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Section: Stories   Category: Gedolim Biographies
Rav Chaim Ephraim Zaitchek - Through The Fire And Ashes Of Novhardok
Upon seeing Rav Chaim Zaitchek's newly published sefer Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz told him, "After learning your sefer, my brother-in-law and I were debating if it is Novhardok, Kelm, or Slabodka."  But the truth is that Rav Chaim Zaitchek was Novhardok through and through.

One time, after he had already acquired a sterling reputation, Rav Chaim was invited to the home of Rav Yeruchom Levovitz in Mir.  He was amazed at the scene.  Rav Yeruchom sat in the middle at a table and bochurim stood around the room in awe and fear.  Rav Yeruchom gazed at him with his penetrating stare and asked himself out loud, "If the boys of Novhardok are in a constant state of search, why don't they come to the Mir?"  Rav Chaim remained silent in the face of this rare invitation by Rav Yeruchom.  Rav Yeruchom then continued in his low steady voice and asked himself out loud, "Why do they fall?  Why are the bochurim of Novhardok broken?  Why when they leave the yeshiva they are bitter?"  Neither he nor anyone in the room was expecting an answer to this statement but Rav Chaim shocked them by opening his mouth and said, "They fall because you cannot fall from the floor only from great heights.  They are broken because they cannot meet the incredible demands.  They are bitter because they were tested and failed."  That was Rav Chaim.  He came a Novhardoker, left a Novhardoker, and remained so his entire life.

Rav Chaim was born in a tumultuous era.  He was an only surviving son with three sisters.  At the time of turmoil in Russia both internal and external with World War I and the Russian Revolution destroying lives and routines, Novhardok was casting its net of Yeshivos throughout Russia with close to 40 Yeshivos.  Rav Chaim was drawn in when the Rosh Yeshiva of a new branch cam to Piatrokov his home village to recruit bochurim.  With great pain the not yet Bar Mitzva boy left his parents to breath the air of Novhardok.

The Yeshiva was ravaged by poverty and hunger.  The young Rav Chaim fasted three days a week primarily because of the lack of food.  He fasted two consecutive days on Monday and Tuesday and every Erev Shabbos.  On Shabbos he was "lucky" enough to have a villager who lived three kilometers away from the Yeshiva invite him for a meal.  The life was bitter but the Torah and atmosphere was the sweetest thing Rav Chaim could imagine.

When the communists cracked down on Yeshivos, the then head of the Novhardok network, Rav Avrohom Yafen decided to move the entire Yeshiva to Poland.  Through bribery and Siyata Dishmaya all the bochurim were able to get Polish citizenship papers after a fire burned down the government office holding all the records of the real residence of Baranovich where Novhardok was them stationed.

Rav Chaim spent the next few years as a Rebbi in Novhardok all the while seeking out the Gedolim of Europe including the Chofetz Chaim to drink their Torah and learn their ways.  Eventually he was sent to Botchach to star a Yeshiva there.  Off he was without enough money for the train ride their and surely not enough money to start a Yeshiva.  However he was armed with something far more valuable, the bitachon and emunah of Novhardok.  The Yeshiva was a great success until the Russians moved in and took over that part of Poland.  Once again they learned B'Mesiros Nefesh in the shadows of the Russian bear.

One bitter day Rav Chaim was informed that due to World War II he would be drafted into the Russian Army.  It was a bitter day for the Yeshiva as they were about to lose their head and their heart.  Rav Chaim tearfully parted from each and every bochur, walked around the Bais Medrash kissing all the walls and off he was sent to the wilds of Siberia.  This ultimately saved his life as the Nazis overran Botchach and slaughtered all its Jews.

Life in Siberia needs no description but when the war ended Rav Chaim was informed that as a Polish citizen (as "child" Baranovich) he was free to go back home.  He then went to America and ultimately settled in Eretz Yisroel being Marbitz Torah and Yirah.  Rav Chaim was niftar on 9 Adar 5749/1989 but not before he authored a vast collection of seforim on Chumash and Machshava.  He left behind a link to a great past.  A link to the fires of Novhardok which is now an open book for anyone willing, to sear their souls with.  Yehi Zichro Boruch.
RELATED ARTICLES:biography  Novhardok  Rav Chaim Zaitchik  Russian Revolution  Siberia

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