by Rabbi Ari Kahn
Rav Gustman taught a small group of loyal students six days a week. But on Thursdays at noon, the study hall would fill to capacity: Rabbis, intellectuals, religious court judges, a Supreme Court justice and various professors would join along with any and all who sought a high-level Talmud class that offered a taste of what had been nearly destroyed.
When Rav Gustman gave a shiur -- delivering a lecture, Vilna was once again alive and vibrant.
One of the regular participants was a professor at the Hebrew University, Robert J. (Yisrael) Aumann. Once a promising yeshiva student, he had eventually decided to pursue a career in academia, but made his weekly participation in Rav Gustman's class part of his weekly schedule.
On the eve of the 19th of Sivan, in particularly fierce combat, Shlomo, the professor's son fell in battle. Rav Gustman mobilized his yeshiva: All of his students joined him in performing the mitzvah of burying the dead.
On the way back from the cemetery, Rav Gustman reflected aloud, "They are all holy." In response to the query, "Even the non-religious soldiers?"
Rav Gustman solemnly uttered, "Every single one of them."
He then requested that he be taken to Professor Aumann's home.
The family had just returned from the cemetery and would now begin the week of shiva - mourning for their son, brother, husband and father. (Shlomo was married and had one child. His widow, Shlomit, gave birth to their second daughter shortly after he was killed.)
Rav Gustman entered and asked to sit next to Professor Auman, who said, "Rabbi, I so appreciate your coming to the cemetery, but now is time for you to return to your Yeshiva."
Rav Gustman responded, "I had a son named Meir. He was a beautiful child. He was murdered whilst in my arms. I escaped. My Meir is a kadosh - he is holy - he and all the six million who perished are holy."
Rav Gustman paused to gather his thoughts and shared the following, "I will tell you what is transpiring now in the World of Truth in Gan Eden - in Heaven. My Meir is welcoming your Shlomo into the minyan 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 the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.'
My Meir is a kadosh, he is holy -- but your Shlomo is a Shaliach Zibbur - a representative of the entire congregation in that holy, heavenly Minyan. I never had the opportunity to sit shiva for my Meir; let me sit here with you just a little longer."
Professor Aumann replied, "I thought I could never be comforted, but Rebbi, you have comforted me."
Rav Gustman and his wife would attend an annual parade where children would march on Jerusalem in song and dance. He explained, "We who saw a generation of children die, will take pleasure in a generation of children who sing and dance in these streets."