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To Know and to Grow

Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky is still dreaming of ways to elevate and illuminate the American Torah landscape


Photos: Mishpacha archives, Meir Haltovsky

There is a laughter that is true and a laughter that is false.

When Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky takes my hand, he laughs quietly, the truest laughter I’ve ever heard. There is such kindness in his smile, in the way he looks at me as if he knows me, as if he understands what I say I want and what I really want. It reassures and encourages and says, “You’re a good guy.

Keep it up.”

The Rosh Yeshivah is looking at me expectantly — I’ve come to talk, haven’t I? — but I find myself wishing I could just sit quietly and soak in the smile and wise eyes for a bit longer: the Rosh Yeshivah sitting at this small table, a dish of apricot and mango before him, in a small room where the art on the wall includes a poster with the words of a passuk, “Ki vo yismach libenu, ki b’sheim batachnu,” both words “ki” in bold.

The Rosh Yeshivah’s accent is a blend, European elegance set to the cadence of out-of-town America. It sounds as if he’s adapted it, over his many decades, to the people with whom he speaks.

After learning I’ve just come from Montreal, the Rosh Yeshivah tells me that he also once lived in Canada. After they emigrated from Lithuania, his parents lived in Toronto, and at the time — the early 1940s — he was a talmid in Lakewood, trying to get back to Canada for Yom Tov, but the customs agents at the border wouldn’t allow him entry, claiming his student papers weren’t in order.

“They were very rude, the people at the border,” he recalls, as if beyond the inconvenience and dashed hopes and longing to be home, the rudeness was what disturbed him most.

That rudeness gave Rav Shmuel the chance to spend Succos with his rebbi, Rav Aharon Kotler.

Even today, decades later, he still remembers that Succos with Rav Aharon. The Lakewood Rosh Yeshivah “didn’t make an eisek” from his daled minim. “Someone brought a lulav and esrog, and he was very happy with them,” Rav Shmuel recalls. He also remembers the Rosh Yeshivah working the phones over Chol Hamoed. “He wanted the oilam to come back to Lakewood for Simchas Torah, even the yungeleit; he felt it was important to be b’simchah in the place where you learn Torah.”

So why doesn’t the Philadelphia Yeshivah welcome back the bochurim for Simchas Torah? I ask. “We also need a vacation,” Rav Shmuel quips. (In recent years, the oldest shiur has, in fact, started to come back to yeshivah for Simchas Torah.)

Though Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Aharon Kotler were close friends, having been fellow talmidim in Slabodka, Rav Shmuel only met his rebbi when he was 20 years old.

“I was learning in Yeshivas Ner Israel by Rav Ruderman, a relative and close friend of my father, and Rav Aharon came to Baltimore to raise funds. I spoke with him, and I was transfixed. I knew I wanted to follow him back to Lakewood.”


Rav Aharon gave the young man a bechinah.

On what?

Rav Shmuel is reveling in the memories. “On Shas.” The Rosh Yeshivah says this as if it’s obvious. (He doesn’t elaborate, but it’s been recorded that when Rav Shmuel was still in kollel, Rav Aharon pointed at him and proudly said, “Der yungerman kenn Shas mit Pnei Yehoshua.”)

He sees my eyebrows shoot up and waves his hand. “I liked to learn during bein hasedarim in Baltimore. And I used to wake up early.”

And now the Rosh Yeshivah is talking, an undercurrent of passion in his voice.

“We learned a lot. Whole masechtos. We covered ground. I remember Rav Aharon once came back from a trip to Eretz Yisroel around Purim time and said shiur on Bava Basra, he was in the ‘pei’s, daf pei-ches, after starting six months earlier on daf beis.”


I’ve seen Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky at conventions over the years. I’ve observed him make his way across hotel lobbies with that calm, steady walk, the courtesy and graciousness. I’ve seen the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshivah compliment mothers on their babies, and I’ve seen him stop to tell an older couple how well their grandson is learning in yeshivah. I’ve noticed how he’ll step aside to show respect for another rav or rosh yeshivah, as if he too is part of the entourage, the coterie of admirers.

