Rabbi Shimon W. Hirsch
My name is Shimon Hirsch.
Originally, I’m from Frankfurt. I’m a great
In 1941, Rabbi Kotler came to America to acquaint the Rabbonim of the matzav - the situation - in Europe and Poland. Among the people he visited was his uncle’s brother, Reb Efraim Epstein who was the Rov of the biggest shul in Chicago. All the Rabbonim came to hear Rabbi Kotler speak about how things were in Europe.
My father was a doctor, and he was a tall man. When I came to yeshiva in 1951, ten years later, Rabbi Kotler right away remembered “the heicha,” “the tall one.” He remembered who my father was.
Second Encounter: A Star Amongst Stars
The second time I saw the Rosh Yeshiva was in 1946. I had just come to Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. As a boy in Chicago, I went to day school, but when I was thirteen, I right away went to Cleveland, and about a month after that, they had a big convention for Torah U’Mesorah, and all the Rosh Yeshivas came.
I remember two things. When Rabbi Kotler went to take a bath, another Rosh Yeshiva went into his room to polish his shoes because he wanted to have the mitzvah of shimush talmidei chachamim
I also remember that on Friday night, he came a little late. He didn’t walk; he ran. It was his style of walking. He ran into the bais medrash, and the whole crowd jumped up, like electrified, because they knew that he was the star; he was the Gadol. And of course, all the other Rosh Yeshivas were in the room – Reb Grozovsky, Reb Yaakov Kaminetzky, Reb Mendel Zaks, and so forth. But I remember seeing that when he came in, it was like a shock went through everybody. They jumped up out of their chairs. Everybody. It was a major event.
The Farher in the Rosh Yeshiva’s Apartment
In 1951, I left Telshe and came to New York to be accepted into the yeshiva. Lots of my friends went. I remember he gave me a test in his apartment in Boro Park on 47th and 15th.
That apartment was really something to see. The sefarim shrank, the bookcases, were from the fruit boxes from the grocery store. The furniture, of course, was second-hand, third-hand. And the whole Shas was from sheimos
The door was always open. People were coming and going. There was no privacy. It was like a public place. And he used towels to keep the refrigerator open on Shabbos because he didn’t like to open it because of shailos.
A Life for the Public
One time I went to him with a crisis, an emergency. It was not long after I came to the yeshiva. I went at 11:00 or 11:30 at night, and his lips were blue from no oxygen, from running around all day and talking to people. Still, he accepted us – my mother and me. He took all the time necessary to deal with our problem.
The Derech Ha Melech
The first time I came from New York, I was on the bus with a talmid of the yeshiva, Reb Pinchas Gruman. He’s now a Rov in Los Angeles.
He said to me, “The Rosh Yeshiva’s derech is a derech hamelech.”
He meant that the derech haTorah is the main road. You go on a major highway, not on side roads that have traffic lights. The Rosh Yeshiva was the derech haTorah.
That made an impression on me on how to approach Lakewood.
Rabbi Stein’s Advice
I was learning in Telshe, and I didn’t know where to go. I could have gone to Bais Medrash Elyon in Monsey or to Lakewood. Rabbi Pesach Stein – he was niftar just recently – called me in and said, “I’m giving you advice. Rabbi Grozovsky is sick. It’s not going to be a very stable situation in Monsey. It’s better to go to Lakewood where there is a Rosh Yeshiva running the show, and things are under control.”
Meeting Reb Schneur
I remember the first night I came to the yeshiva. I had to walk from Forest to the other building, and I didn’t know my way around, so I remember Reb Schneur saw me after Maariv and told me where to go. I felt very good that he cared, that the Rosh Yeshiva’s son should come over to give me help.
Rabbi Beane: Well, Reb Schneur always was a very caring person.
Rabbi Hirsch: He noticed me.
The Head Table
The major thing of the Rosh Yeshiva was always the shiur. In my time, he claimed that each shiur was worth eighteen blatt Gemara. And three tishen, three times by his table, was equal to one shiur because they talked so much in learning.
When I came, I was a shtickel mechutzaf. I was only eighteen years old, but right away, I went and sat down at the head table. Sitting there were Reb Elya Svei, Reb Yankev Gruman, Reb Velvel Perl, Reb Yankel Schiff, Reb Yitzchok Feigelstock – all the big names. I sat right next to Reb Yankel Schiff, like a little shnook. But I wanted to hear what they were saying.
Rabbi Beane: And they didn’t give you a hard time?
Rabbi Hirsch: No, they were nice about it. I just wanted to hear what was going on.
A Gadol is Different
Yankel Schiff spoke a lot in learning with him Friday night and Shabbos morning - about the shiur, about this and that. I used to ask him questions. I’m very close with Reb Yankel Schiff. I visited him in Yerushalayim recently.
Once I said, “He’s an older man, and he’s in the middle of eating. You’re getting him excited.”
Yankel Schiff said, “No. A gadol’s physical makeup is different.”
The sons of Reb Yankev Kamenetzky also told me that. Their father was different. His chemistry was not like yours and mine. He didn’t get excited over the same things. He knew how to control his emotions.
The Legend of the Old Yeshiva Building
The old yeshiva building at 617 Sixth Street was a private mansion. I’ll tell you the story of that building if you want to listen.
The Rosh Yeshiva slept upstairs in that building. I slept in the corner room right next to his. There was just a bathroom between him and us bochurim. Yankel Schiff slept in the next room with just one other person.
Sometimes on a Motzai Shabbos, he would come down and ask us to be quiet because he had to go to sleep. He had to have koach for the week. So we would be downstairs by melaveh malka, not being so respectful of him. But I remember, he once came down in suspenders and asked us to tone it down.
In the bathroom between his room and mine, you could see letters on the floor from principals and from other people asking him to intervene in all sorts of matters. To see how many things came his way was amazing.
