On Thursday evening, March 24, Chazaq, Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, and the Yeshiva of Central Queens hosted a memorial event for Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.
Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, Operations Manager of Chazaq, welcomed everyone at the Agudah in the YCQ building. Rabbi Moshe Sokoloff, rav of the Agudah, first led T’hilim, read from a klaf. He then stated: “It’s a great z’chus for our shul to be involved in an event where we come together as a community to get chizuk from the life of the great gadol Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.”
Next, he shared that in this week’s parshah two great g’dolim are niftar, Nadav and Avihu. When a tzadik passes, we the Jewish people feel an emptiness. We feel a loss in our lives with the passing of a great gadol. Rav Kanievsky had unbelievable kibud av va’eim. He visited his parents every day. We can learn how to respect our parents from him. He had an obligation to learn a certain amount every day. He missed the sheva brachos of his oldest son because of his learning obligation. He had such a sense of responsibility of completing his learning each day. We can learn from him to develop a strong sense of responsibility in learning. Ask yourself each day: “Did I learn enough? Did I grow today?” He had a beautiful sense of achdus. The line outside his house was from the whole spectrum of Jews of all backgrounds. At his l’vayah, there was an outpouring from all different types of Jews. “Let’s continue to be unified. Let’s look at each other as children of Hashem the way Rav Chaim did.”
Next, Rabbi Michael Mansour, Rosh Yeshivah of Chazaq, spoke. He shared that Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin taught how to be maspid a gadol. We can’t understand his greatness. To discuss Rav Kanievsky is beyond our comprehension. The purpose of a hesped is to ask ourselves what we can acquire from this gadol.
When a gadol possesses so much holiness, ahavas Yisrael, and yir’as Shamayim, there is a void in the world when he leaves. Everyone has the opportunity to grab a little of it.
If someone is near a person when he is niftar, that person who is near is obligated to tear k’riah just like a relative. He explained that every Jew is like a sefer Torah. Every sefer Torah had someone who wrote it and someone who checked it. Rav Chaim had a sofer and that was the Chazon Ish. The ones who checked were the Steipler and Rav Elyashiv. We had a sefer Torah that was so beautiful; that sefer Torah represents the lives of these four g’dolim. He was a connection to those four, and it is a loss of all four of them for us.
“Every move he made was following the g’dolei Yisrael.” Rav Chaim did not get involved in the public eye but in private he gave up his life for everyone. Rabbi Mansour shared that g’dolei Yisrael – even at a very old age – share leadership of love and caring that is like the sun in midday. “A gadol b’Yisrael gives warmth to every person.”
Rav Kanievsky answered hundreds of letters. “He loved the Jewish people. He loved every single Yid.” We should try to emulate him in learning by choosing one thing to learn in his memory.
Following this, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, well-known mohel, author, and speaker, shared how he has portraits of g’dolim in his home that he looks at every night and how he drew inspiration and strength from looking at Rav Chaim’s portrait every night. Now, he looked at Rav Chaim’s portrait and he said, “Who is going to protect us? He’s also gone.” All of us lived under the dome of Heaven of Rav Chaim. That z’chus of Torah is gone. In the davening, when we recite the Korban Tamid, we ask Hashem that our prayers should be worthy, acceptable, and favorable to You. Our t’filah is that our words about Rav Kanievsky should be favorable in the eyes of Rav Kanievsky.
How do you encapsulate a life? When Rav Aharon made a hesped for Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, his father-in-law, he said that the reward for giving a hesped is making people cry. You have to lift your voice so others will lift their voices. The Hebrew word “d’luyah” also means to draw from that person. See what you can learn from his life to apply to your life. Rav Chaim was known as the master of Torah. Every day he learned from the following: the Zohar, T’hilim, Nach, the Mishnah B’rurah, the Rambam, the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch, the Bavli, the Yerushalmi, the Tosefta, the Midrash, and the kisvei HaAri and the Ramchal – and every year he made a siyum on the Yerushalmi, the Midrash, and the Tanach. How did he do it? He had tremendous love of Torah. When he was a baby, his father rocked him to sleep with a song that listed the names of the masechtos and the sifrei Tanach. At the age of three, he already knew all of these names.
He had thousands of s’farim and he knew where they were. He never sat with his back to his s’farim. He was born on January 8, 1928 – on 15 Teves. A few years later, he came to Bnei Brak and the house of the Chazon Ish who was his uncle.
The Chazon Ish taught the following beautiful mashal about a streetlight. Once, a streetlight was placed near his house. He noticed that his shadow was big when he stepped farther away from it, but when he drew close to the light his shadow grew smaller and smaller. A person farther from the light of Torah feels that he knows so much, but as he draws closer and learns more, he feels that he doesn’t know so much, and he realizes how much more there is to learn. Rav Chaim was raised in that home.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter once asked Rav Chaim for a s’gulah for remembering. Rav Chaim taught that you have to review and review over and over. There are no tricks. Also, it has to be important to you. “Let’s take something from Rav Chaim. Review, go over your learning. He learned Shas every year.” Chachamim are called the eyes of the generation. They see things we don’t see.
Rabbi Krohn shared a fascinating insight of Rav Chaim. The Hebrew words for “he brought food to his father,” referring to Eisav are a palindrome in Hebrew. Rav Chaim taught there is a great lesson here. “The way you treat your parents, that’s the way your children will treat you.”
Rav Kanievsky visited his parents every day, and then when his parents were no longer alive, he visited his widowed sister every day. “Call your parents on Erev Shabbos. Let them know how much they mean to you.”
Every night in Maariv, we recite that Torah is our life. In the Birchos HaTorah, we state that eternal life is Torah. Rabbi Krohn shared a story of a man whose son was hit by a truck, and he survived. He asked Rav Chaim what he could do to show hakaras ha’tov to Hashem. Rav Chaim said that Torah is considered life, so pay for someone to help him learn Torah, which is life. The man was amazed, because he had sent in a check to help tutor boys who needed help in Torah learning, and the first check went in the day his son was saved. It was truly midah k’neged midah.
When Rav Chaim was asked why he answered so many people’s letters, he responded that he was not a rosh yeshivah with talmidim, so these letter writers were his talmidim.
The Steipler was the sandek at many brissim, and that is supposed to be a s’gulah for wealth. When asked where his wealth was, he responded, “My Chaim. That’s my wealth.” Rabbi Krohn pointed out that every one of us was so wealthy when we had Rav Chaim. We have to take his patience and consistency, his ahavas Yisrael and his ahavas Torah, and try to apply this to our lives. Hashem should help us to go in his way. Hashem should help us to fill the void and lead us to Mashiach.
The final speaker was Rabbi Leib Williger, Rosh Kollel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn. He shared personal memories and stories about Rav Chaim.
This inspiring program can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com.