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Section:  Avodah   Category: Olam HaTorah
Rav Elya Svei zt"l - How Does A Manhig Make Himself Better?
It is difficult as a Talmid to think of words to describe Rav Elya Svei zt"l. Who comes within any measure of his gadlus in Torah, Hasmodah, Avodah, Mussar, Middos, Hishtadlus? Who can fathom the depth of his Heiliga Neshama, his closeness to the Ribono Shel Olam. As a Talmid, I cannot in the slightest describe the Gadlus of the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l. I can only say a few words as to what I observed.  And, in doing so, I see the Rosh Yeshiva, with his famous warm smile, shaking his head. The Rosh Yeshiva was an Anav Gadol M'Od and had no interest in any recognition of his gadlus. He would turn his back on it. I only write these few words, because the whole being of the Rosh Yeshiva was to be Mashpiah and to be Madrich, to influence and guide our generation to Kavod HaBorei Olam, and Kavod Hatorah.  So in the hope that perhaps these few words have some impact, I believe the Rosh Yeshiva would be Maskim to my writing down some observations.

The breadth of the Rosh Yeshiva in so many areas, is almost incomprehensible. His Shiurim, his Shmuessim, his Hishtadlus for the Tzibbur, his love for his talmidim, his love for every Jew whether in the US, Eretz Yisroel, or Russia, was so great, it is from our perspective beyond the capability of one person to accomplish so much. But, to understand the Rosh Yeshiva, I would like to put forth two generalities that were stated by Rav Aharon Kotler, the Gaon who perhaps had the greatest impact in molding the Tachlis HaChayim of the Rosh Yeshiva.

I happened to be at a Chasuna where Amos Bunim was the grandfather of the Choson. Mr. Bunim, and his revered father Mr. Irving Bunim, were from the founders of Bais Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, and were prime supporters of Rav Aharon in all his efforts throughout his life. I sat next Mr. Bunim, and implored him, “Nu tell me Divrei Torah from Rav Aharon.”  He shared with me two Divrei Torah that in themselves defined Rav Aharon and Rav Elya.

Rav Aharon referred to the gemara where the Malach came to Yehoshua with an outstretched sword. Yehoshua understood that he had been at fault, but was not sure what for. Yehoshua asked the Malach whether it was because he was mevatel the Korbon Tamid, or because he as mevatel Torah? The Malach answered it was because of Bitul Torah.  Rav Aharon asked that Yehoshua was in midst of Milchama to conquer Eretz Yisroel from its fierce inhabitants, it’s understandable that in war one has to concentrate on the issue at hand, and does not have the freedom to learn Torah as in less severe times.

Rav Aharon answered his Kasha as follows.  If you take a general and put him in a room with all this maps and strategies, and you take out the air, wouldn’t he ask for air?  Torah to Rav Aharon was air. The very oxygen of life. Even in the most difficult pressing times, even during war, one cannot live without air!  That was the musag that Rav Aharon brought to American shores. And, that was the musag that the Rosh Yeshiva, as a Talmud Muvhak of Rav Aharon, lived by. Torah is the essence of life, we cannot live without Torah, without dveikus B’Torah, without Ameilus B’Torah, without absorbing Torah until it is the very fiber of our being.

Rav Elya was always dovuk in torah.  Not only in the yeshiva, not only when preparing and giving shiurim, not only when speaking to other Gedolim in Torah, not only when speaking to talmidim in Torah, but even when he was osek b’inyanei Klal Yisroel his mind ‘Ligst Zich in Torah’, his mind was always busy with torah. Torah. Torah. Torah. That was rav Aharon. That was the Rosh Yeshiva. They couldn't live without it.

The second Dvar Torah from Rav Aharon that Mr. Bunim told me is as follows. It says that after building the Mishkan Klal Yisroel had to bring a korbon Chatas for the aveira of Geneiva. What did they steal? Not everyone gave their gold, silver, diamonds, and other valuables purely lishma. Some gave it because others gave,and  they had to give to show themselves as equal.  Rav Aharon asked, but the fact is they gave their gold, silver, so where was the geneiva?

