Everyone needs siyyata dishmaya.

An old Iriend, Rabbi Dovi Shapiro, contacted me about an elderly yid that he met in Florida. 'He has
vivid memories oI the ChoIetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer and would make a great article.¨

I Iiled the inIormation away, but alas, nothing happened.

That week, I met the director oI religious services at a local assisted-living Iacility, Rabbi Hershel
Schecter. 'There is a yid by us that you must meet. He has vivid memories oI the ChoIetz Chaim and
Rav Chaim Ozer and would make a great article.¨

The yid Irom Florida- Rabbi Moshe Chaim Schneider- had come to live in Montreal, mere minutes
Irom my home.


Rabbi Schecter welcomes me to Manoir MonteIiore Ior the Iirst oI what would be several
conversations, and, as he leads me up to the apartment, he shares something inspiring with me. 'Rabbi
Schneider is, bli ayin hara, one hundred and one years old, but he is more energetic than any oI us;
each day, by davening, when it comes to 'modim d'Rabbanan' he springs to his Ieet. Some oI us remain
seated, but not Rabbi Schneider. He is mechayev everyone else.¨

The Iurnishings and decor in the small apartment are unremarkable: orthopedic bed, pictures oI
grandchildren, calendar with Shabbos candle-lighting times...what sets it apart, is the ever-present
chumash on the table. One gets a sense that it's a Iixture, not to be moved.

I ask my host, Reb Moshe Chaim Schneider, about it and my hunch is proven correct. 'Yes,¨ he
explains, 'the chumash never leaves my table, because a:oi hut mein Rebbe gutuhn, that is what I saw
by my rebbi, the ChoIetz Chaim; the chumash never leIt his table.¨

The ChoIetz Chaim is not his rebbi by virtue oI Rabbi Schneider's having learned Irom his seIarim,
nor does he reIer to himselI as a talmid Irom having brieIly glimpsed the saintly countenance; Rabbi
Schneider learned in Radin, and Ior three years, he visited the ChoIetz Chaim's home everv single
dav' He had been asked by Rav Mendel Zaks, the son-in-law oI the ChoIetz Chaim, to learn with his
young son, and the Zaks Iamily lived under one rooI with the tzaddik. Thus, the daily learning sessions
between the eleven year old tutor and his seven year old protege were carried out at the very table
where the leader oI the generations sat.

And Rabbi Schneider remembers....


He was born in the Lithuanian hamlet oI Rakov, he says. 'Rakov?¨ I ask, 'where Rav Avrohom
Kalmanowitz served as rov?¨ He smiles. 'He became rov when he was nineteen years old, and he was
honored as sandak at the bris oI the Iirst baby born: that was me.¨

His Iather was the soIer oI Rakov, Reb Yisroel Shloime Schneider. 'He was an ehrliche Yid. He would
never liIt his hand to touch his beard, Ior Iear that he would accidentally pull out a hair. He never
learned in a Iormal yeshiva, just with the large chaburah in the Shoavei Mayim Shul oI Minsk. He had
a remarkable head Ior learning, and Rav Kalmanowitz told my Iather that he would support our Iamily
iI my Iather would return to the yeshiva and dedicate himselI to learning Iull time. My Iather turned
down the oIIer, though.¨

Young Moishe Chaim was sent to cheder at the age oI three. 'My Iather didn't want me to go to a
regular melamed, because in order to support themselves the melamdim would have to accept thirty
students oI varying ages, and it was virtually impossible to Iocus on all oI them. My Iather hired a
melamed to teach a group oI six boys, and paid the diIIerence in his salary Irom his own pocket.¨

By the age oI seven, the child had completed three major mesechtos in gemara, Bava Kamma, Bava
Metzia and Bava Basra. It was time to move on, beyond the conIines oI little Rakov.

'You know,¨ he says, 'today, the young people believe that 'Lita' was this great big country, like
Russia, or Poland. In truth, Lithuania was tiny, a little country. We used to joke,¨ he breaks oII in
delighted laughter beIore continuing, 'that the emblem oI Lithuania, which is a horse on his hind legs,
is most appropriate, because since he's in Lithuania, he has no room to lower his Iront legs!¨

His Iather sent him to Radin, a town oI just ninety Iamilies but nevertheless a household name in the
Jewish world because oI the saint in its midst.

'I went to the yeshiva ketana there, and Ielt right at home. There was nothing in Radin, Iew stores or
businesses, certainly no distractions.¨

What was your Iirst encounter with the ChoIetz Chaim?

