“The Brisker Rav was niftar right before Yom Kippur,” Rav Rafael Reichman says reflectively, looking upward. Rav Reichman is a rather tall man, and he is sitting on a stool, making him look even taller. “I was already a yungerman, but as a bachur I had merited to have a kvius to speak with the Brisker Rav in learning every Motzaei Shabbos for two years. We would talk until late into the night. I used to go to him every Yom Tov as well.
“So when I heard that he was niftar I went to his house on Motzaei Yom Kippur, and there was a discussion about whether the levayah should be held right away or they should push it off until the morning, allowing more people to participate. When Rav Yechezkel Abramsky suddenly walked into the room I remember feeling that now there was going to be a decision, and there was.”
“What was the decision?”
“The decision was to push it off to the next day.”
“I’m sure it was a big levayah,” I venture.
“For those times it was big.”
“And I’m sure the children were terribly tzubruchen,” I venture again.
“Of course. Interestingly, when they came home after the levayah it was already after chatzos, but they said Birchos Krias Shema according to the psak of the Pri Chadash. The Pri Chadash,” he adds, “was held in very high esteem by the Brisker Rav, as well as by my own father. There wasn’t a single sh’eiilah that came to my father without his checking to see what the Pri Chadash had to say about it. My father, Rav Zalman Reichman, was a very prominent rav in America. He was the yoshev rosh vaad hapoel of the Agudas Harabonim of America.”
From Fear to Familiarity
There are few people alive today who can boast of having had a close relationship with the Brisker Rav. In fact, the Brisker Rav wasn’t a person who allowed others into his private space. Chazal instruct rebbes to instill fear into their talmidim (Kesubos 103a). The Rambam elaborates that a rebbe shouldn’t act in a jocular manner with his students or laugh, eat or drink with them so they should fear their teacher and learn quickly. The Brisker Rav certainly followed this to a T. So I ask Rav Reichman how his unique relationship with the Brisker Rav developed.
“I came to Eretz Yisrael in 1954,” he shares, “and being a little naïve, I thought I’d be able to go to the Brisker Rav’s shiur. He had two great talmidim, Rav Chaim Aharon Turchin and Rav Itche Chaim Krasnitzky, but not even all his sons were in his shiur. So I didn’t get into his shiur, but I did have this kvius instead.
“The first time I went to visit him it was with my father. The Brisker Rav was sitting at the table with Rav Aharon Kotler, and they asked my father to have a seat. I also ended up sitting down, but they certainly didn’t ask me to be seated. I think my father motioned for me to sit. Rav Aharon and the Brisker Rav were talking about giyus banos and other matters. I wasn’t able to grasp everything they said, but because they were having a conversation I couldn’t talk with the Brisker Rav in learning. The second time I went to him I had a gevaldige shmuess.”
“I don’t mean to disparage your talents, but it’s very interesting that the Brisker Rav had such a geshmak to talk to a young bachur,” I say, “given the discrepancy in life experience and age.”
“It’s takeh a peleh,” he says in agreement.
“Your relationship revolved strictly around Torah?”
“Primarily. There were times when there were things of particular importance he wanted me to write to my father about.”
“Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi told me that when he went in to see the Brisker Rav he felt a profound pachad. Did you feel the same way?”
“Before I started speaking I would be very nervous, but once I got started I was perhaps a little too free. But you have to understand the nature of our relationship. The Brisker Rav was very involved in my life. I once had a chavrusa who learned with me for a very short time. Rav Leizer Yudel thought he was a good chavrusa, but my father didn’t think so, so he mentioned it to the Brisker Rav. The Brisker Rav said, ‘That person is a yakar, but he isn’t a good chavrusa for your son.’ Then my father told him that I was also learning with Rav Nochum Partzovitz, to which he replied, ‘Er is a voiler (he’s very good).’ He held Rav Nochum in great esteem.