that his memory is intact, only his recall is not functional. All the while he would accept this as the will of Hashem.

From the halacha of netilas yadayim in the morning he came to a wonderful conclusion. The Beis Yosef writes that the reason for washing in the morning is to prepare for a new day of serving Hashem. The Rosh Yeshiva explained that it is not a metaphor. Hashem creates the world anew every day and the Torah, that sustains the world, is therefore also renewed each day. Chazal only used the word like because the human mind cannot recognize the renewal. As humans we can only process that which our physical senses experience, but our intellect is able to grasp intangible concepts. When we arrive at the recognition that Torah is new each day it should impact us like a novel sensation [17].

In a Shiur Daas from 1967 [18] he said that he came to an amazing thought in the Gemorah Bava Basra 7b and that he is still under its impact. Reish Lakish posits that a Talmid Chacham is exempt from paying tax. This he explains is because they do not need protection. Rav Yochonon said that this is implied by the verse אני חומה ושדי כמגדלות. Yad Ramah explains that Talmidei Chachomim are compared to nurslings because they learn from one another. From here we can adduce a new appreciation of Talmidei Chachomim. They appreciate the insights of their colleagues as a baby appreciates the milk that he gets from his mother. This can only be achieved by one who lives a life dedicated to emulating Hashem and all his life is governed by chochma. In such an atmosphere a wholesome sense of self and learning can be attained.


Amal HaTorah

His ameilus was remarkable. While engaged in learning he was totally oblivious to things that went on around him. Even a falling shtender or bookcase did not cause him to even pause.

Every sugya was started from the beginning. In many masechtos he wrote multiple shiurim on the same topic. Only after he was sure that he had done justice to the sugya would he relearn his old notes and add comments in the margin. His commitment to the truth occasionally prompted him to write in the margin, זה בורכתא, this is wrong.

His clarity in learning was best defined by a talmid [19] who moved away from the yeshiva but continued to correspond with the Rosh Yeshiva. In those days mail would be processed twice a day. The talmid, a talmid chochom in his own right, would spend a few days or weeks on a sugya, after clarifying the point of contention in the sugya he would write his chiddushim and questions in a concise essay to the Rosh Yeshiva. His colleague who looked over the piece would comment that he is not holding in the sugya to understand the piece. The Rosh Yeshiva would invariably respond on the same day, with a clear approach to the questions and the sugya.

On one occasion a bochur asked him about a question in masechta Horious. He took a photocopied edition of the Chida’s chiddushim and showed him the question and the Chida’s answer. He said that it is important to have the Chida’s sefer when learning Horious, and so he got a photocopy of the entire sefer.

He described his workload to Rav Poleyeff in a letter in תש”ט.

I give a daily shiur in Bava Basra, a kevius in the Kollel in Masechta Niddah, three times a week I have a kevius to learn hilchos mikvaos a weekly mussar vaad and a weekly vaad in Ketzos this is besides hanhola meetings and board meetings of the local day school. But it is all worthwhile for the spiritual pleasure it provides.

Occasionally, he would excuse himself in a letter as to the reason for the delay in his reply, as he could not find the time to give the words of the correspondent the iyun due to it. Learning without iyun was foreign to him. By the same token iyun not founded on a clear knowledge of the masechta was a new idea and contrary to mesorah.

He would come to shiur, in the later years, when he said a blatt shiur, and read the Gemorah and Rashi. Often, he would ask a question on the Rashi. Most of the participants mumbled that it appeared to be Tosfos’ question. The Rosh Yeshiva would retort, “what does this have to do with Tosfos?” and continue to explain a completely different pshat in the Rashi and the Tosfos.

A bochur from a different yeshiva commented, that he could not understand how Rav Gifter could countenance the Artscroll Gemorah as it obviously compromises the intensity of amal HaTorah. After thought, he realized that the Rosh Yeshiva’s perspective was that it would only be used to augment real learning. The Rosh Yeshiva once expressed his pleasure that a man not fully competent in Gemorah learning, with the aid of the Artscroll asked a question previously asked by Rebbe Akiva EIger.

The demand for amal was not limited to bnei hayeshiva. Many times, he would say that the Torah was not given specifically to yeshivaleit, but also to baalei batim. The Beis Ephraim was called a baal habayis as he had a hardware business as a source of parnasa. He once mentioned that an alumnus of the yeshiva “says the blatt in his shul,”a surprised talmid asked that he says the daf yomi? The Rosh yeshiva said “nein he says a blatt vi dos darf zein [20].” He would recall the lomdim in Telz that were baalei batim and laborers, but they put in a solid learning seder in their day.

Often, when asked a question he would say “tracht alain,” think on your own. When he heard that a daily kasha was posted on the wall in the dining room, he wrote a page of his questions on the Gemorah to add to the discussions at mealtime.

In his shmussen he would pepper his words with stories of Gedolim. Rav Chaim Heller who could stand on a shelf and become so engrossed in learning that he would forget where he was. Or the story of the Maharil Diskin who was arrested and transported to Kovna in chains for a life-threatening court case. When he passed Bialystok, the young Ohr Sameach who was learning there left the Beis HaMedrash just to catch a glimpse of the gadol. But, he reported, when he saw the Maharil from afar, the Ohr Sameach was so overwhelmed by his otherworldly appearance that he was forced to retreat. The Maharil was obviously immersed so deeply in learning that he was oblivious to all the goings on around him.

These anecdotes were intended to arouse the listeners to strive to emulate those lofty achievements, not to entertain them. The Rosh Yeshiva said in the name of the Chazon Ish that stories of gedolim are the best mussar shmuessen [21]

It troubled him greatly that bochurim did not have an aspiration to finish shas. When a bochur would say that he learned a masechta, when in fact he had only learned the first few blatt he was anguished. Bekius alone was also not acceptable, every Gemorah had to be learned with iyun, the best that you could apply, not the results of perusing various seforim. On an occasion he met a very well-known baki (who was a gadol in Torah) the baki asked what masechta he was learning. On demand this gadol immediately began to recite the daf with the Rashi. The Rosh Yeshiva never appreciated airs, stopped him with a kasha, “Ier zoket azeya gut ober vos maint der Rashi?”

Although he quoted many seforim, even acharonim, in a letter from [22] תשכ”ז he wrote “that you think I am conversant with seforim of later acharonim this is not the case,” he then tells the date and place that he saw the particular chiddush. Moreover, when he is exhausted from his own exertion, he would look at the words of the achronim on the sugya. He suggested that bochurim spend a little time on Erev Shabbos learning the latter achronim on the sugya, but not as a crutch during their regular learning.


Daas Torah

The Rosh Yeshiva embodied the concepts that he imparted in his shmuessen. His words made a positive impact on those who heard him. When he felt an issue was pressing, he would speak about it at multiple venues and to a wide spectrum of listeners. Daas Torah was one of those issues.

A central theme in his hashkafa was the idea of סודה של תורה that there is an aspect of Torah that remains a secret. This is not the secrets of Kabbalah, but the secret of Hashem’s knowledge. In a [23] Shiur Daas that he gave in תשכ”א he defined יגיעת תורה as the pursuit of the “secret of Torah.” Years later in תשכ”ז he published the same shmuess in the journal בית יעקב under the title דעת תורה ואמונת חכמים.

The basic theme is that the secret of Torah is not “Kabbalah,” but rather that every aspect of learning is revealing the hidden knowledge of Hashem. Every new level of learning is an achievement not only of maturity, but also the attainment of that which was hidden before. Because the root and source of this secret is Hashem’s wisdom there are infinite levels of comprehending Torah. With every level achieved the next level becomes the סוד and so the quest continues.

He explained this principal to an aspiring Baal Teshuva who joined the yeshiva and after a short while was disillusioned. The Rosh Yeshiva asked him if the problem was that he had not seen any angels in the Beis HaMedrash. He affirmed that, adding that he did not associate religion and spirituality with oxen goring cows. The Rosh Yeshiva told him the key is not to see angels but to sublimate one’s total self into the mindset of Torah and thereby the mindset of God Himself. Learn the Rashba and think like a Rashba, with time you will achieve a sense of that wisdom, the secret of wisdom.

This is the root of Daas Torah. The Chachmei HaTorah see the world through the lens of Torah and since Torah is learned from His Mouth it is essentially the wisdom of God. For this reason, it cannot be augmented by other sources of wisdom. He would tell of the words of a news reporter who met the Chasam Sofer and described his impression, “through the small window in his study, the Rabbi sees the entire world.”

