Ani Mai'AVRAHAM ASHER...ki yidaativ lima'an asher yitzaveh es bonov vi'es baiso acharov
vishomru derech Hashem...(Shall I hide from AVRAHAM ASHER...for I know that he will
instruct his family and his house after him and they will guard the way of Hashem...;
Beraishis 18:17, 19)." - from one of the eulogies for Rav Zimmerman.
"All who are lazy in the eulogizing of
a sage will not have long life (Shabos 105b)."
Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l, was
known among those who are devoted to Torah. He was not famous in the worldly sense, but he
was known in the yeshivish world and among those committed to halacha [Torah law], in
which he was a world-class authority. He was called "a rabbi's rabbi." He taught
rabbis how to be rabbis. People, including rabbis for whom questions were over their head,
called him with shaalos [Torah questions] from around the world. The phone would already
start ringing while he was making havdala and it kept ringing till the next onsetting of
the next shabos.
The shul of which I was a member took him
for its rabbi late in '85 and he remained it rav till the end of his life, 23 Cheshvan
5757 (the night of Nov. 4, '96) at the age of 81. For approximately eleven years, I
merited to be a congregant in the shul, Kahal Shaaray Tefilah in Boro Park, Brooklyn,
while he was its rav, and his neighbor.
Rav Zimmerman was by no means an ordinary
yeshiva man. Although born in America, he learned in Europe for three and a half years
during the mid-1930's under such distinguished Torah giants as Rav Elchanon Wasserman (the
main disciple of the Chafetz Chayim), Chayim Ozer Grodzinski (referred to as the greatest
halacha authority of his time) and Shimon Shkop of the famous Grodno yeshiva and author of
Shaaray Yosher; each of whom was a leader of that pre-war generation. When he was already
only 19, Rabbi Wasserman called Rabbi Zimmerman a tzadik [at any age, it would be amazing
to be called a "tzadik" by the famous Elchanon Wasserman, never mind by 19!]. By
about this time also, Rav Zimmerman knew the entire Mishna Brura by heart. When people
came to Rabbi Wasserman with shaalos (questions) in areas of law that are in the Mishna
Brura, he would tell people that Zimmerman is an expert and to go to him for the answer.
Within a few years after this young age, Rabbi Zimmerman knew the Talmud and Shulchan
Aruch; an amazing accomplishment in Torah learning!
His entire life was in Torah. He worked in
yeshivas, as the Jewish clergyman in a hospital and as the rav in shuls. When he was
older, and it was harder for him to travel, he taught halacha classes in his livingroom.
Besides being a giant in halacha (Torah
law), Rav Zimmerman was a giant in midos (character), yiras Shomayim (fear of sinning),
emuna (faith in G-d), mussar (self-perfection), hashkofa (Torah worldview) and chesed
(kindness). He knew Torah on every front including shas and poskim, medrashim and TaNaCH.
I saw many times where someone in shul or on the street would ask him a question and Rav
Zimmerman would say on the spot, "The Chasam Sofer answers your question,"
"The Chazone Ish says such and such on this," "The Mishna Brurah
says...," "The Shulchan Aruch says..." "The gemora in masechta X
says...". He was like a walking Torah encyclopedia. He was like a zaida [grandfather]
to everyone who needed his time, help or advice. He was unpretentious and accessible, to
the extent his circumstances allowed. There were occasions when I needed to speak to him
and he always made time. I remember many occasions during Shulchan Aruch lessons, that he
gave in his livingroom, he accepted phone interruptions when they were for practical
Rav Zimmerman was a rov who one could study
and learn to embody Torah from. His actions and thought processes were all Torah. Several
times when he was ill, he said enthusiastically that Hashem can send a salvation in an
Besides my being a member of his shul, I
had the good fortune of being his neighbor for approximately eleven years. I went over to
speak with him; I consulted with him for halacha, life guidance or help on my writings. I
met him in the street and would get into conversations with him. You never knew what gems
he would come out with at any time.