Now, this building was built by a Colonel Stillwell who had cigars, and he had a son. He built the building and he made a chapel in one room, which was the room where Yankel Schiff slept. Reb Elya Svei used to sleep there with Reb Shmuel Faivelson, and after Reb Faivelson, Yankel Schiff had it.
It was known that the builder’s son committed suicide in that room.
There must have been a ghost. A shin-daled. I heard it myself. It used to knock. Sometimes weeks went by and you wouldn’t hear any knocking, but sometimes you heard it.
Rabbi Beane: Really?
Rabbi Hirsch: I’m not kidding around.
Rabbi Beane: Were you scared from that?
Rabbi Hirsch: No, we weren’t scared. I mean, the Rosh Yeshiva, the gadol hador was sleeping right next door. But his daughter, Sarah, who was a very energetic person, made him rip out the pipes and the sheet rock in case a leak was causing the knocking. They didn’t find anything wrong.
Finally, we asked the
Rosh Yeshiva, “Maybe it’s a shin-daled?”
He said, “It might be.”
But he never said anything more along those lines.
The Purchase of the Building
This building was full of antique furniture. When they bought it, they figured they’d sell the antiques to help pay off the mortgage. I think it cost about $35,000.00 in 1943. That was a lot of money then.
Once the Boyaner Rebbetzin came. The Rebbes have lots of nice things in their houses, and she felt bad that the house was being depleted of all its furnishings.
Now, about this house. There was a man, Rabbi Perr, who is now in Ozone Park.
Rabbi Hirsch: He was a big tzaddik, a talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva. For years, he paid for an announcement in every issue of “The Jewish Observer” that the Rosh Yeshiva held that you shouldn’t mail anything on Wednesday afternoons.
He had a relative – a brother-in-law or cousin or something – Menashe Rabinowitz, who was a real estate agent on Main Street in Lakewood. In 1922, after the First World War, the town made a statue to commemorate the soldiers that were killed in the war. It’s still standing. It’s by Lake Castle Road.
Rabbi Beane: Oh, I know where it is.
Rabbi Hirsch: They invited Yossele Rosenblatt to come to make a Kel Molai for the Jewish soldiers, but he didn’t come. Instead, this Menashe Rabinowitz, who had a pretty good voice, came to sing. He was originally from Warsaw, and he asked the Chofetz Chaim if he should sing.
He’d also been a classmate of Ben Gurion. When he retired and he was leaving Lakewood, we made him a goodbye party, and we asked him, “What about Ben Gurion? What was he really like?”
He said, “He was always a wild kid in class.”
Anyway, he sang the Kel Molai. Then, fifteen or twenty years later, when it came time to buy a house, the owner remembered that this Menashe Rabinowitz had sung at the war memorial, so he lowered the price. And Menashe Rabinowitz himself didn’t charge a realtor’s fee. It was marked down like $5,000.00. I don’t know the details, but he made it cheaper. He brought down the price. That’s how it got started from that building. And then they moved to the other building.
The Early Helpers
And then there was a Yid, R’ Bezalel Goldstein. Has anybody ever mentioned him? The day school is named after him. He was an old Telsher. He learned by Reb Lazer Gordon, the founder of the Telshe Yeshiva. He had a hotel on Seventh and Madison. He was very helpful in starting the yeshiva. He had a little goatee, a little beard. He was a fine man.
And there was a Rabbi Waxman who helped. He’s mentioned in books. He learned in Lita and he had a rabbonus in Lakewood and he was the one who encouraged the Rosh Yeshiva to come to Lakewood in the first place.
Lakewood was full of hotels then. It was before Miami. It was that big a resort town.
On Friday nights, the hotel guests would come up to the porch and stare into the yeshiva building. And Hillel Zaks - he was the Chofetz Chaim’s grandson, a real character. He’s now a big Rosh Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, in Yerushalayim. He would go to the window and stare back at them, like he was saying, “Who is in the cage, you or me?”
But the main help the Rosh Yeshiva needed then was for another yeshiva to feed him bochurim. There were no young bochurim – 18, 19, or 20. There were none. They were all going to college. So since there weren’t many available, he put his Kletzker talmidim into RJJ, Yankev Yosef’s, and they fed him bochurim. My group was from those bochurim, very good boys. Yossi Tendler from Baltimore, Rabbi Meir Hershkowitz from Stamford. Wasserman, Kagan. It became a little more popular.
Look at His Face
Our rebbe sent a bochur to Lakewood to learn. When he came back home, the rebbe asked him, “Nu? How are you making out?”
He said, “I don’t understand the shiur.”
So he told him like this: “He has all the Litvishe Torahs in one shiur. All the Torah that the other Rosh Yeshivas are saying, the Rosh Yeshiva packs into one shiur, but he does it with a lot of pilpul, with lots of complications. He makes Yerushalmi, Bavli. You have to weed out the core. Just get the main point. If you don’t understand, it doesn’t matter. Just look at his face. Stare at his face.”
The biggest thing about the Rosh Yeshiva was his face. His face was so shining, you could see the connection to Har Sinai. You saw what a Navi looked like, or what a Tana or Amora looked like. You could see the continuity this man was carrying. When I spoke in Lakewood, I brought out this point.
Carrying the Torah
There was a Yid, Reb Velvel Chechik. He was one of the big Yerushalmi talmidei chachamim and tzaddikim. He died about fifteen years ago. He wrote letters which he collected into a book, and one of the letters contains the questions the Rosh Yeshiva raised in his shiurim in Yerushalayim.
Yeshivas Eitz Chaim was the oldest yeshiva in Yerushalayim, and the Rosh Yeshiva took it over from his father-in-law. When he came, it made like a revolution. All the talmidei chachamim came to hear him and argue with him.