In a letter [24] he defines the concept that there is no Torah in the wisdom of the nations. The title Zokein only applies to one wise in the ways of Torah, he quotes the Taz (Orech Chaim 224, 1) that there is a special connection between G-d the source of the wisdom and the chacham who learns it. This relationship does not exist regarding other disciplines. He reinforced this principal in a vaad on Shemona Perakim [25] That the Rambam did not source his ideas in the philosophy of Aristotle, but rather in the depth of his faith he was able to be “megayeir” those truths that he found there into the rubric of Torah.

The unique nature of Yisroel is inherent in the nation since its inception. After 210 years of bondage in Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel was compared to a child developing in his mother’s womb. During the gestation period the child has no identity of its own, it is merely an extension of its mother. As a nation, Israel was almost totally subsumed by the culture around them. In describing their rapid increase in population, the Torah writes וישרצו multiplying like vermin. The Seforno explains that they deteriorated to a level that was akin to vermin in the ways of the Mitzrim.

Leaving Mitzrayim was the metaphorical birth of the nation. They left the confines of Mitzrayim and declared their independence. The Korban Pesach was a central aspect of the independence ceremony. A key element of the Korban was that it was to be eaten roasted. Roasting is a form of food preparation. Unlike other forms of cooking, roasting does not need spices to flavor the meat. If one were to boil meat in a pot without spices, the meat would remain bland and tasteless.  The Korban Pesach sent a tacit message, the Rosh Yeshiva explained, to those who ate it that to be a part of Bnei Yisroel you must bring out your internal nature, and not be flavored by outside influences[26].

Hillel declared: If I am not for myself, then who is for me? This would appear to be a rhetorical question begging the answer- nobody. Hillel is exhorting all to realize that they are the ultimate masters of their own destiny. If one neglects one’s responsibilities, there is no one to blame but oneself.

There is another way to understand the words of Hillel. The question remains the same, but the answer is different. If one does not define oneself, then anyone else will step into the void and define you! This is how the Rosh Yeshiva explained it at a high school graduation [27]. It is imperative for a person to have full control of their self-definition. He compared the spineless individual to a chameleon, that adapts to its surroundings to hide from challenges.

This was at the core of Matan Torah. The Gemorah [28] tells that G-d held the mountain over Bnei Yisroel and warned them, if you accept the Torah all is well. If not, there will be your burial place. The Rosh Yeshiva asked [29] that the word kafa in Gemorah generally means to cover something with a hollow container, not to squash it. Furthermore, why does the Gemorah say there will be your burial place it should have said here?

Har Sinai, the Rosh Yeshiva explained, encased, and insulated the Jews from the outside world. If we remain inside the mountain, we are safe. The moment we leave the parameters of Har Sinai and mix with the outside world, there wherever we may be, we will be buried!

Moreover, the experience at Har Sinai changed the nature of the Jewish people. While they are under the impact of Har Sinai they are considered alive. With the imperative reality that Torah is their lifeline they fulfill their raison d’être. This is the absolute meaning of the verse Devorim (32,47) כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם כי הוא חייכם. The four levels of creation, inanimate, flora, fauna and human all express their unique spirit (Rambam Shemone Perakim). The spirit of the Jew is the Torah. If the Jew ceases to live according to that spirit, he ceases to exist altogether he does not devolve into the lower level, but he has no existence [30].

With this it is also understandable how Chazal can say (Temurah 14b) “better the Torah should be uprooted from Yisroel and not be forgotten.” When a sin is done while the realization that Torah is still paramount, is not nearly as dangerous as a sin committed with an attitude of total disregard for the Torah. Therefore, throughout the ages the enemies of the Jews attempted to silence the study of Torah. This the Rosh Yeshiva explains, is rooted in the above words of the Rambam. Torah is the only measure of life in the Jewish people [31].

This is then the theophany of Matan Torah, the cauldron was the realm in which humans were able to perceive the imperative nature of Torah to the continued existence of the world. Because this experience was beyond the purview of the human condition it allowed for a modaah. Only at the time of the megillah when they achieved the realization in their own merit was the Torah firmly rooted in the nature of Yisroel. This is also included in the words of Chazal, there is no Torah amongst the nations of the world [32].

It is important that one not mistakenly think that Hashem’s desire is that Matan Torah denies access to the natural world. If that would be true, Hashem would not have created us in this world. Rather the placing of Bnei Yisroel in the mountain was dictate how one is to relate to this world. As the Mesilas Yesharim writes, “One should make himself transient in this world and permanent in the service of Hashem.” Total negation of this world is also an abrogation of Hashem’s plan [33].

In essence, the nature of Adam and Daas Torah are two sides of the same coin. The consummate Adam is referred to in the pasuk (Devarim 19, 14)  זאת התורה אדםThe Torah is Adam! The Gemorah relates (Shabbos 33b) that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai spent 13 years in a cave with his son. When they emerged wherever they saw people engaged in mundane activities they consumed them with a heavenly fire. A bas kol declared, “did you leave the cave to destroy My world? Go back to the cave.” They returned for another year. This time when they encountered people involved in simple service of Hashem, they were sympathetic. It would appear that they lowered their standard by the extra year of study, as it was their passion for the holiness of the Torah that prompted their response to what they saw. The intensity of Hashem’s kedusha is beyond the grasp of the human mind, even the greatest human mind. Yet, for all His kedusha, He allows for a physical world. The reason that this is so, is obviously because His kedusha is not violated by the masking caused to it by the world. This is implicit in the words of the bas kol, My world, in My world there is a need for such existence. If you cannot tolerate it, it is indicative of a lapse in your kedusha! You have not yet achieved the level of being above the concealment of Hashem in the physical world. To achieve that extra dimension of spirituality you need an additional year in the sanctity of the cave [34].

A vital part of the Rosh Yeshiva’s hashkofa is sourced in the words of the Alte Rov, “One should strive to ensure that one’s mental reckonings are not too removed from one’s inner awareness, rather, that they should accompany one’s thoughts on each matter. In explaining the difference between men and malochim, the seforim say that while in humans, the man, the intelligent being (maskil), the knowledge acquired, the intellect (seichel), and the end product, the conclusion or intelligence (muskal), are three distinct components, with malochim, being wholly spiritual beings, they are one and the same. The mal’ach is simultaneously his own knowledge and the product of his knowledge.

“The more a person elevates his understanding however, the smaller grows the gap between he himself and the results of what he learns. The true intellectual is someone whose knowledge is so assimilated with his inner being that it is akin to something inborn. When he is presented with a situation which calls for a response or for action, he will not need to start making calculations on the basis of what he has learned, in order to determine how he ought to behave, he will experience immediate awareness of the result of all the calculations: unlike those who engage in lengthy reckoning every time, as though they were in one place and their reckoning in another. (Paleis Magal Raglecha. Shiurei Da’as, cheilek II, note on pg. 147 see also pg 111 where Rav Elya Meir quotes this from his father as an important principle compare Moreh Nevuchim chelek 1: 69).

In his hesped for Rav Ahron, the Rosh Yeshiva defines the difference between Torah and Daas Torah. According to the words of the Alte Rov the measure of a man’s greatness lies in his ability to submit his intellect and desires to those of the Torah. The shorter the delay between the action and the reaction, contingent on the reaction being correct, the greater the Daas Torah. Torah is the basis for the decision, but the process is different, as described before, the difference between Mordechai and the rest of the Jews of Shushan.

A Rebbe is called a Malach, and the Gemorah declares, only a Rebbe that is like a Malach should be a Rebbe. A Malach is only a conduit of Divine inspiration. A Rebbe is also a conduit for the words of Hashem that were spoken at Har Sinai. The Gadol sublimates his own daas into the daas of the Torah and therefore his response to every situation is consistent with the dictates of the Torah.

This is the underlying objective of Matan Torah. The thunder and lightning emblazoned on the hearts of Yisroel the nature of the chochma not just the actual chochma. The Torah stresses the day you stood before the mountain, the awe, and the trembling only when Torah is learned in this manner is it considered Torah.

The words “this is the chok of the Torah,” implies that the chok of Parah is the defining chok of the Torah. This is the Chukas haTorah and we do not have a right to be mehareir acharuv. Hirhur implies a thought to discredit the Torah and not to understand it in its elevated status [35]. This is not meant to negate human endeavor to study and understand the Torah, but to impose an understanding that we as limited beings cannot fully understand the sechel of the Torah. It is demand for yiras Hashem to proceed our involvement in Torah learning. All our efforts in Torah are to subjugate our free choice and intellect to the greatness of Hashem’s wisdom. This molds man in the true form of Adam. The Talmid Chocham is the product of chochma when it is learned in this manner [36].

