Revach L'Neshama RSS feed for - Section: STORIES Category:GEDOLIM BIOGRAPHIES Copyright 2007, Revach L'Neshama en-US Revach L'Neshama Logo 144 31 Wed, 01 Dec 2021 03:00:00 +0000 240 Reb Dovid of Lelov - Is It A Crime To Favor Your Own Child? Reb Dovid was born in 1746 and was a talmid of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and later of the Chozeh of Lublin.  He introduced the Yehudi HaKadosh of Peshischa to the Chozeh.  Reb Dovid was the epitome of Ahavas Yisroel in the same way as Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. 

Even as a child his Ahavas Yisroel knew no humanly bounds.  One day his father bought for him an expensive warm winter coat that he so desperately needed.  The next day he found another young boy trembling from the cold.  When he returned home without the coat his mother asked him what happened.  He saw that had no choice but to tell her the truth.  She told him he better go get the coat back before his father comes home and gives him a serious smacking.  Little Dovid answered that not only is he prepared to receive a spanking from his father, but in order to be Mikayem Kibud Av V'eim, he will prepare the rod so his father does not need to go look for it.  This way his father can take out his frustration because he has absolutely no intention of asking for the coat back.

Once when Reb Dovid's son fell gravely ill, his chasidim spared nothing in their effort to help him live.  They paid for the most expensive doctors and poured their hearts out in tehilim.  When the boy recovered they saw Reb Dovid crying and they didn't understand why.  He explained that they turned heaven and earth over for his son, but what about any other Yiddishe child who becomes sick, are they less worthy?  He once said that he cannot be considered a true Oheiv Yisroel because he loves his children more than other Yidden.

Rav Dovid was able to hide his torah abilities and was thought not to be a great Lamdan. The Chidushei HaRim once said that the greatness Reb Dovid's Ahavas Yisroel gave him cover for his incredible prowess in torah.  He said that Reb Dovid would sit in the attic learning day and night.  By time he was twenty years old he finished Shas 14 times.  The Avnei Nezer of Sochatchov similarly echoed these sentiments and said that his mind from from generations long gone by.  Furthermore while it is possible to speak of his greatness in revealed torah, it is impossible to describe his greatness in hidden torah.

Rav Dovid started the Lelover dynasty which was one of the first to transplant itself in Eretz Yisroel, as Reb Dovid's son and successor moved to Eretz Yisroel in the last year of his life.  His most famous talmid was Rav Yitzchok Kalish of Vorki the founder of the Amshinover dynasty and a close friend of Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.  He also made a great impression on Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa.  Reb Dovid was niftar at the age of 68 on 7 Shevat 5574/1814 the same year as the Magid of Kozhnitz and the Yehudi HaKadosh MiPeshischa.  The next year witnessed the Petira of the Chozeh of Lublin and Rav Mendel of Rimanov.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Wed, 08 Jan 2014 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Chaim Chizkiya Medini: The Sdei Chemed - Framed For Success

"If I didn't happen to know that he is alive today I would have thought he was a Rishon!" This is what Rav Betzalel HaKohen had to say about the Sdei Chemed who was niftar just over one hundred years ago in 1904.

The Sdei Chemed was born in 5592/1832 in Yerushalayim. His father was a prominent Talmid Chochom holding the position of a "Shlucha D'Rabbanan"; a fundraiser sent abroad on to collect on behalf of the people of Yerushalyim. After showing great promise in his childhood, at the age of 18 he got married and planned on continuing his learning. However shortly after his marriage, his father, who agreed to support him, passed away.

Left with no choice he accepted an offer to take his family to Turkey where his wealthy cousins in Constantinople agreed to support him. The city quickly realized the greatness in their midst and appointed the Sdei Chemed a Dayan to the Bais Din. After spending 13 years in Constantinople financial hardships forced him to accept another job. He took up the position of Rav in Crimea in the city of Karasubazar home to a Jewish community dating back to the second Bais HaMikdash. There he greatly influenced the noble but unlearned population of Jews. He particularly enjoyed the opportunity to spiritually elevate his constituency as he wrote in his sefer.

Aside from writing the Sdei Chemed, one of the highlights of his 33 year tenure in Crimea was the controversy that ensued after the leader of the Karaite community in Crimea claimed that all the Jews of the community were actually Karaites. The Sdei Chemed was able to disprove this theory and save the community from this threat.

Wanting to fulfill his dream of returning to his native homeland of Eretz Yisroel in 1899 the Sdei Chemed parted from his beloved community in Crimea. In Eretz Yisroel after receiving a warm welcome upon his arrival he settled in Yerushalayim with the intention of devoting all his time to learning without distractions. Unfortunately he felt the need to move after only two years, after hearing about a plan to appoint him Chief Rabbi. He arrived to Chevron only to share the same fate he ran away from. He was appointed Chief Rabbi after the death of the two leading Rabbonim of the community, Rav Eliyahu Mani and Rav Yosef Franco.

In Chevron he had a tremendous impact in the areas of setting up Yeshivos and chesed operations. His popularity was great among both the Jewish and Arab populations that held him in high esteem, helping relieve much tension from the community. He served as the Rav of Chevron until his petira on 24 Kislev 5665/1904.

The Sdei Chemed wrote his famous 18 volume encyclopedia of Halacha which attributed its widespread acclaim to an incident that happened to him when he was young. In the Kollel he learned there was another fellow who was extremely jealous of the Sdei Chemed's "Hasmada" and his success in his learning. This fellow bribed the young woman, who cleaned the premises, to spread rumors about a relationship she had with the Sdei Chemed. An uproar ensued in the community and the Sdei Chemed remained silent not even answering the charges. Even after the young woman admitted to the Sdei Chemed how his rival set him up.  He never uttered a word about it even to the person who orchestrated the whole affair.  The Sdei Chemed said that from that day on his mind was opened up to the wellspings of torah like never before and with this divine help he was able to produce his landmark work.

Wed, 27 Nov 2013 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi - A Wandering Giant Among Giants "When I was a child I heard from our elders, who would effusively praise and speak about the great qualities and exemplary character of (Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi).  He was a K'Mat a Yochid B'Doro and all the great Gaonim of his generation would send halachic shailos to him."  So said the Pnei Yehoshua about Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi.  To put things in perspective, the great gaonim of his generation included Rav Yosef Karo, the Rema, the Maharshal, with all of whom he had halachic correspondence, as well as the Radvaz and the Shita Mikubetzes.

He was born in 1513 although it is not clear where.  Some say Turkey while others say he was born in Italy.  He was a grandson from his mother's side, of the great Italian Posek the Maharik.  He studied under Rav Yosef Taitatzak a refugee from the Spanish inquisition, who headed a legendary Yeshiva in Salonica, which produced some of the generation's leading Poskim.

Rav Eliezer was known to learn 18 hours straight giving little time to tend to his physical needs.  Rav Eliyahu DiVidash the author of the Reishis Chochma and Talmid of Rav Moshe Kordevero at that time, testified that Rav Eliezer did not sleep in a bed during the week, for forty years.  His talmidim included the Maharshdam, the Alshich HaKadosh, Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (author of Licha Dodi and brother in law of Rav Moshe Kordevero), and Rav Yitzchok Adribi.

Through Galus after Galus, Rav Eliezer's life led him to all parts of Europe. After learning in Salonica, he became Rov in Mitzrayim and held that position with great honor accorded to him by the king, for 23 years from 1523-1561.  He was forced to flee after he was slandered to the king by a jealous minister.  The Chasam Sofer retold the details of this story and the Shiniveh Rebbe told a fantastic tale of his escape from Mitzrayim during Leil HaSeder.

He took a position as Rav in Cyprus after arriving in total poverty.  When war broke out between the Ottoman and the Venitian Empires over Cyprus, he fled to Venice where his daughter was then living.  His life their continued its upheaval as he was forced to leave after a Machlokes with Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenelbogen over a Get.  He then moved to another city in Italy.  Finally in 1578 he headed towards Poland.  He spent a number of years in Prague, where left a major impact before becoming Rov of Pozen in Poland, which was then a great metropolis of Torah.  After Pozen he became Rov in Cracow for the last two years of his life.

His sefer Maasei Hashem, is one of the classic peirushim on Chumash.  He focuses on the explaining the historical stories that occur in the Torah.  He brings the great Rishonim including the Ramban and often argues with them. He completed this sefer in Pozen after his years of turbulence and upheaval.

He was niftar on 22 Kislev 5346/1585.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Mon, 25 Nov 2013 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Tzadok HaKohen - A Litvak's Strife Sends Him On Journey To Chasidus One of the great lights of Chasidic thought and arguably its most prolific author, was not born a Chasid.  Rav Tzadok HaKohen was born to his father Rav Yaakov the Av Bais Din of Kreisberg in Lithuania.  His grandfather  Rav Zalman Mireles was the Rov of the three prestigious communites of Altuna-Hamburg-Wansbeck in Germany and was the son-in-law of the Chacham Tzvi.

Rav Tzadok was a child prodigy.  He said about himself that when he was one year old, he would make a bracha on his mother's milk.  At age two he davened from a siddur.  By age three and a half he was learning Gemara with Tosfos.  Before his Bar Mitzva he was already writing Shailos U'Tshuvos.  He delivered four drashos at his Bar Mitzva which were printed in the Sefer Meishiv Tzedek.  He was a rising star in the Litvishe world.

The turning point came after his first marriage came to a premature end, but his wife wouldn't accept a divorce.  He wandered among the Gedolim to secure a Heter Mei'a to enable him to remarry.  During this difficult period he met with the Shoel U'Maishiv (Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson of Lublin), Rav Tzvi Hirsh Chayos, Rav Shlomo Kluger and others.  He also met with great Chasidic Rebbes including Rav Shalom of Belz, the Divrei Chaim, the Chidushei HaRim, Rav Meir Premishaln and others.  When he met Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Izhbetzer Rebbe and former talmid of the Kotzker Rebbe before breaking away, he found in him a soulmate.  The Litvishe Rav Tzadok became his ardent Chasid.  At the end, his first wife accepted the Get and he did not need a Heter Mei'a.  He then remarried and moved to Lublin.

Under Rav Mordechai Yosef, Rav Tzadok learned together with another Litvak turned Chasid (and broke his father's heart in the process), Rav Leibele Eiger the grandson of Rebbi Akiva Eiger and son of Rav Shlomo Eiger.  After the petira of Rav Mordechai Yosef in 1854, Rav Tzadok refused to take his mantle of his Rebbe and lead the Chassidim.  Instead he pushed Rav Leibele Eiger to become the Rebbe.  In the ensuing 33 years until Rav Leibele's petira he learned in solitude composing his multitude of seforim.  In 1887 after Rav Leibele's petira, he again refused to lead the Chasidim and pushed for Rav Avrohom Eiger to lead the flock.  This time however the Chasidim refused to give in and he ultimately became the Rebbe of Lublin.

He very much wanted to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel but his Chasidim would not hear of it.  Rav Tzadok was Niftar on 9 Elul, 5660/1900.  Although he did not leave behind any sons, he left the world with his vast writings which have made a profound impact on Jewish thinking moving forward.  His seforim include, Pri Tzadik (Chumash), Divrei Sofrim, Otzar HaMelech (Rambam), Yisroel Kedoshim, Tzidkas HaTzadik, Taanas Hashovim, Kuntras Divrei Chalomos, and many others.  Yehi Zichro Baruch.

Mon, 27 Aug 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Gateshead Rov: Rav Betzalel Rakow - Ki Anu Tzonecha V'Ata Roi'einu  In Klal Yisroel's not too distant past there existed beautiful Kehilos that were built completely on Torah and breathed its every breath on the words of the Rov.  The not too distant past was less than a decade ago and the town is Gateshead in England.  It is said that the Brisker Rov once said after coming arriving to Eretz Yisroel, that if he couldn't live in Eretz Yisroel the one place he'd be happy to live is Gateshead.  Rav Shach once told someone that Rav Rakow is the last of the real Lithuanian Rabbonim.
Rav Betzalel Rakow zt"l was the renowned Gateshead Rov and the town's success is heavily attributed to his personal greatness.  A Rov from a world gone by is how he is often described.  In a Haskama to B'Tzel HaKodesh written by Rav Rakow's nephew, Rav Moshe Shternbuch writes that already from the days when we learned together in Yeshiva it was clear that he was destined for greatness.  He showed great diligence in his learning, wisdom, Yiras Hashem, and sterling middos.  He was humble "B'Tachlis HaAnava".  It is difficult says Rav Shternbuch to portray his true character in a book, especially since he hid his greatness and acted in a simple manner.
Rav Rakow was born in Frankfurt in 5687/1927 to his father Yom Tov Lipman who was a talmid of Volozhin and Slutzk and was very close to Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer the Rosh Yeshiva of Slutzk.  Rav Yom Tov came from an illustrious family of Talmidei Chachomim going back to the Tosfos Yom Tov.  At the time of is son's birth he was acting as Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rav Hoffman in Frankfurt.
After Kristalnacht his father successfully took the family to England where they started anew.  Unfortunately two of Rav Rakow's older brothers were killed Al Kiddush Hashem during the great Churban in Europe having been learning in Yeshivas Kelm and Yeshivas Telz respectively.
As a young boy in England Rav Rakow entered the Yeshiva of the legendary Rav Moshe Schneider where he excelled despite the war raging outside in the skies over England.  His Bar Mitzva drasha, which he prepared himself with some help from his father, lasted an hour and a half before Rav Schneider told it was enough already. Afterwards Rav Schneider commented that Betzalel will become something one day.
At 18 years old he went to Gateshead to learn in the Kollel, which was under the leadership of Rav Eliyahu Dessler with whom he formed a close bound that lasted even after Rav Dessler moved to Eretz Yisroel.  After three years in the Kollel the Rov of Gateshead Rav Naftali Shokovitzky took him as a son-in-law.  In 1957 at the age of 30 he was invited to become Rosh Yeshiva in the Yeshiva in Montreaux, Switzerland.  There he became very close with elderly Gaon Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg and he helped Rav Weinberg review and prepare his Shailos U'Tshuvos Sridei Eish for publication.  During his tenure in Montreaux he had the opportunity to spend time with the Brisker Rov who would come to Switzerland for health reasons.
After the Petira of his father-in-law the Rov of Gateshead he was called back to become Rov of the bereaved community of Gateshead.  For the next 40 years he led the community and oversaw every religious aspect from chinuch, to Tznius, to Hashkafa and everything in between making Gateshead and Ir V'Eim BiYisroel.  He was tied by his heartstrings to the health and welfare of his Kehilla and they hung on his every word.  Gateshead was a town of great talmidei chachomim who humbled themselves before their esteemed Rov whose wisdom and knowledge in all facets of torah towered even over there own great scholarship.
The last five years of his life he was ill but like a true captain of his ship it did not stop him from leading the Kehilla even from his hospital bed all the way until his final days.  He was niftar 20 Tammuz 5763/2003.  Yehi Zichro Boruch.  (details taken from his biography in the Sefer B'Tzel HaKodesh)

Tue, 10 Jul 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Ramchal - A Short Life Filled With Persecution In The Aftermath Of Shabsai Tzvi After seeing the Mesilas Yesharim, the Vilna Gaon said that if the Ramchal were still alive he would travel across Europe by foot to learn from him.  Unfortunately the Ramchal, who lived a short life, filled with persecution and suspicion, was niftar when the Vilna gain was just 17 and the two never met.

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto or commonly known as the Ramchal, was born in the Jewish ghetto in Padua, Italy in 5467/1707.  The Ramchal was a talmid of Rav Yeshayahu Bassan one of the gedolim of Italy at the time.  One of the Ramchal's close peers and student Rav Yekusiel Gordon wrote in a letter that the Ramchal knew the writings of the Arizal by heart and at the age of 15 he wrote his first sefer on Kabala.  

The turning point in the Ramchal's life was at the age of 20 when a Magid started to appear to him to teach him the secrets of Kabbala.  The Ramchal wrote down what he learned from the Magid and a group gathered around him, whom he taught Kabala.  This being just over 50 years after the Shabsai Tzvi scandal rocked the Jewish world, the Rabbonim of Italy were quite upset at the situation, especially Rav Moshe Chagiz.  The Ramchal was persecuted and threatened with being put into Cheirem.

After years of fighting the Ramchal's conceded not to write down the teachings of the Magid and things reached somewhat of a truce.  However unhappy with his inability to write, in 1735 the Ramchal left Italy for good heading to the more liberal confines of Amsterdam and hoping to enjoy freedom from his persecutions and restrictions.  Passing through Frankfurt, Germany on the way, the Ramchal hoped to gain a sympathetic ear from the Rabbonim there, only to be met with even fiercer hostility.  He was forced to sign another concession that he would not learn Kabbala until the age of forty and never teach or write again.

Eventually he did find peace in Amsterdam and it was there that he wrote his classic work, Mesilas Yesharim, a fundamental sefer of the mussar movement that would flourish a hundred years later.  Below its mussar veneer, the Mesilas Yesharim is said to contain much kabalistic insight.  During his tenure in Amsterdam the Ramchal was appointed Rosh Yeshiva.

In 1743 at age of 36, the Ramchal set off with his family to Eretz Yisroel.  Not much is known about the Ramchal's life in Eretz Yisroel other than that it was short lived.  The Ramchal and his family perished in a plague in the year 1746 at the young age of 39, just three years after arriving to the shores of Eretz Yisroel.

