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  Chapter 9 from
Voice of Truth
The life and eloquence of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, the unforgettable Maggid of Jerusalem

By Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Ariel 



A Penetrating Voice

A STRONG WIND BLEW INTO R’ SHOLOM’S FACE, AND flakes of snow danced around him in the frigid air. The streets were silent. The Maggid walked slowly, taking care not to slip. Suddenly, he stopped short, struck by a thought. Suppose he would turn around and go back into his warm house? The walk was long and difficult -- and who, after all, would be coming out to hear him speak in such weather?

Hesitantly, he resumed his walk. “Who knows? Maybe a few people will show up. I have to be concerned with whoever wants to listen. It’s worthwhile making the effort even for one individual!” He continued slowly, step by step, his breath escaping in small puffs into the freezing air.

Wrapped in dripping overcoats and walking briskly in the cold, Jerusalem’s Jews came to the Zichron Moshe Shul. One by one they entered, deposited their shtreimels in their accustomed places, and took their usual seats. There was one pressing question on everyone’s mind: Would R’ Sholom put in an appearance tonight?

He was no longer a young man. Would his strength permit him to walk such a long way in such stormy weather? From time to time, expectant glances were directed to the door. Each new person entering represented a fresh burden of disappointment. No, it was not R’ Sholom. He had not yet arrived.

By the time R’ Sholom himself stepped through the door, the shul was filled to capacity. Men stood in the aisles and sat on the steamy windowsills. The weather had not deterred this crowd. To put it quite simply -- they loved him. They loved his sweet words, and his fiery love for Torah, which no Jerusalem snowstorm could ever dampen.

R’ Sholom walked up to the Holy Ark. From his place in front of the Ark, his voice sliced through the air, slowly at first, as was his custom. Soon, he was drawing a portrait of a mythical man named “Yankel.” Reb Yankel learned in a kollel in the mornings and studied further on his own in shul in the afternoons. His livelihood was not thriving, however, so he made a decision. He would take up accounting at night.

“That Shabbos, between the reading of the Torah and the Mussaf service,” R’ Sholom related, “R’ Baruch, seated next to him, clapped him on the shoulder in a friendly fashion. ‘So what are doing with yourself these days, Reb Yankel?’

“Reb Yankel hesitated, reflected, blushed, and finally stammered, ‘I’m in accounting.’”

R’ Sholom’s voice rose. “He is ashamed to say that he wastes his time! It’s not easy for him to look his friend in the face and announce, ‘I’m a yeshivah man!’” The Maggid fell into a melodious chant. “What is he ashamed of? What is he avoiding? Why is he walking around depressed? He’s learning Torah, and that should be the pinnacle of pride! Why is he setting his sights lower? Instead of rejoicing and standing tall because he is performing Hashem’s will -- he is depressed. Amazing!

“Reb Yankel himself senses no problem with his reaction. Instead of pride, he feels embarrassment. Instead of understanding that the world exists in his merit, he casts his eyes down. The walls of the beis midrash do not appear worthy in those eyes. All day long, he carries the world upon his shoulders -- yet he draws pride from his secular work. ‘I’m in accounting.’”

The atmosphere in the Zichron Moshe Shul was rife with hidden pain. Beneath the Maggid’s keen eye and incisive words, men stirred uneasily in their seats. Then, suddenly, a broad smile flashed onto R’ Sholom’s glowing face -- a smile that caused the tension to dissipate all at once. “I just remembered a fantastic story!” The crowd breathed deeply, relieved at the introduction to this other side of R’ Sholom. He was a man of many aspects, a man who, by turns, could rebuke and caress, criticize and soothe, pierce the heart and then make it rejoice.

In Eretz Yisrael 60 or 70 years ago, the concept of a kollel was almost unknown. The old yishuv was poverty stricken and apathetic. Today, baruch Hashem, the story is far different. “Yes, I’m an accountant -- but I learn in the evenings. I’m a yeshivah man!”

R’ Sholom was instrumental in bringing about this revolution. He traveled great distances in order to spread his love for Torah. His message began in Sha’arei Chesed and spread throughout the world. Zichron Moshe, Bucharim, Tel Aviv, Boro Park, London, and Antwerp were some of the places where R’ Sholom raised his flag for the Torah revolution. He laid down roads and paved highways leading directly to Torah and piety. “A yeshivah man” was the dominant image in the talks he gave. R’ Sholom poured the foundation that would allow these men to stand with pride. “A yeshivah man!”

The words are carved in the memories of all who heard them. They flew from the Maggid’s heart to penetrate the hearts of his listeners. Many began to view their own lives and the source of their contentment in a new and different light.

“A yeshivah man!”

INTO THE LION'S DEN

REB SHOLOM WAS NOT CONTENT WITH SIMPLY SPEAKING TO those who came to hear him. Often, he went to them to insure that the Torah’s message was heard. And often his influence was profound and long lasting.

