Remembering Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, zt”l

“A prince,” is the description that comes most immediately to mind when thinking about Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, who passed away last week. That’s what I thought sixteen years ago, when I interviewed him for a biography of Reb Elimelech (Mike) Tress, the inspirational leader of the early American Agudah movement, and my initial impression only grew stronger with each subsequent meeting. Even the briefest time together with Rabbi Lorincz’s presence was sufficient to leave one with the feeling of having been in the presence of royalty. Such was his refinement and nobility.

In his preface to the first volume of B’Mechitzasam (the translation of which into English I had the honor of supervising), Rabbi Lorincz describes how he recorded only those stories of the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, and Rav Shach that can inspire others to increased Torah learning, fear of Heaven and good deeds. He entreats the reader not to read the book as a storybook, but to contemplate each story, analyze what it teaches us, and think about how that lesson can be applied in practice.

And it was clear to anyone who every had the privilege of meeting him that he had himself thought deeply about what he had learned from the towering figures with whom he enjoyed an intimate relationship and applied those lessons in his own life. In the above-mentioned preface, he describes two aspects of the impact of the gedolei haTorah on a person. The first is intellectual and includes both that which one hears from them directly regarding all facets of life and Torah hashkafah and what one culls from observing their ways and character. That can be conveyed.

The second aspect is emotional, and cannot be conveyed in words: “One feels oneself being elevated and suddenly aware of a previously unknown spiritual dimension.” In Rabbi Lorincz’s presence as well, one felt oneself be elevated by his example.
His refinement reflected the degree to which he had internalized the examples of the Torah leaders with whom he was close. But it was also easy to see why the Chazon Ish had tapped him for a leadership role in the Torah world, while still a young avreich in Heichal HaTalmud, then the only kollel in the entire central region, and later sent him to the Knesset as a young man in his early thirties.

First and foremost, he was a true ben Torah. There was nothing about him of the askan who talks about Torah learning but is himself not of the world of Torah learners. As a teenager in the yeshiva of the Pupa Rebbe in his native Hungary, he learned tractate Shabbos eighteen or more hours a day, until he could review the entire tractate in his head in three hours. That knowledge won him a prize, and with his prize money, he purchased a train ticket to study in the Mirrer Yeshiva, something almost unheard of for a Hungarian bochur at that time.

When he left the Knesset, after 33 years of service, he went straight back to the beis medrash from which he had been plucked by the Chazon Ish. For sixteen years, he learned in daily chavrusah with Rabbi Simchah Wasserman, zt”l. In his hesped, his son Rabbi Yosef Aryeh Lorincz, the author of Mishnas Rabbi Akiva Eiger and other important Torah works, related how he had set up a weekly chavrusah with his father in his later years, in which they learned six hours straight without a break. Rabbi Yaakov Feldheim, a chavrusah of his last three years, when Rabbi Lorincz struggled with numerous health issues, said that only once in those three years did he show any sign of tiredness while learning. Learning revived him. In addition to his two volumes of remembrances of the gedolei Torah with whom he was close, he also produced in his later years Milui Shlomo, a volume including many of his own chiddushei Torah.

He commanded the respect of the gedolei hador for his practical intelligence – Rabbi Yaakov Feldheim called him “the smartest man I ever met”, his dedication, and his ability to be mekadesh Shem Shomayim in every setting.

As a young Knesset member, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion used to enjoy talking with him, and once asked him to show him where in the Torah there is any hint to a patur from army service for yeshiva students – which Rabbi Lorincz promptly did in the Rambam’s description of Shevet Levi. He was the only person able to report the impressions of the famous meeting between the Chazon Ish and Ben Gurion from the perspective of both.

Though he represented Agudath Israel in the Knesset during some of the most contentious battles in the history of the fledgling state, including those over the draft of yeshiva students and national service for young women, Rabbi Lorincz commanded deep admiration across the entire political spectrum His appointment as chairman of the Advisory Committe of the Bank of Israel after his retirement from the Knesset – his signature appeared on all Israeli currency until just a few years ago – reflected the respect of his colleagues.

Rabbi Lorincz enjoyed the complete confidence of the gedolei Yisrael, who recognized his complete subservience to them. Yet they also respected his judgment and insistence on not just executing their directives but understanding them in all their implications. From his earliest days in public service, he made it a condition with the manhigei hador who had sent him into public life that he be able to ask them to explain their directives until he had fully understood their thinking. The Brisker Rav once told him, “I’m glad you are not a chassid shoteh, and do not hesitate to repeatedly ask until you properly understand what I mean.”

His son Rabbi Yosef Aryeh Lorincz related in his hesped that his father learned Mesilas Yesharim every day, no matter how busy he was. The Ramchal’s classic sefer was never far from his table.

Even without knowing of that daily seder in Mesilas Yesharim, one could have guessed it. In his section on the Chazon Ish, Rabbi Lorincz quotes the latter’s words in Emunah U’Bitachon (IV:25), “The entire desire of the wise man is to refine his middos.” And it was clear that he shared that same desire. His every word and action bespoke a person who had worked to refine his middos constantly over many years.

