Rabbi Nachman Seltzer takes his incredible talent for telling true stories to a whole new level as he shares the story of Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis and his close, personal relationships with some of today’s greatest Torah personalities. ArtScroll asks Rabbi Seltzer about his new book, Encounters with Greatness:
AS: The narrator of this memoir, Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis, had some very unusual brushes with death, which ultimately led him to the relationships with gedolim that are the core of the book. Can you tell us a little about those almost-fatal experiences?
RNS: Rabbi Travis was hit by a car and almost killed on the day before he made a kiddush in honor of his baby daughter. The fact that he lived — and without any brain damage — was, according to his rosh yeshivah, Rav Tzvi Kushulefsky shlita, a complete miracle. The accident and his remarkable recovery led to his researching the topic of reciting the berachah one makes on a miracle, and that led to more research on the subject of hakaras hatov, thanking Hashem. He ultimately produced a sefer on the topic, which eventually led to an entire array of halachah and hashkafah sefarim on a wide range of topics. The accident and the sefer that it brought about led Rabbi Travis to form close relationships with many of today’s greatest Torah personalities. So you can say — as Rabbi Travis always does — gam zu l’tovah, even this was for the good, as his horrific accident led to so many important things.
AS: Who are some of the gedolim featured in the book?
RNS: There are fourteen gedolim and tzaddikim, among them R’ Shlomo Brevda, R’ Shimshon Pincus, R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, and ybl’c R’ Don Segal, R’ Asher Arielli, and R’ Tzvi Kushelefsky, shlita.
AS: Some people think all great Torah personalities are alike — they’re all brilliant, diligent, caring. That’s true — but they are also so individual, and this book captures that individuality so beautifully. How did you do it?
RNS: When you interview someone who knows gedolim personally and intimately, then you hear clear differences between them. Every gadol is a world unto himself, and Rabbi Travis developed a unique and varied relationship with each of them. This is obvious from the first minute of a conversation with him.