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A Link to a Previous Generation: My Rebbe, Rav Chaim Stein ZT”L

A little more than three years ago, the Telsher Rosh HaYeshivah, Rav Chaim Stein ZT”L, visited Los Angeles, and spent an extended weekend there, from Thursday till Monday morning. All throughout his trip, Rav Chaim continuously gave shiurim in numerous shuls, Batei Medrash and in people’s homes. Beginning with his first shmuess on Thursday evening in a local Bais Medrash and continuing up until right before he departed, Rav Chaim talked to large crowds, as well as individuals, and provided chizuk to one and all. Hundreds of people came to see and hear the Rosh HaYeshivah speak, and he made an unbelievable impression on the residents of that city. At that time, Rav Chaim was ninety-five years old!

I was not there for this trip, but I have a brother-in-law who lives in Los Angeles and was there almost the entire time. Literally, he went to many of the derashos and spoke to the Rosh HaYeshivah – even learned with the Rosh HaYeshivah privately for a considerable amount of time. On Monday morning, after Rav Chaim’s plane had left, he called me in New York – not something that happens too often given that he is involved in many business dealings and issues pertaining to the klal – and kept me on the phone for over a half hour. He couldn’t stop gushing over what he had just witnessed and been a part of for the past four days.

“Dovid,” he told me, “I never knew such a person existed today. An Adam Gadol from Lita (Lithuania), an elderly Rosh HaYeshivah who is so alive, so vibrant, literally a link to a generation almost totally forgotten!” He told me that the entire city of Los Angeles was in an uproar – a good uproar, mind you – due to the presence of the Rosh HaYeshivah. The chizuk that he gave on that trip was spell-binding, and my brother-in-law was truly spell-bound.

He ended the phone call by saying, “I know you’ve been telling me about the greatness of the Rosh HaYeshivah for twenty-five years, but it wasn’t until I truly experienced it that I now know what you were talking about!”

This sentiment is one that is being heard quite often in the past few weeks since the petirah of my Rebbi and Rosh HaYeshivah, HaGaon HaRav Chaim Stein ZT”L. So many people did not know who he was and how great he was and only now, after his petirah, are people finding out about the Rosh HaYeshivah.

But we knew.

We, the talmidim of Telshe, we knew. We’ve always known and in a way, the Rosh HaYeshivah, all the way out in Wickliffe, Ohio, was our best kept secret. To tell you the truth, I think Rav Chaim preferred it that way!

At the levaya in the hallowed Bais Medrash of Telshe Yeshivah on that sunny Thursday morning, I looked around at the approximately 1200 people who jammed the Bais Medrash, and there was not a dry eye in the room. Each and every talmid that was there – from Detroit, Chicago, Toronto …. from all over – felt the void. Our Rosh HaYeshivah was not with us anymore – and we cried. Did we ever cry. We looked to the front of the Bais Medrash, on the left side of the Aron Kodesh, expecting to see the Rosh HaYeshivah, walking briskly up and the down the aisle to his seat – but he was not there – and just the thought made us cry again. We looked at the bima, remembering how Rav Chaim stood there, on the right side, during tekias shofar, his face shining with an ethereal light – but again he was not there – and we continued to cry. We looked at his seat, where he always sat by every single tefillah, by every single seder, by every single Shiur Daas – but it was empty, he was not there. At this point, our sobs could not be contained anymore. Unrestrained, 1200 people cried for the aveidah, the loss of our most precious commodity, our guiding light, our Rosh HaYeshivah.

To many, Rav Chaim was like a father. To many Rav Chaim was like a zaida. It wasn’t just that we learned from him – we truly loved him, and I believe I can say this with a surety on behalf of thousands of his talmidim.

And he loved us. His smile, the twinkle in his eye every time he saw a talmid, or heard a good report from or about a talmid, told us that he truly loved each and every one of us. He wanted us to grow in Torah, he wanted us to learn Yiras Shamayim and imbibe it and he did his utmost to make that happen. He so much wanted that we should know our stuff! Who can forget the “sof zman bechinos” – the tests at the end of every zman, when two or three Roshei Yeshivah would come into the shiur room and farher the bochurim. Of course, we were terrified (this is not High School, mind you – this is Bais Medrash!) and we learned for weeks before to prepare for it. And when the Roshei Yeshivah walked into the room, each bochur prayed silently that he would either know the answer or not make a fool out of himself. As they went around the room, bochurim would get questions from Rav Mordechai Gifter ZT”L or YL”T Rav Isaac Ausband Shlit’a, and it would be a fearsome moment. Rav Gifter was so imposing and intimidating that it was almost unfair. Rav Isaac was serious and exacting and you had to know your stuff cold. But Rav Chaim …. we prayed for a question from Rav Chaim! Because if you thought you knew the answer and began saying it, he would smile broadly, nod his head vigorously and usually finish the answer for you! And if you didn’t know the answer, he would help you, start you off …. and pretty much give away the whole answer until you had no idea how it was that you made the Rosh HaYeshivah so proud – with an answer that he gave you!

