The Ke’ayal Ta’arog periodical’s recent edition cites Mr. Zalman Silber, a medical askan and philanthropist from Monsey, as crediting Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman for persuading Rav Elyashiv to undergo his first life-saving heart surgery in Elul 2003. Doctors had warned that his days would be numbered without it.
“I came in to him with Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein,” Silber recalled. “Rav Yitzchok said to him: ‘My dear father-in-law, glorious crown of Yisroel, the crown of Klal Yisroel is about to fall.’ To this Rav Elyashiv replied: ‘I have ruled about such operations many times and how is this halachically different from all the cases I advised and ruled not to do?’
“On Monday after Minchah, we [Rav Yitzchok and I] and Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsh, Rosh Yeshiva of Slobodka, went to ask Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman to write a letter to persuade Rav Elyashiv to agree to an operation. After Rav Yitzchok explained the whole matter [to Rav Shteinman], the Rosh Yeshiva asked him how much time the doctors thought Rav Elyashiv had to live if he did not have it. I answered: ‘A short time, a few weeks, perhaps a month, a little longer.’
“Rav Shteinman turned to me and said: ‘Not true, not true.'”
“It is not a matter of a month or a few weeks but a matter of perhaps a few days!” he said.
Rav Shteinman then wrote a letter to Elyashiv which stated:
“I very much apologize for interceding in a life-threatening issue, but as we know of an American specialist who is famous for performing hundreds of successful operations (and says that he only failed once) and is willing to come with his own team of doctors and nurses, I ask you to consider the matter because he is expert in this sort of operation… 18 Ellul 5763.”
“We went up to Yerushalayim and when we reached Rav Elyashiv’s hospital, some wanted to read the letter to him,” Rav Silber recalled. “But he insisted on reading it himself. He read it a number of times and told Rav Yitzchok that he was willing to think of doing the operation. Rav Yitzchok told me to bring the doctor immediately, because his father-in-law doesn’t think of doing something for no reason. If he was willing to think about it, the doctor could be brought along.”
Before the operation, the doctor told Rav Elyashiv that without it he would only have thirty-six hours to live, confirming what Rav Shteinman had said earlier.
“Before the operation, Rav Elyashiv read the evening Kri’as Shema but was very restless,” Silber said. “The doctor asked me to go in and calm him down. When I asked him what was bothering him, he signaled with his hand towards the oxygen mask. Apparently, it prevented him from hearing the words of Kri’as Shema. When I removed it from his face he calmed down and continued reading.”
Silber added: “I once asked Rav Elyashiv: ‘Almost no one makes a great impression upon you, so why were you so impressed by Rav Shteinman’s letter that you agreed to the operation?’ He replied: ‘Er iz der letzer reiner Yid bei Klal Yisroel, He is Klal Yisroel’s last pure Jew and therefore one must pay attention to what he says.”
David Steger – Matzav.com Israel