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Maharal’s Real Magic

Shmuel Yosef Levy

When a young orphan named Yehoshua Hartman decided to honor his father’s memory by meeting Rav Yitzchak Hutner, he never dreamed that the encounter would develop into a flourishing, beloved rebbi-talmid relationship, or that it would be a catalyst for Rav Hartman’s own major contribution to the universe of Torah scholarship. Rav Hutner introduced the young avreich to the Maharal of Prague, and Rav Hartman has reacquainted the world with a giant larger than any golem.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

rav hartmanIt was an Erev Shabbos in the fall of 1976, and 19-year-old Yehoshua Dovid Hartman felt like his world had turned black. His father and mentor Rav Yechezkel Hartman, just 53, suffered a fatal heart attack. Who would guide him through the transition to young adulthood? Who would be there for him lovingly and unconditionally?

Still reeling a few months later from his father’s passing, Yehoshua traveled from his home in Bnei Brak to the Mattersdorf section ofJerusalem. He paused for a moment as he stood with great trepidation outside his destination on Rechov Sorotzkin.

The orphan knew that what he was about to do was exactly what his father would have wanted. Nevertheless, his heart pounded as he nervously plucked up the courage to enter the building. Yehoshua knocked on the door and was graciously ushered in, turning to face his host: Rav Yitzchak Hutner ztz”l.

Actually, Yehoshua had been here before. He had accompanied his late father, one of the Rosh Yeshivah’s closest talmidim since the early days of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, where Rav Yechezkel learned from bar mitzvah until age 26. In fact when Rav Aharon Kotler ztz”l arrived in the US, he was reported to have said that Rav Yechezkel was one of two American bochurim who “knew how to learn.”

“I knew in my heart that my father would have wanted me to get close to his rebbi,” Rav Yehoshua Hartman relates with bittersweet nostalgia. Yet this first private encounter nearly ended in disaster. 

“You should be more engrossed in Torah learning,” Rav Hutner chastised his guest.

Not being accustomed to Rav Hutner’s fiery and direct dressing-down, Yehoshua was about to jump up and leave. Who is this elderly man shouting at me? his thoughts raced. 

Rav Hutner instantly read the orphan’s mind and gently retreated from his onslaught. “You are surely thinking: Who is this elderly man shouting at me?” he looked kindly into Yehoshua’s eyes. Struck speechless because that was exactly what he was thinking, Yehoshua decided to stay. And as the encounter came to a close, Rav Hutner asked him to return — an offer that Yehoshua would take up in the most extraordinary way.

Looking back, Rav Yehoshua Hartman never imagined how the meeting would both change his life and have a huge impact on Torah study in the modern world. For not only did Yehoshua arrange fixed study times with Rav Hutner that lasted until the Rosh Yeshivah’s passing in 1980, but Rav Hutner also introduced him to the fascinating, profound, and often esoteric world of the Maharal of Prague. 


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