Guest Post by Rabbi Dovid Landesman
Rav Yisrael Z’ev Gustman, zt”l (1908-1991), was among the greatest Torah personalities of the previous generation. He was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Netzach Yisrael in Crown Heights for many years and in the 1970’s moved his yeshiva to Yerushalayim.
Rav Gustman was renown in the Torah world as an outstanding Torah scholar, having served from the age of twenty on the beit din of Rav Chaim Oizer Grodzinski in Vilna. His career was cut short by the outbreak of WWII. He hid from the Nazis and eventually became a partisan, surviving the war along with his wife and a daughter.
Rav Gustman’s yeshiva in Rechavia was somewhat off the beaten track and he learned with a small group of dedicated students. On Thursdays, when he said his shiur k’lali, the beit midrash would fill, welcoming prominent rabbanim and maggidei shiurim, dayanim, a member of the Israeli Supreme Court and many professors and academics anxious to hear the Torah of a survivor of the world that had been destroyed. One of the regular participants in this shiur was a faculty member from Hebrew University, Professor Robert (Yisrael) Auman who would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2005.
In June 1982, war broke out and Israel attacked Lebanon seeking to destroy the PLO infrastructure that had its base there. Among the soldiers called for reserve duty was Shlomo Auman, a graduate of Yeshivat Sha’alvim and a student at Hebrew U. Shlomo was killed in battle on the 19th of Sivan, 5742 leaving a wife and two children – one born after he died.
Rav Gustman brought his entire yeshiva to the levayah (funeral). At the cemetery, he was clearly agitated , surveying the rows of kevarim (graves) of the soldiers who had died in defense of the land. On the way back from the funeral, he told one of his talmidim: “They are kedoshim.” A second student questioned him: “Even the ones who were not observant?” Rav Gustman replied: “Every single one of them.”
Turning to the driver, Rav Gustman asked to be taken to Professor Auman’s home. He sat down next to Professor Auman who said: “Rabbi, I very much appreciate your participating in the levayah, but you need not have come now.”
Rav Gustman replied; “I am sure that you do not know this, but I had a son named Meir who was killed during the war. He was a beautiful child and he was taken from my arms and executed. I managed to escape and took his shoes and bartered them for food for the rest of my family. My Meir is a kadosh – he and all of the other six million who perished al kiddush Hashem.”
“Let me tell you what is going on in Heaven at this moment,” Rav Gustman continued.” My Meir is welcoming your Shlomo to the minyan in Gan Eden and is saying to him, ‘I died because I am a Jew, but I wasn’t able to save anyone else. But you, Shlomo, you died defending our people and our Land! You Shlomo will be our shaliach tzibbur!’
“I never had the chance to sit shivah for my Meir,” Rav Gustman concluded. “Let me sit here with you for just a bit longer.”
Professor Auman replied: “I did not think that I could be comforted, but Rebbi, you have comforted me.”
*** Lt. Col. Emmanuel Morenu hy”d was among the soldiers killed in the war in Lebanon against Hizbollah. Most of his personal story remains classified; in fact, the IDF to this day prohibits publication of his photograph. We do know that he was a graduate of the yeshiva in Eli, served as commander of Sayeret Matkal, the top commando unit in the Israeli army, and was posthumously awarded the country’s top medal.
During the shiva, an officer from his unit – non-observant – came to console his widow. He had been with Emmanuel shortly before he was killed. Waiting for a helicopter to take them into the combat zone, they discussed what might transpire and what their response would be. Two weeks before, a Hizbollah rocket had hit an IDF copter killing all five soldiers aboard.
“What would you do if God forbid our helicopter is hit and you realize that you have five seconds left to live before the helicopter explodes?” Emmanuel asked.
“I don’t know. I’m sure that I would be frightened, close my eyes and hope that it end quickly with little pain.”
“What I would do, and so should you, is recite Shema.”
“I looked at him,” the officer continued, “and said, ‘what good would that do? In a minute the helicopter is going to explode and you’re going to die!’”
“Emmanuel responded with a statement that will remain with me for as long as I live. ‘If a person has five seconds to live and he believes that there is still purpose to life and is motivated by the consequences that will be known in the world to come, then his life has meaning. But if he doesn’t realize that those five seconds mean something, then it is possible that his entire life was meaningless for he doesn’t understand that this
world is but a stage on our way to the next.’”
Today is Yom ha-Zikaron. Please join me in begging the Ribbono shel Olam that no more children or soldiers be called to join the holy minyan in Heaven.
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah . / Harry Maryles
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