“A long striped coat, an old shtreimel, and a long beard. These were my impressions as I gazed up at the figure standing before the crowd in the great Yeshurun Synagogue. He was crying aloud from his heart.”

That scene remains clearly etched in the memory of the talmid chacham who shared this story with us. He was 10 years old at the time and was at the Yeshurun Synagogue one Shabbos when, at the end of davening, a strange sight met his young eyes.

“Shabbos, Shabbos!” resounded suddenly through the great hall. The worshipers exchanged startled glances. What was going on?

R’ Sholom -- though at the time the lad did not know who he was -- had entered the shul. He stepped briskly up to the Aron Kodesh, then turned to face the audience.

“Shabbos!” he cried. “There are people who drive here on Shabbos. They are sitting among you and davening. After davening is over, they get into their cars, Rachmanah litzlan. Shabbos! Shabbos!” His strong voice echoed through the room.

Many of the shul’s most prominent and distinguished members were among those present. They, along with others, were outraged. A total stranger had dared address them without bothering to request permission, and was standing there berating and attacking them! He was criticizing them for desecrating the Shabbos. What chutzpah! The congregation stirred uneasily in their seats.

All at once, a commotion broke out. Worshipers began shouting out their opinions -- some in support of the stranger’s words and others just as vehemently opposed. A few men decided to take action. They approached R’ Sholom with the intention of removing him by force.

R’ Sholom remained calmly in place.

“I stood among the others and listened as the decision was made to remove the speaker by force,” relates the teller of the tale. “But Mordechai Frieman of Kol Yisrael stopped them. He calmed the crowd and asked them to let R’ Sholom finish what he had to say.”

R’ Sholom concluded his remarks. Then he stepped away from the podium and left the shul.

“The incident aroused many emotions within me,” the man recalls.

“Here was a man who had delivered a spontaneous rebuke, with no ulterior motive and at great personal risk. No one had asked him to worry about the whole world. He could have gone home to enjoy his Shabbos meal together with his family instead of volunteering to endanger himself in such a fashion.

“R’ Sholom did not need any witness to his heroism. It was Heaven’s honor that burned in him -- and that brought him right into the lions’ den. And that lesson has stayed with me since then.”

EXPLOSION

AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS ORATORY, R’ SHOLOM FELL ABRUPTLY silent. He had been talking about R’ Eliyahu Lopian. The silence stretched.

Even when he was not speaking, his audience found him interesting to watch. They saw him push his glasses up, then lift a finger to the corner of one eye to wipe away a tear. Perhaps the tear came from the words of mussar he had just been quoting -- or was it a tear of longing for the days he had spent with R’ Eliyahu Lopian?

The audience was still wondering, when R’ Sholom blurted out, “Ah, R’ Elenkeh, R’ Elenkeh (his respectfully affectionate nickname for R’ Lopian) -- how smart he was! How he knew how to plumb the depths of the human heart.” He straightened his back, stroked his beard, and began speaking fluently once more.

“A Jew places his Chanukah lights higher than 20 amah. He takes the trouble to climb up and place his light just there. Why? What happened? The Gemara tells us that a candle like this is pasul (disqualified). Let us open the Gemara and read inside.” As a rule, R’ Sholom did not read aloud from the Gemara during his sermons, preferring to quote passages from memory. This time, however, he removed his glasses, brought the volume close to his eyes, and read:

“Rav Kahana said in the name of R’ Tanchum that a Chanukah candle that is placed higher than 20 amah is disqualified. And R’ Kahana said in the name of R’ Tanchum: Why does it say, ‘And the pit was empty, it contained no water’? If it says that the pit was empty, don’t I know that it contained no water? Rather, it is coming to teach that it contained no water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions.”

“What,” asked R’ Sholom, “is the connection between these two statements? Everyone asks that question -- an intriguing one. Talmidei chachamim have already offered their explanations, but I want to ask again: Why would a Jew decide to place his candle higher than 20 amah?

“He is embarrassed. Ah, ah, he is embarrassed. He doesn’t want the people in the street to see. Now we come to the continuation of R’ Tanchum’s words: ‘And the pit was empty, it contained no water.’” A hand came down forcefully on the shtender, the blow resounding in the quiet shul. R’ Sholom roared, “The pit was empty, it had no water. It had no Torah! Not only is it empty, it is a void, an abomination! It contains snakes and scorpions! What is that man afraid of? Why is he ashamed?”

R’ Sholom’s smile was tinged with visible anger. “To eat a pita in the middle of the street doesn’t embarrass him. To sit on a chair in the middle of Rechov Yaffo and lick an ice cream in the faces of the passersby is not embarrassing. But lighting a Chanukah candle is something to be ashamed of. Who are you trying to hide from, you fool?” He might almost have been speaking to a particular person in the room.