(Several years ago, Rav Shmuel joined Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin and yibadel l'chayim tovim Rav Aharon Shechter on a short trip to Eretz Yisrael on behalf of Lev L’Achim. That Shabbos, a young baal teshuvah was eating at an American kollel family, and he excitedly mentioned that he’d met two great American rabbis at the Kosel and gotten their blessings. He’d been off to the side, hesitant to push into the crowd, but someone had encouraged him to ask for a brachah. The host was surprised, pointing out that there were three visiting dignitaries, not two, and he showed his guest a picture of the three roshei yeshivah. “Which two did you meet?” asked the confused host. The guest shook his head in wonder. “These two rabbis blessed me,” he said, pointing to the pictures of Rav Avrohom Chaim and Rav Aharon, “and this third one… he was the man on the side who told me to go get a blessing from them.”)

I’ve heard Rav Shmuel speak, his call for middos, for integrity in the workplace, for responsibility toward secular Jews. And on a sunny afternoon in Elul, I hear him speak with a different level of passion about Torah.

Rav Hutner once commented that, even though he found rabbinic meetings to be unproductive, he went for one reason: to hear Rav Aharon Kotler say the word “Torah.”

I remember this when I hear Rav Shmuel say the word lernen, like a little song.

The man who serves as a rosh yeshivah of a leading yeshivah, who remains deeply involved in the lives of generations of alumni, who sits on the Moetzes Gedolei Torah and is chairman of several major organizations, has charged his talmidim to realize a vision, embarking on a new project and making it personal.

Rav Shmuel, like his father before him, has long been sought after as a source of daas Torah, real-world advice, for marriages and chinuch and businesses and careers.

“It was a decision I made when I turned 70 years old,” the Rosh Yeshivah tells me. “Once you reach 70, everything after that is a gift, so I felt an achrayus to answer every phone call, to sit with whoever wants to sit with me.”

“Every phone call” means even in the middle of the night: The Rosh Yeshivah acknowledges that he also takes those calls that come in at 3 a.m. from people in Eretz Yisrael, interrupting the Rosh Yeshivah’s precious few hours of sleep.

“They probably don’t realize, they think we’re an hour or two off, they don’t mean to be inconsiderate,” says Rav Shmuel, as if it’s a real possibility that people don’t know the time difference between the two countries.

And it’s precisely from this vantage point — the one answering the questions — that he noticed a shift. As a whole, the frum community counts fewer am-haratzim than in recent generations; most men go through the yeshivah system and have the ability to learn on their own.

While it’s a positive trend, it’s not enough for Rav Shmuel, product of Rav Aharon’s Lakewood. Just as we need to make sure that there is no more ignorance, we also need real talmidei chachamim, people who know masechtos, who have complete mastery of Shas on a deep level. And it’s this need that has become the Rosh Yeshivah’s cause.

Five years ago, Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Appel, a close talmid, came to speak with the Rosh Yeshivah. A dynamic rosh chaburah in Beth Medrash Govoha, he was waking up at three in the morning to supplement the yeshivah schedule and learn other masechtos, but still, he felt he wasn’t reaching the heights in learning that his rebbi, Rav Shmuel, would describe back during his Philly days.

Rebbi and talmid had a candid conversation. Rav Shmuel, who’d spent years in Rav Aharon’s kollel, shared what was really on his heart: He wanted America to have a kollel where the most diligent, committed, accomplished young men could soar. It was time to recreate the world his rebbi had built on 6th Street in Lakewood.

“This is what Klal Yisrael needs now,” he told Reb Avrohom Yeshaya, “and you should build it. You should say chaburos and work with yungeleit — and fundraise as much as physically possible.”

Now, Rav Shmuel looks to his talmid, Reb Avrohom Yeshaya, who’s seated at the dining room table with us, and beams.

“He’s a mutzlach, he did it. I was there in the kollel. The yungeleit chazzer, they take bechinos. They are learning masechtos. Young bnei Torah can get to see these hasagos again.”


As Rav Shmuel speaks, he seems to be remembering those days, Rav Aharon surrounded by young men, many of them American born, who were willing to devote themselves to Torah, and only Torah.

In 1945, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, who’d been serving as a rav in Toronto, was appointed rosh yeshivah in Torah Vodaath. So in yet another new start, after serving in Tzivyetan, Lita, then in Seattle, Washington, before Toronto, he and his rebbetzin moved to Williamsburg. A local chazzan, Reb Mordechai Brooks, and his wife made it their mission to welcome the distinguished arrivals, ensuring that the Rosh Yeshivah and Rebbetzin were comfortable in their new neighborhood.

