Ha-Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman ztz"l: The Great and Normal Gaon

In the year 5674, the world shook and the great soul of Ha-Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman ztz"l, Gaon, Tzadik, Lamdan and ascetic, entered the world.  In addition to these traits, he had yet another rare and cherished quality: normalcy.  There is a small group of Gedolei Yisrael who stand firm against all of the winds which try to move them rightward and leftward.  They are strong and steadfast, they do not compromise nor do they go to extremes.  Rather, they are moderate.  A Gadol such as this receives the rare blessing of ZN"L - May the memory of the NORMAL be remembered for the blessing.
This was Rav Shteinman, who ascended on high at the amazing age of 104.
Through his rulings and teachings, one sees over and over again how Rav Shteinman was a normal leader and Posek, and a person guided by common sense.  The great Poskim explain that when one is asked a question, he must first use his intellect.  The Torah was not given to the stupid but rather to the wise.  If he cannot answer the question through his intellect, then he uses the Torah, which is beyond intellect (Shut Chavatzelet Ha-Sharon 2:28.  Shut Minchat Yitzchat 9:150).
This was Rav Shteinman in all areas.
He expressed surprise that people travel great distances to receive a blessing from a Rabbi instead of running to Shul to receive Birkat Cohanim, a blessing from Hashem (Be-Orchotecha Lamdeni p. 38). 
It once happened that a Yeshiva student, who for a few years did not merit having children, asked Rav Shteinman: Is it worthwhile to move, since changing one's place can change one's luck?   Rav Shteinman responded harshly: There is no such thing!  Is the apartment guilty that you have not merited having children!?  There is no reason to move (Segulot Raboteinu pp. 121-122.  And see Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 2:4).
When the three teens were kidnapped in Israel, and the security forces assumed that they were located in the area of Hevron, one Rav used the Goral Ha-Gra (literally, the lottery of the Vilna Gaon - a method of opening the Tanach, and locating verses which answer particular questions), and the result was the verse: "And when he came to Lechim the Philistines shouted against him, and the Spirit of Hashem came mightily upon him" (Shoftim 15:14).  This Rav explained that the Philistines captured Shimshon, and bound his hands, and he succeeded to remove the ropes, and this hinted that the teens would be released.  Furthermore, he claimed that we learn from this verse where the teens are located, in the area of Hevron, since those who understand say that Lechi is in the area of Hevron.  In response, someone approached Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski and suggested the Goral Ha-Gra to answer the question of the location of the three teens.  He said: "For this, one needs Ruach Ha-Kodesh, go to the Rosh Ha-Yeshiva", i.e. Ha-Rav Shteinman.  When they turned to him, he said: "Do I have Ruach Ha-Kodesh"?!  And he added: "If so, why are there Agunot?!  They should use the Goral Ha-Gra…".
And from where did Rav Shteinman receive his moderation and normalcy?
His parents were residents of the city of Brisk, neighbors of Ha-Rav Mi-Brisk, Ha-Griz Soloveitchik.  His father served as a teacher, Shamash of the Shul and supervisor of the Eruv.  There was an Eruv in the city of Brisk and the entire community carried on Shabbat but the Rav of the city, Ha-Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, the father of Ha-Griz, and the Dayan, Ha-Rav Simchah Zelig, were strict not to carry (Shut Mishneh Halachot 15:130).  And when Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik visited Brisk in his youth, he went to check the Eruv on Erev Shabbat with Ha-Rav Simchah Zelig (Nefesh Ha-Rav p. 170).  While the Rabbis where strict not to carry, they did not force it upon the community, and ensured a way for them to carry.  One can see the traditions that Rav Shteinman received from Torat Brisk in the book "A'aleh Be-Tamar - Brisk".
