• Transcriptions

    Rabbi Eliezer Kuperman



    Involvement in Chinuch Atzmoi

    The first time I met the Rosh Yeshiva was way before I came to yeshiva.  I lived on 49th and 15th Avenue, and the Rosh Yeshiva moved into Boro Park on 47th and 15th Avenue, so I used to come across the Rosh Yeshiva every few weeks.  I was in great fear of him because he had this look on his face, and I really didn’t speak to him for three or four years after he moved into the neighborhood.  When he started Chinuch Atzmoi and I was a member of the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel [1] a group of us got involved to help the Rosh Yeshiva raise money for Chinuch Atzmoi.

    I was personally involved because I was starting to be an accountant then, and he asked me to file the papers to get a tax exemption for the American Friends of Chinuch Atzmoi.  In that capacity, I met with him a number of times.  Also, they set up a small office in someone’s business in Manhattan, and I went there a number of times.  The Rosh Yeshiva was there also, calling people, and we would discuss the business angle of Chinuch Atzmoi. 


    A Working Bochur Wants to Learn

    Like I said, I was an accountant then.  I had left Torah V’Daas because I didn’t have a father, and I had to help with breadwinning.  I worked a number of years, and I was still young, and I had this cheshek to return to learning. I did have sedarim early in the morning and at night, the weekends, and Sundays, but I always wanted to go back to learning. 

    When my youngest sister got engaged, the set-up in the family was such that I wasn’t needed as a breadwinner anymore.  I started looking around so that maybe I could take the year off and learn.  I looked at all the possibilities, and the only place that I felt had the kind of mature learning that would draw me - serious full-time learning  - was Lakewood.  I hadn’t been in Lakewood, but that’s what I’d heard about it.

    It was in 1959 when I decided that I would go to Lakewood.  So I went to Reb Aharon and asked if he would take me into the yeshiva.  He was a little bit shocked. 

    “Aren’t you working?” he said.

    “Yes,” I said, “but I would like to go back to learning at least for a year.”

    And he said, “You know, it’s much easier to work than to learn.  To learn takes a lot of application.  Are you willing to do that?”

    So I said, “Yes.”

    But he said, “You know, you have to fit into the yeshiva.  You have to be at the right madreiga in learning.  Otherwise, it’s not going to work out for you, and you’re going to be a failure.  You’re not going to have the cheshek, you’re not going to get anything out of it. 

    So I said, “Maybe the Rosh Yeshiva will farher me?”

    He said I should come to Lakewood for Yom Kippur and he’d see me on erev Yom Kippur or motzai Yom Kippur.  He’d put away some time to speak to me. So I came on erev Yom Kippur and went over to the Rosh Yeshiva.  He said he couldn’t talk to me; he’d just gotten a call from Eretz Yisroel that the Brisker Rov was niftar and couldn’t talk to anybody. 

    On motzai Yom Kippur, I went back to him again, but he still couldn’t see me.

    “I’ll be in New York for a few days this week,” he said. “Maybe after Sukkos.  We’ll have to work out something.” So I called him up in New York, and he asked me to come for Shemini Atzeres. As it happened, my sister was getting married the week after Sukkos, and my future brother-in-law was going to have his aufruf on Shemini Atzeres, which fell on a Shabbos.  He decided to make it in Lakewood, so I was going to go to Lakewood anyway.  So I made up with the Rosh Yeshiva that he would farher me then.


    The Farher

    So I came, and again, erev Yom Tov, he was busy.  This one came in; that one came in.  Motzai Yom Tov, he was also.  It just didn’t work out.  So we made an appointment for Wednesday morning.  In other words, I would daaven the 6:30 minyan, and then I had a seder between 7:00 and 8:00.  So instead of learning with my chavrusa that Wednesday morning, at 7:00, we made up that we would meet at the Rosh Yeshiva’s house and talk in learning. 

    Late Tuesday night, the Rebbetzin called my mother, and said that I should come to yeshiva on Sunday; I am accepted. I didn’t know what happened.  I thought the Rosh Yeshiva wanted to farher me.  He insisted that he had to find out where I was holding. 

