Rediscovery Trip to Lithuania

Article Index

R' Yeruchom -- The Mashgiach

We learned that R' Yeruchom was a great meivin in personalities -- what is called a "psychologist" nowadays. He could see down to the bottom of a person's mentality. For example, there were boys from Germany in the yeshiva, who had arrived after they already had received a university degree. R' Yeruchom used to give them a special shiur in Chumash, which left these boys stunned with the Mashgiach's understanding of psychology and his ability to find the words for any concept, however subtle. "What took us years to study in the University, he can cover in a single shmuess," they said.

There were bochurim who were actually afraid to speak freely when talking with the Mashgiach, because they knew that he was weighing every word, discovering from the nuances of their speech what was going on inside their heads. Even their "body language" spoke to him.

R' Yeruchom, everyone knew, could tell what town a boy came from before he ever spoke with him. How did he do it? The first time a boy came from a certain town, R' Yeruchom would observe every last detail of his conduct. After that, the next time a boy came from that town it took the Mashgiach only a few minutes to spot the unique similarities. Ordinary people can usually tell what continent or country a person comes from. R' Yeruchom could spot the differences in mentality between one village and its neighbor.

He also could measure how mentalities change as a talmid grows, as R' Leib remembers: "I came to Mir after Succos and went home for Pesach. Before setting out I went to take leave of R' Yeruchom. Generally speaking he objected to bnei Torah travelling with a baal agoloh, but I explained to him that I couldn't afford a train ticket. `Have you gone to the Rosh Yeshiva,' he asked, `to say some Torah before you go?' I told him that I had.

"Then suddenly I heard him mumble to himself, `Baranowitz . . . Mir . . . from Baranowitz to Mir . . . R' Zeira fasted forty days to forget the Torah of Bovel and replace it with the Torah of Eretz Yisroel . . . Baranowitz -- Mir . . . Bavli -- Yerushalmi . . . ' All the while he was gesturing with his hands as one does when weighing a doubt. Finally he held his hand out to me and said, `For one zeman it's not bad.' It wasn't hard to understand: to go from Baranowitz to Mir you had to go through an acclimatization, like R' Zeira's fasts, in order to absorb the unique atmosphere of Mir. After some thought he had just summed up my progress: `for one zeman -- not bad.'"

R' Leib reminisces: "When R' Yeruchom fell sick [at the end of his life], we had no idea that it was anything serious, until one day the Rebbetzin came to the beis midrash and opened the aron kodesh and cried. The whole time, the only thing that bothered him was the fear that his mental powers might be impaired. When they brought a doctor to examine him and he forbade the Mashgiach to exert himself, R' Yeruchom asked if this included mental exertion. The doctor was a simple village practitioner and didn't understand what the Mashgiach was talking about. He was angry at this `silly question' and could only ask sarcastically, `What's the point in thinking? What would you get out of it?'"

On the way to the Mashgiach's grave in the old cemetery of Mir, the group shared more memories. Lost since World War II, the grave was rediscovered only ten years ago by members of the Levovitz family, who restored the headstone and engraved on it the names of the family members killed during the Holocaust. Finding the grave was a story all by itself:

The family searched the entire cemetery, looking for the headstone. However, they knew that even if that had been destroyed, they had another landmark to look for: the broad concrete foundation that had been poured over the grave. Strangely, though, they could find neither headstone nor foundation anywhere. They had almost given up when a drunken farmer spotted them and beckoned them to him. "I know what you're looking for," he said with a grin, "and for fifty rubles I'll show you the place." It turned out that they had not found the concrete slab because they had looked in the wrong place! It seems that this farmer had high- handedly taken over a large part of the old cemetery and turned it into extra fields for his personal use. However, he discovered quickly that his plow kept getting stuck (somehow or other . . . ) on the concrete foundation of the Mashgiach's grave, so he ended up not using that particular area.

The family was able, soon enough, to establish that here really was the Mashgiach's grave, and after some brisk bargaining the farmer agreed to "sell" them the stolen cemetery area. (The old cemetery still served as a cow path to take the herds to and from their pastures. Boruch Hashem, a fence is now being put around it.)

After we said some tefillos by the grave, R' Leib decided to give us an idea of what people meant when they said, "What R' Chaim Brisker did for lomdus, R' Yeruchom did for mussar."

"R' Shimon Schwab zt'l once told me something that the Mashgiach taught him about bein odom lechavero. Before Pesach R' Shimon had borrowed some money from R' Yeruchom so that he could get home for yom tov. When he came back to Mir and paid the loan back, he attempted to say, `Thank you,' but R' Yeruchom cut him off brusquely: `Don't you know the halacha, that saying thank you might be ribis?'

"A year later R' Shimon needed once again to borrow his travel money, and this time when he paid it back after yom tov he remembered his lesson. Shaking slightly, he put the money on the table and rushed for the door without saying a word. The Mashgiach called him back: `What about saying Thank you? What happened to gratitude?' R' Shimon was staggered: `Last year you warned me that it's ossur!' Now R' Yeruchom explained himself: `To say it is certainly ossur; but you still have to want to say it! You mustn't treat other people's help as if it were a matter of course. To say thank you out loud is ossur, but your heart has to feel thank you.'"

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