At 23 Rechov Rashbam in Bnei Brak, the stairways, which were always packed with visitors seeking brachos and advice, are now silent. The building is quiet, the hustle and bustle that characterized it only a memory. At the table where Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, would share his decisions, I am sitting with his close talmid of some three decades, Rav Yisrael Tanchum Dardak. “The passage of time has not dimmed the pain,” he tells me.
Rav Dardak had a unique connection to Rav Chaim, who treated him like an adopted son out of gratitude to Rav Dardak’s father and grandfather.
“My kesher began in the merit of my grandfather, Rav Chaim
Shemaryahu Dardak. Before the war, he lived in Belgium and worked in the fur trade. B’chasdei shamayim, he succeeded in fleeing Europe on the last boat to America. After the war, he tried to recover his properties and possessions in Belgium, but after a long legal process—during which he suffered a heart attack—the authorities agreed to return only one of his stores. Seeing that his business wasn’t going to take off on a large scale again in Europe, he decided to return to America and sit and learn.
“However, that didn’t work out too well either, so he moved to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Bnei Brak, which was even then a city of talmidei chachamim. He began an exchange of letters with the Steipler Gaon on various Torah topics. When one of the letters happened to mention the Steipler’s financial difficulties, my grandfather suggested that his son Yaakov, who was still living in America, might be able to help. If the Steipler sent him copies of his sefarim—Kehillas Yaakov, Birkas Peretz and Chayei Olam—he could sell them and send back the proceeds. That is, in fact, what happened, and the strong connection continued into the next generation, with the Steipler’s son, Rav Chaim.
“At a certain point, my grandfather decided that he had enough money and no longer needed the income from his store in Belgium. He opened a gemach that provided assistance to local rabbanim and talmidei chachamim, including Rav Chaim. This too enhanced the kesher between our two families,” Rav Dardak continues. “At the time, my grandmother, a”h, was managing the store in Belgium. When she passed away, the Steipler came to be menachem aveil my grandfather and said, ‘Only in the days of Rav Yisrael Salanter did one hear of women who agreed to send their husbands overseas with such mesirus nefesh, allowing them to engage in Torah study and gemilus chasadim.’
“After I got married, I settled in New York. My father had already passed away, and I was considering moving to Cleveland, where my mother was living. My wife, however, suggested that we look for another option, and in the end we decided to live in Eretz Yisrael for a year or two.
“The first place we went to was 23 Rechov Rashbam in Bnei Brak. Rebbetzin Kanievsky, a”h, opened the door, asked what our names were and said, ‘Ah, Dardak.’ The Rav immediately joined her at the door, delighted to see us, and asked after my father and grandfather. He told me, ‘Come and visit me whenever you want.’ As I mentioned, neither my father nor my grandfather was still alive, so I had no one in Eretz Yisrael. I developed a close kesher with Rav Chaim and visited regularly, asking sh’eilos, requesting brachos for learning, or simply seeking chizzuk when I felt I needed it.
“I must mention that our plans to stay for only a year or two melted away because of our kesher to Rav Chaim,” Rav Dardak says. “My wife had made a great sacrifice in coming to live in Eretz Yisrael, and whenever she found it especially hard, she would tell herself, ‘Just another few days and we’ll go back.’ This went on for years, until she no longer wanted to leave. She also made changes, just as I did. Today she is considered a rebbetzin, and many women send her the names of people to daven for. She has a special koach hatefillah, which I believe is in the merit of her sacrifices.”
“Did Rav Chaim ever criticize anything you were doing or suggest changes?” I inquire.
“Rav Chaim wasn’t the kind of person to offer critique. He never spoke to me about things that happened in the past; he spoke about what needed to be done in the future. On a number of occasions, he gently suggested making a change in my manner of dress or some other detail. When I first started visiting him, I was a regular, clean-shaven American who was into baseball and wore a short jacket and a wristwatch. But over the years that I became closer to him, I realized that if I had the merit to visit him so often, I should leave all these worldly things behind.
“Rav Chaim often spoke about the preference for wearing a long jacket, not wearing a wristwatch and untucking the peyos from behind the ears. He would stress that people shouldn’t be embarrassed about these things. When my sons reached the age of bar mitzvah, they took his advice and began to wear long jackets. I remember one time Rav Chaim wanted to give a bar mitzvah bachur a good feeling, so he patted him on the back three times and said, ‘Such a nice suit, appropriate for a real talmid chacham.’ He had a lot of sensitivity.
“Rav Chaim also frequently mentioned short-sleeved shirts and beards. He once explained that when people ask for brachos and yeshuos, they may need to take on something difficult in order to merit what they are asking for. I remember once bringing a friend to him who was experiencing problems in his business and had fallen into huge debt. Rav Chaim told him that if he wanted a yeshuah, he should grow a beard. This person was a regular American, but he followed Rav Chaim’s advice, even though beards weren’t common in his circles, and he saw that the longer his beard grew, the better his business went. These days, not only is he back on his feet, but he’s in an even better position than he was before.”
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