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Worth the Wait

Mishpacha Staff

Witness the chassid walking up to the rebbe’s home or the young man striding up to knock at the door of a gadol, his shoulders stooped, forehead lined with worry. See him later as he exits, his head held high, eyes bright as he strides out, a new man. This is what makes is a holy place, where the blessings of Heaven filter down through the tzaddik. So the heartbeat quickens as the visitor makes the final spiritual preparations, knowing that the eyes of the tzaddik will soon rest on him.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Guessing by the radiant smile on the man who emerged from behind the white wooden door, one might think that he had just won the lottery in the tiny apartment. Moments before, he stood at the head of the line, conversing on the cell phone — probably with a worried wife — about every minute and a half. Posture bent, overwhelmed by the pressing concerns he did not share with fellow visitors, he conducted simulations, finalizing a presentation of the question, and promised his family — bli neder, of course — that he would present all of the arguments, both for and against, and that he would remember to mention Shoshke bas Mindel, desperately in need of a shidduch.

Upon emerging from the inner sanctum, he wears the look of a man relieved of a heavy load. “We have a yeshivah!” he hisses into the phone. The crowded conditions in the corridor, and the brotherly atmosphere that characterizes the local citizenry, turn his whispered words into public fodder.

“What did Rav Chaim say?” someone asks.

The man reveals the question that brought him there: They weren’t sure which yeshivah their Yossi should attend the following year. “Nu, and what did Rav Chaim say?”

“He said, ‘Brachah v’hatzlachah.’ Now we’re sure: Yossi will attend the yeshivah where he already took a bechinah (exam).”

This scene repeats itself three times a minute; only the details change. The waiting room — a set of steps to the second floor of Rechov Rashbam 23, Bnei Brak — leads to a two-room apartment that can barely hold ten people, but miraculously expands to accommodate dozens, without a single complaint about the cramped conditions in the Kanievsky residence.

There are no kvittlach in this line, but there are “mofsim,” stories of wondrous salvations, tales that roll around this courtyard and the world, keeping those desperate for deliverance coming to unload their worries here.

“This is a slow day,” says the man standing one step above me. “There are often hundreds of people here, but today it’s calm. Especially since there are no VIPs inside, and there aren’t even lines of cheder children.”

Apparently, he’s not as knowledgeable as he professes to be, because I later learn that the VIPs and cheder children enter from a different entrance. It’s quite a while before I find myself close enough to actually see the wooden door.

“Do you go to rabbanim often?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” he demands indignantly, as if I have just declared him to be a batlan. “It’s bittul Torah!

“And what about Rav Chaim?”

“Rav Chaim is different,” he replies patiently, as if to a daft person. “Rav Aryeh [Rav Chaim’s grandson, the gatekeeper here] already knows me well. I always call in advance to let him know that I’m coming. I only come when I must, which is about every two weeks.” He seems uncomfortable with his “overuse” of the gadol’s time, saying apologetically, “I come whenever there is a problem, a bris, or an upsheren.”

Though he doesn’t divulge the reason for this visit, his sparkling eyes suggest that a joyous occasion is imminent.

In contrast, the man a step below me seems unhappy, and not only because he’s one person farther away from Rav Chaim. Who knows what peckeleh he’s shlepping to the second floor?

As we climb step by step and the clock ticks away, people begin to fret, worried that the window of opportunity will pass, and the doors will close for today. Before long, though, we find ourselves inside the house, standing in yet another line, with Rav Aryeh Kanievsky directing the masses with admirable patience.

A group of children suddenly bursts into the narrow entryway — students of a Yerushalmi cheder, accompanied by their rebbeim and principal. From their demeanor, you would never guess that they are children, as each one quietly reviews the question on Maseches Pesachim he has prepared to ask Rav Chaim.

It’s impossible to miss the intangible feeling that unites the yungerman from Bnei Brak, the well-dressed American balabos, and the old Sephardic man in this room. Each of them will enter Rav Chaim’s room with a question mark engraved on his forehead, and will emerge with those worried lines washed away. Rav Chaim has no magic solutions, nor does he promise a timetable for a salvation. But somehow, his “brachah v’hatzlachah” has the power to calm even the most beleaguered souls.


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