Rabbi Chaim Zelikovitz
A Dearth of Torah Education
This is Chaim Zelikovitz. Before I came to Lakewood, I spent eight and a half years in yeshiva in Chicago. The yeshiva was then called Bais Medrash L’Torah, but now it’s known as Skokie.
It was the only yeshiva in Chicago at that time. Telshe Chicago did not exist, and there were no other yeshivas from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean. There were Cleveland and Baltimore, but that’s it, and they’re east of Chicago.
Rabbi Beane: What about Detroit? Didn’t they have Chachmei Lublin?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Maybe. I don’t know. But it wasn’t really on the map. This was 1946 right after the war. The milchama, the war with Japan ended 1945. This was 1946.
Originally, I came from Ottawa, Canada. I went to public school. We had no yeshiva there. But I went to a cheder in Ottawa. Amazing.
We started learning Gemara there in the cheder when we were ten years old. It was a regular cheder. We went after school.
Well, it was officially called a Talmud Torah. In the younger years, you went from four to six. School ended at a quarter to four. So the older groups went from 6:15 - 8:00 at night.
It was more like an old-fashioned Talmud Torah. We had Talmud Torah on Chol HaMoed. We had Talmud Torah in the summer even for at least half the summer. But you know what we learned there? I tell you, the first year we learned Hasocher Es HaUmnin in Baba Metziah. And we only learned twice a week for an hour. The second year we learned it again, chazered it.
Rabbi Beane: Well, twice a week for an hour for a kid sometimes is as good as a whole week. A lot of kids dream half the time.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: And then the third year, we learned HaBayis V’Haliyah, the last perek in Baba Metzia. That was till Bar Mitzvah.
A Change of Plans
After my Bar Mitzvah, I was supposed to go yeshiva, but I didn’t want to go by myself. I didn’t have anybody else to go with at that point in time. There was another bochur who was going to go to yeshiva, but he was a year younger. He was going to go the following year, so I stayed and waited for him. I went to public high school and I had a private rebbe for that year.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: My father was in business those years. He was in wholesale fruit, groceries. My zaideh was a choshuva Yid. He was a buki b’Shas. He was from Lita, from a small shtetl. Bolkanik , it was called. It was either Lita, or the Lita-Polish border. It was in Vilna.
Rabbi Beane: I was there. I was in Radin, Vilna, Kovno. With a tour. We went to Baranovich, Mir, Volozhin. The whole bit.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: The father of this other bochur was the Rov in Ottawa. There was only one Rov in town. There were five shuls, but only one Rov of the whole kehilla, and he would circulate from one shul to the other.
They were shchainim. They lived a block away from us. We were supposed to go when he became Bar Mitzvah, but right before that, his father became the vice president of the yeshiva in Chicago. So that’s what swung my parents to send me to Chicago. He moved there, and that’s what swung my parents to send me to Chicago rather than to New York. New York was half the distance, but this way, there was somebody there that would keep an eye on me.
He moved away after Pesach, and I went the following September – the Elul zman.
In fact, his father picked me up at the railroad station. You don’t know what kind of trip it was. Like a 23-hour trip by train. You had to go from Ottawa to Toronto, then from Toronto to Chicago. The train went through Detroit. It was a long trip.
Public School vs. Yeshiva High School
When I came to Chicago, I was going into the tenth grade, the second year of high school, and they did not have a full four-year yeshiva high school. They had just begun the yeshiva high school, I think, two years before that. They were going into their third year, and this yeshiva high school was in the yeshiva building.
Rabbi Beane: Was Rov Kreisworth there yet?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: No, not yet. Neither was Reb Rogoff. This was mamesh taikef right after the war.
So when I arrived there, the yeshiva had two programs. They had the yeshiva high school where you learned in the morning and went to high school in the afternoon. Most of the bochurim went to public high school, and they began yeshiva at three or four in the afternoon and learned from 4:00-8:00.
Since I had come from a public high school, they figured I would want to continue in a public high school. It was in walking distance of the yeshiva – maybe a 15-minute walk. My high school in Ottawa had maybe 1200 students. This high school had between five and six thousand – all Yidden – and I didn’t know a single person there.
Anyway, what happened was, they gave me an entrance exam, and I failed. I flunked the math because they had a different system in Canada. In Canada, when you took math in ninth grade, you took a third of the year algebra, a third of the year geometry, and a third of the year trigonometry. In the following years, you added to each area. Whereas in Chicago, you had all algebra the first year.
So they tested me in algebra. I didn’t know enough algebra. So they wanted me to go back to ninth grade, and I didn’t want to repeat the ninth grade. I didn’t want to go to such a huge school either. I didn’t know a single person there. So I decided to go to the yeshiva high school.
I went into the tenth grade in yeshiva high school. I think they might have had an eleventh grade that year, but they didn’t have a graduating class. The tenth grade was a small class. We had twelve, thirteen, or fourteen – and it was co-ed! We had girls in our class!
Rabbi Beane: In the yeshiva high school?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: In the yeshiva high school. I mean, the whole yeshiva high school rayon in the Midwest, in Chicago, was a chiddush gadol. Can you imagine that? They started in 1944. Before that, there was no such thing as a yeshiva high school.
So I went into shiur there. Grada, that rebbe is the only rebbe that I had who’s still living. He’s in Yerushalayim, in Eretz Yisroel. His name is Dovid Silver. He lives in Bayit Vegan.
The Level of Learning
Listen until you’ll hear the level of what learning was in those days. In tenth grade, the second year mesivta, was only Gemara and Rashi.
Rabbi Beane: No Tosfos?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Maybe an odd Tosfos. The third year mesivta was more Tosfos. And then the fourth year, we learned all the Tosfos.