"If you make yourself small in your in
your own eyes, you will be big in the eyes of others and of Hashem. This is a true test of
humility" (Sefer Orchos Tzadikim, Sha'ar Ha'Anova). This was Rabbi Zimmerman.
Having had him for a rov was a true gift. I
share that gift with you, my dear reader, so that you can take into your life the pure,
sweet and beautiful Torah of Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, may his memory be for
Rabbi Jeff Forsythe
TABLE OF CONTENTS
HUMILITY AS THE FOUNDATION
OF ALL SPIRITUALITY - MATOS 5751
ON HUMILITY AND GOOD MIDOS
- BALAK 5754
ON DERECH ERETZ AND
CONSIDERATION FOR ANOTHER PERSON
ON PROPER USE OF THE
MOUTH - METZORA 5754
ON PEACE - SPOKEN AT SIYUM
OF MESECHTA BRACHOS 5755
ON SPIRITUAL PURSUIT IN
LIFE - TOLDOS 5749
ON STRONG INVOLVEMENT
IN TORAH - BESHALACH 5753
SEGULAS FOR PARNOSSA AND
ON THE OBLIGATORY TRAIT
OF HAKORAS TOVA - KEE SAVO 5756
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SEEING
ON PROPER ATTITUDE IN
ON WINNING THE
MILCHEMMESS HAYAITZER - KEE SAITSAY 5755
HIS PERSONAL TZIDKUS
[RIGHTEOUSNESS], PART ONE
HIS PERSONAL TZIDKUS
[RIGHTEOUSNESS], PART TWO
HIS PERSONAL TZIDKUS
[RIGHTEOUSNESS], PART THREE
A USEFUL BIT OF WISDOM
FROM RAV CHAYIM OZER
LIMITING THE LENGTH OF
TIME FROM GETTING ENGAGED TILL THE WEDDING
ON GETTING GOOD, ONLY
THE PROPER WAY - KEE SAVO 5754
ON SETTING PRIORITIES
IN SHALOM BAYIS
ON EMUNA THAT HASHEM
IS CREATOR - BERAYSHIS 5755
ON THE ULTIMATE
DEFEAT OF GOLUS EDOM - VAYISHLACH 5754
CHIDUSHIM FROM PRIVATE
CONVERSATIONS/SHAALOS ON HILCHOS TEFILAH
ON THE FLEETING
TEMPORARINESS OF EARTHLY LIFE
ON PERSEVERING TO SUCCEED
AT SPIRITUAL GOALS
ON HIS NOT BEING FAMOUS
Material herein is from the divray Torah of
Rav Zimmerman. It was originally written up for inclusion in various writings by Rabbi
Jeff Forsythe, which are all Copyright 2000. The material has been selected and collected
for this special commemoration by Rabbi Jeff Forsythe.
When a Parsha and year are referred to, the
material originated from the Rav's shabos drosha in his shul, Kahal Shaaray Tefilah. In
some cases, the Rav cited a source and, for the sake of providing the reader with a
clearer or fuller understanding, the source has been presented more thoroughly (for
example: the verses from Ovadia HaNovi and from Tehillim 122, the midrash about Hashem as
the "manufacturer" of the universe, the gemora about refraining from anger on
Chulin 89a, etc.).
The material is presented in the form in
which I originally recorded it between the late '80s and the mid '90s. It sometimes refers
to Rabbi Zimmerman as alive (he was when some of these items were originally written). It
sometimes reflects my writing style more than Rav Zimmerman's speaking style, particularly
for material that was originally not in English; such as some that was translated from
Yiddish (sometimes with Rav Zimmerman's help after the drasha) or material in which I go
directly back to the Hebrew sources to augment explanation or context of what the rav
HUMILITY AS THE FOUNDATION
OF ALL SPIRITUALITY - MATOS 5751
Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman is a very
esteemed Torah scholar who learned in Baronovich in the mid 1930s under Rav Elchanon
Wasserman. Rav Zimmerman teaches rabbis how to be rabbis, a posaik who teaches poskim. He
is a walking encyclopedia of Shas, Shulchan Aruch, Chumash, Mishna Brurah, Mussar,
Midrash...all on his fingertips...he's got it all. He is a person who, in spite of his
achievements and greatness in Torah, is not well known outside of those people who are
really "into" Torah because he practices what he preaches about humility. He's
the kind of person who you come to and you know you're getting pure, straight Torah, with
his three quarters of a century, a lifetime, of Torah, behind him. He is the living
embodiment of the type of midos, the humility, that this segment is intended to convey and
to inspire others to incorporate into themselves. The Torah tells how the tribes of Reuven
and Gad had very much cattle (Bamidbar 32). Midrash Raba points out that three gifts were
created in the world: 1. wealth, 2. physical strength and 3. wisdom.