The Ramchal left many seforim behind.  It is said that to gain a glimpse of the Ramchal one must learn all his seforim, for a single sefer cannot tell the entire picture.  Each sefer reveals another piece of the puzzle.  While his generation was not zocheh to drink from his sweet waters, we who live 250 years after his death have a great appreciation although limited understanding, of the treasure that Hashem sent to this world.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Fri, 18 May 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Rebbe Reb Melech - Reb Elimelech MiLizhensk, The Father Of Modern Day Chasidus While the Rebbe Reb Melech was the third generation leader of the Chasidim after the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Magid of Mezritch, Chasidus today is more of a reflection of the Rebbe Reb Melech vision than any of his predecessors.

The Rebbe Reb Melech like many other great Rebbes in the early days of Chasidus was born into the non-chasidishe home, the son of a very successful businessman and great Ba'al Tzedaka.  While few details are available, it is know that the Rebbe Reb Melech was on the path to be a tremendous talmid chacham and a unique star in the non Chasdishe world that he emerged from.  It was his brother Rav Zisha of Anipoli, whose personality lent itself to a far great degree to the lofty spirituality of Chasidus, who after finding chasidus himself brought the Rebbe Reb Melech to Mezritch to the Magid with whom he himself became attached to.  The Rebbe Rev Melech and his brother Rav Zisha also became very close to the other famous brother's who were talmidim of the Magid, Reb Shmelke MiNicholsburg and his brother Rav Pinchos Horowitz the Ba'al HaFla'ah and Rebbi of the Chasam Sofer.

Reb Elimelech eventually succeeded the Magid a the leader of the Chasidim.  While the role of the tzadik as the leader and conduit of Bracha was always one of the basic tenets of the Chasidus, the Rebbe Reb Melech made it into the main foundation of the entire movement.  Accepting kvitlach and tzedaka for "Pidyon" also emerged as standard practice.  The tzadik became the focal point of all spiritual and material needs.

The Rebbe Reb Melech had many great talmidim who started dynasties in their own right, with the Chozeh of Lublin taking the mantle of preeminent leader.  It is said that before he died he divided up his great qualities among his various talmidim.  The Chozeh received his spiritual vision, his heart went to the Kozhnitzer Magid, the neshama of his mind to Rav Mendele of Rimanov, and his power of speech to Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel of Apta.  Other famous talmidim included Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov and Rav Naftoli of Ropshitz.

The Rebbe Reb Melech was niftar on 21 Adar 5547/1787.  He left a legacy in the two works published after his death, the Noam Elimelech and the Tzetel Katan.  He has also left a legacy of Chasidus that has not only survived despite the strong opposition in his day from the Vilna Gaon, but has thrived to become the beautiful part of Am Yisroel that it is today.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!  (see also Chasidic Masters by Rav Aryeh Kaplan)

Thu, 15 Mar 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah: Holy Above All - Rav Alexander Ziskind

"Rav Alexander Ziskind is a great as his Sefer and his sefer is as great as him" so proclaimed the Vilna Gaon about the great and holy Michaber of the classic sefer Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah.

In the second half of the 18th century when Chasiddus was just beginning and the sharp reaction to it created a warlike atmosphere between the two camps, Rav Alexander Ziskind was a rare individual that transcended the battle and was beloved by both sides. His classic sefer Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah on tefila and Moadim is cherished by both Misnagdim and Chassidim alike and learned by all.

Rav Aharon of Karlin travelled to Horodna to try to bring Rav Alexander Ziskind to Chasiddus. His goal was to persuade him to come to the Maggid of Mezeritch the successor of the Baal Shem Tov for Shabbos. Successful in his mission, Rav Aharon returned to Mezeritch for Shabbos with Rav Alexander Ziskind. During the Friday night seudah the Maggid did not speak any Divrei Torah only Divrei Chol. This caused great pain to Rav Alexander Ziskind but he patiently waited for the morning seudah. The scene replayed itself again with an absence of Divrei Torah and only Divrei Chol. Sitting through Seudah Shlishis with the same results totally destroyed Rav Alexander Ziskind. As soon as Motza'ei Shabbos came he ran out of Mezeritch never to return again. When Rav Aharon of Karlin asked the Maggid why he spoke Divrei chol and not Divrei Torah he replied that he saw in Rav Alexander Ziskind a Tzaddik Tamim and did not want to influence him to change his ways in Avodas Hashem.

Rav Alexander Ziskind was imprisoned for a full year and half for trying to leave Hamburg with money he collected for the poor in Eretz Yisroel. As soon as he was released he immediately began to collect once again. When asked why he would do this he answered that "do you think that because of the danger to me the poor people sitting before Hashem in the Holy Land should starve?"

Before one Pesach a Jew was arrested in a blood libel and sentenced to a cruel death unless he converted. Rav Alexander Ziskind was worried he would lose his resolve and cave in. He obtained special permission to visit this person in jail where he gave him Chizzuk to stand strong and die "Al Kiddush Hashem" despite the torture. On the day the sentence was to be carried out, while all the local Jews were hiding fearing a pogrom, Rav Alexander Ziskind bravely went to the town square among the goyim to watch the murder of the innocent Jew. As the Jew was murdered Rav Alexander Ziskind heard him make the bracha that one makes before dying Al Kiddush Hashem. He then went back to Shul and made and Azkara for the martyred Holy Neshama.

Details about his life are scarce. His place of birth is unknown although he lived in Horodna. He was a talmid of Rav Aryeh Leib Epstein the Baal HaPardes and he never accepted any rabbinical position. He was believed to be under sixty at the time of his death. About his fiery sefer on Kavonas HaTefila he testified on himself that all his own personal tefilos were in accordance with his sefer and he even added many other Kavanos that he did not write in the Sefer.

In his Tzavaah he writes that his name Alexander has a gematria of 365 for the Mitzvos Lo Saaseh and Ziskind with its seven letters equals 248 for the Mitzvos Aseh, "all of which I accepted to keep in any possible way." He did not allow any titles on his Matzeiva except "Here lies Alexander Ziskind... Oveid Hashem Yisborach" He was niftar in 5554/1794. Yehi Zichro Boruch

Mon, 12 Mar 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Shach - Rav Shabsi Kohen, On The Run One Step Ahead After wandering from place to place, one step ahead of the murderous Cossaks, Rav Shabsi Kohen, known by the name of his famous peirush on Shulchan Aruch, the Shach, found himself in a small town in Moravia.  After his greatness was discovered by the townspeople of Helishoi, they wanted to appoint him Rov.  Before doing so they sent a message to Rav Menachem Mendel Krochmil one of the Gedolei HaDor and the Rov of the entire Moravia.  He had never heard of the Shach but in his house at the time was Rav Heshel of Cracow the Rebbi of the Shach. 

When Rav Menachem Mendel asked Rav Heshel about the Shach he said, if you are talking about my Shabsi then he is worthy of being Rov of the entire Moravia and you should go be the Rov of Helishoi.  In his great modesty, Rav Menachem Mendel sent a message to Helishoi saying that upon the advice of Rav Heshel, the Shach should come be Rov of Moravia and he is willing to take on the Rabbanus of Helishoi.  The people of Helishoi said no thanks and hired the Shach on the spot.

The Shach was born around 1622 to his father Rav Meir, a talmid chochom of great repute.  He was a child prodigy and learned under the famed Maginei Shlomo the grandfather of the Pnei Yehoshua on Shas.  He later went with his Rebbi to Cracow where he also learned under another one of the Gedolei HaDor, Rav Heshel of Cracow.

He married the daughter of Rav Wolf Toiber the great grandson of the Rema and son in law of the Maharsha.  At a very young age he was chosen to serve on the Bais Din of Vilna headed by Rav Moshe Lema the Chelkas Michokeik.  Due to the murderous onslaught of the Cossaks, he and many of the gedolim fled.  He found sanctuary in Lublin until the cossaks set there eyes on massacring Jews in that town as well.  He ended up in Helishoi, Moravia where he served for a few years until his untimely passing at age 41 in 1663.

The Shach wrote his famous peirush on Yoreh Dei'a at a very young age and received haskamos from 18 leading gedolim.  Although 35 years the junior of the Taz, the Shach did not hesitate to argue on his senior when he saw fit.  He printed Nekudos HaKesef arguing on specific points of the Taz, despite considering himself a friend and admirer of the Taz.  His criticism was L'Maan HaEmes.

The Shach also wrote a peirush on Choshen Mishpat, as well as Po'el Tzedek a concise summary of the Taryag Mitzvos.  He also wrote his landmark work entitled Takfo Kohen at the age of 19 in the short span of one month.  He did not have arichas shanim but he had fulfilled and accomplished arichas yamin.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Fri, 24 Feb 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk: A Chassidic Renaissance?

His whole life he waged a war for the truth. The external and internal truth. This was the essence of Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern better known as the Kotzker Rebbe. The word Kotzk has become synonymous with a burning and piercing kind of truth. A truth so hot it singes anyone who dares to delve deep enough to uncover it.

The Kotzker was born in 5547/1787 and lived at a time when Chasiddus was making great inroads into the mainstream of Jewish society. He felt that Chasiddus needed to be tuned up by correcting some of its basic flaws. Chasiddus had become too Chassidishe for him. He wanted to restore torah as the focal point of all Avodas Hashem and get people to become more self reliant and not subjugate their God given minds to the Rebbe. A person, he felt, needed to take responsibility for his life, his ways, and develop his own personal relationship with Hashem.

He left no seforim, no tales of miracles, and no biography. He did not seek honor, fortune, or fame. He sought to raise Chasiddus to a movement for the elite. He longed to metamorphis Chasiddus into a movement with truly inspired Avodas Hashem and intense Torah learning as its cornerstone. His lone legacy is his short sharp sayings that he became famous for, to the world outside of Kotzk.

When the Kotzker was asked why he does not want to write a sefer he said that in Kotzk they work hard all week. The only time to read his sefer would be Friday night after the meal. Then however a person is tired from the entire week and will lay down on the couch with it. He will shortly thereafter fall asleep without reading anything and the sefer will fall on the floor. So why should I write a sefer whose only use will be to lie on the floor in shame? Such was the Kotzker truth.

He was born into a family of a Misnagdim and eventually became a talmid of the Chozeh of Lublin and then later leaving Lublin for Peshischa where he became a Talmid of Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. After Rav Simcha Bunim's petira most of his talmidim who were peers of Rav Menachem Mendel, including the Chiddushei HaRim the founder of the Gerer dynasty, chose to follow Rav Menachem Mendel and make him their leader. His other main talmid was Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner who eventually broke away and founded the Izhbetza Chasiddus. Rav Laibele Eiger, the grandson of Rebbi Akiva Eiger, was also attracted to Kotzk much to his father's great dismay. The Kotzker's son in law was the Avnei Neizer and he was succeeded by his son Rav Dovid.

The Kotzker was niftar in 5619/1859. He spent the last 20 years of his life in seclusion frustrated by his inability to create the flock of his ideals while refusing to play the role of the ideal Rebbe as the Chasidim wished.Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Wed, 15 Feb 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Pnei Yehoshua - An Explosive Sefer With An Explosive Backdrop

"From the time the Chiddushei HaRashba was printed no sefer was a great as that as the Pnei Yehoshua." This was quoted by the Avnei Tzedek in the name of the Chasam Sofer whose every word was measured and precise without exaggeration. Revered in the Yeshiva world, the Sefer Pnei Yehoshua has earned itself a special place on the Shtender as a symbol of excellence.

This sefer came to be when there was a terrible catastrophe in the town of Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk, the author of the Pnei Yehoshua, who was then 22 years old. A fire ignited a barrel of gun fire which caused a tremendous explosion killing 36 people including the Pnei Yehoshua's wife and daughter. The Pnei Yehoshua himself was caught in the wreckage and made a promise to learn the depths of Torah day and night if he managed to survive. Survive he did and shortly thereafter he began writing his famed work. Rav Menachem Mendel MiKotzk testified that the Pnei Yehoshua finished Shas 36 times before he began writing his sefer.

His learning was so intense that he would sit in the cold without noticing. One bitter cold day the talmidim could not leave their homes until the sun came out in the afternoon. There they found the Pnei Yehoshua still wrapped in Talis and Tefilin learning with icicles hanging from his beard.

The Pnei Yehoshua was born in 5441/1681 the town of Reisha. He was named after his illustrious grandfather who authored Shu"T Pnei Yehoshua and the classic Maginei Shlomo which defended Rashi from the attacks of Tosfos. The Pnei Yehoshua served as Rav in a number of cities including Lvov, Berlin, Metz, and Frankfurt. He lived in the same era as the Vilna Gaon, Noda BiYehuda, The Chacham Tzvi, Rav Yaakov Emden, and the Pri Megadim and was respected by all. Along with Rav Yaakov Emden he was a great antagonist of Rav Yehonoson Eibushitz.

Although he was less successful as Rav due to his unwillingness to bow to the whims of the local wealthy Baalei Batim, among the Torah giants he was an icon. His word was regarded as law by his peers. He was made famous by the Chacham Tzvi who eventually suggested him as his replacement in Lvov. He was visited by the Chida when the latter traveled through Europe. In his sefer Shem HaGedolim the Chida writes about his visit, "I was zocheh to be Mikabel Pnei Hashechina for a number of days. His appearance is like that of a Malach Elokim".

He was niftar in 5516/1756 but his legacy will last forever as we will continue to aspire to ask the Pnei Yehoshua'a Kushios. Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Maharam Schick - The Quintessential Talmid There were twothings that distinguished Rav Moshe Schick, otherwise known as theMaharam Schick.  One was his sheer desire to overcome to overcome hisweak body, and mind and the other being his attachment to his greatRebbe the Chasam Sofer.

The Maharam Schick was born in the year1807 in the Bresova in Slovakia.  He descended from the Tosfos Yom Tovbut was not known to inherit any great mental skills from hisillustrious ancestor.  He childhood years were a picture of willpower.  While others were out playing, he sat bent over his gemara andeven depriving himself of sleep, even though, as he told over to hisson-in-law, he had great difficulty comprehending what he was taught. It was thanks to this extraordinary effort that, in his own words, hewas to zocheh to have the fountains of wisdom opened to him.  "Hashemsimply pitied my incredible toil."

When he was 11 years old hewent to learn in his uncle Rav Yitzchok Frenkel's yeshiva.  At age 14he entered Pressburg the prestigious yeshiva of the Chasam Sofer.  Whenthe Chasam Sofer asked a question that stumped all the older talmidim,the scrawny little 14 year old came up with an impressive answer.  Thisimpressed the Chasam Sofer, who then invited him to eat the Motza'eiYom Kippur seudah at his table.  This was the first of many meals asfor the next years while in Pressburg Yeshiva, he ate at his Rebbi'stable on Shabbos and Yom Tov.  The Chasam Sofer affectionately referredto his as his "Seforim Shrank" since all the wisdom of torah was to befound in him.

When the town of Yeregin, near Pressburg, asked theChasam Sofer for a recommendation for a Rov, the Chasam Sofer told themif they took the young Moshe Schick they will not regret it and will bevery content with their choice for many years.  He remained Rov inYeregin for 20 years and started a successful Yeshiva.  From there hemoved to the town of Chust, where his Yeshiva thrived with over 800talmidim.  He also developed a warm relationship with the Yeitav Levthe grandson of the Yismach Moshe.

Before his death the MaharamSchick said that he did not miss a single word from the torah that helearned from his Rebbi, the Chasam Sofer.  One time when the MaharamSchick was still in Yeregin, the Chasam Sofer walked in during a shiurhe was giving.  He immediately stopped and stood up, not wanting to saythe Shiur in his rebbi's presence.  The Chasam Sofer commanded him tocontinue.  He then said over only Chidushim that he heard from hisrebbi.  After the shiur ended the Chasam Sofer said, believe me, manyof these Chidushim I myself have already forgotten.  It was not for nothing that it was said MiMoshe (Sofer) Ad Moshe (Schick) Lo Kam K'Moshe.

He foughtagainst the Maskilim and published a number of seforim including onShailos U'Tshuvos, Taryag Mitzvos, Shas, Chumash, Hagada Shel Pesach,Pirkei Avos, and Drashos.  He was also noted for his protest against the law requiring each family to take on an official family name.  He chose the name Schick, an acronym for Shem Yisroel Kadosh, the Jewish name is holy.  He was niftar at the age of 72 on RoshChodesh Shevat 5639/1879.  Yehi Zichro Boruch.

Wed, 25 Jan 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapira - From The Light Of Yisaschar The year was 1783 and the daughter of the sister of the Noam Elimelech had lost all her children r"l.  When she became pregnant again she came pleading to her great uncle for a bracha that this child will survive.  The Rebbe Reb Elimelech promised her that the child will survive and he will light up the world with his Torah.  He also told her to name the baby after him.  When the baby was born, since they were nervous about naming the baby after their uncle who was still alive, they added the name Tzvi to the baby who was destined to become the famous tzadik Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Yisaschar.  

When Rav Tzvi Elimelech was drafted to the army a miracle happened.  The wagon he was being taken in, overturned on a bridge and all the passengers drowned in the river.  He was the lone survivor.  In order to avoid being taken again the family changed the name from Langsam to Shapira.

Rav Tzvi Elimelech was zocheh to draw from the Torah of the great Admorim of his day, including the Chozeh of Lublin, Rav Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, the Kozhnitzer Maggid, and the Apta Rav, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel.  Rav Tzvi Elimelech from his youth for the rest of his life.  He started and ended his career in Dinov with other stations along the way.  Where he had many talmidim and chassidim.