Rav Yaakov would be maspid Chazzan Brooks as someone who “did not know tzuras hamatbei’a, the image of a coin,” a person who viewed money only as a means to help others. The chazzan’s daughter, Temi, a product of Bais Yaakov, was determined to marry a ben Torah, and Rav Yaakov and his Rebbetzin were thrilled when it was suggested that she meet Rav Shmuel. Rav Shmuel and his new wife settled in Lakewood, where the Rebbetzin worked to support her husband.

The kollel in Lakewood, the sleepy resort town selected by Rav Aharon because of its distance — geographically and culturally — from New York, was a breeding ground of future gedolei Yisrael.

“Back in those early Lakewood days, we all lived so simply, we didn’t need very much,” Rav Shmuel tells me, and then points up to a simple light fixture. “We never bought a chandelier, this one came with the house, and we still have it. Much of the hatzlachah of a family of bnei Torah comes from being able to be mistapek b’muat, to make do with less.”

Then the Rosh Yeshivah leans forward and says something else. “This is why it’s wonderful that we send our young people, the bochurim and the girls, to learn in Eretz Yisrael before they get married.”

We have yeshivos in America too, the Rosh Yeshivah explains, “but how to really live b’mesirus nefesh, you can’t really see that in America anymore, not in too many places. In Eretz Yisrael they live for Torah. You go to an apartment and see a wire with a bulb hanging from the ceiling in their dining room — that’s their chandelier….”

In Rav Aharon’s kollel, there was only one currency. “We learned, we understood our achrayus. The Rosh Yeshivah would always tell us that the greatest hatavah, the biggest kindness we could do for Klal Yisrael, was to learn Torah.”

I ask if Rav Aharon played the role of modern-day rosh kollel as well, involved in their personal and family lives.

“No,” Rav Shmuel looks up, as if trying to remember a name. “There was a choshuve Yid there, Rav Yisroel Bergstein, a talmid of Slabodka. If yungeleit needed to talk to someone about a personal issue, he was the one.”

While Rav Aharon didn’t insist that his talmidim assume rabbinical positions, Rav Shmuel understood that the generation needed yeshivos. Like so many of the other talmidim of Rav Aharon, he considered his options. There were rabbanim in Philadelphia who felt the city could host a yeshivah, and Rav Shmuel, his rebbetzin, and their two children made the move.

“There was some concern about chinuch, about the fact that there weren’t many families like ours, but the Rosh Yeshivah gave us a havtachah, an assurance.”

It’s one that Rav Shmuel has given to generations of talmidim who’ve come soliciting advice regarding taking positions in chinuch or kollelim out of town.

“The Rosh Yeshivah said that if you do for the Eibeshter’s kinder, He takes care of your kinder, you don’t lose out. The Ribbono shel Olam pays back.”

And so the Kamenetskys settled in Philadelphia, in an attempt to build something new, but Rav Shmuel never felt alone in this venture. “The Lakewood mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, helped us. Rav Meir Mintz helped us. We had one talmid from Philadelphia and the rest were sent here by other roshei yeshivah, an act of chesed.”

The night before the yeshivah was to open, Rav Shmuel remembered something: the keilim, the dishes and cutlery he’d purchased for the yeshivah, hadn’t been toiveled.

The young rosh yeshivah was already in bed, but he got up and left the house, carrying boxes to the local mikveh and working throughout the long night. When dawn broke, he was done, ready to teach Torah. It was symbolic of what was to come: Well beyond saying shiur, Rav Shmuel would create a yeshivah in which the roshei yeshivah would focus on wholesomeness, on excellence in learning, but also on middos, on precision in halachah — and on respect.

In the Philadelphia Yeshivah, secular studies are taken seriously, and the entire yeshivah staff, down to the custodians, are treated with dignity. At the high school graduation each year, the bochurim — young men who spent nearly all their waking hours immersed in the world of Rav Akiva Eiger and the Ketzos — sing the national anthem, a sign of respect and gratitude to the country which hosts them. As if to reiterate the point, an American flag waves softly in the breeze on Rav Shmuel’s front porch.


Rav Shmuel wasn’t alone for another reason; he had a partner in the other rosh yeshivah. Rav Elya Svei had been a fellow talmid in Lakewood when the yeshivah in Philadelphia opened, and Rav Shmuel felt he would be the right choice to serve as a rosh yeshivah.