In a lowered voice, he continued sadly, “I was walking down the street near a certain school and I glanced into the schoolyard. What did I see? Two groups of unfortunate children, tinokos shenishbu, who have not yet sinned. A teacher stood in a clearing between the two groups. I stopped to watch what they were doing. Suddenly, two boys -- one from each group -- ran into the clearing. Before I could blink my eyes, they began to fight with all their might. Their fists rained blows on one another, and their feet kicked each other with youthful energy. On both sides, the other boys were shouting, ‘Give it to him in the teeth! Give it to him in the teeth!’

“This is Culture?” R’ Sholom exclaimed. “Is it for this that you are embarrassed?”

With a sigh, he finished, “‘And the pit was empty, it contained no water.’ As our Sages have explained, there is no water but Torah.”

The “street” was a powerful phenomenon in R’ Sholom’s day, attracting young people like a magnet. R’ Sholom did his best to try and break the spell. To young Jews, he said, “Let’s take the ‘street’ that so intimidates you -- the policies, the political parties, the desires, the fantasies, and drag them all into the beis knesses!” He showed young people exactly what the “street” was, then exploded the illusion right before their eyes. The whole shallow edifice shattered into a million tiny pieces at one blow. That was R’ Sholom’s unique power.

His method of mocking secularism gave strength to many, and blazed the way for others to follow in their own sermons. R’ Sholom was the supporting wall on which numerous families leaned, and the foundation upon which countless homes were built. He spread his word not only in Eretz Yisrael, but abroad as well. One native Israeli chanced to be in London years ago, and went into a shul on a Shabbos afternoon.

“The shul was packed from end to end, so that I could hardly walk in. R’ Sholom stood on the steps leading to the Aron Kodesh, relating to everyone exactly what it was that filled the streets of London. He made fun of the race after money, the empty wealth ... This is one of the gifts that R’ Sholom has given our generation.”

“I’ll never forget,” another man says, “the time R’ Sholom read aloud to us from the Mesillas Yesharim.

“‘Because man was not created except to take pleasure in Hashem,’” R’ Sholom read. “Rabbosai! A person was created for pleasure, for enjoyment -- that is his purpose. It is Hashem’s will that we enjoy. That we take pleasure!” He paused. “To take pleasure in what? In a cup of ice cream? In a cigarette? In sleeping 18 hours at a stretch? In what, exactly, shall we take pleasure? In foolishness? In emptiness?

“No, no, rabbosai -- ‘in Hashem!’ To take pleasure in Hashem and bask in His Shechinah, which is true pleasure and the greatest delight of all. And the true location of that delight is the World to Come.”

R’ Sholom had a special power to help others view their own pathetic desires and fantasies in their true light. He took lofty concepts and carried them down to where the simplest person could grasp them. He gilded the depths of mussar with a golden patina that made them accessible to all.

A well-known Torah scholar relates, “I knew an unfortunate individual who struggled with all kinds of difficulties, and who rose and fell spiritually, over and over again. He wandered abroad, passing through different phases in his mitzvah observance.

“This man told me that whenever he would find himself in a particularly difficult situation and wished to rise above it, he would seize a few moments of quiet, close his eyes, and imagine one of R’ Sholom’s sermons: the pleasing voice, the melodious chant, the emotion. The vision carried him back to earlier good times in the Zichron Moshe Shul with R’ Sholom. In this way, the man felt strengthened and was able to stabilize his life.”

Wherever he may be, across the length and breadth of America, a forlorn man can close his eyes, concentrate on a particular talk delivered once, long ago, and far away, by R’ Sholom, and emerge strengthened.

And this is only one such story among thousands.

ONE NEWSPAPER REPORTER

ONE SUMMER’S DAY IN THE YEAR 5718 (1958), A SECULAR NEWSpaper reporter entered R’ Sholom’s house and asked him the secret of his successful sermons.

R’ Sholom smiled at the question. “I don’t know if I’m successful or not. Let’s try an experiment. I will deliver a talk to you, and when I’ve finished, you will decide for yourself what the secret of success is.”

The sermon was delivered in his house in Sha’arei Chesed, in the tranquil atmosphere engendered by the thousands of volumes of sifrei kodesh lining the walls. The table, too, was covered with holy books. As the reporter sat opposite R’ Sholom on one of the ancient wooden chairs, his host, radiating love of Torah and deeply felt piety, spoke at length.

When the sermon was over, the reporter’s eyes filled with tears -- Jewish tears. He went home and composed a long article for Ha’aretz newspaper. The article quoted a sermon which, he said, R’ Sholom had delivered in the Zichron Moshe Shul, but which he had actually heard all by himself, an audience of one, in R’ Sholom’s own home.

