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Concealed Greatness

If someone wanted to prove that appearances are deceiving, Reb Chaim Zev Malinowitz would have been Exhibit A

When Rav Chaim Zev Halevi Malinowitz, rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham in Beit Shemesh, passed away suddenly last week at age 67, it wasn’t just the English-speaking kehillah in Eretz Yisrael he led for 17 years that was shocked and grief-stricken. He had served as a dayan and rosh kollel in Monsey, was an editor of many ArtScroll publications, and served as general editor of the Schottenstein Shas. He was a courageous warrior who stood up for the truth no matter what the cost, and that, together with his outstanding Torah scholarship and humble persona, made him a beloved mara d’asra, fusing compassion, daas Torah, and leadership for his kehillah

Rav Chaim Zev Malinowitz was a master of disguise. An onlooker would see an ordinary looking man, in a regular suit that could use a pressing, down hat that should have been replaced long ago, shirt occasionally sticking out, carelessly trimmed beard. Just another ordinary middle-aged Jew.

If someone wanted to prove that appearances are deceiving, Reb Chaim would have been Exhibit A. He was a phenomenal talmid chacham; yerei Shamayim; wise counselor; uncompromising paradigm of truth in learning, hashkafah, and halachah; and he was a compassionate friend, father, and husband. In short, he was an uncommonly concealed gadol. At ArtScroll, he worked closely with many outstanding talmidei chachamim, and all of them were in awe of his knowledge and judgment. He would review material after it was edited and considered ready for print — but nothing was considered final until Reb Chaim improved and approved it.

One top editor recalls that Reb Chaim changed two words in something he had written. “But why?” asked the editor. “I have a cheshbon,” said Reb Chaim. “Let’s go further.” Only much later did Reb Chaim explain. He enumerated several major commentators and felt that those two changed words would align the ArtScroll text with the general trend of them all. The editor was flabbergasted and justly so.

Once during a heated debate in his kollel, Reb Chaim was called to the phone. It was someone who needed guidance on a serious personal problem. When the call was over, Reb Chaim returned to his shtender and picked up the discussion virtually in mid-sentence. He had a phenomenal capacity to deal with a dozen areas of learning and chesed at the same time without losing his train of thought. An ArtScroll editor said mournfully, “Where will we find five people to replace him?”

He was one of the primary talmidim of Hagaon Harav Abba Berman ztz”l, whose kollel was in Monsey. When Rav Abba moved to Israel, Reb Chaim became the rosh kollel. He and his colleagues forged a bond that continues to this day. From time to time, the present and former members of the kollel would have a reunion. Reb Chaim would make the arrangements and order whatever was necessary, all according to what the chaveirim requested. He was the acknowledged leader and set the tone for everything, but they all knew that his primary concern was for them, not himself. When he moved to Israel, the reunions continued, highlighted by when they could be scheduled at a time when he was in America.

Reb Chaim organized a k’vasikin minyan in Monsey long before such minyanim became common. Attendance was limited, especially during the summer months when Shacharis begins about 5 a.m., but neither he nor the minyan ever missed a day. Even when he lived in Israel, he would send the daily schedules for the minyan.

He needed nothing for himself. He and his wife raised a large family in a happy home without the amenities that most people regard as necessities. In Reb Chaim’s early years with ArtScroll, Rabbi Sheah Brander visited him. It was a brutally hot July day, and Reb Chaim was working on a manuscript with no air conditioner. Reb Sheah protested, but Reb Chaim said he had neither the need nor the funds for such a luxury. Reb Sheah said, “We’ll buy it for you,” but Reb Chaim resisted. Reb Sheah prevailed only with the brilliant retort that “We’re not buying it for you, we’re buying it for ArtScroll, because you’ll work better if the room is comfortable.” Reb Chaim rarely lost an argument, but he lost that one.

Bavli, Yerushalmi, Midrash, halachah, hashkafah — he was at home in them all. He could discuss any sugya in Shas with familiarity. His untimely, unexpected passing is a loss not only to his family, colleagues, and congregants. Klal Yisrael is poorer than it was a week ago.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 787)

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