Saturday, March 19, 2022

Three Funerals in Bnei Brak

There will be three funerals taking place in Bnei Brak tomorrow.

One will be for the tragic passing of an extraordinary Torah scholar, Rav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky. Born in Poland in 1928, he was a living legend, a relic from a previous era. He moved to Israel as a child and never left, not even briefly. Some may be surprised to learn that he served in the IDF during the War of Independence.

It is no exaggeration to say that Rav Chaim possessed mastery over virtually every aspect of Torah, albeit strictly from a Lithuanian-charedi-mystical perspective. He studied and gained expertise in every Torah topic from Levites to locusts. And he gained this expertise not merely through brilliance but also through raw hasmadah. Since he was a child, he was renowned for his dedication to his studies, learning for around seventeen hours daily!

Rav Chaim was also an extraordinary individual on a personal level. He lived a life of utter simplicity from his tiny apartment in Bnei Brak. He was completely uninterested in luxuries or even comforts. And his modesty extended beyond material simplicity to personal humility. Unlike many people revered as experts or sages or geniuses, he was ready to say "I don't know" when presented with a question that he couldn't answer.

Despite Rav Chaim's widespread renown, he had absolutely no interest in fame or glory or power or control. He was never the head of any institution or the rabbi of any community and was not any kind of leader. Rav Chaim's life was solely about learning Torah and answering questions that were asked of him. He was completely isolated from the world; it was said by those close to him that he probably didn't even know who the prime minister of Israel was. When it came to issuing rulings regarding practical matters, he simply trusted whatever information was given to him and ruled accordingly, for better or for worse. He was selflessly dedicated to answering questions from people, patiently writing out untold thousands of responses to the letters that poured in over the decades (though unfortunately much of his invaluable time was wasted by other people on meaningless trivialities). His loss is irreplaceable.

But there is also another funeral taking place in Bnei Brak tomorrow. This one is for a sort of chassidic rebbe known as "Reb Chaim." This rebbe was believed to have extraordinary supernatural insight. People thought that despite (or because of) his utter dedication to Torah and complete isolation from the world, he possessed special insight into the world. They would ask him for his opinion on all kinds of things that there was no natural way for him to know anything about, even medical matters of life and death. And they would regard even a vague response of "bracha v'hatzlacha" as containing actual approval or even direction.

This chassidic rebbe was believed to not only have supernatural insight, but even supernatural abilities. He was able to produce coins and wine and honey with magical powers, and whatever he had used was said to possess supernatural powers; such items were available, for a price. And his blessing upon anything was believed to be of immense potency and was regarded as being of tremendous value.

The loss of such a supernaturally-powered rebbe is even worse than the loss of a great Torah scholar, especially for weak-minded people who need such a magical authority figure in their lives. As one person wrote: "We tried to follow his guidance, from how to dress, what we eat, who to vote for, and how to raise our children. During these most challenging times the world has been facing - war, disease, strife, and increasing economic challenges, he has been guiding us." But alas, such a mythical figure didn't even exist to begin with.

There is also a third funeral taking place in Bnei Brak tomorrow. This is being attended by a small but powerful group of people: those who were involved in transforming Rav Chaim the Torah scholar into Reb Chaim the magical chassidic rebbe. They are mourning the loss of their source of money and power and influence. They are also undoubtedly even now figuring out how to maximize the money and power that they can still milk from him (and perhaps also eyeing which elderly reclusive Torah scholar they can next appropriate for their purposes).

Baruch Dayan Ha'Emes. And may we merit a nation which understands how to properly treat its Torah scholars.

 

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47 comments:

  1. Why can't there be any event that you have to have something snarky and unnecessary to comment on. THE Jewish people have lost a giant and that has left a massive vacuum. Just leave it at there, why do you feel the need to stoke the flames for people to have negative and disrespectful comments. Just why cant you hold back from commenting more than is necessary. There is a time and place for everything

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    1. It's necessary to make sure that the right person is being eulogized in the right way.

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    2. Vacuum in what, pray tell?

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    3. Agreed. He is a great Torah scholar and leave it at that.

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    4. I think the post was just on point. I actually had mixed feelings about his loss and it helped separate the Rab from the politics arround him.
      BDE.

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    5. Completely disagree. This was exactly the post that needed to be written. Tremendous respect and awe of the real R Kanievsky, rejection of the unhealty mythology that surrounded him, and an accusing finger unwaaveringly pointed at those who cynically take advantage.

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    6. I agree with both Gedaliah Cohen and mevaseretzion. This was a very important and correct post, and NS, as usual, is snarky and obnoxious.

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  2. Thank you for an entirely respectful and appropriate post which eloquently shows the different facets of a person that people will be mourning for in their respective ways, and recognizes both his transformation and how he has been perceived by his followers. I personally use to consult his seforim such as Derech Emunah and Nachal Eitan and write to him questions in learning and was amazed by his encyclopedic knowledge and originality, but sadly and tragically I feel that this has been obscured and overlooked in recent years by the focus on his magic powers.

