Rav Adlerstein’s words are mechayiv me, because I learned for two years in the Mir. That makes it that much harder, though, to attempt to articulate the essence of the Rosh Yeshiva. There’s too much to say, and the words are too inadequate.
It is true that Rav Nosson Tzvi zt”l had Parkinson’s, which made it very difficult for him to walk, to stand, and even to speak. He already had the disease when he became Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva Jerusalem — which, under his guidance, became quite possibly the largest yeshiva in the world. Yet he still interviewed each aspiring bochur personally when possible; I know that I received more of his time and attention than the Chairman of Starbucks and a group of American businessmen — despite his fundraising responsibilities and thousands of existing Talmidim.
While it may have been difficult for him to speak, he made sure we understood every word. When I joined the Yeshiva, I distinctly remember realizing at the first of his shiurim that I attended, about 20 minutes in, that he wasn’t speaking English, but Yiddish — and I still understood him. He also, of course, had much to say; he reportedly turned down pain medication, because the doctors told him one of the side effects was that it would hurt his memory.
There is another insight, which again I must credit to an “outsider,” my chaver Rabbi Moshe Boruch Parnes of Atlanta. We were speaking yesterday, and he recalled that whenever he saw Reb Nosson Tzvi, he was smiling. I had the privilege of seeing him much more often, and yet have the same recollection. Despite his illness and the tremendous burdens of the yeshiva, he lived with an incredible simchas hachayim, joy in living, that most healthy people would find hard to emulate. He lived entirely within the four walls of Halacha, and his entire being was suffused with happiness and love for every Jew.
We are much the poorer. May his memory be for a blessing.