He smiles again, that sweet litvishe smile which is a mixture oI pride and modesty, iI such a thing is
possible. 'My Iirst encounter was the same as my last encounter and every one in between. I couldn't
talk, wouldn't talk at all; I was not such a ba'al ha'azah- so brazen- as to open my mouth to the heilege
tzaddik, the ChoIetz Chaim. I never spoke to my rebbi, I just listened. When I would leave beIore Yom
Tov, I would go in Ior a parting bracha- he would always wish that I should become a lamdan- but
other than that, we had little personal contact.¨

I express surprise that someone could sit just a Iew Ieet away Irom the ChoIetz Chaim Ior years, yet be
too awed to speak. 'Joss farshteist du nisht- what don't you understand?¨ He grows animated. 'The
great gaon Rav Chaim Ozer oI Vilna, who was himselI a gadol hador, would come visit my rebbe every
month or two, to discuss issues pertaining to the Vaad Hayeshivos, and I would see how the ChoIetz
Chaim would urge his distinguished visitor to sit. But Rav Chaim Ozer would reIuse, choosing to
remain standing at attention, like a soldier, throughout the conversation.¨

'The gadol hador had such respect Ior the ChoIetz Chaim, and you think I had the insolence to speak
with him?¨

What does he remember Irom the ChoIetz Chaim's Iormal talks.

'He would speak about a Iew themes, Moshiach, shemiras halashon, emunah. He would always use a
passuk in Chumash as the springboard Ior his talk. His close talmid, Reb Elchanan Wasserman, once
commented that the way oI the ChoIetz Chaim in learning was like that oI a tanna. I believe that Reb
Elchanan meant this; the ChoIetz Chaim knew how to Iind anything, a message, advice, or a lesson,
Irom a passuk in the parsha, like a tanna that extrapolates Irom pessukim.¨

Rabbi Schneider remembers a hot Shabbos aIternoon when a very small crowd showed up Ior the
weekly shmuess. 'Each week, the room would be Iilled when the ChoIetz Chaim would speak, and
the little house- with a ceiling so low that I, as a child, could reach up and touch it- would somehow
accommodate well over one hundred people.¨

'One week, it was Tammuz, and the heat was oppressive, a very sparse group came Ior the shmuess,
maybe twenty people. I heard the tzaddik speaking soItly, as iI to himselI. 'Kinderlach, ess vet kumen
a t:eit un ihr vet vellen herren a gut vort...uhn s´vet nisht :ein fun vemen...children, a time will come
when you will want to hear a 'good word' and there will not be Irom whom.¨

I ask the rabbi about the other great personalities oI the small town. 'Well, there was Rav Mendel Zaks,
the ChoIetz Chaim's son-in-law, and I interacted with him on a daily basis. I would learn with his sons,
and we were quite close.¨

Rabbi Schneider indicates a pile oI papers on the table, and on top, I see a beautiIul ksav semicha Irom
Reb Mendel, testiIying that young Moshe Chaim Schneider learned in the yeshiva Ior many years and
is an accomplished talmid chacham.

He tells me that the ChoIetz Chaim would sit close to the window with his chair Iacing the street. 'He
wanted to know immediately iI Moshiach came, not to hear it Irom anyone else.¨

I ask him iI, sitting at the ChoIetz Chaim's holy table, he was privy to any conversation between the
tzaddik and his visitors. He shares an encounter which he witnessed that, even though it has become
somewhat legendary, is still especially moving when heard Irom an eyewitness.

'There was a wealthy American Jew speaking with the rebbe, and he oIIered to build a brand new
building Ior the yeshiva in Radin. The ChoIetz Chaim thanked him, but turned down the generous
oIIer. 'Building Torah is the greatest oI zchusim, and when we get a Iew pennies Irom one yid, and
a Iew more Irom another, all those pennies combine to build Torah- thus giving each oI the precious
yidden that participated a share in the zchus oI Torah. How can we give the entire zchus to one

Rabbi Schneider comments on another well-known Iact: the ChoIetz Chaim was Iluent in the length
and breadth oI Torah. 'Rav Chaim Ozer said that the world makes a big 'eisek' out oI the ChoIetz
Chaim's tzidkus, piety, but they don't realize that it's matched by his gaonus.¨

An the elderly man shares a beautiIul memory Irom his childhood. 'The Rosh Yeshiva in Radin was
Rav NaItali Trop, whose shiurim were Iamous across the yeshiva world. The transcribed notebooks oI
his shiurim were passed around Irom yeshiva to yeshiva, treasured by the talmidim Iortunate enough to
have a copy. The ChoIetz Chaim largely leIt the running oI the yeshiva and the approach to learning to
Reb NaItali.¨

'One day, the Rosh Yeshiva entered the ChoIetz Chaim's home, and explained that he had several
questions on a gemara in Mesechta Chulin and he hoped that the ChoIetz Chaim would be able to
enlighten him. The ChoIetz Chaim happened to be learning Mesechta Chulin with his son, Reb Leib, at
the time that the Rosh Yeshiva entered, and he was saying over the gemara in a loud voice. Reb NaItali
stood there listening, and then his Iace brightened. 'The ChoIetz Chaim answered all my questions, ' he
said delightedly, 'simply hearing how he learned the gemara resolved all diIIiculties.¨

I ask Rabbi Schneider when he Iirst met Rav Chaim Ozer.