The gemora (Nedarim 38a) says that in order
to receive prophesy, the novie needs four benefits: 1. wealth, 2. physical strength, 3.
wisdom and 4. humility.
Rav Zimmerman pointed out that the first
three of these four are gifts from Heaven, being the same three gifts cited in the midrash
on the wealth of Bnay Reuven and Gad. If a person is privileged to possess even any one of
these gifts; wealth, strength or wisdom; then he has a precious benefit from Heaven that
is as if he has everything. But when does this apply? Only when they are gifts from
Heaven, coming through the koach of Torah, righteousness and doing the will of Hashem.
However, if the wealth, strength or wisdom is not a gift from Heaven used for the service
of Heaven, then it is nothing. Shlomo HaMelech says (Kohelless 9:11) that "The race
does not go to the fast person, the battle doesn't go to the strong person, bread does not
go to the smart person, wealth does not go to the clever person, Hashem's favor does not
necessarily go to the knowledgeable person; rather, different times and circumstances can
happen to everybody." A person receives wealth, strength or intelligence as a gift
from Hashem. If a person takes one of these through crime or sin, and it is not coming to
him, it is going to end up being for nothing. It will be lost.
"Thus says Hashem. 'Let not the wise
person praise himself for his wisdom. Let not the strong one praise himself for his
strength. Let not the wealthy person praise himself for his wealth. If one will praise
himself about anything, let him praise himself about this: he knows and understands Me,
that I am Hashem, who does lovingkindness, righteousness and justice on earth; for it is
in these things that I delight,' says Hashem." (Yermiah 9:22, 23). The novie is
specifically saying that the three all-encompassing gifts referred to by the Midrash Raba
are gifts from Heaven. None of them mean that any person is praiseworthy by his having
them. Heaven, for its reasons, saw fit to give one or more of these three gifts to the
person. Heaven saw fit that the person is the kailee through which these gifts will come
into the world and will pertain to your part in the plan for the world. If you brag over
something that was a gift, that is just arrogance and haughtiness. These bring praise on
Hashem Who is great and is generous for having given them to you. If you must brag, do so
about what you can do and give, showing that you understand the values, midos and will of
Hashem and what He wants done on earth with worldly resources.
The midrash continues saying that each of
these three gifts were given to a Jew and a non-Jew and they each were killed. Two
chochomim arose, Achisofel and Billam. Achisofel was such a chochom that he had ruach
hakodesh, was an advisor to Dovid HaMelech and he had to be consulted before Dovid would
go to war. Dovid couldn't make a move without first consulting with Achisofel. Dovid had a
son Avshalom who made revolution and offered Achisofel a very high position in Avshalom's
new kingdom. Achisofel participated in the rebellion, giving his wisdom and direction.
When he saw that the revolution was failing, he got depressed and killed himself. Billam
advised Midyan on how to beat Israel and got killed when Israel went to war with Midyan.
Two strong men arose in the world, one from
Israel and one a non-Jew, Shimshon and Golias, and both were killed. Shimshon went after
his eyes, which led to his downfall and he died. Golias tried to war against Israel on the
side of the Philistines and Dovid killed him.