    When I used to learn between 7:00 and 8:00 am, I learned in the Novardok Yeshiva with my chavrusa. They davened at 7:30, so we used to learn in R’ Avraham Yaffen’s office. His office was very run down and dilapidated and we offered to fix it over and put in new lighting if he would let us learn there, and he agreed.  Of course, he would come in the middle of our learning to put on his tallis and tefilin, but that didn’t disturb us.  There was adequate room for both the chavrusas learning and for him to take care of himself.

    So he came in that morning, Wednesday morning, and said to me that I owe him shadchanus[2]

    So I said, “Shadchanus?  I’m not a chosson.”

    So he said, “Ahh. An ander sort shadchonus.”[3] “Last night, I was at a meeting of Roshei Yeshivas who were mechalek money that we were getting from the reparations, and I was sitting next to Reb Aharon, and he was very nervous and said he had to go home early.  He had to get up and daven very early because he had an appointment 7:00 in the morning in his house.  And I asked him ‘7:00 in the morning?’ 

    ‘Yes,’ he said.  ‘I have to farher a bochur.’

    ‘Why 7:00 in the morning?’ I asked.

    So he said, ‘He works, and that’s when he has a seder, but instead of coming to seder he’s going to come to learn.’

    So I said, ‘What’s the bochur’s name?’

    So he said my name.  So Reb Abraham Yaffin told him, ‘I know him.’ He [the Rosh Yeshiva] said, “How do you know him?”

    He [Reb Abraham] said, “He learns in my office every morning.”

    So Reb Aharon asked him, “Should I take him?”

    And Reb Avraham Yaffin said, “Yes, take him.”

    So Reb Aharon said, “Fine.” He took a phone, called back his Rebbetzin, and asked the Rebbetzin to call my mother.

    So Avraham Yaffiin got me into Lakewood.


    Finding Chavrusas

    Sunday morning, when I came to yeshiva, I went straight to the Rosh Yeshiva, and he said I should try to get chavrusas.  And if I couldn’t get on my own, I should speak to him or to the mashgiach.  I had some friends here, and I had a cousin, and I had my new brother-in-law, so between them, I got chavrusas right away. 

    Then the mashgiach called me in.  He proposed me a chavrusa, and I said, “I have already.”

    And he said, “Maybe this one’s better.”

    Since I was already comfortable with the Rosh Yeshiva, I went back to him and I asked him an eitzah.  Should I take the chavrusa that the mashgiach suggested, or should I take the chavrusa that my cousin had suggested? 

    So he told me, “It would be better for you the one that your cousin suggested.”

    I went back to the mashgiach and I said, “I asked the Rosh Yeshiva’s advice, and he told me the other bochur is good for me.”


    “Like a Son”

    After that, the Rosh Yeshiva treated me very like a son.  He constantly checked up on me if I was progressing properly. 

    When he took me, when he accepted me, he told me that the condition was that until Pesach, I could not leave yeshiva at any time without his specific permission even though my mother was a widow and I did want to visit her sometimes.  He said that I could not leave Yeshiva during the first zman because otherwise, I would never make it.

    And then, after the next weekend, when he came back to Lakewood, he set up with me a chavrusa to learn with on the weekend and a chavrusa to chazer over the shiur with.  And he asked me who my roommate was, and he called in my roommate and told him that, bein hasedarim, before taking a nap, he had to learn with me Tanach for ten minutes.  And we learned.  We learned that winter 44 perakim in Sefer Yechezkel for those ten minutes a day.  And also my roommate had to speak to me in learning before we go to sleep.  So every night, we had to say over something to each other.


    Rabbi Beane: Was what he did for you similar to other people?

    Rabbi Kuperman: Well, I don’t know.

    Rabbi Beane: With this much detail?

    Rabbi Kuperman: Most other bochurim came from a yeshiva, and they had a mehalech and they had a few chavrusas already.  They had a chaburah that they learned with, so I don’t think he spent so much time. Also, for some reason, he was interested in getting me involved inside the yeshiva.  I came from a different sort of a background than most of the bochurim.  I had gone to college and I was a little professional, so he was trying all his educational skills to try to make sure that I would succeed.  And he did it in a very personal way. 


