Shabbat eve, the 15th day of the month of Adar (March 18, 2022), Rabbi Chayim Kanievsky זצ”ל, the world’s holiest Torah sage, returned his soul to his Maker. The loss of this Torah giant constitutes a massive, immeasurable blow to the entire Jewish nation, such that it is impossible for small people like us to begin to fathom its magnitude. This great sage provided benefit to the entire world on so many levels. This booklet will attempt to present the reader with the Torah’s perspective on the loss of a sage of this caliber.
Pirkei Avot (6:1) teaches us:
רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר כָּל הָעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה לִשְׁמָהּ, זוֹכֶה לִדְבָרִים הַרְבֵּה, וְלֹא עוֹד אֶלָּא שֶׁכָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ כְּדַאי הוּא לוֹ, נִקְרָא רֵעַ, אָהוּב, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַמָּקוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, מְשַׂמֵּחַ אֶת הַמָּקוֹם, מְשַׂמֵּחַ אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, וּמַלְבַּשְׁתּוֹ עֲנָוָה וְיִרְאָה, וּמַכְשַׁרְתּוֹ לִהְיוֹת צַדִּיק חָסִיד יָשָׁר וְנֶאֱמָן, וּמְרַחַקְתּוֹ מִן הַחֵטְא, וּמְקָרַבְתּוֹ לִידֵי זְכוּת, וְנֶהֱנִין מִמֶּנּוּ עֵצָה וְתוּשִׁיָּה בִּינָה וּגְבוּרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר לִי עֵצָה וְתוּשִׁיָּה אֲנִי בִינָה לִי גְבוּרָה, וְנוֹתֶנֶת לוֹ מַלְכוּת וּמֶמְשָׁלָה וְחִקּוּר דִּין, וּמְגַלִּין לוֹ רָזֵי תוֹרָה, וְנַעֲשֶׂה כְּמַעְיָן הַמִּתְגַּבֵּר וּכְנָהָר שֶׁאֵינוֹ פּוֹסֵק, וְהוֶֹה צָנוּע וְאֶרֶךְ רוּחַ, וּמוֹחֵל עַל עֶלְבּוֹנוֹ, וּמְגַדַּלְתּוֹ וּמְרוֹמַמְתּוֹ עַל כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים
Rabbi Meir said: Whoever learns Torah lishmah – for its own sake– merits many things. Not only that, but the entire world is worthwhile just for him. He is called a friend, beloved, one who loves Hashem, one who loves mankind: he brings joy to Hashem, and to mankind. The Torah clothes him with humility and reverence, and prepares him to be righteous, pious, upright and faithful, and it puts him far from sin, and brings him near to virtue. People enjoy from him the benefit of counsel and sound wisdom, understanding and strength… And it gives him sovereignty and dominion, and penetrating judgment. To him are revealed the secrets of the Torah and he becomes an ever-flowing fountain and a river that never ends. He is modest, patient and forgiving of any insult. The Torah makes him great and exalted above all other creations.
These blessings are specifically for the person who learns Torah לשמה – lishmah – for its own sake, which means that his only goal in learning Hashem’s Torah is to know and understand it. He has no aspirations of using his Torah knowledge to seek a position as a rabbi or head of a yeshiva, or for the honor that is given a great Torah sage. His only aspiration is to know Hashem’s Torah, to connect his mind with the mind of Hashem, so to speak, through knowing what is on Hashem’s mind, the Torah. This is the highest level of Torah learning because the person is learning just to fulfill his commandment to learn Torah with no expectations for any personal gain. Torah lishmah also brings a person as close as possible to Hashem. Indeed, to the degree that a person has aspirations for personal gain, a chasm will exist between him and Hashem.
Rabbi Kanievsky did but one thing his whole life: study the Torah לשמה lishmah – for the sake of knowing Hashem’s Torah. He never sought a position of any sort. He sat in his modest apartment in the city of Bnai Brak and studied Hashem’s Torah for decades, seeking no recognition for it whatsoever. He certainly accomplished his goal. He had a system, a daily quota of pages learned from the essential books of the Torah, whereby, in the course of a year, he would review the entire Torah. This, of course, is much broader than just the Five Books of Moses. He learned, and knew by heart, the Babylonian (2,711 pages!) and Jerusalem Talmuds the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish law) with all of its commentaries, the Rambam and all of its commentaries, the many Midrashim, Tosefta, Zohar and many other Torah books. He had committed to memory many books that many people have never even heard of. Every Passover eve he would celebrate the completion of another review cycle, by making a Siyum celebration.