It was clear to the Rosh yeshivah that true daas Torah is an extension of limud haTorah. Only with a clear perception created only by Torah can one understand the world properly.

He would tell the parables of Rav Mottel Pogermanski with such awe, both of the message and the messenger. Yishayahu (44, 18) wrote לא ידעו ולא יבינו כי טח מראות עיניהם מהשכיל לבתם: Their eyes are soiled and therefore they cannot see or understand. Reb Mottel would compare this to a person who entered an art museum, yet all he saw was sour milk! Only when the curator noticed the splash of milk on the man’s glasses did he understand his lack of appreciation for the beautiful artworks.

He would add a second parable similar to the first. A person bought a Rembrandt painting. He complained that the painting lacks vibrance and color. When the salesperson came to see the picture, he realized immediately what was wrong. The man had put the picture in the basement. After the picture was placed in the appropriate lighting and the correct angles to view it were explained, were the painting’s qualities and grandeur evident. This is true of Hashem’s world. When it is viewed through the Torah’s lens the greatness and wisdom of the Creator become apparent [37]. The Rosh Yeshiva would add that this explains the words of Dovid HaMelech (119, 18)גל עיני ואביטה נפלאות מתורתך open my eyes and I will see wonders from Your Torah. Shouldn’t he have said I will see wonders in Your Torah? Dovid was intimating that in order to honestly see wonders in the world, one must learn Torah and from the Torah one will be able to see wonders [38].

One Purim after a group of talmidim escorted him to his study he announced that now it was time to learn. A talmid offered to get the Rosh Yeshiva a Masechta Megillah. The Rosh Yeshiva pointed to his Bava Kamah and said this is also a megillah as it reveals the daas Hashem.


Kavod Chachomim

In the introduction to Be’ar Hagola the Maharal writes that the Rishonim are Sinai and anyone who denigrates them will suffer the punishment that accompanied Maamad Har Sinia. The Rosh Yeshiva stressed that learning the words of the Gedolim, he would list the Ketzos, the Pnei Yehohua, Rebbe Akiva EIger is like standing at Har Sinai. Their words demand the same awe and trepidation that the actual giving of the Torah caused. He talked of the tremendous kedusha of the Keren Orah and what deference should be ascribed to each word. He explained, based on the Medrash Koheles (2, 1) that these unique individuals acquired Torah not as a mental exercise, but they merited to carve the words of Torah into their hearts and core of their bodies [39].

The Vinuta Rov knew Shas verbatim. When the Rosh Yeshiva met him, he asked him a kasha on a Gemorah in Zevachim. The Rov said, “let’s see the Gemorah.” A little confused the Rosh Yeshiva prepared to go and get a Gemorah. Reb Ezra smiled and said the entire blatt with all the meforshim on the spot. He did not have an answer for the question and suggested that the question be sent to the Rogatchover. The swift reply that the Rosh Yeshiva received was characteristic of the Rogatchover. “Why do you bother me? this is clearly asked and answered in a Tosfos Yeshanim in Krisus. The Rosh Yeshiva explained that there are levels in bekius not only in iyun. At a Chanukah mesiba, he referred to the famous vignette that Reb Chaim Voloziner said of his brother, Reb Zalman, that even with his amazing memory and command of Shas, he does not come close to the bekius of the Gra. Reb Chaim said that even though Reb Zalman could recite Shas backwards, the difference between him and the Gaon is, if you were to ask him what is the word before a word, he would have to start at the end of the page and go back to find the word, the Gaon would know it without that. The Rosh Yeshivah explained that the Gaon’s command of Shas was a form of writing on the tablet of your heart, and therefore he saw the page in front of his eyes.

It is only the few that even after the breaking of the first luchos that can achieve this level of learning, that their very hearts become luchos for the Torah. This the Rosh Yeshiva explained, was because they had a perception of time as taught by the Sforno. To the Jewish nation, time is a commodity that they own, the rest of the world is owned by time. We are capable to do with time whatever we desire. He would then tell of the Vilna Gaon’s cheshbon hanefesh, six minutes wasted in a year!

What is amazing is that the same demand that he made in the Yeshiva he made in a speech to baalei batim. Not utilizing time, he declared, is suicide. Wasting another’s time while learning, davening or any time is murder. Because as humans we can use our time and faculties, specifically the faculty of speech, when it is squandered, it is a destruction of the very humanity that we are to bespeak. The only difference between the shmuess in the yeshiva and the speech in the Young Israel was that in the Young Israel he framed it as talking to himself and allowing them to listen.

The Rosh Yeshiva would speak about the Rishonim with hispeilus hanefesh [40]. Their Emunah and ability to see the spoken word of the Novi, not just hear it. Rebbi Yehudah HaLevi, for example, could express his love of Yerushalayim based only on the words of the Novi not because he saw the actual city.

Moreover, their ability to be “Malbish” cloak their wisdom in words that all can understand on multiple levels. The closer to mamad Har Sinai the greater the ability to express the pnimius of the heart and to transmit the message to the heart of others [41]. The greatness of the Mesilas Yesharim, he would say, is that even as an Ivrei teich sefer it has value on every level. These levels represent the “secret” of the Torah (mentioned above), before achieving understanding on the next level, that level is a secret and a mystery.

The Rosh Yeshiva was pedantic in his respect for Gedolim. In his letters to Rav Poleyeff he is effusive in his praise and respect for Rav Elchonon Wasserman HY”d, repeating many times that Rav Poleyeff should visit Rav Elchonon while the latter was in New York.

He did not tolerate any disrespect directed at gedolim from the previous generation. On one occasion a bochur used a negative appellation associated with a certain Gadol. The Rosh Yeshiva rebuked the bochur harshly, even though it was a commonly used nickname.

In his shmuessen he would decry the attitude that while drinking Pepsi and lazing about, a bochur has the temerity to argue on the Ktzos or answer Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s question. He would spend more time trying to figure out why Rebbi Akiva Eiger did not answer his tereitz then enjoy the tereitz. In a shiur he spent the entire shiur almost in tears for his lack of understanding of a piece of Rebbe Akiva Eiger.

One Yomim Noraim he found an Avi Ezri near his shtender. Every available moment he studied the sefer and after Yom Tov he wrote all of his comments and questions to HaRav Shach zt”l. From the ensuing correspondence, a remarkably close relationship developed between them. The Rosh Yeshiva regarded Rav Shach as the de facto Gadol Hador. When Rav Shach’s honor was impinged upon, whether in a newspaper or any other means, the Rosh Yeshiva was visibly hurt and would express his displeasure in different ways. He would speak in the Yeshiva and to the baalei batim in the city about the importance of respecting the gadol hador. On one occasion he had a sign posted to the bulletin board in response to a negative comment made in a Yiddish periodical against Rav Shach. Rav Gifter once said that Rav Shach was like a father to him.

The Steipler was another gadol of whom the Rosh Yeshiva held in high regard. In a letter the Steipler responds to the Rosh Yeshiva’s request that no titles be given to him, especially as the Steipler does not know him. The Steipler wrote that he had studied the Rosh Yeshiva’s comments on the sefer Shiurei Halacha of the Mahril Bloch, and they attest the Rosh Yeshiva’s wisdom and diligence [42].

After the passing of Rav Boruch Sorotzkin, it was the Steipler that foisted the responsibility of ensuring that the American branch of Telz continue, and Rav Gifter had to return to America. In and as much as the Rosh Yeshiva loved Eretz Yisroel and the Yeshiva that he had built in Telz-Stone, he would not ignore the dictate of the Steipler.

When the Rosh Yeshiva’s medical issues continued to deteriorate, he said that now more than ever he misses the Steipler. If the Steipler were alive he would be able to advise him as too what he needed to address to atone for the sin that is causing his ailment.

In a letter he thanks a talmid for sending him a copy of the sefer Kriyna DeIgrasa. “That from the letters we can see the reflection of this Chsida uPrisha whose mouth did not stop learning. I am forever thankful that I was privileged to bask in the fragrance of his presence while I was in Eretz Yisroel [43].

Once in a conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva a talmid mentioned the words of the Gra z”l that philosophy caused the Rambam to err. The Rosh Yeshiva roared, “how do you dare speak of the Rambam in such a manner!” The talmid stammered, “that it is not his words but those of the Vilna Gaon.” To which the Rosh Yeshiva retorted, “if the Gaon wants to say that it is his business, but you have no business saying it.”

