Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz: Torah, Torah and Noch Torah

34

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Numb. We should all be feeling numb. There should be no words to describe how we feel. Darkness has descended and we should all feel it. The light of Torah has been dimmed. We have all been made poorer. Our world has shrunk. The entire creation has been diminished.

Rav Shmuel Berenbaum as the symbol of Torah is gone. Rav Shmuel as the paradigm of hasmada is no more. The gadol from a world gone by has gone. One whom we could point to as the embodiment of pure Torah has left us. A man who epitomized gadlus baTorah is no longer here for us to point to and emulate. We are bereft, orphaned and numbed. 

As long as the tzaddik is among us, we can benefit from his greatness, from his tzidkus, from the direct and indirect influences from every essence of his being to his powerful shiurim and the most subtle nuances of his great character. When he leaves us for the Olam Ha’emes, that daily countenance has dimmed. We are left with the memories and inspiration which have to carry us until techiyas hameisim.

The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, was very ill for the last few months, but we were all so confident, so hopeful that in the zechus of his Torah and our tefillos he would recover. It was not meant to be.  Though he had recovered from previous serious illnesses, this time we didn’t merit his return. And now we are left with the stories and recollections.

His love for Torah was all encompassing; there was nothing else in his world besides Torah. He appreciated nothing else like he did gadlus in Torah; nothing else meant much to him. He was unimpressed by the glitz, glory of honor, power, prestige or money and any of the trappings that captures our imagination in this day and age.

He was uncompromising in demonstrating what is truly paramount. It wasn’t just a figure of speech; it was the way he lived his life. Anyone who was ever in his home can testify that the physical comforts of life didn’t speak to him.

Torah was his life; it was his enjoyment. Torah was all that mattered to him.

It was his everything.

He didn’t only teach through his words, he taught and led by example. Whether it was from his seat in the back of the Mirrer bais medrash where he sat and learned with youthful vigor, or the shiurim we heard him deliver at so many different occasions in so many different places, his excitement, sheer ecstasy and joy over every word of Torah was contagious.

He loved every Ben Torah and every Ben Torah loved him. Wherever he was, if there was a Ben Torah in sight, the magnetism of redden in lernin attracted the two – almost as if they had to be forced apart. Every opportunity was an opportunity to speak in learning. A wedding wasn’t a wedding.  It was a place where he could talk in learning. A dinner was only a dinner, if he could deliver a shiur at the hall and talk in learning. It made no difference to him how old or learned the person was; there was always the same fire, the same burning desire to grow, to learn, to attain a deeper understanding, a new derher, a new kneitch, or a new sevara.

Several years ago, my son, a young yeshiva bochur, went to visit him in his summer bungalow to speak in learning. As they were talking, a family member entered the room and asked the bochur to leave. “The Rosh Yeshiva needs to rest now,” the bochur was told. “It’s his vacation time.” Rav Shmuel turned to them and said incredulously, “Der bochur vill lernen – dus iz rest, dus iz vacation!”

That was the core of Rav Shmuel and that is how he is remembered by that bochur and by so many others. That depiction of Torah encapsulates Rav Shmuel’s eternal mantra.  Torah is not a burden; Torah is not something you have to take a break from. Torah is rest. Torah is vacation. Torah is winter.  Torah is summer. Torah is life.

A talmid asked him what he could do for a segulah to be blessed with children. He told him to learn the sefer of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik on the Rambam. He explained, “Der grester segulah iz Torah – The greatest segulah is Torah.”

When the yungerman looked at him with amazement, Rav Shmuel explained that he had another reason why he suggested to learn the classic sefer of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. ‘Rav Chaim was the father of the yesomim of Brisk. Rav Chaim cared for the poor children, he cared for those who had no one else.  “Together with the merit of Rav Chaim’s Torah there is no greater zechus.”

Torah, Torah and noch Torah.

Rav Shmuel headed the Keren which distributes funds to Bnei Torah in Eretz Yisroel for Yomim Tovim. Not one to be involved in organizations, he was a gadol in chesed as he was a gadol in Torah. When the Israeli government cut the allocations to Bnei Torah, families were hungering for daily bread. A group of yungeleit in Lakewood organized and held an urgent asifah to raise money for needy families in Elul of 2003.