“Rav Elya was a mechanech. He really understood,” Rav Shmuel tells me, and as he remembers Rav Elya, there is a flash of what appears to be sadness, a cloud over the rosh yeshivah’s sanguine features.

Other yeshivos have also had two roshei yeshivah at their head. Not always is the partnership successful, and even when it is, not always does the arrangement work as fruitfully as this one did.

Rav Shmuel must feel like there’s an inherent compliment to him in my comment, so he just shrugs and spreads his hands apart. “It worked.”

But why? I persist: What was the secret?

“You want the secret?” The smile is back. “The secret is that mir zennen gevehn gutte chaverim, we were very good friends. But people see things differently, that’s inevitable, so we agreed early on that if we ever had a real difference of opinion, we would go together and ask.

“The Rosh Yeshivah was gone, and my father was a karov, so he couldn’t decide for us,” Rav Shmuel says, “so we made up that if we had a disagreement, we would go to Queens, to speak with Rav Zelik Epstein. He was a klugge Yid.”

Then Rav Shmuel adds a few more words. “Lema’aseh, we never had to go.”

On the morning of Rav Elya’s petirah, ten years ago, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5769, as the American yeshivah world mourned a general, Rav Shmuel — closest friend and partner to the niftar for over 50 years — prepared for the levayah by saying a shmuess to a group of visiting high school students. They had booked the appointment weeks in advance, and it was a climax to their trip. He didn’t feel it correct to cancel and disappoint these young men, so he greeted them and spoke with his usual warmth, then gave them brachos and went to the levayah of his friend.

At a public hesped for Rav Elya some time after his petirah, Rav Shmuel spoke. In his derashah, he mourned his closest friend and partner — but he did not cry.

Rav Shmuel of the Slabodka discipline and self-control does not allow himself to cry, because, in his words, “trerren darfen zein rein, tears must be pure, and who can say that their tears are sincere?”

(Once a year, he cries. The Rosh Yeshivah davens Ne'ilah in yeshivah, and when he reaches the words “Yehi ratzon shomeia kol bichyos, shetasim dimoseinu benodcha,” he breaks down — because in halachah it’s brought down that these words, “May it be the will of the One who hears cries, that You place our tears in a Your flask,” must be accompanied by tears so as not to seem like deceit.)

A week after the hesped for Rav Elya, Rav Shmuel received a letter criticizing him for not having cried. The anonymous writer felt that to speak with such evident pain about the loss of a gadol like Rav Elya and not to shed a tear was disrespectful.

Rav Shmuel took the letter seriously. A talmid asked: Why, in that case, did he not cry?

“I wanted to cry for Rav Elya, I felt like crying,” Rav Shmuel conceded, “but the rav who spoke before me did not cry, and I felt that if I would cry, he would look bad.”

Trerren darfen zein rein…

Discussing Rav Elya leads Rav Shmuel to point to the talmid sitting at his side, Rabbi Appel. “He and his shutaf also work so nicely together, they know how to ‘fargin,’ they share. That’s why it works.”

Rabbi Appel is visibly uncomfortable, but Rav Shmuel is clearly interested in making this point. “He and his shutaf in the kollel are sharing not just with each other, they’re giving this great investment to their supporters, and they’re giving the yungeleit to chance to become,” Rav Shmuel moves his hand high, “to become giants.”

Rabbi Appel, together with Rav Asher Steinmetz, consult with the Rosh Yeshivah at each juncture. There are three chaburos within Beth Medrash Govoha under the umbrella of Chaburas Kinyan Torah, comprising over one hundred yungeleit, and then the “graduate program,” Kollel Cheishek Shlomo, learns in a rented Lakewood beis medrash. (They are in the process of erecting a building that will include not just a beis medrash, but also a dormitory for the yungeleit to rest during bein hasedarim, a day care center for the children, and a simchah hall for their use.) The stipend for members of the kollel is far more generous than the standard kollel check, allowing the wives to work less hours and the schedule — a very short lunch break with a longer, earlier supper — enables them to be home for supper with their younger children.

It sounds like a sweet deal — but getting accepted isn’t that simple. There’s a one-hour long oral entrance bechinah on 250 blatt Gemara by heart, with questions reflecting both iyun and bekius. Once accepted, avreichim take monthly exams on 16 blatt Gemara. (A recent test on the masechtos Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, and Gittin included bekius questions like: Bring three ra'ayos that you can make a kinyan with less than a shaveh prutah, from each of the masechtos, and list every difference between karka and metaltelin found in these masechtos.)