In the hesped that the Rosh Yeshiva delivered on Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l the Rosh Yeshiva recounted that when he was younger he saw a psak from Rav Moshe in which he argued with Rav Yitzchok Elchonon. This upset the Rosh Yeshiva, that a Rov in our time should have the gumption to argue on Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, and so the Rosh Yeshiva wrote a rebuttal. Now he continued after he met Rav Moshe and appreciated his stature, he regrets having challenged him.

He would quote the famous responsa of Rebbe Akiva Eiger (resp. 55) addressed to an anonymous Gaon, who was known as a Tzadik and Gaon, who fasted regularly and was highly regarded by his colleagues. Rebbe Akiva Eiger takes him to task for his blithe attitude to the words of the Rishonim, demanding that he rather spend his time understanding the words of the Rishonim than arguing with them. In a letter, the Rosh Yeshiva writes that he heard from an adom gadol in Lita that the name of the Rov was Rav Chaim Phillipover zt”l.



The Rosh Yeshiva was considered a kanoi. If a stand had to be made in honor of the Torah, the Rosh Yeshiva would never shy away from taking the stand.

Telzer Yeshiva, he declared, was well known for its Kanous. But, he added, it is important to define what exactly Kanous is [44].  In the Shiur Daas he quotes a lengthy section from the Shiur Daas of the Maharil to explain the value and purpose of life. Only when one understands the essential nature of life can one honestly make a choice between his life and the will of Hashem.

Kanous was an especially important topic to the Rosh Yeshiva. He would often dedicate the shmuess on the Yahrzeit of the Roshei Yeshiva and the students of the Yeshiva to this topic.

He recounted an incident of kanous that demonstrated the true approach to kanous. The barber in Telz decided to remain open on Shabbos. When the Yeshiva community heard of it the tumult was great. Rav Shmuel Zalman Bloch zt”l Hy”d, on his way home from davening, took the longer way home in order to pass the barber shop. When they passed the barber shop the barber stood outside with a brazen look on his face. Rav Zalman commented, “a sheketz, how does one deal with a sheketz? One slaps it.” With that he slapped the man on both cheeks without demonstrating any irritation or anger, and then he continued his walk as if nothing unusual had happened [45]. This is the essential expression of fulfilling the word of G-d. This is when it is pure kanous, which is the product of constant learning and mussar.

This was an attribute that he had from his younger years in Telz. When he was in America, he was tolerant of Zionism and their ideas [46], that changed sharply when he saw the damage that it was causing to religious life in Europe. On one occasion he and some friends attended a meeting antithetical to Torah Hashkafah. Each one stood in a different corner, and then at the signal they all screamed fire. Of course, everyone ran for the door and pandemonium reigned, the meeting was abandoned. His Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, was not at all happy with the boys’ behavior and suspended them, as someone could have been hurt in the chaos.

A while later, the Rosh Yeshiva was in Shadova and was asked to say a drosho. At that time Bialik had died and in the Yiddishe Shtima, the Kovna newspaper of the time, Rubin Rubenshtein wrote an entire column about Bialik. He wrote, “Yishai HaNovi should move from his place to make room for Bialik”. Can you imagine, I could not restrain myself and I responded to the disgrace. They stopped me and asked if I know that Bialik wrote in a poem, “If you want to know from where Jews exist go to the beis hamidrash.” I told them that now you have no daas and you are going off the derech [47]. The Rosh Yeshiva was annoyed that a religious person in Shadova should have such views and moreover that the other people were not sure how to respond. The Rosh Yeshiva refused to finish the speech and ended by saying, “Shadover baalei batim you do not have the requisite respect for Torah. You are all nothing but empty amei aretz, therefore I will not finish the drosha.” The Rov an adom gadol, Rav Mordechai Dovid Henkin, told him to stop. He gave him a big yasher koach as he could not have made such a strong statement himself. The baalei batim asked him to finish but he refused. The next day, he recounted, on my way to shul I noticed a few youths standing on the street. Before I could get closer, one of my yeshiva friends from Shadova told me go home, do not go there they will kill you. Why, because of yesterday’s drosha [48]. When he told this over to his Rebbe, the Rebbe said it was a Kiddush Hashem [49].

He would tell of the time he visited a nearby town for Shabbos. The custom then was to donate money at the time of krias HaTorah to the blue box. He announced his donation, a rather large sum compared to those of the locals, and that it should go to the Telzer Yeshiva. Some of the townsfolk were outraged and published a protest in the newspaper, adding that since the boy studies in Telz no one should contribute to the Telzer Yeshiva. When the Rosh Yeshiva returned to Telz he was sent for by the Rov. He feared that he would once again be in trouble. The Rov z”l commented that he is finally learning the difference between kanous and parous. The main thing is that you taught them the truth, Hashem will find other ways to support the yeshiva [50]

Over the years the yeshiva developed a bond with the legendary Rabbi of Cincinnati, Rav Eliezer Silver z”l. The Rosh Yeshiva’s oratory skills were well known, and he was invited to speak at a memorial event for Rav Silver in Cincinnati. At the event, before the Rosh Yeshiva’s speech a bust of Rav Silver was unveiled. The Rosh Yeshiva prefaced his words with a rebuke for the violation of the Torah law forbidding making graven images [51].

In the Yeshiva, the Rosh Yeshiva would respond in a shmuess or on the spot to any behavior that he felt was unacceptable. When he noticed bochurim coming late to a shiur daas he commented that 9 o’ clock means 9 and not four minutes after 9. When more bochurim walked in afterwards he stopped the shmuess. One Purim, when the levity in the Purim shpiel was off color, the Rosh Yeshiva expelled a bochur right then.

Someone posted a notice of a Psak halocha from Gedolei Eretz Yisroel to be machmir in a halacha that was not in accordance with the psak of the Roshei Yeshiva. That Shabbos at the kiddush in the dining room for a Bar Mitzvah that was being celebrated, the Rosh Yeshiva prefaced his remarks with a scalding rebuke for the chutzpah of the individual who posted the sign.

He was not accustomed to make zealous comments in response to global disasters. He would say that most important is to talk to oneself and not to blame others. The problem is we believe that it is the influence of the Goyim “ve dos Kristlzich, Yidlzich,” truthfully it is the other way around we affect them [52]! Therefore, we can measure our own lapses as we witness the deterioration of the Gentile world around us.  This is clear in the Kuzri [53] who writes that we are the heart of the world, and no matter where the disease is it is always rooted in the heart [54].

In a letter from Rabbi Porush to the Rosh Yeshiva, he quotes the Brisker Rov’s thoughts on public protests. The Rov commented that when Yona was confronted by the ship’s captain he immediately took responsibility for the storm. The ship was full of idol worshippers, certainly he could have blamed them. A true servant of Hashem sees his own faults first and so with all disasters before we blame others, we should investigate our lives first. The Rosh Yeshiva added that the Telzer Rov had expressed the same sentiment, demanding the people of Telz be stringent in non-Jewish butter, as their actions affect others. Rather than blame others for their lapses, take responsibility for others [55].

The paradigm of kanous is the actions of Pinchas. The Torah describes his action as Vayar, Pinchas saw. Everyone saw the difference was that Pinchas saw and remembered the halacha. The integral nature of the kanoei is that his vision and his reaction are immediate because his daas and perception have fused into a one step process, akin to that of a Malach.

He defined kanous not as extremism, like the world understands it, but as the readiness to sacrifice one’s life to uphold that which is important to G-d [56].

In a Shiur Daas that he gave around Purim time he discussed the behavior of Mordechai. Mordechai would not bow to Haman. From the Gemorah it would appear that there was room to permit bowing. Mordechai preferred to endanger his life for the honor of Hashem even if it was permitted. This would not explain how he was entitled to endanger all the Jews of Shushan. The Rosh Yeshivah explained that the foundation of the megillah rests on the premise that if the gadol hador takes a stand it is not to be questioned. Even if it seems otherwise in Shulchan Aruch. He elaborated, the posuk statesומרדכי לא יכרע ולא ישתחוה  which is in the future tense, there was no argument that would change his mind, not in the present and not in the future.

