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    Rabbi Asher Green

    Born in St. Louis Missouri, Rabbi Asher Green moved to New York to study in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath at the age of twelve. After graduating high school at the age of eighteen, he moved on to Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood where he learned under the Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Aaron Kotler zt”l for five zmanim. Later, he learned in Beth Medrash Elyon and Beth Yosef (Novardok) under Rabbi Avrohom Yofen ZT”L until he returned to St. Louis, and with Rabbi Shmuel Faivelson shlita, established a Yeshiva Gedola there. In 2000, he returned to Lakewood and resumed learning in Beth Medrash Govoha.


    Godol at First Sight

    The first time I saw Reb Aharon was in 1948 at my farher.  I was a young bochur - only seventeen and a half - and a talmid at Torah V’Daas. Rabbi Yankev Schiff and I both took the same farher. It was in Washington Heights, which was where Reb Aharon was then living.  And I knew I was seeing the Godol Hador.

    Of course, everybody told me he was the Godol Hador.  In Torah V’Daas, everyone said so.  My mentor Rav Gedalya Schorr [1] had been a talmid of his, and he sent me there. 

    “Asher,” he would tell me, “that’s the place for you.”

    When I took my first look at Reb Aharon, I knew what everyone meant.  He had piercing eyes. “Rak Es HaTorah HaZois”[2] - there was nothing else you could see in his eyes.  We bochurim were impressed that such a thing was even possible. And we knew as soon as we met him, that whatever he told us to do, we would do. It was just as simple as that.

    For the entire time I knew Reb Aharon, from that first farher until his petirah about thirteen years later, I would break out into a sweat whenever I saw him.  I would be like a waterway from the top of my head to my toes, and I’m not a pachadigge[3] person. I can handle myself pretty well.  But with the Rosh Yeshiva, I sat in his presence as if I didn’t exist. The only times I could open up were when we spoke in learning, but otherwise, it was just impossible.  It was just Rak Ha Torah HaZois.

    A “Kletzker”

    On my first day in yeshiva, there were 47 talmidim.  Most of them were Kletzkers - R’ Elya Svei,  R’ Shaul Goldman, and there was Rav Moshe Eiseman, - these people are Roshei Yeshivos today. 

    Now, Torah V’Daas was a very warm place, but when I came to Lakewood, it was clear I was going to have to learn and accept the concept of, “He’s a Kletzker”.  So on my first day in the Yeshiva, I wanted to be friendly, wanted someone to talk to, so I asked an older bachur, “Maybe you could tell me what time it is?” And he answered, “What’s the nafka mina?”[4] But at the end of the day, he called me over, and said, “Bochur, let me tell you something.  There’s a time to eat, and when it comes, don’t worry, you’ll have food.  When it’s time to daven, everybody will go daven, and IY”H, so will you.  Sleeping, everybody lies down.  But you have to understand what Kletzk was.  Kletzk was learning and only learning. Without learning, you have nothing to do with yourself.”  This talmid was a Kletzker. He was a product of Reb Aharon from Europe.  He came after the war. 

    But even though the yeshiva was so European, I was among a whole group of American boys who began to learn in Lakewood at that time.  Shmuel Faivelson came at that time.  Yankel Schiff came at that time.  Dovid Svei – he was Elya Svei’s brother – came then.  We all came from the same sort of background, even though one guy was from Telshe, and I came from Torah V’Daas, and another came from Boston.  But the Kletzker taught us “What does a “Kletzker” mean?” And because of him, we could appreciate Reb Aharon.  The normal American boy couldn’t have.  He came from a different world.  Like the Vilna Gaon’s coming to Vilna, that was Reb Aharon coming to America.  The world needed a light, so the Ribbono Shel Olam sent him here; there’s no question about it.  And if it wouldn’t have been for the Kletzker, we wouldn’t have appreciated Reb Aharon’s greatness.  We wouldn’t even have known what it was. 

    Life-long Lessons

    And knowing Reb Aharon changed the way we lived the rest of our lives.  Not everybody became a Rosh Yeshiva.  I, myself, was in business many years.  But I didn’t let a day pass without learning for four hours.  It was impossible.  I wouldn’t open. I couldn’t do any business whatsoever until I’d learned four hours.  That was the message: “Rak Es HaTorah HaZois”.

    My father and mother were also American-born, and they wanted me to go to college.  Reb Aharon called my father in and he said, “Boruch Hashem, this boy knows how to learn.” 

    Now my father was moser nefesh [5]for Shemiras Shabbos, but he wasn’t a Talmid Chacham.  He knew a piece of Chumash and Rashi; that’s what he knew.  But when he met Reb Aharon, he said, “Whatever that man said, it’s 100% right.  I’m going to do whatever that man said.” 

    That was the power of Reb Aharon.  You knew that the emes was talking, that Torah was talking.  And Baruch Hashem, that gave us a chizuk for life. Like he said in his schmooze – “Aish Dos Lamo”[6]  - he was “Aish Dos”[7], you couldn’t go for anything else. And Boruch Hashem I have six sons and all of them are sitting and learning today. 