What did we learn when I was in Talmud Torah in Ottawa? We didn’t learn Mishnayos. We learned Gemara, as I said, starting from age ten for two hours a week, and we learned Chumash and Navi with Rashi. I could read Rashi like you say Ashrei. But when I came to yeshiva high school where the whole shiur was Gemara and Rashi, I didn’t belong there. I knew Rashi. Rashi was nothing. So I got skipped to the eleventh grade shiur. And the other kids in the shiur were mostly from the local yeshiva ketana.
I guess maybe nowadays kids also don’t do so well with Rashis because they don’t concentrate on it. They start with Mishnayos right away.
Rabbi Beane: At Torah V’Daas, they concentrated very, very much on basics. They put a lot of work into very basic stuff. When you’re a kid, you don’t realize what’s going on, but I see the value of it today when I learn with people who are younger and who didn’t go through that. I start telling them the dikduk Rashis, and they look at me like I’m crazy.
“You learned that?”
“Why not?” I say. “That’s part of Rashi.”
A Different Generation
Rabbi Zelikovitz: So I was in that shiur, and I stayed in that high school for three years and then I graduated.
The day ended at 5:30. The limudei kodesh wasn’t that long, and Gemara certainly wasn’t that much. We learned Chumash again, historia, Ivrit, dikduk, all these things.
Night seder? There was no such thing. We were free from 5:30.
The bais medrash program was also like that. In my first year, I don’t think there was any shiur for bais medrash in the morning. All the shiurim were in the late afternoon. The bais medrash used to start at 4:00. From 4:00 to 5:00, they used to have Navi then from 5:00 to 6:00 they made a layning, and 6:00 to 8:00, they had a shiur, and 8:00 was supper, for the out-of-towners anyway.
So in high school, we were free from 5:30 to 8:00. We had no dormitory. We used to board with families, but we ate in the yeshiva. There was nothing – we dreid zich mamesh. We played. We played from 5:30 till 8:00, till supper. There was no hashgacha at all. We lived with a family. The families that I lived with weren’t even Shomer Shabbos. They didn’t have enough Shomer Shabbos mishpachas to house or board, that even wanted to have bochurim. They didn’t pay you any attention. You came in when you wanted; you went out when you wanted. But we always went to sleep on time. We always got up early. There was no need for any hashgacha
Rabbi Beane: Self-discipline.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah. It was a whole different generation then. The summers we were off. That was after high school. That was till the end of high school.
R’ Mendel Kaplan
Rabbi Beane: We’re in 1950, now.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: 1950, right. Now the twelfth grade. That year, I had Reb Mendel Kaplan. Have you heard of him?
Rabbi Beane: Oh, yeah. He’s very good friends with my mechutan.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Who’s your mechutan?
Rabbi Beane: Rabbi Aaron Florence. He was in Shanghai.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: That’s your mechutan in Shanghai? How’s he your mechutan?
Rabbi Beane: His son Yitzchak married my daughter. They are a whole bunch of brothers. Seven brothers. Shmuel is the oldest, and there’s a whole bunch of others.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Ah. Sure. So you must have heard about R’ Mendel.
Rabbi Beane: Oh yeah. He’s very highly respected.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yes. Back then, he was just fresh from Shanghai, but I think he had taught for a year in one of the yeshivas ketanas. I think the eighth grade. And he had a brother who taught the twelfth grade in yeshiva. So his brother got him in to teach the first year bais medrash.
Reb Mendel Kaplan’s Revolution
Because I was ahead a year, in my last year of high school I was in the first year bais medrash shiur. Rabbi Kaplan was just fresh from Shanghai, and he was the one who made the revolution in Chicago in the yeshiva. He was tremendous. He mamesh opened up our eyes.
Rabbi Beane: He seemed to be such a mild person from the way I’ve heard him described.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: He was mild, but he was a tremendous pikeach. He really got to the bochurim, and it was very, very tough. We were so rachok from having any shaichos to what anything was. I remember he was the first person to introduce us to the idea of something being a shtus. And I remember we used to go around – we were kids – ‘shtus this’ and ‘shtus that.’ You know, the whole concept of something being a shtus was foreign.
At least half the shiur used to be schmoozing. That was during the week. On Sunday morning, kimat we never learned anything. It was three or four hours of straight schmoozing about America, about Europe, about anything under the sun. But he would have a very, very major hashpo’ah on us. He was a Baranovicher.
Rabbi Beane: I have another mechutan from Baranovich, also from the same clique. Polanski, Eliyahu Polanski. He was niftar. He’s not my mechutan. He’s my mechutan’s father. But they were best friends with Rabbi Florence and also this Rabbi Mendel Kaplan.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: So I had him for twelfth grade, and I had him for the first year after high school. Of course, after high school, we went to college. But you see, when he came, that’s when things first began to change. Do you know the Kagans?
Rabbi Beane: You mean Shaul Kagan, olav hashalom, and Yisroel Meir Kagan from Toronto? I knew Shaul very well.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Their father was in Chicago when I came.
Rabbi Beane: Oh yeah? He was in RJJ for a while.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah. In 1946, he was just there for one year. So he (who R’ Mendel or R’ Kagan?) taught the only shiur in the yeshiva in the morning. All the other shiurim were at night. And when I went into my second year with Reb Mendel, I was going to college at night.
Rabbi Beane: They didn’t have a yeshiva college there.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: No, it was a regular junior college, maybe five or six blocks away from the yeshiva. Herzl Junior College it was called. That’s where all the bochurim went.
Rabbi Beane: It had a Jewish name? Herzl?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah. Everybody went.
Rabbi Beane: Yeah, I understand. I’m also from when everybody went to college.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: But Reb Mendel Kaplan had hashpo’ah on a couple of bochurim. He convinced them not to go to college, and one of them was the son of the president of the yeshiva, the son of the former Rov in Ottawa. The day I came to Chicago was the levaya of the president, and he became the successor. He was a musmach also from Chicago yeshiva, and he was epes a big masmid, but they were more modern.