Rav Shmuel was in Eretz Yisroel for Sukkos and heard about the asifah.

Without any prompting, it was he who called one of the askonim and told him to come to Eretz Yisroel during Chol Hamoed, as he wanted to help the Bnei Torah of Eretz Yisroel. They arranged a meeting in Bnei Brak and Rav Shmuel raised one million dollars for the cause that became so dear to him. This was how the Keren was founded.

This past Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the sukkah of the noted askan Reb Rubin Schron in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood of Yerushalayim was a magnet for gedolei Torah and gedolei tomchei Torah. On leil Hoshanah Rabbah, they gathered to offer support for the Keren.

It was an amazing sight to see so many great people dedicating themselves to the cause of supporting kiyum haTorah.

The emotional highlight of the evening was when Rav Shmuel arrived. Despite his severe illness and weakened condition, he traveled from Bnei Brak to speak of the importance of the Keren and the work it does distributing much-needed funds to thousands of yungeleit for Yom Tov.

With a strong voice matching his fiery determination to help the cause of the Keren, he held the audience spellbound as he rallied support for the cause of spreading Torah and supporting Torah.

He appeared so fragile, but his voice was fresh and powerful. It was to be the last time I saw him. As he spoke, I closed my eyes and imagined the Rav Shmuel of old holding forth. He spoke with power, feeling and humor of the cause so dear to his heart that even in his state, he traveled from Bnei Brak to raise money for the Bnei Torah of Eretz Yisroel. He spoke for about 20 minutes, but it sounded as if he could have continued speaking much longer, for his strength came from Torah. He was powered by boundless spiritual strength. Torah drove him, motivated him and sustained him.

He spoke about mesiras nefesh for Torah. He didn’t have to speak about it. By his very presence that evening in Yerushalayim, he demonstrated the lengths to which one who has chavivus haTorah must go for Torah and hachzokas Torah.

A talmid went to his rebbi this past Erev Yom Kippur for a bracha. The rosh yeshiva was sitting with a Gemara, learning. He told the talmid a story. A yeshiva was in tremendous debt and appealed to its major supporter to help bail them out. The benefactor, who was tight for cash, came to Rav Shmuel to ask him if it was permissible for him to take out a $3,000,000 mortgage on some properties in order to help keep the yeshiva afloat.

The rosh yeshiva told the talmid that Rav Shmuel responded to the magnanimous baal tzedaka that probably, al pi din, he should not, “uber az min hut a hartz far Torah, vi ken men zuggen nein?”

And that was how the Rosh Yeshiva lived his life. He had a heart that burned with Torah and for Torah; he could never say no to Torah. He could never say no to anything that had to do with enhancing the cause of Torah. He could never say no to learning Torah. It was his life. It was his very essence from his youngest years until his final day.

As long as he was alive, we had an image to point to of the Mir of old. The influence of Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l was walking amongst us. The greatness that was Toras Lita was felt and seen. There was a model for us to emulate. We saw that it could be done. We saw that it was real. We saw that it wasn’t just legends and stories of a generation gone by. There was a real life portrayal of the countenance of the distinguished eminence of Torah.

When the end was near, the dying Rosh Yeshiva turned to his son and told him that he felt as if his time on this world was about to end. “Un ich hob nisht vos moirah tzu hoben,” said Rav Shmuel. “I don’t fear death; I don’t fear meeting my maker.”

He was so real, he was so pure. He spent his life following and learning Torah to the degree that he himself became a cheftzah shel Torah.

Rav Shmuel asked that a Gemara Kesubos be brought to him. He opened to Daf 103b and 104a to learn the sugyah of the passing of Rebbi. Everything he did in this world was al pi Torah, including leaving it. And just as the Gemara describes, “Nitzchu ereilim es hametzukim v’nishbah aron hakodesh – The Heavenly beings overcame the good people of this world and captured the aron of Hashem.”

Rav Shmuel Berenbaum leaves us with a legacy of ameilus baTorah, gadlus baTorah, as well as chavivus and chashivus for Torah and Bnei Torah. It is left to us, his spiritual yorshim, to fill the great void left by his passing.

One nechama was the obvious remarkable growth of Torah and Bnei Torah which was evident at the levaya. Standing on Ocean Parkway awash in a sea of black was a consolation. Look at what he leaves behind; look at what we have become.