So Velvel Chechik wrote that in the introduction to the Rambam’s Yad HaChazaka, there are two lists of mekablei haTorah. One list has fifteen or twenty or seventy in every generation. But on the other list, there’s only one in every generation. Velvel Chechik wrote that you could see that the Rosh Yeshiva was one of the mekablei haTorah. I don’t know in which list he put him – the only one of the generation or one of the select few – but he said you could see that he was carrying the Torah.
Amongst the Gedolim of Europe
When the Rosh Yeshiva was in Poland, Reb Chaim Ozer Groszinsky was the gadol hador. When he had to pasken a shailah, he would send the shailah to the Rosh Yeshiva so that he should pasken. It would build up his name.
In 1925, when Reb Moshe Bick wrote to Poland from the Bronx about refrigerators, he sent the shailah to the Rosh Yeshiva, and this became one of his most famous shiurim. There’s a teshuva about opening refrigerators, when it’s going and when it’s not going. It’s in the Rosh Yeshiva’s teshuvos.
I remember hearing that he spent a lot of time with the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim gave him a lot of time because he knew what he was going to become. And the Brisker Rov said of him, “Reb Aharon vet machen Torah in America.” He’ll be the one to build up Torah in America.
You could see on the man that he was a revolutionary. He was different altogether.
Let’s see now. . . Concrete things.
Rabbi Beane: You’re saying very good things. I’ve been hearing many things like this, but the reason I wanted it again is that I want to show this is not somebody’s imagination.
Rabbi Hirsch: No, no. This is in the book by Reb Velvel Chechik. It’s called Toras Ze’ev. I have it here.
The Rosh Yeshiva Relaxes
The Rosh Yeshiva always looked to be manhig in the derech of the Chasam Sofer. He always thought to himself, “What would the Chasam Sofer do in this particular situation?” He would walk up and down in his bedroom thinking, “What would the Chasam Sofer do? How would he react?”
He would always learn teshuvos of the Chasam Sofer at lunchtime. When he wanted to take a break, that was his relaxation. Even though there might have been bigger Gedolim in the times of the Chasam Sofer, he was the manhig hador. He was the one who led the fight against the Reform. He was the one they turned to for what to do.
The Relationship with Dr. Soloveitchik
Another thing that came up at that time was with the RCA and Dr. Soloveitchik. The Rosh Yeshiva said on him: “He doesn’t know what he is, but the whole sitra achra, the whole tuma rests on him.”
It was known that he said that, and somebody went and told it over to Reb Dovid Soloveitchik. He was “very pleased” with that succinct way of saying it.
Anyway, the RCA had a convention in Lakewood, and one of the speakers got up and said, “We don’t want any Kotlerism in America!” And then he had to ask mechila from the Rosh Yeshiva.
Rabbi Beane: Did he?
Rabbi Hirsch: I think so.
Rabbi Beane: That I never heard before.
Rabbi Hirsch: I don’t know how open the apology was, but there was some form of apology.
And then, I don’t know if you remember, but there was a big gadol, R’ Chaim ??, who lived on the West Side, and J.B. was a big fan of his. He was the Rov of Minsk for a short time. He was a gaon olam. He knew kol haTorah kula. Reb Yankev is buried right next to him. He spent his whole life working on the Sefer HaMitzvos of the Rambam.
So he came to Lakewood on a boiling hot day, a 90 degree day in the summer. He was staying in Lakewood, and I can still see him going over to visit the Rosh Yeshiva. He didn’t wear a kapote; he wore a short jacket. He was standing there, but he was so weak that he had to hold onto the posts for koach.
But his respect for the Rosh Yeshiva! Then the Rosh Yeshiva asked Dr. Soloveitchik to be the guest of honor by the Chinuch Atzmai dinner.
Rabbi Beane: There’s a picture of that.
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah. And at the dinner, Rabbi Soloveitchik got up and started saying that the Rosh Yeshiva was the only one in that dor who reminded him of Rav Chaim Brisker. Meanwhile, the Rosh Yeshiva was tugging his sleeve, “Genug shoin! Enough! Enough! What are you saying wild things for?”
He was like turning colors or squirming not to have to hear such things.
Crying in Miami
Once he went to Miami collecting, and a lady came out in a bathing suit, and he burst out crying. Have you heard that?
Rabbi Beane: I heard something about an elevator.
Rabbi Hirsch: “Why do I have to see such things?” he cried. Of all the Gedolim that he was with, he had to see these things.
You know, he was very friendly with Reb Yankev when they were kids. Did you know that?
Rabbi Beane: I didn’t know that.
Rabbi Hirsch: In the Reb Yankev book, it’s written up.
Reb Yankev said in the hesped that when he was a young kid, he brought the Rosh Yeshiva over to his house, and his mother said, “Who is this boy that the Shechina is on his face?”
Rabbi Beane: Wow.
Rabbi Hirsch: And that was already when he was very young.
Four Outstanding Talmidim
In Chicago, where I come from, there was a Rabbi Yudkovsky. He has a son in Boro Park. They claim that they had the yeshiva in Minsk where all these great people learned. There were several yeshivas in Minsk where they learned, these three or four boys, and then they went off to Slobodka.
Rabbi Beane: Who were the three or four?
Rabbi Hirsch: Reb Reuven Grozovsky – his father also had a yeshiva in Minsk. In the Reb Yankev book it’s written up. Reb Yehoshua Cymbalist who was also a famous person. He had a yeshiva under the Communists.
Have you ever heard of Shas Cohen, Yehoshua Cohen?
Rabbi Beane: He wrote a book about how to learn.
Rabbi Hirsch: Yes. His grandfather was Yehoshua Cymbalist. He was like the Chofetz Chaim in Minsk. He was a tremendous tzaddik.