Rabbi Beane: What do you mean, a musmach from Chicago yeshiva? They had musmachim?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Oh, they had lots of them. The whole Midwest was full of rabbonim who were musmachim of the Chicago yeshiva.
So this boy didn’t go to college, and another bochur or so didn’t go to college. But most of us went, but we went at night because we used to be at yeshiva in the morning until the afternoon.
Rabbi Beane: Like in Brooklyn. We used to go to Brooklyn College from Torah V’Daas.
The Changing Face of Chicago Yeshiva
Rabbi Zelikovitz: So I had Reb Mendel for two years, and then we were by Rav Rogoff for two years. They had just come then. It was 1947 or ’48. Then in ’48 or ‘49, Rav Kreisworth came. By then there was a whole set of shiurim in the morning. You could go all the way through in the morning and they had a sort of parallel set in the evening, but not necessarily with the same Roshei Yeshiva. Some one or two were the same. The rest were different. And that was what he introduced. He pushed very, very hard.
By the way, the bochur I’m telling you about, whose father was the president, was Chaim Fassman. He’s the kollel in Los Angeles. His father pushed very much that the bochurim should learn in the morning.
Rabbi Beane: Is his father still living?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yes. He’s like m’stama 95.
Reb Kreisworth also had hashpo’ah on us, but in a different sense. He was epes a charismatic person, a powerful speaker and personality. I takkeh learned by him two years.
Now I’m getting to what is going to be nogeah. The normal procedure after Reb Kreisworth’s shiur was that you learned Yoreh Deah with Rabbi Kaganoff.
He had a grandson who was in Philadelphia in the day school and also in rabbonus. Now he’s in New York. In fact, an amazing thing. I have a daughter living in Detroit, and they made a bar mitzvah a couple of months ago in the Lakewood kollel there.
A few new yungerleit came in just this year and one of them is named Kaganoff. I learned by his elter zaideh. He was the one who taught the Yoreh Deah shiur.
The Bochurim Protest
We started the Yoreh Deah shiur, but we didn’t learn Chullin beforehand, just straight Yoreh Deah anyway. We were very upset, a whole group of us. We didn’t want to learn Yoreh Deah straight.
It was a semicha program. We wanted to learn whatever the yeshiva was learning, and we said we’d learn Chullin on our own, and Yoreh Deah, we’d learn on our own anyway. So whoever was in authority was maskim to let us do it. There were seven or eight of us. One of them was Berel Wein.
We started learning on our own. The morning was no problem, but the afternoon became a problem. I don’t know who made the arrangement, but Reb Mendel Kaplan was our sho’el u’maishiv in the afternoon. We learned in a small room behind the bais medrash because in the afternoon, the chevra that came from high school and college were in bais medrash. And this went on for a while, but the emes is, eight or ten of us continued school. We had already graduated college and were continuing in graduate school, but we wanted to learn all day.
We got up to Shvach, though, because how much more did we learn? We went to school at night, starting 5:00 or something like that. We learned with the younger bochurim and that pottered away the rest of the day. You lose your cheshek like that. You don’t see your accomplishments.
I think this Chaim Fassman had left already but somehow he got in touch with a choshuva Yid for us - Reb Meir Mintz.
He was in Lakewood at the time, and Reb Meir Mintz got two bochurim to come to Chicago to be mechazek us.
Rabbi Beane: Wow.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Who were they? They were Yitzchak Wasserman from Denver and Berel Eichenstein.
For many years, Berel Eichenstein was with Elefant in Nitri, and then he split, and he became Splitri.
Then for ten or eleven years, he was the Rov here in Belle Harbor in a shtiebel. Now he’s moved back to Eretz Yisroel. He was from St. Louis originally.
The two of them came right before Purim, I think. They were mechazek us, but they only stayed until Pesach, and that’s when I saw that if I wanted to learn all day, I couldn’t do it in Chicago.
Rabbi Beane: The steam was running in the other direction.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Right. There wasn’t a sviva for it. So I made up my mind that I was going to go to New York.
I packed up all my things. It was a tremendous nisayon for me to leave because I’d been there for eight and a half years and I was a mechubad in the yeshiva. I was from the older bochurim; I was twenty-two years old. I was nogeah a shidduch, a shteller and everything, and people knew me in the community, but anyway, I felt I had to go.
Rabbi Beane: What year are we again?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Now we’re in ’55. Reb Mendel Kaplan advised me to go to the Bais HaTalmud. Why? Because they were from the Mir, and the Mir was his chevra. But someone suggested I go see this Reb Meir Mintz, who was then in Boro Park where he’d started Toras Emes, the Kaminetz mesivta. He told me Bais HaTalmud was not the place for me.
You don’t know how right he was. I would have been devastated there. It was all Europeishe. There were kimat no American bochurim. And I was coming from Chicago. I barely knew how to learn a Tosfos. Go to Bais HaTalmud?
“You have to go to Lakewood,” he said.
Arrival in Lakewood
He took me up to see Reb Aharon zt”l in his apartment in Boro Park. Baruch Hashem, he didn’t give me a farher! I saw him for a few minutes and I don’t even remember now what the conversation was about. It was very short. But he said I should come to the yeshiva.
So I left my stuff there in New York, went home to Canada for Pesach, and came back to Lakewood. Of course, in those years, anybody could get into Lakewood.
Rabbi Beane: Really?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: They had no talmidim. When I came that Pesach, 1955, Taf-Shin-Tes-Vav, I think altogether with the yungerleit, there were maybe sixty people in the yeshiva.
The two bochurim who’d come to Chicago, Wasserman and Eichenstein, were there. I learned with Eichenstein in the morning, and they set me up with a chavrusa. Do you know who I learned with takkeh second seder? Chaim Grozovsky. Do you know him? R’ Reuven Grozovsky’s son. Chaim was niftar about a year and a half ago.
Rabbi Beane: Oh, he used to come to Lakewood a lot.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah, he had children there.