When Rav Shmuel came to this country, we were barely given a chance of survival. There was a smattering of yeshivos. Kollel was a foreign concept. Today, there are legions of yeshiva bochurim and yungeleit who bask in the glow of Torah. The mesiras nefesh, determination and leadership of Rav Shmuel and his colleagues to transplant that which went up in flames has borne fruit.

May we be zoche to continue to flourish until the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu b’meheirah.

© 2007 Yated Neeman.


34 COMMENTS

  1. At the outset I deeply apologize for offending anyone with my remarks. Perhaps it is inappropriate to use the passing of a gadol as a springboard to comment of the state of klal Yisrael. But I feel compelled to make these remarks in as much as R. Lipschtz’s article elicited these feelings.

    I read this artice with more than a certain amount of disconnect. To be frankly honest I did not, even in the abstract, mourn or feel personally affected by R. Barenbaum z”l’s recent passing. I am not an insensitive person. I am usually pained by the suffering of others. But despite that fact that R. Barenbaum z”l and I put on identical teffilin, daven from identical siddurim and both seek (commensurate with our spirital abilities, his I’m sure far greater than mine will ever be) to serve the same G-d in heaven, the division between what he represented and the Torah ethic to which I subscribe is so great that I find myself, sadly, unable to appreciate his loss. And I am not alone. Out of curiosity I checked the Rabbinical Council of America’s website and that of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah to see if the rabbinical associations with whom I most closely identify publicly acknowledged R. Barenbaum z”l’s passing. Neither did. I checked YU, my alma mater’s site. It too is silent on this subject. I take no comfort that the Gedolim of non-chareidi Orthodoxy seemingly, like me, are unable to appreciate the loss that is so palpable to our chareidi brethern.
    No it saddens me even more since I don’t have rolemodels to look to on this issue.

    To be fair, the insensitivity goes both ways. When my rebbe R. Dovid Lifschitz z”l, the Suvalker Rav, a close talmid of R. Shimon Shkop, and someone who worked tirelessly as the President of Ezras Torah to raise money to assist needy Torah (i.e. chareidi) scholars, died the chareidi world did not publicly acknowledge it. When R. Yosef Dov Soleveitchik z”l, the Rav, died the Roshei Yeshiva of Lakewood and the other chareidi yeshivot were absent from his funeral despite the Rav having worked tirelessly on behalf of Beth Midrash Gevoha in the 1940’s and 1950’s, encouraging his baale batim to donate to R. Aharon Kotler’s yeshiva. I only hope that somewhere in chareidiut there is someone who like me, was saddened by the ambivalence.

    I’m not going to ascribe blame for this mutual insensitivity. There are historical reasons for the ideological split within Orthodoxy; some of them good reasons rising to the level of machloket lesheim Shamayim, and others far more mundane and petty. But it is clear that, on both sides of the ideological spectrum there is chasm that is fast becoming unbridgeable. Both sides have already each lost the ability to empathize with the other, to celebrate eachother’s successes and mourn the losses. That world is also a darker place for that, and I truly mourn the light.

  2. I am staggered by the outrageous and horrific comments of the poster in #5. Is this the level to which we have sunk? I do not believe that this is the time or place to debate, clarify or deny his charges against our reaction to the petira of those rabbanim. I do know that even according to his belief, reciprocal inappropriateness is abhorive in any form, and so much more so in light of such loss. Any segment of chareidi Klal Yisroel will readily agree that torah in its purest form is what we all live for. How then can anyone then not recognize and mourn the loss of torah greatness at its pinnacle?

  3. When the Suvalker was nifter, the chareidi Olam absolutely did acknowledge it. (He was a mechuten with Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, (it was before the publication of the controversial book by R’ Nosson kamenetzky, son in law of Rav Lifschitz) and yblch’t, Rav Chaim Stein in Cleveland.) Hespesdim were held in many Yeshivos. And not only him. There were other Roshei Yeshiva from RIETS that had hespedim in the standard Litvishe Yeshivos. I remember attending a hesped in Telshe Chicago, said by Rav Chaim Dov Keller, for R’ Yeruchom Gorelick.
    R’ Shmuel Berenbaum was not a political figure at all. I could almost understand if they would ignore the passing of Rav Shach, or Rav Gifter, who fought in a public way against some of the ideology of these organizations. After all these gedolim may have hurt them. But to ignore R’ Shmuel, who stood for nothing but total immersion in Torah, tells you more about the organization that claims to represent Torah.
    (I won’t touch the issue of R’ YB from Boston, there are very deep cheshbonos on that one that go way above the heads of anyone who lowers themselves to comment on any website, even this venerable one.)