And then they came to Slobodka to yeshiva. In many seforim, it’s written that the Alter said that it’s k’dai to have the whole yeshiva just for Reb Aharon, just to keep him and build him up.
The Rosh Yeshiva’s Influences
R’ Aharon’s shiurim were very similar to Reb Moshe Mordechai’s, the Rosh Yeshiva in Slobodka. If you look at Reb Moshe Mordechai’s and the Rosh Yeshiva’s styles, you can see that he learned there. When he heard the shiur by Reb Moshe Mordechai, he would take the same sources and turn them around and do it his way. After Reb Moshe Mordechai gave the shiur, they would prop him up on the chair, and he would say the same sources with the same questions, but in a whole different way. That’s the similarity between the two.
The Rosh Yeshiva held more from his father-in-law. They say his father-in-law is the one who made a mentsch out of him. He was always very brilliant, but brilliant people can act wild. His father-in-law was also brilliant, but was very, very down-to-earth, and that stabilized him. He got married very young and became a Rosh Yeshiva right away.
Rabbi Beane: I noticed that myself. There are certain people in the family who have that. Two different flows. I think Reb Schneur was more like his grandfather.
Rabbi Hirsch: Reb Schneur always said he took after his grandfather. He himself said it.
Rabbi Beane: I met one of his sons in Eretz Yisroel many years ago and he had the same softness.
Rabbi Hirsch: Who? Reb Isser Zalman’s sons?
Rabbi Beane: Yes, one of his sons. You see, I was in Kerem B’Yavneh, and his son was in Rechovot at the time.
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah, yeah. I remember.
Rabbi Beane: I used to go visit the Rosh Yeshiva and I noticed that about this boy.
Rabbi Hirsch: Herschel?
Rabbi Beane: I don’t remember his first name.
Rabbi Hirsch: He used to come to Lakewood.
Reb Isser Zalman
There is one shiur in Baba Kama which is very controversial. At the beginning of Baba Kama. One time the Rosh Yeshiva said over the shiur, and Reb Isser Zalman was listening. This is printed. He turned around at the controversial point in the Raavad and saw that Reb Isser Zalman was smiling. The Rosh Yeshiva burst out laughing in the middle of the shiur because he saw that the shver held from his shiur.
If you have a minute, I’ll go off a little bit about Reb Isser Zalman.
Rabbi Beane: I have all the time in the world.
Rabbi Hirsch: I asked Reb Schneur if Reb Isser Zalman had Ruach HaKodesh. There was a famous maaseh that when he first came to Eretz Yisroel in 1928 or so, many people came to the ship to give him shalom. There was a guy named Zerubavel, a big Zionist macher, who had a long beard. He put on a hat and looked just like a frum Jew. Then he went to give shalom, but Reb Isser Zalman didn’t give him shalom back. So everybody said, “Ohh. He has Ruach HaKodesh.”
I asked Reb Schneur. “What does that mean?”
He said a very interesting explanation. It’s right in the beginning of Shulchan Aruch. He said a tzaddik always should look for the Sheim Hashem. Shivisi Hashem Linegdi Samid. Yud-Kei –Vov-Kei. So if anything happens to disturb his concentration, he knows there’s a tuma nearby. That’s why he sensed that this man was not really what he pretended to look like.
Rabbi Beane: So the Ruach Hakodesh came from the fact that he was always mekayem the Shivisi Hashem Linegdi Samid. If anybody would do that, he would also have the same thing.
Rabbi Hirsch: He could tell on a glass that it wasn’t getoiveled. It was probably the same thing. The velt says that the Brisker Rov said, “Do we understand the plain, ordinary conversation of Reb Isser Zalman?” We’re not big enough to understand his depth.
Rabbi Beane: The Chassidim call that “yechidim.”
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah. So that was Reb Isser Zalman.
Getting Back to the Rosh Yeshiva
Getting back to the Rosh Yeshiva. . .
Rabbi Beane: Yes. Tell me the hanhagos that you saw.
Rabbi Hirsch: Hanhagos? Well, he was very makpid on gilui.
Rabbi Beane: Like with water?
Rabbi Hirsch: Water or coffee. I remember every Shalosh Seudos in the summer would be milchig because the afternoons were so long. He would always wrap up the milk with a napkin and make sure it was on tight. Anything that was left open, in the derech of the Gaon, is mazik for kavanah in tefilla. He wouldn’t drink anything like that.
He always drank postum in the morning. He had a little room where he used to eat. He used to have a piece of herring, too. One time, he called me in, but he was chewing, so when he finished, he smiled and said, “You know, matzah takes a long time.”
He was apologizing that I had to stand there, waiting.
Like he should apologize to me. A shnook me because I had to stand there and wait for him.
Cats and Dogs
In Europe, when he was a kid, he was scared of dogs. So one time. I can testify to this story, and probably others can, too. Once for about two months, a dog used to follow the Rosh Yeshiva around when he would go from one building to the other. The dog would always be about a block behind him. Finally, after two months, he was walking with a bochur, and he turned around with a half smile and said, “Maybe it’s a gilgul.”
Here’s another story that happened on Yom Kippur. The bais medrash was always packed then. He said on his bais medrash the same thing the Gemara says by the Bais HaMikdash: when they stood, they were pressed together, but when they bowed, it was Mishtachavim Revachim
The Chasam Sofer said it on his bais medrash, and the Rosh Yeshiva said it about his.
So one Yom Kippur, a cat came running up between everyone’s legs, all the way up to him. And then Stefansky, who has the Dagim Fish Company, put a napkin on its back, picked it up, and carried it out. The Rosh Yeshiva sort of nodded, as if to say, “Good that you took it out.”
