The kinus hischazkus that took place on Sunday night for Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, zt”l, was one of the largest gatherings in North London in recent memory. The Yesodey Hatorah Hall was filled to capacity, including many rows of people standing around the walls and in the aisles. The hespedim were also heard by crowds listening in the corridors and outside. The participants included Rabbanei v’chashuvei ha’ir, talmidei chachamim and baalebatim alike. The crowd was estimated to be more than 2,000 people altogether, all united in their reverence for the memory of the Gadol Hador.
The maspidim were led by Mara d’Asra Harav Ephraim Padwa, shlita, who described the pre-eminence of the leader of the whole generation. The avodah of the great niftar throughout his long life had elevated his whole physical being into the essence of the Torah itself.
Harav Avrohom Gurwicz, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Gateshead Yeshiva, vividly analyzed the outstanding gadlus of Harav Steinman through the pesukim of the opening words of Sefer Tehillim. Dovid Hamelech describes the most fortunate and privileged life as a person who fulfils the words “uveSoraso yehegeh yomam valailah — he is totally absorbed in Torah by day and by night.” The result is compared to a tree “shasul — planted on the springs of water,” which the Rosh Yeshivah likened to the influence of Harav Steinman, which has become transplanted and spread throughout the world.
Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner, shlita, UOHC and Rav Tottenham Adass captivated his audience with many stories portraying a mere glimpse into the life of a giant of our times. Although Harav Steinman had not wanted hespedim to be made, if we can gain even a small improvement as a result of hearing about his life, surely he himself would concur with the gathering.
Dayan Dunner retold an anecdote from the life of the tzaddik that demonstrated his love for Torah and his attachment to middas ha’emes. When Harav Aharon Leib was told by his cousin Reb Pinchos Kornfeld from Antwerp that the shamash of the Oosten Beis Hamedrash had passed away, he inquired with great interest about what the job of the shamash entails. Harav Steinman explained to his cousin that he did not want to be paid for being marbitz Torah in the yeshivah and would prefer to undertake an employment that would not take up too much time. He would therefore like to apply for the job of shamash if he could excuse himself from collecting fees, which would be too time-consuming. Dayan Dunner emphasized that Harav Steinman was prepared to give up his position in Bnei Brak in order not to use Torah learning to earn money. Needless to say, continued the Dayan, he was not employed. However, decades later when he came to Antwerp and spoke in the Oosten Shul, a huge crowd came to hear in recognition of his gadlus and anivus.
The next maspid was Harav Shloime Freshwater, shlita, Rav of Sassov Beis Hamedrash. Quoting from the Chasam Sofer, zt”l, Harav Freshwater said that our generation has experienced a great darkness with the petirah of the Gadol Hador. Just as the galus of Mitzrayim could not begin while Yaakov Avinu was alive, so too our world had been warmed and enlightened by the presence of Harav Aharon Leib.
Reb Aharon Leib did not live a life for himself. Even in recent years, when he was over 90 years of age, he took upon himself grueling and arduous round-the-world trips in order to strengthen and be mechazek Klal Yisrael. The Rosh Yeshivah had only one sole purpose and mission: to learn Torah lishmah with ameilus. Even when he was a young bachur, he had aspirations for unimaginable greatness. A stranger once found him learning very late at night alone in the beis medrash and asked him, “What is your she’ifah? What are you striving to become?” He was astonished to hear his reply. The young Aharon Leib said that he desired to become a merkavah laShechinah — a conduit for kavod Shamayim.
The final speaker was Harav Chaim Peretz Berman, Rosh Yeshivas Ponevez, who was a talmid of Rav Steinman some 45 years ago. Citing words that he had heard from Harav Steinman, Harav Peretz stressed that the whole creation of the universe was for the sake of the adam hashalem who has yiras Shamayim. The Rosh Yeshivah had lived his life with an awesome sense of responsibility for Klal Yisrael. Just like Moshe Rabbeinu, every true manhig has the ability and capacity to appreciate and sense the actual pain of another person. The Rosh Yeshivah would give up hours of his day, even when he was almost 100 years old, listening to the troubles and problems of other Yidden.
Harav Aharon Leib undertook personally the upkeep of many mosdos haTorah, and would constantly encourage others to continue building Torah. Although he lived a long life, he never took enjoyment from this world. It is our responsibility to try to follow in the ways of the Rosh Yeshivah to increase Torah in the world and to help the whole of Klal Yisrael.
Yehi zichro baruch!