A Life of Torah: Rav Dovid Kviat zt”l


sukkas-dovidBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Naflah ateres rosheinu. We are all orphans now.

Rav Dovid Kviat zt”l, our rebbi, was one of the last of the Alter Mirrers – those who were in the Mirrer Yeshiva and travelled to China to remain throughout the war. He was also a rosh yeshiva‘s rosh yeshiva. His seforim were the first stop that roshei yeshiva and maggidei shiur looked at when formulating their own shiurim.

He was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. He was a maggid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He was the rov of the Agudah of 18th Avenue. But mostly, Rebbi was a living, breathing embodiment of a Sefer Torah – personifying the highest ideals of gadlus gaTorah, yiras Shomayim and ahavas Yisroel.

Rav Kviat was a mechanech par excellence. Like Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l, he taught the first-year bais medrash shiur. His remarkably cogent and precise explanations combined with his patient and loving demeanor were the ideal tools of a mechanech. His impact on his talmidim was profound. Many went on to become roshei yeshiva and prodigious talmidei chachomim themselves.

Prior to Rebbi‘s appointment in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l had expressed his shock that Rav Kviat was not yet employed in a prominent yeshiva in America. “What?” he said. “Rav Dovid was yet a gadol hador while he was in Shangahi!”

Many would come to the Rosh Yeshiva for brachos for their children and grandchildren.  His bracha to them all was the same.  He would bless them that they should have “a cheishek for learning.”  The Rosh Yeshiva felt that once one has the cheishek, everything else would fall in place. Skills in learning and growth in Torah and yiras Shomayim would be the consequences and results of a strong cheishek for learning.

I once asked him what is the meaning behind the concept of “hanosain matana lechaveiro chayav lehodi’oh – one who gives a gift to his friend must inform him.” Isn’t it possibly too self-promoting? Isn’t it better to do it anonymously? 

“No,” he answered. “It brings more ahavas Yisroel into the world. The person now has hakoras hatov toward the other. He expresses his thanks and then the other has good feelings toward him for the expression of gratitude. It creates more ahavas Yisroel.” 

What a beautiful answer. An answer from someone whose ahavas Yisroel could be seen from miles away.

Rav Kviat also served as the morah d’asra of a camp in the Catskill mountains. A young mother with many children would struggle her way to the cafeteria, climbing up an elevated pathway.  The Rosh Yeshiva would help her up the path with her children, giving her encouraging words all the way.

His hasmadah was legendary. Even well into his seventies and early eighties, he would always be learning. The hasmadah was the secret to his prolific writing.  Even at his advanced age, in the past few years, Rebbi was able to author no less than nine seforim. Nine seforim! These seforim are masterful works, each one of them carefully written divrei Torah on the moadim.

Rav Kviat wrote under enormous difficulty. Since the 1960s, his hands would shake, and yet he overcame this physical impediment and continued to write his chiddushim. Soon, very few were able to decipher his handwriting. The galleys could no longer be typed by those who normally did them. Undeterred, Rav Kviat was able to locate someone in Yerushalayim who could still read his writing.

And then, a few years ago, Rav Kviat’s handwriting deteriorated further. Now, no one could decipher the handwriting – not even Rav Kviat himself. Undaunted, he continued to write, because writing helped him crystallize his Torah thoughts. True, now no one would be able to read it, but because it helped him further his understanding of the sugya, he continued to write.

And then someone suggested that he learn how to type on a computer. His initial reaction was that he was too old to learn a skill. He was almost eighty and the shaking in his hands was significant. His eyesight was poor. Nonetheless, he “jumped in.” In a matter of days, he was typing a few thousand words a day. His cheishek for Torah propelled him to nearly do the impossible, and in the process, inspire others to learn new skills at an advanced age. How many of us decided we are too old to learn something new? How many of us embarked on it anyway solely on account of our love for Torah?

The computer had to be adjusted to accommodate his special needs. Cheshbonos were made: He could not use a mouse, but he would be able to use a touchpad. Rebbi mastered the melacha. Whenever he encountered the person who taught him to type, he would jokingly say, “Mein Alef-Bais rebbi!”

A few months and a few seforim later, he called the person who taught him to type and said, “Ich vill a leptop!” He wanted to purchase a laptop to afford him greater mobility, so that he could learn outside and also travel with his “limudo beyado” in hand.

Rav Kviat belonged to us all. His father, Rav Avrohom Eliezer zt”l, was a Slonimer chossid, yet also a talmid of the Slabodka and Novardok yeshivos.

The Rosh Yeshiva grew up in Bialystok, a poor Jewish town. There is a halacha that on Friday nights, if one does not have wine, Kiddush is to be recited over bread. To us, this halacha is merely theoretical. To Rav Kviat, this halacha represented his childhood. He vividly recalled how his father would only make wine once per year out of raisins so that they would have Arba Kosos for Pesach. Only the wealthier residents in town would actually have extra food at a bar

mitzvah. Serving kichel at a bar mitzvah was only for the g’virim. When the rosh yeshiva was three years old, his mother, Rebbetzin Chaya Reisha a”h, passed away. Rav Dovid’s aunt helped take care of him after that.

He lost his father in Churban Europe and his other family members too. Although the Rosh Yeshiva had a difficult life, one would never have known it from his demeanor. He was always smiling and cheering people up. His smile could and did uplift everyone – from the advanced talmid chochom, to a young mother, to a young child. He was a loving rebbi, a loving father, zaide, and husband. Slonim is a chassidus that emphasizes d’veikus BaShem. The d’veikus transforms the neshama, imbuing it with Divine qualities. Rebbi zt”l personified all of these qualities. The loss to Klal Yisroel is profound.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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