The Talmud teaches us (Moed Katan 16b):
דאמר רבא כל העוסק בתורה מבפנים תורתו מכרזת עליו מבחוץ
Rava said, “Whoever learns Torah inside (hidden away, lishmah), the Torah announces him outside.” everybody knew about the hidden scholar who lived in Bnai Brak.
This Talmudic statement accurately describes Rabbi Kanievsky. As a result of his pure and diligent Torah learning, he merited each of the benefits listed above:
He is called a friend, beloved, one who loves Hashem, one who loves mankind: he brings joy to Hashem, and to mankind.
Rabbi Kanievsky was beloved and considered a friend by all Jews. By making himself available to anyone and everyone for advice and blessings, each person felt he had a listening ear and an understanding and sympathetic heart when he took his problems or issues to him. People waited in line in the hallway of Rabbi Kanievsky’s house for their turn to present him with their need or problem. He would listen carefully, and then either give advice or a blessing for a successful outcome to the problem. Over many decades, hundreds of thousands of people visited the Rabbi for his council and blessing. No one was ever turned away. If he spotted someone coming to see him, he would instruct him to come in no matter what time of the day or night it was. Sometimes the Rabbi would see people even while resting in his bed. He never ever told someone, “Come back later, I need to rest a little.” He would always muster up the strength to answer the person.
How was Rabbi Kanievsky able to do this? The only answer is that he loved Hashem, and he loved Hashem’s children, and wanted to do whatever he could for them. Having such a person to go to brought great joy to mankind and surely to Hashem.
The Torah clothes him with humility and reverence, and prepares him to be righteous, pious, upright and faithful, and it puts him far from sin, and brings him near to virtue.
The rabbi was the epitome of humility and was perfectly righteous and pious in all that he did. He studied Torah, day and night and didn’t waste a second of time.
A young man in a Kollel (an institution of advanced Torah study) wrote a book on the moon’s cycle and about the laws of blessing the new moon. This young man had an advanced degree in astronomy from a prestigious university and was very knowledgeable in how the solar system worked, which information was vital for the contents of his book.
One day, Rabbi Kanievsky’s grandson entered the Kollel where the author studied Torah asking for the author of that book. When he was identified, the grandson told the man that his grandfather, Rabbi Kanievsky, was studying his book, and had a few questions that he wanted to ask. The author was obviously flattered and offered to go to Rabbi Kanievsky’s house to speak to him about his questions.
“No need!” said the grandson, “He is outside in the car. He came to speak with you, I will bring him in.” This is the personification of humility and reverence described by Rabbi Meir.
People enjoy from him the benefit of counsel and sound wisdom, understanding and strength…
Rabbi Kanievsky was crowned with the title of דעת תורה “Daas Torah” – The Torah’s opinion on the matter. The Torah and its teachings are the basis for all decisions and is the guiding light for the Jewish people. Hashem has put the answers to all problems and perplexing issues into the Torah. This applies both on a national and personal level, the Torah providing the correct solution to perplexing situations for the Jewish people.
But how do we extract those answers from the Torah? It is so vast, and there are so many different options for every issue? The answer is that we seek the solution from a person who is the living embodiment of the Torah with all its wisdom, guidance, morals, and values. The resulting response will not be his personal opinion, because he is not an independent person with his own opinions. This person’s every thought and every word is an expression of the massive Torah wisdom that resides within him. His essence is Torah, nothing else. Rabbi Kanievsky was consulted by all who sought to know the correct Torah path, when they were in doubt as to how to proceed. He was דעת תורה -the Torah’s perspective, in our generation.
And it gives him sovereignty and dominion
It would seem that a man who spent his every waking moment studying Torah would not have sovereignty or dominion. Over whom? And how would he do it? In the end we saw that Rabbi Kanievsky was considered the leader of millions of people who followed his every word.
It was reported that about a million people attended his funeral in Bnai Brak. That doesn’t take into account the thousands of people who were watching on their phones and computers around the world.
The New York Times wrote a lengthy article about him, and world leaders sent their condolences to the mourning family members. Why would the NY Times have an article about a rabbi who sat and learned Torah all day? Why would world leaders care to send condolences? The Torah promises sovereignty and dominion, and he had it.
To him are revealed the secrets of the Torah
The Talmud teaches us (Sanhedrin 99b):
אמר רב יצחק בר אבודימי מאי קרא שנאמר נפש עמל עמלה לו כי אכף עליו פיהו הוא עמל במקום זה ותורתו עומלת לו
Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Avdimi said, “What does the verse mean when it says (Proverbs 16:26), נפש עמל עמלה לו כי אכף עליו פיהו – The toiling soul toils for itself… When he toils in the Torah, in return, the Torah toils for him.”