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  3. It's a shame you couldn't have just posted about the 'first' funeral. Every post need not be a hit job, nor are all times fit for them either.

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  4. Your third point is incidental to the main story, but still interesting.

    What will happen to Yanki now that his cash cow has dried up?

    I'm sure he will think up an Ilui Neshoma scheme/scam to keep the dollars flowing in

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    1. Lubavitch have successfully managed to fund-raise and perpetuate the cult by mythologising the deceased.

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    2. Lenny Bruce's reaction to JFK's assassination comes to mind. Look it up.

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  5. He was actually born in 1928 in Pinsk which at the time was part of the 2nd polish republic that lasted between 1918-1939, but today is part of Belarus.

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  6. Thanks for the post.One small correction. Reb Chaim Zt"l was born in 1928 and not 1922.
    "Chaim Kanievsky was born on January 8, 1928, in Pinsk, Poland,"as seen on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Kanievsky

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  7. I can only imagine the pain and difficulty that Rav Slifkin experienced in writing these words.

    As a Torah scholar himself, Rav Natan can appreciate the loss of such a giant in Torah learning. Rare are those who can devote a lifetime to study as did Rav Chaim. In addition, he made himself available to listen and give encouragement to those seeking a warm and accepting Rav.

    It is that same appreciation, however, that gives concern about those who would represent Rav Chaim for their self-serving goals and agendas.

    The words in this post are in no way a criticism of Rav Chaim but rather a caution about those who would misappropriate the influence of such a great man.

    The behavior of such “handlers” cause much more damage to the honor of the Torah and its scholars than any blog.

    The loss of such a great Talmid Chochom and tzadik is immeasurable. The void should be filled, not by icons but rather more Torah learning, mitzvot and Ahavat Yisrael.

    May Rav Chaim’s memory be for a blessing and inspiration for all of the Jewish people.

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    1. I've seen so many pictures recently that people have shared on social media of 'their moment with r Chaim' caught on camera

      In all the photos I can make the same two observations:

      1. The person seems more interested in being caught on camera than in the brocha itself

      2. R Chaim never looks more than thoroughly bored, at times be looked mildly annoyed or perturbed

      I wonder if - gabboim aside - r Chaim really wanted to be bothered by every tom, dick and Harry for hours every day that he could have used on more worthile activities!

      Is it too much to suggest that those bothering him for their moment on camera are actually selfish for not considering that he may have preferred to sit and learn instead ? Or is that too harsh.

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    2. I had my one “moment” with R. Chaim 29 years ago (1993). I was in a post high school gap year Yeshiva at the time, and they took us for a meeting/bracha. I was a stupid 17year old kid at the time, and having graduated from a MO day school in NY several months earlier, I had no idea who he was. I do recall that Rebbeim in my Yeshiva told us that he was a very special person, the son of the Steipler (a name I was familiar with), with the ability to see into the souls of the people who met with him.

      We met him, I believe as group; I with great trepidation - (thoughts of “what would he perceive in my soul??” Racing through my head) the details now nearly 30 years later are very fuzzy in my mind - but it was so quick: no more than a few minutes - we spent more time in a side room hearing about him, than actually with him.

      I don’t recall getting any sense that he was “thoroughly bored” or “mildly annoyed” nor did I get the sense that he had any “penetrating powers of soul searching.” It was a meeting like others I’d been in with famous, busy people who were cordial but ultimately had more people to meet with and more things to do.

      I don’t recall if there were any photos taken of us; there might have been. It was probably similar to a meeting on the Capitol steps my high school class had with the “Orthodox Senator” Joe Lieberman, about a year earlier.

      Baruch Dayan haEmet

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    3. He is treated as a mascot by those with good intentions but not much sechel. וחבל דאבדין לא משתכחין

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    4. Jeffrey, a great deal has changed in the last 30 years...

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    5. I learned for 2.5 years in a kollel which learned חושן משפט. The Rosh Kollel was a very young man, around 36 years old, and was apprehensive about taking on the position (although he had already acquired בקיות in all of Shas!). He consulted Rav Chaim about it. This was in תשנ"ו, approximately.

      The way he recounted the meeting, it seemed it was more consulting with a wise man as to how to decide. It wasn't like meeting with a "Baba" or Rebbe.

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  8. Kudos on the nuanced take. You presented an accurate and balanced picture, simultaneously recognizing the greatness of the individual and the troubling and complex "hang-on" political-apparatus.

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  9. There's also the case to be made about the funeral of Rabbi Kanievsky the politician, steering the charedi angle of politics for... How long exactly?

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  10. A well written respectful post

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  11. Just be careful at the levaya and avoid large crowds.

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  12. In very bad taste. You should have waited at least until he was in the ground, if not 30 days.