He explained that this is the power of the heart of the gadol because the gadol intuitively knows and when he paskens it is not negotiable. This sourced in a similar instance. After the sea split the Torah writes, אז ישיר משה the Rashi comments that the song arose on Moshe’s heart. Moshe saw the moment as a part of the eternal history of the nation, not as a singular moment hence the song was part of the future not the past. The gadol sees and understands the effect the issue will have on the netzach of the Jews and his heart instinctively knows the appropriate response. All things that are part of the netzach, the lev of the gadol sees and his heart knows how it must be. What Mordechai saw was not a sheila but rather a problem, how to deal with Haman, and for that we need eitzes. Klal Yisroel saw it as a sheila and approached it as one would a sheila [57]. This is also the crux of Daas Torah [58].

Even in private issues the Rosh Yeshiva felt that any deviation from the ratzon haTorah should not go unnoticed. When Yaakov heard in Rochel’s request a small lack of Emunah he responded, perhaps too strongly, but he deemed it necessary to respond. When the rebuke emanates from a pure heart it does not result in ill feelings and discord but the opposite. It requires forethought before it is executed to ensure that any negative fallout is warranted. [59]

The Rosh Yeshiva took a stand on many issues, that in today’s world would be public debates and tumult, he preferred to write letters to the individual responsible for the issue. As many of the letters have been published the kanous is apparent from the lines that he wrote. Not anger and outrage, but the hurt that one feels when Kavod Shamayim has been impinged upon.

Only when the honor of Hashem was desecrated in public would the Rosh Yeshiva respond in public. Then he would preface his remarks with an explanation as to why his pain forced him to take a public stand [60]. On one occasion when a frum periodical insulted Maran HaRav Shach, the Rosh Yeshiva had a notice posted on the yeshiva bulletin board protesting the insult. As with all his protests he signed the notice. He felt that if one did not have the courage to sign their name, they do not have a right to make the protest.

Developing this instinct is a difficult and arduous task. In explanation of Yaakov Avinu’s criticism of Reuven’s behavior, Yaakov describes Reuven as Pachaz Kamayim, that he behaved in behilus, therefore he removed the bechora and royalty from shevet Reuven.  Yet Shimon and Levi, who wiped out the city of Shechem, did not receive a similar punishment. Behilus, is a lack of intellectual control over action, whereas as anger is a disposition. One can modify a disposition, but if one’s daas is deficient it cannot be fixed at the root of the problem. Recognizing the fault can aid the person in controlling the deficiency but not eradicate it [61].

Emunas Chachomim was a fundament of the Rosh Yeshiva’s worldview. In a correspondence regarding issues of the day he writes that as he sees that the discussion is becoming an argument, he would desist from continuing. However, since in his response the writer wrote a critical comment about the Gedolim of previous generations, the Rosh Yeshiva felt that he had to respond.

Respectfully, the Rosh Yeshiva takes him to task for saying that he is not convinced that the Beis Halevi’s decision to close Volozhin was correct. The Rosh Yeshiva asks “my dear friend do you honestly consider yourself on the level to judge gedolei Yisroel? Whoa is it to me that I should hear such a thing and may Hashem forgive you for this great sin.”

The Rosh Yeshiva continues, that emunas Chachomim is one of the midos by which Torah is acquired. It includes not only the Torah sh’baal peh but the entire continuum and transmission of Torah throughout the ages. The mesorah is defined by the Gedolei Hadoros and they are the Torah sh’baal peh of each generation.



A Talmid Chacham from Yerushalayim, fluent in the Eitz Chaim, commented on the Rosh Yeshiva’s davening. He davens, like the Mekubalim write, as a child before his father. The Rosh Yeshiva never made any exaggerated gestures or the like during his davening, he would stand straight in awe of his Creator, and enunciate every word with grammatical perfection.

In shiur he learned the Gemorah (Bava Kamma 3b) that in defining the word מבעה it cites a verse that contains the same root and suggests that it means man. The word in the verse literally means “pray,” the Rosh Yeshiva deduced from this that the defining characteristic of man is his ability to pray.

In a shiur on tefillah the Rosh Yeshiva wrote, according to the Ramban, tefillah is only a mitzvah in situations of national disaster because the natural order that Hashem placed into action runs in accordance with man’s deeds only when there is an obvious breach which led to the disaster is there room for tefillah. The function of tefillah is to recognize that Hashem is the only source of salvation. We do not daven for a positive answer, but because we believe Hashem hears our prayers.

By extension, the Rambam would hold that this is the nature of daily tefillah. Tefillah engenders a recognition that all our daily needs are provided by Hashem. For this reason, tefillah is called temporary life as opposed to Torah that is called eternal life [62]. Those who are totally committed to learning do not have to stop learning and daven because one should not exchange eternal life for temporal life. But how is it possible that they should be exempt completely from the mitzvah of tefillah? Simply stated, learning Torah is an equal way to achieve total emunah in Hashem. Hence one who is dedicated to their learning may substitute tefillah with learning.

This would explain the exemption from the requests for earthly issues, but what of the request for chochma? Apparently, when the chochom has a question in learning that he cannot resolve, this for him is a time of disaster and his prayer for Siyata Dishmaya is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of tefillah [63].

When he would encounter a kasha that Rebbe Akiva Eiger left with the words השם יאיר עיני he would be moved to tears. Rebbe Akiva Eiger’s emunah in the heilige Torah, that there is an answer and only his eyes are not able to see it! He once remarked to a guest that the highlight of shacharis in Telz was the brocha of ahava rabbah. The palpable feeling that success in learning was paramount in their minds. He would quote Reb Mottel Katz’s observation that the most heartfelt and poignant part of davening isאבינו אב הרחמן המרחם רחם עלינו  so many expressions of beseeching all forותן בלבינו  that He should give us understanding hearts in His Torah.

The essence of tefillah is the service of the heart, not the petitioning for our needs but the desire to bask in the effulgence of Hashem, the feeling of closeness to Him. When one feels that he is missing his physical needs, he elevates that feeling to a quest to feel Hashem’s presence and involvement in his life. In this way all physical needs become spiritual as any lack is really a lack of Hashem’s luminance. Once the Jew recognizes Hashem through the nusach of shemone esrei he can merit a positive response to all the other brochos [64].

The efficacy of tefillah is such that even a tefillah regarding to spiritual issues is effective. This would seem to contravene the rule that Hashem does not intervene in human spirituality. This is compounded when one prays for another person, as in the case of Moshe praying for Yehoshua as this would seem to impinge on Yehoshua’s free choice. The Rosh Yeshiva explained that tefillah is one of the ways in which one can access siyata Dishmaya as Chazal say הבא לטהר מסעיין אותו because the person initiated the interaction it is not against his free choice rather it is his choice. Since Yehoshua was also a person focused on fulfilling the word of Hashem, Moshe’s prayers did not negate his free choice, they augmented it.

Any lack of decorum during davening prompted a harsh reaction from the Rosh Yeshiva. When he noticed people leaving the Beis HaMedrash and talking in the hall (after the walls were taken down to enlarge the Beis HaMedrash for the yomim noraim) he gave a fiery shmuess, calling it a chilul Hashem! One should stand like a soldier and respond to all the brachos of the chazan [65]. Tardiness was also an anathema to him.

When he was asked by a bochur if it was necessary to wear a tie for davening he replied that just as one wears tie for Shabbos and for a wedding certainly one should wear it in honor of standing in front of Hashem. This adds a dimension as to why a tie should be worn to a wedding, not for the wearer or the hosts, but out of respect for the mitzvah that is being performed [66].

A special dimension is added to tefillah when it is observed in a tzibbur. The Rambam writes [67], “anytime that a tzibbur does teshuvah and calls out to Hashem wholeheartedly, Hashem will respond.” The Rosh Yeshiva questions the Rambam’s stress on wholeheartedly as all davening requires concentration of the heart. Moreover, the Gemorah (Taanis 8a) writes that even without kavanah their tefilos are answered. Tefillah without kavanah lacks the status of tefillah, as the Torah defines tefillah as the service of the heart, but Hashem still listens and answers it. If so, the Rambam that implies that without kavanah Hashem does not answer, seems to contradict this.

The Rosh Yeshiva explains that albeit tefillah without kavanah is not tefillah but the Gemorah in Taanis is introducing a new aspect of kavanah, משים נפשו בכפו. This is beyond kavonas halev. A person can daven with a whole heart clearing it of all extraneous thoughts and distractions, but his nefesh is not in it. When one “holds one’s nefesh in their hand” it implies that every aspect of his person is convergent on the matter of tefillah. This is what Rabbeinu Yona means when he says that bitachon must be with a whole heart in every aspect of his life. One can be a total boteach in one aspect of life and lack it in other areas. So too, in tefillah it is possible to be completely involved, and at the same time one does not have every aspect of one’s persona focused. For a yochid this diminishes the power of his prayers, but not for a tzibur [68].