Two wealthy men arose in the world, one in
Israel and a non-Jew and both were lost, Korach and Homon. They both forgot Hashem. Korach
wanted to take over, to have kavod and power that didn't belong to him. Homon started out
as a lowly barber who tried to manipulate Achashverosh and events, to play out his
purposeless and egocentric hatred of Mordechai. His destiny, his lot was to be a barber,
not a leader. Both Korach and Homon were filled with self-importance, came to sin and
crime to take more than the portion allotted for them, and they were both destroyed.
People who take gifts that aren't coming to them, or who misuse them in violation of the
will of Hashem, destroy themselves.
B'nai Reuven and Gad became very wealthy
but they loved their money and settled outside of the land of Israel. Hashem wanted the
land divided among the 12 shvatim. Reuven and Gad came to Moshe and said that they want to
be outside, on the other side of the Jordan River. Consequently, when the tribes were
taken into exile, as is described in Divray Hayomim, Reuven and Gad were the first to be
carried away. What brought this punishment on them? The fact that they used their gift of
wealth to separate themselves from the rest of Bnay Yisroel. They were given the gifts
that Hashem gave them for the purpose of settling in the land of Israel and to contribute
to the economy, life and society of the land and Jewish people. They wanted to be where it
suited their materialistic aspirations and motivations, which excluded the will of Hashem
and the purpose for which they were given gifts of wealth, as is cited in the Torah.
To be a prophet, one must have the three
worldly gifts of wealth, strength and wisdom. Moshe, the prophet who had the dialogue with
Reuven and Gad, had wealth, strength and wisdom. The gemora in Nedarim says that prophesy
requires these three gifts from Hashem, plus one additional attribute. This fourth is a
"make or break" quality in becoming a novie: humility.
Anova (humility) is anything but a gift. A
person rises in midos (character traits), spirituality and holiness by virtue of working
on himself, struggling and breaking himself; so that he exterminates his yaitzer hora, to
extent that the individual is able to, through a lifetime of work. The Torah testifies
that Moshe was the greatest novie who will ever live and the most humble person who will
ever live. We learn from the tribes of Reuven and Gad that we can destroy ourselves with
Heaven's greatest gifts. We learn from Moshe Rabainu that if we have one or more of
Heaven's gifts, and add humility to our list of attributes; which we can only do with
hard, ongoing and persevering internal work; we can rise to the highest levels of
spirituality (ruchneeyus) and personal potential (shlaimus).
ON HUMILITY AND GOOD MIDOS
- BALAK 5754
One of the Rabbis from whom I take Torah
instruction is Avraham Asher Zimmerman. He is a person who embodies Torah better than just
about anyone I can think of, may he continue to live and be well. Although he grew up in
Brooklyn, he had the good fortune of learning in Europe for approximately three years in
the mid 1930's when the great generation of pre-war Europe Torah giants still were alive.
Because of his health, Rabbi Zimmerman returned to America before the war.
While in Europe, he learned under Rabbi
Shimon Shkop in the Grodno Yeshiva; in the famous Baranovitch Yeshiva under the Torah
luminary, Rabbi Elchanon Wasserman, disciple of the legendary Chafetz Chayim; and other
luminaries. Rabbi Wasserman was gunned down by Nazis during the war. Among the giants that
Rabbi Zimmerman saw was the famed Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, known as the greatest Torah
scholar alive in that era. Rabbi Zimmerman is a precious link to the Torah heritage of
Rabbi Zimmerman gave a beautiful speech
about Billam vs. humility. He emphasized that midos (character traits), not intellect,
make the person. Billam had unquestionable brilliant intellect, but it was poison, in his
possession. Unless intellect is preceded by cultivated, fine, elevated character, it is
destructive. Good midos have to come first.
The Talmud (Taanis 20b) says, "Be soft
as a reed." A reed is something that grows in a swamp, in water. To the eye it
appears to be low. But, it has strong roots. When the strongest wind comes, the reeds
shake with the wind but remain after the wind is done blowing.
The opposite of the reed is the cedar tree.
The cedar is tall, strong, aristocratic looking. When a hurricane wind comes, the cedar
falls with a smash.