He wanted us to be great in Torah and in Tefillah. He wanted us to appreciate learning, to appreciate davening, not just to do it by rote. He led by example. The Rosh HaYeshivah’s tefillos were wondrous to behold. I, for one, would simply stare at Rav Chaim as he davened – this was “drinking” pure Yiras Shamayim. I always encouraged my children to just look at Rav Chaim, just stare at his shining face. Boruch Hashem, for close to twenty years, my family would come to Cleveland for Rosh Hashana, and my children will never forget those trips. But for me, after driving through the night and arriving in Cleveland early on Erev Yom Tov, I was exhausted by the time Yom Tov arrived. And it was exactly at that time – in-between Mincha and Maariv on the first night – that Rav Chaim would get up and give a derasha about the importance of Rosh Hashana and the need for Teshuvah. In my drowsiness, I always had trouble following the shiur, but I would never fall asleep. All I did was stare at Rav Chaim’s face for close to one hour, and I felt more ready for Yom Tov than any shiur!

It was especially during Elul and the Yamim Noraim, that Rav Chaim’s tefillos became even more elevated. That first night of Rosh Hashana, after davening was completed, the line of talmidim would snake half way around the Bais Medrash, as we all walked by the Roshei Yeshivah and hanhala to wish them a good Yom Tov. But Rav Chaim was always still davening! His Shemona Esrai that first night took well over three quarters of an hour, and if you walked with all the others, you would miss his beracha. I, for one, would wait with my children until Rav Chaim finished his Shemona Esrai, and as he would turn around – his cheeks drenched with tears – we would all go over and say good Yom Tov and get a beracha. Truly a “shaas hakoisher” – if there ever was one!

Of course, if anyone has heard anything about the greatness of Rav Chaim, they undoubtedly heard about the power of his berachos. It wasn’t just that if he gave you a beracha, you were sure to succeed. If he didn’t give you a beracha – or reshus to do something for that matter – you didn’t do it! Simply put! It was as if one was putting his life at risk – sakanas nefashos – if you didn’t listen to Rav Chaim. And if Rav Chaim told you his signature statement, “Lo zu haderech, mein tayerah,” (“This is not the proper way, my dear one”) – you stopped right then and there! It was the power of these five words that could get exhausted bochurim to come to shachris on time! To not miss night seder! Powerful words indeed! For if you were ever called into the office (yes, I must admit, I was called in on occasion) for some misdeed and Rav Chaim would reprimand you, then take your hand and offer his touching rebuke of “Lo zu haderech, mein tayera,” you almost felt bad for him for having to feel this way about you! They have made a kind of tadalafil pharmacy that works exactly similar to it, by relieving the penile muscles and hence makes stronger erection. The following article would help you understand the solutions which you are ought to have generic viagra online licensed registration. The Court of First Instance they and others were summoned after a criminal complaint was filed by BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy, charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, criminal breach of trust and embezzlement by them in getting viagra prescription the decision by the National Newspaper Herald leveling is now defunct. Intercourse gives us sense of belongingness as well as sense of acknowledgement. levitra line pharmacy His berachos stemmed from his awesome Avodas haTefillah. It was said that during Shema Koleinu in Shemona Esrai, Rav Chaim would repeat three times over the words, “Hafer Atzas Oyveinu V’Kalkel Machashavtam.” (“Foil the designs of our enemies and ruin their evil thoughts.”) He was davening for us – for all of Klal Yisroel – and undoubtedly his prayers protected us.

A very close friend of mine related an amazing aspect of Rav Chaim’s tefillos. After my friend got married, he did not have children for quite a few years. So, on every Erev Rosh Hashana, he would go directly to the Rosh HaYeshiva’s home and ask for a special blessing that he may merit having a child. And each year, Rav Chaim would give him a beracha and tell him that he will be mispallel for him. Until one year, when he came to Rav Chaim’s house and asked for his customary blessing. Rav Chaim looked at him with a smile and said, “You don’t need my tefillos anymore!” Within that year, a beautiful baby boy was born!

At the end of a zman, nobody left yeshivah without “gezegentzich mit der Rosh Yeshivah” – saying goodbye to the Rosh HaYeshivah. It was simply not worth it. Any talmid out there who ever tried it, knows what I’m talking about. But it wasn’t just that your trip would fail – car trouble, getting lost, tickets on the road, etc. – there was a higher power working here. I recall when one bochur in my shiur had a ride from Cleveland to New York on the last day of the zman. Thinking that it wouldn’t be a problem at all, he went to say goodbye to the Rosh HaYeshivah in the morning, during first seder. Rav Chaim looked at the bochur surprised and asked him when he was leaving. When the boy said in the early afternoon because that was when his ride was going, Rav Chaim absolutely refused to let him go. It was mystifying. He had a free ride to New York; any other mode of transportation would have to cost money. And yet, Rav Chaim refused to let the boy go until after second seder.

