Rabbi Dov Wolowitz
My name is Dov Wolowitz. I came to Lakewood when I was 18 years old. I came from Yeshiva Haichel HaTorah, the Rabbis London yeshiva. I came with two other talmidim, my friends and chavrusas, Menachem Rosenthal and Chaim Bressler.
We probably were the three best talmidim in Haichel HaTorah.
When I came out to Lakewood, I was awe-inspired by the yeshiva. You had maybe 100 talmidim there, 50 of whom were kollel yungerleit, and about 50 of whom were bochurim. It was awe-inspiring to see the hasmodah and to see the brilliance of these talmidim.
I remember many stories from Reb Aharon. I think the biggest and most inspiring thing that I felt when I was in Lakewood was that I was sitting in the presence of the gadol hador, knowing that he was a giant, that he was so above and so full of Torah.
A Feeling in the Air
He lived in Boro Park, and he came out to Lakewood Thursday afternoons and left Monday afternoons. He said a shiur on Shabbos and a shiur on Monday before he left. And I remember you’d feel at about 11 or 12 o’clock that the Rosh Yeshiva was in Lakewood and there was a certain feeling in the air - and it wasn’t only I who felt it - that the gadol hador is in town. There was a feeling that I have never felt before. Something awe-inspiring, that you can’t batul. You can’t talk. The gadol hador is here. He’s in town, and he’s around. You felt that greatness and that holiness. And even I remember Monday afternoon when he would leave, there would be a sense of relief, a sense of calm. That feeling had gone away. It wasn’t a feeling of fear, like the Rosh Yeshiva was going to bother you, talk to you, and ask you anything. It was just a sense of awe, a sense of, “You’ve got to learn,” like there’s no batala, like this is the holiest place that there is.”
It’s hard to give over that message, but that feeling I have never felt before, and I thought it was maybe something that only I felt, but as I shared this with other people in the bais medrash, there were many, many who felt that feeling, like, “The gadol hador is in town.”
There are many things that go through my mind as I think of the great Rosh Yeshiva. There are many different stories that I was privileged to be there and be involved in. I’d like to share some with you.
I remember once I was very involved in kiruv. The Rabbis London had a camp in which we took in Talmud Torah boys, boys who were not religious, and we tried over the summer to make them religious. We’d play basketball, baseball, learn with them, and convince them to go to yeshiva.
I was working at the camp. I went after the zman, and I was one of the main forces to deal with these young boys. They were 13 and 14-year-olds, and we were making them frum. And then it came the Elul zman and I had to go back to Lakewood, and I remember Elul at that point was somewhere around August 20thor 22nd, right before camp ended. There were maybe five or six days before camp ended, and I told the Rabbis London that I had to go.
They said, “How can you leave before camp is over? This is hatzolas nefashos! You’re a key force! You have an opportunity before camp ends to work with these kids and to make them frum. You’ve got to stay on.”
So they convinced me it was hatzolas nefashos, and I thought the five days would not hinder me. This was more important, so I should skip the first five days of the zman. And I stayed.
The Repercussions of a Choice
I remember going to Lakewood four or five days after the zman started. I was a little concerned that the Rosh Yeshiva would see me, would grab hold of me, and as I walked in, kach hoya. As I walked into the bais medrash, I passed right by the Rosh Yeshiva, and the Rosh Yeshiva called me and said, “Come into my office.”
“Where were you?” he asked. “It’s the zman. You’re here four days late.”
He knew right away. And I started explaining to him. I had the best excuse in the world. I wasn’t in a bungalow colony. I wasn’t fooling around. I wasn’t on vacation. It was hatzolas nefashos. I went through it, and I told him about the Londons’ camp, which he knew of, and how important it was that I stayed there. The Londons told me to stay there.
The Rosh Yeshiva didn’t want to hear anything. He started showing me a Rashi. To this day, I don’t know what he showed me. He started showing me a Tosfos. A zman is a zman. He didn’t want to know from anything. He wanted to know Torah, Torah, Torah! You have a zman. This is what it is, and he gave me a whole schmuz for about 20 minutes, and I was a little flabbergasted, not really understanding, but acknowledging that the gadol hador was telling me that Torah at this point was more important than anything.
The Gathering of Roshei Yeshiva
Here’s another experience that I would like to share with the olam. People who had driver’s licenses would take the Rosh Yeshiva around one day during the zman. Turns to drive the Rosh Yeshiva. And I had an opportunity. I was maybe 18 or 19 years old, and I drove the Rosh Yeshiva to a big Rosh Yeshivas’ meeting. All the Rosh Yeshivas were at the meeting. I don’t recall exactly what it was, but I think it was about giyus nashim, about taking women into the army in Israel.
The meeting started early in the morning, and all the big Rosh Yeshivas were there: Reb Reuven Grozovsky , Reb Avrohom Yoffen, Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Hutner, all of them were there. The meeting started in the morning and it progressed all day, I was hanging around to drive the Rosh Yeshiva, so I was listening.
As it became late in the day, one of the Rosh Yeshivas gave a klop and said, “Rabbosai, we have to stop and daven mincha. It’s mincha time.”
Then Rav Hutner gave a klop on the table and said, “Nein! Haosek b’mitzvah poter min hamitzvah. We started early in the morning. We must finish! There’s no hafsokah for mincha. We’ve got to go on.”