The person with good character traits is
like the reed. When the storms of life come, although it is impossible not to shake with
the winds, the reed has strong roots. Because it is "low", it has relatively
little surface area to be smitten by the wind. The huge and stately cedar has roots that
are relatively shallow, compared to the mass of the tree. Above ground, it has much more
surface area. The wind throws it down.
Rabbi Zimmerman explained that Billam was
the cedar with feeble roots and no tolerance for adversity. To the world he looked
impressive, big and aristocratic. But, there was nothing for the long run.
The truth is, the way to be is like the
reed. By emulating the soft reed, by being the humble person of character, who carries a
"low profile," and who may be shaken in the winds of life, you remain around to
tell of it after the hurricane is over.
Pirkei Avos (chapter 5) says that there are
three traits that show that one is the disciple of Billam:
1. wanting bad for another person,
especially when that other person means you no harm - just out of jealousy or spiteful
emotions - particularly by begrudging good that another person has (especially when you
don't have that good thing),
2. arrogance, and
3. desire - overwhelming drive to take or
These were the characterizing marks of
Billam. View these as a recipe for downfall.
The opposite of these three, Pirkei Avos
also tells us, are found in the disciples of Abraham, forefather of the Jewish people:
1. wanting only good for other people
(never feel threatened, diminished or jealous when the next person has good - there is
enough good in G-d's world for everybody),
2. humility, and
3. undemanding - has contentment with what
These three exalted traits are hallmarks of
the Jewish people. View these as an elixir of life.
If we keep this in mind, operate with our
priority on midos, not on being "smart," Rabbi Zimmerman concluded, we will get
the benefits and value of true life.
This all can only come into existence
through ANAVA, the foundation for all good character and behavior. Intellect must be
preceded by fear of sin, which must be preceded by humility, which is the root of all
good. Nothing good, true, right or lasting can be achieved without anava. Including your
The mishna, in Pirkei Avos which discusses
the difference between the disciples of Abraham and Billam, asks: What is the difference
between them? The disciples of Abraham enjoy the benefits of this world and inherit the
eternal world. The disciples of Billam inherit Gehenom and fall into a "pit of
ON DERECH ERETZ AND
CONSIDERATION FOR ANOTHER PERSON
One of the rabbis from whom I learn Torah
is Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, a posaik (decider of Jewish law) and Talmid Chacham
(accomplished scholar). There are parts of the prayer services during which it is strictly
prohibited in Jewish law to speak. Rabbi Zimmerman told me that even during parts of the
prayer services during which it is not strictly forbidden to speak, one should not speak.
He said that derech eretz requires that one not disturb anyone else in the shul by
speaking at any time during the services.
One of the things which made Rav Zimmerman
so special, both as a rabbinical authority and as a human being, was how he thoroughly and
consistently "practiced what he preached." Some occasions stick in my mind in
which he exhibited thoughtful, courteous and considerate behavior towards me.
If one touches a body part which Jewish law
normally requires to be covered, one must wash his hands. On the arm. this applies right
after the elbow. One summer evening, in his gemora shiur, I was wearing a short-sleeved
shirt. Owing to an itch just above my elbow, I scratched my skin. Rav Zimmerman was
looking right at me and he softly and politely said, "Jeff, you forgot
yourself." I understood right away. He was gently telling me to wash my hands in a
way that gave me respect and gave me benefit of all doubt that I was not ignorant or
intentionally sinning. He said it in a way that would tell no one else in the shiur what I
did. His warm and gentle tone made it clear that he was caring and not at all attacking or
criticizing. He was very nicely reminding me to fulfill a halacha.
