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21 Cheshvan 5762 - November 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Maran HaGaon Hagodol HaRav Elozor Menachem Mann Shach ztvk"l

His Biography

HaRav Shach was born to Rav Ezriel zt"l and Bat Sheva of the Levitan family, a family of talmidei chachomim who served as rabbonim in important Lithuanian communities. Her brother was HaRav Nisan Levitan zt"l, who became one of the most senior figures in Agudas HaRabbonim of America.

HaRav Shach was born in Vabolnik, Lithuania on erev Rosh Chodesh Shvat 5655 (1895) into a home of yirei Shomayim. HaRav Shach always praised the yiras Shomayim he absorbed in his parents' house.

"I remember how I was educated in my parents' home: when my yarmulke fell off my head, I was taught that you had to cry from distress. They were guided by a concern for the punctilious observance of mitzvos. Once I woke up after the zman Krias Shema according to the Mogen Avrohom and I burst out crying and continued to cry about it all day long."

He was brought up and educated with Torah and immense yiras Shomayim. Throughout his life he was extremely careful about being medakdek bemitzvos.

Although there was a yeshiva ketana in his hometown, he begged his parents to let him go to Ponevezh Yeshiva in order to fulfill the directive, "Exile yourself to a place of Torah." When they saw how persistent he was they agreed to his request, and he set out for Ponevezh Yeshiva. He was never to see his parents again.

He pursued his studies diligently together with the other talmidim. His great rov was HaRav Itzele Blazer zt"l and he also had the merit of sleeping in the Ba'al Hamitzvos' House. Already in his youth those characteristics, which were to make him admired by the whole Jewish world, stood out: his amazing hasmodoh, wonderful talents, a shining mussar personality, respect for his fellow man, and a cheerful countenance.

He acquired his learning during his youth from Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania, where he quickly became one of its outstanding students. During the years 5673-74 (1913-14) he absorbed Torah and mussar from his great rov, the Alter of Slobodka, HaRav Nosson Zvi Finkel zt"l, from his son- in-law, HaRav Yitzchok Eisik Sher zt"l and HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt"l.

Throughout his life HaRav Shach considered himself to be a talmid of Slobodka and he often praised that great institution of Torah and mussar. Once he said that all the Torah in Eretz Yisroel and America today originates from Slobodka, the "mother of Yeshivas," for all the roshei yeshiva of the last generation learned there.

The Slobodka mussar outlook and the Alter's approach to the depths of ma'amorei Chazal guided the Rosh Yeshiva in his avodas Hashem in general and in his mussar shmuessen in particular.

In 5614 (1914) HaRav Shach was forced to leave Slobodka due to the outbreak of war and he returned to his hometown of Vabolnik, where he joined the yeshiva of HaRav Yechezkel Bernstein zt"l, the author of the Divrei Yechezkel, who had opened a yeshiva in the town in which his father- in-law lived.

Rav Shach writes about this period in the introduction to the new Avi Ezri edition published in 5753 (1993): "How can I repay Hashem for all His mercies? Starting from the days of my youth, when I went through periods when I had nothing at all. I cannot adequately describe this period from the beginning of the First World War in 5674 (1914) when all the Jews were exiled from the Lithuanian towns and I did not know where my parents were, for I was alone in Slutsk and I had no contact with them. That was how I spent several years, suffering much."

The Rosh Yeshiva spent these years fleeing the terrors of the First World War. He wandered from town to town, but fulfilled the posuk, "Had Your Torah not been my delight, I should then have perished in my affliction." He learned in shuls and botei medrash, washing his face, hands and feet in the sinks at the entrance of the botei medrash. Every fiber of his being was immersed only in Torah, and he could say about himself, "The Torah which I learned in the period of wrath, endured."

In later years, when bochurim came to him to complain about physical conditions in the yeshiva, he told them that in those days he would take off his shirt, soak it in the sink outside the shul and wait in the cold for it to dry outside. "I never wanted to be dependent on the kindness of others." Thus he remained immersed in the Sea of the Talmud, cleaving to his Creator.

He would subsequently say that anyone attached to materialism could never attain ruchniyus, and quoted from Vayeiro, "Sit here with the donkey": "Anyone who does not see the mokom, who does not see Hakodosh Boruch Hu, it is a clear sign that he is attached to chamor, to materialism. Only someone who detaches himself from materialism, attains spirituality."

Then he would relate the spiritual heights he attained during this difficult period, when he had no material goods whatsoever and only experienced suffering.

His unique hasmodoh was conspicuous in all stages of his life. His whole life and his whole being revolved around the holy Torah, in which he toiled and which elevated him at all times.

After a while HaRav Shach joined the HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l who had founded a yeshiva in Slutsk in 5657 (1897). He developed a close relationship with HaRav Isser Zalman, whom he considered his rov with respect to everything, and he had the merit of absorbing Torah from HaRav Isser Zalman in his house in Slutsk.

He would recall how when he came to be tested by HaRav Isser Zalman, his clothes were torn because of his intense poverty at the time, after he had been forced to travel from town to town and he only had one set of clothes. By the time he got to see Rav Isser Zalman his clothes were tattered and he was afraid to go in to see the Prince of Torah looking like that. He turned his pants inside-out in order to make them look less torn and shabby.