Here is the article:

Preaching Without Reward

As is well known, people are not eager to hear a sermon, not from those close to them and certainly not from a stranger. But great crowds stream to hear the sermons of R’ Sholom Schwadron, the famous Jerusalem “Maggid,” especially when a Jewish holiday is approaching in the capital city.

Every Sabbath eve, after the meal, they come to the big neighborhood shul of Zichron Moshe, where R’ Schwadron preaches his sermons. There are hundreds of them: the elderly and the young, men, women and children from every part of the city, sitting and standing in crowded conditions for hours, listening open-mouthed to R’ Schwadron’s words, at the same time both fiery and sweet.

He is fluent in the art of oratory. “He speaks by the grace of Heaven,” say those in the know. He knows when to raise his voice and when to lower it, when to pound powerfully on the table before him, when to wave his hands, when to express himself in a chassidic chant and when to sway to the rhythm of his own words -- to hold his audience captive and drill into their hearts his message of pungent mussar, liberally sprinkled with quotes by our Sages, with verses, with stories of chassidim and misnagdim, and the like.

It is clear to see that R’ Schwadron, both in his sermons and in the course of his own life, shares the pain of those who witness people lacking in faith -- denying the existence of the Creator -- and especially when this is seen among the youth. He follows every new development in the State and weaves it into the words he preaches against the “heretics.” But let us allow R’ Schwadron to speak for himself:

“The first question” -- this is the way he opened his remarks -- “is how a person can wander the face of the earth for the 70 years of his life, without ever asking himself even once -- and this, to our sorrow, is the bitter reality -- ‘Who am I, what am I, how was I created, and where am I going?’ In the past, there were heretics and philosophers with twisted minds, but for all that, most of them were important people. But today?” Here R’ Schwadron raises his voice and spreads his hands -- “Today, nobody wants to think. They live their lives like animals. They eat, drink, sleep, and make money ... The adults grasp at whatever comes to hand, and are smitten with [spiritual] ‘illnesses,’ just like children. And all this because they don’t want to think, because if they think, they will be forced to deny themselves some things that they have grown accustomed to.” Rav Schwadron sighs.

Youth and Values

As he continues his speech, he presents several real examples, the most actual of them being, of course, the mixed swimming pool -- standard fare for the public. Then he moves on to a different topic -- that of our youth. “Today, young people are not searching for the good, but rather for the sweet and pleasurable. Like I said -- they’re licking ice-pops.” As R’ Schwadron grows more excited, his voice becomes excited, too. “And for this reason I began to understand what had surprised me at first: How people with a head on their shoulders, living in such a large world, claim that the sky and the earth, the stars and the moon, the plants and every living thing -- were all created by themselves, Heaven forbid. A box of matches cannot create itself. If you suggested otherwise, people would laugh at you. And what, after all, is the big deal about a box of matches? But our wondrous and awesome world -- that was created by itself?

“They do not think, and so they do not acknowledge the clear fact that anyone who uses his mind knows: It is necessary for there to have been a Creator!” He preaches at the anonymous heretics.

“I was a boy of 7” -- the Maggid recalls the days of his childhood, his eyes igniting -- “and I remember sitting on the steps of my house, at night, for about 3 hours, thinking and thinking about matters of faith. I thought until my head ached. But today? Boys of 16 and 17 don’t even think about the creation of the world -- ‘What, who, how.’ Previous generations had their share of apostates, but they were few in number. Today, for our sins, they have become many -- from a few who denied our faith, to many who believe in denial of faith. They wish to deny the faith that has been transmitted from generation to generation. And it is a confused apostasy, which cannot under any circumstances claim that there is no G-d, an apostasy without substance. This -- how do you say it? absurdity? -- is what they believe in. Yes, the great absurdity! This is intoxicating our youth today. The youth seeks out all sorts of desires to fill his soul, in order to forget that his soul is crying out, against his will: ‘A’yekah’!”

Cruelty -- Apostasy’s Outcome

Rav Schwadron has no lack of examples to illustrate the results of clinging to apostasy. “We have never before heard of Jews behaving cruelly, the way we have heard it in our time, here in Eretz Yisrael. I am not talking about gentiles. Without Torah -- that’s the way it is. But the story about the young people who caught a boy from another political party trying to enter their meeting, and cut out his heart in cold blood -- have we ever heard such a thing in Israel? Is it possible that, for a trash can on erev Yom Kippur, after midnight, a man will kill his neighbor? Is it possible that because of a dog’s barking a man will murder his friend? Has it ever been heard that young people break into their schools at night and steal money, until the schools are forced to surround themselves with iron bars, like a prison?

“As for the good children ...” Here, R’ Schwadron pauses a moment. After a brief halt for reflection, he continues, “Today, hundreds of children are being educated to steal. Robbery, murder, and the destruction of middos -- all these things come from the theaters and the cinemas. Fathers without sense and mothers without wisdom stuff their children with all sorts of desires. And from this, our children begin to sink into the depths. The youth slides into the chasm in order to forget the cry of his own soul.”