As a writer, there were several occasions
on which I asked Rav Zimmerman to read through things I wrote to check it over and give
corrections or comments, especially for some of his drashos. I would typically give him
the manuscript and he would need several days to get around to it. Then, he would invite
me over to go over it with me after reading it. I remember fondly how he would down sit
with me on his livingroom couch under the front window. It felt like being with a
"spare zaidee." Sitting next to me, he would go through the point on which he
had comments. One time, I made a mistake in recording something he said in drasha on
Parshas Balak that I wrote up (some of his drashos were in Yiddish, which I don't
understand as well as English). He said that the correct point was in a Rashi on the
Parsha. He got up and walked me over to his book shelves to look up the precise statement
of Rashi. As he was looking for the page in his chumash, he said to me, warmly and softly,
"You don't want people to think you don't know." In his making the correction,
he wasn't in the least criticizing. He was caring about the accuracy of Torah, and caring
After sleeping, "ruach ra" must
be washed off of the finger tips by pouring water in alternation over the two hands. If
one touches any body opening (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, etc.) while the "ruach
ra" is on the fingertips, it is harmful to the body. One night, in the middle of the
night, I woke up for a moment and I rubbed my eye. In the morning, when I remembered that
I put my finger to my eye, I was near panic and asked Rav Zimmerman if I was in danger. He
said, very warmly and reassuringly, not to worry. The prevailing opinion is that the
danger only comes with the onset of light. Since it was still dark out, I had no problem.
One evening, I was dovening ma'ariv in Rav
Zimmerman's shul. Although I don't remember why (perhaps the minyan was going faster than
usual), I literally forgot whether I said one of the (required) brachos before "Shma
Yisroel." If I did not say the blessing (I really had no idea whether I did or
didn't), I figured that it was better to skip than to repeat it. At that point in the
prayer service, one may not speak. One may only proceed with the prayer service. So, I
couldn't ask Rav Zimmerman how to handle it and he would not have been able to reply.
After the ma'ariv service was over, I asked Rav Zimmerman about my dilemma. He did not
answer me in his usual straight halacha-oriented manner. He said with warm reassurance,
"Jeff, you said it so many times, you said it just right. Don't worry." He spoke
to me as if I were a tzadik, and that I knew the prayer so well that I could rely on
having made no mistake.
Whenever my circumstances permit, I try to
doven mincha earlier rather than later, in accordance with the teaching by Rav Yisroel
Salanter. Rav Zimmerman also did. On many occasions I met him at the first mincha minyan
at either Shomray Shabos or Rabbi Friedman's shul [two shuls in Boro Park - his shul did
not have weekday afternoon minyans]. I would walk Rav Zimmerman home and ask shaalos or
get golden nuggets from his Torah. One item I recorded for incorporation into a work on
chesed and bain odom lechavairo obligations.
The Torah requires that when any Jew is in
need, that his fellow Jew lend him to provide for his need or trouble. The Chafetz Chaim
(in Ahavas Chesed) analyzes this mitzva. He says that the mitzva to lend is not restricted
to money. One of my Torah teachers, Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, told me (based on the
Chafetz Chaim) that we see from this that lending addresses a need, makes a person happy,
removing a problem or a hurt. Therefore, it is a Torah mitzva anytime you lend a fellow
Jew a pencil, a pot from your kitchen, anything. It is a Torah mitzva when you address
that individual's need and allow him to borrow from you, no matter what the object may be.
When someone is in need or trouble, this
makes him emotionally burdened and unhappy. The mitzva of lending him what he needs cures
the unhappiness or feeling of pressure and worry.
ON PROPER USE OF THE
MOUTH - METZORA 5754
The Torah tells us that a metzora (leper)
suffers a spiritual disease of which the physical disease is only an external symptom or
manifestation. The cause is evil speech, spoken in a spirit of arrogance or
self-aggrandizement. The metzora is put out of the camp. This teaches that the way he
tried to ostracize the victim against whom he spoke, he is punished with ostracism. He has
to humble himself and train himself to refrain from evil speech and from hurting people.
When he is healed, he brings two birds as a sacrifice. Just as birds chirp, he chirped too
much. One bird is killed, to show that his mouth could kill. The other bird is taken to be
set free in the "sadeh (field)." Why does the Torah specify to a field? Rabbi
Avraham Asher Zimmerman, one of today's great Torah a