R. Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l
Rav Adlerstein’s words are mechayiv me, because I learned for two years in the Mir. That makes it that much harder, though, to attempt to articulate the essence of the Rosh Yeshiva. There’s too much to say, and the words are too inadequate.
It is true that Rav Nosson Tzvi zt”l had Parkinson’s, which made it very difficult for him to walk, to stand, and even to speak. He already had the disease when he became Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva Jerusalem — which, under his guidance, became quite possibly the largest yeshiva in the world. Yet he still interviewed each aspiring bochur personally when possible; I know that I received more of his time and attention than the Chairman of Starbucks and a group of American businessmen — despite his fundraising responsibilities and thousands of existing Talmidim.
While it may have been difficult for him to speak, he made sure we understood every word. When I joined the Yeshiva, I distinctly remember realizing at the first of his shiurim that I attended, about 20 minutes in, that he wasn’t speaking English, but Yiddish — and I still understood him. He also, of course, had much to say; he reportedly turned down pain medication, because the doctors told him one of the side effects was that it would hurt his memory.
There is another insight, which again I must credit to an “outsider,” my chaver Rabbi Moshe Boruch Parnes of Atlanta. We were speaking yesterday, and he recalled that whenever he saw Reb Nosson Tzvi, he was smiling. I had the privilege of seeing him much more often, and yet have the same recollection. Despite his illness and the tremendous burdens of the yeshiva, he lived with an incredible simchas hachayim, joy in living, that most healthy people would find hard to emulate. He lived entirely within the four walls of Halacha, and his entire being was suffused with happiness and love for every Jew.
We are much the poorer. May his memory be for a blessing.
re the difficulty in hearing Rav Nosson Tzvi speak…
One of the most moving experiences of learning in Mir was always the kaddish at the end of shacharis and maariv. The minhag in Eretz Yisroel is to repeat Barchu at the end of davening. The Rosh Yeshiva always said that kaddish. My makom kavua was way up in one of the azaros nashim. Rav Nosson Tzvi was barely audible when you were in the same room. When he said that kaddish he somehow raised up his voice by b’agala uvizman kariv v’imru AMEN. And then again by barchu es HASHEM h’movorach. You could hear clearly from the “bleacher seats”. The response of the tzibbur was of course very powerful.
Oy. His exertion for a barchu was more than many put into a years’ worth of davening.
Another small point… I have heard it said, before the petira and even after, that perhaps the Mir is big yoser m’dai (too big for many talmidim to have a proper kesher with a rebbi and to really shteig). It just is not so. Learning in Mir is simply an immersion in Torah. To not be effected would be like swimming in pickle juice and coming out smell free. And the reason it is like that is because of the Rosh Yeshiva. And there are many, many rebbeim and chaburos that one can be part of.
Mir is certainly the most diverse makom Torah in the world. There are authentic Yerushalaymers, modern mischaskim (many of whom, to their credit, do not seem to be in a rush to change their dress or haircuts), every sort of ethnicity and nationality. It is something very special. The Rosh Yeshiva never spoke about politics. He was pure ahavas Yisroel and ahavas Torah and that is why so many different types of Jews wanted to be near him.