On the Inside
When the Lubavitcher Rebbe met Rabbis Chaim-Ozer Grodinski and Boruch Ber Kaminetz in Vilna, Lithuania.Connection: Seasonal--20th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Leading Candidate for Leadership of the Lthuanian Yeshiva World
In 1966, I [Rabbi Yosef Krupnik] was learning on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the Yeshiva Jacob Joseph, famously known in the Jewish world as RJJ (one of the first, if not the first, to certify rabbinical ordination in the USAed.). At the time, I had a study partner by the name of Alexander Stern who had a connection with Chabad, and he was constantly inviting me to see what a farbrengen [chasidic gathering] with the Lubavitcher Rebbe was like. Finally I accepted his invitation for Yud Shevat.
The tenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat is a most significant
date on the Chabad calendar. Its the anniversary of the passing of the
sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, also known as the
Rebbe Rayatz, and the day when, a year later, his son-in-law, Rabbi Menchem
Mendel Schneerson, formally accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch.
He continued to admonish us harshly and, to be quite honest, I
was deeply hurt. Up to that point, I thought I had a very good relationship
with him. This was the first time that he had come down on my case in this way.
When everybody else has left and it was just the two of us with Reb Shaya, he told us an amazing story. It seems that he understood how much his rebuke had hurt us, and he decided to make it up to us by telling us of an episode with the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he personally witnessed. We understood that he was conveying to us subtly that the time we spent at the Rebbes farbrengen was not really wasted.
In 1937, R. Shaya Shimonowitz merited to accompany his Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Baruch Ber Lebowitz, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kaminetz, known to be the leading disciple of Rabbi Chaim Brisker (a most prominent Torah leader, and from whom all the Soloveitchiks are descended-ed.), on a visit to Vilna (still an important center of yeshiva learning at that time), Lithuania to discuss Yeshiva World matters with Rabbi Chaim-Ozer Grodzinski [described by the Chafetz Chayim (1838-1933) as the embodiment of Torah-ed.].
It seems that in those years, when the Rebbe was not yet the Rebbe and and was attending universities in Berlin and Paris, he was sent on various missions by the Rebbe Rayatz (his father-in-law and predecessor). On this particular occasion he had to travel to Vilna in order to get Rabbi Chaim-Ozer to co-sign a letter that the Rebbe Rayatz had written [to raise money for the aid and support of the Jews in Communist Russia-ed.).
When the Rebbe arrived, it just so happened that R. Chaim Ozer
was still meeting in his office with his illustrious visitor, R. Baruch Ber.
The Rebbe was told that he was going to have to wait until they finished their
meeting before he could go in.
But the Rebbe didn't answer. R. Shaya, our teacher, who was present
as this was going on said that some of the people were really pestering him
mercilessly and still, the Rebbe said nothing, remaining quiet.
The Rebbe went inside, as did R. Shaya.
After a brief exchange of greetings, the Rebbe began to answer the questions that had been posed to him outside. R. Shaya said he answered with great clarity and in depth, quoting both early and late commentators on the Talmud by heart.
R. Chaim was amazed by the breadth of knowledge of the Rebbe. He also was curious, So why didnt you answer these questions outside, when they were pressing you?
The Rebbe replied, "I didn't come to hold debates with anybody. However, I noticed that you registered their questions, and I was apprehensive that my failure to answer might have a negative impact on the mission given to me by my father-in-law. That is, he was concerned that perhaps Reb Chaim Ozer might not agree to co-sign the letter of the Rebbe Rayatz due to disdain for the Rebbe's inability to respond, so he decided to clarify the situation.
After this exchange, R. Chaim Ozer took the letter and started reading through it. In the meantime, R. Baruch Ber continued to talk with the Rebbe in matters of Torah knowledge.
After a few minutes R. Baruch Ber said to the Rebbe, "If you come to learn in my yeshiva, I guarantee that you will become the leader of the Lithuanian yeshiva world."
The Rebbe politely declined. He said he had his path, knew what he had to do and whom he had to answer to. When he said this, R. Baruch Ber started to cry.
R. Shaya said he had never told this story to anybody before,
and indeed his reluctance was noticeable in his telling. I sensed that it was
a difficult admission for him, that the Rebbe potentially could have become
the leader of the Lithuanian yeshiva world if he so desired, but instead chose
to remain a loyal chasid of Lubavitch.
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