Rav Tzvi Elimelech was a prolific writer.  The Klausenberger Rebbe was astounded by the amount of Seforim he was able to write in his 58 year life, especially considering how much time he needed to dedicate as a Rebbe and Rov.  His seforim include his most famous work on Shabbos and Moadim the Bnei Yisaschar.  The reason why it was so named is because when he asked his great rebbe the Chozeh of Lublin why he has such a strong inner connection to Chanukah, the Chozeh told him that his neshama is from a member of the Bais Din of theChashmona'im who was from Shevet Yisaschar.  Other seforim he wrote were Derech Pikudecha on Taryag Mitzvos, Rei'ach Duda'im, Chidushei Mahartz"e, Igra D'Kallah and many others.

Rav Tzvi Elimelech was held in high esteem by the entire spectrum o Yiddishkeit as his seforim were lauded by Rav Shlomo Kluger, The Sho'el U'Maishiv of Lublin Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson, and the Divrei Chaim.  Rav Tzvi Elimelech is the patriarch of the Chasidic dynasties of Dinov, Munkacs, and Bluzhev.  He was niftar at the age of 58 on 18 Teves 5601/1841 the same year as the Yismach Moshe and just a year after the Chasam Sofer.  Yehi Zichro Boruch! 

Fri, 13 Jan 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Chaim Kreiswirth: America's Loss, Belgium's Gain

The Steipler Gaon once said about about Rav Chaim Kreiswirth that even 200 years ago he would have been regarded as a Gadol . Admired as a tzaddik and famous as an illuy, Rav Chaim Kreiswirth was born in Poland in 1918. He gained fame at a very young age as the Cracover (Cracow) Illuy. He dazzled the brilliant Rav Meir Shapiro and was admitted into Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin where he stood out even by their lofty standards of Bekius and Charifus. The gemara, both Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi which he was said to have know by heart as a young man, was part and parcel of Rav Kreiswirth's personality and his soul. Every thought and every conversation was driven by the precious words of the Talmud.

He was fortunate to come of age in pre-war Europe where he was privileged to meet and speak in learning with the famous Geonim of those times including Rav Shimon Shkop, Rav Yosef Rosen (the Rogatchover Gaon), Rav Elchonon Wasserman, the Imrei Emes of Gur, Rav Menachem Ziemba and the Belzer Rav Rav Aharon Rokeach. He received Smicha from the Marcheshes, Rav Chanoch Henich Eigess.

After escaping Poland early in the war, he fled to Lithuania where he married the daughter of the Rav Avrohom Grodzinski the Mashgiach of Slabodka. Shortly thereafter he and his young wife escaped the Nazi inferno and made their way to Eretz Yisroel where his Torah knowledge and personality earned the friendship of such Gedolim as the Brisker Rav, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and ylct"a HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv shlit"a.

After the war, Rav Chaim went back to Europe to help return children left by their parents in the custody of the Church during the war.  He then settled in the United States opening a Yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois. Although very successful, his presence in America was short lived.  In 1953 he left America to the dismay of his talmidim and the Gedolei HaDor who thought he had much to accomplish in a continent rebuilding Yiddishkeit. He chose to head a small Kehilla in Antwerp, Belgium despite the protests of the Chazon Ish, the Amshenover Rebbe, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. At the end the Chazon Ish relented and gave him a Bracha for success. He helped rebuild the Kehilla and served it faithfully for nearly 50 years. During this time he oversaw every aspect of Yiddishkeit. He was a master speaker dazzling crowds with his breadth of knowledge and wit. His influence and authority was felt far beyond the borders of Belgium.  His voice was heard throughout the European continent with respect to Halacha and hashkafa matters.

About his friendly personality, Prof. Dr. Henri Rosenberg, a close constituent, writes -

"Your powerful impact on other people ensured that you had a wide circle of friends. You had with your candid friendship, apparently childlike naivety, disarming smile and enchanting manner of speech an ability to establish close links with a vast number of friends and admirers over the entire world".

His tziddkus and modesty was truly special. He used to stay at weddings until the end. Many mocked this seemingly waste of time for such a great Talmid Chochom and Rav. He once admitted to someone that the reason he did this was because he knew as long as he was present there would be no mixed dancing or any other inappropriate behavior. He therefore didn't want to leave before it was all over.

All his life Rav Kreiswirth was involved in tzedoka and helping other people. In the latter part of his life Rav Kreiswirth was very active collecting tzedoka for Hachnosas Kallah for poor orphans. During a severe illness someone was sent to the Steipler Gaon to daven on his behalf and give him a bracha. The Steipler told him that it says in the mishna we read in davening every day "U'Bikur Cholim, Vhachnosas Kallah, U'Levoyas HaMeis". From here we see that between getting sick and being buried comes helping brides get married. Rav Kreiswirth then accepted upon himself to raise money to marry off poor orphans and made a miraculous recovery.

Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth was taken at the age of 82 on 16 Teves 5762. Yehi Zicro Boruch.

For more on Rav Kreiswirth you can see

Wed, 11 Jan 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz - A Rosh Yeshiva Reaches Even Higher The Reishis Chochma in his hakdama says that Dovid HaMelech did not write the words in Tehilim (119:18), "Gal Einai V'Abita Niflaos MiTorasecha", open my eyes so that I can see the wonders of your Torah, regarding the halachos of Shor HaMu'ad and Shor Tam (oxen that gore) and not on issur v'heter in which all Jewish housewives have mastered, but rather on the wisdom that lies deeper in the torah.  The wisdom that can attach you to Hashem.  This was the wisdom attained by Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz.

Rav Chaim was a child prodigy born the second day of Rosh HaShana to Rav Refoel Alter Shmuelevitz, the son in law of the Alter of Novhardok, in 5663/1902.  An omen to the future, the sandak at his Bris was Rav Itzele Blazer the Tamid Muvhak of Rav Yisroel Salanter.  Rav Chaim learned under his father who was the Rosh Yeshiva of Grodno until his untimely passing when Rav Chaim was 16 years old.   Rav Chaim remained in Grodno and became very close with Rav Shimon Shkop a talmid of Rav Chaim Brisker, who became the new Rosh Yeshiva succeeding Rav Refoel Alter.   Three years later at the ripe young age of 19, Rav Shimon Shkop invited the young Rav Chaim to say shiurim.  At that point he was already a famous figure in the Yeshiva circles of Lithuania.

This lasted for a few years until Rav Chaim left to learn in the Mir Yeshiva. Recognizing the greatness of Rav Chaim, the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel took him for a son-in-law. Rav Chaim also became very close with the legendary mashgiach Rav Yeruchom Levovitz.  At the age of 31 Rav Chaim started saying shiurim in the Mir which he continued for the rest of life.  He led the Mir through the war years during their galus in Lithuania and then Shanghai, together with the Mashgiach Rav Yechezkel Levenstein.  Although he received a visa for his whole family while in Shanghai, he refused to leave until the whole Yeshiva was able to leave.  He then left to Eretz Yisroel after a six month stopover in the US.

One of the outstanding traits that Rav Chaim was known for, was incredible sensitivity to all things. While we fail to take things like Mechiras Yosef and the story of Rus to heart, Rav Chaim would be seen crying during the reading in Shul of these emotional stories.  His ability to truly understand and share people's pain was incredible.  During the six day war in 1967 when a shell hit the roof of the building where Rav Chaim and talmidim were huddled for safety, but did not explode, Rav Chaim said, you may all think this was in the zechus of our torah, however in fact we were saved in the zechus of a women present whose husband had abandoned her without freeing her for many years before with a Get, yet she said she would be mochel him if Hashem would have Rachmanus on the talmidim.

He was also able to understand people's weaknesses, having delved so carefully to remove any trace of negative traits within himself.  In his later years he used to say that Kavod was a tremendous urge for him as well.  When he gave Shiurim in Grodno, he himself would listen to Rav Shimon Shkop's weekly shiur.  Whenever Rav Shimon would say something over from Rav Chaim, meaning Rav Chaim Brisker his own rebbi, Rav Chaim would delight in the fact that some talmidim would think he was referring to Rav Chaim himself.  Such is the pull of honor, he would lament.

Rav Chaim's weekly mussar shmuezen on the parsha would attract large crowd from across Yerushalayim.  The sefer Sichos Mussar is a classic work written from these SHmuesen.  Rav Moshe Feinstein said of him during his illness that the entire world rests upon his shoulders.  After two months of semi consciousness Rav Chaim returned his holy soul to his creator 5739/1978.  He left behind a legacy to all his talmidim and many others, whom his insights touched and continue to touch even today.

The torah is said to transform those who study it.  To truly transform yourself you need to live the torah.  The Steipler Gaon once said that not everyone who learns torah acquires all the noble traits within it.  It depends how you learn and what your intentions are.  Rav Chaim's transformation from talmudic legend in Europe to master of emotion and Mussar in his later years proves the words of the Reishis Chochma and the Steipler. People tend to think that to be a mashgiach you need to be a person of fine character but to be a Rosh Yeshiva you need to be special.  Rav Chaim proved the opposite.  With enough hard work you can master the words of Shas and poskim.  To break through these words and make them come alive inside of you and become a perfect human being, that takes a Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz.  Yehi Zichro Boruch.

Thu, 29 Dec 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein & Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer: Preparing Torah For The New Worlds of America and Eretz Yisroel

Both Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein the Rosh Yeshiva in Slabokda and later in Chevron and his brother in law and Chavrusa in Kollel, Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer the Rosh Yeshiva in Kletzk and later in Yerushalayim in Eitz Chaim were both niftar on 10 Kislev although 20 years apart. Much of the post holocaust Yeshiva world in both America and Eretz Yisroel can be traced back to the influence of these two great Geonim and tzaddikim.

Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein

Rav Moshe Mordechai was born in Bakst in Vilna in 5626/1866. When he was 15 years old word spread around Volozhin about his incredible knowledge of half of Shas. He learned under Rav Chaim Soloveitchik who was Rosh Yeshiva at the time. He was considered an exceptional Ba'al Michadesh. After his marriage in Kovno he learned together with his brother in law Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer under Rav Itzele Blazer the talmid and successor to Rav Yisroel Salanter. Rav Issur Zalman said that at the time he himself knew the whole Avnei Milu'im by heart and that many of the chidushim Rav Moshe Mordechai wrote were identical to that of the Avnei Milu'im.

Before he even turned 30 years old he was invited by the Alter of Slabodka to give Shiurim at the famed Slabodka Yeshiva. Shortly thereafter Rav Moshe Mordechai was appointed Rosh Yeshiva. Rav Moshe Mordechai guided the Yeshiva through some tumultuous times including the breakup of the Yeshiva over the learning of Mussar which Rav Moshe Mordechai and the Alter refused to relinquish despite strong objection. He also guided the Yeshiva through the dispersal and wandering of the Yeshiva during World War I. Rav Moshe Mordechai was so devote to the Yeshiva that he turned down prestigious Rabbinic positions in Kovno and Bialystok to remain in Slabodka. In 1910 after the passing of Rav Shmuel Salant the Rav of Yerushalayim he was offered to succeed him. Despite his dream of moving to Eretz Yisroel he turned it down as well.

In 1924 at age 58 he moved with part of the Yeshiva to Chevron in Eretz Yisroel while leaving behind Rav Eizek Sher as Rosh Yeshiva in Slabodka. The Yeshiva was thriving in Chevron until the tragic 1929 Chevron massacre forced the remains of the Yeshiva to relocate to Yerushalayim. Rav Moshe Mordechai never recovered from the heartbreak of the massacre and the loss of many precious talmidim. He was Niftar in 10 Kislev 5694/1933.

He left behind many talmidim including the postwar architects of Torah in America, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, and Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman. Among his son-in-laws were the Roshei Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva Rav Yechezkel Sarna and Rav Moshe Chevroni as well as Rav Moshe Finkel the son of the Alter of Slabodka. Rav Moshe Mordechai left behind his permanent imprint on the shifting location of Yeshiva world.

Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer

Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer was born in the city of Mir 5630/1870 At the age of 10 he learned at the Mir Yeshiva. By the age of 14 he went to learn in Volozhin yeshiva under the Netziv and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, where he remained for seven years. During his engagement period Rav Isser Zalman became gravely ill. He sent a letter to his Kalla suggesting that under the circumstances she could break the Shidduch. His Kalla set out to ask the Chofetz Chaim what to do. The Chofetz Chaim told her that health and long life are not necessarily synonymous. He recommended that they get married and wished them both Arichas Yamim which they had.

After getting married in Kovno he remained there learning with his brother in law Rav Moshe Mordechai until they both were invited to give shiurim in Slabodka. In 1897 the Alter of Slabodka sent Rabbi Issur Zalman to Slutzk to become Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva that Reb Yaakov Dovid Vilovski (Ridbaz) asked the Alter to establish in his town. He took 14 top talmidim of Slabodka with him.

Six years later in 1903 when the Ridbaz" the Rav of Slutzk left to America to raise funds in America for the publication of his famous commentary on the Talmud Yerushalmi and to become Chief Rabbi of Chicago, Rabbi Issur Zalman was appointed as the Rav of Slutzk armed with a hastily telegrammed Semicha from both Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of Aruch HaShulchan.

At the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution Rav Isser Zalman and his son in law Rav Aharon Kotler fled Russia to Poland. Rav Aharon stayed in Poland to head the Yeshiva in Kletzk while Rav Isser Zalman emigrated to Eretz Yisroel and was appointed Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim in Yerushalayim. Rav Isser Zalman is credited with introducing the derech of the Lithuanian Yeshivos to Eretz Yisroel and he was "Rosh Yeshiva" to the "Roshei Yeshivos."

His Even HaEzel on the Rambam has become a classic in the Yeshiva world. He was Niftar 10th Kislev 5714/1953 at the age of 83 years old.


Tue, 06 Dec 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Dovid Luria - When The Vilna Gaon Died The Radal Was Born

The gemara says that when Hashem takes one great tzaddik from the world a new one is born. This was said about Rav Dovid Luria "The Radal" who was born in Lithuania in the year of the passing of the Vilna Gaon 5558/1798.  Many of the Vilna Gaon's writings were arranged and edited by the Radal who was known to have a lightening quick grasp and even faster pen.

His father, Rav Yehuda Yudel, was a man of sterling character and extremely wise was one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country. He was respected by the gedolim and was generous to the masses. His home was a destination of choice for the poor as well as distinguished Rabbanim and dignitaries.

The Radal was a child prodigy. At the age of nine he knew the first nine mashectos of Shas by heart and knew all of Mishnayos by heart, so clearly that he was able to count the words without seeing them. One day the local Duke came to visit his father together with the private teacher that the Duke brought from France to teach his own son. Both the Duke and the teacher were blown away by the intelligence of the Radal. The Duke decided that the Radal was too smart to let his talents go to "waste" and decided that the teacher would teach him foreign languages and other subjects for one hour a day. The Radal's father has no choice but to acquiesce. The Radal stayed awake crying the whole night for this plan not to come to fruition. It didn't. In the morning the teacher was found murdered on the outskirts of the city.

After getting engaged to the daughter of one of the respected men in Vilna, the Radal lived there until age eighteen.  He refused to take up the various prestigious Rabbinic positions offered to him, including the offer to become Rav of Warsaw. He preferred to shun the limelight and supported himself as a simple businessman. This did not mean he shunned public responsibility. He worked closely with Rav Yitzchok of Volozhin on matters of public interest. He once met with Rav Moshe Montefiore. Twice he used his vast wealth and influence and risked his life to prevent a blood libel.

In the Torah world, the Rabbanin of his generation all looked up to him as their leader. When the Bais HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) was being considered as a candidate to become a Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin, the Radal was the first one asked to approve the appointment. When the Netziv wrote his sefer He'emek Sheila the only one he approached for a haskama was the Radal.

The Radal wrote seforim on Medrash Rabba, Pirkei D'Rav Eliezer, Pesikta Rabasi, Zohar, and Shailos U'Teshuvos. He was niftar in 5616-1855 at approximately 57 years old. Yehi Zichro Baruch.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Avrohom Azulai - The Sun Sets and The Sun Rises Rav Avrohom Azulai the author of Chesed L'Avrohom was born in Fez, Morocco 5330/1570 and died in Chevron 24 Chshvan 5404/1643 at approximately 73 years old. His family traced itself back to exiles of the Spanish Inquistion.    The gemara says that when a Tzaddik dies another Tzaddik is born to take his place.  Interestingly Rav Avrohom was born the same year Rav Moshe Cordevero died, the greatest expounder of Kabala before the Arizal.  Rav Avrohom was one of the Mekubalim of his generation.

In 1610 at the age of 40 he and family set out on their lifelong dream of going to Eretz Yisroel. After docking in Egypt a storm blew the boat out to see where it sunk. Although the whole family was already on land all their possessions were still in the boat and everything was lost including manuscripts of his works.  Plagues and pestilence chased Rav Avrohom from his original settling place in Chevron first to Yerushalayim and then to Gaza. Finally he returned to Chevron where he lived the rest of his life.

He had two distinguisehed son in laws. Rav David Yitzchaki who was Rav of Yerushalyim and Rav Binyamin Zevi whose son was Rav of Chevron. His fifth generation descendant was the legendary Chida, Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulai.

He wrote a number of seforim on the Zohar and is most famous for his Kabalistic work after which he is known, the Chesed L'Avrohom. He also wrote a sefer on Tanach called Baalei Bris Avrohom.

The Tosfos Yom Tov died the same year as the Rav Avrohom Azulai and according to some so did the Maharam Shiff.