Even as breadth of knowledge is emphasized, the kollel members are expected to learn b’iyun too, with an in-depth yeshivah style first seder, while those inclined to learning slowly adapt to covering significant ground during the afternoon seder, learning four blatt a week. Night seder is for chazarah, reviewing between 60 and 90 blatt each month.

And Rav Shmuel loves this.

“On Shivah Asar B’Tammuz,” Reb Avrohom Yeshaya tells him, “the yungeleit came right after Shacharis and many of them sat there until Maariv, learning for 12 hours straight. No one forced them to, but there is nothing they would rather be doing. That’s the best kind of pressure.”

“There are all sorts of kollelim, and they are all wonderful, all holy, Torah is Torah,” Rav Shmuel says, “but these two roshei kollel are giving us something unique.

“When you try to turn over the world,” he says, his eyes alive with good humor, “you have to know when to start, but also when to stop so that it lands properly. That’s what these roshei kollel are doing. They are doing something monumental, changing the world — but with sechel. Other cities are begging them to open such kollelim, to give them this sort of Torah.”


It’s interesting that Rav Shmuel, champion of the underdog and friend to the struggling, is so openly associated with a program for the elite. “We need to make room for both,” he says, “to be able to draw close the ones who are falling and to let the ones who are flying high to go far as they can.”

Rav Shmuel, always a voice of encouragement to bnei Torah in the workplace, recently arrived at Agudath Israel’s Manhattan headquarters early for a Moetzes meeting. As he walked by the conference room, he noticed the daily daf yomi shiur in session. The rosh yeshivah didn’t hesitate. He slid into a seat at the table, taking his place and participating in Professor Mechel Schiffenbauer’s shiur like a talmid, asking questions.

When Philadelphia’s prominent Lower Merion Synagogue celebrated its expansion, the Rosh Yeshivah came to speak. In his address, he recalled how, when the Ponevezher Rav visited Philadelphia, he liked to daven at this shul, because it was a tzibbur of bright, accomplished people — lawyers, scientists, doctors — who hadn’t all learned in yeshivah, but they loved to learn Torah. That moved him.

As much as he appreciates those who make time to learn Torah seriously, though, it’s kollel yungeleit that are the heart of our nation.

“You can be an accountant and still learn for several hours a day. Why should someone choose a much harder kollel life? Only because they have shei’fos, real dreams. How can we not give them a place to fulfill those dreams?”

Later, Rabbi Appel will tell me that Rav Shmuel didn’t just encourage the concept, he went a step further. “My shutaf, Rav Asher Steinmetz, was a popular maggid shiur in yeshivah, and his seforim, Lev Hamelech, have become classics in yeshivos. He could have a job in any yeshivah,” Rabbi Appel reflects. “Originally, I ran the Kinyan Torah chaburah in yeshivah myself. We started with 12 yungeleit and it quickly grew to 100, but once we opened Cheishek Shlomo, we needed someone else to join me at the helm, someone who embodied that which we were trying to create. I pleaded with Rav Asher, but he had no reason to come — until Rav Shmuel convinced him that this is the place for his talents.”

And a final note, a happy thought for a Yom Tov of simchah, which Rabbi Appel shares with no small amount of emotion: “We have young men coming in for entrance bechinos, ‘regular’ American yungeleit, and we ask them which 250 blatt they’d like to be tested on. Many of them look right back and us and say, ‘You choose.’ We need to celebrate what our yeshivos — regular, mainstream yeshivos — are producing.”

Both roshei kollel are close talmidim of Rav Shmuel — and it’s evident, one of the avreichim tells me, in their shared minhag. “When someone approaches either Reb Asher or Reb Avrohom Yeshaya with a kushya, they react by saying, ‘Nu, what do you want to say about this?’ It’s what the Philadelphia rosh yeshivah does — he doesn’t just teach, he also knows how to listen.”

And sometimes his answer is something else entirely; he’ll smile and deflect the question. It might look like he prefers not to answer, but to those who can see, his silence, his encouraging smile, and the wave of his hand… they too are answers. It’s not just about answering the question but about building the questioner.


Though Rav Shmuel never formally learned in Slabodka, his father and both of his roshei yeshivah — Rav Ruderman and Rav Aharon Kotler — were talmidim of the Alter of Slabodka, and he embodies the approach of seeing the bigger potential within a person in whom that glory might not yet be visible.