Rav Shteinman was educated in Brisk and was known as a prodigy.  At the age of 20, he began to learn with great intensity, and continued in this way for the last 80 years.  When he received a draft notice from the Polish army, he immigrated to Switzerland, learned in Yeshiva there and became a Ra"m in the Yeshiva.  During the Second World War, he was taken to a work camp and forced to pave roads.  Following an illness, he was released and was able to make Aliyah with his wife.  He then learned in a Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah.  Rav Shteinman became very close with the Chazon Ish.  The traditions that he received from him may be seen in the book "A'aleh Be-Tamar – Chazon Ish".
Rav Shteinman stood firmly and with moderation on these two pillars, Ha-Rav Mi-Brisk and the Chazon Ish.
At a cornerstone laying of a Yeshiva which was transplanted to Eretz Yisrael from Europe, Ha-Rav Yechezkel Avramsky praised the work of Ha-Rav Mi-Ponevitch, Ha-Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who established the Ponevitch Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, and said that our Sages already stated: "In the future, the Shuls and Yeshiva of Babylonian will be established in Eretz Yisrael (Megillah 29a.  Pininim Mi-Shulchan Gevoha - Bereshit, p. 135.  And see at length regarding this saying in Shut Eretz Yisrael pp. 240-252).
Rav Shteinman was truly one of the foundations of the transfer of Torah from Europe to Eretz Yisrael.  He was appointed by Ha-Rav Mi-Ponevitch to head the Yeshiva Ketana of Ponevitch and its Kollel.
He established other Kollelim and with great self sacrifice delivered Shiurim in many different venues in Gemara, Halachah, Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Berurah, Musar, the book Derech Hashem of the Ramchal and in the books Nefesh Ha-Chaim and Ruach Chaim of Reb Chaim of Volozhin.
His entire Torah learning was built upon his humility.
He published some 30 Sefarim including Ayelet Ha-Shachar on the Torah and on the Gemara, as well as many Sifrei Musar.

After the passing of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Ha-Rav Shteinman was considered by most to be the supreme spiritual authority for the Litvishe Yeshiva world.  While Rav Elyashiv essentially dealt with Halachic rulings, Rav Shteinman dealt with every issue in the world.
He directed political parties, the Charedi educational system, Va'ad Ha-Yeshivot, Tzedakah organizations, Teshuvah organizations, Family Purity organizations, Badatz She'erit Yisrael and a newspaper.  He traveled outside of Israel various times in order to strengthen the communities there and raise money for Yeshivot and the different organizations.  He ruled that the newspaper should only wage war against opinions which were contrary to the Torah and not against individuals.  He was involved in every area of life.  It once happened that a young Rabbi, lacking in Torah knowledge, wanted to disagree with Rav Shteinman.  Based on of lack of knowledge, he could not disagree based on sources, so he claimed that Rav Shteinman was detached from reality, but he proved that he himself was the detached one…  
Regarding problems in the State of Israel, Rav Shteinman held that one should not wage war but established institutions to teach Torah and deal with Kiruv.
Regarding drafting Yeshiva students, he opposed the language of "Be killed and do not transgress" but expressed his view in a more gentle and normal manner, stating that they should not be disturbed from their Torah learning.  He also said that someone who is not learning Torah should serve in the army or learn a trade.  Only after a law was passed that if a specific number of students from the Ultra-Orthodox world did serve in the army, there would be criminal sanctions against one who refused to do so, did he say with great sorrow: this is a horrible Chilul Hashem of uprooting the Torah.  He sat and cried with intense pain that the State of Israel declared that learning Torah could be considered a crime.
Rav Shteinman also counseled people in matters of family life and education.  One can also see his normalcy in his attributing family and educational problems largely to people's arrogance.
