| The Gadol Down the Block: Shavuos 5782 |

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach — Love and Kindness in Shaarei Chesed

"That’s why we moved here — because of Rav Shlomo Zalman, the man who sets the tone of the entire neighborhood"


exited the Gra Shul onto Rechov Bar Zackai and made my way to the makolet.

Boker tov,” I greeted the proprietor as I pulled the crumpled list from my pocket: three lebens, two agvaniot, one melaffefon, and a lechem shachor. After I paid, I headed down Rechov Porush and climbed the steps to my aunt and uncle’s house, where I placed the bag on the small Formica table in the kitchen.

Todah,” said my aunt. Something in her voice sounded different.

“Doda Tzvia, are you alright?”

“He always chaps a ‘shalom’ first! He always beats me to it, no matter how hard I try to greet him first. He always says ‘shalom’ before me!”

I knew without her telling me who she was talking about: “He” was Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l, my neighbor in Shaarei Chesed for the two years I lived at my aunt and uncle in the late 1970s.

“Do you know what he did today?” she asked. “Did you notice I use a cane now?”

I had.

“I just got the cane last week. When he saw me this morning, he ran across Rechov HaShla to ask, ‘Vos iz mit der shteken? What’s with the cane? Geveret Greenboim, you’re too young for a cane!’”

She drew a breath.

“He has people calling him from all over the world, and he has time to cross the street to come talk to me? I asked him once, ‘Der Rav host tseyt far mir? — The Rav has time for me?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Who else do I have time for if not for my neighbor?’ ”

Rav Shlomo Zalman had no official position in the neighborhood. When local people came with sh’eilos, he would defer to Rav Avrohom Dovid Rozental, the rav of Shaarei Chesed. But he was the crown jewel of Shaarei Chesed; he was the first Jewish child born there, and he never left.

Then, it was a quiet, simple neighborhood, where Shabbos did not start at candle-lighting time, but hours before, when, on every mirpeset, the same scene played out: All of the boys of the house sat and polished the shoes. The sound of the brush rubbing across the leather, combined with the aroma of black shoe polish wafting through the air, meant Shabbos was coming to Shaarei Chesed.

I saw Rav Shlomo Zalman almost daily, but I didn’t know how to introduce myself. I asked my uncle, “How can I approach him?”

My uncle grinned.

“Tomorrow after davening, tell him who you are,” he advised. “Don’t worry, he’ll carry the conversation from there.”

The next day, I approached Rav Shlomo Zalman after davening. Awkwardly, I said, “My name is Ron Yitzchok ben Yoel Moshe Eisenman. My grandfather was Rav Nosson Nota.”

Rav Shlomo Zalman gave me a smile that lit up the room.

“Your zeide was Rav Nosson Nota? I was at his chasunah! It was a few months after my bar mitzvah. The chuppah was right here on a Friday in Adar Sheini.”

He pointed to a small open area outside the Gra shul. In the middle of the space was a well, now sealed.

“We boys would stand on top of the bor mayim,” Rav Shlomo Zalman reminisced. “If your zeide was Rav Nosson Nota, then your elter zeide was Rav Tuvia Salomon. I remember Rav Tuvia — he wrote a sefer katanchik.”

He was referring to my great-grandfather’s sefer, which was printed in a very small, pocket-size edition.

As I spoke to Rav Shlomo Zalman, he gave me the feeling that I was doing him a favor. I felt as if I was his favorite grandson, and I was sure it was because of my family’s connection.

One day, a friend came by with a difficult sh’eilah. Rav Shlomo Zalman had never met my friend, nor did my friend have any family in Eretz Yisrael, yet after they spoke, my friend excitedly told me, “Rav Shlomo Zalman is so approachable and warm. I felt like his favorite grandson!”

I soon learned that all of Shaarei Chesed was convinced they were his favorite grandchild.

One Friday night, after the seudah, I met a young American couple pushing a baby stroller. They had recently moved into my aunt and uncle’s apartment building, and the wife told me, “We moved here six months ago. It was early in my pregnancy, and my husband went to ask Rav Shlomo Zalman a sh’eilah. Tonight, we saw him on the street. He came over to us and said, ‘I see I owe you a mazel tov! I haven’t seen you since you came to me six months ago.’

“That’s why we moved here — because of Rav Shlomo Zalman. Not Rav Shlomo Zalman the posek; we came for Rav Shlomo Zalman, the man who sets the tone and spirit of the entire Shaarei Chesed.”

My last memory of Rav Shlomo Zalman is the day I was leaving Shaarei Chesed. I waited outside his home to bid farewell. There was no one else there except for me and a nine-year-old boy.

Rav Shlomo Zalman opened the door to let me in. When he spotted the boy, he asked me, “Do you know who that boy is?”

“He’s been standing here for a while,” I said. “He has a camera, he’s probably waiting for the Rav to leave so he can take a picture.”

Rega — one moment! He’s standing there waiting for me to leave so he can take a picture? I don’t plan to leave for at least 15 minutes. Maybe his parents will worry? Do you mind if he comes in before we speak? He just wants a picture, and what wouldn’t a Yid do to be mesamei’ach another Yid? We have an opportunity to make him happy. Let’s not waste it.”

And with that, Rav Shlomo Zalman ushered the boy in.

As the boy entered, he turned to me.

“You know,” he said, “I’m like the Rav’s favorite grandson.”


Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is the rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey, an adjunct professor at Lander College for Women in New York, and a columnist in this magazine.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 913)

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