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8 Av 5759 - July 21, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Chassidus Ashkenaz Restored: HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt'l -- 9th Adar 5759, His Fiftieth Yahrtzeit
By Moshe Musman, based on the writings of Rabbi Aharon Surasky and Rabbi Sholom Meir Wallach

Part II


This second installment of our series on HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt'l, surveys his years in the great yeshivos of his day, and follows him to Frankfurt, to his first communal position, and on to Eretz Yisroel. Though the circumstances dealt with are diverse, one particular trait is always prominent. In seeking a phrase that gives an accurate impression of his great uncle, HaRav Elyokim Getzel Schlesinger, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Horomoh in London writes, "It is hard for me to employ the conventional titles, though they all applied to him -- a gaon, a tzaddik, pious, humble, pure and holy, a rosh yeshiva and a poseik. He was all of these things, yet they do not capture the overall perfection and the true dimension of his greatness . . . I was fortunate to know him as a bochur . . . when he was rav in Frankfurt . . . as a refugee . . . when he arrived in Eretz Yisroel . . . during the years he worked in Yerushalayim . . . and as he prepared to return his pure soul to its Creator. If there is anything that defined him even in a small way, any particularly noticeable thread that ran throughout his life, it is one trait: fear of sin, which is the last stage on the path set out by the Mesilas Yeshorim. This quality shone from his countenance. Anyone possessed of a slightly discerning eye could see it; he was unable to conceal it. That was the first impression that he made on the gedolei Yisroel with whom he came in contact."

We will see that this was also the overriding impression which Rav Yechiel made upon his fellow bochurim in Slobodke and Mir. It also typifies his subsequent tenure as rav, marbitz Torah and poseik in Frankfurt, as it does his behavior during his and his family's narrow escape from Nazi Germany via Switzerland, to Eretz Yisroel. Whether as a talmid, or as a teacher and leader, in both tranquil and in dangerous times, it was his fear of sin, and his unswerving determination to fulfill Hashem's will in any and all circumstances that was the sole factor in determining his reactions and responses.

Sojourn in Kovno

The first portion of Rav Yechiel's sojourn in the yeshivos of Lithuania was also the longest. He learned in Slobodke for three years, during which time he grew close to the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Isaac Sher zt'l, and to the mashgiach, HaRav Avrohom Grodzinsky zt'l, Hy'd. (An extra tie to HaRav Sher and his family was formed when HaRav Nosson Tzvi Shulman, only son of HaRav Mordechai Shulman zt'l -- who succeeded his father-in-law HaRav Sher as rosh yeshiva of Slobodke in Bnei Brak -- married a daughter of Rav Yechiel.)

Also mentioned in connection with Slobodke are Rav Yechiel's acquaintance with HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt'l, who greatly admired him, though on consideration of the stated facts, it seems that this came about after the latter's departure from Slobodke. HaRav Sher and HaRav Grodzinsky only became rosh yeshiva and mashgiach, respectively, when HaRav Epstein and the Alter travelled with most of the bochurim to Eretz Yisroel in the course of 5684-5 (1924). Since Reb Moshe Mordechai left Slobodke with the first contingent of bochurim several months before the Alter travelled with the last, and since the Alter had already left when Rav Yechiel arrived, the acquaintance with Reb Moshe Mordechai probably developed more during the latter's return visits to Europe from Chevron.

While learning in Slobodke, Rav Yechiel also got to know the rav of Kovno (the city of which Slobodke was a suburb), HaRav Avrohom Dov Ber Cahana-Shapiro zt'l, author of Teshuvos Devar Avrohom. HaRav Shapiro was an immense gaon, and his seforim were famous for the astonishing breadth which they displayed in the treatment of every aspect of the topics under consideration, and the extraordinary fluency in the opinions of the Rishonim and the penetrating analysis thereof. For his part, Rav Yechiel had already been described by his rebbe HaRav Dushinsky as being "at home in all of Shas," to which the Devar Avrohom later added his own praise that the scholar from Hamburg possessed "a discerning, critical faculty." It is not hard to see that such a partnership must have proven highly successful, and beneficial to both parties.