Based on Reb Chaim of Volozhin (Igrot p. 102), Rav Shteinman said that one who does not agree to a Shidduch based on religious background violates the prohibition of being arrogant.  There was once a Shidduch with a young woman whose brothers went off the path.  The young man came to ask Rav Shteinman about this issue, since the Gemara in Baba Batra (110a) says that if one is interested in marrying a woman he should check her brothers, since children are similar to their mother's brothers.  Rav Shteinman said that this applies when people live in a small village, and thus in a closed environment.  If children go off the path there, it is on account of the parents.  But everything is open in our days.  The parents can provide a completely proper education and the child can still go off the path (see further in Re'im Ahuvim p. 183).  And he told men who were about to marry that a happy marriage is based on three things: giving in, giving in and giving in, since the root of all inter-personal problems is egoism, i.e. arrogance (Adnei Ha-Bayit, p. 149).  Furthermore, someone once came to him and asked if they are obligated to clean for Chametz in the cracks between the tiles on the floor.  He answered wisely: Yes, and since it is so severe a matter, don't rely on your wife, but rather check them yourself…
Regarding education, he instructed that one not learn secular studies, since the essence is fear of Hashem and learning Torah.  He taught that Yeshiva students should not be involved in politics and should refrain from luxuries.  He rejected punishing children, and expelling or not accepting weak students.  It once happened that there were parents who wanted to register their child to learn in a Talmud Torah, but the parents of current students did not want the child to be accepted because his parents were religious but not Frum.  The administrators asked Rav Shteinman if they should accept him, since he could negatively influence the other children.  He yelled that anyone who does not want to accept him suffers from arrogance!!  Arrogance!!  Arrogance!!  And he added that he learned in the Talmud Torah in Brisk with the sons of the Brisker Rav and all sorts of other children.  It happens in every Talmud Torah that there are children who go off the path.
During his entire life, Rav Shteinman worked on being humble and battled against being arrogant.  Therefore when extremists disparaged him, he was one of the Gedolei Yisrael who was "one who is disgraced and does not disgrace, he hears [others recounting] his shame and does not answer, he serves Hashem from love and happily accepts afflictions" (Shabbat 88b).  As we mentioned, under certain circumstances, Rav Shteinman did not oppose certain Charedim from serving in the Charedi units in Tzahal.  Extremists therefore graffitied on a wall: "Shteinman = Kook", comparing him to Maran Ha-Rav Kook.  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv once walked past this graffiti and thought it was meant as a compliment and said: Ha-Rav Shteinman is certainly a great Gadol, but not on the same level as Ha-Rav Kook… (see our eulogy on Rav Elyashiv for his relationship with Maran Ha-Rav Kook).
Rav Shteinman was once told that some people were distributing fliers against him.  He said: If I knew who was doing this, I would need to pay him, since at my age I don't have the strength for ascetic practices and fasts…  The source for his words is found in the book "Sha'arei Kedushah" of Ha-Rav Chaim Vital that if a person knew how much insults help to atone for his sins, he would pursue them!
And above all, it is possible to see Rav Shteinman's normalcy and humility in his simplicity.  He was always frugal.  At his wedding, he only invited 15 guests since it was paid for by Tzedakah.  He also returned money that was given to him at his wedding.  He did not eat hot food or sweets, but rather simple food.  He lived in a two and a half room apartment that was never renovated.  He had simple beds, and his chairs were made from orange crates, lacking a place to rest your back.  Ha-Rav Elyashiv had an equally simple and sparse apartment.  Rav Shteinman would meet Gedolei Yisrael and leaders of the country in a little room.  Someone once said in the name of the Chazon Ish that a house such as this is not respectful.  It is a Chilul Hashem.  Rav Shteinman responded: On the contrary, the more it is beautiful, the more of a Chilul Hashem it is.
It is told that a wealthy businessman once visited the Chafetz Chaim.  He was astounded by the lack of furniture in the Chafetz Chaim’s home.  Unable to contain himself, he asked, “Where is your furniture"?  The Chafetz Chaim responded by asking him where was his furniture.  The man, a bit surprised by the question, explained that he was only passing through. The Chafetz Chaim said that in this world, he too, was only passing through.  
We merited an immense Torah scholar, who worked on remaining humble his entire life and fought against arrogance, in both the spiritual and physical realm.


May his soul be bound up with the bonds of the living with all of the Tzadikim and Geonim.