AIter the Iirst World War, the ChoIetz Chaim returned to Radin with a large group oI Russian reIuges
that he had met while in exile, and many in this group were sickly and ill. They required medical care,
and as Radin had no doctor, they would Irequently travel to Vilna. Young Moshe Chaim spoke a Iluent
Polish and was enlisted to accompany the boys to the doctor- an eleven year old chaperone.

'Whenever I was in Vilna, I would try to make it a point to go in to Rav Chaim Ozer's home. Not to
speak with him, just to see.¨ His eyes light up. 'The room would be Iilled with the most interesting
people. There would be great talmidei chachamim speaking with him in learning, yidden lined up with
sheilos, and even local non-Jews that wanted to solicit his opinion. There were yeshiva bochurim and
traveling magidim and shochtim, oIten carrying the animal parts in question. There was a yid that
would come every so oIten, a Iamily member oI the gadol, that would come in and anxiously ask Rav
Chaim Ozer to perIorm hatavas chalom Ior him. Rav Chaim Ozer would assure him that dreams mean
nothing, and he had no reason to worry, but would patiently recite the nusach just the same- there were
all sorts oI people there. There was also a shul in his home, so there was constant traIIic, and the Vilna
beis din sat in an adjoining room hearing cases. They would come in beIore handing down a diIIicult
psak just to conIirm it. The post would arrive and with it the collective burdens oI world Jewry, and the
great man would sit and answer each oI the letters that arrived. I loved to sit and watch the activity. ¨

'Rav Chaim Ozer was diIIerent Irom the ChoIetz Chaim,¨ muses the rabbi. 'Rav Chaim Ozer hut
gekent machen a foke, he had a good sense oI humor. While the atmosphere around the ChoIetz Chaim
was very serious, the mood by Rav Chaim Ozer was lighter, and he himselI would laugh at a good

'One morning, I was still under bar mitzvah, I was in Vilna and I entered the home oI Rav Chaim
Ozer, as usual. It was chodesh Elul, and they were looking Ior someone to blow shoIar aIter davening,
as is customary. I sat in a corner quietly, but someone thrust the shoIar at me and asked iI I could blow.
I nodded, and, trembling at the thought oI blowing beIore the gadol hador, I accepted the shoIar and

'Rav Chaim Ozer called me over and smiled warmly. 'You blow very well,¨ he told me, 'and the time
you allot Ior each 'kol' is perIect. But I notice that you end the shevarim on a straight, level key, unlike
most people that go up slightly; why is that?¨

'I replied to the gaon that the gemara in Rosh Hashana says 'peshuta l'achreha.¨

'He laughed and asked me how many times I had learned the mesechta. I replied that I had learned it
three times.¨

'Rav Chaim Ozer leaned over and kissed me on the head. 'II all the Yidden blow a certain way, they
probably have a mekor,¨ he said.¨

Rabbi Schneider tells another marvelous story. 'Once, when I was eleven years old, my Iather asked
me a Iavor. He wanted my sister to go study in the newly established Bais Yaakov school oI Sara
Schenirer, which was in Krakow, and Ior whatever reason, they weren't accepting her. My Iather knew
that I had occasion to visit the home oI rabban shel Yisroel, so he asked me to get a letter Irom the
great man advocating Ior my sister.¨

'The next time I was there, I swallowed my Iear and presented the request Irom my Iather to Rav
Chaim Ozer. My Iather was an expert penman and Rav Chaim Ozer quickly scanned the letter and
said 'your Iather is a 'saIra rabba.' Then he went to the adjoining room and wrote a letter urging the
administration oI Bais Yaakov to accept my sister, Lesha, and signed and stamped it. He handed it to
me along with a postage stamp and sent me oII warmly. The whole incident took a Iew moments and
the gadol was quickly swallowed up by the Irenetic activity all around him.¨

The years passed. Lesha Schneider went on to become a star pupil oI Sara Schenirer's and ultimately
a great teacher in the Bais Yaakov network. Moshe Chaim was a twenty year old yeshiva bochur who
was learning in Vilna.

