Es Haelokim hishalech Noach, Noach walked with God. Bitachon was not one compartment of the Rosh Yeshiva’s life; it was the air that he breathed. Every frum Jew knows that olam hazeh is a grand illusion, a manifestation of ratzon Hashem. The Rosh Yeshiva didn’t just know this, he experienced it and lived it on a daily basis.
He didn’t sit down on a chair; he sat down on Hashem’s ratzon in the shape of a chair. He didn’t eat food; he put something in his mouth and swallowed it because Hashem was telling him something by wanting him to do so. And he was always looking in the direction of that lesson.
His bitachon was manifest in a number of ways. Firstly, in day to day living. Decisions that for most people were simply daily life, for him were shailos of bitachon, not just hashkafa, but halacha. I once had a long conversation with him about whether having a flu inoculation was expecting bad from Hashem (and hence a lack of bitachon), or was it a responsible action to take? It wasn’t theoretical. It was a shaila that needed thinking about then poskining. Nothing was too small or insignificant to consider what Hashem was telling him. He would say that God is incredibly articulate. He’s always talking to us – the question is whether we are listening. And the Rosh Yeshiva was always listening.
Yesurin, obviously, were no different. He looked at them as perhaps Hashem’s most articulate means of communication with His children. When he became ill with cancer, he sent his sons to many gedolim – Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Shteinman, Rav Elyashuv, Roshei Yeshiva, mekubalim – anyone who could help him understand what Hashem was telling him.
He wouldn’t ask for yesurin, but if they could bring him closer to doing ratzon Hashem, he was ready to embrace them. One of the 48 Ways that he would teach is Kabbolos Hayesurin. He understood this to mean not just acceptance of yesurin, but welcoming yesurin. At a ‘kabbolos panim’, the chassan welcomes his guests. He wants them; he’s happy that they are here and thanks them for coming. This is how the Rosh Yeshiva gave pshat in Kabbolos Hayesurin. Welcome them.
He would say pshat on zichronos on Rosh Hashana that we are asking for din. We want din. A number of times on Rosh Hashana, I recall him telling us to say, “Hashem, I want emes this year. I want you to wake me up from my dream world. I want you to do it in a painless way, but if the only way is a broken arm, I’m open to that. If I need to lose money, I’ll welcome it. I don’t want pain, but if pain is the only way, please give it to me.” He said that zichronos was begging Hashem to give us whatever we need to make us great. Even if that “whatever” was painful. It wasn’t asking for yesurin, but it was saying to Hashem that we want emes much more than we don’t want pain.
The Rosh Yeshiva told his son-in-law pshat in yesurin m’ahava. “If your child disappeared, chas v’shalom, you’d be devastated. But if I told you that I could break your arm and that would get your kid back, you’d jump at the chance. Your broken arm would be the biggest simcha! So too, issurim are restoring my pure Olam Haba.”
When my late wife Elana a”h became ill with cancer, he was still traveling regularly to America to fundraise. He suddenly started to stop over on his way back for a day in the UK. It was around the time that Aish UK had grown a great deal and I assumed he was stopping in to keep up with how the branch was doing. After almost every trip to America, he’d stop over and stay with us on his way back. When Elana passed away, he stopped coming as suddenly as he had started. I was shocked to realize that he had been stopping over for us, to give us his support and his advice, and most of all, his love.
He was able to live with this outlook because he experienced Hashem’s love for him in such a tangible way. He felt that feeling this love was the key and the only key to kabbolos hayesurin. He gave us lots of advice: tell stories of hashgacha at your Shabbos table; gather first hand stories of miracles; tell your wife a joke a day; thank Hashem for five good things in your day at regular intervals in the day; wake up and count your 15 greatest blessings. It all pointed in the same direction. Feel Hashem’s love and the world, no matter how painful, will look just gorgeous to you. And for us, with his help, it almost always did. Elana and I accepted her illness and eventually her passing with great confidence in Hashem’s love for us. Without the Rosh Yeshiva, that would have been impossible.
Rav Noach was even ready to accept his passing from this world. The day after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he said, “I am not ready to quit fighting for Klal Yisrael. But if the Almighty calls me home, I am personally ready to go.” He felt that he had a job to finish in this world and felt desperate to do so; nevertheless, if Hashem wanted him back, then that was where he wanted to be.
A number of times, I heard him say the medrash that in olam haba people will be sitting on a level with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov and no one will recognize them. People will ask who are they, that they should sit with the avos olam? And Hashem will respond, ‘they are the ones who truly listened to me’. The Rosh Yeshiva spent his whole life listening to Hashem. There is no question that he will reside in that place, the only difference is that no one will wonder why.