His words were carefully measured. He did not speak about himself unless asked, and even then only as much as was necessary. Though of course he appears throughout B’Mechitzasam, he had none of the need to aggrandize himself that one frequently encounters when talking to people about their relationship to great Torah leaders. The focus of his memoirs remained relentlessly on the great figures from whom he drew inspiration.

As a young Knesset member, the Chazon Ish once sent him a message, as he was about to mount the podium to deliver a fiery address against a second term as president for Chaim Weitzmann. The Chazon Ish instructed him not to give the speech. Later he explained: What would you have gained from the speech? Weitzmann will certainly be re-elected regardless of anything you say, and you will only have turned him into a greater enemy of Torah Jewry. That lesson in the necessity of weighing one’s every word remained with Rabbi Lorincz for the rest of his life, and he applied it to his private speech no less than his public.

In Bais HaTalmud of Kelm, they stressed a middah called zrizus b’nachas. Though Rabbi Lorincz’s background was far from that of Kelm, that description fully applied to him. Even in his last years, when I knew him best, he was an extraordinarily productive person. He knew where every record and folder was located, and planned out every moment of his day.

But that productivity was never at the expense of his calm or his courtly manners. As eager as he was for B’Mechitzasam to be published in English, he would never countenance any reduction in continual cross-checking of references and numerous levels of editing in order to speed the process. He knew the dangers of relying on memories of seventy years ago, and made every effort to meticulously check every story.

That continual checking was a reflection of another one of his outstanding qualities: his scrupulous honesty. On two occasions, many years apart, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the president of Agudath Israel of America, introduced him to me with the exact same words: “He is one of the very few who has never deceived me in any way.” And that description covered a working relationship and friendship of over half a century.

He was the epitome of dignity – always immaculately groomed and dressed. Even in his nineties, he remained a tall, impressive figure. And he treated others with the same dignity and respect. His solicitude for the comfort of his guests was boundless. His chavrusah Rabbi Yaakov Feldheim was astounded by the fact that he never interrupted him while he was expressing a thought in learning, something very far removed from the rough and tumble of Rabbi Feldheim’s formative years in Telshe Yeshiva.

He took pains to personally inscribe the volumes of the English version of B’Mechitzasam, In Their Shadow, for those who had worked on the translation, even if he had never met them personally. Whenever there was any question of how much was owed to one of those working on the project, Rabbi Lorincz always resolved the doubt in favor of the employee.

Rabbi Lorincz quotes the Chazon Ish’s description of a person seeking perfection (Emunah U’Bitachon I: 11): “. . . nothing pains him so much as the pain of injuring another’s pride or withholding kindness from him.” Those words applied to him as well. Shortly before theYamim Tovim, Reb Mordechai Neustadt, head of the Vaad Hatzala L’Nidchei Yisrael, and a follower of Rabbi Lorincz’s from the latter’s early days in Zeireir Agudah Yisrael, came to Eretz Yisrael and visited Rabbi Lorincz to discuss a problem he was facing. Subsequent to their meeting, Rabbi Lorincz called him many times to discuss the matter. Just after the levaya, Mr. Neustadt told me that Rabbi Lorincz showed a concern with his problem far in excess of his own.

The two were scheduled to meet one more time. But Rabbi Lorincz’s son called the night before that meeting to convey his father’s apologies for not calling himself and to push off the meeting. Just the previous day, Rabbi Lorincz had suffered a heart attack, but even so he did not forget the meeting or the obligation to inform the other party that he was forced to postpone.

I never left a meeting with Rabbi Lorincz without thinking to myself that if the rest of us were more like him relations between the secular and Torah worlds in Eretz Yisrael would be vastly different. And that if we could replicate him forty times, we could inspire a massive teshuva movement in Eretz Yisrael. The Torah community continues to be blessed with representatives of great talent and energy, but it is hard to imagine producing another with Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz’s ability to be a walking Kiddush Hashem, for he was nurtured in another world, a world that no longer exists – the world of the pre-war Mirrer Yeshiva and Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, a world of the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav.

Yated Ne’eman, October 21, 2009

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4 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    The lack of comments may indicate how many years it has been since the niftar was active in politics. The current generation never heard of him. Rabbi Lorincz did a service by writing his books . He hails from an era when our political leaders were individuals of substance and committment. Tragically, today’s crop is often less lofty in their ambitions. The Israeli Knesset is not a source of great pride in too many cases. Which modern leaders can compare with the first generation, religious or secular.

  2. Rachel W says:

    The leaders simply reflect their constituents (which is always true – we get the leaders we deserve). The average Israeli was more passionate in who he was and what he stood for and what he believed in a generation or two ago. Nowadays, Israel had become just a place where the people live (ho hum) and no one gets fired up over ideals ( are there any idealists left?). The few idealists who still exist (mostly on the right wing) are considered by most people as somewhat nuts.

  3. Jewish Observer says:

    Very important piece. It is especially valuable as a prism through which to appreciate Rabbi Lorincz’s works about gedolim. Before this piece I would have stereotyped Rabbi Lorincz as a k’noker charedi politician type, short on integrity and long on puffery. This piece, stressing davka his ehrlechkeit, really hit the spot for me and makes me value his treatment of the Chazon Ish, Brisker Rav and Rav Shach all the more.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    “Which modern leaders can compare with the first generation, religious or secular.”

    – another re’ayah that yeridas hadoros is across the board

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