Mon, 21 Nov 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Nosson Adler - Leaving Greatness In His Wake Sometimes it is hard to recognize true greatness.  Sometimes a neshama descends from such a lofty place in Shamayim that it never really lands on earth.  It doesn't adjust to life in this world. Its unconventional ways alienate the people around it, and it ends up spending its time here distanced from the masses known as humanity. Such a Neshama was Rav Nosson Adler.

Rav Nosson Adler had many talmidim.  Famous among them through his devotion to his great Rebbi through thick and thin, was the Chasam Sofer, Rav Moshe Sofer.  Upon his Rebbi's command he cut off his relationship with his father, and later even left his hometown of Frankfurt upon his Rebbi's command.  Later after he returned and Rav Nosson Adler's feud with the Kehila reached its breaking point, the Chasam Sofer left Frankfurt together with his Rebbi who was appointed Rov of Boskowitz, and the Chasam Sofer never returned to Frankfurt again.

Rav Nosson Adler was born in Frankfurt in 5502/1741.  When he was a mere ten years old, the Chida, Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, who was in Frankfurt from collecting money for Eretz Yisroel, said on him the famous words that the Isha HaShunamis said on Elisha, "I now know that there is a Holy man of Hashem among us".  His main Rebbi was Rav Dovid Tevele Shiff who later became the Chief Rabbi of England.  He also learned under Rav Yaakov Shimon HaKohen, a talmid of the Pnei Yehoshua.

Rav Nosson Adler was a MiKubal and formed a group around him to conduct himself Al Pi Kabala.  He davened with Sephardi Havara, and in his Minyan they did Birchas Kohanim every day.  Because of these customs and because their use of kabala was making the community at large fearful, in 1779 the Rabbanim gave him an ultimatum to either disband this group or be put into Cheirem.  Rav Nosson Adler ignored this challenge to his ways and openly went against the Kehila.

In 1782 Rav Nosson Adler became Rov of Boskowitz but there as well there were people who could not get used to his ways. He was ultimately forced to leave after three years and returned to Frankfurt.  After four more years in Frankfurt with not much change, Rav Nosson Adler was put into Cheirem that lasted until shortly before his petira in 1800.

Rav Nosson Adler did not leave behind any children.  His only daughter, the light of his life, was Niftar when she was twelve years old, while he was serving in Boskowitz.  The Chasam Sofer relates that Rav Nosson Adler did not complain and accepted the decree with great simcha.  However, he relates, the Shabbos during the Shiva when he was called for Maftir, a single tear escaped his eyes during the reading of the Haftorah.  He quickly wiped it and returned to his happy self without a trace of sadness.

His life and his ways were shrouded in mysticism, allowing only the greatest of the great to understand his lofty level.  He did not leave behind any seforim, although a Sefer was published from the cryptic notes in the margin of his Mishnayos.  Aside from his legacy that is hard to relate to, he left the world a precious treasure in his talmid the Chasam Sofer.  In this world, that is how we know and remember him.  But in Shamayim he is known for so much more.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Mon, 26 Sep 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum - Teaching Us To Stand Tall In America The Tchebiner Rov would marvel at the Brisker Rov's depth in learning and the Brisker Rov would marvel at the Tchebiner Rov's breadth of Torah knowledge.  Both of them were in awe of the Satmar Rov's breadth and depth of Torah wisdom.  So the story goes.  Not only was the Satmar Rov the architect of Chassidishe life in Post War America but he was one of the generations greatest torah scholars and poskim.  He was truly a living legend.

Rav Yoel Teitelbaum was born 18 Teves 5647/1887 to his father Rav Chananya Yom Tov Lipa the Rebbe in the Hungarian town of Sighet.  He was a direct descendant of the Yismach Moshe and the Yeitev Lev.  After being childless for many years, the Kedushas Yom Tov had two sons Rav Chaim Tzvi, the Atzei Chaim of Sighet and Rav Yoel.  Rav Yoel or Yoilish as he was called was a wonder child.  His Bar Mitzva Drasha kept the crowd spellbound and was the big news the next day in the newspapers.  In a practice that lasted through his life, Rav Yoel often did not sleep in a bed, instead learning through the night by forcing himself awake by placing his feet in bucket of freezing cold water.

Rav Yoel got married at the age of 17 to Chava Horowitz the daughter of the Plancher Rebbe.  His gravely ill father was Misader Kedushin and was niftar two weeks later.  After the petira of the Kedushas Yom Tov, Rav Yoel's older brother, the Atzei Chaim became Rebbe and Rov of Sighet.  Rav Yoel quietly moved to the neighboring town of Satmar where he hoped to grow in Torah away from the limelight and his father's chassidim.  Things didn't work out that way and within a year due to pressure from his many admirers, Rav Yoel was leading his own Kehila and Chassidim.

Rav Yoel's first official position was as Rov of Orishiva, Czechoslovakia, which he accepted in 1911 at the age of 24.  It was there that he gained a reputation as a fearless kana'i padlocking a wedding hall and not letting the seudah proceed after they violated his warning against mixed dancing.  It was during his years in Orishiva after opening a yeshiva that Rav Yoel's halachic psak became sought after with Shailos pouring in from all over Hungary. In 1924, after Rav Yoel felt he had brought Orishiva to the level of yiddishkeit it needed to be, he accepted a similar position in Kroli.  The ten years he spent in Kroli was in his opinion some of the best years of his life, learning and teaching torah.  Due to pressure upon the vacancy of the position of the Rov of Satmar, in 1934 he acceded and moved back to his adopted town of many years before.  By this time he was already recognized by the likes of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz as the leader of Hungarian Jewry and one of the Gedolei HaDor.

From the outbreak of World War II until the Nazi beasts invaded Hungary, the Rebbe did not sit still.  He was actively involved in the rescue efforts of his Polish brethren.  When the Nazis invaded Rav Yoel was fortunate to be awarded a seat on the famous Kastner train after Rudolf Kastner's mother appeared to him in a dream and told him that if the Satmar Rov is not on the train all its passengers would not survive.  The Kastner train was a trainload of people who were to be taken out of Nazi occupied territory to freedom in Switzerland as part of a deal between the Zionist leader in Hungary, Rudolf Kastner and the Nazi hierarchy.  Although originally intended for important Hungarian Zionist members and their families, many members of the Chareidi community also were able to get on.  The train did not go initially to Switzerland as promised, but after a detour and a four months layover in the infamous Bergen Belsen death camp (albeit in a special section) they were finally sent on their way.

After the war Rav Yoel moved to Eretz Yisroel.  However shortly thereafter through Hashgacha Pratis, he embarked on a fundraising trip to New York and ended up settling there.  While Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Moshe Feinstein rebuilt non-chassidishe Jewry, Rav Yoel laid the foundations for Chassidishe America.  Rav Yoel knew exactly what he wanted and built it according to the script he wrote.  

While he was often add odds halachicly and hashkaficly with Rav Aharon and Rav Moshe they had the greatest mutual respect and admiration for each other.  So much so that when Rav Aharon asked the Satmar Rov not to drive his car after Shkia on Friday, which the Satmar Rov held was permitted until a later Zman, he obeyed without question.

The Satmar Rov built Williamsburg into a bastion of Satmar Chasidus and founded Kiryas Yoel with many Mosdos of Chinuch, a great deal of torah learning, and their enviable Chesed network which touches every corner of chesed to Jews of all walks of life regardless of affiliation and background. But more than just building Satmar he was a "Rebbes Rebbe", in his fatherly way guiding many other transplanted chasidishe courts and helping them rebuild and firmly plant their roots on the once treifeh soil of America.  The Rebbe taught us how to stand tall in America and be proud Jews just like we were in the Shtetlich of Europe.  For this all of American Jewry and even world Jewry has a great amount of respect and gratitude.  The Satmar Rov was niftar on 26 Av 5639/1979.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Shimshon MiOstropolia and 300 Tzadikim In Burial Shrouds  One of the great losses for Klal Yisroel during the Cossack uprising during the years 5408-9/1648-49, solemnly known as Tach V'Tat, was the great Rav Shimshon MiOstropolia.  Born around the turn of the 17th century, Rav Shimshon was grandson of a brother of the Maharal MiPrague, Rav Shimshon ben Betzalel of Kremnitz, after whom he was named.  He was a legendary figure even at a young age.  He was famous for using remez and applying it to kabala.  He was also famous for his ability to decipher enigmatic Medrashim.
The Ramchal and the Bnei Yisaschar as well as many other great tzadikim quote Rav Shimshon in their works.  He was zocheh to Ruach HaKodesh and he had a Magid (Malach) come tech him secrets of the Torah.  He wrote a number of seforim including Dan Yadin and Machanei Dan on Kabala.  He writes in the Hakdama to Dan Yadin that he used the name Dan in the titles because his neshama came from Dan.  A sefer with many of his sayings and Divrei Torah was published under the name Nitzotzei Shimshon in Bnei Brak in 1980.
Rav Y. Michel Stern in Gedolei HaDoros writes that Rav Shimshon was often asked to expound on hard to understand matters of Kabala.  He refused since he believed that revealing hidden matters was Sakonas Nefashos.  We see this from a response to his cousin Rav Yehoshua Heshel, author of Maginei Shlomo and grandfather of the Pnei Yehoshua.  He says that although he normally refuses to answers questions of this nature, since Rav Yehoshua Heshel is beloved to him, he will not hide the answer but will answer with great brevity.  He authored a famous letter interpreting a remez from the Arizal relating to the Ten Makos.  It is said that whoever says this once a year, especially on Erev Pesach, will be spared from evil the entire year.
Rav Nosson Nota Hanover writes in Yivein Metzula that during the bleak days of the Cossack uprising, the Magid that learned with Rav Shimshon warned him of the impending disaster that will befall Klal Yisroel.  Rav Shimshon aroused the people's hearts to Tshuva to no avail.  The gezeira was already sealed.
When the Cossacks laid siege on the city, Rav Shimshon went with 300 Chachomim to the Bais Knesses.  They all wore burial shrouds and Taleisim and began to pour out their hearts in Tefila.  During their tefilos the enemies entered the city walls and slaughtered them all in the Bais HaKnesses, as there Neshamos went up to Shamayim, Al Kiddush Hashem. 
Yizkireim Elokeinu L'Tova Im She'or Tzadikei Olam, V'Yinkom L'Eineinu Nikmas Dam Avodecha HaShafuch

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rashi - A Tribute To The Rebbi Of Klal Yisroel Anyone who has any learning background is a student of Rashi.  Rashi's commentaries are part and parcel of both Chumash and Gemara and no one can budge without them.  The irony is that they are so basic we do not fathom how rich, deep, and complex Rashi's commentary really is.  There are two stories I'd like to share with you, and whether fact or legend they both illustrate this point.

It is told that the Arizal, once decided to write a Kabalistic Peirush on Chumash.  After completing this task in a dream, he was told that it is very good but too long and needs to be cut down.  So he went back and made it more concise.   Once he again he had the same dream.  This phenomenon repeated itself time and time again until his commentary was cut down to its barest bones.  At that point he had a dream and was told to go look in Rashi.  After all the editing, his commentary turned out to be the exact words of Rashi.

Another story is about Rebbi who was teaching his talmidim gemara with Rashi.  He read a Rashi and lamented that this was one of the three Rashi's in Shas that he did not understand.  Later that night he had a dream where Rashi appeared to him and taught him the three Rashi's he did not know.  The next day he woke up beaming with pride and told his talmidim of his dream as he explained the Rashi.  He rejoiced knowing that now he knows all the Rashi's in Shas.  The next night Rashi appeared to him in a dream and told him, "Fool do not be so haughty.  Now you actually only really know three Rashi's in all of Shas!"

Whether these stories are true or not is irrelevant.  Rashi's words reach the depth of human understanding in explaining the holy words of Hashem and Chazal.  Every Gadol laboriously toiled over his every word and phrase, with hundreds of seforim dedicated to trying to get to the bottom of their meaning.  The Pnei Yehoshua's grandfather wrote a Sefer called Maginei Shlomo, defending Rashi from Tosfos.  Upon his death he told his talmidim to make way for Rashi who has come to lead him to his place in Gan Eden in appreciation for him saving, "The lion from the cubs".

Today is the Yahrtzeit of Klal Yisroel's Rebbi.  On this day we fervently pray that Hashem will give us the wisdom and understanding to appreciate and peer deeper in the meaning of our great Rebbi's holy words.

Sun, 31 Jul 2011 03:00:00 +0000
New York's Forever Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef

While the idea of a single Chief Rabbi worked well in the Shtetlach of Europe it did not fair as well in the great melting pot of New York circa 1890.  The difficulty of conducting a successful Chief Rabbinate is dependent on the common interests of a broad constituency, who are ready to subjugate themselves to the authority of a Rov.  New York at that time was a diverse metropolis with its Jews having diverse geographical backgrounds and a wide ranging level of torah observance.  Not to mention various financial interests that guided their opinions.  It was to this impossible situation, that the Gaon and Tzadik Rav Yaakov Yosef left the old world of Europe to come to America in 1888. 
Rav Yaakov Yosef was born in 5601/1841 in Lithuania.  He learned under the Netziv in Volozhin where he was known as Rav Yaakov Charif for his sharp mind.  He was also said to have been a Talmid of Rav Yisroel Salanter and he learned in Kovno for a period.  He spent the next years as Rov of a number of towns until he ended up in Vilna as a Magid and Posek.  He was known throughout Europe as one of the Gedolei Torah.
In the late 1870's the various Shuls in New York banded together and decided to hire Rav Meir Leibush also know as the Malbim to become the Chief Rabbi of New York.  Although he accepted the position, the Malbim passed away before coming to America.  After that, the need seemed to go away until once again in 1888, after the passing of the leading Rov in New York, the various Kehilos decided to join forces to hire a leading Gadol from Europe to become the Chief Rabbi.
After considering a list of Gedolim, it was decided to offer the position to Rav Yaakov Yosef.  Although not very eager leave Europe to go to the Treifeh Medina, heavy debts and pressure from the Gedolei HaDor including Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, The Bais HaLevi of Brisk, and Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel of Lodz, persuaded Rav Yaakov Yosef to accept the position and set sail to the shores of the New World.
While Rav Yaakov Yosef had limited influence on the overall level of Yiddishkeit in New York due to the unbridgeable gap between his great tzidkus and the mindset of the Tzibbur, he did have influence in one of the key areas that he was hired to mend, kashrus.  Finding the kashrus situation in the slaughterhouses far below a minimum acceptable level, Rav Yaakov Yosef hired new shochtim and mashgichim.  However even in this area he did not fair very well.  Aside from the attacks he faced by the anti-religious elements of society, Rav Yaakov Yosef was brought down by the weightiest issue of the world's biggest capitalist society, the almighty dollar (or penny in those days).  The extra cost of Kosher Shechita led to opposition by the business owners and the public.
This issue caused enough of a rift that two other opportunistic rivals were able to use this as a way to declare themselves Chief Rabbi of New York.  After this fiasco the title became meaningless.  In time the organization behind the Chief Rabbinate stopped paying Rav Yaakov Yosef's salary, but it was taken on by the kosher butchers that he represented.  Rav Yaakov Yosef went from being a Chief Rabbi to a salaried Mashgiach.  A few years later in 1895 even the butchers stopped paying his salary. 
Penniless and broken hearted, Rav Yaakov Yosef suffered a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed while still in his mid fifties.  He lived his last five years paralyzed and in wretched poverty. 
Rav Y.M. Stern in his sefer Gedolei HaDoros tells the following story about his final Drasha.  Before his death Rav Yaakov Yosef asked the people to bring him to shul against his doctor's wishes, to give a drasha after a long period of silence.  They carried his chair to the Bimah where he mustered all his strength and started speaking.  In barely audible tones he began, "The Rambam says in Hilchos Tshuva" and then fell silent, not being able to remember the Rambam.  He tried again two, three, four times to no avail.  After a few minutes of sitting with a terribly pained look on his face he them broke into a loud voice, screaming with terror and said, "I forgot what the Rambam said.  I, who was once a Baki in all of the Torah can no longer even remember a Rambam in Hilchos Tshuva.  Look and see what is the end of a person.  I am a living example.  Learn Mussar from what happened to me and do tshuva while you can still fix yourself" and then he began to cry. 
This event made a deep impression on the people of New York.  In fact Rav Yaakov Yosef received more honor after his Petira then he ever received in lifetime, with each Kehilla fighting over the privilege of burying him in their plot and offering large sums of money to his widow for the honor.  Sometimes a single person must be Moseir Nefesh and live a bitter life in order to be Misaken future generations.  New York and all of America owes a great deal of Hakoras HaTov to the Gaon and Tzadik Rav Yaakov Yosef.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Tue, 26 Jul 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Ohr HaChaim - Rav Chaim Ben Attar, Untouchable In Life And Untouchable In Death On Motza'ei Shabbos 15 Tammuz 5503/1743 at the same time Rav Chaim ben Attar, better known by the name of his peirush on Chumash called Ohr HaChaim, was niftar in Yerushalayim, the Ba'al Shem Tov was washing for Seudah Shlishis and commented to  his talmidim, "The Ner Maaravi has been extinguished."  In Teveria at that same time Rav Chaim Abulafia fainted.  When he woke up, he said that he accompanied the Ohr HaChaim to the gates of Gan Eden.

When Har HaZeisim fell into the hands of the Jordanians after 1948, they started to build a road through the Bais HaKvaros.  When the tractor came to the kever of the Ohr Hachaim it broke down and nothing could start it again.  The next day they brought in a new tractor to clear the path.  As soon the tractor touched the kever it overturned and tumbled into the valley killing the driver.  After that the plans were halted and a road was built higher on the mountain.  The beginning of earlier road is still visible today.

