By: Rabbi Labish Becker
The news came like a thunderbolt! We had all been davening for weeks and months for the Rosh Yeshiva, Horav Chaim Dov Keller zt”l, to recover and return to his shtender. But, it was not to be. As Talmidim whose weltanschauung was greatly shaped by the Rosh Yeshiva we are left to contemplate his greatness and his influence on us and all of Klal Yisroel.
I had the Zechus of attending Telshe Yeshiva in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It was a time when we all strove for growth in Limud HaTorah. It was also a time of great upheaval in the world. The Rosh Yeshiva, Horav Chaim Dov, in addition to saying outstanding Shiurim, where he helped us understand every nuance in the Gemara, also gave exceptional and much looked forward to Shmuezin where he gave us Daas Torah. He helped us look at the world around us allowing us to see it through a Torah lens. On a personal level the Rosh Yeshiva was extremely accessible to each and every one of us giving us not only general but individual Hadracha in so many different ways. He had endless patience to talk to us and showed incredible interest in our every issue.
Years later, when I began working for Agudas Yisroel of America I was privileged to once again hear his incredible clarity of thought and Daas Torah. He spoke many times at Agudah conventions and was one of the most sought after and highly anticipated speakers. He had an incredible wealth of Torah knowledge as well as a wide-ranging grasp of the greater world around us. His oratorical skills and profound Torah insights captivated audiences year after year. Rabbi Keller was a gifted writer whose many insightful articles in the Jewish Observer are as relevant today as when he wrote them. He was truly the quintessential voice of Daas Torah rooted deeply in the words of his Rebbeim, Reb Elya Meir Bloch and Reb Chaim Mordechai Katz zt”l and the Telzer tradition.
There was much Hadracha that I received from the Rosh Yeshiva that is too personal to share. However, there is one that is instructive of his grasp of Daas Torah which taught me a lesson that I will never forget. It was in the early 1970’s in the period between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. The Israeli air force up until that time had been supplied mainly by the French, who sold them Mirage jets which helped Israel maintain its aerial superiority and was very vital to its security. Due to various factors, the Prime Minister of France, George Pompidou, wanted to discontinue the sale of those jets. Prime Minister Pompidou was going to be visiting Chicago. The local Jewish community used this opportunity to mount a massive protest against the French government. Among the groups that the organizers reached out to in the Orthodox community was Telshe Yeshiva. The Yeshiva demurred as participating in demonstrations was not the accepted Hadracha in the Frum community.
Being a young, impressionable Bochur, I felt strongly that it was important for the Yeshiva to join in this important demonstration, and beseeched the Roshei Yeshiva that they should change their minds. Of course, they did not, but the Rosh Yeshiva gave me individual permission to attend if I wanted to. I did indeed attend that demonstration at the hotel where the Prime Minister would be staying in downtown Chicago. I arrived at the demonstration where hundreds of protestors were chanting, “Boo! Boo! Pomidou!” and other anti-French slogans. Before long the Prime Minister arrived, exited his limousine and walked to enter his hotel. One of the protestors ran over to him, somehow eluding security and spat on him! The Prime Minister became so furious that he was heard yelling that he would never ever sell jets to Israel.
It was a profound lesson that I learned. A demonstration, no matter how well intentioned, can be ruined by the irresponsible actions of just a single individual. When Gedolei Yisroel are reluctant to authorize participation with other groups we must follow their words with pure Emunas Chachomim. It was an insightful lesson for life that has often guided me in my work for Agudas Yisroel.
It is my fervent hope that so much of his Torah and Daas Torah will be made available for the Tzibbur who have so much to gain from him. Yehei Zichro Boruch.