The Awe of the Yomim Noraim
On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, he never would sing anything. He wouldn’t allow the bochurim to sing anything by the table. You could see the fear of G-d on him. He was terribly perturbed. He couldn’t relax.
Only one year he did relax on Rosh Hashanah. That was the year that a certain man came out of Siberia. He’d been the president of the kehilla in Vilna before the war, and was in Siberia for maybe fifteen years. A distinguished Russian Yid with a little goatee. The Rosh Yeshiva wanted to make him feel good, so he spoke with him on Rosh Hashana, just conversed, which he would never do in the regular year.
And the Yid said to him, “I heard Reb Avraham Yeshaya became a baal mofes.”
He meant the Chazon Ish. He had remembered the Chazon Ish from 1925 or 1930, and all of a sudden, the world made a whole rebbe out of him.
The Rosh Yeshiva turned around to us and said, “Ah, he’s a Choneh HaMagel.”
You know, like he was a Rip Van Winkle. Choneh Ha Magel slept for 70 years and when he woke up, he saw that the whole world changed. This man also. He’d been left behind because he was in Siberia.
So the Rosh Yeshiva even made a joke that Rosh Ha Shanah.
The Bochurim Complain
The yeshiva was set up as a kollel, so it was really built around the married men. They had to go home at lunchtime to eat and help their wives. Then they’d come back for a long seder, which was from 4:00 to 8:00. Then was mussar seder for half an hour, and then there was maariv, so they finally went home at about 9:00 or 9:15. That’s how it was in my time.
The bochurim used to eat fleishigs at lunchtime, and then there would be that long seder. It was physically hard to learn until 9:00 and eat supper at 9:30. So the bochurim talked to him about the seder and also about milchigs and fleishigs and the six hours between lunch and supper.
He said, “What’s the problem? Eat bread first and butter later.”
To him, you could eat butter without bread. What was the big deal? That’s how his mind worked.
Reflections on Marriage
One time, he red me a shidduch. He was very, very involved in my shidduchim because I didn’t have a father, and he took it very seriously. He used to call people up and always tried to put in a good word for me.
He started smiling and laughing. “You know, by me, it was no problem,” he said.
His wife was at least six feet tall. When she died and was lying in the coffin, you could see how tall she was. But when she was alive, she always went around bent over because he was short, maybe 5’5”. She made herself shorter so not to be so different than him.
You have to go into this a little more. The Gemara says that women have more binah, more common sense than men. He always used to say that that’s not so. The Gemara says that women can recognize guests - if a guest is a phony or not. In that, they have more common sense than men. In that area where the Gemara already gave them a little preference, they have more sense, but in nothing else do they have more than men.
So he said, “What’s a wife? To cook a pot?”
As if to say, “What do you think you’re going to marry? A chavrusa? She’d cook a pot, and that’s enough.”
Once he told me to bring over a kabbala sefer, Tomer Devorah, a popular sefer. And he showed me inside where it says that the only reason you have a yetzer hara is so that you should be able to communicate with your wife. That was his approach.
One time - this is a good story here – he made a Thanksgiving dinner. With turkey.
Rabbi Beane: Yeah?
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah. I was there. A guy came from Boston. His name was Gimpel Streyer. Reb Moshe held you shouldn’t have turkey on Thanksgiving, but I remember it being that way when this Gimpel Streyer came. He was a textile manufacturer who didn’t know the first thing about Yiddishkeit, but the Rosh Yeshiva had the building painted and everything fixed up so that it should look nice and make a good impression. He had great hope that this man would help out.
Rabbi Beane: What year was that?
Rabbi Hirsch: Oh, I don’t know. I’d say ’56. So he invited Rabbi David Hollander, who’s still alive, to come down, and he spoke. The Rosh Yeshiva also spoke, and he said a very nice vort.
Usually, when the baalei batim would come in, he would just say a shiur for them. Baalei batim would visit him in the sukkah, he would just start saying a shiur, a deep shiur. Whether they understood it or not wasn’t important. But for this man, the Rosh Yeshiva lowered himself, and he said this:
“If you look at a map, you’ll see it has dots. A big dot is a metropolis. A smaller dot is a city with 100,000 people. A capital city has a dot with lines inside. When you look at the dot, you know how big the city is. Torah is also like that. Chumash itself is dots, and from that, you know there’s a big Gemara behind it, like Yevomos. It’s a big, hard Gemara, and it comes out of one pasuk.
“But the difference is this: if you take a microscope and you look into the dot, you won’t see the city. But if you know how to decipher the letters of the Torah with the crowns like Rabbi Akiva, then you know how the whole mesechta, the whole concept of Yevamos, yibum, comes out of these few words. Altz ligt in dem.”
Hollander translated this and explained it to the Yid. Then Hollander said, “The rabbis are being pushed around. The rabbis need a strong pillar to lean on to give them support. That is the Rosh Yeshiva.”
I remember those were his words and he said them in his fiery way.
The Rosh Yeshiva always learned Chovos HaLevavos. That was his main sefer. And you could see that his personality was shaped by the Chovos HaLevavos – his selflessness.
You know, when he was dying, he said, “Hashem, I want to serve You.” He kept saying that while he was unconscious.
The Chovos HaLevavos brings that out and it’s all built on seichel. Reb Nosson Wachtvogel used to say that Chovos HaLevavos is too intellectual for us, but the Rosh Yeshiva was like that. You could see in his schmoozen that he was like that. If seichel said, “Do this,” that’s what he did.
Advice about Chinnuch
I was the head of the Tat. He told me he could go into debt for about $400.00. He advised me, “You can go in debt if you know you’re going to make it back.”
In other words, if you can collect money by weddings and so forth, you can extend yourself a little bit.