  4. To #5
    I’m sure u have been awaiting a reply to your comment so here it is.
    As you’ve admitted, you have indeed used the petirah of a gadol as the springboard of your pain and hurting. In my opinion, it has been inappropriately used. Nobody really cares whether you personally feel sadenned by the petira of R Shmuel Zatza’l. The local Goy doesn’t feel so either,and nobody will care. I am not comparing you with the Goy CH’V, just saying that it really doesn’t matter for the sake of anybody whether you feel the pain. Anyone, that is besides you.
    You have admitted that what you care about is the political status of the gadol, and that you are getting back at the chareidim for not mourning the petirah of the Rav Z’l. You fail to mention that you also do not feel or care about the loss of the TORAH that the world is now mourning over so bitterly. R Shmuel was not politically involved in anything, that’s ANYTHING. He cared about the torah and NOTHING else. No rallies, vorts, chanuka parties, parades or any narishkeit. I can go on and on, but there’s no purpose.
    The fact that the Yeshiva velt did not show support for the Rav z’l is because they were AGAINST what he did and what he stood for. If you don’t agree with them and you are hurt, that’s fine. Time will tell who’s talmidim will continue in the ways of the Torah and who’s derech was right.
    We are mourning the dissapearance of the Kovod HaTorah of the past, and of this great gadol. If it suits you to be indifferent of these facts, then so be it. believe it is s/t for you to be ashamed of.

  5. ‘I only hope that somewhere in chareidiut there is someone who like me, was saddened by the ambivalence”
    Not sure if I fit into chareidiut, and i am saddened by your insightful comment. I was aware and mourned the death of Rav Lifshitz, Rav YB Soleveitchik, Reb Avrohom Shapiro, & Reb Birnbaum all ZT”L. Rav Aryeh Kaplan once wrote, “ambiquity is inscribed within Torah lines, this produces the differences in proper, & honest hashkafos” – he alludes to the fact that the friction of these ambiquity can give off positive energy (maybe somehow it will!)

  6. cantoresq, sad to say but you have a point. the rambam says a king’s heart is very precious because his heart is the heart of all k’llal yisrael. every jew instinctly knows which gadol is holding his heart. hence, the response at the levaya.

  7. At the outset I’m amazed by how people completely missed my point. Since so many missed it, it must be my fault in that I didn’t make it well. I never intended to involve politics into the discussion. I lamented the lack of unity within Orthodxy that the recent pasing of R. Barendaum z”l seems to have displayed. I am upset that moderen Orthodox institutions did not mark this tragedy in any way. I am as saddened by that as I was by ambivalence of the chreidi world to the passing of various roshei yeshiva at REITS. (I thank those who pointed out that in the midwest, there were hespeidim said for R. Dovid Lifschitz z”l. Here in New York, nothing public was done by any of the chareidi yeshivot.) I never intended to attack anyone, nor is this a matter of “tit for tat.” The fact that the MO organizations did not, in any meaningful way, mark the death of this gadol baTorah indicates a distinct lack of unity within Orthodoxy. That is a tragedy. The fact the chareidi world did not do likewise upon the death of R. Dovid Lifschitz (how many chareidi roshei yeshiva came to RIETS for the hespeidim there?) was a similar tragedy. That people here don’t appreciate it, is also a tragedy.

  8. Harotzehbilumshmo — January 12, 2008 @ 6:44 pm
    BTW do you read and understand english? #5 expressed a thought and feeling in a respectful manner, right, wrong or otherwise, Reb Shmuel zt”l would have listened.

  9. #15Do you think R Shmuel opened the letters and brought the checks to the bank?!
    He merely allowed it to come to his house and have his name on it so ppl will be machsiv it.
    And BTW, I did not mean to exclude the mitzvah of tzedaka! That is a KIYUM of torah! Parades, vorts etc. is NARISHKEIT!

