Rabbi Yisrael Taplin
From Chicago to Lakewood
I came here from Chicago in Taf-Shin-Chaf. I heard about Lakewood from before that. I had a friend here, and I felt it would be a whole thing with getting in and the entrance exam and papers to fill out. I wrote him and he wrote back to me, “Just come.”
I came from Chicago and to Lakewood, and as soon as I got a taxi cab, the first two people I saw in Lakewood were the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Aharon, and his son, Reb Schneur.
I came from Bais Medrash HaTorah, the yeshiva which is now Skokie. In those years, many people came from there. They went east to New York to other yeshivos, and compared to Lakewood, it was like the minor leagues.
As I said before, I met Reb Schneur and the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Aharon, and then I gave him two letters that I got from the Roshei Yeshiva in Chicago, Reb Regensberg and Reb Rogoff zt”l. He just took the letters and said, “Go get arranged; you can go learn.”
Usually when a bochur used to come to Lakewood, everybody would receive their bechina. A few days later, the Rosh Yeshiva would call him in and then usually, the Rosh Yeshiva gave a very hard sugya in Bava Kama in Meruba, “Keren K’ein Sheganav,” which was about two blatt. The yeshiva spends a few weeks on it.
It was a very hard bechina, but he had rachmonus on me it seems and he didn’t give me the bechina at all. He just said come in two days later, and there was no bechina. Maybe he felt I was like a she’airis haplaita. Maybe it was because I came from Chicago. I don’t know what the reason was, but I didn’t get a bechina.
Public vs. Private Personalities
Also I felt that he cared for me and for others. L’mashal, I needed a chavrusa. I asked him about it, so he said he’d speak to one of the elter yungerleit, and he got me a chavrusa, takkeh, Reb Yaakov Spiegel.
I used to ask him questions of halacha a lot. He would answer the questions very nicely.
But Reb Aharon was known that during a shiur, he was very strong. What made a big impression on me was his seriousness about learning. When it came to learning, it was like, that was it. Like, you couldn’t touch him. Anything I learned, if he didn’t see it, if he felt you were wrong, he was like a terror, so to speak. It was known because he was very shtark. It looked like he hated you, like he had anger on you.
And this always bothered me because on the other hand, when someone had a problem, he wasn’t like that. I have a great aunt – she was niftar already – but in those times, she didn’t have any children. She was older, and she wanted to know if her husband died and she’d be an almana, would that mean she’d have to do chalitza? She wanted to know. She asked me to ask Reb Aharon about what she should do.
So I went into him, I explained to him the question, the shailah, and he was so caring and so feeling, and he felt for her in giving an eitzah. So how can you reconcile this seeming contradiction? On one hand, he was so caring and feeling and so nice about it, but on the other, when you’d see him in learning, he was like mamesh like a terror. He was like in a rage, screaming and calling names. How do you reconcile this?
So I thought maybe later the pshat could be that you take the nicest person in middos tovos who cares for you, but if you take iron claws and you start ripping his skin, he’s going to scream. Ay, he’s so nice? When you take the person apart himself, what he’s made out of, and you start scratching him and screaming and making him hurt, he’s going to yell.
That was Reb Aharon. He was Torah. That’s his atzmius. So if he said a shiur, and he held that shiur was mamesh emes l’amito in the sugya, and you start tchepping with it and asking kashas on it, it’s like you’re taking him apart. So, sure he’s going to scream and yell. You’re tearing his body apart. His neshoma. So he’s going to scream, even though he’s a very nice person in inyanei bein adam l’chavero.
Disagreeing with Reb Aharon
I once takkeh had a maaseh with him about this inyan. I saw also the seriousness of learning which made a big impression on me. I still remember the maasehs that I saw him mamesh. The Torah was mamesh like eitz chaim. There’s no other thing.
The maaseh was, it was the zman of Baba Basra. The big sugya in Baba Basra was hezek re’iah. It also was the Mesechta, the first part, the first perek, Chezkas Habatim, so I was working on that sugya for like the whole zman. I said chaburahs on it. So Reb Aharon came with a shiur on this inyan, a few shiurim, and we didn’t seem to jive in all the peratim in the sugya. So I felt I’d have to go in and speak to him about it
At that time, the bais medrash was on 7th Street. There was a little building there. And he had a private room, so whenever you had to speak to him, you went into that room. And I told my friends, “I know I’m going to get it for this”.