And again, R’ Schwadron lifts his voice and shouts: “All the efforts of educators and police who know this hopeless situation and want to repair it, all their efforts are to no avail. Why? Because a person’s inclination is evil from his youth. It is only when a person fears the punishment he can expect from the Creator of the world that he succeeds in mastering his inclination. With reflection, with dedication and with awareness, and naturally not in one minute, he can change his nature by habitual action; as our Sages have said, habit becomes second nature. All the good character traits, if they are not rooted in faith in a Creator, contradict and are contradicted by man’s actions, because the majority of men are born with lowly traits as well.”

In R’ Schwadron’s opinion, there is no other course but “not to be embarrassed, to cast down pride and admit: We have abandoned our father’s faith. We thought that we are smarter than they, that they were the mistaken ones and we are the ones who understand. Now, we see how right they were. They had a strong desire to give us life, to elevate us, to make us -- how do you say? -- gliklach, to make us happy in this world and in the next. We were mistaken. Even Jewish consciousness, which the Minister of Education is attempting to introduce into the schools, is not something he can recommend to intelligent students, who are liable to ask him: ‘Do you live according to what you are recommending?’ Only if the leaders of our nation see the great need, if they return at least to the fundamentals of faith in a Creator, if they recognize, in their innermost hearts, that their desire is to observe all of the Torah -- only then will we be able to educate our youth in the proper manner.”

Practicing What He Preaches

This is just an example of one sermon among the many that R’ Schwadron has been preaching in various shuls throughout the Sha’arei Chesed neighborhood for the past 20 years, and for the last four years in the large Zichron Moshe Shul. He does not repeat himself, and this is his strength. Every sermon arouses its listeners’ interest. From time to time he is invited to speak in shuls in different cities, and to different sectors. He speaks in a juicy Yiddish and also in fluent Hebrew. And he is outstanding in another quality: in his observance of the saying, “Practice what you preach.” He is scrupulous in his observance of all the mitzvos, large and small. Though his means (he is the father of seven daughters and a son) are strained, he lectures without payment, gives a tithe of his earnings to the poor, performs acts of lovingkindness, and extends a helping hand to anyone who asks. Money is not a consideration to him; the important thing is learning Torah for its own sake. During the month of Elul, he has decreed silence upon himself, except for Torah study, and will not exchange a word even with his family members, answering them in writing instead.

Born in Meah Shearim

Rav Schwadron is 46 years old. He was born in the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, to Rabbi Yitzchak Schwadron, son of the gaon of Berzon, R’ Sholom Mordechai HaKohen Schwadron, author of halachic works that have earned widespread fame throughout the Diaspora and Eretz Yisrael, and by whose name he is known. He lost his father as a child, was educated in a Talmud Torah in Meah Shearim and afterwards in a yeshivah in Petach Tikvah. From there, he moved on to Chevron Yeshivah, where he was a student of R’ Chasman who guided and taught him after he stood already revealed as outstandingly zealous in Torah. The time he has remaining after learning Torah and serving as Rosh Yeshivah of a Sephardic beis midrash gavohah in Mekor Chaim, is dedicated to publishing his grandfather, the gaon’s, manuscripts and to composing his own halachic works, three of which have appeared in print thus far. He is now working on another book.

On Friday nights, after the meal, he hurries off to the shul in all kinds of weather, to preach his sermon to the hundreds who have come to hear him, and who listen thirstily to what he has to say. He is prepared to appear and to preach and to deliver talks anywhere he is invited to do so, as well as to write for newspapers, even the Al HaMishmar, though under a pseudonym. Those close to him relate that he is afraid of writing under his own name since the time he was dismissed after an appearance -- a thickly bearded man with peyos, wearing a long coat and preaching about faith and religion -- with the words, “Ah, Neturei Karta.” They emphasize that he is not a member of the Neturei Karta sect, despite the fact that he is zealous and extreme in his faith, and does not belong to any other religious political party, though his views tend to Agudas Yisrael.

These were the impressions of a completely secular newspaper reporter, representing the best efforts of a non-observant man to acquire a grasp of who R’ Sholom Schwadron was. R’ Sholom’s true essence was something that a reporter could certainly never touch. But his article is testimony to the powerful spirit behind R’ Sholom’s sermons, and to the changes that they were capable of bringing about even in those outside the religious camp.

HEART TO HEART

THE TRUE SECRET BEHIND R’ SHOLOM’S SUCCESS AS A SPEAKER and a mover came from the fact that he had erected an internal value system in his own heart, and from that vantage point was able to sway the hearts of others. He was also granted siyata d’shemaya -- a helping hand from Heaven.