In recalling Rev Yechiel as a talmid in the yeshiva, Rav S. Y. Rose (who later served as rov of Munich) mentions, "There were hundreds of bochurim in the yeshiva but Rav Yechiel stood out and made a lasting impression."

His deeply emotional tefillos, were also recalled by those who learned with him in Slobodke. It was however, later in Mir that Rav Yechiel came into contact with a number of recent and contemporary Torah leaders, with the result that we have many more firsthand reminiscences about him from that period than we do from his time in Slobodke.

Michel From Hamburg

HaRav Schlesinger of London has recorded a report of Rav Yechiel's arrival in Mir. He writes, "Dayan Moshe Swift zt'l, told me that when they found out in Mir that `Dr. Schlesinger of Hamburg' was about to arrive, he wished to see him, so he went to the railway station to meet him. He saw two people get off the train. One was a man of short height, with a beard and payos and an unkempt appearance. "That's surely not Dr. Schlesinger," he thought to himself. The other man was dressed in modern style, was clean shaven, and very neat and tidy. "That must be him," he thought, and he approached the man. When they had gone several paces together the new arrival said to him, "Why are the streets here so neglected? At home in Radin the streets are better."

He then realized that this was a bochur from Radin, not the doctor from Hamburg. With no other choice, he went over to the first traveller, who had the appearance of a frum idler, and asked if he was Dr. Schlesinger. The latter dismissed this with a wave of his hand, "I'm not Dr. Schlesinger. I'm Michel Schlesinger from Hamburg." (However, it was true that he had already earned a doctorate.)

The new arrival, whose reputation had preceded him as noted above, impressed the other bochurim with his own distinctive and balanced blend of toil in Torah and saintliness of character; even among the most distinguished bochurim, there were very few whose excellence in one of these spheres did not somehow outshine their attainments in the other.

It was said in Mir, for example, "If there are five talmidim in the beis hamedrash, Yechiel is one of them and if there is only one, it's Yechiel." At the same time, his neighbor in lodgings, HaRav Shlomo Shimshon Karelitz (who later became av beis din in Petach Tikvah), was able to apply Chazal's words, "Do not read halichos but halochos," to him, commenting that every single aspect of Rav Yechiel's behavior, every halichoh, was a halocho, the result of a thorough determination of the correct course in each situation. And is it any wonder that Rav Yechiel displayed such rounded perfection when it was his practice to preface his Torah study with the tefilloh of the Sheloh Hakodosh: "I want to learn so that my learning will bring me to fulfill the Torah in practice, and to attain upright character traits?"

Rav Yechiel's pure, heartfelt prayer is remembered by people who met him at all stages of his life. HaRav Efraim Bordiansky zt'l (who also became one of the Schlesinger family's mechutonim), recalled the depth and emotion of Rav Yechiel's daily tefillos, and their even greater intensity at times of particular stress and tension. He remarked that an unforgettable impression was made in Mir during the sheini-chamishi-sheini fasts in the years 5689-90 (1929-30), when the Jews of Russia were suffering heightened persecution under Stalin, by the profuse weeping which suffused Rav Yechiel's tefillos. This astonished many of the bochurim -- their own feelings were not so intense, though their own families in Russia were affected, while Reb Michel, with no relatives there, was so deeply moved, solely by the spiritual suffering of his fellow Jews. (It is interesting to note that a parallel phenomenon was noted by HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv who wrote in 5642 (1882) of his "boundless amazement" of the fact that "several thousand people fasted [in Frankfurt] because of the persecution of our Russian brethren . . . just like on Yom Kippur." See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman (ArtScroll), p. 196.)

