July 21, 2024
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R’ Chaim Kanievsky’s Insights Into Davening

Highlighting: “Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Siddur,” compiled by Rabbi Shai Graucher. Artscroll/Mesorah. 2022. English. Hardcover. 556 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422631294.

(Courtesy of Artscroll) Imagine davening with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l at your side. If you ever merited to see Rav Chaim davening, you felt your own tefillos grow more fervent, more heart-filled, more real. We can no longer see his face shining with holiness—but we can still be inspired, both by his own insights into the words of the siddur and related stories about Rav Chaim and his illustrious family.

ArtScroll’s new “Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Siddur,” which was prepared for print right before his passing, includes insights on the words and themes of the daily prayers shared directly by Rav Chaim and collected from his extensive writings, as well as dozens of stories about Rav Chaim, his beloved wife Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, and his illustrious family.

Compiled by Rabbi Shai Graucher, who was an almost-daily visitor to R’ Chaim’s home, this is a work that will bring your davening to a whole new level.

The following are two fascinating excerpts from this book.

 

Persistence

וְהָאֵר עֵינֵינוּ בְּתורָתֶךָ – Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah.

A father came to Rav Chaim saying that his son had become very depressed with his lack of ability to excel in his Torah studies, and was sitting at home in bed. Rav Chaim first asked questions to try to determine the specific cause for his loss of interest, and then advised that his father should study with him and explain the topics to him in great detail until he knows them thoroughly.

Rav Chaim also suggested that his father begin looking for a shidduch for him. When the father protested that the boy had two older sisters who were not yet married, Rav Chaim rejected that objection, saying that there is no reason for a boy to wait for his older sister or vice versa.

Rav Chaim added the following story:

The Chasam Sofer headed a prestigious yeshivah in the city of Pressburg. One day, a young man knocked at his door, and said that he wanted to join the yeshivah.

“What topics are you prepared to be tested on?” the Chasam Sofer asked him.

The young man admitted that he was completely ignorant of Torah; in fact, he did not even know the Hebrew alphabet! The Chasam Sofer tried to explain to him that the Pressburg Yeshivah was an academy for advanced study, and his lack of even the most elementary knowledge made him ineligible for acceptance therein. The young man, however, persisted, insisting that he had a

strong desire to attain Torah knowledge, and the Pressburg Yeshivah was the place in which he believed he would achieve success in this pursuit.

When the Chasam Sofer saw how stubbornly the young man clung to his dream of becoming a scholar, he agreed to make a one-time exception, and accept him into the yeshivah, despite his lack of knowledge. The Chasam Sofer assigned some of the advanced students to take turns tutoring the young man in the aleph-beis, and begin teaching him Chumash and other fundamental basics of Torah study.

While the young man succeeded in absorbing these elementary studies, when the time came for him to begin learning Gemara, he found himself completely unequal to that formidable task. Try as he might, he simply could not wrap his mind around the complexities of the sugyos.

The more experienced students, who were serving as his tutors, advised him to abandon his futile pursuit. “Be happy that you now have some basic Torah knowledge,” they told him. “Go find a job, get married, and raise your children to be Torah scholars.”

The young man, however, remained adamant that he intended to learn Torah himself. The students, tiring of trying, unsuccessfully, to teach him, sent a delegation to the Chasam Sofer, asking him to try to influence the young man to come to terms with reality. The delegation was headed by the Chasam Sofer’s son and prize student, who would later achieve fame as the Ksav Sofer. “Does the young man still insist that he wants to become a talmid chacham?” the Chasam Sofer asked them. When they had to answer in the affirmative, the Chasam Sofer told them to keep trying to teach him.

Years passed, and the young man continued to try with all his might—and even with efforts surpassing his natural capabilities—to understand the Gemara. With time, his prayed-for miracle materialized, and he finally began to be able to comprehend the difficult sugyos. He continued expending superhuman effort on his learning, and eventually married and moved away from Pressburg.

Thirty years passed, and the Chasam Sofer, leader of the Jewish people, received a letter with a halachic inquiry from the rabbi of a distant town. He showed the letter to his son and successor, the Ksav Sofer, and asked him for his opinion of the writer’s capabilities. The Ksav Sofer carefully read the letter, and told his father that the author displayed a knowledge of Torah that was both broad and deep, and was certainly an accomplished talmid chacham.