Rabbi Beane: Yeah, his son has a yeshiva in Lakewood now.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah, he started a yeshiva. I don’t know his name.
Rabbi Beane: I think his name is Boruch Ber.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: That’s right. Boruch Ber is his son. In fact, I drove him and his wife to the hospital in New York when this Boruch Ber was born. I borrowed a car from someone. That was another episode, but anyway . . .
I learned with this Berel Eichenstein for first seder with Chaim Grozovsky second seder.
And I’ll tell you a moiradegga maaseh. We were learning Gittin, I think, in a back room in the old bais medrash on Seventh and Forest.
Well, then the downstairs was the bais medrash and the upper two floors were the dormitory. They had a porch in front of the building, and at either end of the porch were little enclosed areas. On one side of the enclosed area was the Rosh Yeshiva’s room. He used to sit and learn there. On the other side, there used to be a vaiber shul for Shabbos, but in the week, I learned there.
I’ll never forget how when we used to shtel zich on a shailah, something we learned, he used to say, “Let’s go into the bais medrash and see what the olam says about it.”
Because everybody held in the same place kimat. It used to be the ikar ha’oras in the sugya, everybody shtel ziched on it and everybody used to talk about it, speak in learning with everybody.
But I remember when I was new, I used to say to him, “How do you know that this is how it will go? The level of learning in Chicago was so shvach. How do you know that this is what the olam is going to shtel zich on? Maybe they’ll shtel zich on somebody else?”
I didn’t understand how to go through a sugya. And I wasn’t young. I was twenty-two and a half.
Comparing Lakewood to Chicago
The learning in Chicago was so different by comparison.
I remember Rav Rogoff’s shiur. He used to say over the Rishonim and Acharonim, and we used to write down notes on the sides of the Gemara. Never, ever did we look into a Rishon ourselves. We never opened it. We never looked at it, never chazered it, except when there was a bechina, and then we looked to see what we wrote on the side.
I’ll never forget, once two brothers came to the Chicago yeshiva. They put out Turs. One of them is a Rov up in White Lake, I think And the other one’s a bochur. He never got married.
These brothers printed one or two volumes of the Tur and they wanted people to buy the whole set. This way, they’d be able to print the rest of them.
I remember we said to each other, “What are we going to buy them for? Who’s ever going to look into them?”
We didn’t know. We never looked into the Rosh. Who looked into a Rosh? Nothing. I mean, it was so different.
Rabbi Beane: That’s private already. I was in YU, and of course, we looked in the Rosh.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: But that’s twenty years later. This was Chicago, and Chicago was twenty years behind wherever New York was. They’re still behind now.
The Beginning of a Struggle
So that was it. That was the beginning. I was twenty-two and a half years old. There were no young kids in the yeshiva then. There were bochurim there - twenty years old, twenty-one. But I’d come to a new place, and I felt like I was starting all over again. I had a very, very tough struggle not to lose my cheshek.
There were a lot of Europeishe in the yeshiva, not only yungerleit, but bochurim. I remember the first time I came into the dining room. You know what happens when you come to a strange place and you’re not excited about it. You see all the mudne zachen. I looked at the bochurim. This one looked mudne, and that one looked mudne. I got such a chalishas hadaas from it.
But you know, we used to sit at the regular seats in the dining room. I sat at the table with Yankel Schiff. You know Yankel Schiff.
Rabbi Beane: Oh, yes. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard so much about him.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: And Reb Laib from Philadelphia. He’s the 12th grade Rebbe there.
Rabbi Beane: Oh, I interviewed him. His son built the building over here. Rocky Taub.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Reb Laib Taub. He was at the table there, and they used to shmoigeh in learning all the time. I didn’t know what they were talking about even. It was mamesh so very hard then.
Did You Go to College?
Oh! I’ll tell you this is a maaseh for the books. In the Midwest, people looked at Lakewood like it was from two centuries ago. Every bochur there was there with a milchama. Their parents didn’t want them there. Kimat every single one.
So I was sitting my first Friday night in Lakewood, in the bais medrash, at the hefsek between Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv, and a yungerman tapped me on the shoulder.
“Did you go to college?” he asked.
“Oy vey,” I thought. “They’re going to lynch me!”
What was it nogeah? They wanted to start the cheder in Lakewood. It was called Anshei Sfard.
Rabbi Beane: My kids went there in ’66.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Oh, this was ’55. What was the maaseh? The cheder needed somebody to be English principal. I had a degree in education. So I applied to New Jersey and I got a temporary license. Not that I did anything for the cheder. I had to sign some things. I don’t know what they needed me for. I never even stepped into the place. They just needed and official person I guess.
Rabbi Beane: A Rav Meitam.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah, but that first minute was harrowing. Do you know who it was that tapped me on the shoulder? Reb Elya Svei’s brother, Dovid Svei.
Surrounded by Choshuva Yidden
Rabbi Beane: Many people told me about how the Rosh Yeshiva thought you should fir a milchamto shel Torah. A war. When he was giving a shiur, it was like a battle. If they butt something in, he used to yell at them, and they’d have a fight.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Nobody butted in my time. The one who would was Moshe Eisenman, and he wasn’t there anymore. He used to come around sometimes because he had started his yeshiva in ??. He used to come around at night. I think he had a chaburah for some bochurim, but he wasn’t at the shiurim.
In the second zman I was there, I was chavrusas with Yisroel Meir Kagan. I pashut used to prepare just to be his chavrusah.
And I always used to try to figure out, “What are we going to shtel zich on?” And I also missed the mark most of the time.
I remember specifically it was with Gittin, with Nesina L’shmo, whatever, there were rayas and diyukim from Rashi. You can’t imagine how veit we were in learning, coming from Chicago.
The Yetzer Hara Intervenes – and Loses
But I want to go back to something else, just to give you an idea. The whole musag of the gantze involvement in learning, making learning epes your ikar, was a very, very difficult adjustment for me. I mean, I wanted to learn. My cheshbon when I came to Lakewood was that I’d learn for one year. I didn’t think I would stay there for ten years.