The fact that every drop of his time and strength were devoted to toiling in Torah did not serve as grounds for allowing himself any leniencies in halocho, though it would not have been hard to let them. HaRav Bordiansky further related that once, on Simchas Torah, he came across Reb Yechiel in the yeshiva's library, looking through various works of halocho. Upon asking what the matter was, Reb Yechiel told him that he had a headache and wanted to take a short nap. However, he went on, while Chazal designate sleeping as one of the ways of making Shabbos pleasurable (oneg), today was Yom Tov, when there is a mitzvah of simcha. Whilst sleeping was pleasurable, one did not experience joy while asleep, hence maybe it is forbidden to sleep on Yom Tov. Only when HaRav Bordiansky was able to show him that, based on what was written in one of the most famous works of halocho, there were ample grounds for ruling leniently, did Reb Yechiel go off to rest.

Although there were arovos for arba minim available in Mir, Rav Yechiel was not overly enthusiastic about their appearance and he spent several hours searching for a different sort that were more comely in the eyes of the halocho. His joy at finally finding them was apparent throughout the evening of that day.

We are also told that he was the only bochur in the yeshiva who slept in the succah -- building himself one for that purpose -- despite the low temperature. He slept there on the night of Shemini Atzeres too, in accordance with the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, for this was his family's tradition. In other areas too, he adhered faithfully to the customs of his family (such as keeping to the Gaon's practice in taking care to avoid the prohibition of chodosh grain) and his community. Rav Shamshon Refoel Weiss zt'l, noted that though a bochur, Rav Yechiel would appear for shacharis wearing his tallis, which other German bochurim in the yeshiva did not do, presumably since they felt uncomfortable about standing out.

Did Not Neglect Lechavero

In no way did his consuming involvement with bein odom lamokom lessen his awareness of the needs of those around him. A son of the family with whom Rav Yechiel lodged related that each morning, the members of the household would find containers of usable (that is, not frozen) water before the door of their house. This greatly surprised them, for the water was delivered in the evening and usually froze outside overnight.

Eventually they discovered that their lodger, Rav Yechiel, had a hand in the matter. He was a very early riser and, irrespective of the temperature, he would go first thing to draw fresh water, which they would later be able to use straight away.

Indeed, even as a bochur, devoting his energies principally to his own advancement, his Torah was still "the Torah of chesed" (Succah 49). There were many bochurim in the Mir who had arrived from other countries and backgrounds, who needed time to adjust to the atmosphere and demands of the yeshiva. Rav Yechiel was especially considerate of the members of this group.

He would learn Shev Shemaiteso with them to introduce them to yeshiva learning, and show them how he approached a sugya and delved into its depths. His attention and guidance was a decisive factor in their eventual acclimatization and in all their subsequent attainments. HaRav Shlomo Wolbe recalled the advice he received in the name of Rav Yechiel -- that he should learn until he dropped onto his bed from exhaustion!

In the Eyes of Gedolei Yisroel

In the semichah which he bestowed upon Rav Yechiel, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt'l, wrote, "When he appeared in our tent I saw that he was full of Hashem's word . . . and he has continued to immerse himself in halocho here, growing in his penetration and his fluency in Shas and poskim . . . casting precious illumination with his chiddushim . . . He is one of those special individuals, one of the few who are ever ascending . . . wonderful in the goodness of his character . . . a noble soul inlaid with the purest of traits, every aspect of his conduct is becoming, his way is that of modesty, and the pure fear of Hashem hovers over him."

Reb Yeruchom zt'l, the mashgiach, who himself combined nobility and great beauty of character with very deep insight into the strengths and weaknesses of human nature, highly estimated Rav Yechiel, upon whom he had a deep and lasting influence (in later years, the latter would repeat Reb Yeruchom's teachings to his own talmidim). He once commented tellingly that although Rav Yechiel "was not a mussarnik, he was an example of what the mussar approach aimed at for its followers." From the lips of Reb Yeruchom, there could perhaps be no greater praise.

