Naflah Ateres Rosheinu
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is a tragic, tragic day,and we are all in mourning. Not only has klal Yisroel lost its leading Torah sage, we lost our leader, the person that our Rabbonim went to to clarify anything in Torah. He was the tzaddik we went to for brachos, and for chizuk.
He was the Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation, and the Aharon HaKohain combined in one.
The Moshe Rabbeinu role is well known. His remarkable hasmada and prolific in-depth writing were well known. He finished Shas, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and Midrashim every year. His multiple seforim became the go to sefer on each topic.
His restatement of the Mishna Brurah known as the Shoneh Halachos became an instant classic. His derech Emunah on shmitta and trumos umaasros became authoritative. His understanding of Hilchos Beis HaMikdash was unparalleled and is reflected in his sefer Derech Chochmah. His Shekel HaKodesh on Kiddush HaChodesh too. He clearly patterned much of style in the manner of the Chofetz Chaim – whom he had the most profound respect for – even though his daily practices were to follow the opinion of the Chazon Ish. There were many other seforim as wll.
He wrote a mussar sefer too, Orchos Yosher, and made great efforts in promoting the study of Mussar throughout Eretz Yisroel and beyond. No one, to this author’s knowledge, ever questioned him about this – that this was a slight aberration from the mehalech of his uncle. Some attributed it to the fact that his father, the Steipler zt”l shtammed from the Novardik school of Mussar.
His citation of references that addressed an underlying issue peripherally demonstrated an in-depth mastery of kol haTorah kullah.
But what about the Aharon haKohain aspect of things?
This author once asked his son how he deals with the fact that the thousands of yearly visitors must surely affect his prodigious learning schedule. The answer revealed a true, in-depth understanding of what really matters in life. “What do you mean? It is chessed. That is what Torah is all about.”
Wow! I felt guilty even asking the question. It was so obvious and simple.
His love of Klal Yisroel was reflected in his psak about treating terrorists, “let them die, they are rodfim and will continue murdering.” [Rav Elyashiv zt”l, his father-in-law, ruled that they needed to be treated because otherwise the aiva will cause grave possible dangers to other Jewish patients elsewhere.]
Rav Chaim took responsibility to help thousands of Bnei Torah – families who were in desperate need of kimcha d’pischa and others. He did this through his Orchos Yosher organization too. These efforts were done l’zaicher nishmas his wife a”h, Rav Elyashiv’s daughter.
Rav Chaim’s loss is a staggering blow to this generation, as we are now truly orphaned.
Two months ago, I interviewed Rav Avrohom Yishayahu Kanievsky shlita, Rav Chaim’s eldest son about how it was like growing up in his father’s home. Below is the transcript of the interview.
YH: I apologize in advance for taking up the Rav’s time in asking these questions that perhaps may seem mundane, but I think it might be inspiring to the readers in terms of their own growth..
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: Anything that can help the oilam grow in either Torah or Yiras shamayim is certainly worthwhile to do..
YH: I imagine that growing up in the Rav’s home was a rather unique and inspiring experience. Which of his hanhagos and words of advice influenced the Rav and his siblings the most?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: My father was always makpid to daven on time. He was very, very organized and always instructed us to maintain that Midah [habit]. Even in yeshiva, he encouraged us not to be lazy and to attempt to finish everything. He was very makpid that we not, so to speak, leave things in the middle but rather, to completely finish whatever sefer or mesechtah that we are learning.
YH: It is well known that your father shlita has an incredible seder halimud that he completes each year: He finishes the entire Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Rambam. When, as a child, did you first notice his prodigious schedule?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: We grew up with it. As soon as we were able to speak, we knew that he had that schedule.
YH: Does that mean to say that he had always kept to it?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: Yes, I believe that he had always done it. My father’s schedule didn’t change.
YH: When does he awaken?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: He always woke up much before naitz since my earliest years and continued straight.
YH: Do you also try to keep to such a rigorous schedule like that of your father?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: [Modestly, he responds] I do try to do it as well, but, of course, I am unable to do it at his level of understanding. His level of learning and his hasmadah are impossible to imitate.