  10. #13
    ‘To be frankly honest I did not, even in the abstract, mourn or feel personally affected by R. Barenbaum z”l’s recent passing.’
    This is the point we are upset about. We did not miss THIS point. Shame on you!

  11. “we are upset about. We did not miss THIS point”
    WE WE WE WE, do you work for an organization, who is the ‘we’? Are WE, oh I mean I missing something? You have really missed the sublime thoughts of ‘cantoresq’, he is not confrontative, aggressive or imflammatory, just exposing his feelings–is that OK with you, (or yous)?

  12. ‘WE’ is the ppl whom cantor reffered to as the ppl who missed his point. And yes, let him express his opinion. I’m just telling him not to brag rather b ashamed

  13. #17, now that you have castigated me for my ambivalence (and thank you #18 for validating my feelings on the subject), do you want to address the issue I raise, or are you content to merely remain in the warm embrace of your cronies and ignore the rest of the world, writing us off as illegitimate in our avodat haBoreh? I truly hope that your children never ask you to explain ideas like heterodoxy or shivim panim l’Torah.

  14. I don’t understand your response to my Tayna. All I’m saying is that you are openly admitting to not having feelings toward the Torah and its loss, not blaming you for the group u are associated with. What is your reply? Are you saying that you are not indifferent to the loss of torah? Why then are you nort saddened by the death of a true gadol B’torah L’chol Hadayos? Who’s discussing heterodoxy?!?!?

  15. And BTW, as for heteroxy, i will tell my children that others are wrong in their opinions, just as I’ll tell them other religions are wrong. Some religious leaders are always saying to other religions “I respect your religion….” I do not respect another religion, i know they are wrong!

  16. Ploini, I never said I am indifferent to to Torah. I said I failed to appreciate the loas of R. Barenbaum z”l due to the continued fragmentation within Orthodoxy. Your post #22 is the best example of that. Simply put, you and people like you are part of the problem.

  17. I don’t understand. What willl you tell your children? that others are right? Then how and why will you bring them up the way you will? Who’s to say your way is right? I believe my way is correct, and will therefore tell them what is correct. I will tel them not to hate others just because their beliefs are different, but i will still let them know that their ways are wrong.. How can you bring up children w/o a specific direction in life? Don’t you know what Hashem desires?
    As for post 22, how can you respect another religion if you think it is wrong? isn’t that a paradox. Respect a person; yes. The religion?! NO WAY!!

  18. I may even respect the fact that one is religious, but to respect a religion means that one is saying, ” i think it’s absurd to believe that yoshka returned, but i respect u for believing it”. Is that absurd?

  19. As for yourself, why should the split of communities do that to you if you feel so close to torah?
    When R shach was niftar, i felt saddened even though i’d never seen him, because i knew that he was a living torah and kiddush hashem. I think one who feels so close to torah should naturally feel saddened by the loss of one who promoted/ learned and represented it so greatly. Tell me please, do you disagree? Is it only political?

  20. As a gerneral response (and thanks for the complement), I refer you to the classic disputation between the Ramban and Pablo Christiani (or as the Ramban dubbed him “Frey Pul”) That Ramban there explicitely states that Christianity, as applied to Christians, is a kiyum of ratzon Hashem. Indeed the Rambam seems to say differently and labels shituf as avodah zara even for non-Jews. (He clearly says that Islam is not avodah zarah, hence his heter to daven in a mosque) To my understanding, there is in fact no dispute between them Had the Rambam been exposed to western Christianity, as opposed to Coptic Orthodoxy, as it existed at that time, he would have agreed with the Ramban. (I’m not going to get into the details of Christian theology, but a general reference on the subject is James Carol’s Constatine’s Sword [which BTW ought to be mandatory reading for every high school student. It’s an abolutely amazing presentation of the development of Catholic anti-Semitism.]) As regards heterodox Jewish beliefs, rather than simply teach my children that those other Jews are wrong, I plan to emphasize ahavat Yisrael, not the kind displayed by kiruv professionals, but rather an attitude of live and let live. G-d will sort out who is a good Jew and who isn’t. I intend to teach them not to judge others nor be bothered by the observances of others, but rather to concentrate on their own Avodat Haboreh and to strive to be mekadeish shem Shamayim in everything they do. I hope to teach them the skills to make appropriate judgments. At the same time, to my mind, there is nothing more important from the perspective of chinuch than to build a child’s self esteem, and teach him/her the skills (i.e grammer, syntax, language) to learn independantly. Yeshivot spend way to much time on bubbe maisehs and hashkafa at the expense of learning skills. How you might ask will my children learn values? Shma bni mussar avicha, veal titosh Torat imecha. I was raised by wonderful parents who gave me mesorah, both in yiddishkeit and learning, as well as in how to live life. I have always striven to be worthy of them. The last obligation I have to them, is to transmit those teachings to my children. No rebbe in the world, can teach my kids what I learned at my father’s knee. Moreover, the values that we seek to instill in our children are contained in the texts of Judaism.

