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Guest Tribute: Every Moment of Truth

Mishpacha Staff

Rav Hillel Zaks, the Chofetz Chaim’s grandson, was a gaon in both the revealed and concealed Torah, but he relentlessly devoted his life to helping his talmidim figure things out for themselves. For the many devastated disciples who considered him their “Abba” as he kept them focused on the path of emes, his passing last week on 22 Teves was the loss of Radin again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“Tell me, tzaddik, what sugya are you learning?” The young bochur, tense about sitting for an acceptance bechinah before the brilliant Rosh Yeshivah, stammered out his answer. “Ba b’machteres.” (The sugya of a thief tunneling into a house, and the permissibility of attacking him as a means of self-defense.) Rav Hillel smiled broadly, as if hearing a favorite song. “Ah… Ba b’machteres… Tell me, tzaddik, what would you do if you heard that a thief was on the way to your home with the intention of breaking in and stealing your food? Would you be permitted to erect an electric fence that might kill him? Could you poison the food?” The bochur knew the sugya well, and he began to offer his opinion. “The fence would kill before the thief enters, before he’s technically a ‘ba b’machteres,’ so it would be a problem, but the poison would kill him when he’s already liable, so lichorah that would be mutar.” The Rosh Yeshivah was quiet. The bochur suddenly saw things differently. “Wait,” he paused, “the thief might only eat the food after he leaves the house, in which case…” The bochur began to realize just how broad the challenge really was, how the Rosh Yeshivah had incorporated the entire sugya and all the Rishonim into this single question. He began to recalculate his answer when Reb Hillel stopped him. “Tzaddik, the answer to my question isn’t important right now. The path to the answer, the process, is what’s important, how you get there.” And the Rosh Yeshivah smiled again. “When you sayTefillasHaderech on Rosh Chodesh Elul, it will be on the way to this yeshivah. We’ll be happy to have you here.”

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