YH: As both a grandson of Rav Elyashiv and lehavdil bain chaim l’chaim, as a son of your father, I can imagine that it might have left a bit of a quandary when these two giants differed with each other. So what did the Rav [referring to RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA} do?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: It was actually not such a problem because our family always followed the rulings of the Chazon Ish.
YH: So let’s go the other side. The Rav is also the grandson of the Steipler Gaon, and there was, at least, one time when your father shlita disagreed with your grandfather, the Steipler. In particular, it once happened in regard to the issue of the obligation of placing a Mezuzah on a city tzuras hapesach [employed in city eiruvin].
The Chazon Ish seems to write that a tzuras Hapesach (for an Eiruv) would require a Mezuzah. The Steipler zatzal felt that it did not require one, and your father shlita pointed out that the Chazon Ish writes that it would and that the only reason not to would be because of the concern that it would be vandalized. Later, I checked up on the veracity of this exchange with Rav Brody who had asked your father about it. He told me that your father, in the most respectful manner, verified the discussion.
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: I do not remember the issue specifically.
YH: Your father shlita has a minhag not to leave Eretz Yisroel at all. What does the Rav do and what do the Rav’s siblings do in regard to this?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: I would say that this is my father’s own hanhagah, but not an across-the-board family minhag. L’maaseh, each of them, and all of the grandchildren present the two tzedadim [sides] to my father, and he responds whether it is an appropriate enough reason to leave Eretz Yisroel or not.
YH: It seems that pretty much everyone goes to Rav Chaim for every single problem, for a bracha, for a shidduch, for a bracha for children, and also for their children. For someone who has such hasmadah and so much learning and the realization of how much more he can learn otherwise – doesn’t it bother him at all?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: It is all chessed, so it does not bother him at all.
YH: Incredible. Once, a few years ago, the Rav’s father told someone to conduct himself in a certain manner. The man was apparently embarrassed and told a lie that ended up making the Rav’s father feel bad. Should the Rav’s father be informed that it was, in fact, not true?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: I don’t think so. My father probably does not remember it at all.
YH: Let’s get to the methods of learning. The Rav’s grandfather, the Steipler Gaon, authored numerous seforim on the Yeshivesh mesechtos and his approach focused on various lomdishe points.
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: Like the typical Torah of Roshei Yeshivos..
YH: Yes, exactly. On the other hand, the Rav’s father’s seforim focus more on Mishna Brurah-like explanations and other clarifications – pointing toward other sources, rishonim and acharonim whose writings explain the underlying issues. Which method do you gravitate toward more?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: I learn more in the method that my father does, than in the method of my grandfather.
YH: What about in terms of seforim of the Rav? Forgive me, but I am unaware of the Rav’s own seforim. What does the Rav focus on in his own seforim?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: I actually focus more on my father’s Torah. What he says is more important than what I have to say. My father had asked me to work on his seforim on the five megillos and also on the Kaballah sefer known as the Bahir.
YH: Did the Rav’s father ever guide the Rav as to what sugya he should work on or write about?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: Yes he did. He told me to write about the sugya of a rebellious son – “Ben sorrer umoreh” in a responsum type format (Shailos uTeshuvos).
YH: If there was one thing that struck the Rav most about growing up in his father’s home – how would the Rav describe it?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: I would say that it was his extraordinary hasmadah.
YH: I am sure that the Rav was by his other grandfather (the Steipler) quite often.
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: Yes, I was.
YH: What struck the Rav most about the Steipler?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: It was seeing his utter Kedushah.
YH: And what struck the Rav most about Rav Elyashiv zt”l
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: It was his Hasmada also. He knew everything.
YH: Thanks very much. May I contact the Rav in the future to speak in learning myself?
RAV AY KANIEVSKY SHLITA: Certainly, it would be my pleasure.
YH: Thank you so much for your time.
Rav Chaim’s levaya will be on Sunday so as not to cause any form of chillul shabbos. He passed away from a heart attack at 10:17 AM New York time.
The author can be reached at email@example.com