The 28th of Sivan commemorates the passing of Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman Zt”l (1908-1991); Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Netzach Yisrael Ramailles, located in the Rechavia section of Yerushalayim.
Next door to the Yeshiva was a retirement home from which the Yeshiva, not having its own kitchen, took meals. However, the Hechsher was not one of the "premier" Hecsherim, which did not suit everyone. Thus a group threatened Rav Gustman, “Please switch to a different Hechsher. This will be a win-win, you will be added to our rabbinical board and your name will appear on all of our broadsides and public statements."
"As much as we would want to avoid insulting the Rosh Yeshiva, if he does not make this change, he will be publicly named amongst those rabbis listed and publicised for their laxity in Mitzvos.”
Overhearing this threat, we were gob-smacked. Rav Gustman was not fazed. He looked them in the eye and said the following. “Kinderlach, (children) let me tell you a little bit about Kavod and humiliation. When I was twenty two years old, I arrived late to a rabbinical meeting in Vilna. As I walked into the room, to my shock, and the surprise of all who were there, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the undisputed prince of Torah Jewry stood up for me. Following him, all those assembled there, including the entire Rabbinate of Vilna, stood up for this "unknown young man". Whatever Kavod you can promise can never compare to the honour I received that day in Vilna."
"And if you are talking about humiliation, let me tell you about what happened just a few years later in the same city of Vilna. I had one son in my life, Meirke; he was the apple of my eye. When Meir was just four years old the Nazis found us. I held him in my hands to protect him. But those dogs made sport to beat him whilst I held him. Certain that they had killed him, they pushed me, still clutching Meirke in my arms, into a pile of manure."
"I buried him with my own hands, removed his shoes, cleaned off the blood and traded them for food. Do you know what it is to barter your dead son’s shoes for food? Do you think your threats compares at all to what I have already experienced?"
"So I will continue to do what is right in the eyes of HKBH; you will do what you will do."
"Now please excuse me because for five years during the war I never saw a Sefer so I have still had a lot of learning to make up for.”
Rav Gustman turned and went back to his shtender and to the only world he knew, the one of Toras Emes- the world of Torah and of truth.
Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman learned BeChavrusa with Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, and had earned the respect of the Chazon Ish, Rav Chaim Brisker, and his Rabbeim Rav Shimon Shkup and Rav Chaim Ozer.
It is known that the Holocaust affected Rav Gustman tremendously. He once remarked that he needed to relearn all of the Torah that he learned before the war, because the fear and flight erased it all from memory.
He was absolutely devastated by the death of his young son, Meir and never pushed out of his active memory that he was compelled to trade his murdered son's shoes for his remaining family's survival. As he shared those few morsels with them he declared, "This is a Kiyum of VaAchaltem DeSar BeNeichem" a fulfilment of the Torah's Tochacha, rebuke that you will eat the flesh of your sons.
The Rabbi and the Professor
Rav Gustman spent two years living off his wits whilst evading the mad dogs seeking his destruction.
It was then that he recognised the foresight of his mentor, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski who many years earlier had instructed him, whilst they were out strolling the countryside, about which plants can be used in an emergency as foods and how they are to be prepared.
A True Rebbi
Rav Gustman participated in the personal life of his Talmidim. He would take an active part in their Shidduchim, helping to guide and shape their lives and future.
The Chosson's Shtikkel Torah was not just a formality but a sacred step in establishing the priorities of the future household and relationship. He would not tolerate the "singing down" the Chosson - the practice of singing to overwhelm and prompt the Chosson to abandon presenting his Shtikkel Torah. A practice one assumes was initiated to save those Chassanim who were not skilled in making such presentations, which BTW is the reason the Chosson does not make the Berachos at the Chupah and is directed to repeat the words of the Mesader Kiddushin.
When offered the honour of Sandekois, holding the baby during the Beris, he would demur, and gently rebuke his loving Talmidim, "This honour is for your father. Please Gd, I will accept the honour when you have another son" at which time he would often find another family member who was more suited, in Rav Gustman's opinion, to the honour.
A Superb "Mentch"
It is told that a kiosk, not far from the Yeshivah, originally displayed for sale ago, inappropriate magazines. The Yeshiva boys protested and pretty much came to blows.
Rav Gustman sent a messenger to the vendor, begging him to come to meet. It seems that Rav Gustman told him that Parnasa is very important and he would therefore not request that he desist from selling but that, out of respect, he keep them away from public view.
The non-religious man was so taken by Rav Gustamn's respectful tone and understanding, that he decided to completely abandon selling such material.
Years later, at Rav Gustman's Levaya, as large crowds assembled and whilst waiting were looking to purchase some light refreshment, this kiosk was closed. It was closed out of respect for Rav Gustman.