He would offer tefillos for those who requested it of him and for people that he knew needed them. In a letter he mentions that he is davening for the choleh and adds, that he is moved by the words of the Sforno (Breishis 18, 12) that tefillah has the power to revitalize one’s youth, which is equal to reviving the dead. It can only be achieved by Divine order or through tefillah which brings one to finding favor in Hashem’s eyes. This the Rosh Yeshiva writes, is a tremendous lesson to those who know how to daven. The source of tefillah’s efficacy, as explained by the Nefesh HaChaim, is limud haTorah through which one can request from Hashem and can shake the “rafters” of heaven and bring rain to the world.

In Shmone Esrei we ask that Hashem reward all those who trust in Him with a good reward. Surely their reward is guaranteed so why is a prayer necessary? All our prayers are to inculcate an understanding that all is from Him and therefore if one does not pray for it, one will lack this aspect of the tova of Hashem [69].


Kavod Ishto

The relationship of husband and wife is clear in the words of Chazal. He stressed that this is an issue that must be learned not only from seforim but also from soferim. This is to obviate the intrusion of “foreign” definitions into our mindset. The secular concept of “love” is not at all similar to that of the Torah. All love expressed in the life of a Jew, be it between husband and wife, parent and child are all extensions of the man’s love for his Creator [70].

In a letter to Rav Yosef Dovid Epstein thanking him for his sefer Mitzvos HaBayis the Rosh yeshiva makes some important observations on marriage and shalom bayis. After profusely complimenting Rav Epstein for his work he writes that the tzura of a Beis Yisroel is derelict in our community. He offered two reasons for this; the lack of yiras Shomayim and Torah and the excessive false yirah. To many a wife is regarded as a maidservant or a mistress Heaven forfend. This counterfeit yiras Shomayim prevents the appreciation of the Torah’s view of אהבה, this is a source of tremendous heartache [71].

Chazal advise to love your wife as you love yourself and respect her more than you respect yourself (Yevamos 62b). The definition of אהבה in Chazal is an attachment and a bond. One who “loves” for his own benefit does not love the other person but themself. He quoted the words of the Reishis Chochma (Shaar Ahava perek [72] 4), that one who has not experienced the love of a woman is inferior to a donkey. Because true אהבה is an elevation of the spirit of man, and not a function of the physical man. When the spirit elevates the nefesh then even the corporal aspects are also elevated into a spiritual state. He elaborated on this that since humans process everything with their physical senses it was necessary to create a physical all-consuming love that a person could extrapolate to the love of Hashem [73].

At a sheva brochos, the Rosh Yeshiva, stressed that building a home is analogous to the building of a Mishkan. In building the Mishkan the Torah demands Nedivas Ruach and Nesius Lev. The husband and the wife have unique and specific duties in the building of their Mishkan. When both recognize their responsibilities then harmony can permeate their home. If the correct balance is struck, then their children can be raised in a place where the Shechina will rest. The wife’s job is not to become a lamdan, but rather to create an atmosphere in which, with her nesius lev, she appreciates her husband’s role to learn Torah. When the husband notices that his wife is struggling with her chores, he should have the nedivas ruach to offer a helping hand. Sometimes the offer alone is enough to give her a boost and then with nesius lev will send him back to his Gemorah [74]. He told a shadchan, that the said maaleh – that the girl answered a Ravad’s kasha on the Rambam- is not only not a maaleh it is even a chisaron.

In many shmuessen he would repeat Reb Yisroel’s adage that one is not called upon to be a tzadik a gaon or a philosopher but rather an Ish. Reb Yisroel said this in regard to choosing a husband for one’s daughter [75]. To chasanim, the Rosh Yeshiva would add; if you are a mentch, with a little bit of seichel you can achieve Shalom Bayis.

He would tell chasanim that it is imperative that they be sensitive to the needs of their wife. He even gave out a recipe for tuna patties to be used in emergency. There is a segulah for Shalom Bayis to fold one’s talis after Shabbos, the Rosh Yeshiva said taking a broom or dish cloth is a better avenue to advance Shalom Bayis. There were numerous chumros that he would have liked to adopt, but because that would put pressure on the Rebbetzin, he did not.

But when the husband feels that there is a need for chizuk in a certain area he must make sure that he takes care of his responsibilities. While he was a choson, far away from his kallah, he wrote to his future shver to give chizuk to his daughter in the area of covering her hair. When she arrived in America, she expressed her consternation that he suspected that she would be lax in such a basic responsibility. After he explained the difficulties in acquiring a sheitel and the few women, even frum women, who wear them, she understood and appreciated his efforts.

When hats that fully covered the head and hair became fashionable, many Rabbonim and ladies greeted them with happiness and relief, as it made it easier for frum ladies to cover their hair. The Rebbetzin (this was during their first years of marriage) wore one, once. To the Rosh Yeshiva it was a hat. As soon as she felt his unspoken disappointment with the hat, she told him never again. In this regard he also mentioned Reb Eliyahu Meir’s insistence that the kallah wear her sheitel under the chuppah, otherwise he would not be mesader kiddushin. Once the young wife has already worn her sheitel in public it will be easier for her in the future, but if she does not start off with it, she might never wear it [76].

He warned that some misunderstand the Gemorah that ladies earn their reward in the next world by sending their husbands to learn, as an excuse not to recognize and respect their dedication and sacrifice. This, besides for being wrong, has an adverse effect on the loving relation that should permeate the household [77]. This fundamental lack of sensitivity and the demand that a wife forgo her rights is a root cause of many of the domestic problems [78]. He was careful to include his wife in the “spiritual satisfaction” of his efforts in teaching in the Yeshiva [79].

The Rosh Yeshiva was against the “demand” for support from the girl’s side. He would say that the husband is responsible to support his family. On occasions he would sanction the support either as an indicator of the parents’ honest appreciation of the value of their son-in-law’s learning, or if it were offered and not a contingency.

He would tell the story of Reb Leizer Gordon zt”l who was supported by his father-in-law. When his family grew his mother-in-law commented that it was time for him to support himself. The father-in-law responded that he is uncertain as to who is supporting whom. Just after Reb Leizer left to fill a rabbinical position, the father-in-law passed away [80]. Since the income is because of the husband, it should be treated, by all, as his part of the support not the wife’s or the shver’s.

Regarding supporting the family, he advised against “tempting” investments, as they might cause a loss of capital, and they interfere with one’s learning. Moreover, he said that honest earnings and commitments in borrowing money must always be adhered to. When his oldest daughter got married, he told, he borrowed money and he kept a clear schedule of how he would pay it back, which he did to the surprise of the lender.

When a very close talmid came to visit, the talmid remarked that he missed an appointment, but he got out of it by saying his wife was delayed. The Rebbetzin commented, Reb Plony I am surprised at you. For sure you never learned that here, the Rosh Yeshiva would never blame his wife!


Rav Vetalmid

A day that I have a chidush to say over from my Rebbi is a day like a chasana. Even though I should know more, but the little that I have makes me dance for joy. It is my entire chiyus, saying over from a Rebbi is saying over the emes as opposed to saying my own thoughts which may or may not be emes.

Our generation suffers from the lack of recognition of our own smallness. The more one can diminish one’s own self the greater one becomes. Ego becomes a barrier between the “small” individual and the Gadol. This expresses itself in the attitude to gedolim and gadlus. In the past the small individuals knew their place and respected the gedolim. The world at large disregards authority resulting in the wild behavior in all aspects of life. This pervades our community and we too disrespect the true leaders of the community. The lack of growth in our generation is also rooted in this disease. Since gedolim are not respected, unless they are “our” gedolim, as if we have a right to own them, there is no ambition to become great in Torah.

The Chasam Sofer told his children that while they should learn yiras Shomayim from the Zaida Rebbe Akiva Eiger, they should only learn the mesorah of Torah from Him as he had great Rebbeim, Rav Noson Adler and the Haflah and thereby he is a continuation of the mesorah. Not that the Chasam Sofer stifled his own growth, but rather his greatness is a continuation of that great mesorah. Today the sense of self-importance and egocentricity interferes with the ability to receive Torah and the mesorah of Torah from a Rebbe [81].

