by Dov Milovsky
This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey NY. and is reprinted here with their permission
Although the Rosh HaYeshiva was ill during his final years, nonetheless the exceptional longevity that he merited is remarkable and she’lo kiderech hatevah. The normal human lifespan is 70-80 years. During the course of history, Hakadosh Boruch Hu has extended the lifespan of some gedolim into their nineties, according to the needs of the generation, so that they may benefit from the gedolim’s hashpa’ah of Torah and Yiras Shomayim. On occasion, Klal Yisroel has merited this even with two concurrent manhigim who would work in tandem to tend to the needs of the dor. However, such an unusual arichas yomim is surely a novelty. Evidently, the generation needed the Rosh HaYeshiva, and undoubtedly his zechusim protected Klal Yisroel.
The Rosh HaYeshiva lived through many phases of his long life. Years ago, he served as a maggid shiur in the Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah. However, the shiur did not take place in the Bais HaMedrash but in a different room of the Yeshiva. This disturbed Rav Shach, who presented his problem to the Chazon Ish. The Chazon Ish advised “The main point is not where the shiur is delivered; as long as you’re teaching the bochurim and they are shteiging.” This encouragement notwithstanding, Rav Shach felt strongly that his ability to be mashpia on his talmidim was eclipsed by not saying the shiur in the Bais HaMedrash, and so he left that position. Subsequently, he was engaged as a maggid shiur in the Kletzk Yeshiva in Rechovot in the yeshiva under the leadership of R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer’s son. Rav Shach seized upon the opportunity and spent every Shabbos in Yerushalayim where he forged an exceptionally close relationship with the Brisker Rav zt”l, absorbing his Torah and Yiras Shomayim. When he left the Yeshiva in Rechovot, he learned in Yerushalayim by the Brisker Rav. Eventually, the Ponevezer Rav zt”l invited Rav Shach to serve as a maggid shiur in the Ponevez Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, where he delivered both a shiur iyun and a shiur klalli. The unifying theme of all those years, however, was that Rav Shach’s one and only goal and motivation was Torah: to grow, to shtieg, and to help talmidim do the same.
Time passed. R’ Aharon zt”l, felt that there was a strong need for a Torah leader to get involved in iskei tzibbur in Eretz Yisroel. During a visit to Eretz Yisroel he informed Rav Shach of his opinion that he should acquiesce to join the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Anyone who was acquainted with Rav Shach during those years would have been surprised at such a suggestion: surely Rav Shach, who was the very paradigm of uninterrupted learning and shteiging, was not a suitable candidate for such an undertaking! Moreover, one would have expected that at the very least he would consult with the Brisker Rav, with whom he was so close and would seek his advice. However, Rav Shach took R’ Aharon’s directive as a binding p’sak, and merely told the Brisker Rav of his decision to adhere to R’ Aharon’s request, while discussing only details of how to conduct himself in his newly accepted capacity.
This was to be a decisive and defining turning point in the Rosh HaYeshiva’s life. His tremendous sense of responsibility to the tzibbur grew as time went on, and he was increasingly involved in all decisions relating to the klal. This metamorphosis eventually climaxed as Rav Shach emerged as the absolute manhig of the dor-and all as a result of his incredible sensitivity to and achrayus for the needs of Klal Yisroel.
A classic example of how he took complete responsibility for a situation was his involvement with the nascent Sephardic Torah community. Where others were reluctant to make overtures to this fledgling group, Rav Shach recognized the potential; here were sincere bnei Torah, eager to learn and submit to da’as Torah. Rav Shach believed that they should learn from their own Roshei Yeshiva, in their style of learning and this way they will grow. He immediately established contact with the Torah leaders of the Sephardic community, and working in close confluence with them, successfully initiated what has proven in retrospect to be nothing short of a revolution in the ranks of Sephardic Jewry.
I once attended a meeting by Rav Shach concerning the education of Russian children, at which Rabbi Neustadt and R’ Shimon Glick were also in attendance. Bais Yaakov principals at the meeting had a pressing question-should Bais Yaakov students be sent on a mission to Russia to study with Russian girls? Rav Shach approved of the idea and said that the girls would surely impart a good influence on their Russian counterparts while not being negatively affected by them. After the principals had left, our meeting continued. At the conclusion, Rav Shach requested that the principals return, whereupon he qualified for them his previous reply. “You may send the girls to participate in this program, and I surely hope they will not lose in the process; however I cannot take the responsibility for this.” It was truly amazing to witness the tremendous gravity which Rav Shach attached to rendering advice-unless otherwise specified, his eitzah included a complete acceptance of responsibility for the outcome.
Another area in which Rav Shach took the sole initiative and responsibility was in the less than popular task of protesting Messianic proclivities within Lubavitch. Rav Shach assumed the responsibility of decrying this perversion.
Rav Shach started to fight this battle alone. He illuminated the truth so that others could also see the posed threat and follow his lead.
Another prime example of his initiative was his encouragement of bnei Torah getting involved in kiruv rechokim; to devote time and effort to share their knowledge of Torah with their secular brethren. The Rosh Yeshiva saw that there were many people falling away and that with learning Torah they can be swayed to Yiddishkeit. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Rav Shach’s strong advocacy of this approach, it would never have mushroomed into the incredible success it is today.
The recent events of September 11th should motivate us to reflection. A large group of Arab terrorists succeeded in getting on many different planes and carrying out their dastardly acts. They were able to gain control of the planes and maneuver them with exactitude, resulting in direct hits which destroyed the very symbol of America’s financial prosperity, as well as its military pride which the Pentagon represented. It is untenable for any thinking person to attribute such astonishing feats to the dubious skill of the perpetrators-clearly the Hand of Hashem actively assisted the hijackers, as they were merely a tool for a more Divine message. We live in a time of such great hester panim-yet we have witnessed an episode of astonishing revelation of Hashem’s guiding role in history. This is nothing less than the ikvesa d’meshicha-the ushering in of the era of the Moshiach. The world is feverishly preoccupied with its fear of jetliners and anthrax, and with its assessments of the efficacy of American military endeavors against Osama bin Laden and his ilk. Yet bnei Torah must not get caught up in this two-dimensional view of current events. We should analyze, rather, what it is that Hashem demands of us, much as the Ponovezer Rosh Yeshiva was wont to do.
The midrash relates that when Yishmael demanded a reward for undergoing milah at the age of thirteen without protesting, Hashem replied that when the Bnei Yisroel would not reside in Eretz Yisroel, Yishmael would then hold sway there. Because the Koach of Yishmael comes from their claim to fulfilling the mitzva of Milah which relates to Kedusha and they further claim that the Islamic women are modest, in their mind they are waging a war against America’s rampant immorality in this sphere. Therefore it behooves us to counter their false claims to having a connection to Kedusha by strengthening our commitment to all areas of Tznius and Kedusha.
We must maintain and uphold the legacy of Rav Shach zt”l who constantly sought the Yad Hashem and instructed us to submit ourselves to His Will. May we merit to do so.