Because I had meinung in the shiur, I came in prepared. This is my sugya for the whole zman, and I had certain points that we didn’t jive together. He said his shiurim and I didn’t come out like that. I told my friends, “I’m going to get shechted for why I’m going in now, but I’m going anyway, al menas lehishachet.”
So I went in there. I asked him the kasha. He started pulling me, like, pulling my suit. You know, the place where a person reises kriya. He starts pulling and pulling. He starts calling me names. In those times, they said that the more names he called you, the better he liked you, the more he held of you. He called me “am haaretz,” “poyer, a few more.
Anyway, I wasn’t daunted. I went on and asked my questions. Finally, he starts, after he’s yelling there, and he lit up like a light bulb. I still remember the scene now. He said, “The Rambam is geven zeyer shver, yets iz gevoren lichtig, mit mine shiur. Und du kumst freggen… You come asking and try to shlug it up? The perushim to explain the Rambam are shver und doichek and my pshat is a lightbulb!” He mamesh lit up like a light bulb when he said “Es is gevoren lichtig the whole inyan.” It made mamosh a roshem like this is mamesh Torah, this is mamesh his existence, m’mailah that is what he was.
No Such Rambam
Another maaseh. The dining room was about a block away. The old kitchen building was a block away. So my friend and I used to always walk the Rosh Yeshiva back on Shabbos after davening. I used to always prepare something to ask him.
So a maaseh. One time, we were learning a sugya. I happened to see someone brought down a certain Rambam, quoting a certain thing that the Rambam says “such and such.” So as we were walking, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva, “The Rambam says like it says that sefer brought down.”
The Rosh Yeshiva told me, “Es iz nit dur aza Rambam.” It’s not true. No such Rambam.
I was mamesh taken aback. What do you mean, there’s no such? The sefer brings it down.
And he started saying, “Nisht dur a Rambam.”
And it came out, the Rosh Yeshiva was takkeh right. The person who brought it down wrote the wrong pshat. There’s no such a Rambam.
My friends told me afterwards, the Rosh Yeshiva got heated up on that because they say when he was young in Kletzk yet, when he was a young Rosh Yeshiva, people wanted to test him, so they made up Rambams that didn’t exist. And the Rosh Yeshiva had to know that there’s no such Rambam. So maybe he felt like – I don’t know – that I’m trying to do the same thing. I don’t know, but that was the maaseh.
Precision in Mitzvos
Also, I saw his dikduk ha Mitzvos was mamesh ein lishayer. L’mashal, I still remember how he made havdala and made kiddush with his eyes closed, with kavanah. I still mamesh remember seeing in front of me this roshem hamitzvos.
L’mashal, also he was very makpid on so called “devarim ketanim.” L’mashal, again, he used to have a private lady who took care of his food. He ate in the side room in the downstairs in the kitchen building. He had a private room there. Anybody had to speak to him would go in there. She always had everything covered. He was makpid very much in gilui. Everything was covered.
Also, I used to stay in yeshiva during Sukkos. I lived in Chicago, so I went after Sukkos to stay in Chicago for a week, but during Simchas Torah and the whole Sukkos, I was with him in the sukkah, and I was mamesh meshamesh him. I stayed and bentsched lulav and esrog with him. He took me in his room. He had a good number of esrogim. People sent him esrogim. Everything was in order. All the esrogim, all the lulavim, the hadassim. Everything was like fresh, and he was so makpid that everything should be right. And the dikduk it should be a fresh thing. Nothing should get withered or anything.
We built a sukkah there and he always was makpid, he wanted to put some schach on, too. He was older already, but he wants also to give him a chance to put some schach on. Also, we had to leave the sukkah to wash for pas, but he wouldn’t leave the sukkah. They brought in water for him because it’s a shailah to leave the sukkah. It’s a hefsek between kiddush. He was makpid he shouldn’t have to go out.
Also, one maaseh was, I was once sitting in the hall of the yeshiva building then, and I tell you, I was writing the mareh mekomos in my Gemara. Anyway, he came over. He went out of his way, and he said these words, “Mir tur nisht shrieben oif a Gemara”. Even though there was a shailah about this. I was learning the mareh mekomos of this, but he was makpid. He said, “You can’t write on the Gemara.” Because of the dikduk HaMitzvos.
He was machmir also. He wouldn’t put a Rishon, wouldn’t put an Acharon on a Rishon. Also, like all these dikduk hamitzvos was very great.
