By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, zt’l, was one of the gedolim and great luminaries of the generation. The eldest son of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, Rav Shmuel Auerbach was 87 years old when he was niftar. He was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Maalos HaTorah in Shaarei Chesed.
Rav Auerbach was born in Yerushalayim on Yom Kippur 5692. He married the daughter of Rav Pinchas Eliezer Paksher of Yerushalayim. His wife, Rebbetzin Rochel, passed away on 14 Teves 5750 (1990).
Rav Avrohom Genakovsky, zt’l, one of the leading gedolim of Yerushalayim, said that there were only two people whom Rav Shach held of highly in Yerushalayim, and one of them was Rav Shmuel Auerbach. He would direct talmidim to Rav Shmuel. He was very sharp and would provoke his talmidim to rise to a challenge.
Prior to opening his own yeshiva shortly after Pesach of 5742, Rav Auerbach was a rosh mesivta in Yeshivas Itri, whose rosh yeshiva was HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Elefant, zt’l.
In the late 1980s, Rav Shmuel’s yeshiva was made up of 80 percent Eretz Yisrael bachurim and 20 percent English speakers.
Reb Shmuel never had children, and yet he had many. His students were his children, and his profound love for them combined with a witty sharpness explains the remarkable devotion that his students have for him.
The yeshiva was located upstairs in the Gra shul in Shaarei Chesed. The dorm was built later at 3 Eben Shafrut Street.
Rav Shmuel later began to give a blatt shiur. He taught the talmidim himself. There was no mashgiach or any other maggid shiur in his yeshiva. He took sole responsibility for the growth of his talmidim.
Reb Shmuel’s custom was to speak about the virtues of Shabbos and how important it is, and he did so every Shabbos. For the Yomim Noraim he would explain how the selichos and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah are of the greatest gifts that Hashem has given us. If we do not take advantage of them, they could turn against us (Mussar Derech Meir, p. 510).
Rav Auerbach shaped the outlook of his talmidim in their avodas Hashem. He led by example. He was informal and down-to-earth. Many times, in shiur, his beard glistened with water, as he had just arrived from the mikveh. After his beloved Rebbetzin passed away, he openly told the bochurim that he regretted that he was not mechabed her sufficiently. This was part of his down-to-earth style.
He used to live on Rechov Rashbam and would take walks with his wife. His wife would often speak to him about how the bachurim were doing, as the two of them took personal responsibility for the growth of each talmid. The Rebbetzin would often come around the yeshiva and make sure that the bachurim would make their beds.
When Rav Shmuel was a young man, he had received a bar mitzvah gift from Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zt”l, who wrote in the inscription, “shetizkeh l’ma’alas haTorah v’yiras Shamayim.” A bachur visiting the apartment once joked to him that the berachah came true—Rav Shmuel was the rosh yeshiva of Maalas HaTorah. He and the Rebbetzin both smiled.
Rav Auerbach would have his talmidim for shalosh seudos at his home. The yeshiva, in the beginning, did not have formal rules. He was familiar with mili d’alma and had a wider frame of reference than did other roshei ueshiva. As a result, in the early years of the yeshiva, he often had all types of people coming to him.
Rav Shmuel had a good sense of humor and enjoyed repartee—something that can be unsettling for bachurim when speaking with someone so chashuv.
He gave beautiful berachos. People came to him for berachos for their children and for the haircuts that their children would receive at age three. My nephews went there a number of times for this.
His personality was different than that of his illustrious father, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. His father was always very encouraging and loving to one and all. Rav Shmuel had a wry wit and could give a sharp remark regarding what a bachur had to do to improve. “You have to be more of a masmid,” he would say. The remark always came from love.
Ohel Rachel, named after his Rebbetzin, contains the mussar sichos that he gave to his talmidim.
Remarkable Talmid Chacham
Rav Auerbach’s shiurim were extraordinary, of the highest order in any yeshiva. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, the recognized gadol ha’dor, would actually stand up for his illustrious son, Rav Shmuel.
Rav Shmuel authored the sefer Darchei Shmuel on Mishnayos Ohalos. It is a remarkable and comprehensive work. Many of the essays deal with proofs back and forth to shitos Rishonim, showing the correctness of the Gra’s position. They also show that he traveled along the same path as the Chazon Ish.
Rav Shmuel was kulo Torah. After his wife passed away, he did not even know the name of the Kupat Cholim that he used. His mind was constantly immersed in shitos Rishonim and shitos Acharonim.
Outlooks And Hashkafos
In 5763, Rav Shmuel became a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. In 5778, he was appointed a member of the Vaad HaYeshivos. He was president of Mosdos Torah and Chinuch.
He used to say that Hashem created each individual with a special mission and purposes and with unique and specific strengths. If that person works with his strengths, he can become a giant (Ohel Rachel, page 151).