He sent me off two times. One time was to Boston because they made a yeshiva there. Rabbi Yisroel Goldman was there in the beginning, and later came Rabbi Hyman. I wanted desperately to come home in the middle, but the Rosh Yeshiva wanted me to stay till the end of the winter semester. It was very hard, very lonely.
I threw out a boy in the middle of the year. One of our group was drinking beer on Shabbos. He didn’t fit in. When I came back, the Rosh Yeshiva told me I was wrong. He said, “Mit gutens tut mir asach mer uf” - with goodness you accomplish a lot more than with strictness. That was real important point.
A Pshat in the Gemara
Another time, he sent me off to New Haven. Reb Mordechai Yaffa was a famous talmid of his who made the yeshiva in New Haven. It started in the summer – in July or August. I went over there to help out with the younger boys. And then I wanted to come back to be in the yeshiva for Selichos and Rosh HaShanah. The Rosh Yeshiva said no. He told me the famous Gemara which is very important. The Gemara tells us what to do if you want to take a load off a donkey and a different donkey has to be loaded up. It’s a Gemara in Baba Metzia, Lamed Alef. Even though the animal is suffering, if the other donkey belongs to your enemy, it’s better to force yourself to do a favor for your enemy than to help the donkey. You’re forcing yourself to like that person even though you might be legally allowed to hate him because he does aveiros. Even still, you should be in control of your emotions.
So he told me, “Your emotions are telling you to come to yeshiva, but it’s better before Rosh HaShanah to control yourself, “lakof es yitzro” - to put your yetzer hara aside.”
And that later helped me with a shidduch. I was in the middle of a big shidduch and that mamesh helped me decide about the shidduch.
The Torah a Yid Supports
Two of the founders of the yeshiva were the Kaufman – a father and son. When the father died, the Rosh Yeshiva told the boys to go to the funeral. At the hesped, he said, “Es geit dorch Rashbas.”
In other words, the man supported Torah, so as soon as he died, his soul became proficient in all the Torah that the boys learned thanks to his money.
Rabbi Beane: He knew that by ruach hakodesh?
Rabbi Hirsch: No. The soul absorbs all the Torah that you support.
Rabbi Beane: He meant it as a general statement.
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah, a general statement. He told the boys, “The Rashba is going through.” He called the soul like the Rashba.
Defending the Baal Shem Tov
And here is a story. Somebody went around in New York saying that the Rosh Yeshiva said that the Baal Shem Tov didn’t know how to learn. The Rosh Yeshiva said he wasn’t moichel the person for saying that. He told this to Itche Meir Cywiak once in a car. I was in the back seat at the time.
He told us that the Gaon said on the Baal Shem Tov that he could ask questions in his sleep, in his dreams, like the Baalei Tosfos asked questions in his sleep, in his dreams. So he said that not everybody could ask, and not everybody was answered, but the Baal Shem Tov could ask, and he was answered.
“So how could I go and say on such a person that he didn’t know how to learn?” said the Rosh Yeshiva. “I never saw him and how could I dare dream of saying something like that?”
“Where did the Gaon say that?” asked Cywiak.
He told him it is in the Siddur HaGra.
I was a shtickel chutzpanyak, so from the back seat, I said, “I see from here that the Gaon was bigger than the Baal Shem Tov because he knew how the Baal Shem Tov learned.”
The Rosh Yeshiva turned around and gave me a real dirty look, like he was saying, “How dare you ask such questions?”
I’d gotten other dirty looks like that from the Rosh Yeshiva. Once, everybody had the flu. I was in pajamas and a bathrobe, and I went into his room for havdallah. He didn’t like that I went to havdallah dressed like that.
Also, he once caught me reading the Yiddish newspaper. He used to get like The Forward or the Morgen Jornal, but he would just look at the headlines. One time, I was in his room for something, and he wasn’t there, so I also looked at the papers. He came in and gave me a very dirty look. He didn’t want boys reading the papers.
But to go back to the Baal Shem Tov story, the Rosh Yeshiva added that the Gaon was so important in Shomayim that when the Tosfos asked questions in Heaven, they showed the Gaon where the Tosfos was up to.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Where he was learning?”
“Yes. If that Baal Tosfos was learning say Gemara Brachos, they told the Gaon who lived 500 later that’s where the Baal Tosfos was holding.”
They revealed secrets to the Gaon just because of the kavod of the Gaon.
Rabbi Beane: How did he know this?
Rabbi Hirsch: He knew this. I don’t know how.
Anyway, this story happened on Sixteenth Avenue in Boro Park. Twenty-five years later, I was again sitting in a car on Sixteenth Avenue, telling my kids the story, and Itche Meir Cywiak walked by right then, the one who the story happened to.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
I remember when the Rosh Yeshiva took sick. He fell into a faint in the Sefardishe shul. That, I think, was the day of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Rabbi Beane: That was Sukkos time.
Rabbi Hirsch: I remember. I was in Jersey City going for a license, and I asked a policeman, “What’s doing with the Cuban Missile Crisis?” and then I called up the Rebbetzin from a pay phone to find out how the Rosh Yeshiva was. I’m telling you, I think it was the same day.
The Rosh Yeshiva Fasts
Reb Segal, the Manchester
Rosh Yeshiva, wrote in his book that someone told
him about a day when the Rosh Yeshiva was
fasting. A bochur brought him some postum or
coffee in the morning, and then it got cold, so he
brought him another one. That’s how they knew he was
fasting. Why? Because a boy who had learned in the
yeshiva and left - not such a great boy - was just
then being red a shidduch, and the Rosh
Yeshiva was afraid that the parents of the girl
would call to ask details about the boy. He didn’t want
to say anything bad, but on the other hand, he didn’t
want to tell a lie. So he fasted the whole day that in
that zchus, they shouldn’t call him.