The Ohr HaChaim was born in Sali, Morocco in 5456/1696 into a wealthy family.  As he grew so did his Torah and yiras shamayim and he eventually opened up his own yeshiva. His life was not ideal as he was targeted by the government and thrown into jail on more than one occasion became accused falsely of things that he had no part in.  One time he was even thrown into the lions den and came out unharmed.

His earliest works, chidushim on Shas called Chefetz Hashem, were published in Amsterdam in 1732.  He fled Morocco forever in 1738 after hunger ravaged the population and the survivors all fled.  It was at this time that Rav Chaim decided to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel and open a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim.  The journey lasted a long time and took him through Italy where he published his famous work the Ohr HaChaim in 1741.  Another famous work that he wrote is the Pri To'ar on Yoreh Dei'a.

In Elul 5501/1741 he reached the shores of Eretz Yisroel but could not travel to Yerushalayim because of a plague rampant the city.  Only a full year later did the Ohr HaChaim realize his dream and open a yeshiva in the Ir HaKodesh.  His happiness knew no bounds. In his yeshiva learned two future gedolim the Chida and the Maharit Algazi.  Sadly this dream only lasted one year as the Ohr HaChaim  was niftar on 15 Tammuz 5503/1743, at the young age of 47.  Yehi Zichro Boruch! (See also Kedoshim Asher BaAretz)

Sun, 17 Jul 2011 03:00:00 +0000 The Haflaah and the Sefer HaMakneh are hallmarks of every litvishe and chasidishe Bais Medrash.  Not only that but Rav Pinchos Horowitz a talmid of the Magid of Mezeritch was Rav for over 30 years until his Petira in Frankfurt, Germany of all places!  This is a testament to his larger than life greatness.  Other testaments to his greatness came from Rebbi Akiva Eiger who called him a “True Gaon” and the Baal Nesivos who called him the leader of the generation. The Noda B’Yehuda’s son said that a day didn’t go by without his father mentioning Rav Pinchos.

He was born to his father Rav Tzvi Hirsh of whom the Noda B’Yehuda said, not to rely on his own words unless the great light Rav Tzvi Hirsh agrees with him.  Rav Pichos's father was his first Rebbe and eventually he learned with his older brother the great Rav Shmuel Shmelke MiNikolsburg.  The two became inseparable like Dovid and Yehonoson, wrote Rav Pinchos.

Together they made their way to Mezeritch and became Chasidim of the Magid, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov.  Although unimpressed with the Magid at first, after being prodded by Rav Zusha on Anpoli the brother of Rebbi Elimelech MiLizhensk, they went back again and found their true calling and became devout chassidim.

Although he married wealthy, circumstances brought him to dire poverty at which point Rav Pinchos eventually took a position as Rav in Vitokov then moving to Lechowitz.  In Lechowitz one of the rich powerful members, enraged after losing a Din Torah, chased Rav Pinchos out by spreading false rumors to the ruler of the town.  

After a stay in Yampola, Rav Pinchos was invited to become Rov of Frankfurt.  Although nervous about going to Frankfurt because of the far geographic distance and the vastly different minhagim, Rav Pinchos accepted the position after getting the approval of his Rebbe the Maggid.  Rav Pinchos remained in Frankfurt for the next 33 years until his Petira.  He loved the Kehilla and the Kehilla loved him, despite their differences.  (Rav Pinchos was the only one in Frankfurt who davened Nusach Ari.)  His kindheartedness and graciousness endeared him to all including the non-Jews.  He opened up a Yeshiva that produced gedolei Yisroel including the Chasam Sofer and the Baal Shem of Michelstadt.  His only battle was against the reform movement and Moses Mendelsohn, which he waged with all his might.

In his later years he lost his eyesight to cataracts.  He agreed to undergo surgery to repair it however only on one eye.  He reasoned that to see the beauty of this world he has no need.  His only need is to learn torah.  For that one eye is sufficient.  For him one eye may have been sufficient but the entire spectrum of Klal Yisroel fondly looked after him with two eyes.  Rav Pinchos was niftar the same year as the Dubno Maggid and a year before the Chida.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!  (See Gedolei HaDoros)

Wed, 06 Jul 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Shlomo Elyashiv: Navigating The Heavens “In this world we can stand in his presence but who knows if in the Olam HaEmes we will even be able to get near him.”   “While we build in this world and have in mind to build the heavens, he with his clear vision of the pathways of heaven builds the heavens themselves.”  So said the Chofetz Chaim about the great Gaon, Tzaddik and Mekubal Rav Shlomo Elyashiv the author of the renowned Sefer on Kabala, Leshem Shvo V’Achlama and the grandfather of today’s posek hador Rav Sholom Yosef Elyashiv yblct”a.

The Baal HaLeshem as he is known, was born in 5601/1841.  He was a talmid of Rav Gershon Tanchum in Minsk where he was appointed to be a Rav and Posek.  After a short time he resigned his position based on a Pesikta Rabta (perek 22) that says “Rebbi Avahu says, (Hashem says) I am Kadosh and you are called Kadosh. If you do not have all the attributes that I have then do not accept authority upon yourself.

The Baal HaLeshem did not utter any word without reason and he enclosed himself in his room wearing tallis and tefilin, learning both Toras HaNigla and Toras HaNistar day and night.  There he composed he seforim on Kabala.  Rav Aryeh Levine, whose daughter married Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, said about the Baal HaLeshem that although his right hand was weak and feeble and writing was a difficult chore for him nevertheless when he wrote his seforim he was able to write with incredible speed.  Before writing his seforim he would personally make the ink and prepare the quills “B'Kedusha UB’Tahara”.

Although publishing Kabalistic works is not a simple matter because it reveals matters that are often best to remain secret, two incidents show that it was clear that the Baal HaLeshem had great Siyata Dishmaya in preserving and publishing his seforim.  The first was in WWI when the enemy soldiers came to Shavil, the town of the Baal HaLeshem, and told the people they had 15 hours to leave.  The Baal HaLeshem was already 73 years old.  With bitter tears he realized that he would not be able to take his not yet published writings with him.  He then buried them in the ground, as is Kavod for seforim.  Years later when the Baal HaLeshem took up residence in the city of Hommel and it was impossible to return to Shavil, he told of his sorrow to another former resident of Shavil, Mr. Ben Tzion Nourik, who then resided in Riga.  Mr. Nourik with great vigor took up the cause of rescuing the seforim even sending experts from Riga to Shavil to recover the buried treasures.  This operation was successful and the seforim were returned to their holy owner.

Later on, in the year 1924 when the Baal HaLeshem was already 83 years old and on his way to Eretz Yisroel, he spent a number of days in Istanbul.  Upon boarding the ship to Eretz Yisroel he realized that a set of manuscripts were missing.  With a torrent of tears the Baal HaLeshem davened for the manuscript to be returned and moments before the ship set sail another guest of the hotel he stayed at came running to the boat with the manuscript.

Rav Aryeh Levine said that one time the Baal HaLeshem’s wife, in her innocence told him, that every night for many years she would hear from behind closed doors her husband learning with someone who had a very sweet voice but she never had the nerve to ask her husband about it.  One time she was forced to come in and interrupt her husband but she was too scared to reveal to Rav Aryeh Levine what she had seen.

About his young grandson Rav Yosef Sholom Shlit”a he said “Ashrei Yoladito”, praised is he one who bore him.  He also quotes him in Chelek 3 of the Leshem.

During his Levaya in 5688/1928 at he age of 87, all those who participated witnessed a pillar of fire in the form of a rainbow, covering the entire sky from east to west and were amazed.  Yehi Zichro Boruch (Gedolei HaDoros Rav YM Stern)

Thu, 03 Mar 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Chidushei HaRim: Gerrer Chasiddus - 18 Hours Torah And A Little Chassidus “I am certain that [Rav Yitzchok Meir] will reach the level of torah greatness of Rav Yehonoson Eibushitz”, so said the great gaon Rebbi Akiva Eiger after meeting with the Chidushei HaRim the future founder of the Gerrer Chassidus for the very first time.

Rav Yitzchok Meir was born in 5558/1798 to an orphaned mother who was raised by the Magid of Kozhnitz.  The Magid of Kozhnitz was a great influence on him in his younger years.  “When he was just 17 years old he published his first Chidushim and became known as the Illuy of Warsaw”. He then became a Chosid of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa.  The Magid of Kozhnitz was hurt by this decision.  The Chidushei HaRim had thirteen children and they all died in his lifetime.  He once said that he knows this was because he hurt the Magid of Kozhnitz but nevertheless he had no regrets.  He had no use for the royal treatment and compliments showered upon him in Kozhnitz.  He much preferred a Rebbe that would rip out his veins.

After Reb Simcha Bunim’s death, although a possible successor in his own right, he submitted himself to his good friend Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and became his follower and confidant.  They became brother in laws after Reb Menachem Mendel married the sister of the wife of the Chidushei HaRim after his first wife passed away.  After the Kotzker Rebbe was niftar in 5619/1859 the Chidushei HaRim moved to Ger outside of Warsaw and started his chassidus.

He once said that "Rav Simcha Bunim Led his flock with Love, The Kotzker Rebbe instilled in his Chassidim Fear of Heaven, I will lead with Torah".  For a daily schedule he recommended as follows.  18 hours learning, four hours sleep, and 2 hours for preparations, chassidus, davening, and eating.  

It is told that one morning Rav Shmuel Salant (the future Rav of Yerushalayim) came to visit the Chidushei HaRim.  After talking for a while in learning the Chidushei HaRim excused himself to go daven.  Rav Shmuel Salant shocked asked him why he hadn’t daven yet.  He answered that he went to sleep late.  So then why, asked Rav Shmuel, did he not go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier.  To this he replied, when one is learning he doesn’t close the gemara and go to sleep.  Only when he falls asleep does he drag himself to a bed.

In a difference in opinion with his close friend the Kotzker Rebbe, the Chidushei HaRim felt strongly about wearing traditional Chassidic garb even at the cost of one’s life. The zechus of not changing clothing in Mitzrayim proved that this is the very essence of a Jew.  The Chidushei HaRim even ended up sitting in jail briefly over this battle with the authorities.  The Kotzker strongly argued with him finding no great value to externalities at all.

After leading Ger for seven years he was niftar in 5626/1866.  With no children to take his place and his young grandchild and spiritual heir refusing to become Rebbe due to his young age all his Chassidim flocked to the Alexander Rebbe.  Only upon the death of the Alexander Rebbe flock did his grandson Reb Yehuda Leib Alter (the Sfas Emes) agree to become Rebbe and continue the Gerrer Dynasty, responding to the pleas of a Rebbeless flock.  Yehi Zichro Boruch  (based on Gedolei HaDoros by Rabbi YM Stern)

Sun, 27 Feb 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman: The Zilberman Derech, Charting a New-Old Path A small Cheder in the old city of Yerushalayim was set up twenty years ago that is sending shockwaves through the Chinuch system all over the world.  Its approach to chinuch follows the Mishna in Pirkei Avos that says Chumash is learned from age five, Mishna from age ten and Gemara must wait until age fifteen.  This method had met the satisfaction of the Maharal of Prague and the Vilna Gaon.  Despite the support of these two legendary figures, until recently, this system of Chinuch did not catch on.  

The man behind today’s reawakening of this approach was Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman, the founder of the now legendary Zilberman’s Cheder in the old city of Yerushalayim.  Rav Zilberman was born in 1928 in Berlin, Germany and was orphaned from his mother at only three years old.  Later on his father, the Tzaddik Rav Avrohom Moshe, moved his family to England fearing the Nazi threat.  Unfortunately Rav Avrohom Moshe was niftar in 1939 leaving Rav Yitzchok Shlomo without a father or mother at age eleven.  Not knowing where to turn to, Rav Zilberman wandered about until he managed to catch the last boat out of England to Eretz Yisroel before the war halted sea traffic.

Upon reaching Eretz Yisroel he was taken in by his mother’s brother.  Right around that time Rav Yechiel Shlesinger was working on his dream of starting a Yeshiva for young boys of German origin. Rav Zilberman started learning in the now famous Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim.  He thrived under Rav Shlesinger’s watchful eye as the latter declared that all his efforts in starting the Yeshiva were worth it to produce a single Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman.  He later went on to learn in the Mir Yeshiva during which time he married and started his home in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood in Yerushalayim.

His life was a never-ending quest for the truth in Avodas Hashem.  He would speak to gedolim and always questioned his own derech hoping to find the ultimate truth.  One of his ideals was not derive benefit from Torah and he became a Sofer to earn a livelihood for his family.  Due to his immense Yiras Shamayim his work became favored by the likes of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and the Tchebiner Rov.

Like everything else he was faced with, when his children reached the age of chinuch he wanted to teach them torah in the best way.  Believing in the method of the Vilna Gaon he had no choice but to start a new Cheder based on this system.  His unique approach attracted a close following.  Eventually he settled in the old city taking with him many followers and starting a close-knit kehilla with the Cheder being the centerpiece.

The “Zilberman Derech” has been copied both closely and loosely by other Chedarim in Eretz Yisroel.  In recent years the method has spread across the shores with Zilberman like tracks starting in Yeshivos in America in cities like Lakewood and Baltimore.  While this approach has garnered appeal from many who are dazzled by the fantastic amount of material that a child can memorize, the jury is still out on its long term success in educating the next generation.  Many gedolim oppose this method because it teaches children only superficially and stymies their ability to think deeply.  Either way Rav Zilberman would have much nachas from the establishments reexamining the way they teach and their seeking the truth.  

Rav Zilberman was niftar 18 Adar 5761/2001 but his legend lives on.  Yehi Zichro Boruch.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Papus & Lulianos: Murder and Immediate Revenge

The Gemara Taanis (18a) says that on the twelfth day of Adar circa 3874/114CE, during the tumultuous aftermath of the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and Rome's iron rule over Eretz Yisroel, was the day the wicked Tureinos (Roman Emperor Trajan) murdered the two great tzaddikim Papus and Lulianos. Tureinos's daughter was found murdered. He blamed the Jews for her murder and decreed that they should be wiped out. In order to save Am Yisroel, Papus and Lulianos came forward and claimed to be the murderers in order that they should be punished and the Jewish nation spared.

When they were brought before Tureinos for sentencing Tureinos said to the them that if they are from the same nation as Chananiah, Mishael, and Azarya their God should save them just as he saved Chananiah, Mishael, and Azarya from Nevuchadnetzar. They answered that Nevuchadnetzar was a worthy King and Chananiah, Mishael, and Azarya were tzaddikim therefore Hashem made a Nes for them. Tureinos however is a Rasha, since according to the Maharsha he knew the Jews did not murder his daughter and was using it as an excuse for bloodshed.

Furthermore they said, they were not Tzadikim like Chananiah, Mishael, and Azarya and were not worthy of a miracle. If they would be killed by Tureinos it was because their death was already decreed and if Tureinos would not kill them Hashem would end their lives through some other means like bears, lions, or leopards. Hashem, they said, wanted Tureinos to kill them so that he can later avenge their blood with his.

Unimpressed with their speech Tureinos killed them on the spot. It didn't take long for their words to ring true. Before Tureinos had a chance to leave the scene he was assassinated by two ministers who brutally clubbed him to death.

According to the book History of the Jewish People/Yavneh to Pumpedisa it was not actually Trajan who this story happened with, rather it was Kitus, the governor of Eretz Yisroel. Kitus was assassinated on that day by two ministers of newly appointed Emperor Hadrian who succeeded Trajan and wanted to get rid of Trajan's close ally Kitus.

The gemara in Pesachim (50a) says that no one can stand in the special place in Gan Eden where these two tzaddikim merited to stand.

Wed, 16 Feb 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Meir Poperosh - Taking the Arizal's Kabalah Global

Even the Shelah HaKadosh, one of the greatest Mekubalim of his generation, who died nearly 60 years after the Arizal, was unfamiliar with the Arizal's system of Kabalah until he emigrated to Eretz Yisroel near the end of his life. The Arizal purposely taught things out of order to ensure that outsiders would not be able learn his teachings. Rav Chaim Vital insisted that the classic Kabalah work Eitz Chaim, which are his writings that he heard from the Arizal, be buried with him since they were not meant for public dissemination.

The only copy available after his death was a hastily copied bootleg manuscript made from his writings which were taken from his house during his last illness, copied and quickly returned. This manuscript was full of errors and poorly arranged. Many years after his death Rav Yaakov Tzemach (a talmid of Rav Shmuel Vital, Rav Chaim Vital's son) and Rav Avrohom Azulai made a "Sheilas Chalom" and received permission to exhume the writings buried with Rav Chaim Vital. Even so they were unable to make an orderly arrangement of these writings. Rav Yaakov Tzemach's talmid Rav Meir Poperos undertook the task of arranging and organizing the Eitz Chaim and is credited with arranging the format in which we have it today.

Rav Meir was born in 5384/1624 in Prague a few years after the death of Rav Chaim Vital and a few years before the death of the Shelah HaKadosh. Rav Meir was a very holy child. He moved to Eretz Yisroel and started learning Kabalah at the age of 13. After struggling with non organized seforim he made his way to Damascus where he studied under Rav Shmuel Vital as well as Rav Yaakov Tzemach. Rav Meir published many original works in Kabalah the most famous being Ohr Tzadikim a compilation minhagim based on Kabalah which was later edited and lengthened in what is known as Ohr HaYashar by Rav Tzvi Hirsh Chazzan.

