The good examples of Reb. Aharon Kotler

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

Rabbi Baruch Lederman

Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO — Yaakov beseeched Hashem (G-d) that his descendents should not be unworthy (vis. Rashi – shelo tehay psul b’zari). It was crucial to Yaakov that Torah carry on throughout the generations. When we study, practice and transmit Torah, we are bringing nachas (pride and joy) to our patriarch Yaakov. The following is a tribute to one of the great Torah disseminaters of the 20th century:

This 2nd day of Kislev is the Yarhtzeit of Reb Aharon Kotler ztzvk”l, Rosh Yeshiva of the Lakewood Yeshiva. He was one of the leaders of Jewry, and he carried the weight of the Jewish people, which had been scarred so greatly from the devastation of the War.

Besides his own yeshiva, he carried the weight of Chinuch Atzmai, the network of schools throughout Israel, which teaches Torah to children, has mostly separate classes, and allows secular studies. Reb Aharon called Chinuch Atzmai ‘Pikuach nefashos.‘ [The instrument that was saving hundreds and thousands of lives from spiritual death.]

He was a leader in Agudath Israel as well as many Torah organizations in America. In all this he was always studying Torah, and taught it to his students in Lakewood, and helped his students establish new yeshivos in other cities. He was a Rosh Yeshiva the way a Rosh HaYeshiva was in Europe. He didn’t change in America. People said America didn’t change Reb Aharon, but Reb Aharon changed America.

He arrived in America in 1941 but his goal was immediately to try and to save as many Jews as he could from Hitler and Stalin. He, with a few other Rabbis, tried to arouse the Jews in America to help and save lives. Only a handful listened. He went to Washington and even chastised Henry Morgenthau for not trying to help. Henry took the thrashing and did help. It’s difficult to imagine what America would be like if Reb Aharon would never have made it here.

His character traits were so perfected that they were like diamonds.

One day he left his apartment and then told his driver that he has to go back home. He forgot something. The driver offered to go in the house for him. Reb Aharon refused, and said it is something that he has to do. Reb Aharon walked up three flights of steps and the driver followed him to figure out what was so important. He went into the apartment, walked over to his wife and told her in Yiddish, “Have a good day.” He turned around. “Now we can go.”

He went raising funds, and many businessmen helped him, but many wouldn’t. He never got insulted or took it personally. He knew that supporting Torah is a privilege and not everyone understands that privilege.

He always carried around a volume of the Mishnah Brurah with him. When asked why, he explained that he wanted the merit of the Chofetz Chaim to be with him.

He once had nothing to eat a whole day besides one fruit. He was busy fund raising. But he didn’t throw the core or the peels on the floor or out he window. Rather he held them in his hand or in a bag until he could throw them away. When he came home late at night, he bemoaned that he didn’t study the whole day.

His wife brought out a bowl of soup, but Reb Aharon said to give it to the driver. “He’s been out a whole day and is hungry.” For himself his studying was what he needed to do.

It once happened that Reb Aharon was preparing to travel to Israel. His students planned to accompany him to the airport. Reb Aharon demurred saying it was better that they should stay in the yeshiva and not take time away from their learning.

The students called Reb Moshe Feinstein and asked him what to do. He said, “You should indeed accompany Reb Aharon to the airport. To honor Reb Aharon is to honor the Torah itself.”     [We thank Moshe Reinitz for his contributions to this article]

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[Editors Note: Last week’s teacher student story is attributed to Elizabeth Silance Ballard.]

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Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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  1. […] The very good examples of Reb. Aharon Kotler When we research, practice and transmit Torah, we are bringing nachas (pride and joy) to our patriarch Yaakov. The following is a tribute to 1 of the excellent Torah disseminaters of the 20th century: This 2nd day of Kislev is the Yarhtzeit of Reb Aharon … Read a lot more on San Diego Jewish World […]


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