What did R’ Chaim Brisker really tell his grandson the Rav?

In his youth, the Rav lived in Khaslavich, White Russia, where his father R’ Moshe was Rav.

R' Moshe Soloveichik ז’ל

Most of the inhabitants of the town were impoverished Hassidim of Habad. There is a well-known story about the Rav and his Melamed, the (Habad) Hasid Reb Baruch Yaakov Reisberg ז’ל. The Melamed should have taught the Rav, Baba Metzia. Instead, the melamed was secretly teaching the Rav and other תנוקות של בית רבן, Sefer HaTanya, by the Alter Rebbe of Habad. Consequently, the Rav apparently could recite pages of Tanya by heart. When R’ Moshe brought the Rav to visit his illustrious grandfather, R’ Chaim in Brisk, R’ Chaim noticed that his grandson wasn’t as knowledgeable as he ought to have been in Talmudic studies. To quote the prose of the Rav’s eloquent son-in-law, Rav Aaron Lichtenstein שליט’א (see Tradition 30:4, p. 194)

“For the better part of a year, young Soloveitchik’s Talmudic progress was impeded while the study of Tanya accompanied by enthralling stories of Hasidic lore proceeded merrily apace. While Rav Moshe was somewhat slow to detect the tre state of affairs, his wife — herself the learned daughter of an outstanding rabbinic scholar — was more perceptive. Detecting the slow rate of growth in her son’s Talmudic knowledge, she prodded Rav Moshe to remedy the situation. Failng to obtain proper satisfaction, she finally complained to Rav Haym and upon the family’s next visit to Brisk, the budding scholar was duly examined and found wanting. The result was that Rav Haym recommended that Rav Moshe henceforth take personal charge of his son’s Talmudic education, and it was from that day that the period of rigorous mutual study dated.”

I have read and re-read this story many times in different books. On Motzei Shabbos, I was alerted to an article commemorating the 70th Yahr Tzeit of R’ Moshe Soloveitchik. The article appeared in shturem.net an Israeli Chabad news website. In among the article the story above is retold only this time it is a new version of the same story:

מהעורך, הרה”ח ר’ אהרון דב הלפרין שי’, שמעתי בזמנו סיפור מעניין שסיפר לו הרב חדקוב ע”ה, בשם בנו הגדול, ממלא מקומו, הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק מבוסטון זצ”ל; סיפור אשר היו מעורבים בו גם הסבא ר’ חיים מבריסק, גם האבא ר’ משה, וגם הנכד עצמו, כמובן, מספר הסיפור. היה זה בחודש טבת תשכ”ז, כשנפטרה אמו של הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק מבוסטון, והרבי זי”ע שלח משלחת נכבדה לנחמו, כשבראש המשלחת עמד המזכיר הנודע החסיד הרב חיים-מרדכי-אייזיק חדקוב ע”ה.

המשלחת ישבה אצל הגרי”ד סולובייצ’יק שעה ארוכה, ותוך כדי הדברים הוא סיפר להם כדלהלן: “כשהייתי ילד, אבי כיהן כרבה של חאסלאוויטש שהיתה ברובה עיירה חב”דית. באחת השנים, המלמד בחדר היה יהודי נכבד חסיד חב”ד, תלמיד-חכם. המלמד, ‘גנב’ מפעם לפעם מהזמן שהיה עליו ללמד גמרא ולימד תניא וגם סיפר סיפורים חסידיים. איך שהוא הדבר נודע לאבי, והוא לא שבע רצון מכך. בהזדמנות, כשביקרנו בבריסק אצל הסבא [ר’ חיים], סיפר לו אבא את אשר אירע. הסבא גער בי ואמר שזה לא טוב מה שאני עושה וכי צריך ללמוד כל הזמן עם המלמד רק גמרא. אחר-כך רמז הסבא לאבי שהוא רוצה להישאר בחדר לבד רק איתי.

כשאבא יצא מהחדר, אמר לי הסבא ר’ חיים: “תשמע טוב מה שאני אומר לך: תמשיך ללמוד עם המלמד שלך תניא. אתה עוד תזדקק לזה מאוד!”…

“כעת אתם מבינים” – אמר הגרי”ד בחיוך לחברי המשלחת בראשות הרב חדקוב – “מה זה ‘חכם עדיף מנביא’?”…

In summary, some Hasidei Habad were sent to the Rav represent the Rebbe and perform the Mitzvah of Nichum Avelim, after the Rav’s mother passed away. The Hassidim were with the Rav for an hour. The head of the group was the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Hodakov. Rabbi Hodakov allegedly retold a version of the story that the Rav had allegedly said to Rabbi Hodakov at the Shiva. This version was relayed from Rabbi Hodakov by R’ Aaron Dov Halperin ‘שי.  In this new version, R’ Chaim Brisker privately told the Rav that he should continue learning Tanya since he (the Rav) would need to draw from the Tanya later on his life. The Rav apparently used this story to illustrate that חכם (R’ Chaim Brisker) עדיף מנביא.

I have to say that I was surprised to read this allegedly new version. I do not understand how or why this version, if true, didn’t come to light while both the Rav and the Rebbe were still בעלמא הדיין. If this version is true, surely Habad would have wanted this particular version to be known. Would the Rav have been embarrassed by it? I doubt it. The Rav was seemingly never embarrassed by his past connection with Habad. Indeed, he gave a shiur in the Alter Rebbe’s לקוטי תורה in Boston for some time.  One would have to also conclude that the Rav never told anyone in his own family about this version of the story or that he did tell them and they concealed it; most unlikely.

This new version smells fishy to me. Can anyone shed some light?

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

2 thoughts on “What did R’ Chaim Brisker really tell his grandson the Rav?”

  1. Hi Isaac, I read the article in the Kfar Chabad magazine over Shabbos and I too had the same question.
    I must add that had the story indeed come from Rabbi Chadakov, the Rebbe’s secritary, it can be relied upon. He was not known to exaggerate in any way.
    I do remember hearing a recording of the Rav za”l saying a hesped on Rav Rivkin, R”Y in Torah Vedaas, and there he mentions learning Tanya with his melamed. I think I recall him saying that he gained things from Tanya that helped him throughout his life (not that it would verify the story as told by R’ Halprin). I could be mistaken and I don’t know where to get the recording. If you know where it is or have access to it I would be grateful if you post it.

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  2. All I have to add is that it is quite well known that the editor of Kefar Chabad Magazine is not known for his accuracy when it comes to stories.
    I would presume though that at least 1 of the other Chassidim present at the shiva is alive to perhaps present an alternative version of the story.

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