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The Sar Hachinuch

The man’s identity would remain a mystery until several years later


was about 14 years old when Rav Henoch Leibowitz ztz”l, my rebbi and rosh yeshivah, was hospitalized. He was discharged after several days but was still receiving IV fluids to prevent dehydration. At the same time, his Rebbetzin a”h had to go to the doctor, and she asked me to come stay with the Rosh Yeshivah until she got back. I came right over and waited downstairs while the Rosh Yeshivah rested upstairs.

It was just a bit later when I received a call from Rabbi Moshe Kasirer ztz”l, who was extremely devoted to the Rosh Yeshivah and Rebbetzin and often ran errands for the Rebbetzin or took her to the doctor. (After the Rebbetzin’s passing, he told me that since he had lost his own mother in the Shoah when he was just in his early teens, he had decided to care for the Rebbetzin as he would have for his own mother.)

Reb Moshe told me the Rebbetzin needed antibiotics and asked if I could pick them up at the nearby pharmacy, as he wouldn’t get there before it closed. I agreed, figuring it would be okay to leave the Rosh Yeshivah alone for a short while.

As it turned out, there was quite a wait at the pharmacy, and the Rebbetzin returned home before I did. She was rather surprised and unhappy to find the Rosh Yeshivah sitting at the dining room table, attached to his IV pole, in deep conversation with a perfect stranger. When I returned with the medicine, I was also surprised to find a stranger in the house when I had only left a short while before. The Rebbetzin politely but firmly asked him to leave and to make an appointment to come back at a more appropriate time.

The man’s identity would remain a mystery until several years later, when I was learning in Eretz Yisrael. I received a call from the Rosh Yeshivah asking me for a favor. He told me the son of a very close confidant of his was learning in a yeshivah near Netanya and was having some difficulty there. He asked me to please visit that yeshivah to check on this student, and I made arrangements to spend a Shabbos there.

On Erev Shabbos, I settled in my assigned dorm room and took a seat in the back of the beis medrash before Minchah, when the Rosh Yeshivah, who was sitting up front, looked my way and asked someone who I was. A few minutes later, one of the gabbaim approached me and told me the Rosh Yeshivah would like me to come sit up front. I was confused, but moved up.

After an enjoyable Shabbos, I prepared to return to Yerushalayim and went to take leave of the Rosh Yeshivah.

“Do you want to know why I invited you to sit right next to me yesterday during Minchah?” he asked me.

I responded affirmatively, and he explained. “Several years ago, I lived in Monsey and would often discuss different topics with the gadol hador, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. On one occasion, I shared with him what I thought was an incredible innovative idea that would change the face of chinuch in America. He thought for a few minutes and then said, ‘It sounds like a wonderful idea to me, but for something like this, you need to consult with the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivah Chofetz Chaim in Queens, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, who is the “Sar Hachinuch” in the yeshivah world today.’

“I had never met Rav Henoch Leibowitz before, but I got into my car and drove to Queens, where I went into the yeshivah and asked the first bochur I met where could I find the Rosh Yeshivah. The bochur gave me the Rosh Yeshivah’s home number, and I called.

“After a number of rings, the Rosh Yeshivah himself answered, and I introduced myself, saying Rav Yaakov had suggested I speak to him about an innovative idea for chinuch in America.

“The Rosh Yeshivah responded immediately, ‘If this is about chinuch and how to improve it, please come over now.’

“I got directions from one of the bochurim and drove right over. The Rosh Yeshivah let me in, and I immediately noticed he was attached to an IV pole. I felt terrible and apologized, explaining that I hadn’t known he wasn’t well. I was going to just leave, but Rav Henoch wouldn’t hear of it. He said, ‘You have a new idea on how to improve chinuch, and you think I would let something as insignificant as an IV pole interfere with that?’

“We sat down and had a comprehensive discussion about my new idea, and the Rosh Yeshivah explained to me why he thought our generation was not yet ready for such an approach. Then in the midst of the discussion, the Rebbetzin came in and politely but forcefully asked me to please return another time.

“I never had the opportunity to continue the conversation with Rav Henoch,” concluded the Rosh Yeshivah, “but seeing his total investment and caring for anything that could impact chinuch, to the point that he saw his being connected to an IV as absolutely irrelevant, made an indelible impression on me. So when I was told that you are a talmid of Rav Henoch Leibowitz, I knew that I had to pay back the Rosh Yeshivah in some small measure for the inspiration I received from him, and that’s why I wanted you, as one of his students to sit next to me up front.”

Finally, the mystery of the stranger who had showed up at the Rosh Yeshivah’s house was solved. But on a deeper level, the story afforded me a greater appreciation of just how much importance the Rosh Yeshivah attached to the topic of chinuch, and how befitting it was that Rav Yaakov referred to Rav Henoch as the “Sar Hachinuch.” —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1000)

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