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No Agendas: The Halachic Legacy of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach

Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger

A secular observer once noted that whereas most people follow men of power — whether that power is acquired through military prowess, personal wealth, or charisma — Jews have a different standard. They turn to “pious scholars.” Hence, it is not surprising that we are often led by unassuming men, and that these individuals rise to be the most influential and powerful personages in Torah communities. Perhaps the prime example of this phenomenon was Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

He was at all times pleasant and humble. Except during those sacrosanct hours that he would lock himself in a secret private room in Shaarei Chesed, he was both physically and emotionally open and accessible. The most cutting-edge questions, involving life and death issues, came to his doorstep, and he answered all with equanimity. Rav Shlomo Zalman was also completely without prejudice. This absence of a preexisting agenda as expressed in his interpersonal relationships was starkly manifest at his levayah, attended by Jews of all colors and stripes — Sepharadic, Ashkenazic, chassiddish, litvish, chareidi, and Mizrachi. They all intuitively sensed the simple, unfettered purity of Rav Shomo Zalman’s personality and ahavas Yisrael, and were all equally devastated by his passing.   Back From the Grave That same lack of prejudice is seen also in Rav Shlomo Zalman’s learning. He wrote and delivered shiurim on a range of subjects, from his daily blatt shiur on Gemara in Yeshivas Kol Torah, to halachah to lomdus. At age 18 he wrote his first sefer, on Shev Shematesa, gaining a glowing haskamah from Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. His father, however, asked him not to publish it, and he abided by that decision until his family printed the manuscript a just few years before his passing. Its survival — as recounted by renowned tour guide Gershon Kaufman — was somewhat “miraculous.” Before Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg wrote his own sefer on Shev Shematesa, he told Rav Shlomo Zalman of his intentions. Rav Shlomo Zalman offered his notebook on the subject to Rav Scheinberg, but informed him that this was the only copy, and he intended to print it as a sefer sometime in the future. Gershon Kaufman, Rav Scheinberg’s adopted grandson, was the emissary who brought the sefer to Rav Scheinberg’s home. Sometime before Pesach, Gershon asked his grandfather whether he should return the sefer and was told he should, but the sefer was nowhere to be found. After a frantic search it was discovered that the cleaning woman had placed the notebook in a bag with sheimos, which had subsequently been buried. The grave was opened, Gershon himself was lowered inside, and he found the notebook among the sheimos. He cleaned it off immediately and went to return it to its author. Nobody had told Rav Shlomo Zalman of these events, but as soon as Rav Shlomo Zalman saw the notebook he took it and began dancing — with the notebook and with Gershon. Somehow he intuited that there was a story behind the sefer’s return.

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