Rabbi Shmuel Blech
Bio: Rav Shmuel Blech
Intro: Everybody knows the Rosh Yeshiva as the Godol Hador or as the marbitz Torah, but there are other sides to the Rosh Yeshiva that were not so clear to everyone. I’ll give you a dugma.
An Orphaned Bochur
In the late 1950’s, not too long after the pleytim came from Europe, there was an alter bochur in yeshiva, who was orphaned, unfortunately. The yeshiva was really his home. So when the time came to do a shidduch, it was necessary for him to be able to establish himself, so he got a job in New York. He would come to the yeshiva for Shabbos and spend Shabbos with the olam.
At that time, the schedule for shiurim was that the Rosh Yeshiva would say a shiur on Shabbos by day in the summer or on motzai Shabbos in the winter. Then he would say a second shiur Monday morning, leave to New York for askonos and stay there until Thursday evening. He’d come back to the yeshiva in time for mussar seder. When the Rosh Yeshiva would walk in before mussar, everybody would light up, feeling his presence.
Since this bochur was working, he was able to stay in yeshiva on Sundays, but he had to be back at work on Monday morning. The Rosh Yeshiva called this alter bochur in and said to him, “I know how much you enjoy listening to the shiur, so I am going to say the shiur on Sunday.”
He changed the whole seder for the yeshiva so this bochur should be able to hear the shiur! That’s gevaldigge. Besides everything else, the Rosh Yeshiva showed such chesed in knowing how meaningful the shiur was to the bochur and how much he needed it to maintain himself. That was the caring and concern that the Rosh Yeshiva had for a yachid. A gevaldigge baishon.
Kavod for a Bochur
Here is a story that’s clearly worth publicizing, an extraordinary story. The Rosh Yeshiva used to take the bus back and forth between New York and Lakewood and students would pick him up at the bus station, but after a while, he had a need to be driven into the city. So the yeshiva set up a rotation of volunteer drivers. I was a young bochur and had only just learned to drive, but they needed everybody they could get, so they assigned me to a day. In fact, putting the pieces together, Reb Levi Dicker, who is now a rosh yeshiva in Belle Harbor, and formerly of Long Beach yeshiva, was the one in charge of that rotation.
Once I drove the Rosh Yeshiva on what turned out to be a very important day. The Rosh Yeshiva was reacting to the aliyos hanoar  where the young children who had been brought in from oriental countries to Eretz Yisroel were being put into various kibbutzim and integrated in a way that was a real threat to their Yiddishkeit. The Rosh Yeshiva wanted to establish a method of having these children go into frum hands, and he made a meeting of askanim in Dr. Bodenheimer’s office. In attendance was Isaac Shalom who was a Sephardishe askan at the time, and others. It was a very prestigious group.
They were seated around a large conference table, and the Rosh Yeshiva told Dr. Bodenheimer, “We need one more chair.”
Dr. Bodenheimer looked around and said, “Everybody’s seated.”
The Rosh Yeshiva said, “The bochur vos hat mir gebracht zitzed in droisen. A yeshiva man is nisht kain baal hagolah. M’darf habben an andere chair.”
A moradigge maaseh, no? A gevaldigge maaseh. We ourselves, even in our humble setting, would probably not give any chashivus to a young bochur, but the Rosh Yeshiva wanted to send a very clear message that a yeshiva man should not be treated that way, left sitting alone outside. So they brought him a chair, had him sit together with them, and he participated.
The Rosh Yeshiva himself would insist whenever there was any kind of pirtza that would any way be m’mayet in kavod Ha Torah he felt that the bochurim and yungerleit should also be involved.
When there were mass meetings, for example, the yeshiva would have buses to bring the bochurim into the city. One famous incident was with the Brisker Rov after someone had written against him. The Rosh Yeshiva took the yeshiva in, which is interesting. One would sense that perhaps the Rosh Yeshiva was chas on the time, which he was more than chas. So the olam went to participate because it was a question of kavod HaTorah. The Rosh Yeshiva felt that it was essential that the olam have a strong representation.
As an interesting aside: when the Rosh Yeshiva took Reb Yankel Schiff to introduce him to the Brisker Rov in Eretz Yisroel to do the shidduch, the whole olam went to see him off to the airport. Reb Yankel was the apple of the Rosh Yeshiva’s eye, and the olam knew that once Reb Yankel goes there, there’s a shidduch. He wasn’t going to come back; there would be a chasunah! So we went in the kavod of Reb Yankel and the special chavivus that the Rosh Yeshiva had for him.
Kinship in Yeshiva
There was a sense of family in yeshiva, a strong kesher. People sometimes think that in a Litvishe yeshiva, people are maybe cold. But that was not the sense.
I remember when we’d go to chasunahs. We’d rent a bus for the chevra to go, and there was always singing on the bus. The olam would sing together. There was a strong sense of hischabrus. The olam felt a real kinship. L’mashal, being miyayetz about shidduchim. The Rosh Yeshiva was always there for anyone who needed some advice.
And that would be Thursday night after the Rosh Yeshiva would come back from New York and there would be mussar seder and maariv. Later, the olam would line up by his room, often by his dormitory room, which was in the old building, the first building that the yeshiva had. It was a special room that was in 617 Sixth Street. That’s really where the present bais medrash is. It was the Kaufman estate. That was the first building the yeshiva had. He negotiated that. Menashe Rabinowitz was the real estate person that purchased that building, and that housed the bais medrash. The first bais medrash was very small, just the dining room and dormitory. And then, they bought the corner building on Forest and Seventh, which was Hotel Tel Aviv. There was a sign downstairs in the basement, an old sign on which was written the name “Hotel Tel Aviv.” And that was later used for the bais medrash, and for some dorms facilities on top. This is where the olam would schmooze with him.
First Day at Yeshiva
When I first came to yeshiva, there wasn’t any room. It was in the middle of the week, so the m’munah told me to sleep in the Rosh Yeshiva’s room. It was the middle of the week, and the Rosh Yeshiva was not there, so I used the room. But I forgot that he would return on Thursday, and I left my things in the room. So that evening, really with great trepidation, I knocked on the door and I told the Rosh Yeshiva, “Ich hof ihr zent mich moichel. Ich hub doh geshlafin un ich darf mein zachin”.
So the Rosh Yeshiva looks at me and says, “Siz du tzvei betten”. He thought someone needs a bed, so there’s a bed there. Well, I gave the Rosh Yeshiva a yasher koach and got out of there as fast as I could. That’s a side of him perhaps that people didn’t see.
How I Came to Yeshiva
How I came to the yeshiva in the first place is also intersant. The olam would come while they were still in high school. New York yeshivas had a two-month summer vacation, so groups of boys would come to Lakewood and stay until Tisha B’Av. After that, they’d take their vacation for the rest of the summer. Al Kol Panim, we would use the few weeks’ opportunity to come to Lakewood. A number of people, particularly from Yaakov Yosef, did this for several summers. I did this for two summers before I came to Lakewood [ full-time]. It was the late 50’s. I stayed by Rav Segol and Warshavchik.
 Aliyah of youth from Europe and middle eastern countries, usually orphans
 Usually middle eastern
 “The bochur who brought me is sitting outside. A yeshiva man is not a wagon driver. We need to have another chair.”
 Reb Yankev Schiff, one of Rabbi Kotler’s most outstanding students, married the Brisker Rov’s daughter.
 I hope you forgive me, I slept here and I need my things
 There are two beds here