But there was this pressure - peer pressure - that learning was everything. Learning was the ikar. It was a struggle, pashut a ruchniusdigge struggle. And you know, when you’re struggling, you have your ups and your downs.
To me, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l represented this metzius of being kulo asuk in Torah. This is all my conjecture, but I imagine this must have made a major, major impact on me, and that was what caused the struggle I was fighting. Somebody represents this and epes, he was powerful.
Rabbi Beane: He represented it as the only reality existed.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Right. It had nothing to do with the schmoozen or the shiurim or anything. A’chutz all that.
So I used to look to find
chisronos in him. But where was I going to find
them? Where was I going to look? I figured
since he ate with the olam on Shabbos, if
I’d see that he didn’t eat aidel, then that would
be a makom to -
Rabbi Beane: Find the chisurin.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Right. But l’maaseh, it pashut did just the opposite because the way he ate, you felt like he wasn’t even aware he was eating. It was just like epes a zach that he had to go through.
Rabbi Beane: Like the malachim by Avrohom.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah. He used to eat just little, little bites and never finish what was on the plate. That really made a tremendous roshem on me.
Rabbi Beane: Another thing that I’ve heard in some of the conversations about these kinds of things with him, it wasn’t like he did it alts a frumkeit. He did it because nothing else really mattered to him. It didn’t matter. It’s not like he was doing this because he had to be religious.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: It had no chashivus.
Rabbi Beane: It really meant nothing to him.
His Sparse Apartment
Rabbi Zelikovitz: He used to go in by bus all the time to New York. They didn’t have the heimishe bus then either. Finally, the bochurim made a gantze aktzia “It’s not right. He’s getting older.” So they got a car, and the bochurim used to drive him into the city. Whenever we drove him, we ended up in his apartment for supper. I remember how he lived - mamesh tzebrocheneh bookcases. He had no seforim.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: I know that whenever he needed a sefer, he used to borrow from my shver. My shver lived right next door to him. Shamshon Refoel Weiss.
Rabbi Beane: Zevulun Schwartzman just told me about him!
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Well, he was the next door neighbor. They lived in the same apartment building, which, by the way, was owned by one of the balebatim in the yeshiva. This was on Fifteenth Avenue. My shver lived 4715.
Rabbi Beane: On 47th Street. The Rebbetzin was there for a while.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: She was there afterwards.
Rabbi Beane: They had a minyan there.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah, they had a minyan, sure.
Anyway, I don’t know how many of the chairs matched each other. The whole dining room table mamesh.
From Outsider to Insider
It was very hard the first two years until I got to know the olam. They were different. In Chicago it was a different story. Besides the local bochurim who were not real yeshivishe either, but there were out-of-towners from Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Green Bay. I’m still in touch with a bochur from Green Bay.
But in Lakewood, they were all New Yorkers, kimat everybody. And the yungerleit. I didn’t feel comfortable.
Mamesh like an outsider. Not that the olam was cold necessarily. There was a cultural difference.
In those years, most of the bochurim were from Yaakov Yosef. They were a little bit younger, and that was also hard. I was older and they were younger, and they knew more than I did. It was very, very difficult that way.
After two years, I got to know the olam, and they get to know me, so I was much more comfortable.
Rabbi Beane: And then new people came in, so you were the older one for them. You could say, “Ah, that’s a new one.”
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah, but they were mamesh yechidim who they used to come in. One by one.
Following the Shiurim
We didn’t have any real shaichos with the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l on a personal level. It’s just that you felt an affinity to him. You felt a closeness. I don’t know what it is. You just felt that he was mamesh concerned. And we never saw him most of the time. You know what his schedule was. He was almost never there.
He used to come either Thursday night or Friday morning, and then he left either Sunday after the shiur. Once in a while, there used to be a second shiur on Monday, and he left after the shiur.
Rabbi Beane: Some people told me how they used to look forward for him to come. Like there was an anticipation.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Well, I’ll tell you one thing: we looked forward to the shiurim. You know why? Because on the morning of the shiur was a yuma d’pagra. Because the shiur was at 12:00, so the seder was half a seder. And then after the shiur, the shiur was over 1:00, and normally the seder went till a quarter to 2:00, so after the shiur there was nothing to do either, unless you wanted to chazer the shiur, but very few people did. So it was like a break. The day of the shiur was like a break.
And even before the shiur, you looked at the mareh mekomos. I used to be nispo’el from the shiurim mamesh. I used to listen to the shiurim.
Rabbi Beane: They say it was very hard to follow him.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: It was very hard. Extremely hard. And I used to write over the shiurim after the shiur, but I was only able to write them over because I followed the mareh mekomos. I couldn’t write b’shaas maaseh, but if you follow the mareh mekomos, you remembered the hemshech. I don’t know if I really understood them anyway, but I wrote over what I heard.
I used to be nispo’el sometimes at the hekef, how he used to be meyashev a shvere Rambam. I used to feel that was the roshem he made on me. The amitius of Torah.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: You felt that it was emes. That Torah was emes, and everything had a mehalech. Without really understanding what he said, I used to be able to follow the binyan the structure of it. And the structure was magnificent.
You know, I lost all those notes. I don’t remember what happened to them. I had them for a couple of years.
Rabbi Beane: They have now the Mishnas Reb Aharon. I have a lot of them.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: I’ve looked at them quite a bit. When we were learning those inyanim, a glance here or there to try to pick out things.
The Rosh Yeshiva’s Levaya
Rabbi Beane: I was by his levaya in Eretz Yisroel.
It made a big impression. I always tell over this maaseh. I was staying by the kever when they put the earth in. There was a big drought that year in Eretz Yisroel, and it was a great stress that there was no rain. So I said to my friend, “From this Yid, watch, it’s going to rain tonight.”
