Thursday, November 23, 2006
Special Shalach Manos for the Rosh Yeshiva
With the Soviet occupation of Poland in 1939, Rav Kotler escaped first to Kobe, Japan, then to the United States in April of 1941. Rav Aharon assumed a leading role in the rescue operations of the Vaad Hatzala. Under his leadership, Beis Medrash Gavoha opened in a converted house in Lakewood, New Jersey in April 1943, and the yeshiva and kollel student body increased from the original 14 to 140 in 1962, the year of his petira [passing]. Rav Aharon also headed Chinuch Atzmai, the network of Torah day schools in Israel, founded in 1953, and he took over the leadership of Torah U'Mesorah, the American day school movement, after the death of its founder Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz. He also headed Agudas Yisrael's Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.
HOW HE DECIDED TO COME TO AMERICA
The two great Torah giants, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Aharon Kotler, both learned in the Slutzk Yeshiva. Rabbi Feinstein later became the rabbi of Luban in Russia, but when the Communists rose to power, his life was in danger because the Communists tried to uproot any vestige of Jewish life. Finally, when life in Russia became too precarious, Rabbi Feinstein and his family immigrated to the United States, arriving there in 1936.
Rabbi Kotler, though, remained in Europe until World War II broke out. Eventually, after many trials and tribulations, he managed to escape from Europe, and arrived in Japan. Now that he was in a country that allowed Jews to travel, he had two choices. On the one hand, he could travel to Israel, where his father-in-law, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, had already established himself. Or he could travel to the United States and join Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
Faced with this major decision, Rabbi Kotler decided to follow the system of lots used by the Gaon of Vilna. This consisted of a certain method of turning the pages of a specific edition of the Bible, and following the direction of the verse to where this system pointed.
After casting the lot, Rabbi Kotler found that the verse he had opened to read (Exodus 4:27): "G-d said to Aharon, 'Go to meet Moshe in the desert'." Rabbi AHARON Kotler understood this to mean that he was to join Rabbi MOSHE Feinstein in what was the "desert" of Jewish learning in America.
It was in the United States that Rabbi Kotler established the Lakewood Yeshiva, one of the premier yeshivos in the world.
Here you can find a living ‘Mishnas Rav Aharon’ - selections from a forthcoming biographic anecdotal study of the teachings of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler Zt'l by Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz.
Wherein lay his power? What was the "secret" of his success? S. Kagan, in "From Kletzk to Lakewood, U.S.A." has written that Rabbi Kotler's strength as a teacher was the living example he provided of Torah rooted in his every fiber. When he taught he became completely immersed in the subject: "His face earnest and strained . . . . The fires, burning in his soul, mirrored in his eyes--those brilliant, piercing blue eyes that were a study in themselves--glowing like embers. The movements of his hands following the flow of his words--his words like hammer blows, . . . questioning, explaining, expounding in a mounting crescendo. . . . exclaiming, exulting in the eternal fulfillment of Torah.” Kagan asserts that Rabbi Kotler's success in transplanting Torah "from one set of conditions to another more difficult one", was an achievement that goes beyond greatness, for he became a living link in the chain of Tradition "stretching from Moshe to Moshiach, achieving immortality within his own lifetime."
Finally, you’re probably wondering about the title of this post [Shalach Manos in Kislev?], and perhaps what it has to do with Negina. One of the foremost talmidim of Rav Aharon was none other than Reb Shlomo Carlebach, who attended the Lakewood Yeshiva from its inception in 1943, through 1947. Much has been said about the “falling out” between these two, but it is my fervent hope that the following eyewitness account will dispel some of the erroneous notions about this. Please read on.
Reb Shlomo Carlebach as a young man
Special Shalach Manos for the Rosh Yeshiva
The following story is an adaptation and transcript of a true story, told by the man who was present when it happened – my good friend Reb Itzik Eisenstadt. R. Itzik is a fellow music enthusiast, who became involved with the music of both Modzitz and Reb Shlomo Carlebach in the 1950s. Known by Carlebachers as the “Treasurer of the Niggunim,” Reb Itzik accompanied Reb Shlomo on many of his journeys, both in the US and in Israel.
“It was 1957, and Reb Shlomo came home from St. Louis for the holiday of Purim, and he was to read the Megilla in his father’s Shul. It was their custom to read it quickly, and indeed, they finished it, word by word, in twelve  minutes! I stood there, a child of fourteen, and I couldn’t believe it! This cannot be – yet it was! Afterwards, Shlomo signaled me to wait, even though his mother, the Rebbetzin, invited me to come up to eat. His father had a room, his study, with a sofa. This room had a window which had a staircase [or fire escape] which led outside – and this was the only way that Shlomo could leave the house unnoticed.
