| Cut ‘n Paste |

The Most Important Need

It was a simple comment. But those few short words opened a doorway to the greatness that lay within.

With Rav Kamenetsky in his yeshivah office in Philadelphia in November 2021

Late one Thursday night, I received a call from the gabbai of my rosh yeshivah, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita, who was in a rehabilitation center, in need of a refuah sheleimah.

“If you come by the rehab center tomorrow morning,” he told me, “I might be able to slip you in to see the Rosh Yeshivah.”

He gave me the address and hung up.

I was staying about an hour away from the rehab center, but the next morning, I arose well before daybreak to be able to beat the traffic and arrive at the facility on time.

I entered the building and asked a nurse, a bit sheepishly, if she knew where the Rabbi was.

“The grand rabbi?” she responded. “Of course I know!”

It turned out that everyone in the facility knew where Reb Shmuel’s room was.

I was ushered into the room and saw that Reb Shmuel was davening, about to begin Shemoneh Esreh. I had the zechus of helping him turn the pages of his siddur, adjust his tallis a few times, and then wrap up his tefillin. When it had all been put away, the Rosh Yeshivah smiled at me.

“How are you?” he asked with sincere interest.

I responded that all was well, baruch Hashem, and he proceeded to ask about my family and then the kollel.

The physical suffering had done little — nothing, in fact — to dull the warmth and concern I had come to know for the last 25 years.

I mentioned a few ideas I had shared while delivering a chaburah in the kollel a few days prior.

“Nu, what else did you say?” the Rosh Yeshivah prompted.

I went on to relay the entire chaburah. At each step of the way, the Rosh Yeshivah mentioned the relevant source that led to the next stage of the chaburah. His mind was crystal clear.

Soon the gabbai entered the room with a bowl of applesauce, which he offered to the Rosh Yeshivah.

Reb Shmuel nodded, took the spoon, and made a slow, thoughtful brachah.

He tasted the food and then looked up at me.

“Did you eat anything today?” he asked.

It was a simple comment. But those few short words opened a doorway to the greatness that lay within.

Reb Shmuel is, kein ayin hara, close to 100 years old. He was going through a difficult time, dealing with limited speech and mobility, but uppermost on his mind was whether I, a talmid many years his junior, had eaten yet.

“Yes,” I responded. “I ate a banana in the car before coming in because I knew the Rosh Yeshivah would ask me that.”

Many years ago, I heard a shiur from Rav Noach Orlowek on the topic of bein adam l’chaveiro. He shared an experience he once had with the Rosh Yeshivah.

He had paid a visit to the Kamenetsky home and, upon entering, he was greeted with a question.

“You probably did not eat breakfast yet,” said Reb Shmuel. “How do you like your eggs?

“Uh,” Rabbi Orlowek stammered, “whatever the Rosh Yeshivah makes is perfect.”

“No, please, tell me,” Reb Shmuel insisted, “what is your preference? Cheese? Salt? Pepper?”

A frying pan was produced and the Rosh Yeshivah, who had taught thousands of talmidim, proceeded to prepare a scrambled egg for his guest.

Some decades later, the same Rosh Yeshivah continues to do the same thing.

He has plenty of needs, but the most important is attending to the needs of others.


Rabbi Chaim Heinemann is the rosh kollel and director of the Cincinnati Community Kollel in Cincinnati, Ohio.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1011)

Oops! We could not locate your form.