The guy laughed at me. “What are you talking about?”
I said, “Let’s see.”
We went back to yeshiva, and it rained for three days in a row without stopping. A few years later, I was working in Torah V’Daas and I told Rabbi Rivlin the maaseh. He said, “They put a shmatta on the tzion – a linen thing. A segulah.”
I didn’t know about the segulah, but just from being there, I know that’s what did it.
Head and Shoulders over Other Gedolim
He had such a widespread recognition as being the gadol hador. It was overwhelming. Everybody just recognized him.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: I was exposed to Reb Kreisworth. For two years I was in his shiur and I was by him for Shabbosos. Then there was another bochur from Chicago who learned in Ner Yisroel and used to come back bein hazmanim. He always used to work on to get bochurim from Chicago to go Ner Yisroel. It was a mitzvah to take them out of Chicago.
Rabbi Beane: Hatzolos nefashos.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Anyway, he worked, he worked he worked. Finally, to a couple of us he said, “Okay, we’re going to go for a few weeks in the summer.”
So we went in the summer and we stayed there three weeks, and Reb Ruderman was there.
Rabbi Beane: He was a fantastic gaon.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Ah, unbelievable. But I want to tell you that Reb Aharon – I don’t know what it was – you just sensed that he was head and shoulders above anybody that we were every exposed to. Only with Reb Moshe or Reb Yaakov.
Rabbi Beane: What you just said was muskam even among those people. They looked at him with tremendous yiras hakavod.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: And do you know something? We used to joke about it. In those years, the communication that we have now didn’t exist. Telshe was its own little world, and Ner Yisroel was its own little world, and they thought that Reb Ruderman was the gadol hador. In Telshe, Reb Elya Meir. By us, we thought they were so klain shtetldik. They didn’t see things like us.
Rabbi Beane: You were in the palace of the emperor.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah. We understood that the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l wasn’t in the same bechina as the Chazon Ish or the Brisker Rov. And how did we know? I never saw the Brisker Rov; I never saw the Chazon Ish. But we just epes had that hergesh because they were kulo asuk in learning. I never heard him say it, but I remember hearing from people that the Rosh Yeshiva said that he wasn’t zoche to be like the Brisker Rov or the Chazon Ish to just sit and learn. He was osek in all kinds of tzibburdigge tzrachim, Chinuch Atzmai, and Lakewood itself.
Rabbi Beane: Also Torah Mesorah.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yes, and the Agudas Ha Rabbonim and the Agudah.
Rabbi Beane: But the Brisker Rov had a lot of respect for him.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah, I’m sure.
Rabbi Beane: Rabbi Hollander told me that.
He told me about the cheirim they put out against the Board of Rabbis. He spoke about the whole incident in the Brunswick Hotel with Reb Aharon and somebody else who said something not nice. He had a lot of experience.
He went to the Brisker Rov with a letter from Reb Aharon to sign, to be maskim. The Brisker said, “I can’t sign such a paper. It’s like signing that a chazer is treif. Es pas nisht.” 
He had a lot of respect for Reb Aharon.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: He’s so interesting, this Dovid Hollander. I used to go and visit him the first year.He has stories and maasehs, unbelievable.
Rabbi Beane: They invited him to Lakewood, and he spoke, and young bochurim crowded around him. He stayed up with them till 2:00 in the morning on a Motzai Shabbos.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Takkeh, he was mamesh a lion.
Rabbi Beane: He was a lochem. He fought against anything. Like the velt said this or that. He said, “No, that’s not right.” He stood up for things. I observed him myself over the years, and I always respected how he stood up against all these forces.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: He was a shvugger with Reb Moshe Sherer. Married to his sister. He was president of the RCA at one time.
Rabbi Beane: Right. He told me about that. That was in New Brunswick over here. In the hotel. The Brunswick Hotel.
Winter in Miami with the Rosh Yeshiva
Rabbi Zelikovitz: I’ll tell you an interesting thing. I spent four or five weeks with the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l in Miami Beach. He used to go there for winters.
Rabbi Beane: I’ve
heard a maaseh about that, but I don’t know if
it’s true. Yankel Cywiak told a story about the
Fountainbleu Hotel. They told Reb Aharon that it cost
$100.00 a night to stay there, and Reb Aharon said, “Why
would someone do that? What can he get there already?”
So he said “Az de gvir legit zein kup oiffen kishen, er tracht tzu zich az an armaman ken dur nisht schluffen.”. Have you heard this before?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: I’ve heard that nusach before, but not in the name of the Rosh Yeshiva, zt”l. They say over that’s the hana’ah of a gevir.
The last few years of his life, he used to go to Florida in the winter. I’ll tell you, the year that I went with him, he wasn’t feeling so well. I was still a bochur then, so it must have been ’59 or ’60, maybe ’61.
Rabbi Beane: He had a car accident then, didn’t he?
Rabbi Zelikovitz: No, that was before. That year, he stayed for five weeks, longer than ever. We stayed there for Purim, and I lained the Megillah in the house.
They rented a little apartment, a one-bedroom, and I had a pull-out couch in the living room. He used to wake me up in the morning. He used to make me drink prune juice.
Rabbi Beane: He held it was healthy.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: I’ll never forget this maaseh. I don’t know if anybody knows about it. There was a Yid named Kagan from Mecina, New York. Do you know where Mecina is?
Rabbi Beane: It’s the coldest place in the United States.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Right. It’s on the Canadian border. He was in Miami. He had a business – a department store there – and he sold it and became a Shomer Shabbos and he started learning. He learned with the Rov there, but the problem was that the Rov was also a chaplain in a hospital and a prison, so he often went away. He was not there regularly and it was very hard for Kagan. Without the Rov, he couldn’t learn. So he asked the Rosh Yeshiva, “Why can’t they print a Gemara with punctuation? That way, I’ll be able to learn on my own.”
