by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 3, 2004
Thousands of American Jews have now had a chance to view a true Torah giant in person. None of them will ever be quite the same again.
When the Beis HaMikdash stood, the nation gathered every seven years to hear the reading of the entire Torah. Even infants were brought to absorb subliminally the awesomeness of the occasion. And similarly, the young children on Yeshiva Lane in Baltimore who scrubbed and cleaned the halls of the building in which HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman stayed last week will never forget the awe that surrounded the aged sage’s visit to the yeshiva.
If Reb Aharon Leib’s trip to America resulted only in tens of thousands of Jews catching a glimpse of him, it would have been worth it. He seemed to recognize that himself. Just a few hours after arriving in America, he was greeted by a huge crowd lining the streets of Lakewood. He walked the last kilometer to Beis Medrash Govoha to give those gathered more opportunity to view him.
BUT RABBI STEINMAN’S visit has done much more than just providing a glimpse of a Torah giant whose counsel has been sought by great and small for fifty years. The last few years have not been easy ones for Klal Yisrael. In Eretz Yisrael, we have experienced the plague of terrorism. Drastic cuts in government support for Torah education and large families have thrown many into dire poverty and threatened Torah institutions.
Jews are crying out for direction and comfort. They want to understand the rush of events from the perspective of the Torah. (Our generation has no Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Hy"d, who wrote prolifically on current events, using only the Torah as his guide.)
In addition, the tzibur (public) wants to know that something is being done about the issues confronting thousands of families – problems of livelihood, alienated youth, finding an appropriate Torah educational setting for every child.
Torah Jews believe that our gedolim are aware of the individual struggles of countless families and are doing everything possible to address these problems. But there is believing and there is knowing.
Now we know. We know of the concern of our great Torah leaders because a ninety-year-old Jew from Bnei Brak undertook an arduous transatlantic journey for no other reason than to give inspiration to as many Jews as possible. And. he did so at the sacrifice of all that is most important to him – the learning and teaching of Torah in depth. (Even at ninety, he is still publishing new volumes of his Ayeles HaShachar.)
Reb Aharon Leib’s schedule in America would have taxed a man half his age. In one day alone, he traveled by car from Monsey to Edison to Philadelphia to Baltimore. At each stop, he spoke and met with roshei yeshiva and local mechanchim to answer their questions. Even after he finally arrived at his host’s home at 11:00 p.m., the door remained open to individuals who came to consult or for a word of encouragement. The last visitor did not depart until 1:00 a.m. By 5:00 a.m. the next morning, Rabbi Steinman was again at his shtender learning with his chavrusa. Even after fainting and being taken briefly to Maimonides Hospital, he insisted on resuming his schedule almost immediately.
At every Torah institution, whether a cheder, a Bais Yaakov, or a yeshivah, his talk was specifically tailored to the students of that particular institution. But whether speaking to children from non-religious homes or thousands of baalebatim, the essential message remained the same: the potential for nitzchios (eternity) inherent in every moment.
Who could better to deliver this message than the frail figure whose every movement attests to his minimal attachment to the material world. Those who came to see him have heard by now of his twice daily fare of dried bread crumbs and milk, of how he learns in a chair without a back, and of the humble abode, with its unpainted walls, in which he lives.
Klal Yisrael has an unerring sense for Torah leadership, and has never been disappointed by one that they saw close up and anointed as a leader. The criteria of leadership have remained the same from the day that "… Moshe became a gadol and went out to his brothers and saw their suffering. . . "
Like Moshe Rabbeinu, a Torah leader must give himself completely to Klal Yisrael: He must share in the suffering of every Jew and be untainted by personal interest of any kind. Rabbi Steinman is that anav (humble person). The yeshiva bochurim dancing exhuberantly around his car and pressing themselves against the window last week made no more impression on him than the eggs occasionally thrown at his car by hooligans in the past. He just smiled and told the rosh yeshiva sitting next to him, "Sometimes bochurim have to let off a little steam."
Despite being known as a pikeach (a wise man) for fifty years, he once replied to a question from the American ambassador to Israel, "I don’t know." Asked by someone present, "But shouldn’t a gadol b’Torah be like the Urim Ve’Tumim, " he answered, "Yes, but I still don’t know."
These last two weeks North American Jewry has been rejoicing, and the entire Torah world with them, in the knowledge that we are not yet a completely orphaned generation. We still have leaders of unfathomable greatness.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
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