    Speaking to the Rosh Yeshiva

    A lot of bochurim were very scared of the Rosh Yeshiva even though he was very close to everybody.  I didn’t have this.  I had awe of him, but I wasn’t afraid to approach him.  He always made it very easy for me to speak to him. 

    My dormitory room was in the same building that the Rosh Yeshiva stayed in, which was a block away from the bais medrash.  Very often, we would walk together from one building to the other.  And whenever that happened, he used to ask me if I understood the shiur and if I could repeat a piece.  He asked me what I was learning and if I had any kashas.  And he was very approachable and easy.

    When he said a shiur for the olam, he was completely absorbed in the shiur, and nevertheless, he noticed everything that was going on.  If he saw that somebody wanted to ask something, he’d immediately turn his head like, “Say something”.

    When I came to yeshiva, it was already 1959, and the Rosh Yeshiva was older.  The olam felt that they shouldn’t interrupt him in the shiur because he would get very excited, and it wasn’t very healthy for him.  So very few people asked questions during the shiur.

    On Friday afternoon before mincha, he used say chazara of the shiur.  In the winter, he’d say shiur motzai Shabbos, and in the summer on Shabbos afternoon.  And usually, there was a hemshech on Sunday morning or Monday morning.  On Friday, for about half an hour to forty-five minutes, he would say a quick chazara of the one or two shiurim that he said during that week.  And at that chazara, everybody who was in yeshiva a year or less was expected to be there, and anybody who for some reason missed the shiur.

    So the first year, I was by this chazara.  By the chazara, there were usually only 15 to 20 talmidim, and you could ask questions.  And a number of times, I did ask questions, and sometimes the Rosh Yeshiva would answer, and sometimes, he would get very excited.  I remember one time when I was pretty new, I asked a shailah - a question - and he got very excited, and he called me almost every way that you can say a person is an am haaretz.

    There was a bochur that I knew well, who I think was at yeshiva about three years.  When the Rosh Yeshiva was finished and said a teretz to my kasha, he gave me a nudge and he whispered to me, “The Rosh Yeshiva must really like you because he got excited that you asked something that wasn’t exactly to the zach[4].  But he answered you.  When he gets excited like this, it’s a good sign.”  He wanted to make me feel good.

    While it was going on, I was scared stiff.  I was there about two months, and I thought I was doing something very wrong.  I’d heard that he sometimes got excited this way, but it was the first time that I saw it, and I happened to be - if you can call it that - the victim.


    Kashas in Shiur

    There was another time - it was much later - I was already in yeshiva a second year, and I didn’t go to the shiur that morning because I had been up late the night before.  So in second seder, when I walked out of the bais medrash, the Rosh Yeshiva saw me from his office and called me over and asked me where I’d been in the morning.  He noticed that I hadn’t been by the shiur.  So I told him why I wasn’t at his shiur.

    So he said, “Okay, fine, but you have to come for the chazara on Friday.” 

    So I came to the chazara, and it happened to be on Mesechtas Yevamos and I had already learned that sugya quite well.  While he was saying the shiur, something didn’t fit, so I asked him, and he again got very excited. And a minute later, all of a sudden, he stopped me and he said, “I forgot, farfelt a shtickel[5].”

    So he said over the piece that he should have put in before, and as soon as he did, I understood that’s what I didn’t understand.  That piece was missing.  He took a look at me and said, “Gedarft farshtein Ich hob farfelt ah shtickel[6].” He understood that he’d left out something.  I didn’t have a kasha.  There was something missing. 

    A few weeks later, again, I interrupted him with a kasha, and he got very excited.  And instead of berating me, he started saying over the rest of the chazara very, very quickly so that he finished about ten minutes before mincha.  And then he called me into his office, took out a Gemara, and showed me the Gemara and the Rambam so quickly that I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I tried to keep track of all the mareh mekomos he was giving me, all in like in ten minutes.

    So after mincha, I went over to one of the talmidim, Rabbi Yaakov Schnaidman.  I told him, “I asked him the question, and the Rosh Yeshiva finished the chazara quickly and took me into his office and gave me all these Gemaras so quickly that I couldn’t chap it but these are the mareh mekomos he gave me.” 