In a letter (to R’ Shlomo Stentzal), R’ Sholom expounded at length on matters connected to the preparation of a site from which to speak in Tel Aviv. He ended with a single, short, but illuminating sentence:

“May Hashem grant that we succeed in arousing ourselves to return in full repentance before Him, so that our intentions will be for the sake of Heaven; then we are guaranteed that what emerges from our heart will enter the hearts [of others].”

And in a different style, in another letter he wrote: “May Hashem grant that we are able to return to Him wholly and truly ourselves, and afterwards bring others’ hearts back into His service.”

In other words, R’ Sholom demanded from himself and spoke to his own heart first. Only afterwards did he speak to others. That was the reason he was so successful. Even during the talk itself, he would be arousing R’ Sholom Schwadron along with the rest of the crowd. In this, he was a giant of a man.

R’ Sholom once spoke to an audience and felt afterwards that he had succeeded in rousing them more than he had roused himself. Immediately, he began seeking new ways to internalize his sermon to rouse his own self.

The week of mourning for R’ Shneur Kotler was at an end, and a hesped (eulogy) service was being held in Lakewood. R’ Sholom Schwadron, staying in America at the time, was one of the eulogizers. His words rose up in tongues of flame, a powerful and bitterly mournful speech, accompanied by a storm of tears.

At the conclusion of the hesped, R’ Sholom got into the car that would take him back to where he was staying. They were halfway there when R’ Sholom turned suddenly to the driver, an acquaintance of his, and asked if he had a tape recorder in the car. Receiving an affirmative reply, he took a cassette from his pocket and asked the driver to play it. “They taped my hesped and gave me a copy of it. I want to listen to it,” he said.

R’ Sholom sat quietly, listening to his own words. All at once, he began to cry. The weeping grew stronger, the tears falling copiously.

The driver, in an impudent mood, said jocularly, “R’ Sholom, you are already in the car. You don’t have to cry anymore.”

The tears dried up. R’ Sholom turned and said, “Let me explain. When a person speaks in front of an audience, it’s hard for him to hear himself. He invests a lot of energy in being heard and in arousing his listeners, but he doesn’t manage to internalize the talk for himself. But I, too, want to hear a powerful hesped for R’ Shneur Kotler.”

He turned on the tape recorder again. As the car wound its way home, it was filled once more with a storm of emotion as R’ Sholom listened to the eulogy.

(as told by R’ Chaim David Ackerman)

* * *

The people of Jerusalem loved R’ Sholom, and they came by the hundreds to bask in his presence. Torah scholars sat side by side with the unlearned, the elderly alongside the children. All came on Friday night to the Zichron Moshe Shul to hear R’ Sholom speak.

Many young people came with their pockets filled with sunflower seeds, prepared to have a good time. There were those who came with their eyes half-closed, having fought back the exhaustion that threatened to overtake them at the Shabbos table. After the meal, they struggled against their fatigue, donned their shtreimels, tied their belts, and set out for Zichron Moshe. Once inside, they often as not dozed off again ... until a blow to the shtender from the Maggid’s hand startled them into wakefulness, and they started listening again.

In his tasteful, sweet manner, R’ Sholom told them about the vital ingredients of a Jew’s life. He knew how to touch the place inside where a person feels most deeply. Sometimes he dug deeper than people felt comfortable doing themselves, exerting pressure on each individual according to that person’s unique personality and particular inner strengths. From that deep place, he would rouse his audience to reflection, introspection, and self-motivation. Even those who lived wild lives, lives without emphasis on good character or fear of Heaven, enjoyed refreshing their wandering souls with a good Friday night sermon in Zichron Moshe.

Every person left with a wonderful sensation in the depths of his innermost being. Talmidei chachamim and simple folk alike would emerge with strong new resolutions to carry them through the coming week. R’ Sholom’s sermon nourished them for the next seven days. In his presence, they tasted the Olam HaZeh (this world) that is in Olam HaBa (the World to Come).

"MY MEYER'KE"

R’ SHOLOM OFTEN EXPRESSED GREAT ANGUISH IN HIS SHIURIM concerning the desecration of the Shabbos and the apostasy that he saw around him. From time to time, householders would try to comfort him. “It’s not so bad. Hashem will help.”

One day, before the shiur began, R’ Sholom’s ears picked up some angry whisperings.

“What is it?” he inquired. He soon had his answer: “Ah! They’re charging a tax for everything. Every loaf of bread comes with a state tax. What’s going to become of our country?”

Smiling, R’ Sholom spoke to them in their own language. “Don’t worry, it’s not so bad. Hashem will help.”

He faced the assembled group. “I want to tell you,” he said, “about something that happened to me a number of years ago. Two children from the neighborhood were playing ‘horse and buggy.’ One boy was the horse, and his friend pulled him with a rope as they ran around. The two of them galloped near my front yard and as they did, the boy in front tripped on a step, fell to the ground, and cut open his forehead.