HaRav Shimon Schwab zt'l, recalled that when Reb Yeruchom received a letter from Rav Yechiel after the latter's return to Germany, he gathered all the foreign bochurim, showed them the letter and said excitedly, "This is just like a sefer Torah! There isn't one extra word; there isn't one missing word. That is how one ought to write!"

Another extraordinary token of Reb Yeruchom's estimation was that upon Rav Yechiel's departure from Mir, the former accompanied him to the nearest railway station.

On occasional visits to Radin, Rav Yechiel met and made the acquaintance of the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, conversing with him in divrei Torah. Rav Nisan Waxman zt'l, reported having heard the Chofetz Chaim speak admiringly about Rav Yechiel and commenting that he had made a better impression on him than any of the other Jews from Western countries who visited him in that period ("Er iz mir gefallen gevoren besser fun alleh").

This remark made a great impression on those close to the Chofetz Chaim, and in the yeshivos, where it soon spread, for the Chofetz Chaim's practice was generally to avoid making any evaluations of others, positive or not. Rav P. Spitzer (who was a talmid of Rav Yechiel's later in Frankfurt) related that when, on one of his rebbe's visits to Radin, someone speaking to the Chofetz Chaim had referred to Rav Yechiel as "der Deitscher lamdan" (the German scholar), the Chofetz Chaim had corrected the speaker saying, "Er iz nit kein Deitscher lamdan; er iz a Litvisher gaon" (He's not a German scholar; he's a Lithuanian gaon)!

Rav Yechiel first got to know HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt'l, when he paid him a visit while passing through Vilna on his way home to Hamburg from Mir, to prepare for his approaching wedding. The venerated leader of Eastern European Jewry highly estimated Rav Yechiel and praised him lavishly. That visit saw the beginning of a warm friendship and an ongoing correspondence.

Kollel in Ponovezh

Rav Yechiel's kallah, Metta Jacobson, was also descended from an old and distinguished German Jewish family. Her father was a staunch upholder of authentic Torah life as demonstrated by the following story, which also shows that the two families shared some important qualities.

Reb Moshe Yehuda Jacobson z'l, was not entirely happy about the kashrus of the mikveh in the town where he lived, so he instructed his family to travel to the mikveh in a neighboring town. However, in order to avoid causing any embarrassment to the local rov who sanctioned their town's mikveh, they would also visit the local mikveh on the following day.

Immediately after the week of sheva brochos, the young couple set out for Ponevezh, where Rav Yechiel joined the kollel that was attached to the yeshiva. He had first met the Ponevezher Rov and rosh yeshiva, HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt'l, at the first Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel in 5672 (1912), in the organization of which Rav Yechiel's older brother, who lived in Vienna, had played a part.

Ponovezh had a large Jewish population, its beis din was well known and the Rov was already famous for his outstanding Torah scholarship as well as his clear- sightedness. Rav Yechiel spent his afternoons in the beis din, obtaining practical training in halachic ruling in anticipation of taking a rabbinical position. In the evenings he learned in his own home with the gaon Rav Shraga Feivel Horowitz Hy'd, one of the Ponevezher Rov's brothers-in-law.

During the rest of his time, he devoted himself to learning with undiminished application, which neither interfered with, nor suffered from, the fulfillment of his new obligations. In the first year of his marriage he was particular to take a daily stroll with his wife. The young rebbetzin's devotion to her husband's learning was such that she agreed to make their first home in a tumbledown wooden hut in Ponevezh, foretelling the much greater sacrifices she would be making in the years that lay ahead.

One former practice of Rav Yechiel's that did change was the fasting in which he had frequently engaged as a bochur without feeling any ill effects. His young wife objected, apparently on grounds of health, and asked him to inform her in advance if he wanted to fast so that she could prepare him more nourishing food. When he failed to do this, she said that if fasting was indeed so beneficial she would join him. However, to this Rav Yechiel would not agree.