Rav Aharon answered that as much the Mishkan lacked the element of Lishma, that is how much Kedusha was lacking from the Mishkan. Through the lack of lishma, they stole kedusha from Klal Yisroel.  They were Ganavim, thieves!  This too was Rav Aharon, and Rav Elya. There was no such a thing as half a mitzvah or half an effort. Every mitzvah, every davening, every moment of life was done 110% for the Ribono Shel Olam. It wasn’t done with half-measures. It wasn’t done with excuses, it wasn’t done with half Kochos or half concentration.  Rav Aharon and Rav Elya lived in a state of lishma. Every moment of their time was lived with only one though in mind, being and Eved HaShem, serving HaShem to the fullest kochos.  Living Kuloh Lishma to create Kavod Shamayim.

All the stories spoken at the Levaya in Philadelphia, all that has been written, and will continue to be written, I believe come from these two klallim.  Torah is our oxygen. As we cannot live without air, so too we cannot live without Torah.  One has to serve HaShem to one’s fullest kochos and beyond, to keep striving to improve one’s Avodas HaShem in every manifestation, at every moment of life.  That was the musagim that the Rosh Yeshiva taught his Talmidim, not through words, but through being a living embodiment. We saw every day, no matter what time of the day, no matter what day of the week, the Rosh Yeshiva exemplified those klallim.

This was the gift that the Rosh Yeshiva, along with the Gaon HaRav Shmuel Kamenetzky Shlita, ybcl"c gave to American students, far removed from Slabodka, and Mir, and Brisk. Far removed from the Chofetz Chaim, and Rav Elchonon, and Rav Issur Zalman and the Brisker Rav. Far removed from Rav Chatzkel Levenstein and The Alter from Slabodka, and the Alter from Kelm. Far removed from the musagim of Mesiras Nefesh that was the neshama of pre-war Torah life.  So many Talmidim were changed from Americans to true Bnei Torah, so many had their neshamos catch the fire of Ahavas Torah and Ahavas Yisroel, that they too became a link in the chain, giving over to their talmidim this comprehension, so that B"H Torah in the world today is beyond anyone’s dream for post-Churban Yiddishkeit.

In ending, I would like to tell one brief story that exemplified the Rosh Yeshiva.  I was fortunate to be Oleh Regel to the Rosh Yeshiva, on the last Chol Hamoed Pesach that he was truly well. I was there with my sons, who were Talmidim, as well as other talmidim. At one point the Rosh Yeshiva said to me “Nu Reb ____ Vi Machtzich Besser”, how does one better oneself?  Without a moment’s hesitation I responded “Mir Kumin Tzu Dem Rosh Yeshiva”, we come to the Rosh Yeshiva. A quick response that had everyone smiling.  But I was looking at the Rosh Yeshiva and, I saw him close his eyes, and a look came over his face that was as clear as day “but who do I go to”?
That was the question that was so clear the Rosh Yeshiva was asking himself.  But who do I go to.  The Manhig Hador inn his upper seventies, already weak and growing frail. Millions upon millions of words of Torah, millions upon millions of words of Mussar and Chizuk, thousands upon thousands of hours spent on behalf of Tzorchei Klal Yisroel, from the klal to the individual.  And, still he was asking of himself – how do I get better? How do I improve? How do I serve HaShem better? How do I create more Kavod Shamayim? How do I help Klal Yisroel more?  The Rosh Yeshiva asked this of himself. How much more do we have to ask ourselves that question?

May our efforts in this direction be a zchus for Rav Elya, and ybcl"c Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, he should have Arichas Yomim. May the Rosh Yeshiva be a Meilitz Yosher for Klal Yisroel, for the Dor that was the Tachlis of his Achrayos.

A Talmid
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