The Shailoh of Using a Shabbos Goy
Also, there was a certain maaseh. The maasehs we brought down already but it happened with me. There was once on Friday night in the yeshiva in bais medrash. The Bais Medrash was on 7th Street in the same place before they moved to the present building here, on Private. So the maaseh is, in the bais medrash, the lights went out, where the olam learned. In those times, where the chazzan was, there was a big light. Just by the chazzan, but the whole bais medrash was really basically dark, and you couldn’t really learn there. It was a shailah of bittul Torah d’rabim.
The Rosh Yeshiva told me and someone else to get a goy to turn the light on because with a goy it’s a tzorech drabim, shvus bimakom mitzvah. So at those times, where the Willow Apartments are now, it used to be the Willows Hotel. A big hotel. There was a lot of pritzus going on there, but the route from the old bais medrash building to the present one was you had to go down that street. It was a big hotel with butlers and mamesh big doings there. So this Friday night, we went across the street to get a goy. It was a schvartze butler with his uniform on. So we said, “We need you to help out here.” So we took him to yeshiva and he turned the light on normally.
So we told the Rosh Yeshiva that’s what he did, and the Rosh Yeshiva said, “No! We don’t pasken like the Baal Ha’ittur. The Rama brings a Baal Ha’ittur in Resh-Ayin-Zayin that one shvus bimakom mitzvah d’rabim is mutar. This is the shvus d’rabim because we told him to do a melacha d’oraisa, which is one shvus -- amira li’akum. But the Baal Ha’ittur holds it’s mutar, everybody else argues with the Baal Ha’ittur. The Rosh Yeshiva said, “We don’t pasken like the Baal Ha’ittur and we cannot use the lights.” So what to do?
So we went back, even though this Mishnah Berurah takkeh brings down bimakom mitzvah dirabbim, you could be maikel like the Baal Ha’ittur, the Rosh Yeshiva didn’t want it to be like that. He wanted to be makpid that all Torah should be learned b’kedushah durch alleh shittahs. So we had to go back and get a goy to turn the light off and then turn it on again with a shinui to make it a shvus dishvus bimakom mitzvah d’rabbim.
And that shows how he was more makpid on all these things and the roshem of . . . the reshima that I had in contact, I should have more, really, but there was a lot to do.
Also, the shiurim we used to go to a lot. And the Rosh Yeshiva, you’d see was mamesh in the shiurim, you’d see how he said it over, and the shtarkeit and the tekifus. He lived it mamesh . He’d say it fast, and if you interrupted[MH1] , you were going to get it because he was so into it, the roshem of his shiurim.
They say of the Rosh Yeshiva that he rechined different shiurim for different blatt Gemaras. Like he said, “This shiur is worth ten blatt Gemara, eight blatt Gemara.” “Der shiur in Yevamos is kedai der fun der alta bubbeh’s pains when she would be able to hear. He made gevaldigge guzmayom, gevaldigge statements about his shiurim because he held that mamesh they could be the yegiyah that he had. And it was with amkus.
The Rebbetzin always used to say over, “Er is geven mer huruvanya den kup.” The huruvanya he put into his shiurim. And if you argue on it, mamesh, you’re taking a chelek of him like we said before, and it made him so angry. He was kind - as we said before - a caring person. But if you start ripping it apart, which words could do, against his shiurim which he held were so emes, it mamesh made him like screaming.
And Baruch Hashem, I’m here today still with the zikaron, the zichronos, I hope I helped you out in understanding the Rosh Yeshiva a little better.
 Perek (chapter) in Baba Kama
 Sugya which deals with remunerations of theft
 Truth in its entirety
 Issues between man and his fellow brethren
 Damage of looking into another’s private territory
 Chapter which deals with methods of proving one’s ownership on property
 To get slaughtered
 Tears the mourner’s rent
 The Rambam was very difficult, now its been elucidated with my Shiur, and you are coming to ask…
 Difficult and strenuous
 This whole matter has been elucidated
 There is no such Rambam
 There’s no Rambam there
 Impression of performing commandments
 Minute issues
 One is not permitted to write in a Gemara
 A Rabbinic prohibition , when necessitated for the sake of a Mitzvah
 One Rabbinic prohibition when required for the sake of a public Mitzvah, is permissible (by a non-Jew)
 This is the Rabbinic prohibition required for public needs, because we told him to do an act which is prohibited by the Torah, this telling the non-Jew constitutes the one Rabbinic prohibition
 In holiness, right through all views
 Rabbinic prohibition on a Rabbinic prohibition when required for the sake of a public Mitzvah
 This Shiur in Yevomos is worth it, just as much as an old grandmother’s pains when she makes an effort to hear
 He put in more efforts, than thought
 Efforts, exertion