Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, left an inestimable imprint. Today, while the world may not be filled with the likes of Rav Chaim, there are many who aspire to be like him, Shas Yidden who attain exalted levels in terms of achievement in and dedication to Torah. Rav Chaim raised the bar for an entire generation of Torah students and scholars. Greatness requires both embracing certain things as well as setting other things aside. It is this feature of Rav Chaim that all of us can strive to emulate.
The sage Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma related (Avot 6:9): “I was once walking along the way and I encountered a man. He greeted me and I returned the greeting. He said to me, ‘Rebbi, where are you from?’ I responded, ‘I am from a great city of scholars and scribes.’ He said to me, ‘Rebbi, would you be willing to dwell among us in our place? I’ll give you a million gold coins and precious stones and gems.’
“I said to him, ‘Beni, my son, im atah nosein li kol kesef v’zahav va’avanim tovot u’margaliyot sheba’olam, eini dar ela bimkom Torah. Even if you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones and gems in the world, I would not dwell anywhere other than a place of Torah. Because when a person departs this world, neither his silver nor his gold, nor his precious stones and gems accompany him. All that goes with him are his Torah and good deeds.’”
Rav Chaim put aside all the silver and gold of the world. Accumulation of wealth was meaningless to him. His was the ultimate freedom, as he lived unencumbered by the distraction of material pursuits. Torah, tefillah, chesed. That was his life. Nothing else mattered. This is perhaps one of the most profound legacies of Rav Chaim Kanievsky.
Rav Chaim’s value system is not reserved for Rechov Rashbam. It is not reserved for those whose community, upbringing and circumstances can have them live in what we would call a hovel. And it isn’t reserved for those who are able to spend multiple hours a day learning Torah and give their remaining time to benefit others. The value system that renders all other values secondary could be ours too. It is not out of reach.
With Rav Chaim’s passing, we have lost something indescribable. But at the same time, it can be emulated by each and every one of us—that which Rav Chaim valued, but even more important and fundamental, what he didn’t.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. This piece was excerpted from a hesped (eulogy) Rabbi Hauer delivered for Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore, Maryland, in March 2022.
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