“My wife ran into the house, calling out, ‘Meyer’ke fell on the stones outside and is bleeding profusely! Let’s take him to the doctor!’ She took a towel, soaked it in water, and we went outside. I held the boy in my arms while my wife pressed the hole in his forehead with the towel. In this way, we began walking quickly toward the home of a doctor at the edge of Sha’arei Chesed.

“In the distance, we saw the boy’s grandmother, a respected woman well beloved in Sha’arei Chesed. We said nothing to her. Seeing us from afar, she grasped the situation at once: R’ Sholom and his wife were rushing to bring a hurt child to the doctor. She called out encouragingly, ‘Hashem will help. It’s nothing, it will pass.’

“Still we were quiet. Soon we were closer to the grandmother, and she saw that the blood-covered child looked familiar to her. Again she said, this time hesitantly, ‘It’s nothing terrible, Hashem will help.’

“Then we were right beside her, and she saw that the child was her own grandson. Immediately, she forgot all the comforting things she had said to us, and broke into piercing screams: ‘Meyer’ke! Meyer’ke! Gevald!

“What happened next?” R’ Sholom asked. He continued, “All the neighborhood women ran out in a panic to see what the screaming was about. They took one look, then said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing, Hashem will help, it will pass.’

“I learned a valuable lesson from this episode. If it is not my Meyer’ke, it’s nothing terrible.

“When a man does not feel that chilul Shabbos is his Meyer’ke, he takes comfort: Hashem will help. But when his taxes are ‘my Meyer’ke,’ he kicks and shouts.

“It is the same in every area of life. ‘My Meyer’ke.’

“A valuable lesson.”

* * *

“I just remembered a story.”

Everyone smiled to hear that expression. It was R’ Sholom’s habit to switch instantly into storytelling mode the moment he thought of one, even if it had no direct bearing on the topic at hand. When he was done, he would return smoothly to the original subject of his talk. He was acting on instructions from his teacher, R’ Eliyahu Lopian, a man who, like R’ Sholom himself, lived his life in the service of his community.

“If a thought enters your mind while you are speaking -- even if it is a side point -- say it aloud,” the older man had advised. His reasoning was simple: It is the watchful Eye of Heaven, hashgachah, that directs all our steps and places a certain idea or story into our heads. Perhaps the listeners need to hear it -- or perhaps only one listener does. It is Hashem’s will that the speaker mention that particular story at this particular moment. R’ Sholom adhered to this custom for scores of years.

Many, many individuals found the right moment in which to approach R’ Sholom and tell him, “R’ Sholom, what you said yesterday was exactly what I needed to hear. You have no idea why you happened to remember that particular vort in the middle of your talk.” This was their reaction to hearing something that the Maggid had mentioned spontaneously, almost incidentally. Hashgachah.

A Jerusalem resident related to us a fascinating tale, one that R’ Sholom had remembered “especially” for him.

The man owned a printing press. Every morning, after davening Shacharis with a vasikin minyan and learning the daf yomi, he went to his shop to earn a livelihood for his family. After his workday he would return to the beis midrash for a few more hours of learning and prayer.

Once a year, this man was called upon for reserve military duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. He never tried to avoid his service when called upon. His army job was that of watchman, which allowed him to spend many hours in learning.

Then came the day when he found a notice in his mailbox: reserve duty for three weeks. The service would fall out in the month of Nissan. Making a rapid calculation, the man realized that he would be gone from home on the night of the Pesach Seder, as well as all the remaining days of the holiday. At the prospect, a shadow fell across his face.

The notice arrived on a Friday. “I haven’t had such a Friday in a long time,” he thought. His spirits plummeted sharply.

That night, he ate his Shabbos meal, sunk in gloomy thought. He pictured his family’s Seder table, minus his presence. Who would be there to answer his sons’ Mah Nishtanah? And what would he himself eat during all the days of Pesach?

Friday evenings usually found the printer in the Zichron Moshe Shul, listening to R’ Sholom speak. On this gray night, however, he decided to diverge from his custom and take a walk instead. After a long stroll in the company of his melancholy thoughts, he found his legs carrying him, as though by habit, to the shul. He hesitated at the door, then went in.

Zichron Moshe has a book-lined foyer at the entrance, from which one enters the main sanctuary of the shul. The printer stood in this foyer, listening to R’ Sholom’s clear voice roll out to reach his ears:

“I just remembered a story,” R’ Sholom was saying, “and when that happens, you already know what we must do. The story has nothing to do with our topic, but ...” R’ Sholom embarked on his tale:

When yeshivah students would visit the Chofetz Chaim to discuss the problem of the Polish military draft, he would return a variety of answers. There is a wealth of stories concerning these amazing responses, and the ruach hakodesh that often prompted them. If the Chofetz Chaim placed a copy of the book Machaneh Yisrael in the student’s hand, then he knew nothing would avail him; he would be drafted. But if the Chofetz Chaim’s response was to say, “Whoever accepts the burden of Torah is released from the burden of the government and derech eretz,” then the young man knew he must not spare any exertion in Torah -- and his freedom from the draft would be assured.