    So he laughed and said, “In Yevamos, you asked him a kasha that he had a shiur on in Nedarim, and he was so excited that you asked him the kasha, in which he’d build the shiur on Nedarim, that he was telling you over the whole shiur in Nedarim with all those mareh mekomos.”

    He said that he thought that Shlomo Miller wrote that shiur over very well and I should ask him for the notes.  I went to Shlomo Miller, got the notes, and looked them over that whole Friday afternoon.  And takkeh, that was the teretz to my kasha, and it was all the mareh mekomos that Rosh Yeshiva had shown me.  When somebody chappt-on[7] something that he had brought down, he would get so excited to show it, to show you that you had something to say on it. 

    So I looked over the shiur, and then Friday night, I asked him if he wanted to answer my kasha with this yesod that he said in Nedarim.  And he said, “Yes.”  He was very happy that I had followed up on it.


    The Rosh Yeshiva’s Personal Hand in Shidduchim

    The Rosh Yeshiva was always involved in the talmidim’s personal lives because he felt that you have to be taken care of.  Otherwise you can’t have menuchas hanefesh[8] to sit and learn Torah.  So when I was in yeshiva, like I said before, I came for a year.  I took a year of absence from the firm I was working for, and came the summer, he called me over and he said, “I think you should stay another year.” 

    So I said, “Why?”

    So he said, “Well, you’re learning well, and it’ll be a very good thing for you if you do a shidduch while you’re still in yeshiva. You’d have a different kind of family.”

    Then he started to talk to me about shidduchim, and he mentioned one to me.  He said that since I didn’t have a father to handle for me, that I shouldn’t do a shidduch without checking up with him.  He’ll be my father to handle shidduchim for me.

    So, he proposed to me a shidduch, and I checked it out and I found out that it wasn’t exactly, you know.  The parents were fine, but the party wasn’t fine.  After that he red[9] a few more. I had proposals but I always checked up with him, and he advised me what to do.

    When I finally met the young lady who became my wife, after I’d met her a few times and I thought I might be interested, I went to speak with the Rosh Yeshiva.  He told me that he was going to Florida for two weeks, but I shouldn’t finish anything until he came back.  If I had any questions, I should call him in Florida, and he left his phone number. 

    After I met my present wife another time, I decided that this is what I wanted.  So I called the Rosh Yeshiva in Florida, and he told me he was coming the next day, and I should give a message to her father that in two days, he should call the Rosh Yeshiva in his house because he wants to speak to him.

    That’s what I did, and the next morning, after the Rosh Yeshiva had met my future shver, he called me in the middle of seder to tell me that he had met him, and he was very pleased, and I should go ahead.  He took a very personal interest that way.


    Setting the Date

    Another interesting incident was when my shver wanted to make the chasunah on a Monday. He had a store on the East Side, and his main business was Sunday.  So the Monday he wanted to make it was the first Monday in Elul.  On Chol HaMoed Pesach, I came to Lakewood with my kallah to visit my sister who lived here then, and I went in to the Rosh Yeshiva and asked him about the date of the chasunah if it was okay with him.  He told me then that he had a better idea. 

    He said, “You want to make the chasunah Monday.  Rosh Chodesh Elul is Sunday.  You know, it’s going to be a big bittul Torah.”

    At that time there were 120 talmidim in yeshiva, and if somebody made a chasunah, 40 or 50 talmidim went to the chasunah, and the yeshiva was not really functioning.  Between the people who were at the chasunah and their chavrusas, half the yeshiva was not there.  The bais medrash was empty. 

    So that was going to be Monday night, which was supposed to be the second day of the zman

    So he said, “Make a cheshbon.  A lot of people are coming back from the country.  They’re going to come back on Sunday, and the second seder Sunday is when the zman is going to start.  Now, if you’re going to make a chasunah Monday night, many people who have some shaichos to New York, instead of coming back to Lakewood are going to go from the mountains to New York, stay for the chasunah, and come back Tuesday morning.  So the yeshiva, instead of starting Sunday afternoon, or Monday morning for sure, will be starting Tuesday morning.  So you’re gorem at least one day or maybe a day and a half of bittul Torah.  