Rav Meir along with Rav Yaakov Tzemach and Rav Nosson Shapira are considered the main disseminators of the Kabalah of the Arizal and his various minhagim to the entire European Jewish community. Rav Meir was niftar in 5422/1662 at the young age of 38 in Yerushalayim. Yehi Zichro Boruch.

Sun, 06 Feb 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Yisroel Salanter - A Gaon With A Life Full Of Stories

After seeing chiddushim written by Rav Yisroel Salanter's chiddushim at age 14,Rebbi Akiva Eiger said that they were genius of the genius. Rav Chaim Brisker said that had he lived in the generation of the Rema he would have been considered a Gaon B'Yisroel. His Talmid the ALter of Kelm said that although he doesn't know if he has Ruach HaKodesh, he knows that he has all the qualifications given by Chazal. Yet the world knows Reb Yisroel as a Gaon in mussar and middos. Reb Yisroel preferred to turn man into the embodiment of Torah, living examples of the sweetness of Torah.

In 1810 Rav Yisroel was born to his father Rav Zev Wolf, the Rov of the city Zagar in Russia. He learned Torah from his father and his main rebbi Rav Tzvi Hirsh Broide who was highly regarded by Rebbi Akiva Eiger. Later he joined a chaburah formed under the great Rav Yosef Zundel of Salant who was a Talmid of Rav Chaim Volozhin. Rav Yisroel remained in this chabura for 18 years. It was from Rav Yosef Zundel that Rav Yisroel acquired his guidance in mussar, the limud that shaped his life's work.

At almost 30 years old Rav Yisroel accepted the position of Rosh Yeshiva at the renowned Yeshiva Rameiles in in Vilna. Due to his overwhelming popularity at the expense of other Rebbein, Rav Yisroel left the Yeshiva and started his own Yeshiva in a suburb of Vilna. The following years was when Rav Yisroel began his mussar movement, encouraging the reprinting of many of out of print mussar classics.

IN 1848 the Russian government started a "Rabbinical Seminary" and considered Rav Yisroel as a strong potential candidate to head it. Not wanting to be involved in certifying puppet rabbis and fearing the backlash of the Russian regime, Rav Yisroel, left Russia and opened up a yeshiva in Kovno, Lithuania. This is where he produced his finest talmidim who themselves became Marbitzei Torah and Gedolei HaDor in Rav Itzele Blazer, Rav Naftoli Amsterdam, Rav Leizer Gordon of Telz, Rav Yeruchom Perlman, Rav Yaakov Yosef of New York, and Rav Simcha Zissel of Kelm.

He devoted the next approximately ten years of his life in Kovno until he became ill and left Kovno to recover. In 1861 Rav Yisroel started a monthly Torah publication called HaTevuna which eventually folded for lack of funding and sufficient subscriptions to keep it going. From there he spent time in various cities in Germay trying to strengthen Yehadus, including stints in Mamel and Koenigsburg. He even spent two years in Paris towards the end of life in order to be Michazek the community there.

Aside from some letter printed in Ohr Yisroel by his Talmid Rav Itzele Blazer, there is no vast source of Rav Yisroel's writings. His impact is felt constantly because from all the people who set out to, Rav Yisroel actually did change the world. His legacy is through his talmidim and the yeshivos they started and the people they influenced. Beyond that Rav Yisroel Salanter lives on in the hundred of stories documented describing his impeccable character and his sharp and caring mind. Rav Yisroel was niftar in Koenigsburg at age 73 on 25 Shvat 5683/1883. Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Maharam Of Padua - A Bitter Battle, The Banning Of The Talmud, And The Advent Of Haskamos Rav Meir Katzenelenbogen was born in Prague in 5242/1482.  He was a Talmid of Rav Yaakov Pollack in Poland and a close friend of his successor Rav Shalom Shachna the father in law of the Rema, before heading off to Italy where he became a talmid of Rav Yehuda Mintz, otherwise known as the Mahari Mintz.  He was taken as a son in law by Rav Avrohom Mintz the son and successor of his father the Mahari. 

After the petira of Rav Avrohom, Rav Meir became Rov of Padua and Venice, but his name and Psak reached far and wide all the way back to his roots in Eastern Europe where he was held to be one of the Gedolei HaDor by the younger Gedolim of his time including the Maharshal and the Rema who was a cousin of Rav Meir, and with whom he maintained halachic correspondence as well as quoting him in Shulchan Aruch.  He also corresponded with Rav Ovadia Sforno and the Maharam Alshakar among others.  The Maharashdam writes (EH 64) "All the words of the Rav HaMufla Maharam Padua z"l are Divrei Elokim Chaim... There is no doubt that you cannot argue with him, Ki Mi Yavo Acharei HaMelech?"

One of the landmark events of the Maharam's life was a dispute that broke out between two non-Jewish seforim publishers.  In 1550 Aloiso Bragadini printed a new version of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah.  it included Hagahos from Rav Meir who was also his partner in this venture.  A competing printing house headed by Marco Guistiniani printed a competing edition that very same year including Rav Meir's hagahos although he did not reveal Rav Meir to be the author and downplayed their importance and scholarship value.

Rav Meir turned to the Rema for a psak on the matter and the Rema ruled in favor of Rav Meir and placed a Cheirem on the Guistiniani Edition until all the Bragadini copies were sold and the stipulations of the psak were upheld.  Guistiniani then turned to the church, and in 1553 as a result of this, a law was issued banning the printing or possession of the talmud, based on supposed slanderous remarks made against Christianity.  A year later in 1554 a landmark takana was enacted by the Rabbonim including Rav Meir forbidding the publication of any sefer without prior haskama from the gedolim. 

The Katzenelenbogen traces its roots back through Rashi to Dovid HaMelech.  It is said that the vast majority of descendants from Eastern European Jewry can trace their roots back to this illustrious family.  The Maharam Padua was niftar 10 Shevat 5325/1565 and is buried in the cemetery in Padua where his matzeiva still exists.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Sat, 15 Jan 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Rashash - The Great Mekubal Rav Shalom Sharabi

One the great Yemenite Torah leaders and one of the foremost Mekubalim of his day and leading Mekubal in Yerushalayim, Rav Shalom Sharabi otherwise known as the Rashash, was born in Yemen in 5480/1720.  After being saved from a difficult situation he fulfilled his promise to go to Eretz Yisroel with his sights set on learning Torah in Yeshiva Bet El in Yerushalayim.  After a journey that led him through India, Baghdad and Damascus he arrived in Yerushalayim.  At that point he was already a great talmid chochom and accomplished in both Toras HaNiglah and Toras HaNistar.  Yet trying to keep himself hidden, the Rashash approached the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Gedalia Chayon and applied for the job of a Shamash.  This way he was able to stay anonymous yet quench his thirst for Torah in this great Yeshiva. 

He would stand innocently in the corner during shiurim as if he was not part of the shiur, yet he was listening intently.  His official job was to wake up the talmidim for tikkun chatzos, arrange the seforim, and bring water.  No one dreamed that this "Shamash" was actually a great Talmid Chochom.  When difficult questions would arise that could not be answered by anyone in the yeshiva the Rashash would leave an anonymous note with the correct answer between the Rosh Yeshiva's seforim.  This happened on a number of occasions and left the Rosh Yeshiva and all the talmidim bewildered as to who the author could have been since the Rosh Yeshiva decreed on all the "talmidim" that they must reveal the author.

One day when the daughter of the Rosh Yeshiva saw the Rashash sticking a paper inside her father's sefer she immediately notified her father.  Under pressure from the Rosh Yeshiva the Rashash was forced to admit what he had been doing all along.  Although he pleaded with Rav Gedalia to let him remain hidden, Rav Gedalia took his daughter's revelation as sign from Shamayim that it was time for the Rashash to be revealed.  From then on the Rashash became very close with the Rosh Yeshiva and in time married his daughter.

After Rav Gedalia's death the Rashash, at only 27 years old, was appointed Rosh Yeshiva.  He wrote a peirush on the Arizal's Kabbala work Etz Chaim (written by Rav Chaim Vital) of which Rav Yeddiya Abulafia said that whoever learns Eitz Chaim without the peirush of the Rashash is like a blind man feeling his way in the dark.  Among his most famous writings is the Siddur HaRashash in which is written special kabalistic kavanos for Tefila which have become the standard for all Mekubalim today.

Among his talmidim were the Chida and the Maharit Algazi who became the Rosh Yeshiva after the petira of the Rashash.  His great son Rav Yitzchok Sharabi left in his tzava'a a request to bury him in disgrace and throw him into his kever as a kapara for once acting against the wishes of his father the Rashash.  Naturally upon his death the Chevra Kadisha refused to carry this out.  During the levaya they were attacked by the local Arabs and everyone was forced to leave the niftar and flee for their lives.  The attackers then flung the body which rolled down the hill in disgrace to its final resting place.

The Rashash was niftar in 5537/1777 at the age of 57 in Yerushalayim.  The Rashash promised that in times of tzara whoever davens at his kever with great kavana will be answered.  He is buried on Har HaZeisim and on his Yahrtzeit, the 10th of Shevat many petitioners who go to learn and daven there. Yehi Zichro Boruch

Sat, 15 Jan 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Sridei Aish Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg - Berlin is Berlin and Munkacs is Munkacs Born in Poland, he came of age in Slabodka, was the leading Germanposek and head of the Hildesheimer Rabbinic seminary, and got alongfamously with the Minchas Elazar of Munkacs and the Gerer Rebbe.  Thisis the description of the great Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg whose lifecrossed lines within the spectrum of orthodox Jewry as well as twoworld wars.

Rav Yechiel Yaakov was born in Poland in 1878.  As a child, his greathead for torah was discovered by Rav Elya Boruch Kammai, the Rov of thetown where he lived.  When Rav Elya Boruch was invited to become RoshYeshiva of the Mir he took along the young Rav Yechiel Yaakov withhim.  After a short period where he gained notoriety as an illuy, RavYechiel Yaakov went to learn in Slabodka, the crown jewel of theYeshiva world after the closing of Volozhin by the Russian government. He quickly became a star there as well and was the apple of  the Alterof Slabodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel's eye.  When Rav Naftali Amsterdam,one of the leading talmidim of Rav Yisroel Salanter, came to Slabodka,Rav Yechiel Yaakov was given the honor to be his chavrusa for hisMotza'ei Shabbos study of Ketzos HaChoshen, a custom initiated by RavYisroel Salanter.  Rav Yechiel Yaakov also was privileged on a fewoccasions to spend time with Rav Yisroel Salanter's close talmid, RavItzele Blazer.

Rav Yechiel Yaakov eventually was sent back to the Mir by the Alter ofSlabodka to help lead mussar seder, and he learned b'chavrusa with theAlter's son and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Lazer Yudel.  He became Rov inPilwishki and remained there for seven years.  At the outbreak of WorldWar I he went to Germany where he studied at the University of Giessenand earned his Doctorate.  Armed with his incredible torah knowledgefrom Lithuania and his PHD, he became the head of the HildesheimerRabbinic Seminary in Berlin, started by the great Rav EzrielHildesheimer talmid of the Aruch LaNer. 

Despitethe more liberal leanings of the German derech compared to eastern European Torah Jewry, RavYechiel Yaakov maintained close ties with many of the gedolim form hisgeneration including the fiery Kana'i the Minchas Elazar who whenquestioned about his respect for Rav Yechiel Yaakov said, Berlin isBerlin and Munkacs is Munkacs.  He halachic opinion was highly regardedby the Chazon Ish and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky held him in highesteem.  Rav Elchonon Wasserman once visited Berlin and gave a Shiur atthe seminary.

Before World War II, Rav Yechiel Yaakov becameterribly weak and feeble after an operation gone awry.  Rav YechielYaakov managed to survive the war and moved to Montreux,Switzerland where he had a Yeshiva and spent the last twenty years ofhis life.  His halachic opinion was sought from all over the world. His Sefer of Tshuvos, Sridei Aish was reprinted with haskamos from RavShlomo Zalman Auerbach and ybcl"c Rav Elyashiv Shlit"a.  He was Niftar4 Shevat, 5726/1966.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Sun, 09 Jan 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Baal HaTanya - Vilna Just Wasn't His Calling Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi known as the Baal HaTanya after his famous work, was born on 18 Cheshvan 1745.  That day was the 47th birthday of the Baal Shem Tov from whom his father received a bracha to have a son.

The Baal HaTanya was child prodigy but in no way grew up as a Chosid.  He was a great grandson of the Maharal MiPrague and lived in the Lithuanian town of Liozna.  He married the daughter of a wealthy resident of Vitebsk where he learned in peace after his marriage.  

After a number of years the Baal HaTanya decided, with permission from his wife, to go learn Torah in Galus.  He felt a yearning to go to Vilna the home of the Vilna Gaon and the fortress of anti-chassidus as well as a yearning to go to Mezritch, where the light of the Baal Shem Tov emanated from his talmid and successor the Maggid Rav Dov Ber of Mezritch.  At the end the desire to perfect his tefila swayed him towards Mezritch, where he was personally taught by the son of the Magid, Rav Avrohom HaMalach.

Upon returning to Vitebsk in 1767 a full fledged Chosid, he was promptly chased out of town and hired to become Magid in his old hometown of Liozna.  Three years later he was directed by the Magid of Mezritch to reedit the Shulchan Aruch, update it, and make it more concise.  This effort bore fruit in his creation of the universally accepted Shulchan Aruch HaRav.

In 1775 after the Magid's death, the Baal HaTanya traveled to Vilna together with Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in an effort to defend Chassidus before the Vilna Gaon.  This effort was unsuccessful as the Vilna Gaon left the city in order to avoid meeting with them.

The next twenty years of his life were spent creating the framework for Chassidus known as the Tanya.  It was published in 1796.  It was not universally accepted by Chassidim and was sharply criticized by the Chasidim in Eretz Yisroel who made Aliya some 20 years earlier with Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk.  It caused a schism in the Chassidic world that was patched up through the intervention of Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev and Rav Nachman of Breslov.

The publication also led to bitter opposition by the Misnagdim and false accusations caused him to be arrested twice by the Czar's army, once in 1798 and once in 1800.

The last major chapter of the Baal HaTanya's life was the Napoleonic War.  While some Chassidic Rebbes saw this as Milchemes Gog UMagog and an opportunity for the Geula in the wake of a victory by Napoleon, the Baal HaTanya openly supported the Czar, stating that a victory by Napoleon will bring great wealth to the Jews but a rift between Hashem and His nation.  Victory by the Czar will bring poverty but closeness between Am Yisroel and Hashem.

In 1812 the Baal HaTanya fled Liadi, ahead of Napoleon's advancing army, to the relative safety of interior Russia.  In his weakened state his was niftar along the way in the village of Pienna on 24 Teves 5770/1812. Yehi Zichro Boruch. 

Fri, 31 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Mordechai Gifter - An American Legend That Doesn't Get Away

In 1915 in Portsmouth, Virginia one of the future great lights of the American Yeshiva world was born; Rav Mordechai Gifter. Rav Gifter grew up in Baltimore. His father moved the family there to make sure that Rav Gifter would get a Torah education. When he was young he received a bracha from the Rav Shimon Shkop the Rosh Yeshiva of Grodno who was in Baltimore raising funds for his Yeshiva in Europe. Rav Gifter attributed his success in learning to this bracha. Surely his hasmadah, great mind and memory had what to do with it as well. At age 15 this American boy's Chiddushim were published in Eretz Yisroel in the same Torah journal together with those of the Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank the Rav of Yerushalayim.

Later Rav Gifter learned in Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Yeshiva together with two of his famous colleagues Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, mashgiach of Lakewood and Rav Avigdor Miller. In a rare move during those times Rav Gifter jumped back in time and traveled to Lithuania to study Torah in the famed Yeshiva of Telshe. This "American" yeshiva boy was already one of the outstanding talmidim upon his arrival. While in Telz he maintained a correspondence with the Rogatchover Gaon Rav Yosef Rosen and Rav Mordechai Pogramanski. He became close to the Mashgiach Rav Zalman Bloch and became engaged to marry his daughter.

He traveled to America to visit his family during the engagement. Due to the growing hostile climate in Europe it was decided that the Kallah would go to America to get married while her family remained in Europe. They got married in America in 1937 without the Kallah's family present. Over the next few years Rav Gifter held positions as Rav in various Shuls as well as being a Maggid Shiur in Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore headed by Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman of Slabodka.

Sadly the young couple never returned to Telz and the Yeshiva and most of its students were wiped out in the Holocaust. Yet Torah can never be wiped out and in 1944 while the war was still raging in Europe the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland was opened with Rav Gifter invited to be a Mashgiach and Maggid Shiur. In 1964 he was appointed Rosh Yeshiva together with Rav Boruch Sorotzkin.

In 1977 Rav Gifter left everything behind and headed to Eretz Yisroel to start a Yeshiva in a small town outside of Yerushalayim named appropriately TelzStone after the Yeshiva and Irving Stone the great philanthropist who sponsored it. Rav Gifter's presence in Eretz Yisroel was greatly enjoyed by the locals as many Talmidei Chachomim traveled from Yerushalayim to attend his weekly Minchas Chinuch shiur. Unfortunately this venture did not last long. After the passing of Rav Boruch Sorotzkin the Rosh Yeshiva in Cleveland, Rav Gifter, upon the advice of the Steipler Gaon went back to head the Yeshiva once again. Showing his despair about being torn away from the Eretz HaKodesh, Rav Gifter did not move back into a house rather he kept apartment in the dormitory for him and his family not wanting to "move" back to America. All through the years Rav Gifter was respected and maintained a close friendship with both the Steipler Gaon and Rav Shach.