Rav Yechiel's firstborn, his son HaRav Moshe Yehuda ylct'a, who today is the rosh yeshiva of Kol Torah, was born in Ponevezh. One day, as he was about to enter the yeshiva, the Ponevezher Rov encountered Rebbetzin Schlesinger walking past the yeshiva's windows with her young son. In response to the rov's question -- apparently this was not the place usually favored by mothers for strolling -- the young rebbetzin explained that she wanted to hear the sound of her husband's voice as he learned and she also wanted her infant son to hear the sound of Torah study (see Yerushalmi Yevomos, perek 9). This was a story which the Rov enjoyed telling repeatedly in the years that followed.

A Call from Frankfurt

Upon the recommendation of R' Yaakov Rosenheim z'l, Rav Yechiel was called from Ponevezh to Frankfurt to deliver the hadran at a siyum hashas that was being held there. There was considerable tension simmering in the community at the time, due to the existence of two blocs that differed in the direction they wished to see the community take.

On the one hand, there were those who pointed proudly to a thousand years of unbroken and undiluted Jewish German tradition, from the days of Rabbenu Gershom and the Maharam MiRottenburg, all the way down to the Oruch Leneir, HaRav Hirsch and the Nachal Eshkol in their own times.

On the other hand, the problem was that German Jewry was becoming less and less able to train its own Torah leaders with sufficient learning and stature that it so badly needed. HaRav Ezriel Hildesheimer had learned in the Hungarian yeshivos, as had HaRav Spitzer of Hamburg. Other rabbonim who had held important positions in Germany in those days, had learned in yeshivos even further east: HaRav Yitzchok Halevi Rabinowitz, author of Doros Horishonim had learned in Volozhin and HaRav Avrohom Kaplan had learned in Slobodke. Though it inevitably meant the introduction of other traditions and approaches, it was unavoidable, argued the advocates of the opposing view, that future rabbinical leaders be recruited from the Torah centers of Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Russia.

In this strained atmosphere, the prospect of Rav Yechiel's appointment raised the hope of restoring unity to the community. Born and bred in Ashkenaz and steeped in its traditions and minhogim, yet having developed in the leading Torah centers of the time, the great yeshivos of Hungary and Lithuania, he was eminently suited for a position such as Frankfurt needed filled and he was immediately acceptable to all.

Rav Yechiel discussed the proposal with his mentors in Ponevezh but there, opinions differed. The Ponevezher Rov and his brother-in-law HaRav Kalman Asher Braun zt'l, felt that Rav Yechiel would be able to achieve more elsewhere. Frankfurt was after all not a mokom Torah and they apparently felt that older bochurim who were self- sufficient and wholly immersed in gemora, such as he would be teaching if he found a position in a yeshiva elsewhere, stood to gain much more from him.

Rav Yechiel on the other hand felt that he should seek no further. He argued that only someone like himself, who was thoroughly acquainted with the spirit and traditions of German Jewry -- who was indeed a part of it -- could succeed in effecting changes there for the better. He had undergone training in Berlin with a view to taking a position in Germany and he felt this to be a calling.

His point was accepted and with the blessings of his friends in Ponevezh, Rav Yechiel moved back to Germany. The post he was to fill was actually that of dayan. However, since Dayan Posen was already there and since Rav Yechiel's real longing was to teach Torah, some division of labor was arranged and the two assumed duties of both a more horo'oh and a rosh yeshiva.

Reluctance to Rule

Profound fear of Heaven and of sin underscored Rav Yechiel's approach to psak on both the individual and communal levels. The very same sense of responsibility that bade him tread with the utmost care before issuing a ruling, prompted him to stand fearlessly when the integrity of halocho was at stake. On the one hand, he felt the full weight of determining halocho for others and it was his custom to study Sha'ar Hayiroh in Reishis Chochmoh before ruling. He investigated thoroughly, occasionally involving other dayanim in the deliberations and allowing nothing to rush him until he was satisfied about his verdict, though this sometimes took hours.

