Rav Gershon’s Shiur

Thoughts beyond Shabbat Nassó

Studying in Ponevezh Yeshiva, Bnei Brak (the original Yeshiva was founded in Lithuania in 1908) during the nineteen-eighties was the aspiration of any bright boy in Yeshiva Ktana (high school). I was thrilled to be accepted.

The Yeshiva was at the time led by three Tora-“giants”. The most famous lecturers of our generation were teaching under one roof.  Of them, most well-known was Rav Shach. But the Rabbis Povarsky Sr. and Rozovski were also renowned for their outstanding knowledge, and the trio was the best “team” in the Torah world. 

However, in order to get to their course, one had to study for two years under the (then) “junior” team of lecturers – which included Rav Povarsky Jr. – (who is now the last remaining member of the whole academic staff), as well as RavGershon Edelstein, who passed away this week at the age of Hundred. 

Rav Gershon was teaching in Ponevez for more than 70(!) years, and his last lecture was delivered on Monday from his bed in hospital where he was treated for heart failure.

I am not a eulogist but will share my personal experience in Ponevez – with the deceased Rav זצ”ל. 

Coming into the Yeshiva, I firstly joined the daily lecture of Rav Povarsky Jr. His Shiur was and is still (he is only 93) a daily celebration. He started with a “massive” barrage of queries relating usually to one sentence in the tractate we were studying. When he finished the first stage of the Shiur, we were all perplexed as to how we did not see the problematic issues of the passage we had all prepared that morning… 

However, when Rav Povarsky continued his lecture and by now was advancing his theory to explain the questions he rose, (usually with a few examples from real life) we could not even remember anymore that there was a problem with the text.

Now – the next semester, we were to join Rav Gershon’s Shiur. We were looking forward to it, as he was known as no less an expert in Talmudic subjects. I was at first very disappointed. The Shiur was very dry. No stories, no parables. Only the bare question and his theory in response to it. I was falling asleep… 

A few weeks into his daily lecture, I was “relaunching” my listening. I realised that while Rav Gershon’s Shiur was much less pomp and fun. There was something very important for me as a student – to learn.  Rav Gershon was not in the business of turning us to be “fans” of his intellectual capacity.  Rather – he always was seeking to truly understand – and explain to us, the essence of the Tractate. And nor was he interested in “dressing up” the Gemara in any other way than the pure meaning of it. So by now, I discovered a new taste in the “boring” lecture. 

And he continued doing his part of “transmitting the Torah from generation to (three) generation(s)”, until a day before his passing this Tuesday morning. As it would not fit his humble and totally unassuming personality, Rav Gershon was, for the first ninety years of his life, totally uninterested in any aspect of political involvement, never mind leadership. He would gladly give advice on a one to one basis, but no more. Just as he turned ninety, and was still as clear as a young scholar, the Yeshiva world started to put many important public matters to his door. He could not refuse any more, and reluctantly but decisively was taking part in the most serious issues concerning Klal Yisrael. 

Just one small example of his gentle leadership philosophy. On the question of how parents should deal with an offspring who ceased to keep Shabbat even while at home, and was disrupting the idyllic atmosphere of the home. RavGershon insisted that parents should never reject, or eject a child. Only support and continue to love…

Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld