Inspirational Stories

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky’s Unexpected Learning Partner

Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Friedman of New York tells a moving story in the book “Bedidi Havi Uvdah”. Rabbi Friedman relates, that he met a Jew by the name of Rabbi Menachem Arava from Israel, and heard from him this wonderful story.

“I am a Baal Teshuva, I served in the Israeli air force. After a few years in the army I reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. In the 1970’s I underwent a spiritual journey and discovered the beauty of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot. I longed to live a life of Torah and true Judaism, but due to my role and the environment in which I was surrounded, I did not have the means and circumstances to extricate myself from the secular society in which I was involved, and to start a new life. I was waiting for the right opportunity, which was not long in coming.

In the IDF it is customary for senior officers to receive a long vacation with reimbursement in order to study at well-known universities. When my turn came and I was offered to go and study at university, I requested that instead of studying science at the university, I prefer to go and study Torah in a yeshiva. My commander replied that from his point of view there was no problem, but I had to get permission from the Defense Ministry.

The Defense Ministry told me that they do not recognize the yeshiva as a place for higher education, and therefore refuse to pay me a salary for the year.

“At that time I grew thirsty for Torah and Judaism, and I began to ask how to get close to Hashem,” continues R. Menahem. “In those days there were no famous Baal Teshuva movements, and there was no one to guide me to where to go.” I made my way to Judaism on my own, and so I came to an ultra-Orthodox family in Bnei Brak to stay with them for a Shabbat.

“I asked my hosts who is the most revered Torah personality in Bnei Brak, and they directed me without hesitation to the residence of Rabbi Shach Zt”l. “I want to change my leave to university, which I am entitled to on behalf of the Ministry of Defense, and study in yeshiva; though the Defense Ministry has refused my request, what should I do?”

“Rabbi Shach Zt”l listened to my words, and while I was in his room, he asked the trustee of his home, Rabbi Yechezkel Ishaik, to call the late minister, Rabbi Shlomo Lorentz. Rabbi Lorenz immediately arrived at the house of Rabbi Shach, while I was there. To my surprise, I heard Rabbi Shach ask Rabbi Lorentz to negotiate with the government a clause guaranteeing that courses studied by IDF officers in yeshiva would be considered equivalent to a university course. Indeed, this clause was included in the negotiations, and as a result I was able to study Torah in Yeshiva for two and a half years.”
14-year-old Zohar returns from school: “Dad, I don’t understand anything”

Rabbi Menahem began learning at Yeshivat Torah V’Emunah in Jerusalem, and later moved to Bnei Brak to study at Yeshivat Netivot Olam. His 14-year-old son Zohar joined a local Talmud Torah (Religious Torah School) .

Shortly after entering the school, the boy returned home frustrated. “Father, I do not understand anything that is taught in school.” “I can’t read the Gemara (Talmud) without punctuation,” he said.

The father responded to his son: “Zohar, when issues come up in life I go to the experts for advice, why don’t you try the same thing?” Here in our city, lives the famous Sage Rabbi Chaim Kanivsky shlit”a, he is an expert at Gemara, go and seek his advice.”

The boy went to Rabbi Kanievsky’s house on Friday afternoon and asked him, “Perhaps your honor could teach me tractate Bava Metzia, the Gemara we are learning in Cheider?”

Rabbi Kanievsky replied: “When will I have the time to learn with you? And after a moment of thought, he said, “It’s a good idea, sit my son and we will learn together.”

“They sat and learned the tractate of Baba Metzia together for an entire hour: the giant Torah Sage with a young boy struggling to learn,” the father notes with admiration. “When they finished studying and Zohar rose to go, he said: ‘Rabbi, should I come again next week?’ Rabbi Kanievsky, in his humility, replied: ‘Come again next week and we will study together.’

So it was. The special friendship continued for two and a half years. Every Friday afternoon the boy arrived at the house of the great Torah Sage for a lesson in Gemara.

Even when the boy went to study in a yeshiva, the special friendship continued, albeit slightly differently: Zohar would arrive on Friday afternoons, and the rabbi would test him on what he had learned that week.

After several years, Rabbi Kanievsky said to Zohar: “Tell your father I said it’s time for you to get married”. After the young man got married he went to Rabbi Kanievsky’s home to ask advice about his Torah learning. The rabbi said to him: “I would like you to write a commentary on the Mishnah Berurah and indicate the sources on which the Mishnah Berurah wrote his rulings.” In response, Zohar said that he felt this task was beyond him. He continued studying Torah in other fields and didn’t write the commentary.

After a while Zohar approached Rabbi Kanievsky expressing his concern that a been blessed with children yet. The Rav looked at him and said, “I told you to write a book about the Mishnah Berurah.” Zohar said again: “This is beyond me,” but the great Sage didn’t give in and said, “Deal with the book and you will be blessed with children”.

“And so it was,” continues Rabbi Menachem with his story. “While writing the first volume of his commentary, he was blessed with his first son, and from there on, upon completing the next volumes in the series, he merited another son.”

Rabbi Menahem took out the fourth volume of his son’s book, ‘Meir Oz’, and said; “indeed he now has four children.”

Rabbi Friedman concludes; we learn from this story how precious the soul of every Jewish child is, to the extent that the Great Torah Sage of the generation put aside his precious time to help a 14 year old secular boy, connect to the beauty of the Torah and Judaism.
'A volume of the book 'Meir Oz

Courtesy of the Dirshu website

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