Rabbi Yehuda Jacobs
I was in Telshe Yeshiva for school. The people there were frum, the Mitzvos were observed, but I thought that a change of yeshivas would be good for me with the situation as it was. In short, the choice became Lakewood, and I went
This was in the vacation time of Tof-Shin-Yud-Bais.
I went to the Rosh Yeshiva zichrono lívracha. He lived very poorly
in his house in Boro Park. Very pashut. Maybe he was in a hurry, maybe he
wasnít careful enough in listening, but he said I should come back before the
zman at the end of the bein hazmanim. I satisfied him very poorly, of
course, but all factors considered, he allowed me to come to Lakewood. I was
then about seventeen and a half.
I observed him at the shiur. The shiur was like a good Acharonís sefer, a good acharonishe sefer in tearing off piece after piece after piece. Youíd be surprised how much there is in a page of a Hafloah, or a page of Pínei Yehoshua. The Rosh Yeshiva just kept going. Page after page after page, he just kept going. And every statement that he made was a statement.
There was no repetition. There was no hemming and no hawing, no nothing, just going like a machine gun. Round after round after round, he just went through the whole shiur straight through. It was pretty remarkable.
Of course, at the beginning, I couldnít think of picking this up. Letís say that the average person speaks 200 words a minute. He spoke at least 400 words a minute. Youíve got to get used to listening to something like that. If you want to retain in your mind what was being said, you had to get used to it and just concentrate.
The rate was so fast. I had the impression all through the years that he said in an hour perhaps what other Roshei Yeshiva would say in six or eight hours. It was so packed. It was so concentrated. It was almost not repetitious at all.
It was presumed that you knew what this piece of Gemara, this inyan was about. Weíre talking about after you know what itís about. There was no explaining the issues at hand. Those we were supposed to come with finished, well-learned.
Learn the Mareh Makomos
once asked me, ďHow about the mareh mekomos?Ē
I said, ďIíll look over the mareh mekomos.Ē
He said, ďDonít look over the mareh mekomos. Learn them.Ē
What he really meant was youíll never know anything from looking over the mareh makomos. Learn the mareh makomos. Do your best. Maybe where you finish, the shiur starts, if not further.
The shiurim he gave were very real. The shiurim were like he had some kind of brilliant idea that came across like working out the historical veracity of Rava or Abaye because he was very real. The shitasos were very real, not just brilliant flashes of intelligence.
Halacha is not ďBíChushĒ
This is what was real to him. Reality to him was what it says in the Torah. Mamesh that. The Rov of Adas Yeraim in Europe - he was called the Hauser Rov - said over that once he was speaking in learning with the Rosh Yeshiva zichrono lívracha - how he watched the sunset, from the sunset until the time the stars came out and you could see bíchush líchoro, it was not like Rabbeinu Tam. He said that the Rosh Yeshiva said to him, ďFrom a bíchush, you donít freg on Rabbeinu Tam.Ē
Not because of that. Not on Rabbeinu Tam. It will be with a bíchush. A bíchush you donít freg on Rabbeinu Tam.
These things were secondary to him.
I used to wonder how he withstood the whole world disagreeing with him. They lived in disagreement with him, but it didnít seem at all to affect him.
I asked my friend why he thought the Rosh Yeshiva was unaffected.
He said, ďBecause heís a city! A person? You think heís a person and heís affected by other people? Heís a city!Ē
Rabbi Beane: He was beyond that.
Rabbi Jacobs: He was a whole briyah. He was a whole world.
Rabbi Beane: Do you think he was unique or did he represent a whole world like that? Where he came from, were there people like that besides him?
Rabbi Jacobs: Probably there were people like that besides him. He was a survivor of that world and what that world was like. But I never met anyone like him. Iíve met people whom Iíve understood, but never to such an extent. Itís like you wouldnít find yourself amongst sheep, how come youíre not influenced by the other sheep?