Reb Zev Lang, who later worked with Rav Yechiel in Yerushalayim as the secretary of Kol Torah, once brought him a shailoh that had come before his wife, who was the mikveh attendant, one Friday night. Rav Yechiel immediately began to consider the matter and delved into the halocho for two hours before he ruled. Only then did he return to his own family for seudas Shabbos.

When necessary, he was able to transmit his boundless yiras Shomayim to others. Once, one of the wealthy members of the community was party to a din Torah involving a very large sum of money, which would be his subject to his taking an oath, which he was prepared to do. Rav Yechiel managed to convince the man that avoiding the monetary loss was not worth incurring the extremely serious consequences of swearing, even truly, in Hashem's name.

On the other hand, when the course he had to take was clear, he betrayed no reluctance at all. He would cling to it with tenacity and allow nothing to influence him, whatever the cost to himself in strength or status. In matters of kashrus he was uncompromising. He would personally visit the farms and barns where milking was carried out under the community's aegis -- and if this meant putting in an appearance in the dead of night or travelling by sledge in the winter over snow covered country, so be it!

Once, he discovered a severe lapse in the supervision of a very large dairy which was owned by one of the leaders of the community, who was also among its staunchest financial supporters. When the owner refused to comply with the new dayan's demand that he appoint a full time supervisor, Rav Yechiel decided to rescind the dairy's certification. The owner threatened to secede from the kehilla, which would have serious financial consequences for it, endangering the operation of its independent institutions. Rav Yechiel was not intimidated in the slightest by these threats and he maintained his position firmly. The other communal leaders were alerted and, though the dairy owner carried out his threat, they ultimately lent Rav Yechiel their full support. He was also personally involved in supervising the shochtim and butchers as well as the kashrus of eruvin and mikvo'os.

Despite his acceptance of the burden of ruling for as long as it was placed upon him, Rav Yechiel was overjoyed when he was released from it. To an acquaintance whom he met years later en route to Eretz Yisroel after his miraculous escape from Nazi Germany, Rav Yechiel remarked that he had a double reason to rejoice: first at the prospect of living in Eretz Yisroel; and second at his freedom from . . . the yoke of having to rule in halocho, which enabled him to devote himself completely to disseminating Torah.

He commented similarly to his wife during that period that never again did he intend to assume the yoke of a rabbonus, for he found the burden of being personally responsible for the halachic rulings that had to be given, too heavy to bear. Henceforth, he would engage in what was his foremost goal, teaching and spreading Torah.

A Leader for his Times

When the German government enacted a ban on shechita unless animals were stunned beforehand, a country-wide debate opened as to whether stunning prior to slaughter was halachically acceptable. There were those who argued that a supply of kosher meat was necessary for hospital patients and for the elderly and that ample justification and grounds existed for ruling leniently.

As one of those who opposed this course, Rav Yechiel responded that stunning simply could not be halachically sanctioned and those for whom meat consumption was vital, were permitted to eat non-kosher meat anyway. If kosher meat could not be satisfactorily prepared locally, it could be imported from Denmark, for which he made the necessary arrangements, travelling personally to supervise there until the very end of his tenure in Germany.

Rav Yechiel's involvement in the controversy was far more extensive -- he was in fact the prime mover in opposition to stunning -- though typically, he played down his part and tried to remain out of the limelight as far as he could. He produced a pamphlet which reviewed the entire issue in all its halachic aspects. (This was first printed in Eidus Ne'emonoh and appeared again in Eish Tomid, the memorial volume published in memory of the kodosh Eliezer Schlesinger hy'd, Rav Yechiel's grandson who was shot by an Arab in 1990.)

He prefaced his comments by noting that he did not intend to deal with any of the wider implications of the decree, such as whether Jewish innovators and ignoramuses might not find license in a lenient conclusion for effecting further easing in religious restrictions, whether yielding now might not teach the gentiles to make repeated use of this method of cowing Jewish opposition to their decrees (a fear mentioned by Rashi on Sanhedrin 74), or whether such a method of slaughter would be considered to be cutting the animal's trachea and esophagus after they had been rendered insensible by the stunning (which the Rogochover Gaon zt'l, held to be a complete disqualification of the shechita).

