By a former student
When I was in Mesivta, R’ Wilhelm started giving out a weekly יש לתמוה paper with really interesting but difficult trivia questions in ידיעות כלליות ideas. The page was given out in the beginning of the week and we had until Friday to give it in to be in the weekly raffle of $10 cash!
I tried hard answering them and asked anyone I knew for help. I then recalled that a few weeks prior, R’ Wilhelm had brought a Rabbi Yisroel Friedman to farher us on the whole Gemoro Kesubos. R’ Yisroel had seemed really sharp and asked us details from the entire Masechta. He also seemed easy going and cute.. So I thought of asking him. I found out that he’s a teacher downstairs in the Zal.
I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask him. (Little did I know that he was the Rosh Yeshiva of Zal.) I casually walked downstairs to look for this “cute little rabbi” – I asked someone where he sits, and he pointed up front. I approached him, he was sitting at his table discussing a piece of Gemoro with a student (Rosenfeld. I don’t remember his first name). R’ Yisroel looked up and said וואס ווילסטו? – I politely told him to finish his discussion and I had a question to ask him. He grabbed his beard into his mouth and replied sharply ווער ביסטו בכלל?, I was taken aback and about to cry. The student he was learning with said to him “ענטפער אים, ער איז א גוטע בחור”, – so I pulled out my יש לתמוה page, and he started looking through it, and told me “גיי ברענג גמרא …” until I had brought so many Gemoros, he checked and checked, and told me to come back tomorrow. And so it started a weekly thing, I would come to R’ Yisroel not really knowing who he really was, – in my mind, I thought he was a sweet little man who worked in Yeshiva… indeed he was.
I started bringing in the weekly answers each week and helped a lot of other students by giving them the correct answers. I never ever won the $10, but many of the students who I helped won.
One week, I brought the question to R’ Yisroel and he had a hard time answering it, he kept telling me to come back the next day. Then on Thursday or Friday, before the raffle, he gave me the answer.
I remember the question: where is shas is the name יוחאי mentioned without the name רבן שמעון בן יוחאי = I think he asked for two places. And there was another hard question too, something along the lines of where in a Tosfos is the Rambam’s name mentioned.
I was getting ready for Shachris in the mini-zal when I hear R’ Zushe excitedly talking to a few Bochurim about R’ Yisroel and the יש לתמוה, so I ask what is this about. He said that there is a certain Bochur who started bringing his questions to R’ Yisroel Friedman. So I said, “oh, that’s me”. R’ Zushe was laughing so hard. He couldn’t get over it. I wasn’t sure why. Then R’ Twersky, my teacher told me that these questions aren’t really appropriate to be asking such a big Rosh Yeshiva. He told me that I should be asking big Gemara questions to R’ Yisroel, not these questions. I was pretty embarrassed. I figured, I’d stop asking him the questions, and apologize. So I went downstairs to R’ Yisroel to apologize. I told him that I didn’t know he was such a big Rosh Yeshiva. I told him that I didn’t mean to bother him with my questions. He told me on the contrary to keep on coming back and not to pay attention to any of that.
When I brought my יש לתמוה answers into R’ Zushe, he told me “you know how I found out that you were asking R’ Yisroel the questions? Because R’ Yisroel came over to me to ask me for the answers to the questions so he could tell the Bochur the answers”!!! apparently, R’ Yisroel started coming to R’ Zushe for answers so he could help me answer them whenever the questions were very challenging.
Because of R’ Zushe, I had a very strong personal connection with R’ Yisroel for years to come even up until my wedding… (more than I can share here.)
When I was a Chosson and needed money, I saw R’ Zushe in 770 and he told me Mazal Tov and asked me if I needed help. He gave me an envelope with money and told me that if I need more, I shouldn’t hesitate to come back to him for more.
There was another time in Mesivta where we had a competition to collect fifty miniature Tanya’s printed around the world. When I collected all 50, R’ Zushe gave me a bigger Tanya as the prize for winning. So I wrote an inscription and asked him to sign it for me which he did. I still have and use this Tanya to this day.
At the end of Mesivta, I felt quite close to him, I asked him to pose for a photo together. He graciously accepted. I still have that photo. Another friend of mine saw me taking the photo and asked to have one taken of him too.
When Shabbos Seder started; R’ Zushe made a rule that we cannot go anywhere else to Daven on Shabbos but must Daven in Yeshiva. I had a Laining job in a local Shul and I didn’t know what to do. I discussed it with an older Chossid who was my neighbor. The Eltere Chossid zul zein gezunt un Shtark R’ Yisroel Gordon, came to Mesivta and met with R’ Zushe to ask him to allow me to go Lain in the local Shul. R’ Zushe agreed and told me that I could have spoken directly to him and didn’t have to be afraid of him. He would have worked it out with me and I didn’t have to send such an Elter Chossid all the way to plead my case. He did ask me to Lain for the Mesivta on Shabbos mornings whenever I was available, which I graciously did.
I remember when there was once some big problems at the evening Seder. Misbehavior that went off the rails. R’ Zushe came into our classroom the next day and literally yelled in pain saying the words כי נבלה עשה בישראל, דבר ה’ בזה, – Until this day, his words stick in my mind as he shared his frustration but mostly his pain at what had happened to ruin a whole evening of Torah learning from an entire class.
I can still see R’ Zushe running off copies in his office and changing the toner paper. I remember that some Bochurim figured out how to press the used toner paper against fresh paper to get a glimpse of the latest tests, but I think R’ Zushe secretly allowed it and thought, at least they are learning something, albeit not the conventional way but it was still getting them to learn for the test…
I also remember coming back to Seder during the Pesach break, R’ Zushe made a special morning Seder with danishes and he himself would teach a Shiur in a Maamar. A very small group of boys would come, but I loved coming because I felt close to R’ Zushe but I wasn’t outgoing enough to strike up conversations with him but by being at a personal Shiur with him, made me feel special getting his attention.
I once asked R’ Zushe where he gets all his questions from, when his question was too hard for me to answer, and he shared with me a Sefer. I think he even let me borrow it for a while so I could look through it, he even showed me where to look to find the answer. For R’ Zushe, it wasn’t so much that we needed the right answer, rather I’m now realizing that he wanted us to have a קאך in learning. He wanted us to feel excitement to look into a Sefer and to find answers, even if he would tell us exactly where the answer was, as long as we made the effort to look into it and find it ourselves.
He used to be מלקט various Maamorim for various occasions. I used to save his קונרסים in Mesivta so I could refer to it later on. Years after I was done Yeshiva, I would still look into these קונטרסים to learn Maamorim that were connected to a specific יומא דפגרא or יום טוב.
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