This is one of the reasons that a Talmid Chochom is not called a Chochom but a talmid, as it describes the nature of learning and growing from learning Torah. It is also at the root of the charge to retain for oneself a Rebbe and the Rambam writes even if that Rebbe is smaller in stature than you. Having a Rebbi encourages one to nullify one’s own ego and to respect the mesorah of Torah. In this way he can become a vessel to receive chochma [82].

A Rebbi is not a repository of information but rather a father and authority figure in the life of the talmid. The talmid must be elevated to the level on which he understands that the Torah that the Rebbi teaches is sourced in Dvar Hashem and the Rebbi is only a conduit to the heart of the talmid. The relationship between the Rebbi and the talmid is a continuation of Matan Torah [83].

The more one realizes that Torah is Sechel Eloki, the more one realizes their inadequacy as humans to comprehend the words of Hashem. With this realization, the only avenue to learn Torah is via a Rebbi, hence Chazal demand עשה לך רב. The Rav is a conduit through which the Torah is brought from Hashem to the talmid.

This does not diminish the stature of the talmid at all. The Gemorah relates that the great Rebbi Eliezer did not say anything that he had not heard from his Rebbi. The Rosh Yeshiva pointed out a seeming inconsistency in the Mishna (Sotah 5, 2). There Rebbi Akiva is considered a talmid of Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakei because he was a talmid of Rebbi Eliezer. But, in Mishna 5, Rebbi Yehoshua is called a talmid of a talmid, if so Rebbi Akiva should also have been called a talmid of a talmid? The Rosh Yeshiva explained that because Rebbi Eliezer abnegated his entire self to Rebbi Yochanan he is not a step between Rabbi Yochanan and Rebbi Akiva. This level of self-abnegation could not be applied to any other talmid.

Yet we find in Avos deRabbi Noson that Rebbi Eliezer taught things that no ear had ever heard, including those of his Rebbi, Rebbi Yochanan. The Rosh Yeshiva explained (sometimes in the name of Gadol Echad, sometimes it seemed like his own thought) Rebbi Eliezer heard more in the words of his Rebbi than anyone else. He applied himself to understand every nuance and every possibility that could be included in the words of his Rebbi and from that he grew into the great Tanna Rebbi Eliezer. For this reason, anyone who studied under Rebbi Eliezer is considered as having studied under Rebbi Yochanan. Similarly, the Rosh Yeshiva explained the words of the Mishna in Avos that Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai had five students, Surely he had many more? Talmidim that are true talmidim, he had five, students in his yeshiva he had hundreds and perhaps thousands [84].

He explained Eliezer’s title Damesk, that he drew and taught his Rebbe’s Torah. A talmid is not one who merely repeats his Rebbe’s Torah to others, rather one who is able to “draw” on his own from his Rebbe’s words lessons. If a talmid only says over the words of his Rebbe it is as if the Rebbe wrote or spoke through the talmid, but the talmid has not fulfilled his role as a talmid. Moreover, the talmid must understand that that which he extrapolates from his Rebbe’s Torah is his Rebbe’s Torah [85].

A talmid, the Rosh Yeshiva wrote, is one that asks his Rebbi before undertaking any major move [86]. He would decry in shmuessen [87] the habit that had developed that bochurim decide and then come to the Rosh Yeshiva for an amen and not to discuss the actual issue. Also, the notion that other bochurim or even yungerleit could suffice as eitza gebbers was an anathema to him. When he heard that bochurim “suspected” the Roshei Yeshiva as biased in their opinions he was beside himself with anguish that such a situation should arise in a Yeshiva, as Chazal said (Tanchuma Korach) One who suspects his Rebbi… he added, not that I care for my Kovod but what will become of you in the Olam HaEmess?

To a talmid that changed Yeshivas without discussing it with him he wrote, “I do not understand how it is possible that after all that you gained in the Yeshiva you would do this, perhaps it is not true, please inform me of your situation. Even when you are not here in the Yeshiva, like all my talmidim you never leave my mind. He added that not all of those who learned in Telz even those who learned in Eretz Yisroel do I count as talmidim[88].

When Yehoshua was installed as the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu he is titled as Meshoreis Moshe, the servant of Moshe. The Gr”a explains that the attribute of servitude to a Rebbe is key to the growth of a talmid. The reason for this is that this demonstrates the talmid’s altruistic dedication to Hashem, without which he can never achieve the appellation talmid [89].

The interaction between a Rebbe and his talmidim is described as tense (Kesuvos 103, 2). The Rosh Yeshiva explained that this tension must be the result of the realization that the Torah of Hashem is being transmitted through the Rebbe who is nothing but a messenger of Hashem. It must be accompanied with a tangible feeling of the Rebbe’s affection, akin to that of a father. It is also imperative that the Rebbe attempt to explain the material in a manner that the talmidim can understand, just as Rav Preida explained the Gemorah 400 times to his talmid [90].

Once in shiur, the Rosh Yeshiva explained the Gemorah and a talmid asked a kasha. The Rosh Yeshiva enjoyed the interaction with the talmidim and encouraged it. The talmid was not satisfied with the answer and asked again. The Rosh Yeshiva explained the chiddush again. This happened a few times with the talmid getting heated up. Finally, the Rosh Yeshiva responded, “I see you don’t want to understand,” and then he continued with the shiur.

It pained the Rosh Yeshiva when bochurim would refrain from “giving Shalom” to him or others. He would demand basic derech eretz. He wrote that the Gr”a, whom he would usually title Malach Hashem, disagrees with the Rema’s position that a talmid may not “give his Rebbe Shalom.” But, he adds, the modern culture that the talmid considers his Rebbe as a friend for “playing nuts,” is a result of not being educated in the tension and stress that should accompany Torah study; and that the respect for a Rebbe is equal to that of Hashem[91].


Rebbe leTalmidim

Rav Poleyeff wrote that he is delighted that the Rosh Yeshiva left the rabbanus to join the Yeshiva, a change that would afford him the opportunity to develop talmidim and learn and mechadeish according to his caliber [92]. In both his letters regarding the Rosh yeshiva’s appointments in Telz, Rav Poleyeff addressed the letter to HaRav HaGaon Ram in Yeshivas Telz, an obvious boost of encouragement.

In תשי”א he wrote to Rav Poleyeff “The past year I was zoche B’ezras Hashem to involve myself totally in my spiritual endeavors. It is my entire life, my blood and all of my nefesh and heart. The shiur, chaburos, vaadim in halacha and daas. Also participating in the hanhola meetings, it demands my entire being. Often, I recall the sentiment that I heard from HaAdmor HaKadosh, how is it possible to learn lishma, when the pleasure one derives from Torah is so great! During intersession I long for the bochurim to teach and to grow together with them [93].

This was not just hyperbole, every aspect of his life he saw as a “job” and responsibility. Once he was asked by some talmidim who were involved in managing an event, if changing some aspects would be problematic. He responded that he did not see any reason for concern. Later that day he called them back and told them that he heard from a source that the changes caused one of the participants in the event anguish and therefore he must retract his opinion. He explained, “that until he heard of the person’s pain he always considered being involved inan event as a job never as an honor.” This he added included the Keynote speaker at the Agudah convention. “When Rabbi Moshe Sherer says speak, I speak and if he does not, I do not. I never realized it was a kibud.”

Many times he would begin a speech decrying the emptiness of the introductions and titles given, specifically to him, as sheker and unneccesary. His pain at being introduced at the Agudath Israel convention as the Sar HaTorah is obvious. His feelings for the missing emes in the lives of Bnei Torah hurt him to his core. Once he received a sefer from an Adom Gadol who wrote a string of titles to the Rosh Yeshiva, when one of the talmidim commented that since everyone gets the titles the Mechaber probably felt that if he does not write them then he would be insulting the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva responded I didn’t think of Rav … as one so badly affected by the sheker of the world!

He would retell the anecdote of the Alte Rov, who once got a letter addressed with multiple titles and etc. etc. added at the end. The Rov showed it to his Rebbetzin, who the Rosh Yeshiva referred to as an Isha Gedolah, and quipped what could he possibly include with the etc. The Rebbetzin responded that he is making a mistake the וכו’ does not mean etc. but since sheker has no legs to stand on he supplied two crutches “kulos” in Yiddish, to help all the sheker stand up!

He would request of talmidim and others to do away with titles, sometimes writing, now that we are friends, we can write simple introductions. In an amusing postscript to a talmid he writes, “my dear you write in English Rave instead of Rav and you do know what rave means! By the way why do you waste the title Gaon on me?”