The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l said, “He, he, that’s gufa the reason they don’t. You’re not supposed to learn on your own. You have to learn from a Rebbe.”
A Shtickel Torah from Reb Moshe
Rabbi Beane: I heard a tape from Reb Moshe on this very subject which was deeply profound. He said that in the times of Yanai HaMelech, he killed out all the Talmidei chachamim.
Which means, “You don’t need these rabbis to tell you. You can learn on your own.”
At that time, there was no Gemara, there were only Sifrei Torah, the Chumash. And Yanai HaMelech said, “Why do we need these rabbis?”
As time went on, you see that Rebbe came, and he wrote down the Mishna. Somebody could have said, “We don’t need the Rabbis. We’ve got the Mishna. We have already Torah sheba’al peh.” After that, the Amoraim wrote down the Gemara. “Ah, we don’t need them anymore either.” Then the Rishonim wrote everything down. Today, the Acharonim, and everything afterward.
Every generation can say, “We’ve got the whole thing written down. We can read it. Now we have the Artscroll Gemara. We don’t’ need rabbis.”
Reb Moshe said no. Torah has to be given over by mesorah. Even though you write something down, once something is written down, it becomes Torah sheb’ksav. Now the Torah she ba’al peh has to come from a rebbe. So even if you write everything down, at that point, everything that was written down before was Torah she ba’al peh, but now it’s Torah sheb’ksav. Now you have to go to a rebbe to tell you what it is. If you don’t, you’re lost. You’re just like Yanai HaMelech.
Our training was in Torah V’Daas was never to use a crutch. It’s like a child learning how to ride a bicycle with training wheels. You can only use shortcuts for a very short time. After a while, you have to get on the bike, practice, fall down, get up, fall down, get up, and then you learn to ride the bike. We were trained to learn everything that way.
I tell this to people, but they don’t understand it. A rebbe would never make a diagram on the blackboard for us. They held it was like treif. You can’t do that. Visual aids? Chas v’shalom!
Lehavdil, it’s the difference between television and radio. You had to build the picture of what’s going on in your mind. You had to concentrate. He said this and you had to make a picture in your mind. It’s the same thing. When you learn, you have to use your mind to construct the picture of what’s going on. No diagram.
Now they have a diagram for Eiruvin, a diagram for this and that. V’chulu, everything’s with diagrams. But the doros have had a yeridah. You have to do it that way.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Takkeh, it bothers me very much, too. Diagrams are one thing, but I was thinking about a different thing – the models they have, with the pictures. The Mishkon and all these things. The Beis Hamikdash. It would be better just to use your imagination.
Rabbi Beane: The trouble is, people have lost the power of tziur in their minds. If you don’t practice it, you lose it. But then on the other hand, you could say, that maybe this generation needs it. So you can’t take it away so fast.
I see a lot of people nowadays using the Artscroll Gemara all over the place. I would pick it up only in desperation, but people now, especially since the Daf Yomi got so popular, say, “How else are you going to learn the Daf of the day? You take the Artscroll, un mer meint az mir lernt epes.
I was not trained that way. I was trained that you have to do it on your own and break your head into pieces.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: When we were in yeshiva, we hardly looked at Acharonim. We worked on Rishonim.
Rabbi Beane: It’s a hard job. It takes time.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: It takes time and then when you do see the Acharonim, you have a whole different appreciation. If you don’t work on something, you don’t have any ameilus.
Rabbi Beane: That’s one thing I was very impressed with that they said about Reb Aharon. He demanded the total amailus. If somebody didn’t use up all his kochos to work something out, it was atzlus. That atzlus itself was bittul Torah.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: He used to always say “in eichus”. A bittul Torah in eichus.
Rabbi Beane: It’s sort of like bittul Torah. You learn superficial.
My rebbes taught me that way. I absorbed it that way. Every time you come to a Gemara, it’s a struggle. You have to fight your way through. Don’t go ask somebody else. Work on it again.
I heard a tape from Reb Michel Lefkowitz from B’nei Brak. He has a beautiful shtickel from Lev L’Achim. Am medushnei oneg. In Magen Avos, it says what is am medushnei oneg? So he says like this “Az mir zetzt by a Gemara, mit a chavrusa, un mir heibt un lernen de Gemara, un mir ken nisht de ivra, un mir geibt iber, un mir lernt de Rashi, un mir farshteit nisht, un mir lernt de Tosfos un mir farshteit nisht, un fun Himmel, de Ribbono Shel Olam gebt arunte de pshat – dus iz am medushnei oneg ! Duz iz fetz! Dus in dashein ! Dus iz me’ein olam haba, nein, dos iz olam haba!”
Rabbi Zelikovitz: The Chazon Ish used to speak about that. The simchas HaTorah. You start on a sugya, and it’s choshech. Slowly, it gets clearer and clearer, and you get a leiv simcha k’hataras hasefeikos.
Rabbi Beane: That’s a saying. I saw today in Derech Ha Chaim from Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. He talks about how the Ribbono shel Olam made everything inside like a coal. If you work on it, you get the flame out of it. That’s the gantze tachlis habriah. The Ribbono shel Olam puts it in and he wants you to extract it, and that extraction is the whole purpose of the creation of the world. That’s what he says. I saw that today.
Not a Mashehu of Shtick
The main thing I think that impressed me all the years, especially in those five weeks in Florida at that time - and I went with the Rosh Yeshiva when he was speaking at an Agudah convention then - he didn’t have one mashehu of shtick. He didn’t put on anything. And he was in front of a talmid, but nothing. He was always, always the same. Mamesh, it was moirahdig.
Rabbi Beane: I heard a tape from a speaker from Eretz Yisroel who was just niftar. R’ Nissan Yagen. He said he knew somebody who went traveling with the Rosh Yeshiva and observed him in all kinds of matzavim. He says he didn’t change in any matzav. His hanhaga was always the same, no matter where he was.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Lazer Stefansky tells a maaseh. He was together with the Rosh Yeshiva in London in the airport or train station. (I’m not sure which.) There were thousands of people milling around. It was time to daven and he put on his tallis and tefillin like it was nothing. Mamesh, it was in front of the whole place. We used to go into a telephone booth or something. It was tocho k’varo.
