Closed Eyes, Open Heart| November 9, 2021
Rav Shaul Alter crosses a new frontier
t wasn’t the first time that Gerrer Rosh Yeshivah Rav Shaul Alter visited the US and delivered his signature shiurim to top-tier yeshivos around the Tristate area. Last week’s visit though, in which the Rosh Yeshivah, together with his brother Rav Daniel Alter, were welcomed by various communities across the metro area, came on the heels of a new horizon: the Rosh Yeshivah’s opening of a network of mosdos, from cheder to yeshivah ketanah and through kollel. The crowds were fueled by the Torah the Rosh Yeshivah was sharing at every encounter to audiences of every stripe.
Photo: Tzemach Glenn
In his few days in the US, the Rosh Yeshivah, the second son of the Pnei Menachem zy”a (his siblings include Rav Yaakov Meir, Rav Yitzchok Dovid, Rav Yehuda Aryeh Leib z”l, Rav Moshe Betzalel z”l, Rav Daniel Chaim, and Rebbetzin Esther Lippel), delivered five public shiurim to packed batei medrash in Monsey, Lakewood, Manhattan’s West Side, Williamsburg, and Boro Park. It was a special treat for those who don’t hear him in person, yet read his printed Torah in a weekly compilation, distributed in 17 cities in Eretz Yisrael and around the Jewish world. In addition, it was an introduction for thousands of others who’d never been exposed to the Rosh Yeshivah before.
or the 10,000-plus crowd that crushed into a massive tent in Boro Park last Shabbos for tefillos and tishen, it was the highlight of a historic week.
The thousands in attendance already knew about Rav Shaul’s trademark anivus — he always sits at the tish, or any other time he’s in front of a large crowd, with closed eyes, in order to shield himself from the inherent gaavah that comes with being in front of huge, adoring throng. But some people noticed a conversation taking place at the head table in the middle of the tish. It was Rav Daniel on his right telling him, “The oilam wants you to vinch them l’chayim. Open your eyes, look at them, and bless them!” Then the Rosh Yeshivah turned to Rav Moshe Fogel, rav of Gur in Boro Park, who was on his left — Rav Fogel also encouraged him. “But,” the Rosh Yeshivah practically pleaded, “it’s not good for me.” (In fact, before he left Eretz Yisrael, Rav Shaul told his talmidim that they should daven for him. “For hatzlachah?” they asked. “Also,” the Rosh Yeshivah answered, “but daven for me that if the trip is a success, it won’t bring me to gaavah.”) Now, on the dais, Rav Fogel turned to him and said, “Don’t worry, you’re doing good for other Yidden — nothing will happen to you.”
The Rosh Yeshivah opened his eyes, bentshed the oilam l’chayim, and closed his eyes back.
Later, one of the balabatim who hosted Rav Shaul was blunt and asked him directly, “What does the Rosh Yeshivah make of the adulation of the crowds he’s getting here, people packing the rooms for his shiurim and running after his car in the street?”
Rav Shaul answered, “That’s why we repeat Dovid Hamelech’s words, “Al tevoeini regel gaavah” and “Hashem lo gava libi…” and I keep davening for that, and I asked the people to daven for me as well. But you know what, there can never be too many tefillos like that, so since I’m here and you asked, here’s a pen and paper — I’m writing my name and my mother's name down and you can daven for me too.”
At the end of an hours-long Shalosh Seudos/Motzaei Shabbos tish (the “Shabbos” photographs were taken after the zeman), as the Rosh Yeshivah finished speaking and the crowd — an overflowing tent on 18th Avenue and thousands more spilling into the streets — stood up to dance, an announcement was broadcast over the loudspeaker notifying the crowd of a meeting spot for lost children. But the seemingly straightforward message — “fathers who are looking for their children and children who are looking for their fathers…” touched a deep spot within the Rosh Yeshivah, who smiled broadly and nodded, using those simple words as a mashal of Klal Yisrael looking for their Father.
Photo: Tzemach Glenn
At one of the places where Rav Shaul was being hosted, a father brought his five-year-old son to give “shalom” and receive a brachah from the Rosh Yeshivah. While waiting in line, the little boy spotted something much more tempting and important: a tray of cake. When the father’s turn came, the son was happily absorbed in his cake, and while the people around nudged him to put the treat down, the Rosh Yeshivah advocated for the little fellow. “Let him be,” Rav Shaul said. “What more could he ask for? For him, he got the biggest brachah…”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 885)
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