Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gedolim of Yesterday and Today

One morning in the early 1980’s, I boarded the subway for an early morning ride into Manhattan’s Lower East Side. My destination target was a humble apartment which housed Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the great luminaries of a previous generation. I was privileged to join him for Shacharis and speak with him afterwards.

Unfortunately, many people are procrastinators and never achieve many of their objectives because they put off for tomorrow what can be done today. I consider myself lucky that I spoke with many of the greats of yesteryear. I met, to name a few, Rav Gifter, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rav Ruderman, Rav Hutner, Rabbi Avigdor Miller and Rav Shmuel Birnbaum Zichronom LeVracha. I even attended an event at 770 Eastern Parkway to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

When I wanted to travel to tour Eretz Yisrael one summer, my Rosh Yeshiva asked why I wanted to go. When I replied that I wanted to visit the Gedolim, he chided me by saying “Become a Gadol yourself!” In any event, I was able to have an audience with Rav Schach and Rav Gustman, but was unable to see the Steipler Rav, and had to settle for attending his Levaya.

Aside from procrastination, another reason why people don’t take the time to see today’s greats is because they feel they don’t measure up to previous generation leaders. By the time they realize their mistake it is too late. Consider this post a gentle reminder to go today.


  1. Perhaps if you posted about what you gained by meeting great people it might encourage others to do likewise?

  2. Anon, you bring up a great point, and perhaps I will do so; but most of the conversations were personal.

    You might compare this in some way to fans meeting their sports icons. They are not going to learn how to hit a home run or sink a three-pointer or throw a 60 yard spiraled pass. But they may come away inspired to lift weights or take batting practice daily or work on their dribble etc.

    Take for example the time I met Rav Ruderman. He was already advanced in years and was sitting in a room surrounded by people asking him questions all over Shas. He responded to each one, quoting the Gemara verbatim and a myriad of sources without opening a Sefer. This was inspiring to see that hard work pays off with a gain of encyclopedic knowledge.

    In the case of Rav Moshe, it was inspiring to see how a world famous person, who had numerous responsibilities, yet was able to take a few minutes to chat with an unknown youngster.

    When I met Rav Schach, I experienced an awesome display of humility. On his door was posted a request not to bother him, and the fellow whom I came with and I were disappointed, as we had travelled from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak primarily to see him. When the attendant heard that we had come from America, he immediately beckoned us to come in. This leader of the Yeshiva World, already in advanced age then stood up in honor of his Yeshiva Bochurim visitors!

  3. Thank you for sharing those stories. I once heard that in the secular world, the closer you get to a famous person or a celebrity, the more you realize how crass they really are, yet the closer one gets to Gedolim, you realize how little you know about the person and how really great they are.

  4. all these gedolim come from europe


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