In what way does the Torah toil for those who toil in it? Rashi explains:
תורה עומלת לו – שמחזרת עליו, ומבקשת מאת קונה למסור לו טעמי תורה וסתריה
The Torah returns to him, and requests from its Master to give over to this person the reasons for the laws and its secrets.
It was clear to all that Rabbi Kanievsky was privy to the Torah’s secrets, and also, to the secret information of the world. In story after story, we learn of his divine intuition and knowledge of information that no human being could possibly know.
We have previously printed one such story, but is worth repeating to emphasize the point.
A Kollel man (Torah scholar) was driving down the street in his home town of Lakewood, NJ, when an elderly couple ran a stop sign. The Kollel man could not stop in time, and his car collided with the elderly couple killing them both.
A police report acquitted the driver from fault for the collision, and he was not penalized. Yet he couldn’t live with himself. He could not make peace with his being the agent for the death of two innocent elderly people.
Rabbi Kanievsky maintained a system whereby a person with a question can write him the question and provide a self-addressed post card on which the rabbi will write his answer and have it sent to the sender.
The distraught Kollel man wrote to R. Kanievsky asking what was his sin that caused him to be the agent to kill the elderly couple, and how he should atone for it?
The rabbi wrote one word on the back of the postcard – Amalek – and mailed back the card.
Upon receipt, the Kollel man was more confused than before. What could the rabbi have meant with this?
Soon after the elderly couple were killed, their children sold the house to a different Kollel couple in Lakewood. One day they went into the attic and found a few boxes left by the house’s previous owners. Inspecting the boxes to see if perhaps there were valuables that needed to be given to their children, they found pictures of the elderly couple in SS uniforms. They had been Nazi officers during the war, and had the blood of who knows how many Jews on their hands.
This is what the Rabbi meant with his answer on the postcard. He knew that the Kollel man had actually performed a mitzva of ridding the world of two descendants of Amalek!
Here is another.
A man travelled from Bnai Brak to Haifa to visit his father. On the way, he was pulled over by a policeman who threw the book at him for several infractions. He received a few tickets, amounting to a hefty sum of money. All of his efforts to have the policeman lessen the offenses fell on deaf ears.
The man was extremely disturbed that he had received such a large penalty, when all he wanted to do was perform the mitzvah of “honor your father and your mother!” He went into Rabbi Kanievsky to vent his frustration and find out perhaps what he had done wrong to deserve it. The Rabbi told him, “Don’t fret about it. I assure you this ticket will be a blessing for you!” The man was very dissatisfied with the rabbi’s answer, because he couldn’t imagine how the ticket could be of any benefit to him.
Our good-intentioned traveler had an evil neighbor who repeatedly alleged that he was stealing from him. He had even brought him to court for petty thefts that he alleged his neighbor was responsible for. This time, however, the evil neighbor decided he was going to put him in jail and do away with him for good. He trumped up a huge scheme and brough the traveler to court, with the intention of putting him in jail.
The theft was alleged to have taken place the day that the man went to Haifa to visit his father. If he was on the road to Haifa, how could he have executed the robbery in Bnai Brak? But how would he prove that he was not at home to perpetrate the crime? He then remembered the tickets issued to him on the highway far from Bnai Brak at the very time he was accused of committing the theft. He presented the tickets to the court to prove his innocence.
The opposition countered, “Who are you fooling? You weren’t there; you lent your car to someone else who got those tickets!”
To resolve this matter, the court summoned the officer who issued the tickets. Because the driver had pleaded so strongly with the officer to minimize the violations, he remembered the fellow, and testified that it was in fact to him that he had issued the tickets.
The court accepted the evidence and realized that the neighbor was a scoundrel. They fined him 50,000 shekel, which he paid to the defendant, and was banned from ever bringing a case against his neighbor again. Those tickets were indeed a blessing.
The following story was told to me by a dear friend who is a dentist who had gone to visit Rabbi Kanievsky. The person who brought him to the rabbi introduced my friend as a “Doctor.” Rabbi Kanievsky smiled and responded, “הוא רופא שינים!- He is a dentist!” (not a medical doctor) My friend was blown away.
Story after story reveals that Rabbi Kanievsky was privy to information not known or accessible to man. Through his study of Torah, he had Divine knowledge and used it to help people. This is why his council was so in demand, and he gave it out freely.
He becomes an ever-flowing fountain and a river that never ends.
In the course of his 94-year lifetime, Rabbi Kanievsky authored many scholarly works. He was a fountain of wisdom, which he shared with others through his holy books.
