There was a Chassidic Jew in Bnei Brak who had lost everything during WWII and was spiritually broken. One day he came to pour his heart out to Rav Menachem Man Shach, who was not at all Chassidic, but who understood full well the pain of a broken Chassidic heart.This Jew told what had happened to him and said, “I cannot even pray anymore.”Rav Shach said, “What Chassidic group do you belong to?”The man told him, and Rav Shach began to hum a niggun, a tune, from that group. The Chassid closed his eyes and hummed the niggun together with Rav Shach, until he started to cry.
Rav Shach said, “For a Chassid, it’s not enough to sing a niggun. We have to dance.” So Rav Shach stood up and danced with this Jew for a long time.Afterwards this Jew could pray again. Rav Shach did not give him a theological explanation about where God was during the Holocaust.
He knew that this niggun was still inside that Jew, hidden underneath the pile of ashes from Auschwitz.A lot of people presume to know the mind of this gadol, not to mention that they seek to question his status of a gadol to begin with. I cannot honestly say that I understand him, and there are many things that I do not understand about his positions on many issues.
But one comment that his son Dr. Ephraim Shach made about finally realizing that Rav Shach's entire worldview was through the prism of Torah sheds some light:
"חזרתי לדבר איתו אחרי שנה, אבל להבין את הצד שלו הבנתי רק ב-71', כשאבא שכב בבית החולים תל-השומר. גילו אצלו סרטן והוא עמד בפני ניתוח. פתאום הוא אמר לי שהוא רוצה שאקח אותו חזרה הביתה, כי אין לו בבית החולים אפשרות ללמוד כמו בבית. אז הבנתי שאין מה לעשות – לימוד תורה קודם אצלו לכול, גם לבריאות שלו
I started speaking to him again a year after [Mother's death], but I only understood his position in '71, when Father was hospitalized in Tel HaShomer. He was diagnosed with cancer, waiting to be operated on. Suddenly he told me he wanted me to take him home, because he couldn't learn in the hospital the way he could at home. Then I understood that there was nothing to do - learning Torah came before everything for him, even his own health.Many might shake their heads in a mixture of astonishment and incredulity; how can we possibly relate to that level of commitment? Some might even criticize that single-minded dedication to one element - after all, doesn't it say v'chai bahem, that we are meant to live by the Torah which includes taking care of ourselves?
Perhaps the answer is "yes" - certainly for us down here dealing with all of our nisyonot. Perhaps one can say that this might have been Rav Shach's nisayon. Perhaps, but I don't think we can say one way or another, and we should look at his life as an example of what our lives could look like if we strove to have that same level of dedication. At the end of the day, the stories of his "meshugass" (I shudder at phrasing it that way, but it's for the sake of making a point) in contrast to our own craziness...? I know which one I would prefer to have.
There is a lot more to say about this topic and the general problem I see with our (and I include myself in this) hubris in assuming that we're on any similar level with certain individuals. That we have the gall to say "I disagree with Rav _______" on a given subject that we maybe have some familiarity with, and certainly not the specific details or cheshbonot involved in a specific discussion is a sign of real unprecedented chutzpah.
I believe that one source of this problem is the proliferation of media that enables everybody to espouse his
Sorry about the rant, but a comment from last year's post set this off.
* yes, I caught the irony. It goes without saying that I am guilty as charged, I think.