I never met a more refined or dignified person than Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, who passed away last week at 92. "He's a prince," I thought to myself 16 years ago, when I first interviewed him for a biography I was writing. And that impression only grew stronger in recent years, when I had the privilege of supervising the English translation of his remembrances of the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav and Rabbi Eliezer Shach.
It was easy to see why the Chazon Ish plucked him from what was then the only kollel in the entire central region in his mid-20s for public service. (After his retirement from the Knesset, where he served 33 years, he returned directly to the study hall from which he had been summoned 40 years earlier.)
When he began his public career in Ze'irei Agudath Israel (ZAI) in the early 1940s, just a few years after arriving from his native Hungary, today's Torah world was unimaginable. ZAI established trade schools, built housing and created dormitory educational facilities and youth villages, like Sde Hemed, for orphans from Europe and uprooted youth from Arab lands. Many young religious immigrants were deprived of yeshiva learning by the war and were too old to reintegrate into traditional yeshivot. The founders of agricultural settlements like Komemiyut and Hazon Yehezkel were drawn from this group. ZAI created drop-in centers in major cities for religious soldiers.
Lorincz began his Knesset career in 1951, at a time of some of the most contentious battles over religion in the fledgling state, including those over the draft of yeshiva students and national service for young women. Yet he always commanded the respect of his peers. Prime minister David Ben-Gurion enjoyed talking to the young haredi MK. Lorincz was the only person who heard about Ben-Gurion's famous meeting with the Chazon Ish from both perspectives.
Lorincz chaired the Knesset Finance Committee for three terms, the first haredi MK to do so. After retiring in 1984, he was appointed chairman of the advisory committee of the Bank of Israel, testimony to the respect in which he was held.
As a young MK, he was about to mount the Knesset podium to deliver a fiery address against a second term as president for Chaim Weizmann, an outspoken opponent of Torah Jewry. Just then, he received a note from the Chazon Ish that he should absent himself from the plenum. Later the Chazon Ish explained that nothing would have been gained from such a speech: Weizmann was sure to be reelected, and an attacking speech would have only confirmed him in his enmity.
That lesson in the necessity weighing each word before speaking remained with Lorincz, whether in public or private. His study partner of his last years expressed to me his amazement that he never interrupted him while he was expressing a thought - a practice far removed from the usual rough and tumble of talmudic debate.
IN THE PREFACE to his memoirs, In Their Shadow, Lorincz entreats his readers to stop after each story of the great Torah leaders to ponder the message and consider how it can be applied in their own lives. He did so himself. He was not only an emissary of the Torah giants but their student. He made it a condition with those who sent him to the Knesset that he be able to question their directives until he fully understood their thinking.
He quotes the Chazon Ish's description of a person
pursuing perfection (Emuna U'Bitahon I:11): "...nothing pains him so much as the pain of injuring another's pride or withholding kindness from him."
And he witnessed what that meant in practice. Once the Chazon Ish's doctor mentioned an elderly patient with neither a friend nor relative in the world, whose recovery was being adversely affected by his loneliness. When that doctor made his rounds in Assuta Hospital the next day, he was amazed to find the Chazon Ish sitting with the patient. The frail Torah scholar had made the long bus trip from Bnei Brak rather than ask someone else to go in his place.
Lorincz showed that same solicitude for others. A younger colleague from ZAI days visited him before Rosh Hashana to discuss a certain problem. He told me after the funeral that Lorincz took more interest in his problem than he did himself. They were to meet again just after Succot, but a day before Lorincz suffered a heart attack. He still remembered to have his son call his old friend to postpone the meeting and apologize that he could not call himself.
Lorincz heard many times from Shach that even the greatest
public duties do not exempt a person from attending to the needs of individuals. At a time when any issue anywhere in the yeshiva world inevitably reached Shach's door, he still maintained an open door policy for anyone who came to seek his advice or solace, particularly the girls of Or Hachaim, a dormitory school in Bnei Brak, mostly for girls from poor development towns.
Just before an important meeting, many of whose participants had come from abroad, a bar mitzva boy and his father entered Shach's study to receive a blessing. They remained there for nearly an hour and a half, and when he came out, Shach apologized that he was too tired and asked that the meeting be postponed to the next day.
What had happened? Shach asked the boy what tractate he was learning and whether he enjoyed it. The boy replied tearfully that he did not comprehend anything. Shach learned with the boy until the latter's tears of pain had turned to tears of joy at fully understanding a difficult topic. Shach explained his decision to learn with the young boy, despite the important public matter awaiting his attention: "Not to enjoy learning constitutes a mortal danger, and takes precedence even over those waiting for me."
LORINCZ WRITES in his preface that the impact of the Torah greats on a person is both intellectual and emotional. The former can be conveyed, but not the latter. Of the latter, he says only, "One feels oneself elevated and suddenly aware of a previously unknown spiritual dimension."
After every visit to Lorincz, I also felt myself similarly elevated with a feeling of having been in the presence of nobility. Until the end, he was always immaculately groomed and dressed, and carried himself with a regal dignity. But even more impressive was the dignity and respect he showed to every visitor.
I never left him without reflecting how much better the Torah world would be if the rest of us were just a little more like him. And I am convinced that if we could just clone 40 more like Lorincz, it would be possible to bring about a mass return-to-religion movement in this country, so great was the kiddush Hashem in his every word and deed.