  21. you are an educated person, but you speak more than necessary. To stick to the topic at hand, if you willnot tell your children that others are wrong, then they will explore other options. If you do not fear their explorations may or can lead them to other ideals, then you are greatly mistaken. You are certainly correct that a major affect will be what they see, but they must also hear what is true and what is not. I respect your wisdom, but I cannot continue this debate this way. I do not have enough time spend online. I hope you understand my point of view. The streets of Ameica are dangerous and we are losing neshamos like mad. We don’t have the respect of torah of the tanaim etc. and we lose more and more by the generation. Secularization is destroying our people. It is giving us too much kesher to the goyim and we feel as if we are one with them. There is no denying this. Sure anyone can say he won’t be affected. But his children may not be as strong. We must show our generation what is wrong BESIDES our mere actions. I resent that you call me and my ppl cronies, you must realize the desperation we feel as we watch Klal Yisrael intermarry and fall by the wayside. I am not a mean person, and i have a TREMENDOUS ahavas yisroel for all yidden. It just bothered me that you blatantly announced that b/c you are m/o and not Ultra, you needn’t be misbonein at the tragic loss of torah that has befallen our nation. I took that to mean that torah is not important to you. Perhaps I am wrong, but then your words need more explaining. I love you as a fellow yid regardless of whether i agree with your views. Just remember once thing; all your intelligence knowledge and education will ultimately be worthless. It is your toirah and avodas H’ that will remain with you at the end of time. May HKB”H be Mekabetz nidchei amo yisroel, and may we all see the truth and go in his ways soon!

  22. To #14, Bklynmom. Thankfully, I do read & occasionally even understand some basic English. It may be my limited comprehension of the language that mislead me though. I apologize & turn to you for guidance. Somehow, even the articulate expression that followed, did little do diminish the pain that I experienced when reading the following line (and I quote) “To be frankly honest I did not, even in the abstract, mourn or feel personally affected by R. Barenbaum z”l’s recent passing.” After all explanations are stated, and after we can attempt to understand the posters true intent, his words carry a weight of their own. That a shomer torah umitzvos does not mourn the loss of a living sefer torah, to me is unconscionable. I do not know how you feel qualified to assume that Rav Shmuel zt”l would have listened. I personally know of an incident where a person made a somewhat derogatory comment about one of our gedolim. R’ Shmule, who was well known for his outstanding middos, physically guided him out of the building. Maybe R’ Shmuel would have listened & sympathized with the remainder of the comment but I do not believe that he would have made it past that early line.

  23. thanx # 32
    I’m sorry if my comments have not had the effect that yours did, but those are my rhoughts as well.
    I just added that this is not a political issue. It is the loss of Torah.
    Lehavdil elef alfei etc. When the twin towers fell we all felt the loss of US power over the world. Here we all should feel the loss of torah even if we have never meet the rosh yeshiva ZT”L. I happen to have been a talmid, and i more than just FEEL it…

  24. Bklynmom: Furthermore, what in the world do you mean to infer; that when one states “a thought and feeling in a respectful manner” another who takes offence in his position has no right to be outraged? If one were to “respectfully” espouse kefira chas vesholom, would we (and R’ Shmuel Zt”l according to your position) also have to quietly listen? If you disagree with my position so be it, but if you were to agree, then the manner in which the poster expresses himself is of no regard. And by the way, I say that with utmost respect, so there, now you cannot even argue!