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The Greatest Privilege of All

Eliezer Shulman and Yair Stern

Rav Shmuel Auerbach was much more than a brilliant scholar with thousands of talmidim — he was also available to all the multifaceted residents of his neighborhood

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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The man who scaled the summits of Torah greatness was one who also moved easily among the people. The man who’d endured personal pain poured warmth and love upon his talmidim (Photos: Mattis Goldberg, Baruch Yaari, Mishpacha archives)

T he American bochur who came to learn in “Maalos” entered the large beis medrash on the first day looking for the rosh yeshivah. Used to the formality of the American yeshivos, he searched for the impressive chair in front of the beis medrash, or perhaps a private, well-appointed office off to the side.

One of the talmidim pointed to the back row, where a man with a radiant countenance sat half-leaning on the bench, his head in the crook of his arm as he looked into an open Rashba. He appeared the happiest man on earth.

“That’s the Rosh Yeshivah.”

The man who scaled the summits of Torah greatness was one who also moved easily among the people. The man who’d endured personal pain poured warmth and love upon his talmidim.

“But it wasn’t two parts of his personality,” says a talmid. “It wasn’t like he descended from his heights to lift someone up. It was all one. He was a fire in learning, and that warmth was what you felt when you spoke to him.”

This child of the Old Yishuv was perfectly at home — as was his saintly father before him — in Jerusalem’s Shaarei Chesed neighborhood, where he would walk with only a single talmid, making sure to be accessible and available to all the neighborhood’s multifaceted residents.

But with the Rosh Yeshivah’s passing last Shabbos morning, it’s the memories that will continue to inspire them.

Like that of the family that lost its young father just days before Yom Tov. In the hours after getting up from shivah, the home was suddenly quiet. Children of all ages walked aimlessly around the house. The freshly widowed mother didn’t know how to start to contemplate the approaching Yom Tov, let alone the rest of her life.

The doctor told him to take a break. But Rav Shmuel explained that Torah learning was the source of his life and the sustenance for his soul. “Can you forbid me to breathe?”

And then there was a knock at the door, a knock so gentle and refined that most of the family members didn’t even hear it. One of the little girls opened the door and hurried to call her mother to give tzedakah to the person standing there. The mother came over to the door and gasped in shock. Standing there was the rosh yeshivah of Maalos HaTorah, Rav Shmuel Auerbach.

The Rosh Yeshivah entered the house, and for the next hour, inquired about the goings-on in the family, and where the children were in school. As though he weren’t a rosh yeshivah who had hundreds of students waiting for him, or a respected leader who was constantly presented with questions of crucial importance. As though it were a regular day, not Erev Rosh Hashanah, when he would spend hours in meditation and cheshbon hanefesh in preparation for standing before the King of Kings. But when there is a heartbroken widow and fresh orphans trying to navigate the next steps, they come before everything.

It’s My Oxygen

Rav Elya Brudny, rosh yeshivah of Mir-Brooklyn, shares one of his own memories. Rav Elya had lost his own esteemed rebbetzin, and brought his brokenhearted children along on a visit to Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Elya took his grieving family to Rav Shmuel. The Israeli rosh yeshivah with the saintly visage showered them with chizuk and hope, speaking of the Ribbono shel Olam’s great compassion and kindness. Only later on did Rav Elya tell his family the truth — that this man who exuded such serenity and joy had himself tasted the incomparable pain of childlessness, and had also lost his rebbetzin, his most trusted friend and confidante.

In fact, Rav Shmuel’s life was long chain of transcendence, rising above the here and now and inhabiting the world of Torah, of yiras Shamayim, of Kabbalah and of purity. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 700)

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