Aside from molding a generation of talmidim in Telz, Rav Gifter was one of the heads of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in the United States. His oratory skills were legendary. He was the keynote speaker at the Agudah Conventions where people flocked to hear his Daas Torah. Rav Gifter was niftar 23 Teves 5762. Yehi Zicro Boruch.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaCohen Heller - The Ketzos HaChoshen Needs No Introduction The parents of Rav Aryeh Leib HaKohen Heller were so poor that when they became engaged no one could figure out how they would manage to have food to eat.  They went to a local tzaddik to consult with him on the matter.  He said not to break the shidduch due to finances, but rather he suggested that the girl continue to eat in her parents home and the boy in his parents home. History would not have been the same without this ingenious solution.  This marriage produced both Rav Aryeh Leib the author of the Ketzos HaChoshen and his older brother Rav Yehuda Kahana the author of the Kuntras HaSfeikos, both worthy descendants of their illustrious ancestor Rav Yom Tov Lipman Heller the Tosfos Yom Tov.  The Ketzos, born in 5505/1745 in Kalusz, Galicia, grew up with his mother and his brother with his father, until they managed to afford a house and the family was united.

Rav Aryeh Leib went ot learn in the famous Yeshiva of Rav Meshulam Igra.  Rav Meshulam's Yeshiva produced some of the greatest ge'onim of the generation including Rabbi Mordechai Bennet, the Rov of Nikolsburg, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz of Ropshitz, Rabbi Baruch Frankel-Teomim, the Rov of Lipnik, and Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum, the Rov of Lissa and michaber of the Chavas Daas and Nesivos.

Rav Aryeh Leib was appointed Rov of Rosiantov at a very young age.  In this small poor community he continued to lead a life of dire poverty.  His table consisted of a board held up by two barrels.  It was there that he wrote his famous work the Ketzos HaChoshen.  It was so cold in his dwelling that he used to keep the ink under a pillow as he wrote so it wouldn't freeze.

His Sefer Ketzos HaChoshen is considered one of the greatest works on Choshen Mishpat.  The story is told that after completing it at the age of 40, Rav Aryeh Leib went to Rav Tzvi Hirsh Boshka to receive a haskama.  Skeptical that that this young Talmid Chochom could add anything novel to what the famous Gaon Rav Yehonoson Eibushitz wrote in his sefer Urim V'Tumim, he asked him to leave the sefer and come back the next day.  The next day before mincha, Rav Aryeh Leib heard an announcement that there will be Sefer Torah dedication that evening with the procession going from the Rov's house.  During the procession Rav Aryeh Leib came near the torah hoping to have a chance to carry it.  As he came up to the Torah, the Rov lifted the cover of the torah and lo and behold underneath was not a torah it was the manuscript that Rav Aryeh Leib gave the Rov the night before.  A living sefer torah.

It is said that when Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz asked his Rebbi, Rav Chaim Brisker, why he spends so much time giving shiurim on Kodshim and not Nashim and Nezikin he said that he was scared to say something the Ketzos would disagree with.

The Ketzos made an impact on the entire Torah world and Rav Aryeh Leib's name became known far and wide.  So much so that even though he was a staunch Misnaged and upheld the Vilna Gaon's ban against Chasidim which was written in his day, he was still widely respected by Chasidim and Misnagdim alike.  In fact after placing a Cheirem on the Chasidim in the city of Stry, where he was then serving as Rov, the chasidim decided to travel to their Rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin, to complain.  Before even knowing their story, the Chozeh instructed his gabbai that the group from Stry would need to wait two weeks before coming in to him.  That happened to coincide with the ending of the 30 day cheirem.  When they finally gained an audience with the Chozeh, he chastised them for not showing enough respect for Rav Aryeh Leib.

Rav Aryeh Leib Heller was niftar on 19 Teves 5573/1813.  He did not leave this world without making his mark on all future generations.  He wrote three landmark works in the Ketzos HaChoshen, Avnei Miluim, and Shev Shmatza.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Sun, 26 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
The Dubno Magid: Let Me Tell You A Mashal When it comes to comparing the greatness of Gedolim, we do not cross generational lines.  However when it comes to Darshanim, the Dubno Magid is said to be of the great Darshanim in modern history.  How did he do this?  He once explained, with a Mashal of course.  A man walking in the forest sees a boy not far from a tree with a number of arrows right in middle of the bull's eye.  He asks the boy who shot those arrows?  "I did" replied the boy.  "And how did a boy your age manage to hit the center every time?"  "Simple", said the boy, "first I shot the arrows then I painted the target."  The Dubno Magid always moved the hardest hearts to tears mixed with awe, never missing the bull's eye.  The center was Hashem, whom he painted a picture around.

Rav Yaakov Krantz, the Dubno Magid, was born in a village near Vilna in 1740.  His brilliance mixed with hasmada earned him a glowing reputation.  At 18 he moved to Mezeritch where people flocked to hear his drashos and he was appointed the official Magid of the city.  After serving in this capacity for two years he then moved to Zelkova.  After that he spent 18 years in Dubno and earned his name as the Dubno Magid.

His reputation spread far and wide.  Two great gedolim once told him they want to come to his drasha.  He warned them not to, because in their frail health they can get sick from crying.  They insisted they wouldn't cry.  He did not stop them.  The first one started bawling as the Magid walked up to the Bimah.  He said that when I looked at his face and his movements, fear and trembling overtook me.  The other held out for half an hour.   When he started to cry the tears were so bitter that he ended up getting sick for three months.

The Dubno Magid was so sought after that there were many people going around giving Drashos claiming to be the Dubno Magid.  There were even stories about the Dubno Magid running into an impostor when arriving in a town and having to prove himself to be authentic.

In 1791, the Vilna Gaon sent a message to the Dubno Magid to please come and revive his weary soul.   It is said that the Dubno Magid originally first met the Vilna Gaon years before when he was 18, and the Vilna Gaon set him on his path to become a successful magid.  The only letters ever found where the Vilna Gaon wrote terms of endearment and of a longing to see someone, was to the Dubno Magid.  The reason for this close relationship between the two, especially considering that "Magidim" did not earn great respect from the Gedolim, was because the Dubno Magid was a great Gaon in torah in Nigla and Nistar.  His personality was flawless and he refrained from any worldly pleasures or honors.  And he had the unique ability to make a Gaon cry.

His seforim were published after his death by his talmid Rav Berish Flam.  Included are seforim on Chumash - Ohel Yaakov, Megilos - Kol Yaakov, Haftorah - Kochav MiYaakov, and Sefer HaMidos.  He was niftar on 17 Teves 5565/c.1805.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Fri, 24 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Aryeh Leibush Lipshitz - I'll Give It All Up Rav Moshe Teitelbaum also known as the Yismach Moshe and the patriarch of the Satmar-Sighet dynasty was in awe of the greatness of the young Aryeh Leibush Lipshitz.  He wanted to take him for a son-in-law despite that he had previously been divorced.  His family was not to happy with this, but at the end he prevailed.

It was not hard to imagine his pain when he heard that his new son-in-law was conducting himself in an odd manner with strange unconventional practices.  When it was finally discovered that Rav Aryeh Leibush was a Chosid, there was much resentment.  The Yismach Moshe after all was said to have travelled to Vilna in is youth in an attempt to become a Talmid of the Vilna Gaon, who signed a Cheirem against Chassidim.

When confronted by his father-in-law, Rav Aryeh Leibush said he would give up Chassidus if the Yismach Moshe would agree to come with him to his Rebbe, just once.  The two of them set out for the Chozeh of Lublin and the rest is history.

Rav Aryeh Leibush was a talmid of the Ketzos HaChoshen and a friend of he Yeshuos Yaakov.  The Chasam Sofer called him the Gaon HaDor and the Divrei Chaim of Tzanz wrote in a Haskama about his awesome Kedusha.  He authored Shailos UTshuvos Aryeh Dbei Ilai and one of his son-in-laws was Rav Yechezkel Halberstam of Shineve, the son of the Divrei Chaim.

As a not so insignificant footnote, the story goes that after being greeted warmly by the Vilna Gaon who was very impressed with the young Yismach Moshe, the Gaon allowed him to spend a few days in his house.  At the end the Gaon told him not to stay in Vilna but rather to go back to home where he will be very much needed in the future.  How ironic!

Fri, 24 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
The Murder of Huna and Rav Mesharshiya - The Dark Close of A Glorious Era

During most of the era of the Amora'im in Bavel (3960/220CE until 4235/475CE) peace, prosperity, and tranquility reigned for the Jews. Although subjects of the Persian Kings they were granted a great deal of autonomy. Jewish matter were in the hands of the Reish Galusa. The leading Amora'im were often very friendly with the reigning Persian King. This allowed Torah to flourish climaxing with the editing of Talmud Bavli by Rav Ashi.

Many centuries of respite from religious persecution came to an end during the reign of the Persian King Bahram V Gor (421-438CE). After initiating war with the Byzantine Empire (the eastern metamorphosis of the Roman Empire), when no clear victory was scored on either side, Christianity began to make its way into Persia. In the backlash against Christianity, as always seems to be the case, the Jews became a target of the Persians. Two Kings, Yazdergerd II (438-457CE) and Peroz (459/484CE) both waged religious war against the Jews. A decree forbid the keeping of Shabbos.

Rav Sherira Gaon writes, that it was under Peroz the Wicked that Huna the son Mar Zutra the Reish Galusa and Rav Mesharshiya were martyred on 15 Teves 4230/470CE. Later that year Ameimar the talmid of Rav Ashi was also put to death. This reign of terror also included the kidnapping of Jewish children and handing them over to the Persian religious leaders. The situation subsequently worsened and climaxed in the closing of all Batei Knesses, as well as the closure of the legendary Yeshiva of Sura, for 40 years. This was the dark end of the otherwise glorious period of the Amoraim in Bavel. The year 500CE is considered the beginning of the period of the Rabanan Savarai.

Wed, 22 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Yosef ben Rav Shmuel HaNagid - From Riches to Rags

Rav Yosef's father, Rav Shmuel HaNagid, lived a tale of rags to riches. When the chief advisor to the King of Granada of Spain realized the talents of Rav Shmuel the poor shopkeeper, he used his talents to the maximum without ever divulging his identity. Near death the advisor told his secret to the King. From that point on Rav Shmuel HaNagid rose rapidly in the court of the king to the point that he just about ran the country when the King's less than capable son succeeded him.

This royal life is what Rav Shmuel's son Yosef was born into. Rav Yosef was a future Nagid from birth. And so it came to be, upon his father's death Rav Yosef, who inherited his father's talent, did indeed become the Nagid and successor to his father in the King's court. He married the daughter of Rav Nissim Ben Yaakov another illustrious Rishon who was very close with Rav Hai Gaon who was from the last of the geonim. Rav Yosef was also a great talmid chochom succeeding his father as the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva he opened in Granada.

Though his father Rav Shmuel, was able to pacify all sides and rise above the jealousy and antagonism of many Arabs towards a Jew holding prestigious position, Rav Yosef was not as successful. When painted as a traitor by one of his Arab enemies, Rav Yosef's house was stormed by Arab mobs on Shabbos the 9th of Teves 4827/1067. Rav Yosef was brutally murdered and his body was hung from the city gate. The mob rampaged through the Jewish section of the city wreaking havoc on all that stood in their way.

Rav Yosef's wife and young son were lucky to escape to Lucerna. In Lucerna Rav Yitzchok ibn Gias raised Rav Yosef's son who was a star in the making. Unfortunately his son died at the age of twenty.  VYinkom L'Eineinu Nikmas Dan Avadav HaShafuch!

Thu, 16 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Shlomo Molcho H'yd - A Savior And A Martyr

Born in the year1500 in Lisbon the capital of Portugal shortly after that countryadopted the Inquisition against the Jews, Rav Shlomo Molcho was raisedas a marranonamed Diego Perez, and even served in the King's court.  Under thecircumstances he did not know much about Judaism, but became veryinterested in his Jewish heritage when one of the more enigmaticfigures in Jewish history Dovid HaReuveni suddenly appeared in theKing's court.  Dovid HaReuveni claimed to be the brother of the King ofthe 10 lost tribes.  He swept through Europe offering the Christianpowers his warrior peoples full cooperation in fighting the Muslims andretaking control of Yerushalayim.  His charisma enabled him to receiveaudiences with the Pope and the ruling powers in Europe.

DiegoPerez wanted to join him but David* rejected his overtures fearing forboth their safety.  He sent Diego who decided to return to Judaism toTurkey.  He ended up learning Kabbalah from one of the Gedolei HaDorRav Yitzchok Taitatzak in Salonica and became friendly with Rav YosefKaro the Michaber of the Shulchan Aruch, who referred to him in hissefer Maggid Meisharim as "Shlomo my chosen one" and envied his deathas a martyr.  Rav Shlomo authored two seforim on Kabbala called Sefer HaMefoar and Chayas Kaneh.

Afterhis time in Salonica and Tzfas, Rav Shlomo returned to Europe withMessianic visions.  He exhorted the Jews of Europe to return toTshuva.  Many marranosreturned to religion through his impassioned speeches.  He commandedgreat respect all over Europe especially from the Pope after predictinga great flood in Rome and an earthquake in Portugal which provedaccurate. 

After being reported to the authorities as being aChristian apostate rather than a Jew from the east, Rav Shlomo wasimprisoned by the inquisition.  Through the intervention of the Pope hewas freed and told to escape to safety.  However Rav Shlomo continuedhis mission, appearing before Charles V the Roman Emperor.  Rav Meir (Marcus) Lehman writes in his book Rabbi Yoselman of Roshheim the great askan who was very close with Charles V, warned Rav Shlomo that his approach would not work with Charles V.  He did not heed the warning.  

Upon appearing before Charles V, Rav Shlomo imprisoned and told to choose between converting or being burnedat the stake.  Rav Shlomo Molcho would hear nothing of it and happilydied Al Kiddush Hashem at the young age of 32 years old on 5 Teves 5292/1532, while clinging to his religion after a short but accomplished life.  Yehi Zichro Boruch  (also see the Early Acharonim by Rabbi Hersh Goldwurm)

*Dovid HaReuveni was eventually arrested by the Emperor in Germany and is speculated to have died in prison.

Sun, 12 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Shloime Berman Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh: Groomed By The Ponevezher Rav and the Chazon Ish

He was affectionately known as Rav Shloimke by his many talmidim and admirers both talmidim of Yeshivas Ponevezh where he served as Rosh Yeshiva alongside with Rav Shach and Rav Dovid Povarsky, as well as the many Baalei Batim that were close with him and drank from his Torah.

He was born in Russia in 5690/1930 and moved to Eretz Yisroel at the young age of 4. His father was one of the leading Rabbonim in Tel Aviv and had a close relationship with Rav Eliyahu Dessler whom he learned with B'Chavrusa. At the age of 14 he gained admission to Yeshivas Ponevezh where he remained his whole life. Quickly he rose to become the top bochur in the Yeshiva where he became inseparable from his Rebbi the Ponevezher Rav.

When the Chazon Ish needed a Bochur to stay with him in his home he turned to the Ponevezher Rav to send a suitable bochur from the Yeshiva and the Ponevezher Rav send Rav Shloime. Rav Shloime lived in the home of the Chazon Ish for six years. When the Steipler Gaon was looking for a Shidduch for his daughter the Chazon Ish suggested Rav Shloime. They were married in 1952. After two years in the Ponevezher Kollel he was appointed Rosh Yeshiva by the Ponevezher Rav. While serving in Ponevezh he had a very close relationship with Rav Shach who would frequently consult with him valuing his opinion on many matters.

Aside from his brilliant mind and incredible hasmada, Rav Shloime was known as an "Ish Chesed". His love for his fellow Yid knew no bounds. While he was Rosh Yeshiva of one of the most prestigious Yeshivos with the best young minds in the world, he nevertheless dedicated a great deal of his time giving shiurim to simple Baalei Batim and traveled out of Bnei Brak for the privilege.

The effects of Parkinson's disease forced him to stop giving shiurim and he was Niftar on the seventh night of Chanukah 5765/2004. He left behind his seforim "Asher L'Shlomo". He is survived by his children including Rav Chaim Peretz Berman and his son in law Rav Eliezer Ginsburg Mashgiach Ruchni of Ponevezh.

Wed, 08 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
The Pri Chadash - Honored In Amsterdam, Scorned In Egypt, Fulfilled In Yerushalayim One of the great commentaries on Yoreh Dei'ah relied on by all poskim, is the Pri Chadash, written by Rav Chizkiya De-Saluha.  It was banned in Mitzrayim and the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh often argued with him in his own sefer called Pri To'ar.  The Pri Chadash gave up a good life in Europe to spread Torah in Yerushalyim and was niftar at a young age.

The Pri Chadash was born in Livorno, Italy around the year 5419/1659.  At age 20 he moved to Yerushalayim and learned for the next ten years under Rav Moshe Galante know as the Magen, until the petira of the Magen.  At that point he was sent to Europe as a representative of the Kehila of Yerushalayim.  The community in Amsterdam took a great liking to the Pri Chadash and he extended his stay there and printed the first volume of his sefer in Amsterdam.