All the Rosh Yeshivas stopped and listened and said, “You know, it sounds like Rav Hutner is right. Haosek b’mitzvah poter min hamitzvah.”
They all looked at the big Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Aharon. He had the last word. So everybody looked at him, “Nu? Vos zogt der Rosh Yeshiva?”
And he thought for a minute, he stopped, he smiled and he said, “Ir zent gerecht, Rav Hutner. You’re right al pi din. Really, we shouldn’t stop. But what are the baalei batim going to say if they hear the Rosh Yeshivas didn’t daven mincha?” So he said with a smile, “Rabbosai, we’ve got to stop and daven. They’ll never understand.”
So at that time, we stopped and davened mincha. Reb Aharon was the last word with all the Rosh Yeshivas. It was like there was some sort of a hierarchy. He was the last word with them. Whatever he said went.
He was a fire. He must have been five foot one or five foot two, and he was a fire. You looked in his eyes and you saw. He was just moleh v’gadosh. Nothing would stop him.
And I remember being in his house after the meeting, taking care in Boro Park. He immediately opened up a sefer. He immediately had the Gemara open. He was sitting and learning. The phone rang. I picked up the phone to answer it, and it was Eretz Yisroel. I think it was Chinuch Atzmai. They had a big problem. They had to talk to the big Rosh Yeshiva.
He got on the phone. He was paskening shailos, daas Torah in Eretz Yisroel, after he’d finished, he hung up the phone, and was immediately back to the Gemara. It’s a koach to be able to diversify yourself when you have such world problems, not to stop to think. Finished with that inyan, and he’s back in learning. There was no batala, no talking, no wasting of time.
You saw in the Rosh Yeshiva, even though there was Torah in other yeshivas, even though America had Torah, but the Torah of Reb Aharon – this gadlus, this amount of Torah – was like nothing else. Varf avec yeder’s yoch, there’s nothing. But Torah. The idea of the highest form of Torah, this is what Reb Aharon brought to America. This highest form of sitting and learning l’sheim Shomayim. Sitting and learning and nothing else mattered. This is what he put and planted in America.
A Disagreement with Reb Moshe Eiseman
I had some of Reb Aharon’s talmidim, who were so big. There were stories told. I don’t know if this is a nice story. I looked at it like a giant. When Reb Aharon said his shiurim, my chavrusa and I used to hureve over. He’d put up maareh mekomos, and you had to study them all over Shas in order to be able to hear his shiur. To chazer over the shiur, to understand the shiur, it was mind-boggling how big a shiur he said.
I remember once in the middle of a shiur, when he said his Torah, he was like fire. And one of his best talmidim, Reb Moshe Eisenman, olav ha shalom from Vineland, a Yekkeh got up and said, “But Rosh Yeshiva, dos iz nisht pshat.” He was meyashev a shvere Bach. He said, “Rosh Yeshiva, dos iz nisht pshat in der Bach.”
The Rosh Yeshiva looked at him and started to scream. He said “Du vais nisht vos du redst! You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t understand! You don’t know!” He told him over pshat again and Moshe Eisenman put his head down. He was mekabel and then raised his head up and said, “But Rosh Yeshiva, doz iz fort nisht pshat in der Bach.”
This went on back and forth and finally Reb Aharon said to him, “Du bisht nisht kain Yid. Du bisht a Terk, a shikker. Du vais nisht vos du redst! Er is nisht kain Yid. Heib em oif nem em arois fun bais ha medrash.”
He was so full of fire over his Torah, they had to escort Reb Moshe Eiseman out of the bais medrash. I mean, it took him about ten minutes to compose himself. We thought maybe he would have, G-d forbid, an attack. That’s how red he was, red as a beet, and to catch his breath after this incident, it took him about three or four minutes. He finished his shiur, and of course, after the shiur, he called in Reb Moshe Eiseman into his room. He was calm and he called him in.
“Ant shuldikt mir,” he says. “Ich hub gornisht gemeint. When I say Torah, there’s nothing that’s more important than it.”
Reb Moshe Eiseman said, “It’s all right, but iz fort nisht pshat in de Bach.”
And they carried on again! They were at each other again!
But this was what Torah is.
Some people I’ve told this story to, they don’t exactly appreciate that Reb Aharon got so angry, but I looked at it and saw that Reb Aharon was fire. When it came to Torah, there was nothing else. When somebody said something that he felt was a shtuyot, there was nothing to stop him. It was detrimental. It was terrible. It was the worst thing in the world, and not many people can appreciate this, but I saw it, and I appreciated it.
 That’s exactly how it was
 One who is engaged in the performance of one Mitzvah, is exempt from another
 What does the Rosh Yeshiva have to say?
 You are right Rav Hutner
 Full and overflowing
 Resolving queries, serving as the Torah view in Israel
 Relinquish any other yoke
 This is not the literal meaning
 He tried to explain a difficult Bach (commentary on the Talmud)
 Rosh Yeshiva, this is not the literal meaning of the Bach
 You don’t know what you’re talking about!
 This is still not the literal meaning of the Bach
 The term “Terk” a Yiddish pronunciation of "Turk" was a derogatory term , meaning unskilled peasant.
 You are not a Jew! You are a brainless person, a drunk. You don’t know what you’re saying! He is not a Jew! Pick him up and take him out of the study hall!
 “Please excuse me”, he said, “I did not mean anything intentional”
 But it’s still not the actual meaning of the Bach