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“Tatty, I Know Your Secret”

Yisroel Besser

Perhaps the only thing that we know with certainty about Rav Shimshon Pincus is that no one really knew him. Renowned simultaneously as a master of prayer, a fiery activist, a talented orator, and loving leader, he could not confine himself to any one role. Ten years after his shocking passing, his son Eliyahu Pincus describes the man whose prayers were so powerful that “Hashem had to take him suddenly, without allowing him a chance to ask for more time.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sitting in the elegant lobby of the Jerusalem hotel, I have the same sensation as I do when hearing his recorded talks, learning his classic seforim; everything is tinged with meaning, with the otherworldly. Across from me sits Reb Eliyahu Pincus, the rav’s second son. All around us, waiters circle, linen napkins draped over extended arms as they offer steaming cups of coffee, as healing Jerusalem sunshine pours in through floor to ceiling windows. In the corner, a talented young pianist fills the room with sound — a scene very much of this world. Yet discussing Reb Shimshon, one is transported, elevated above their surroundings. Nothing is what it seems, everything in this world is just a means to something greater, something higher. 

With his dark suit, black hat, and white shirt, Reb Eliyahu looks like a thousand other avreichim across the Holy City, but there is something that sets him apart, a certain seriousness, a maturity and understanding that is usually accompanied by silver hair and wrinkles. Then again, the young man has had to contend with more than others do in a lifetime: in a blink, he lost his father, mother and sister. With no time to react, he found himself a father to a long line of younger siblings, and even before sitting shivah, he was forced to make life-and-death medical decisions for his sister. He was the one who accompanied her to America, spending most of the year following the accident traveling from hospital to hospital with her.

And, it seems, since that time ten years ago, he’s had little time to think — there is too much to do, between tending to his own growing family and the one his parents left him. But on a bright winter morning, he allows the words to tumble out, shares the feelings and memories and insights into what it was like to be a member of that home: a home of the bricks and mortar of this world, that somehow carried within it the scent of the next.

“There is a misconception about my father and his message. In a sentence, it was about forming a real and vibrant connection with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, but that isn’t as simple a concept as it sounds.

“I remember standing with him on a street corner in Yerushalayim, near Ahavat Shalom, after we finished learning one day. ‘Eliyahu,’ he said to me, ‘people think of the Ribono shel Olam as a friend. But the pasuk in Koheles says: ki Elokim baShamayim v’atah al ha’aretz, al kein yihiyu dvarecha muatim. A person has to be careful what comes out of his mouth. It’s dangerous, the picture people have of Him,kmo sabba’le zakein, like a sweet elderly grandfather. That means they focus on the love and satisfaction that we give Him, but they ignore the awe that is as much a part of the relationship as unconditional love. We have no concept of what He is. All that the seforim reveal is just about His behavior with us, but in essence, He is fire — being bound to him comes with frightening responsibility.’ ”

Reb Eliyahu shrugs. “That’s what he said to me, and that was my father’s message. Sure, it’s a real connection, but it’s laced with pachad. We are used to simplifying things: the Litvaks care about the particulars of halachah, and chassidim choose to stress the emotional connection of the mitzvah. The fine line between them was where my father made his place. They are both necessary for the relationship — the feeling, but also the seriousness. Emotion within the framework of din.”

“When my father was a bochur, he would often spend time alone on the roof of the Breslov yeshivah in contemplation, hisbodedus. Some bochurim went running to the rosh yeshivah, Reb Berel Soloveitchik, and said, ‘Shimshon will become a Breslover.’ Reb Berel laughed. ‘Leave Shimshie alone, you don’t have don’t worry about him.’

“The rosh yeshivah understood that my father was able to incorporate the yearning for a Divine connection into his avodah as a talmid of Brisk.”

On Rosh HaShanah, Rav Shimshon had a halachic dilemma: he wanted to daven a long Shemoneh Esrei to use every moment of the holy day for prayer, yet there is a Brisker chumrah that, in order to fulfill the din of tekios d’meyushav, one has to hear the words of the chazzan’s repetition from the chazzan. That would mean keeping his Shemoneh Esrei short. That was his type of sheilah — he wanted to daven and daven ... but also to keep to the fine points of halachah, down to the Brisker chumrah. Incidentally, he ultimately decided to finish Shemoneh Esrei in time for Chazaras HaShatz, like the Brisker minhag.

“If you want to write about my father, that’s who he was, and that was his message to the world.”


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