At a Lev L’Achim kiruv kinus he once said, “It is known that one can accomplish much in these matters. I am very involved in these things, and I know that there are avreichim who did not know at all that they had any capabilities in these matters who went out, and it bore fruit and their fruit bore fruit. They did not publicize the matter because it is well-known that the more important the matter the more one should avoid publicizing it. If so, after it has been proven that one can accomplish enormously, there is no exemption from this [the obligation to go out and do kiruv work] (Lo Saamod Al Dam Rayacha, p. 53).
At another time, Rav Shmuel said that every kollel yungerman should devote at least an hour a week toward kiruv (See Nafshi b’Sh’ailasi, Zikui HaRabbim, p. 233).
Rav Shmuel was close to Rav Eliezer Menachem Mann Shach, zt’l, the manhig ha’dor. Rav Shach had given him a haskamah on his sefer on Ohalos. Rav Shach had once confided in Rav Shmuel that when people came to converse with him, he was able to respond to them, but unless it was a matter of kavod Shamayim, his mind remained immersed in the sugyah he was learning.
Recollections Of His Father’s Chinuch
Rav Shmuel would often fondly recall how his parents’ main efforts focused on how he davened and upon how he recited berachos. When he was a child, he attended the Etz Chaim Yeshiva. Each year at the beginning of the z’man, his father would come speak to the rebbe. One year, he asked the rebbe what masechta he would be learning with the boys. The rebbe told Rav Shlomo Zalman, and Rav Shlomo Zalman felt that the masechta would be inappropriate for the boys’ age level. He attempted to convince the rebbe to change to something more age-appropriate. When the rebbe did not agree, Rav Shlomo Zalman took his son back to the rebbe he had learned with the previous year. He felt that repeating the grade did not matter as much as ensuring that his son absorbed what he learned on a correct level (Matzdikei HaRabbim KaKochavim, p. 52).
During bein ha’zemanim, Rav Shmuel merited to spend every night for two weeks at the home of the Chazon Ish.
Rav Shmuel Auerbach used to often explain that the sin of the Dor Deah was a dakus, barely detectable. He would also cite the Vilna Gaon that when a person is in tza’ar, experiencing anguish, he is not taken to task for a small, subtle error. (Meshubach u’Mefuar, page 117.)
At one shalosh seudos talk, Rav Shmuel said, “The Chazon Ish didn’t become the Chazon Ish because he was imitating or trying to be the Chazon Ish. The Brisker Rav didn’t become the Brisker Rav because he was imitating or trying to be the Brisker Rav. They became who they became by learning Torah lishmah. You, too, must learn Torah lishmah.” This made a big impact on the talmidim who were present.
A bachur who was dating once came to Rav Shmuel for advice. The dates were going well and she was an excellent girl, but he did not feel what he expected to feel when he would meet his destined shidduch. Rav Shmuel carefully advised him that experience shows that one thing does not depend on the other. Not everyone who experienced joy instantaneously had a successful marriage, and the opposite is also true. He advised the bachur to proceed with the shidduch. (L’Avdecha B’Emes, p. 199.)
While generally one cannot perform other tasks before davening Shacharis, on erev Shabbos it is permitted to shop for things l’kavod Shabbos before davening if there is a concern that they will not be there after minyan. What about buying other items at the same time that will definitely be there later? Rav Shmuel paskened that if it does not take too much time, it is permitted (Zichron Ephraim, p. 141.)
In K’dai Gedulaso (page 180), Rav Shmuel is cited as permitting washing something off a fruit on Shabbos immediately before consuming it. He ruled that it is not a problem of borer because he considered it no different than a peel.
He issued a letter forbidding a form of alternative medicine called “One Brain” or “Three in One Concepts.” He, along with a number of other gedolei ha’poskim including Rav Elyashiv, held that alternative medicine is a terrible thing that parts of Klal Yisrael are involved in.
When there are two b’ris milahs on the same day—one on time and the other that had been delayed past eight days—he ruled that the one that is on time has preference, because if there is a delay in regard to that b’ris, there is a negation of a mitzvas assei. This is not true regarding a child whose b’ris was delayed at the outset.
In regard to bugs, Rav Shmuel had an interesting leniency. When something became batel but it could still be identified in the food mixture with great effort, the Chochmas Adam holds that it is an issur d’Oraisa. Rav Shmuel held that it was an issur d’rabbanan, unlike the Chochmas Adam. He could therefore combine it with other leniencies for a heter.
Respect For Others
Rav Shmuel’s respect for Rav Elyashiv was so great that he once said, “When one asks Rav Elyashiv a question—even if it is the middle of the night and he answers in his sleep—one may rely on it because he was so careful about bitul Torah that he never had a break in concentration, even in his sleep.”
Whenever he spoke to Rav Elyashiv, he possessed such awe and trepidation that he often forgot what he had prepared to say (HaShakdan).
He took a strong position against having internet in the house and signed kol korehs against it. He also felt very strongly against the proliferation of sheitels and welcomed back the rise of the tichel.
Rav Shmuel’s passing leaves a void in the Torah world. His learning, his pesakim, and his hashkafos have had a profound impact on Klal Yisrael. Chaval al d’avdin. Yehi zichro baruch.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com