New York – It is difficult if not impossible to draw a fully rounded portrait of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, the scion of Brisk known to many simply as “The Rav,” the man who straddled many disparate worlds. Much as bands of light are scattered by a prism, Rav Soloveitchik’s multifaceted persona was refracted and absorbed in different hues and shades by his many students.
Yet of all those students Rav Hershel Schachter, a noted talmid chacham and prominent posek, is recognized for his exemplary exposition and elucidation of the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik. In a riveting conversation with Misphacha, Rav Schachter shares his personal memories of the Rav Soloveitchik that he knew.
My journey to today’s meeting began, in a sense, some years ago in an unadorned ground floor apartment on one of Jerusalem’s narrow streets. I had made the trip from New York to this humble home in order to enroll in the Brisker yeshiva led by Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, shlita. While trying to ascertain whether or not I’d be accepted, the Rosh Yeshiva sat gazing at me wordlessly, intently studying my demeanor.
Suddenly, after a few long minutes of almost claustrophobic silence, he asked, “How old are you?” “Twenty,” was my honest response. “You don’t look twenty,” he said.
Though his seat at the head of a small wooden dining room table was quite close to mine, he suddenly seemed remote and distant.
My integrity having apparently just been challenged, I quickly remembered that I had my American passport on me. “If the Rosh Yeshiva so insists,” I said, as I allowed my hand to hastily search my jacket pocket, “I can prove that I am indeed as old as I have just stated.” “I never said that I don’t believe you,” was his swift and matter-of-fact reply. “I merely pointed out that you don’t look twenty.”
I realized that with that short rejoinder the Rosh Yeshiva had given me the first lesson in the lomdus and analytical method of study that his famed grandfather, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, had pioneered.
Telling somebody that he doesn’t look as old as he states does not imply that the person in question is misrepresenting his age . A moment later this distinction seemed so simple and elementary. In order to excel in the Brisker derech, I knew in a flash, I would have to learn how to differentiate between seemingly identical assertions.
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Reprinted from this past weekends Mispacha Magazine, exclusive to VIN News