    “I have a better idea.  You can chap for yourself some talmud Torah.  Make the chasunah Thursday night, before.  Some people will come to your chasunah and stay for Shabbos in New York.  So instead of coming from the mountains on Sunday, and not being able to learn the whole day Sunday, only Monday, they’d be in Lakewood already Sunday morning, and second seder Sunday, they’ll be learning.  You’ll get the zchus of those people learning.  So go back to your shver and ask him if he can arrange it for Thursday night.”

    That’s what I did, and the chasunah was arranged for Thursday night. 


    Would the Rosh Yeshiva Attend?

    When I came back for the zman, I heard that the Rosh Yeshiva was going to Eretz Yisroel that summer. So I went over to him and I said, “I heard the Rosh Yeshiva is going this summer bein hazmanim to Eretz Yisroel, and the Rosh Yeshiva told me to make the chasunah while it’s still bein hazmanim.”   

    The Rosh Yeshiva said to me, “Even if I’m in Eretz Yisroel, I’ll be back for your chasunah.”

    And l’maaseh, he didn’t go to Eretz Yisroel.  That summer he went to the mountains.  The Tuesday night before my chasunah, he had the Rebbetzin call my mother and say that they were back in New York, and he remembers that Thursday night was my chasunah.  I shouldn’t worry; he’s going to be there.

    Wednesday morning, he called me up and said, “What are you doing today?

    I said, “I’m going to go to Novaradok to learn.”

    So he said, “Maybe you come and learn with me.”  And he asked me to come to his house, and he learned with me that morning.

    Rabbi Beane: Did you ever learn with him before?

    Rabbi Kuperman: No.

    Rabbi Beane: The first time you learned mamesh together.

    Rabbi Kuperman: Yes.  For the morning.  For the afternoon, I think he had to go to the office or something like that.

    Anyway, Thursday morning, the day of the chasunah, he called again and wanted me to come to the house.  So he learned with me for a while, and then he gave me a shtickel farher on the Halachos and a chosson schmooze.  I left to go to Minchah in Novaradok.  They daavened 1:30.  And I daavened a lange Shmoneh Esreh[10] that you daven when you’re a chosson.

    Oh, I forgot something.  That morning, I daavened in the Sefardishe shul and the Rosh Yeshiva daavened in the same minyan.  So he told the gabbai to give me an aliyah and they should not say Tachanun because I was getting married.  It was the summer, before the night.  Then he called me to the house.

    I went to the house, and after Minchah at Novarodok, when I went home after the lange Shemonei Esreh,  the Rosh Yeshiva called me again.  I went to the house, and he had some more things to tell me, and he kept me there till my mother called me to get ready for the chasunah.

    He came to the chasunah and he stayed kimat the whole chasunah, which was very unusual for him.  He used to wait till the chosson and kallah came in and he’d dance for a little while with the chosson, and then he’d leave.  And by me, he stayed mamesh the whole chasunah until after the main dish.  And I don’t know if it’s because I listened to him about changing the date, or he felt fatherly. 

    He gave me a lot of brachos under the chuppah, mamesh a lot of brachos.


    The Challenge of Parnossa

    After I came back, after the chasunah, he asked me right away how I was doing with parnossa.  He understood that my shver promised to help the first year and asked if my wife had a job and how much she was earning.  Even though I was in yeshiva only two years and at that time - you had to be in yeshiva four years to get a kollel check - he asked me if he could send me the kollel check.  We worked out that, at that time, I didn’t need it.  My wife was working the whole day in the day school. 

    But after Pesach the next year, we decided it was too hard for my wife to be in the day school the whole day.  She didn’t have the time she needed to take care of everything.  She should work only half a day.  So I went to the Rosh Yeshiva to ask him an eitzah.  So he said, “First of all, you go to the rabbi and handle ois[11], they should give her a raise to work a half a day because she’s a very good teacher from what I hear, and they’re going to want her.”


    [1] the youth division of the Agudath Israel

    [2] Matchmaker’s payment

    [3] Another type of shadchanus

    [4] To the point

    [5] There’s a piece missing

    [6] You should have understood that left out a piece

    [7] Caught onto

    [8] Peace and clarity of mind

    [9] Proposed (Yiddish)

    [10] Long Shmoneh Esreh

    [11] Settle, work out an arrangement


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