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    1. Exactly why are you surprised? Check out his posts last year on lag beomer. Bodies not even cold. Horrible. Not only in bad and offensive taste, but reveals appalingly rotten middos. A revelation of an ego beyond imagination that's been knocked down and the inability to deal, even years later.

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    2. Disagree. The lag ba'omer posts were truly appalling, but this one is not so bad at all. Pretty respectful, even (by his standards).

      He ends off with "Baruch Dayan Ha'Emes. And may we merit a nation which understands how to properly treat its Torah scholars." Can't argue with that! Reminds me a little of the Jewish Observer obit for RYBS. BDE.

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  13. ויהי לשבעת הימים The Midrash comments that God waited until the end of Methuselah's shiva to bring the flood.

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  14. You remark about RCK "simply trusting whatever information was given him", and yet you just believed everything you were fed about corona and the so-called "vaccines". At least RCK didn't rely on the information given him to blindly fashmutz entire communities of Jews.

    You're right that everything about RCK is wildly exaggerated. The Great Rule to always recall is that when everyone is just saying the same things, it means people aren't thinking. It means they're just believing media, whether secular or Charedi. Whether about Corona or RCK. Most people, no matter what their political opinion, can always use a refresher on that lesson.

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    1. "and yet you just believed everything you were fed about corona"

      I find the covid deniers (of whatever degree and color) to be rather gullible & credulous. Epistemological certainty is determined by doctranaire contrarianism instead of critical analysis.

      "The Great Rule to always recall is that when everyone is just saying the same things, it means people aren't thinking."
      Here are some exaples of "everyone is just saying the same things"
      1) The earth is not flat
      2) You can't divide by zero
      3) Smoking doesn't cure cancer
      4) Rabbits aren't kosher
      5) Rav Chaim Kanievsky was a gaon
      So tell me, are people not thinking? Or do you suffer from maverick worship?

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    2. Ephraim: Apparently, "Adolph Eichmann was not born in Israel" can be added to that list.

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    3. Ephraim - ok, so your position is just "whatever I believe is true, and whatever I don't, isn't." Great. So just accept whatever RNS says, and you're gold. No doubt RCK trusted his advisors as you trust RNS.

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  15. The timing of this post can be argued, certainly some of the issues raised seem worth discussing at an appropriate time. At the appropriate time I would add succession planning to the list.

    kt

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    1. Succession to what?

      I distinctly remember when his father passed away, followed not long after by R' Yaakov and R' Moshe, and we were not-so-subtly told who their "successors" were. And then again when those successors, and *their* successors, passed.

      Said successors were always quite advanced in age, for the simple reason that it would be seen as disrespect to pass over them.

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    2. Successors? I didn't realize we had a monarchy.

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    3. iiuc it's supposed yo be a meritocracy
      kt

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  16. https://mobile.twitter.com/Hasidic_3/status/1504492662296129547

    I trust those above who condemn RNS for his timing will likewise condemn Kupat Ha'ir.

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    1. Oops. Wrong link.

      https://mobile.twitter.com/freyisrael1/status/1505441451106263040

      Delete
  17. To those who think this post was in poor taste, so soon after Rav Chaim's petira, as far as I can tell there was no criticism here of Rav Chaim the man, only of the icon he was turned into by others, to serve their own needs (whether spiritual or financial), at a time in his life when he was no longer functioning at full mental capacity.

    Rav Chaim gave of himself entirely to others -- and some of those others ruthlessly exploited his naivete and feeble state for their own gain.

    To point this out is in no way a reflection on Rav Chaim, nor does it take away from his personal stature.

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    1. It suggests that Hashem allowed such a great man to be manipulated in such a crass way. It certainly detracts from his greatness by suggesting that he was so easily manipulated. Whether true or not true, while his body was still warm was certainly a lack of respect.

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    2. It's no chiddush that Hashem allows great evils to happen in this world.

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    3. I understand your perspective.
      However, it pre-supposes that one would think that HASHEM protects great people from such things and also presupposes that even the greatest talmidei chachamim are not biologically the same as everyone else, not subject to dementia.

      It cannot be avoided that not only was Rav Chaim a victim of the predators, but Clal Yisroel was, with (tens of?) thousands of dollars stolen from well-meaning yidden daily, oblivious to Rav Chaim, but all in his name.

      I think it's the responsible thing to acknowledge this and in no way detracts from Rav Chaim, at least for those of us who see HASHEM's hashgocha in a more attenuated fashion.

      For hashgocha maximalists, yes, I do see why it would be problematic to acknowledge such evil being done in the name of a great talmid chacham.

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  18. My grandfather could produce coins, out of small children's ears and empty pockets. He had no supernatural powers, he hardly ever entered a synagogue.

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  19. If this is some revenge against Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky it was supposed to have been done while he was alive. He passed away in peace.

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  20. Yasher Koach for a fantastic article. You expressed what I had neither the courage nor the talent to say as well

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