Biography of Rav Chaim Brisker – Rav Chaim Soloveitchik


Rav Chaim

(1853-July 30, 1918)
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was born in
Volozhin to his father Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis HaLevi, who taught
in the famous Volozhin Yeshiva. When he was a few years old, his fathhr became
Rav in Slutzk. Rav Chaim quickly became known for his brilliance and remarkable
When Rav Chaim was 20, he married Lipsha,
the daughter of Rav Raphael Shapiro, and the granddaughter of the Netziv who
was the Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin. After Reb Raphael moved to become a Rav, Rav
Chaim became a Rosh Yeshiva with the Netziv in the yeshiva.
Rav Chaim began to teach gemara using
a new method known as the Brisker Method of learning. Every halacha is analyzed
and classified like a scientist. This helps talmidei chachamim understand the
gemara and halacha better. This method of learning is now used in all modern
yeshivos. Rav Chaim created a new vocabulary so that everyone could understand
the gemara better.
In 1892, the Czar forced the Volozhin
yeshiva to close. Rav Chaim moved to Brisk where his father was the Rav. When
his father died,  he became the Rav.  For this reason, he is known as Rav Chaim Brisker.
Rav Chaim wrote a very important  sefer called Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim on the Rambam. His shiurim were
recorded by his talmidim in notes called “Rav Chaim’s stencils.” Much of
his Torah has also been passed down by his talmidim.  He had six main students; his sons Rav Moshe Soloveitchik (who moved to America),  Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (also known as Rav
Velvel or the Brisker Rav who moved to Yerushalayim), Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Elchonon Wasserman hy”d, and Rav Shimon Shkop. The talmidim of these 6
students have led the Torah world.
Only Emes
Rav Chaim did not write down his chiddushei
Torahh imself. His sons or a shochet in Brisk, Reb Noach, would do so. One
Shabbos on Erev Chanuka, Reb Noach was called to the house to record the
chiddushim. Rav Chaim spoke for several hours while Rav Chaim wrote 12 full pages.
Suddenly, Rav Chaim took the pages and tore them beyond recognition because he
said there was a mistake in his ideas. His Torah could only be the truth.
World War I, Rav Chaim Brisker and familywere forced to flee to Minsk. A Rav
went to visit him. The house was in complete disarray. 5 children were sleeping
on a board. There was little food. Rav Chaim was resting in a chair. Rav Chaim’s
son, Rav Velvel and his son-in-law were trying to clarify the Torah they had
just learned from Rav Chaim. Rav Chaim awoke and started to correct the
complicated topic he had just taught. Only then did he acknowledge the Rav’s
visit. Rav Chaim was able to ignore everything else that was going on because
of his quest for the Torah.
Rav also mentioned how Rav Chaim had many locks on his doors when in Minsk. The
reason was that city had many cruel Jews who were trying to take Jewish
children away from Torah and did not do chesed  for the poor properly. He locked the door many
times so he would not learn from them. Once, they sent him special flour so he
wouldn’t get sick. He returned the flour to be given to others who were poorer
and in greater need.
Rav HaChesed
Rav Chaim Brisker
changed Torah learning all over the world. Yet, at the time he was niftar, this
was not what was remembered the most. What everyone remembered was his chesed. On
his matzeiva was written the description “Rav HaChesed”
Rav Chaim’s house was
open to all. In Rav Chaim’s living room, beggars would put notices up on the wall. They
would sleep on his couches. He would always be careful not to disturb them. Sometimes,
his wife or children would walk into the bedroom and find that Rav Chaim had
invited some poor people to sleep there and noone in the family had beds.
There was a huge fire in the town and
many homes were destroyed. Rav Chaim devoted himself to helping the penniless
survivors. Rav Chaim insisted in sleeping in the hallway of the shul. He asked
how he could sleep in his bed if there were so many who didn’t even have a roof
over their heads.
Rav Chaim was once having an important
meeting with the Bais Din in Brisk. A pauper came into the room, ate Rav Chaim’s
lunch and fell asleep on his couch. Rav Chaim warned everyone there not to
disturb the poor man.
Mothers would leave
their babies on his doorstep if they were unable to take care of them or the
babies were too sick. Rav Chaim hired women to feed the babies and cared for
them in his home.
The people of town paid Rav
Chaim to be their Rav. However, whenever he got a pay check, he immediately
gave it away to tzeddaka. They had to give the money to his wife to insure that
they would have food.
Rav Chaim had a rule. Anyone
could ask for something and the family would need to give it without a
complaint. Once someone asked Rav Velvel for his pen. Rav Velvel was in the middle of writing
some of the chidushei Torah of Rav Chaim. Rav Velvel asked him to wait a
minute. Rav Chaim got very upset and said “what is going on here that we don’t
lend our pens…” (Holchei Nesivos – Middos Tovos)
Chaim changed the world of Torah. We are all talmidim of his because of the
Brisker method, the yeshivos that were founded by his talmidim and from
learning about his chesed.