'I had learned and mastered the yeshivishe mesechtos, but I knew that my Iather wanted me to obtain
semicha, so I studied the sugyos and halachos necessary Ior the test. I received semicha Irom Reb
Heinoch.¨ Rabbi Schneider is reIerring to the great gaon, the Marcheshes, who was one oI Vilna's
leading rabbanim. 'I also wanted to receive semicha Irom the gadol hador, Rav Chaim Ozer, and made
my way to his home with great trepidation. This was already on the eve oI war, and his room was even
busier then I remembered. There were displaced reIugees and community activists waiting Ior his
attention, in addition to which there was a 'kibbutz', an elite chabura oI yeshiva bochurim that learned
there. I stood there hoping that he would notice me, but alas, he didn't.¨

'At the time, I was learning by Rav Shlomo Heiman- whom I consider my rebbi muvhak- and I asked
him iI he would accompany me to Rav Chaim Ozer's home. He acquiesced, and we entered together.
OI course, Rav Chaim Ozer noticed my rebbi immediately and hurried over to welcome him. Reb
Shlomo indicated me and said that I wished to be tested Ior semicha. Rav Chaim Ozer led me to the
seIarim shelI and asked me to Iind the sugya oI 'tipas chalav' and read it to him. He was watching me
closely: which mesechta I took (Chulin) and how quickly I located the correct sugya, listening as I went
through the shakla v'tarya oI the gemara. AIter a Iew minutes he went to his desk and, aIter asking my
name, he wrote up a beautiIul ksav semicha. Then, he handed it to me and clapped me heartily on the
shoulder. ' Joss macht Lesha, and how is Lesha doing?¨ he asked with a broad smile.

Rabbi Schneider grows emotional as he remembers what happened with that precious letter oI
ordination. 'When they took us Irom our homes, I assembled my most valuable possessions and packed
them, among them the letter. But the cursed concentration camp guards took that letter Irom me and I
never got it back.¨

The conversation slips away Irom the Radin oI the saintly ChoIetz Chaim and turns to the Vilna oI Rav
Chaim Ozer.

'That was a city, bursting with liIe, with talmidei chachamim.¨

'There, I was close to many talmidei chachamim, primarily Reb Shlomo Heiman, whose daily shiur
I attended. I learned so much Irom him, Irom how he treated his rebbetzin, his talmidim, and the
reverence with which he spoke oI his own rebbi, whom he called 'Reb Boruch Ber'el.¨

'The Yid that taught us the halachos oI shechita was Iluent in all oI Sha's, Rav Meir Bassin. I once saw
him grabbing on to the lapels oI the gadol hador, Rav Chaim Ozer, and saying ':olt ihr :ein ge:unt, may
you be healthy- it's an open tosaIos in Mesechta Chulin!¨

This Reb Meir took ill, and as his end approached, he asked Rav Chaim Ozer to select a husband Ior
his daughter, someone worthy oI occupying his seat on the Vilna beis din. Rav Chaim Ozer took the
request seriously and married the girl oII to Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman, who Iilled his Iather-in-law's
place with distinction.

I ask iI he knew about the young Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, who was then a quiet scholar in the
corner oI a Vilna shul. 'OI course I knew him. Later on, when he moved to Eretz Yisroel, Rav Chaim
Ozer wrote a letter to the gedolei Eretz Yisroel that 'ari oleh m'Polania- a lion is ascending Irom Poland'
and that was when everyone else Iound out.¨

'My rebbi, Reb Shlomo, would put out a Torah periodical where bnei Torah were invited to contribute
chiddushei Torah. I had a good command oI lashon kodesh, so he asked me to edit it. BeIore printing,
he would ask me to go show it to Rav Avrohom Yeshaya, in the corner oI the shul where he sat
learning. Rav Avrohom Yeshaya exuded warmth, and more than once, he pinched me here¨ the rabbi
indicates his cheek, 'and said 'the bochur knows how to write!¨


I have merited looking in to eyes that saw angels. I have listened to Rabbi Schneider sing the songs that
sang in the yeshivos on Yom Tov, watched as he showed me the special dance that the bochurim did in
Iront oI Rav Yerucham Levovitz on Simchas Torah.

He has been kissed by Rav Chaim Ozer, stroked lovingly by the Chazon Ish, and blessed by the kohein
gadol in Radin.

Yet what makes the picture complete is simple sincerity, the chumash on the table, the zeal to rise to
his Ieet Ior modim d'Rabbanan, the beauty oI the way that he himselI ends our conversation.

'What can I tell you?¨ he spreads his arms apart, 'I am just a little man, just a little man...¨

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