A talmid once called Rav Shmuel with a pressing question. His teenage son desperately wanted an iPod Touch. The device wasn’t up to the standards of the family, and the parents did not want it in their home. But the boy couldn’t get past it, and the wise parents understood that they needed guidance.

Rav Shmuel heard the question. “You should buy the bochur the iPod,” he said, but then added a few more words. “And then he should know that it’s his, he doesn’t have to give it back — but it would be good if he does.”

The father bought his son a brand-new device. Three days later, the young man came to his parents, his dignity intact, and returned the gift.

Rav Shmuel brings out the best in talmidim not through praise or compliments, but with nuance and subtlety, an elegant brand of mussar that conveys respect without stripping words of their meaning.

A leading askan asked Rav Shmuel who should speak at a prominent event. He named two balabatim who were both passionate spokesmen for the cause and asked the Rosh Yeshivah to choose the best candidate. Rav Shmuel mentioned a third name, but the askan waved the idea away, since the person Rav Shmuel suggested had a speech impediment and wouldn’t present well.

He again asked Rav Shmuel who among the two to select, and once more, Rav Shmuel wondered about the third person. The askan reiterated that this wasn’t an option, since the third man lacked the eloquence to speak effectively. Rav Shmuel dropped the topic.

When the askan left, Rav Shmuel looked at a close talmid, who’d been present. “This individual,” Rav Shmuel named the third person, the one he’d suggested, “only has a hard time speaking because he doesn’t have the confidence that people want to hear what he has to say. If he’d be asked to speak, he could do a good job, and more importantly, it would build him up and give him the confidence he needs.”

Rav Shmuel watched the retreating figure of the well-meaning askan and sadly said, “Ubber ehr hut nisht farshtannen — He didn’t understand.”

One Yom Kippur night, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky came into yeshivah before Kol Nidrei wearing a red tie.

A red tie, on an older rosh yeshivah! A red tie on the man Rav Elya Brudny has publicly referred to as “America’s kesser Torah.”

It was perplexing, but there were other things to be busy with that night, so the mystery remained — until after Yom Kippur, when a ninth grader, a sweet, sincere bochur, related a question he’d posed to the rosh yeshivah on Erev Yom Kippur.

He’d asked the rosh yeshivah if it was proper to wear a red tie on Yom Kippur, since that was the tie he had. Rav Shmuel assured him that it was and wondered why he was asking. “My friends were teasing me and telling me that it’s not appropriate,” the bochur admitted.

Rav Shmuel wished him well.

And then the Rosh Yeshivah, using not a single word, found a way to make a young man feel so big, on the holiest of nights.


Rebbetzin Temi Kamenetsky enters, and the Rosh Yeshivah rises to his feet to greet her. He introduces us, then assures her that yes, he’s offered us drinks and fruit. As we stand there listening, he asks how her morning has gone, and I recall a story I heard from him.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky had been giving a derashah during Shalosh Seudos at the Agudah convention when his cousin and close friend, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, rose from the dais and slipped out.

These were people of mussar, talmidim of Slabodka, and every move was significant. Rav Ruderman later apologized for the “slight.” As Rav Yaakov was speaking, Rav Ruderman had noticed the time, and realized that Shabbos was technically over and he could call his rebbetzin who’d remained in Baltimore for Shabbos. He wanted to call her and ask how her Shabbos had gone, unwilling to make her wait an extra moment. He knew Rav Yaakov would understand.

“It’s a heilege ma’aseh, a holy story,” Rav Shmuel remarks, “because my father was speaking words of Torah, words that build people, and Rav Ruderman was showing what Torah does to a person, the sort of person it creates. My father loved it.”

This is the feeling that I have in this small dining room with its piano and pictures — mainly of family, with larger ones of both Rav Yaakov and of Rav Moshe Feinstein — its fruits and brightly colored landscape on the wall and the air conditioner that rarely goes on, because the rosh yeshivah feels that a ben Torah doesn’t have to live with luxury. (It’s there for when the bochurim crowd in to hear a shmuess, because then it’s no longer a luxury.)

Torah builds people, and those people reflect the Torah.

Lernen, Rav Shmuel says, the song of his life. That’s the goal of this room, of this man who has done much, yet still dreams of ways do more.

To do more for Torah.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 781)

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