“Shlomo told me to wait in the corner, although his mother had told us to go to bed. His parents came to check on us, to make sure that we had done so. After the ‘inspection’, I snuck out of the bedroom to meet Shlomo in his father’s study, and we left through the window. At approximately 10 pm, someone came by with a car and picked us up. I thought that we must be going to Brooklyn, to 770 – where the Lubavitcher Rebbe was. But no, we were setting out on a much longer journey.
“In those days, to get to Lakewood from Manhattan took about 2-1/2 hours. We arrived at the Yeshiva at around midnight. The Yeshiva was located in a small house in those days. There was a very small study hall [Beis Medrash] downstairs, with stairs leading up to a women’s section [ezras nashim]. There was also a small room upstairs, Rav Aharon Kotler’s study, which had a window through which he could observe what was going on in the Beis Medrash below.
“Shlomo came in – and let’s not forget, this was Purim night – and he found a number of [approximately nine] talmidim learning in the Beis Medrash. ‘Shalom, a freiliche Purim, a joyous Purim to you,’ he greeted them. The talmidim were in the midst of learning – not Masechta Megilla [which is relatively “light” and deals with the Laws and stories of Purim], but Masechta Yevamos! [This is a tractate of Talmud which contains perhaps the most complex areas of Jewish Law]. Shlomo began to engage them in the sugyos [topics] of the Gemara that they were learning – including what he had learned from Rav Aharon when he was in Lakewood. They were amazed! This was exactly what they were learning! And it was some ten years after Reb Shlomo had left the Lakewood Yeshiva. In addition to the Rosh Yeshiva’s Torah, Reb Shlomo added some pearls of wisdom of his own. The talmidim began to whisper to each other, ‘Is this Shlomo Carlebach?’
“Suddenly, a light went on in the Rosh Yeshiva’s room above the Beis Medrash. The window opened, and he looked down to see what was going on. Then he began to come down the stairs. Rav Aharon didn’t drag his feet – within seconds he was down the stairs, and walked directly over to his own shtender [lectern]. Shlomo saw this, turned around, and went over to him. Without even greeting each other, they began to discuss the Gemara Yevamos as well.
“You taught us this, but I’ll add this now,” Reb Shlomo said to the Rosh Yeshiva.
“You added that then, as well,” countered the Rosh Yeshiva.
“I didn’t follow a word – it was above my head,” said R. Itzik Eisenstadt [remember, he was only 14 then!]. “The talmidim, the man who drove us, and I – we all watched this scene, and we were trembling!”
“It was a rare occasion to have seen Rav Aharon laughing. If something humored him, one corner of his mouth turned upwards in a semi-smile. Suddenly, Reb Shlomo stopped the serious learning, and began to say [humorous] Purim Torah – on Yevamos! Rav Aharon burst out laughing. But all the talmidim were still trembling. (R. Itzik remembered one of the jokes: apparently Haman and Achashverosh were brothers, and Haman wanted to perform yibum while his brother was yet alive!]
“After that, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to Reb Shlomo and asked him to sing. Without a guitar or anything else, Reb Shlomo sang ‘Lulei Soras’cha’ [track 8; longer link here, sung by D. Zeller] -- a niggun he had composed for the Rosh Yeshiva. Rav Aharon closed his eyes. (“If I ever saw someone ascend on High, it was then,” said R. Itzik. “He was just not there. Until Shlomo stopped singing.”) Shlomo went on with the niggun – the only one singing – for some ten or fifteen minutes. Then Rav Aharon nodded ‘goodbye’ and left, going back to his room upstairs.
[R. Itzik told us, that at the time he didn’t even know that it was Rav Aharon Kotler. When they went outside, he asked R. Shlomo, “Who was that?” “The Rosh Yeshiva,” Reb Shlomo responded. “Umm…you mean, Rabbi Aharon Kotler!?” Itzik said, trembling once more.]
“And the Torah that they learned together, was Reb Shlomo’s ‘shalach manos’ for the Rosh Yeshiva.”
“Everybody says that Rav Aharon threw Reb Shlomo out of the Yeshiva, and that after he left, they had nothing to do with each other. But I heard from a Rabbi in Queens, that in the year 1951, the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent Reb Shlomo to be the rabbi of Dorothy, New Jersey – a small town not too far from Lakewood. Being that this position was not very demanding, Reb Shlomo took advantage of the amount of free time that he had, and traveled every day – to learn in Lakewood! On Motzaei Shabboses [Saturday nights], he would go to the Yeshiva and teach the boys there Modzitzer niggunim. The Rav who told this to Itzik said that there is where he met Reb Shlomo and became his good friend, and afterwards they remained friends. Shlomo learned like this for two years.
Zechuso yagein aleinu - may Rav Aharon's merits protect us all!