Rabbi Kanievsky wrote a book about grasshoppers. Grasshoppers? Why them? Some grasshoppers are actually kosher and may be eaten. There are certain features on a kosher grasshopper that identify it as kosher. Rabbi Kanievsky was expounding on those features but it was difficult to intuit all of the details; what he really needed was an actual specimen to better understand what the Talmud was talking about. Suddenly, a grasshopper jumped in through the open window and landed on Rabbi Kanievsky’s table. He studied it carefully, figured out the information that he needed, and the grasshopper went back out the window. At a later time, he wanted to see it again, and once again, the grasshopper returned to his table. After gleaning the information that he needed, the grasshopper again left.
This story has a sequel. Mrs. Kanievsky related the story of how the grasshopper appeared on the table just when the rabbi needed it to a woman who was doubtful about the truth of the Torah. “You see, Hashem does miracles even today!” said the Rebbitzen. The woman was inspired and went home to tell the story to her husband who was a professor in zoology.
Upon hearing the story from his wife, the zoologist exclaimed, “You see? The whole thing is bologna! They are selling you a bill of goods! Grasshoppers don’t live around here! Everybody knows that, especially me, a zoologist!” Just as he finished his sentence, sure enough a grasshopper flew in through the window and landed on the table. The zoologist was dumbstruck, and had to admit, that, indeed, miracles do happen even today.
He is modest, patient and forgiving of any insult. The Torah makes him great and exalted above all other creations.
These attributes were witnessed by all. He was modest and humble. He received each person with a happy smiling face. He never grew impatient with the thousands of people who came to seek his council. He always had the time and patience to answer the next person, no matter who he was, or what time of the day it was. He was truly great and exalted above all other creations.
Rabbi Meir’s statement above describes the greatness achieved by one who studies Torah lishmah. Such an individual merits the greatest blessings possible from Hashem.
Rabbi Kanievsky is now in heaven close to Hashem reaping the spiritual benefits of a life lived in the most perfect way possible. His soul is no doubt very close to Hashem. But where does that leave us, now that he is gone? A person of this level of holiness also has a profound impact on the spiritual state of the entire world, and now we are without it.
The Talmud teaches us (Rosh Hashana 18b):
ללמדך ששקולה מיתתן של צדיקים כשריפת בית אלהינו
This teaches us, that the death of a Tzadik is equal to the destruction of the Holy Temple.
What is the comparison between the death of a Tzadik and the destruction of the Holy Temple?
The Holy Temple was Hashem’s “home away from home.” His Holy presence dwelled there, and from there it emanated and spread to the rest of the world.
When Rabbi Kanievsky would study the Torah in his small, simple apartment, the holiness from his Torah would spread out to the entire world and spiritually elevate the soul of every Jew. Every Jewish soul is connected with the soul of every other Jew. Thus, when one person does a mitzvah, it positively affects every other Jew.
To bring the concept down to earth, I would compare Rabbi Kanievsky’s holy Torah output to something like Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls produces one quarter of the electricity used in NY State and Ontario. That’s 4.9 million kilowatts per day, enough to power 3.8 million homes. Imagine the dearth of electric power if Niagara Falls should suddenly stop producing electricity.
Rabbi Kanievsky was at least a Niagara Falls, maybe two or three. His Torah helped every Jew on the planet to be a better Jew, whether we realized it or not. He was generating holiness that was felt and absorbed by our souls, making us better. Because of him, we were all able to learn Torah and keep mitzvot easier. His holiness elevated us allowing us to keep our responsibilities more easily.
The Jewish people would frequent the Holy Temple and become inspired to strengthen their relationship with Hashem. Everyone who visited Rabbi Kanievsky came away inspired and motivated to strengthen his relationship with Hashem.
The Holy Temple was also the source of blessing to the entire world. The Table with the showbread was the source of blessing for food.
We learned from Rabbi Meir that the entire world is worthwhile just for him. The Talmud (Brachot 17b) teaches us that Hashem will provide sustenance to the entire world in the merit of even one Tzaddik.
כל העולם כולו נזונין בשביל חנינא בני
The whole world receives its sustenance in the merit of my son Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa.
It is entirely possible that the entire world was sustained because of this one holy Jew.
The Talmud teaches us that the Torah provides protection to the Jewish people. Without Rabbi Kanievsky’s holy Torah, we suddenly find ourselves without a great source of protection.
No longer do we have the Divinely inspired clarity to guide the Jewish nation as it progresses down the difficult uncertain path of the future. Who will guide us through the challenges that await us, as the world continues to change and evolve into something that we have never seen before?
The list goes on and on. It is impossible to asses the loss that we have sustained with the passing of this holy Jew who sat and studied Torah lishmah day and night and tended to the needs of Hashem’s children. We are orphans. We are bereft.
The only thing that we can do is to try to fortify ourselves and increase our own level of holiness. If we all do this, perhaps we can shore up some of the loss that we have sustained with the passing of this Holy man. May Hashem help us to accomplish this lofty goal.