I always tell over this thing. We rented a car there in Miami, and I had to take the Rosh Yeshiva around. He used to make a formal visit to Bentheim. I’ll never forget how the Rebbetzin brushed his lapels and fixed him up a little bit because Bentheim was so dignified.
And that’s another thing, too. He never excluded you. If you were with him, he never excluded you from anything. Unless it was mamesh a personal thing, you could be there.
Rabbi Beane: Rabbi Shmuel Blech told me that.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: He went to visit the Satmar Rov when he was there. But there was no yom in Miami Beach. There was no yom and no layla. He was up early in the morning, 1:00 or 2:00, and there were calls and calls and calls and people coming in. People from Eretz Yisroel used to call at 1:00 in the morning because it was 8:00 over there.
Rabbi Beane: It’s a physical strain besides mental.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: Yeah. You felt tremendous tension, except Shabbos. Shabbos was an unbelievable menuchah, compared to the rest of the week.
I even remember that though he had his own bedroom, at the Agudah convention, we slept in the same room. I don’t remember exactly how he did it, but he did it. He didn’t go on a tide. Reb Lazer Stefansky slept with him for weeks and weeks, months in the dormitory then, in the old dining room building.
The Rebbetzin’s Kavod Ha Torah
So I had a car there in Miami. I took him places, and I also took the Rebbetzin shopping or out for a drive. It never failed, every single day, including the day we arrived and the day we went home, that when I used to go to the door of the apartment and wait for her to go out, she wouldn’t walk out unless I walked out before her. A bochur learning – that was her chashivus. Shtel zich fur what his chashivus was.
Who knows what went on in those five weeks? I should have kept a diary. I would have been an oitzer.
Rabbi Beane: You don’t always have presence of mind to do things like that.
The Koach of Emes
Rabbi Zelikovitz: One thing I’ll always remember, too. One night another Rosh Yeshiva – I don’t want to say his name – came over Friday night after the seudah. He also had a place in the same neighborhood and they were schmoozing. A maaseh here and a maaseh there. So this Rosh Yeshiva said over a maaseh from the Alter of Slobodka.
After he left, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l took me by the arm and said, “I walked hand in hand with the Alter of Slobodka. Such a thing could never have happened. It can’t be true.
He was always very much medakdek in what he said over. Anything at all.
Rabbi Beane: It had to be emes.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: That was his whole koach – emes.
Rabbi Beane: I once went to the mashgiach, Reb Nosson. He called me in. I was under the impression that he was just calling in people from town, like with a list. So when he called me in, he asked “Du lerent Mussar?” And like a wise guy, I said, “What’s mussar?”
He said, “Mussar is Mesilas Yesharim, Shaarei Teshuva, and Chovos HaLevavos.”
I said, “Yeah? Okay,” and walked out. He told me to learn that, so I decided to learn that. I went over it, once, twice, and I said, “That’s a big job.”
I have this fixation that whatever I’m doing, I have to finish what the first generation did, and then I’ll go to the next one. So once in a while, I chap these other things, just a little look here, a little look there. I said to myself, “I didn’t finish the Rambam from cover to cover. What else should I look at?”
It’s hard, very hard. Did I learn Shas with Tosfos? No. Do I learn all Mishnayos? I turned all the pages. We’ve gotta learn it. So how can you do everything? You can’t do everything. I have fifteen sedarim a day: five minutes this, five minutes that, ten minutes that. I can’t get up to it. That’s really the truth. But I observe and I see and I hear, and these other things are like parparos lechochma.
Rabbi Zelikovitz: You’re spending a lot of time on these recordings.
Rabbi Beane: Oh, that’s my mishigas. Everybody has to have a mishigas. This is mine.
I had an einfal two years ago. There are a lot of people around. I decided to find out what they have to say before – you know. So I’m going around now.
What I’m doing is much more difficult than learning. Learning’s much easier. You sit down in a comfortable room and nobody gives you a hard time.
 Tractate which deals with hiring a craftsman
 Tractate which deals with a house and attic which collapsed
 Proficient in Talmud
 Tremendously innovative idea
 Just hung around
 Tractate dealing with praising an object or article
 A Rabbi chosen to fill a position, not because of his proficiency in learning
 Wage a war of Torah
 Subject which deals with writing a divorce with the clear intentions of divorce
 Entirely immersed
 Three Angels who came to visit Abraham who did not actually eat, but it seemed as if they did
 Extra-religious practice
 Intersession, time off
 Amalgamate the entire encompassment of Torah
 United in uprightness
 Saving Jewish souls
 Old fashioned, small European village style
 Same respect
 Entirely immersed
 Public needs
 As if signing that a pig is non-kosher. It doesn’t seem fitting.
 So when the rich man lays his head down on his pillow, he thinks to himself that a poor man cannot sleep here.
 That’s precisely it!
 What will become of Torah?
 Left in the corner, unattended
 And you think you are learning something
 A nation lush with pleasure
 What is the meaning of a nation lush with pleasure? So he says like this “When one sits by a Gemara, with a study partner, and starts learning the Gemara, and doesn’t understand the wording, so then he goes further, and learns the Rashi, but doesn’t understand the Rashi, and then he learns the Tosfos, but doesn’t understand that either, and then from Heaven, G-d sends down the clarification – this is “A nation lush with pleasure”! This is the lushness! This is a taste of the World to Come – no- this is this World to Come!!
 Joy of Torah
 Joyous heart, as one who’s doubts have been resolved
 Entire purpose of creation
 His insides were the same as his outsides – His inner actions were reflections of his outward actions
 Picture to yourself
 Do you learn moral ethics and principles?
 Additional frills of knowledge