In a letter from תשכ”ז he writes, “your letter is full of exaggerated titles none of which I possess, why would you pain me so? I know my lowly value in knowledge and deed. Only the zechus, not of my deeds, but that I am a teacher of Torah in the yeshiva. This title is sufficient for me because whether I am worthy or not, the reality is that I am a teacher of Torah in Yisroel and this is the happiness of my life. In future, please do me a favor and desist from using titles for me. I know you as a man of truth and even if the general practice is to exaggerate, a minhag sheker is not permission to use sheker [94].”Examples of this abound in the many correspondences that he had.

A close talmid would address his letters to the Rosh Yeshiva with the title .אב”ד The Rosh Yeshiva wrote “do not write that about me as it is not applicable to me. Why would you add redundant titles? My most precious title is מו”ר. Baruch Hashem I have merited over the years to spread Torah and to establish individual talmidim and I am מתפאר in those students, and you are amongst them. In their merit I hope to receive a place in Olam HaBah.

The role of Rebbi was to establish talmidim not only to impart his wisdom to them. He once told a talmid, there is no purpose in taking copious notes during shiur, even in Telz we did not do that. The purpose of listening to shiur is to follow and understand that there is an approach to understanding the Gemorah and the Rishonim with some of the gedolei Achronim, not to parrot over the Rebbi’s Torah.

Punishments and disciplining talmidim was not in the forefront of his agenda. He never relished the opportunity to impose his authority on the talmidim. When necessary he would dedicate a shmuess to address areas in which improvements were needed.

He explained to an Adom Gadol that it is necessary to react and respond to the shortcomings of the generation. Even though when issues are brought to the bochurim’s attention they often look as if you are talking in abstract and esoteric terms. It is also important to speak to them in polished English, something they are far removed from [95]. Communicating Torah in the language that the listener could fully understand was important to him. He even gave a shmuess in the Young Israel in English. The shmuess was well received, as he reported to Rav Chaim Dov Rabinowitz, who advised and encouraged him to do so.

Only in extreme cases would he let a talmid know that he was a mechutzeph or some other rebuke. In a letter to a talmid who became a mechanech he writes, “the important rule is to be cautious regarding fines, because they can cause the opposite result of what they are intended. Before giving a fine you must explain with affection the intent of the fine. You should never take money without the explicit intention to return it. The epitome of a Rebbi is one that engenders love and respect in the hearts of his talmidim, and then they will avoid doing things that are against the wishes of their Rebbi. To our distress there are very few such Rebbeim. This, to my mind, is the reason that talmidim lack a love of learning and do not achieve in learning like they should [96].”

It was his wish that his chidushei Torah be published after his petirah. Only when he saw that his ability to teach and disseminate Torah was compromised did he allow his talmidim to start publishing his chiddushim. He would inquire over the progress of the project regularly. As always, he never discussed revenue from the production of the seforim [97].

To the Rosh Yeshiva learning was about teaching. If one learns and does not teach it is not Torah. The proof to this is that the two-thousand-year era of Torah began when Avrohom taught Torah, not from the time of Shem [98].

Thus, his life was lived to its fullest, every aspect of his daily routine was another part of his special job. The job that he chose for himself, to emulate his Creator the Melamed Torah Le’amo Yisroel. No other title was of any value to him. It was his request that on his kever be inscribed: לימד תורה והעמיד תלמידים בעלי מעלה ומדריגה בתורה וביראה, without the title Rosh Yeshiva just Harav.



[1] Printed in Moriah 131 page 99

[2] Milei DeIgros 2 pg.92

[3] Tape yr06

[4] Tape 154 where the Rosh Yeshiva speaks about epiphanies & Pirkei Emunah Ch.1 pg.23

[5] Pirkei Emunahh vol. 1 pg.101

[6] Shimcha Lo Shachachnu vol. 2 pg. 344 (Eliach)

[7] Tape 03

[8] Tape 24

[9] Milei DeIgros 3 pg. 166

[10] Kol HaTorah vol. 59

[11] Milei DeIgros ch5 pg.387

[12] Kuntres Gedulas Mordechai pg. 21

[13] Zichron Gavril toldos pg. 13

[14] Milei DeIgros 1 pg 39

[15] Kol Torah choveres 59 pg 65 and see Milei DeIgros 3 pg.235

[16] Milei DeIgros vol. 2 pg. 227

[17] Tape154

[18] Pirkei Emunah vol.1 pg. 110

[19] Harav Azrial Goldfein Zt”l

[20] Milei DeIgros 3 pg. 115 and many shmuessen

[21] Ashkavta deRebbivol. 1 pg. 190

[22] Milei DeIgros 3 pg.87

[23] Pirkei Emunah ch1 pg.81 see also Yeshurun vol. 10 g 419 He also published an article in Dos Yiddishe Vort on this theme with many of the same ideas, it was later translated and published in Torah Perspectives.

[24] Yeshurun vol. 10 pg. 408

[25] Ibid pg 419

[26] Pirkei Torah

[27] Ibid pg 426

[28] Shabbos 88a

[29] Pirkei Emunah 2 Mamar Kafa Alayhem Har Kegigis

[30] In the Sicha Chaye Torah the Rosh Yeshiva quotes a long except from Shiure Daas Chaim (Vol. 2 pg 176)

[31] Yeshurun 10 pg. 450

[32] Pirkei Emunah ibid.

[33] Pirkei Emunah

[34] Yeshurun 10 pg.424

[35] Pirkei Torah Chukas

[36] Pirkei Emunah ch1 pg. 151

[37] Tape 03& Divrei Hisorerus after the petera of the Steipler

[38] Ibid.

[39] Tape 03

[40] Tape Korach 77

[41] Tape YR06

[42] Kriyna DeIgrasa 2 pg. 396

[43] Milei DeIgros ch. 3 pg. 290

[44] Moriah shana24 (3-4)

[45] Tape 20 Tamuz 1977

[46] Mili DeIgros to Rav Poleyeff pg.144

[47] Tape Tisha BeAv Camp Agudah

[48] Tape Tisha BeAv Camp Agudah

[49]Milei DeIgros pg. 145

[50] Kol HaTorah vol. 59 (a little different from the way I heard from the Rosh Yeshiva)

[51] Heard from Cincinnati resident Dr. Steven Cohen.

[52] On the tape he said he heard this from Reb Yaakov.

[53] Mamar 2, 36 Printed in Shmues Chaim

[54] Tape Tisha BeAv camp Agudah

[55] Milei DeIgros 3 pg. 412 Tape 154

[56] Pirkei Emunah 189

[57] Tape Purim

[58] As explained above

[59] Pirkei Emunah 2, 218

[60] Numerous speeches in the Young Israel of Cleveland

[61] Pirkei Torah Breishis 37, 2 & 49, 4

[62] Shabbos 10a

[63] Pirkei Torah at end of parshas Eikev, Milei DeIgros 4 pg. 173

[64] Pirkei Emunah ch. 1 pg. 16

[65] Tape 209

[66] Pirkei Emunah vol.2 pg. 211

[67] Hilchos Teshuva 2, 6

[68] Pirkei Moed ch. 2 pg.75

[69] Milei DeIgros 4 pg.172

[70] Milei DeIgros ch. 3 pg. 460 & pg.469

[71] Ibid.pg. 464

[72] The Rosh Yeshiva referred to this Reishis Chochma in numerous places.

[73] Ibid 461 & 467 see Pirkei Torah ch. 1 pg.60

[74] Tape Eli Yellin’s sheva brochas

[75] Quoted in Orisa pg. 771

[76] See also Milei DeIgros 3 pg. 459

[77] Ibid. 468

[78] Ibid. 469

[79] Milei DeIgros 2, pg.401

[80] Milei DeIgros ch. 3 pg.458

[81] Tape 16

[82] Pirkei Emunah ch.2 pg. 252

[83] Ibid. pg. 183 & 285

[84] Shem Olam pg. 6 Milei DeIgros 3 pg.459 Yeshurun 10 pg. 432

[85] Chumash notes from תשכ”ג

[86] Milei DeIgros. 3pg 235

[87] Ibid. pg.250

[88] Ibid. pg.233

[89] Notes to Yehoshua, Am HaTorah 6 פעץ 61

[90] Milei DeIgros 3 pg.375

[91] Ibid. pg. 374

[92] Milei DeIgros 2, pg.339

[93] Ibid. Pg. 416

[94] Milei DeIgros 3 pg.48 & pg.297

[95] Ibid. pg.99

[96] Ibid pg. 185

[97] Ibid. pg. 307

[98] Ibid. pg.121

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