Living Legacy: The Steipeler, zt”l
By: Yehuda Alter
Shabbos, the 23rd of Av, marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, zt”l, one of the greatest luminaries of postwar Eretz Yisroel, when the yeshiva world was being rebuilt there.
He was born to his father, Rav Chaim Peretz, in the Ukrainian town of Tshan, where his father served as a shochet. His father was a chossid of Rebbe Mordechai Dov of Hornosteipel, and Yaakov Yisroel was named for the Cherkaser Rebbe, a son of the Chernobyler Maggid, who was the grandfather of Rebbe Mordechai Dov.
Sadly, his father was niftar when he was only eleven years old, and his mother moved the family back to her hometown of Hornosteipel—hence he would become known as the Steipeler.
Even before his bar mitzvah, he was enrolled in the Novaradoker yeshiva in the town Novaradok. In 1925, following the upheaval of WWI, he smuggled over the border into Poland, and joined Yeshiva Beis Yosef-Novaradok in Bialistok.
There, he was spotted by the Chazon Ish, who arranged the marriage with his sister Pesha Miriam Karelitz. Subsequently, the Steipeler became one of the leaders of the Novaradoker yeshiva.
Following the aliya of the Chazon Ish to Eretz Yisroel in 1933, the Steipeler joined him in 1934, settling in the fledgling town of Bnei Brak. He considered the Chazon Ish his rebbe, and in later years they lived together.
Following the passing of the Chazon Ish in 1953, the Steipeler was considered one of the leaders of the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel. He dedicated his time to learning incessantly, but his door remained open to all in need, as well as to the many yeshiva bachurim who made their way to his home.
The Steipeler was famously hard of hearing (due to his standing in the freezing cold Russian night when on army duty), and those wishing to communicate with him needed to write down their questions. In this way, he conversed with thousands of people of all ages and of all stripes.
When one petitioner from America asked for a brocho for success in learning, the Steipeler responded, “all the brochos in the world won’t help. Sit and learn, and you will be successful.” Indeed, his son, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, wrote in a similar vein: “It is commonly known that in yeshivos, it was not necessarily the gifted talmidim who became great, but those who were diligent.”
He would advise bachurim to get adequate hours of sleep, and in learning, he instructed them to review each daf at least four times.
The Steipeler was one of the heads of Kolel Chazon Ish, which is still in existence today, and would give deliver an annual shiur there.
His dedication to his family was boundless. Knowing that his son Rav Chaim wished to sit and learn, he would come to the home often, and take care of all matters (he was known to be very handy, and could repair almost anything).
The Steipeler left this world on Shabbos, 23 Av, of the year 1985, and was interred in the Shomrei Shabbos cemetery in Bnei Brak.