“Whoever accepts the burden of Torah!” R’ Sholom’s voice rang out. “Whoever accepts that burden -- whatever happens!” He continued to relate two examples of men who undertook the burden of Torah and were spared the draft. When he was finished, he asked where they had been up to before he began his story, and resumed the thread of his original topic.

“My heart was pounding very hard,” the printer told us much later. “My whole body was covered with a cold sweat. I had never before felt such a personal hashgachah pratis. R’ Sholom remembered the story at the very instant that my feet crossed the shul’s threshold, and everything he said was directed at my own difficult situation. As he returned to the original subject of his talk, I saw that it really had no bearing at all on ‘whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah.’ In other words, the thing had not come about through natural means, one topic leading naturally into the next.

“But apart from any considerations of hashgachah pratis, I was greatly encouraged by what R’ Sholom had said. I decided at once to add an hour of learning to my regular schedule -- one extra hour every day. I didn’t wait for Sunday, or even for Shabbos morning. Immediately after the lecture ended, I went into the beis midrash and learned for an hour. I believed with a powerful faith in the words of Chazal, ‘Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah ...’ All my worry fell away.

“On Sunday, I told my partner at the printing press that I had some news for him, and a request. The news was that I had received a draft notice for the month of Nissan. And the request was that we close up shop an hour early each day, so that I would be able to use it for the study of Torah.”

A week passed, then two. One morning, the man’s partner walked in with his own startling announcement. “R’ Yaakov, I’ve also received a notice for reserve duty in the month of Nissan!”

The army rule is that two business partners do not have to serve at the same time. In such a case, one of them is released from duty. “The two of us took all our papers and went down to the army office,” the printer relates. “A few days later, the letter came: I was released! I would be home for Pesach with my family. Unfortunately, to my distress, my partner was still required to serve his time.

“I was grateful to Hashem for helping me, in a natural way, to be free of my army duty. But it soon became clear that we had not yet come to the end of the marvelous hashgachah in this episode. My letter of release was only the first stage in the story.

“On the day my partner left for his reserve duty, I parted painfully from him. None knew better than I what he must be feeling at such a time.”

The next morning, the printer walked to his printing shop as usual, and placed his key in the lock. To his surprise, the door wasn’t locked! Slowly he twisted the knob and opened the door, then stepped instead, hesitant and afraid. A few steps into the room, he saw something amazing. There was his partner, working busily away!

Shalom aleichem! Good morning!” the man greeted his partner, in open astonishment.

“What happened? Have you gone AWOL?” the printer asked

The partner smiled. “I arrived at the base yesterday,” he said, “and an hour later, they sent me right back home! The supervisor came over and told me, ‘There’s been a mistake -- some sort of misunderstanding. Your draft notice was for two months from now, and was sent to your address by accident.’ I was dumbfounded. Such a thing had never happened to me before. But the supervisor apologized and sent me respectfully home, saying, ‘Sorry about this mistake. You are released!’”

When he had finished telling his story, the partner stood up and cried out emotionally, “We have just seen, with our own eyes, the amazing results of following the words of Chazal, ‘Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah is exempt from the burden of derech eretz.’ In order for you to be released from your duty, I received a draft notice by mistake.”

The printer himself adds a final note to this story. “When we took financial inventory several months later, it turned out that, from the time we began closing up shop an hour early each day, our income had increased greatly.” Raising his voice with great feeling, he concludes, “Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah ...!”

THE FIRE

THE SWEETEST MOMENTS R’ SHOLOM SHARED WITH HIS LISteners were those in which he traveled back in time with them, to an earlier world, a previous generation. At such times, he wove silken cords around his audience, enchanting them with visions of a glorious past. They would sit spellbound, rising at least 10 feet off the ground, together with the Maggid...

The flame surrounding R’ Nachum’ke of Horodna was virtually visible to their naked eyes. The circle that the Chofetz Chaim made in the forest became the circling of R’ Sholom’s finger in the stillness of the Zichron Moshe Shul. In these magical moments, tears of longing filled the listeners’ eyes -- a longing to be better, to be higher.

Under the influence of R’ Sholom’s feeling voice, the city of Chevron spread out before his audience, and they were standing together with the “Sdei Chemed” as he stood up to his challenge and merited a great light. And then, once again, the transported listeners were filled with a deep desire to understand more, to learn more, to observe more. The melody that the Maggid chanted ignited a flame in the holy soul residing inside each and every individual in the shul … until the last word was spoken into the hush, and the sermon was over.

 
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