The bochur was a smart boy and knew better than to go against the wishes of the Rosh HaYeshivah. With little choice in the matter, he waited until after seder was over and then went to the train station to buy a ticket to New York. Not coincidentally, of course, there was another man on the train going to New York, and the two struck up a conversation. To make a long story short, this previously non-religious Jew was moved to the point that over the next few months, he found his way to Telshe Yeshivah, became a full and sincere Baal Teshuvah, and today learns Torah and raises a fine Jewish mishpacha. We never knew the Rosh HaYeshivah’s reasoning, but he knew, and we listened.

Being with the Rosh HaYeshivah elicited a dichotomy of emotions. On the one hand, you could not sit alone with Rav Chaim and not feel your heart beating heavily in your heart. He was so holy that you literally felt “yirah” – fear, when you were around him. On the other hand, he was as soft and soothing as a loving zaida, a grandfather that would always smile, would always inquire as to your welfare and how your children were doing in yeshivah. You felt warm and safe in his presence, because you were in the “inner sanctum.” I was once in the Rosh HaYeshivah’s house talking to him about a new sefer that I was in the process of writing, when suddenly my cell phone rang. Embarrassed, I quickly shut it off and put it away. When I walked out of the Rosh HaYeshivah’s house, I turned it back on and noticed that the call was from my Rov back in Monsey. I called him up and he jokingly said to me, “What’s this? You’re avoiding me?”

I told him that I wasn’t avoiding him but that I was inside the Rosh HaYeshivah’s house when he called. It reminded me, I told him, of when the Kohen Gadol would enter into the Kodesh Hakadoshim on Yom Kippur with his special clothing. There was a bell that was attached to these clothes so that when he went in, he made a tinkling sound. I felt that way as well, I told my Rov, because while I was inside the Kodesh Hakadoshim – the inner chamber of my Rebbi, Rav Chaim, I started beeping and making tinkling noises from my phone!

And yet, he knew how to make us feel at ease, how to promote our accomplishments and make us feel great! He took such pride in his talmidim’s success. After my sefer Torah Tavlin came out, I brought the Rosh HaYeshivah one of the first editions that came into my possession. I will never forget the look on his face as he held it in his hands and looked through it. At one point, it appeared as if he was actually reading it, although it was written in English and the Rosh HaYeshivah only spoke Yiddish (The legends abound of English words that Rav Chaim would try to say to us American bochurim and the often comedic result – but that’s for a different time!). When I asked Rav Chaim’s son, Rav Binyamin, what exactly was the Rosh HaYeshivah looking at if he couldn’t read the words, he answered, “My father is training himself to learn how to read English words because he wants to truly feel the nachas of a talmid’s accomplishment!”

A half year after that, I brought my soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boy Tzvi, to the Rosh HaYeshivah in Cleveland, to put on Tefillin. It was mid-January and the temperature hovered below freezing. My son and I came to the Bais Medrash very early in the morning, as Rav Chaim had instructed us to come a half hour before davening. We stood on the front steps of the Yeshivah and watched as the car bringing Rav Chaim approached and pulled up alongside the path. We both walked over to the car and watched as Rav Chaim opened his door.

Even before he got out of the car, he looked up and saw us standing there. With a smile as wide as the back wall of the Bais Medrash, he held out of his hand and announced, “Sholom Aleichem, Baal Torah Tavlin!” In my lifetime, I will never forget the way he said it and what it meant to me!

Rav Chaim lived for Telshe Yeshivah; it was his heart and soul. In fact, on numerous occasions, when I would visit or meet the Rosh HaYeshivah someplace, and ask him how he was feeling, he would always answer with the same words: “Boruch Hanoisayn LaYaef Koach.” (“Blessed is the One who gives energy to the weary.”) He explained to me that he believed that Hashem gave him arichas yamim – a long life, just so he can be there to help Telshe Yeshivah.

We will miss him. We already miss him. And Telshe Yeshivah without Maran HaRav Chaim Stein ZT”L will miss him dearly.

But we won’t forget him. The lasting impression that every talmid has of the Rosh HaYeshivah will linger on – and for those who were zoche to bring their children to see him, this impression will continue for generations to come. May Rav Chaim continue to be mispallel on behalf of his talmidim and all of Klal Yisroel before the Kisai HaKavod, so that we shall know no more pain, and no more tragedy shall enter into our midst. “Yehi Zichro Boruch.”

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