    One interesting story: I used to get $ 20 for my chalukah in Yeshiva. Later when I first went into business I was making $ 75 a week. I asked R’ Aaron a shailah, “Why can’t I give more than a Chomesh” - I didn’t understand this Halacha of “Al Yevazbez Yoser MeChomesh”[8]. If I was used to managing with only $20.00, and I don’t need the other fifty bucks, why can’t I give the rest to Tzedaka?

    And the Rosh Yeshiva said, “I just want to tell you one thing.  I give you a bracha you should ask the same shailah ten years from now.  And I’ve got a secret to tell you.  For Torah, you can give everything away because Torah gives you “Haim Chayeinu V’Orech Yomeinu”[9]Torah is the breath!  How much money can I give away for breathing?  Torah’s something else.  You can use a hetter and only give a Chomesh, you can do it.  But you’re allowed to give more than a chomesh for living, which is Torah”.  And that was Reb Aharon.

    Aftermath - Lakewood in St. Louis

    I left the yeshiva in 1951.  I got married and had a chavrusa in Bais Medrash Elyon[10] -  my first cousin, R’ Yankev Moshe Kulefsky shlita, who is now Rosh Yeshiva in Ner Yisroel[11].  And I kimat[12] didn’t say goodbye to the Rosh Yeshiva because I knew he was makpid I should go and I was pashut scared.

    So I didn’t see the Rosh Yeshiva for many years. But when he saw me, he said, “Asher? Mir gedenkt?[13]”.“Ah, Asher Green. Farvos vils du machen a yeshiva[14] ? »

    So I try to answer “Why do I ask?  Because I want to make a Lakewood yeshiva in St. Louis”.

    “But why?” He asks. “Why do you want to make one there?” 

    “To have Torah in the middle of America.”

    Meanwhile, I’m sweating away, and he says louder, “Farvos vils du[15], Asher Green, machen[16] a yeshiva?  Du herst vos mir freging[17].” 

    That was his lashon.  And then I understood what he was asking, “I live in the city, I have three children, and I need a yeshiva”.

    “You have personal Negios, you want Torah far zich[18], Ich vel dich shoin helfen.[19]”.

    “All these things you want to build Torah in the middle of America, that’s all beautiful.  But you, yourself, you takkeh need it.  I’ll help you.”


    Rabbi Beane: You remind me of a story they say about Reb Chaim of Volozhin[20] and the Gaon[21]. Reb Leib Baron and Rabbi Katzman both tell over this maaseh. When R’ Chaim wanted to make a yeshiva, the Gaon refused him. He said he felt it was something, “Far sich[22].”  So he said, “come back” and when R’ Chaim came back the Gaon said, “Now I know you really mean it.”  

    In other words, he was sharp, he understood exactly what the inyan was that was going on. 

    Rabbi Green: Another thing that was interesting to me personally, at that time he said, “I remember, you came for your farher with Yankel Schiff. You had a bren for lernin[23], if you would have stayed in learning you would have made it big! Ich hab a taina[24].” Now, here I was, trying to make a yeshiva in the middle of America, but no, the only thing which really counted by him was the Limud Torah itself.

    And that’s the way he built everything. For him, there was nothing but Limud HaTorah. By negating everything else that had no real importance, he created an atmosphere of learning in America.  I’m American born, and my father is American born, and we knew about Young Israel.  We knew about Torah V’Daas, but until the Rosh Yeshiva came to America, as far as the Litvishe community was concerned, – of course, Satmar came by the Chassidim– I can bear witness that as a place of Torah, America had next to nothing. 

    [1] R’ Gedalia Schorr zt”l – a close Talmid of R’ Aharon in Kletzk, later to serve as Rosh Yeshiva Torah V’Daas, Brooklyn, NY.

    [2] “Only this Torah” (Tefillas Neilah on Yom Kippur)

    [3] Easily frightened

    [4] “What’s the difference?”

    [5] Lit. “sacrificed his soul” used in this context to mean “gave up a lot”

    [6] “Torah was given amidst fire” (V’Zos HaBrocha 33:2)

    [7] Fire of Torah

    [8] “Do not squander more than a fifth of your earnings” (Gemara)

    [9] “For this our life and the length of our days”

    [10] Monsey, NY

    [11] Baltimore, MD

    [12] Just about

    [13] “Do you remember me?”

    [14] “Why would you like to open a Yeshiva?”

    [15] “Why do you want”

    [16] “To start”

    [17] “Do you hear what I’m asking?”

    [18] For yourself

    [19] I will help you (Yiddish)

    [20] Close disciple of the Vilna Gaon later to serve as founder and Rosh Yeshivas Volozhin

    [21]  The Vilna Gaon

    [22] For you

    [23] A thrill for learning

    [24] I have a complaint against you

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