Being Delicate with the Bochurim
Once when the Rosh Yeshiva had appendicitis, he later blamed himself for not visiting a boy when he was sick. The boy was Aron Rabinowitz; he became Reb Dov Schwartzman’s brother-in-law.
The Rosh Yeshiva also used to help put the sukkah up. Once Reb Yitzchak Feigelstock was on the roof of the sukkah while somebody handed him the schach to put up. He was screaming that the guy should hand them to him straight, and then he found out that it was the Rosh Yeshiva handing him the schach. He felt so bad that from then on, the Rosh Yeshiva wouldn’t help anymore with the sukkah.
Earning the Praise of the Chazon Ish
Here’s a very important piece. I heard this from Reb Shaul Goldman, who was one of the old, European talmidim. He was in Kletzk when they had the Chanukas HaBayis. He said that the Chazon Ish did not come, but his brother Reb Moshe Karelitz, who was a dayan in Vilna, did. The Rosh Yeshiva said a shiur on chardal - a famous shiur on mustard-seed in Baba Basra. He went back on the Vilna Gaon. From explaining just two words in the Vilna Gaon, the Rosh Yeshiva could make a tremendous shiur.
Reb Moshe Karelitz went back and told it over to the Chazon Ish, and the Chazon Ish said, “Es iz nisht kain menstchleche seichel.” (This is not a human being’s mind.) “Azoi glatt, azoi pashut” in the words of the Gaon.
So Reb Moshe went back over it, and it fit so well into the words. Then he went back to Kletzk to tell the Rosh Yeshiva what his brother had said.
The Rosh Yeshiva answered, “The Chazon Ish is a maven.” The Chazon Ish understands.
The Slonimer Rosh Yeshiva
I spoke to a Yid – his name was Misky – who learned in Kletzk. He was a rebbe in Bais Yaakov for many years. He didn’t have kids. He told me that he was the shaliach from the Rosh Yeshiva to bring the shiurim on Yevamos to Reb Moshe Mitner, the Slonimer Rosh Yeshiva. He was very short, maybe four feet ten. He knew Yevamos inside out. The Rosh Yeshiva sent his shiurim over to him that he should look them over. That was Europe.
With the Rebbetzin
The Rebbetzin told him and he smiled. He enjoyed it. One pshat means to learn the ins and outs of the bigger scholars and the other is to serve them, simply to bring them tea and so forth.
And then he went out once, but he forgot to say goodbye to her, so he went back into the building, back upstairs, just to say goodbye.
She always fasted when he flew, so the first thing he did when he got off a plane was to call her and tell her he’d arrived.
The Chofetz Chaim’s Bracha
He told over this maaseh when we were sitting at the table with Reb Dov Schwartzman. There was a couple who didn’t have kids, so Reb Isser Zalman went to the Chofetz Chaim for them and asked for a bracha. They had two kids, but then they wanted more kids, so they sent Reb Isser Zalman back to the Chofetz Chaim again. The Chofetz Chaim said, “If they have a boy and a girl already, you can’t bother Shomayim for more.”
So Reb Dov said, “Dus duch geven, dus duch geven.”
The Rosh Yeshiva caught on. “Yes, that happened with us.”
He started getting red. He’d forgotten that the story happened with him himself.
As Father and Grandfather
He would go every Shabbos to visit R’ Dov when they were married and living on Private Way. The Rosh Yeshiva would always go to the house with Yankel Schiff, and when he came in from New York, he would always first go to Reb Schneur’s house. Reb Schneur lived on Sixth and Monmouth. I lived on Seventh.
He would always come to pick up the ksavim and give the kids chocolate. He’d buy a bar or get one from the Rebbetzin in New York to give it out to the grandchildren.
Another Personal Story
That time we were sitting with Reb Dov, he told us that Reb Isser Zalman had heard about a big iluy in Slobodka. Reb Isser Zalman went right away to get his daughter engaged to him. Reb Chaim Brisker himself wanted to have him for a son-in-law. He had one daughter who later married Reb Hirsch Glicksen, a Chassidishe in Warsaw. He was killed in the war.
He told us that the Alter from Slobodka didn’t let him change the shidduch. He held that he would get more from Reb Isser Zalman. That’s what he sort of hinted at.
Rabbi Beane: Reb Chaim Brisker was alive when the Rosh Yeshiva got married?
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah, sure. He got married in 1914 or so. Reb Chaim died in 1917.
Hespedim for Gedolim
When the Chazon Ish died - this was shortly after I came – he locked himself up for seven hours and he said, “Der gantze peckel falt oif mir.”
He made a big hesped for the Chazon Ish, but right then, his father-in-law also died, so the main hesped was on his father-in-law.
Rabbi Beane: I remember that. It was in the Pike Street shul.
Rabbi Hirsch: Yes. Then I saw, but I couldn’t check it out, that Rav Segal went to the hospital to visit him and he saw on the table in the hospital room a Mishnah Berurah and a Mesillas Yesharim. Those were the last things he learned before he died.
The Mashal about the Japanese Soldier
I used to go to the house for summer vacation to answer the phones. All the bochurim who were in Boro Park would take turns helping out with the phones.
One time I was a little depressed because I was getting older and I didn’t have a shidduch. The Rosh Yeshiva took off time to talk to me. He told me non-chalant things. He said that the Japanese are such aggressive people and they can get by with so little. He showed me a little dessert plate and said, “They eat such a bowl of rice, and that keeps them going the whole day.”
Then he told me that in the Russian-Japanese War, the Japanese were fighting with the Cossacks, the big Russian soldiers. One Japanese soldier couldn’t get the Cossack, so he jumped up and bit him in the neck and that killed him. That shows how aggressive and resourceful the Japanese are.
