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In His Words

What are we now, with people like Reb Yeruchom no longer here to keep our generation anchored in truth? 


There are certain people whom you just don’t feel right exposing to the glare of the public spotlight, no matter all the calculations for doing so, how much there is to learn from them, what a kavod haTorah it will be, and so forth.

Rav Yeruchom Kaplan ztz”l, who passed away last week, was certainly such a person, even had he not left a request that hespedim not be said for him. Yet how can this special Jew’s petirah go unmentioned, either?

What was Reb Yeruchom? The Baranovich-born son of Rav Mendel Kaplan, the unforgettable rebbi in Chicago and Philadelphia, who bore the name of Rav Mendel’s great rebbi, Rav Yerucham Levovitz of Mir. A lifelong fixture in Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud as a yungerman, a rebbi, a mashpia. A rosh yeshivah in Yeshivat Mikdash Melech in Flatbush who taught generations of Sephardic young men.

But, who was Reb Yeruchom? Reading Yisroel Greenwald’s classic book about his father, Reb Mendel and His Wisdom, might give some help toward answering that. But the most I can offer is to follow Chazal’s directive of “Ein osin nefashos l’tzaddikim, divreihem hein hein zichronam — we don’t erect monuments to the righteous; their words, those are their remembrance” (Yerushalmi Shekalim 2:5), and to share a few of Reb Yeruchom’s own words.

He once told me that his father, a prime talmid of Rav Elchonon Wasserman, used to refer to Reb Elchonon as a kadosh. There were two reasons for this. First, Reb Elchonon founded a kollel in Baranovich, for which he raised all the money, yet he didn’t expect any of the yungeleit who learned there to say so much as a “gut Shabbos” to him.

And the second reason? Reb Elchonon had a son, Reb Naftoli Beinish, an illui and a great talmid chacham. Once, while speaking with Rav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky, the mashgiach ruchani in the Baranovich yeshivah, he mentioned the idea of bringing this son to Baranovich to teach in the yeshivah. Reb Yisroel Yankev didn’t say anything, but his facial expression registered disapproval.

And so, Reb Elchonon never again raised the idea. In his own yeshivah. About his own son, an illui and a great talmid chacham. To Reb Mendel, that made him not a tzaddik, but a kadosh.


ONE OF THE BETTER-KNOWN STORIES  about Reb Yerucham Levovitz, the Mirrer mashgiach, is how, after taking three steps back following an extremely long and intense Yom Kippur Shemoneh Esreh, he was heard to whisper the words of Yaakov Avinu before going to stand before his father under false pretenses — “Ulai yemusheini avi, v’hayisi b’einav kimsateiya — perhaps my father will feel me and I’ll be in his eyes as a charlatan.”

At Reb Yeruchom Kaplan’s levayah, it was mentioned that following his father’s petirah, the roshei yeshivah of the Philadelphia Yeshiva offered him his father’s position as the maggid shiur for the first-year beis medrash bochurim. He declined.

Rav Avrohom Bromberg, former rosh yeshivah of Beis HaTalmud and current rosh yeshivah of Sha’ar HaTalmud in Lakewood, said that Reb Yeruchom was concerned how his children would fare were he to move out of town to take the position. When someone mentioned to him that Rav Aharon Kotler had given an assurance to those who moved out of town for harbatzas Torah that their children would prosper and not falter, Reb Yeruchom’s response was, “Yes, if the move is made in order to be marbitz Torah. But what if it’s actually to get a sought-after shteller?” Translation, courtesy of his namesake: Ulai yemusheini avi, v’hayisi b’einav kimsateiya.

Rav Bromberg also recalled the time two bochurim were arguing strenuously in learning in the Beis HaTalmud beis medrash, and Reb Yeruchom walked over and said, “You know when you can be sure you really mean what you’re saying? When you can take the other fellow’s position and argue for it, too.” Translation: Until you understand both sides well enough to mount an argument for each of them, it’s not really clear if you’re taking your side because it’s right — or because it’s your side. Ulai yemusheini avi, v’hayisi b’einav kimsateiya.

And a final recollection from Rav Bromberg: At the levayah of Beis HaTalmud Mashgiach Rav Chaim Visoker — of whom Rav Mendel Kaplan once said, “S’blaybt noch ein reineh vinkel — there’s just one pure little corner left” — Reb Yeruchom Kaplan was asked to be maspid. He gave a hesped consisting of just two sentences and sat down: “Reb Leib [Malin] was the head and Reb Chaim [Visoker] was the heart. And now, with the head and heart both gone, we’re left as just a collection of limbs and organs.”

And what are we now, with people like Reb Yeruchom no longer here to keep our generation anchored in truth?


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 901. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com)

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