The only question which he wished to address, he wrote, was whether stunning resulted in the animal's being classed among the eighteen types of tereifos, inasmuch as this was something that depended on experiment and examination by those knowledgeable in science and medicine "and we, the rabbonim of Germany, are able -- and are therefore obliged -- to judge the categories of these tests." As to the other "serious and generalized fears," (aforementioned) to which the decree gave rise, "let the generation's gedolim and its geonim decide, in accordance with their deep Torah counsel." The thoroughness and comprehensiveness of Rav Yechiel's treatment of the entire topic revealed much about the issue to the halachic authorities before whom it was brought for resolution.

Rav Yechiel travelled to Vilna to consult Rav Chaim Ozer on the issue, though in order to avoid coming into open conflict with an eminent authority who was in favor of ruling leniently, it was judged expedient for his presence to be kept secret and the elderly gaon ruled that he should remain indoors while there, even praying on his own.

At the Third Knessia Gedola

His connections with the contemporary gedolim brought Rav Yechiel to the third Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad in 5697 (1937), where he was one of the youngest Torah leaders in attendance. When HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt'l, Hy'd saw that the members of the German delegation had begun to arrive, he asked repeatedly, "Has Reb Michel Schlesinger arrived yet?"

When Rav Yechiel did arrive, Reb Elchonon greeted him with joy and a beaming countenance. The Ponevezher Rov embraced and kissed his friend and talmid.

The gaon HaRav Akiva Sofer zt'l, the rov of Pressburg who was also attending the Knessia, asked to speak to Rav Yechiel privately and at a later time, HaRav Sofer revealed what the two of them had discussed. There had then been some ferment in HaRav Sofer's yeshiva in favor of introducing the Lithuanian approach to learning -- which HaRav Dessler zt'l, referred to as "protection against the tide of haskoloh" -- of independent contemplation and analysis, in place of the system that was traditional in the Hungarian yeshivos, where all the discussion centered around the rosh yeshiva's intricate sugya shiur.

There was of course much to be said for both sides. The Hungarian method enjoyed seniority; many geonim and eminent poskim had developed in the yeshivos which employed it; it was unique in the guidance it conveyed in determining practical halocho, and in the amount of knowledge that could be imparted to the talmidim, which was of great importance in those communities, where marriages were usually arranged at a young age. The depth, the brilliance and the polish of the Lithuanian approach on the other hand, held their own appeal for eager, young minds.

It was to Rav Yechiel, who had studied for many years in both Hungarian and Lithuanian yeshivos, that the rov of Pressburg now turned for advice. Would he recommend a change in course?

Rav Yechiel replied at length in the negative. He felt that the Hungarian method was suited to the local conditions, to the roshei yeshiva and to the talmidim, and that it ought not to be changed. "I'm relying on you!" HaRav Sofer told him as they concluded their talk.

Upon his return to Pressburg, HaRav Sofer voiced a complaint, namely, that while talmidim in Polish yeshivos were laboring over the difficulties posed by the Chasam Sofer and their resolution, new paths were being sought in the Chasam Sofer's very own yeshiva in Pressburg! That closed the issue.

The veneration of so many Torah leaders did not lessen Rav Yechiel's deep humility and unless absolutely necessary, he downplayed his own standing. When one of his colleagues tried to convince him to call upon the elderly Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes zt'l, who was attending the Knessia, he replied that since he had no specific reason just then for approaching the Rebbe, he did not wish to disturb such a holy man.

At last Rav Yechiel was prevailed upon to agree, and he spent some time in private audience with the Rebbe, who bestowed his blessing upon his children and who later commented about Rav Yechiel, "Everything he does is for the sake of Heaven!"

End of Part II

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