“Do you know who the writer of this letter is?” his father exclaimed. “It is the young man who learned in Pressburg Yeshivah so many years ago, whom you and your friends wanted to expel due to his lack of ability to learn! See, now, that nothing stands in the way of sincere desire to learn Torah!”

Rav Chaim concluded that he, personally, knows of a similar story. A bachur who was with him in yeshivah was known to be very weak in his studies. Many of his peers would snicker privately whenever he ventured to ask a question, since it invariably exposed his thorough lack of understanding of the material under discussion. Nevertheless, this bachur stubbornly persisted in his efforts, and eventually grew into a true Torah scholar.

 

“That We Not Stumble”

Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky related the following amazing story:

A certain scholar once needed to study a rare sefer that was available only in the National Library in Givat Ram. It was not permitted to remove the sefer from the library, so he prepared himself to spend the entire day there, bringing along lunch. When he finished eating, he bentched aloud, reciting each word slowly and clearly, as was his custom. Afterward, the librarian, who was obviously non-observant, approached him and said, “Excuse me, but you added some words into bentching…”

Seeing the confused look on his face, she hurried to explain: “I am not currently observant, but I was raised in a frum home, and always took an interest in the exact language of the tefillos we recited. I know that the correct wording in bentching is שֶׁלּא נֵבוֹשׁ וְלא נִכָּלֵם, that we not be shamed nor embarrassed, yet you added וְלֹא נִכָּשֵׁל, and that we may not stumble! I have never heard of a nusach that adds these words!”

The scholar replied, “You are correct that these words do not appear in most siddurim, yet my family’s custom is to add them, and I am certain that this nusach can be found somewhere, and is not just my family’s invention. With Hashem’s help I will find the source for this nusach and send it to you.”

The scholar checked the texts that were available in the library, but could not find that nusach in any of them. After returning home, he continued his research, and finally located an old siddur that had the words וְלֹא נִכָּשֵׁל added in bentching. He photocopied the page, circled the relevant words, and mailed it to the National Library, addressing it to “the librarian who was on duty on this date.”

Some time passed, and the scholar forgot the entire incident. One day, he received a wedding invitation in the mail. He checked the names of both the chassan’s and kallah’s families, but they were unfamiliar to him. Nevertheless, the wedding was to be held in a hall near his home, so he decided to attend. When he entered the hall, someone approached him and asked for his name.

When he had identified himself, the man said, “Come, the kallah would like to speak with you.”

Completely confused, the scholar allowed himself to be led to a side room, and was soon joined by the kallah.

“I can see that you don’t remember me,” she began. “I work as a librarian in the National Library, and I discussed the correct nusach of bentching with you…

“I am ashamed to admit that, at that time, I was in a relationship with an Arab man. He was pressuring me to marry him, and I was inclined to agree, since I had abandoned all vestiges of observance. Still, something inside me made me hesitate before taking this step. The Arab was growing impatient, and he finally gave me an ultimatum: By Friday, he wanted an answer. Either I would consent to marry him, or our relationship was over.

“I struggled with my decision, but, in the end, I decided that there was no reason for me to refrain from marrying a non-Jew. I woke up Friday morning, and texted him that I wanted to meet with him after work; I intended to tell him then that I would accept his proposal.

“When I arrived at work that morning, however, there was an envelope waiting for me. Inside was your photocopied sheet with the words וְלֹא נִכָּשֵׁל לְעולָם וָעֶד circled in red, seeming to accuse me! ‘That we not stumble’—how could I marry outside of my faith? That afternoon, I informed the Arab that I could not marry him, and, true to his word, he broke off all contact with me.

“The spark that had been kindled within me continued to grow, and I slowly began to return to my roots. That journey led me to where I am today—marrying an observant young man, and hoping to raise a Torah-true family, with Hashem’s help, and praying ‘that we may not be shamed nor embarrassed, and that we may never stumble’! I had to express my gratitude to you for being Hashem’s messenger to precipitate my return.”

The Rebbetzin concluded, “You see that one can never give up on a Jew returning to his roots! Hashem sees all of the efforts invested in trying to help them, and He will ensure that they receive the proper inspiration at the proper moment…”

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