In the Nick of Time
In the summer before he died, my mother-in-law made me go and collect money, so I raised about $200.00. I went to yeshiva that summer to give him this money. It was the doldrums. Nobody was around; it was quiet. So he was very happy with the money. He’d just been on the phone helping out in some Sefardishe yeshiva in Morocco. I remember he told me how to pronounce the name right: Tetuan. Tetuan, that’s where the yeshiva was. It was run by Rabbi Waldner, a Gatesheader who was making yeshivos for the Sefardi boys. He died just recently.
A Grandfather Full of Mercy
In Boro Park, he always davened on 48th Street in a little minyan with Reb Zadok Sheingarten, who had learned by him in Europe. He was not so matzliach in America, and the Rosh Yeshiva always wanted to build him up and make him feel good. He always davened there.
This Reb Zadok told me that he remembered that in Europe, the Rosh Yeshiva was like a general with the boys. He was tough and demanding. But in America, he was a zaken malei rachamim - a grandfather full of mercy.
Reb Elya Bloch
He had a student who is probably still alive, maybe 100 years old, Reb Elya Bloch. He’s like a legend. Reb Elya Bloch’s father was one of the ten who were chosen to learn in the Vilna Gaon’s kloiz. They were very, very special people. And this Reb Elya Bloch learned in Kletzk by the Rosh Yeshiva before the war. He was one of the people drafted into the Polish army.
In the army, they had a shooting contest: who could shoot a bulls eye. The prize was two weeks furlough. Reb Elya Bloch won, so he went back to Kletzk. He didn’t go home to Vilna to see his parents; he went to Kletzk and sat down to learn for two weeks.
He told us over that he worked very hard on the Gaon’s peirush on Chumash, Aderes Eliyahu. Every morning, he would stand there with his notes and wait to get some spare time from the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva would sit with tallis and tefillin after davening and he would go over the Kabbala and deep, hidden meanings of the Vilna Gaon. But the Rosh Yeshiva would always give him time, l’kavod the Gaon.
This Reb Elya Bloch said over that after the war when the Rosh Yeshiva went to Europe to see the camps, he davened Shacharis in the London airport. He just took out his tallis and tefillin in the middle of the airport and started davening. Since it was after the war, there were lots of generals and officers around, and all the generals backed off in fear. They saw the Rosh Yeshiva and his face, so they jumped back. They didn’t want to disturb him.
Intellect and Heart
It was a zchus to have learned by somebody like that, to see that not only was he the gadol hador in learning but also the gadol hador in hanhaga. When he came to the yeshiva on a Shabbos, he would tell the boys what politics took place. He wanted the boys to be mature and well-rounded and be able to carry the burden after him.
Rabbi Beane: How did you view the fact that you knew who he was and what his kochos were? Some people would be overwhelmed. They’d say, “How can I reach such a madreiga? He’s a million light years away from us.”
Rabbi Hirsch: I know, but he had that power of connecting. He had that charisma. A tremendous charisma and warmth. To combine such intellect with such heart is so unusual.
Rabbi Beane: The middah of HaKadosh Baruch Hu almost.
Rabbi Hirsch: Yeah, right. It was amazing.
Rabbi Beane: As we say every Motzai Shabbos, “b’makom gedulosai shom ata motzei anvasanuso.”
Rabbi Hirsch: Right. You could see that.
Let me tell you this. One time, I told him over something from Rav Elchonon Wasserman. He right away had a different approach. We were walking from one building to the other on Seventh Street.
So I said, “But Reb Elchonon was a gadol.”
He said, “Reb Elchonon wasn’t masiach daas from Hashem twenty-four hours a day.”
There were no lapses.
I say the same thing on the Rosh Yeshiva. He was always connected to Hashem. He was always thinking, “What does Hashem want from me? What does Hashem expect from me?
Rabbi Beane: But he was still able to relate to everybody at the same time.
Rabbi Hirsch: Right. I had somebody in the family who was sick. I had an uncle who was a doctor, and he wasn’t even religious, but he was a very kind person. So he once went to the Rosh Yeshiva to take the bull by the horns. The Rosh Yeshiva was talking to him, and the Rosh Yeshiva said, “Vos zokt der doktor?”
He treated him with such respect as though he valued his opinion. He was the gadol.
“In a Thousand Years”
When I was in Boston, I asked him to send more bochurim.
“We have to make another Lakewood.” I told him.
“In a thousand years, you won’t make a Lakewood,” he said.
He told something similar to another boy. He said, “In a thousand years, you won’t make such a shiur.”
But another time, I went over to him again with some proposal or suggestion, and he said, “Mir darf oifhalten der alter.” We can’t keep spreading ourselves thinner and thinner. We have to keep the old ones. At that time, Philadelphia was already going, and Boston.
“You want to make a third place? We’re not up to that yet,” he said
He was very conservative, not like his age, but like someone who was 85. Not wild. Reb Schneur also. The olam said on Reb Schneur that even though he was younger than the other Gedolim, Reb Moshe and Reb Yankev and Rav Hutner, he had that yishuv hadaas, that stability, the long view. That was a big thing.
Rabbi Beane: Shkoach, Rabbi Hirsch.
 Originally from Telshe
 The Rosh Yeshiva will make Torah in America
 The entire Torah
 I put the vision of the G-d’s Holy Name in front of me always
 Divine Holy Name which consists of the Hebrew letters Yud, and Kei (K in place of H so as not pronounce the name in vain) , Vav and Kei.
 They had plenty of space to bow down
 It’s all encompassive
 Page 31
 Rashbas are passing through
 So clear, so simply comprehensible
 Serving a Torah scholar is greater than learning from him
 That actually happened, that actually happened
 The whole burden is falling on me
 Where you find His greatness, there you find His humility
 What does the doctor have to say?
 We have to keep the older ones by us too