Thatís how the Rosh Yeshiva really was. He didnít change at all. Nothing changed. There was HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and thatís all. Anything else in any makom, not Germany, in America, not no place. And he knew how everything fit into that.
Awareness of His Surroundings
He knew how everything fit in. Itís not that he was oblivious to what was going on. He knew exactly what was going on Ė oh! He had a tremendous grasp of goings on. I could see that.
I could see when he walked through the building. It wasnít even the same building as the dining room. When he would walk through the door, there were a couple of feet, maybe the actual walk was thirty or forty feet in a semi-circle, and you could see the bochurim in various matzavim in the hall, outside the beis medrash, standing together, doing things.
From that walk through the hall, he had a very accurate, good grasp on what the bochurim were about, what they were doing, and what they were up to. He understood. Youíd think a man like that wouldnít understand whatís going on in the mind of an American boy. But from a walk through the hall, from the kitchen to this or that, whatever was happening, he knew where everybody was at, what they were thinking about, what they were bluffing him, how they were trying to kid him, and how they were trying to kid themselves. He knew it all.
Rabbi Beane: Did he ever talk about it?
Rabbi Jacobs: Yes! How do I know? Because once he said, ďWhen I walk in, I see this guy doing this and this guy doing that.Ē He once said it. He never said what he saw, except once. But he saw it all in one walk. He was very sharp.
Not that he wasnít aware, but the serious parts of reality were unchanged. Everything that he saw, he saw in his own life and then how it related to the real world. The real world, thatís the world of Abaye and Rava. The real world. If you put together what he was doing, this is what it was.
You Donít Have to Chazer A-B-C
He didnít start at the start. When he said a shiur, he didnít start the shiur on the presumption that we all know nothing. We know what we know until we know and then we understand. He never started anything like that. Itís like saying that when you read a newspaper, you also have to chazer A-B-C again. You donít chazer A-B-C when you read the paper. You pick up the paper and read it. You read the paper in the paperís style. You donít start chazering A-B-C.
Thatís how he was in shiur. He didnít start out from not knowing. The shiur began from knowing. And mistakes were nothing. They were just optical illusions. The Gemaraís there, so you read it. He knew them. He knew the mistakes.
Thatís why when he said the first shiur, letís say in Yevamos, his shiur concentrated on issues that the Gemara deals with in Daf Lamed. Even though heís saying a shiur for the olam thatís learning Daf Bais.
We had better have learned the mareh mekomos. Thatís why he gave the mareh mekomos in advance. Thatís why he told me, ďDonít look them over. Learn them.Ē
Rabbi Beane: How long would that take you usually?
Rabbi Jacobs: You could learn it for any length of time.
I just need to tell over his realness. In retrospect, game-playing didnít exist by him. Theyíre playing games - ďBecause you donít know this, and you donít know that, so itís a chiddush to you?Ē A chiddush is not because you donít know. Itís because you know. When you know, you have to say a chiddush. Thatís where you start. Young boys start from not knowing. There was no such thing by him. Start with folly? Start where the issues really are!
They say that when Einstein would expound on relativity, heíd speaks about what he learned in seventh grade, then high school, then college at bachelorís level, then masterís, and then PhD. Then heíd start talking about his theory and the particulars.
By us, we donít talk like that. In our things, we donít talk like that. In things that have meaningful daas, we donít speak that way. We start from where the issues are, where it is, where itís at. And thatís how the Rosh Yeshiva did it every day.
He had a certain temimus also. With all that smartness, he had a temimus, a funny thing. It wasnít like the way he spoke. It was in addition. A temimus. Childlike, I would say. Not childish, childlike. A childlike purity. He was a man who knew it all, but he had a temimus.
Rabbi Beane: How do you think he became that? Was it inborn?
Rabbi Jacobs: Everybody is born with good and bad middos, and he had certain very good points which could have been lost over time. And then self-awareness. Iíve got to stop. Itís much too much of a sugya. He was much too big for this.