AS: What a fascinating life! How did it feel, writing the biography of Rav Meir Zlotowitz z”l?
RYB: I felt privileged. Rabbi Zlotowitz practically invented this industry; the entire vibrant world of Torah publishing is a tribute to him. But under the impact of this man is a very real, personal story. So many peaks and valleys, ups and downs, heartache and adversity before triumph.
AS: Did you have any personal encounters with Rabbi Zlotowitz?
RYB: Yes, many. He made me feel like a million dollars the first time we met, and when my first book was published he went and wished my parents mazel tov. He was a prince.
AS: Can you think of a story that truly captures the essence of who Meir Zlotowitz was?
RYB: It’s a hard choice, there are so many. This story moved me so much: Someone once “accused” Reb Meir of being “too generous,” unable to turn down anyone who appeared to be in need. Reb Meir conceded that it was true, and he commented that he could never forget how, during the years when he was struggling for every dollar, he was once seated at a simchah surrounded by a group of acquaintances. They were discussing what to buy their wives for the upcoming Yom Tov, complaining how hard it was to find the right gift. He was struck at how “tone-deaf” they sounded, how oblivious they were to the real challenges facing others — while he was wondering how he would purchase food for Yom Tov, they were distressed about which sort of gift to buy. At that moment, he promised himself that if ever he would be in a position to help others, he wouldn’t forget what it was like to be worried about buying basic necessities. “It’s not that I have a better or more generous nature than others,” he explained, “it’s just that I have a good memory!”
AS: What message does Rabbi Zlotowitz — and this biography — have for us?
RYB: “Hold on to your secret dreams.” Rav Meir was in his thirties before he was able to act on them. But he kept them safe and never forgot them. Treat the world with kavod, cherish relationships with friends, and family above all. This is a story of extreme kibud av v’eim, incredible dedication to his wife, children, and grandchildren and, despite a daunting workload, a man who was there for whomever needed him, steadfast and true.