The concerned parents of a developmentally challenged child once came to Reb Shlomo Zalman to consult him on the choice of an institution for their son. They were considering two alternative facilities, each one having certain advantage over the other. Reb Shlomo Zalman listened carefully to their description and then asked, "Where is this boy? What does he say about all this?"
The parents looked at one another in astonishment. They conceded that it had never occurred to them to discuss the matter with their son. "And frankly," the father added, "I don't see much point in discussing it. This is not something he can grasp."
Reb Shlomo Zalman was irate. "Atem chotim b'nefesh hayeled"- "You are committing a sin against the soul of this child!" he cried. "You intend to evict him from his home and consign him to a strange place with a regimented atmosphere. He must be encouraged and not allowed to feel that he is being betrayed." The parents were speechless.
"Where is the boy?" Reb Shlomo Zalman demanded. "I would like to see him and discuss the matter with him personally."
The couple hurriedly honored Reb Shlomo Zalman's request and brought their son before the sage.
"What is your name, my boy?" the Gaon asked.
"Akiva," the child replied.
"How do you do, Akiva. My name is Shlomo Zalman. I am the Gadol Ha-dor, the greatest Torah authority of this generation, and everyone listens to me. You are going to enter a special school now, and I would like you to represent me and look after all of the religious matters in your new home."
The boy's eyes were riveted to the Gaon's face, and the awestruck parents sat with their mouths agape as the Rav continued. "I shall now give you semichah, which makes you a rabbi, and I want you to use this honor wisely."
Reb Shlomo Zalman gently stroked the child's cheek and saw that he was as eager as could be to fulfill his part of the agreement. Over the years, on numerous occasions when this youngster was to spend a Shabbos at home, he refused to leave the institution, insisting that as the local rabbi he had a responsibility to his constituents. After all, he had been charged with this responsibility by none other than the Gadol Ha-dor!
We have before us a book on the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, whose learning, honesty and nullification before Hashem reached into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Jews of all stripes. A book – is this possible? Can one actually capture in words the totality of that genuine talmid chacham, as defined by Shulchan Aruch – one who knows every single halacha?
To be successful, such a book must be a failure. Such a book must, precisely for the accuracy of its insights and the integrity of its ferreted-out facts, leave the reader dissatisfied. Asking for more. Awestruck at the endless depth and lishma (dedication for the sake of Heaven) of the subject. Such a book must leave the reader, in finishing the last page, feeling as if he had just completed the first.
Hanoch Teller has written such a book. He did what I did not. When I completed a lengthy oral smicha exam in Jerusalem twenty years ago – an exam focused largely on P’ri Megadim – my examiner, no slouch, nonetheless said: “You want to see someone who really knows P’ri Megadim? Go see Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Ask him any P’ri Megadim. Ask him any question you have. See how he will fashion and integrate an answer, kaftor v’ferach – with perfect exquisite learning.” Hearing this, I was intimidated. Me? Go seek out such a Ga’on? I was afraid.
Hanoch Teller went. He was not intimidated. Courageously, he approached, asked, ferreted out, researched, sifted and finally wrote. Captured in words. The result is And From Jerusalem HIS Word. A successful book, indeed. It whets the appetite. Leaves one awestruck. Dissatisfied. This book is a magnificent failure, because it succeeds. Its teachings are like the most delicate honey. Read this book. Reread it. Savor it.
But only up to a point. For the integrity, the chessed, and the dedication to Torah that shine through the pages of this book make one throw up one’s hands in self-admonishment: “Stop reading! Start doing! Start learning more Torah; start emulating the tzaddik!”
On that path – the path of emulation of the genuine talmid chacham – the dissatisfaction, and growth, are great indeed. For “from Zion Torah shall go forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem,” where Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was born, lived, taught, and died.
If I might: in one sense, an overzealous admiration of the talmid-author for the rebbe occasionally outruns the bounds of balance, as comparisons are made between Rabbi Auerbach and other leading poskim of the time. I fear such comparisons. They lack meaning when offered by those other than the genuine talmidei chachamim themselves; and by the genuine talmidei chachamim…they are rarely offered. Now, go read, savor, learn, and emulate.
Reviewed in The Jewish Observer
Words of Praise
|“And From Jerusalem HIS Word is one of those rare books that truly matter. Read it, and it will affect you, it will change you, you might well be different because of it. And if enough people read it, it can affect and change very much for the better the whole Jewish world.”|
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, renowned lecturer