Before leaving in the community offered him to replace their aging Rov, Rav Yitzchok Abuhav who wanted to retire.  The community even agreed to his two demands.  First that he receive a respectable salary because he refused to take gifts, that Rabbonim typically took to sustain themselves.  Second that the community leaders do not interfere with any of his decisions relating to halacha.  According to a story the Chida heard in his travels to Amsterdam, the community agreed.  However at the end the Pri Chadash declined the offer because he felt the people would not listen to his mussar.  And if so, he felt the entire position was a mockery.  So instead he chose to pack his belongings and take up an offer to become Rosh Yeshiva in Yerushalayim.

On his way back to Yerushalayim in 5453, he passed through Mitzrayim.  Although his Sefer had gained tremendous acclaim, the Rabbonim of Mitzrayim did not greet him warmly.  In fact they banned the use of his Sefer because they felt he did not have the right to argue on the great poskim from before his time, particularly the Bais Yosef.  Despite his contrition and pleas, the Rabbonim would not yield to either him or the many who wanted the ban removed.  It was only years later that Rav Avrohom HaLevi, the author of Shu"t Ginas Viradim, repealed the ban.

More opposition came after his death from the Ohr HaChaim.  The Chida says that when he went with Rav Chaim ben Attar the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, to visit Kevarim in Yerushalyim, the Ohr HaChaim stayed murmuring over the Kever of the Pri Chadash for about fifteen minutes.  He later explained that he was begging for forgiveness for arguing with him in the Sefer he wrote called Pri To'ar.

He finally returned to Yerushalayim to head the Yeshiva Bais Yaakov.  His two outstanding talmidim were Rav Shlomo Algazi, who ironically went on to become Rav of Mitzrayim for 40 years, and Rav Yitzchok HaKohen the author of Batei Kehuna. His tenure as Rosh Yeshiva did not last very long, as he was niftar a few years later at the age of 39 years old, while in middle of writing chidushei torah. Chaval Al Di'Avdin.  Yehi Zichro Boruch! (See also Kedoshim Asher Ba'Aretz by Rav Dovid Rossof)

Sun, 05 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Yaakov Etlinger: The Aruch LaNer - Receiving the Torch, Carrying the Torch, and Passing The Torch

Rav Yaakov Etlinger was the great light in Germany as the reform movement was conquering Europe. He was the linchpin between the old guard and the new guard responsible for saving Yiddishkeit.

Rav Yaakov was born in 5568/1808 in the Germany and spent his youth learning with his father who was the Rosh Mesivta of the local Bais Medrash. Afterward he learned by the Rav of the town who was none other than Rav Asher the son of Shaagas Aryeh. Later he studied under Rav Avrohom Bing a talmid of Rav Nosson Adler on whose Matzeiva it is written "Aluf HaTorah Malach Ha'Elokim"; the champion of Torah an angel of Hashem. In his Yeshiva Rav Avrohom nurtured all the future German Gedolim including Rav Nosson Adler of Hanover who later went on to become the Chief Rabbi of Britain.

When was a mere 18 years old he was invited to Mannheim where he became the Rosh Mesivta. Among his talmidim included the future savior of German Jewry, Rav Shamshon Refoel Hirsch. Ten years later at age 28 he was appointed to the prestigious position of Rav of Altuna where his predecessors included Rav Yehonoson Eibushitz, Rav Yitzchok Horowitz, and Rav Refoel Hamburger. At this point Rav Yaakov wielded tremendous power as the German authorities recognized his Bais Din and the government police force was at his disposal to enforce his judgments. Altuna was the only city in Germany not infected by the Reform movement. It was the last bastion of Torah in Germany. Among his talmidim in Altuna included Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer and Rav Meir Lehman (aka Marcus Lehman author of books for German teenagers still read today).

Despite his important position his main occupation was still learning and teaching Torah. He was known to sleep three hours a night and fast many days. He knowledge of Zohar was famous and he gained acclaim as a Mekubal. He authored a number of famous seforim including, Aruch LaNer on Shas, Shailos U"teshuvos Binyan Tzion, and Bikurei Yaakov, which even in his day became famous throughout the world. Rav Chaim Palagi in Turkey and Rebbi Akiva Eiger both wrote comments on this sefer. The great gaon Rebbi Akiva Eiger wrote in his sefer in Succah, "Praise to Hashem that I have had the good fortune to to think of the same answer...(as the Bikurei Yaakov). 

He fought the reform movement both in Germany and Hungary and his influence even spread to Eretz Yisroel as he was crowned "Nasi Eretz Yisroel" for his active involvement in helping out the Yishuv.

He was niftar the first night of Chanukah 5632/1871 at the age of 63.  (See also Gedolei HaDoros)

Thu, 02 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank - Sympathy For Chickens, Courage Of A Lion RavTzvi Pesach Frank was born in Kovno in 1873.  As a child he had theprivilege of hearing a drasha from Rav Yisroel Salanter.  When he waslittle boy his mother once gave him some spending money.  Later hismother asked him what he bought with the money and he said that he putit in the tzedoka box and davened that in the merit of his tzedoka heshould succeed in his torah study.

At age 20 after learning inLithuania under Rav Eliezer Gordon and others, he moved to EretzYisroel.  In Eretz Yisroel he learned by Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin andwas a Ben Bayis by Rav Shmuel Salant the venerated Rov of Yerushalayim. Recognizing his enormous talents despite his young age, Rav Shmuel Salant appointed him tothe Bais Din of the Eida HaChareidison which he served for over 60 years, eventually becoming the Av BaisDin and Rov of Yerushalayim.  He was a key figure in setting up theChief Rabbinate in Eretz Yisroel, and he was instrumental in recruitingRav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook to be the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi.

RavTzvi Pesach possessed the courage of a lion as he fearlessly paskenedHalacha the way he saw it, despite giving the utmost respect topreceding poskim.  He earned the titles Posek HaDor, Gaon HaHora'ah, anMara D'Ara D'Yisroel.  Yet when it came to dealing with the Hamon Am,Rav Tzvi Pesach had a heart of soft gold.

When a poor personwould bring to him a treif chicken to check, he would take money out ofhis pocket and tell them to buy another one.  One time a poor womancame with a treif chicken.  He knew this woman would be insulted if hegave her money.  Rav Tzvi Pesach took the chicken to his kitchen anddisposed of it.  He then asked his daughter if they had any uncookedfreshly slaughtered chickens, which they did.  He then brought it outto the woman, gave it to her, and told her that after examining herchicken, he paskened that was Kosher L'Mehadrim. (Orach Tzadikkim)

Rav Tzvi Pesach was Niftar 21 Kislev 5721/1960 as he finished saying the pasuk Shema Yisroel.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Sun, 28 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Chasidus's Two And Only - The Magid Of Mezritch

The family of Rav Dov Ber the Magid of Mezritch had a Megilas Yuchasin, a family tree linking them back all the way to Rav Hai Gaon.  When a fire totally destroyed the family's home and all their possessions went up in flames, Rav Ber's mother cried over the loss of their treasured Megilas Yuchasin.  Rav Dov Ber consoled her and told her that a new family tree will one day start from him.  Indeed it did, for the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, and the single undisputed leader of the second generation Chasidim.

Rav Dov Ber was born around the year 1704.  His early Rebbi was his father Reb Shlomo the Av Bais Din of the town.  He later went on to learn in the Yeshiva of the famed gaon the Pnei Yehoshua in Lvov.  The Pnei Yehoshua considered Rav Dov Ber a Talmid-Chaver, a student and peer.  Although his scholarship was worthy of the most prestigious rabbinical positions he chose to become a Magid and held that position in number of cities including Koritz, Dubno, and Rovna

With a lame left foot and failing health due to his ascetic lifestyle, no less than his Rebbi the Pnei Yehoshua, urged him to seek out the Baal Shem in hopes of meriting a cure from the tzaddik.  After a rough start when he almost went home after hearing only simple stories from the Baal Shem, the Baal Shem then explained to him a difficult piece of Kabala.  From that day on the Magid was bound heart and soul to his Rebbi the Baal Shem.  After the petira of the Baal Shem in 1760, although the Baal Shem had many outstanding personalities among his chasidim, they all accepted the Magid of Mezritch as their undisputed leader.

While the Baal Shem catered to the masses, the Magid was more of a Rebbe's Rebbe, attracting the leading minds of the generation and converting them to Chassidus.  He sowed the seeds of Chasidus with these talmidim who eventually became great Rebbes in their own right and spread the light of chasidus across Europe.  Among them were counted the Baal HaTanya, Reb Elimelech MiLizhensk and his brother Reb Zusya MiAnipoli, Reb Shmelke MiNicholsburg and his brother Rav Pinchos Horowitz (the Baal HaFlaah and rebbi of the Chasam Sofer), Rav Menachem Nochum MiChernobyl, and the Kozhnitzer Magid.  His son was the Rav Avrohom the Malach from whom descended the Ruzhiner dynasty.

It was during the leadership of the Magid that the famous Cherem, ban against chasidim was signed in Vilna by the Vilna Gaon and the entire Vilna Bais Din in 1772.  Under the strain of the backlash against chasidus and his failing health, the Magid was Niftar less than six months of this terrible blow.

The Magid was the last universally accepted leader of the Chasidim.  After his death Chasidus became a more local affair with various leaders each holding their own court in their own territory.  The Magid defined and clarified most of the eventual chasidic thought and grew it from a local phenomenon into a world wide force.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Fri, 26 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
A Fire Goes Out From Novhardok - Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, also know as the Alter of Novhardok, was one of the unique figures of our recent history.  His uncompromising, walk through fire, bitachon for even the most minute detail, was unparalleled.  It was said on him that the Chofetz Chaim was the Gadol HaDor in emunah and the Alter of Novhardok in bitachon.

The turning point in his life was a chance meeting with Rav Yisroel Salanter.  In 1868, after the Alter's father-in-law was niftar between his engagement and his marriage, the Alter who was 18 years old at the time, took on the responsibility to support his wife's family.  He continued to say Shiurim in the local yeshiva as he had been doing since he was 16 years old.  In his role as businessman, he was at a fair in Mamal when he met the legendary giant of mussar.  Seeing the Alter's potential, Rav Yisroel spoke to him about his derech in torah and mussar.  The Alter became very attracted to Rav Yisroel and whenever he was in Mamal on business he would attend Rav Yisroel's Mesilas Yisharim shiur.

At age 27, after hearing 13 shiurim from Rav Yisroel Salanter, the Alter decided to give up business forever and join the famed Kovno Kollel with Rav Itzele Blazer and Rav Naftoli Amsterdam the two leading talmidim of Rav Yisroel. He didn't even finish his business.   He left Mamal and headed straight to Kovno, while sending home a significant amount of money for his family.   After a short while, as he made great strides on the way to becoming a gadol b'Yisroel, he sent for his wife and family to join him.  During the subsequent period, his wife tragically died during childbirth.

This did not deter the Alter.  He then decided to learn in hisbodedus, complete solitude.  This lasted in one form or another for the next few years, which in the interim he remarried.  It was only after ongoing persuasion from Rav Simcha Zisel the Alter of Kelm, with whom he was very close, that the Alter finally gave up his ways of solitude and opened a Yeshiva.  His Yeshiva in Novhardok survived attacks from both the Maskilim and the opponents of the mussar movement.  In the latter battle, the Alter was greatly aided by help of the Rov of Novhardok, Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein the author of the Aruch HaShulchan, who stood by the Alter's side and repealed all attempts to delegitimize the Yeshiva and its loyalty to the mussar movement.

The Alter's goal was to light the entire world with the fire of torah.  To this end he would send his finest talmidim (among them the Steipler Gaon) to towns all over Russia, where they would start Yeshivos.  For each yeshiva he would send two talmidim, one to run the yeshiva and one to say shiurim and infuse the boys with Ruchniyos.  Each host town would have a committee of laymen who would support the yeshiva.  When all was said and done, Novhardok Yeshivos were all over Russia, with the Alter running between them to make sure that all was in order and to infuse them with the fiery spirit of the Alter himself.

During the difficult years of the Bolshevik Revolution, when society was in complete turmoil as violence engulfed the streets, learning in Novhardok yeshivos continued as if the world was standing still.  This was a credit to the successful chinuch the Alter has imbued in his talmidim.  It is told that during the Bolshevik Revolution, one Motza'ei Shabbos he was making havdala while his courtyard was being shelled and bullets were be fired from all sides.  All the talmidim were trembling around the Alter as he made havdala with an air of serenity in perfect calmness, not even spilling a drop of wine.

His dedication to the yeshiva knew no bounds.  He once came home late at night and saw his daughter washing laundry by the candle light.  He told her that it is better to give the candle to a yeshiva student to learn torah, and the laundry can be washed in the moonlight.  The story of Alter's petira was a symbolic of his whole life.  In 1919 a large group of talmidim took refuge from the ongoing war, in the city of Kiev.  An epidemic broke out which eventually took the lives of 15,000 people.  Most of the boys of the yeshiva contracted the disease and 16 died from it. Despite being 70 years old, the Alter personally cared for the talmidim, putting his life at risk.  He said that Chesed was the best vaccine against the plague.  He ended up contracting the disease himself and was Niftar on 17 Kislev 5680/1919.

He left behind a rich legacy of talmidim who continued to be moseir nefesh to spread torah.  The yeshivos flourished through very difficult times until the second world war.  His four daughters married distinguished talmidei chachomim, Rav Reuven Silver, Rav Alter Shmuelevitz (father of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz), Rav Avrohom Yaffen, and Rav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky. 

In 1963, when permission was given to convert the old cemetery in Kiev to a public park, after a great deal of behind the scenes covert and overt activity, the Alter was successfully brought to kevura in Har HaMenuchos.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

Wed, 24 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Menashe Ben Yisroel - The Portuguese Marrano Who Gave Birth to English Jewry

A descendant of the Abarbanel, Rav Menashe Ben Yosef Ben Yisroel was born as a marrano in Portugal in 1604. As a young child, Rav Menashe arrived on the safe shores of Holland via France after his entire family escaped the inquisition before his father was almost set to be burnt at the stake in an auto-da-fe. Rav Menashe learned Torah under Rav Yitzchok Uziel who started the Spanish Kehilah of Neve Shalom consisting many marranos who while steadfastly Jewish still needed to be weaned away from their Christian Hashkafos.

When Rav Yitzchok died in 1620, Rav Menashe who was still a teenager, was chosen as his Rebbi's successor. Aside from being a Talmid Chochom, Rav Menashe was well rounded with mastery in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and classical literature. He also spoke ten languages. Rav Menashe was a close friend of the famous painter Rembrandt who drew a portrait of him and also helped him with art for some of his published writings. He also opened his own printing house to print Jewish literature.

Struggling financially Rav Menashe was set to move to Brazil where more opportunity existed at the time. However just before his journey a position in the Amsterdam Kehilah opened up when one of the assistant Rabbis was hired by a Kehilah in Brazil. Rav Menashe was named his successor and remained in Amsterdam. In 1644 with the backing of the wealthy Pereira family he opened up a Yeshiva.

The aspect of Rav Menashe's life that is most famous is his attempt in 1655 to convince Oliver Cromwell to allow the Jews to return to England from where they had been expelled in 1290. His motive for this was his belief that in order for Moshiach to come Jews had to be present in all four corners of the world. Since England was the one European country without any Jews he made it his mission to bring the Jews back. Although he found favor in the eyes of many English people including Cromwell, his mission was not completely successful due to staunch opposition from certain members of the English parliament.

While it took another century for Jews to be officially admitted back into England, he did win unofficial permission for Jews to return, with Cromwell allowing Jews to return and practice their religion. Nevertheless Rav Menashe left England defeated and broken. To add to his troubles his son Shmuel who accompanied him to England was niftar right before their return trip and Rav Menashe sailed with his coffin back to Holland where he himself died shortly afterward at the age of 53 in Kislev 5418/1657 as a broken man.

Rav Menashe left behind some classic works that were exceeding popular and were translated into many languages.  They include Nishmas Yisroel, Teshuas Yisroel, and Mikve Yisroel which talks about the 10 lost Shevatim and the Indian tribes in America.

Sun, 21 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Yechiel Heller - The Thoughtfulness Of A Tzaddik's Tears

When Rav Yechiel Heller, the great Gaon and Av Beis Din of Sulvak's was just under 40 years old, his wife died on the first day of Shavuos. Broken hearted he was consumed with emotion and felt the need to cry. However he told himself that crying is assur on Yom Tov since there is a mitzva to be happy on Yom Tov. But then he thought maybe since the burial did not take place yet he has the halacha of an "Onen" and is patur from Mitzvos. Therefore since he didn't have to be happy he is permitted to cry. He still wasn't sure. Then he thought that since the poskim say that if crying is enjoyable for you it is permitted on Yom Tov then he should be allowed to cry since he would be totally destroyed without the ability to shed some tears. (Amudei Ohr)

Rav Heller would sign his name "HaAluv" the pathetic or insulted one. Rav Shach said the reason for this unusual humility was that he once freed an Agunah by use of the halacha of Mi'un (annulment for an orphaned girl who married while she was still a child). Although this is a valid annulment of marriage according to halacha, the Rema says that we don't use Mi'un nowadays as a means of freeing a woman. In this difficult case he used it but carried the burden with him his entire life. (Gedolei HaDoros)

Rav Yechiel Heller's life was cut short and he died in 1861 (according to some accounts 1867) at the age of 47. Among his seforim include his most recognized work Shailos U'Teshuvos Amudei Ohr, Ohr Yesharim on the Haggadah, Oteh Ohr on Shir HaShirim, and Kinah L'Dovid which was a hesped on Rav Dovid Luria.

Thu, 18 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000