I felt a special thrill when I saw a new sefer, Maaseh Chazon Ish, compiled from the notes of Rav Shraga Feivel HaLevi Steinberg ztz”l, one of the closest talmidim of the book’s namesake, whose yahrzeit falls this Shabbos. It took me back 55 years, when I, then a kollel yungerman in Ponevezh, was asked to take part in the massive project of collecting personal testimonies from people all over Israel for a biography of that giant among gedolim, who had left This World a few years previously.

And so, I soon I found myself seeking out and meeting with anyone who had come into contact with the Chazon Ish and had even a brief story to tell about him. I set out to gather as much information as I could, knowing that the material I collected would be sifted through by the members of the editorial committee which was headed by Rav Shlomo Cohen, who was already close to the Chazon Ish while both men were still in Vilna. Other members of the committee were Rav Shlomo Karelitz, Rav Chaim Shaul Karelitz, and Rav Shlomo Berman — great scholars in their own right, who took upon themselves the imperative of preserving the memory of the most extraordinary Torah personality of modern times.

Eager to perform my part of the task faithfully, I began traversing Eretz Yisrael, hearing about people’s encounters with the Chazon Ish. And no matter who they were — talmid chacham, yeshivah bochur, or even secular, they all expressed the feeling that “he was my friend.” So tremendous was his middah of ahavas Yisrael, that he made everyone feel important and beloved.

Yet of all those interviews, the most enlightening were the several meetings I had with the gaon Rav Shraga Feivel Steinberg ztz”l, who took out his own extensive notes and reviewed them with me. He was my guide to the whole abstruse subject of the Chazon Ish. Not only did he share what he personally knew, but I also went over with him the testimonies I had gathered from my many contacts, getting his perspective on those anecdotes before handing them over to the committee. Eventually the material I gathered and refined with Rav Shraga Feivel’s help made its way into the biography Pe’er HaDor.

As I read the new sefer, those long conversations with Rav Shraga Feivel came back to life in my mind’s eye. Permit me to share some of those stories that highlight the Chazon Ish’s great sensitivity to others, especially to children: 

There was once a seven-year-old boy who was playing wildly in the room where the Chazon Ish was learning. A talmid who was present sternly warned the boy to stop his noisy behavior, threatening to tell the boy’s rebbi on him. The Chazon Ish quietly told his talmid that he had just transgressed the Torah prohibition of hurtful speech, that it is forbidden to cause anguish to a fellow Jew, and a threat like that causes anguish to a child. There is nothing in the pasuk, the Chazon Ish commented, that differentiates between a child and an adult. In response, the talmid asked how to reconcile this with the need to be mechanech the child. The Chazon Ish answered that there was no need for him to be mechanech the child; the mitzvah of chinuch was the responsibility of the child’s father.

In our own conversation, Rav Shraga Feivel added that the Chazon Ish went on to advise the talmid that if the child was disturbing him, he could go and learn in another room — but not to tell the child to stop playing.

Affability was one of the Chazon Ish’s strongest traits, and he perfected it through strict adherence to the Sages’ dictum, “Be the first to greet every person.” And “every person” means children too. The following story appears in brief form in Maaseh Chazon Ish, but I will add what I heard from Rav Shraga Feivel, who witnessed it:

Once, while passing a group of children in the street, the Chazon Ish greeted them with the word “shalom.” Thrilled to be greeted by the gadol, the children answered in chorus, “Shalom!” The Chazon Ish turned around and replied, “Shalom.” Excited, the children turned it into a game. Rav Feivel related that at least five times the children shouted “shalom,” and every time the Chazon Ish stopped once more and returned the greeting.

That story brings to mind my own memory of the Chazon Ish’s last Rosh Hashanah in this world. After Maariv on the first night of the year, the mispallelim from every shul in Bnei Brak, including those known today as dati leumi, flocked to his house to wish him a good year and receive his brachah. I remember how he blessed every single person with the fully-worded brachah, “L’shanah tovah tikaseiv v’tichaseim l’alter l’chaim tovim.”

Once, regarding a certain public issue, the Chazon Ish had stated his opinion, yet another distinguished talmid chacham ruled otherwise and was acting accordingly. Rav Shraga Feivel was upset about this slight to his rebbi’s authority, and he decided to go to that talmid chacham and voice his protest. Before going, though, he told the Chazon Ish about his intentions — and the Chazon Ish strongly objected. He explained that the man in question was not in good health, and a confrontation of that nature was liable to cause him harm. So instead, Rav Shraga Feivel went and told the talmid chacham that the Chazon Ish had warned him not to discuss that matter out of concern for this man’s weakened state of health. The dissenting scholar was so moved by the Chazon Ish’s sensitivity that he modified his position regarding the machlokes. 

Another story in the book relates how people were gossiping about a certain avreich, saying that his wife didn’t cover her hair. The Chazon Ish would never broach such a subject with a talmid directly, and so, in a casual conversation, he mentioned that he’d heard of a place in Tel Aviv where a woman could buy a wig that looked like natural hair, and perhaps it would be advisable for the talmid’s wife to buy a sheitel like that. The talmid replied that his wife had done just that, and had never gone with her hair uncovered.

In those days, most bnei Torah were clean-shaven and remained so even after they married. The Chazon Ish, however, was of the opinion that a man should grow a beard, but he said nothing to his talmidim about it. Rav Shraga Feivel, like the other young men, was also clean-shaven, and his rebbe never brought up the subject until Rav Shraga Feivel’s first child was born. Then he remarked that little children like to play with their fathers’ beards. Rav Shraga Feivel got the hint and began to let his beard grow out.

One last anecdote: One Erev Shabbos at the Chazon Ish’s house, they were short one man for Minchah Gedolah. Someone went out to recruit a tenth man and came back with a chassid who was willing to complete the minyan. But when the Chazon Ish saw that the man was chassidish, he didn’t want to include him in the minyan — because chassidim have the custom of saying Hodu before Minchah on Friday afternoon. If this fellow davened with them now, he would miss saying Hodu, and he would feel a lack his whole Shabbos.

As I write these lines, my own memories of the Chazon Ish from the years I was growing up — when it was my good fortune to live in his neighborhood — are sharpened, as I too remember the gadol who truly personified Torah and taught his disciples how to make bein adam l’chaveiro an integral part of bein adam l’Makom. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 683)