HaRav Meltzer noticed the state of his clothes and accepted him to the yeshiva straight away, realizing that he was a treasure house, a plastered cistern that does not lose a drop, who was destined to illuminate the skies of Torah-true Judaism with the light of his Torah and greatness. The following day HaRav Isser Zalman bought him new clothes.

In the introduction to his great work Avi Ezri on Haflo'o-Zeroim HaRav Shach writes: "It is my duty to mention my uncle, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztv"l and my aunt . . . who were like parents to me already in my youth . . . I received much from them, and whatever is mine -- is from them."

The Rosh Yeshiva received semichoh from HaRav Isser Zalman, eventually married his sister's daughter, and was appointed maggid shiur in the Slutsk Yeshiva headed by HaRav Isser Zalman.

Throughout his life HaRav Shach related to his uncle HaRav Isser Zalman like a son to a father and a talmid to his eminent rov. In his shiurim he often cites divrei Torah of Rav Isser Zalman on sugyos of Shas. In a letter on the occasion of the establishment of Even Ho'ezel Yeshiva in Netivot, HaRav Shach wrote, "Rav Isser Zalman disseminated Torah throughout his life, and I, although unworthy of it, had the merit of becoming close to him and he taught me like a father teaches a son."

In a letter of chiddushei Torah to Rav Isser Zalman dated Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5799 (1938) HaRav Shach (who was then Rosh Yeshivas Karlin in Luninetz) addresses him as follows: "My teacher and master, the great and true Gaon, the Prince of Torah and treasure house of yir'oh, the Glory of the Jewish nation, the master of his nation, my uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer shlita." He concludes the letter: "With this I bow to my master and teacher with the blessing that he may live a lengthy life, remain strong and merit the comfort of Zion. His devoted student . . . ".

Rav Shach recalled that in his youth he wrote for himself a whole composition in a notebook on hilchos na'aroh besuloh and his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman would go up to the closet where the notebook was, look at it and make a few comments. The Rosh Yeshiva said that Rav Isser Zalman told him about his suggestions for a hagohoh on the Rambam (Naaroh Besuloh 3:3 -- see Avi Ezri (ibid.), dibbur hamaschil vesovur hoyisi) that he had arrived at the truth with this hagohoh and that everybody had a part in the Torah.

Rav Isser Zalman also treated HaRav Shach like his son, remaining very attached to him throughout his life and showering him with an abundance of Torah and yir'oh. Rav Isser Zalman praised Rav Shach's chiddushei Torah greatly, and due to his great admiration of them he published some in his book Even Ho'ezel. Rav Isser Zalman also encouraged the Rosh Yeshiva to publish his sefer Avi Ezri. When Rav Shach was about to publish his first sefer in 5708 (1948) there was a shortage of paper because of the war and Rav Isser Zalman took pains to obtain sufficient paper for the printing of the book.

Disseminating Torah

On 16th Av 5683 (1923) HaRav Shach was engaged to Rav Isser Zalman's niece, Guttel, the daughter of Rav Ben-Zion Gilmovsky z"l, who was a descendant of the Ponim Meiros. The book Shimusho shel Torah contains her lineage as recorded by Rav Isser Zalman. They were married between Yom Kippur and Succos 5684 (1923), Rav Isser Zalman being mesader kiddushin.

Over the years the Rosh Yeshiva would speak about the Rebbetzin's mesirus nefesh, which allowed him to toil in Torah undisturbed. She took upon herself the yoke of supporting the family, working as a pharmacist in the town. "After my marriage too I would travel [to yeshiva to learn] from Pesach to Succos and from Succos to Pesach to devote myself undisturbed to my studies, and my whole Torah is to be credited to her."

For five consecutive years he devoted himself to his studies with amazing hasmodoh acquiring a mastery of all parts of the Torah. His soul yearned for Torah, and during those years he overwhelmed his inclination and purified his body, submitting it totally to Torah with his elevated yiras Shomayim. He did not cease his studies day or night; he did not take leave of his books or interrupt his studies. He afflicted his body and purified his soul until he had acquired a vast knowledge of the Talmudic waters.

In 5789 (1929) he was asked by HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l to assist him by becoming a maggid shiur in Kletsk Yeshiva. He disseminated Torah there for five years, leaving his mark on many talmidei chachomim. During this period he developed a close relationship with HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt"l, the future mashgiach of Ponevezh, who was the mashgiach of Kletsk at the time.

At this time HaRav Shach was asked by the Brisker Rov to accept the position of rosh yeshiva of Toras Chaim in Brisk to replace the Imrei Moshe, HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik, but for various reasons HaRav Shach did not take up this position.

After the sudden passing of HaRav Meir Shapira zt"l on 7th Cheshvan 5694 (1933), HaRav Shach was asked by Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt"l to become the rosh yeshiva of Lublin and he stayed there for a while.

He then served as maggid shiur in Novardok Yeshiva, where he taught Torah to young students for two years. In a letter written by HaRav Aharon Kotler to HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky he asks Rav Chaim Ozer "to use his influence to support Novardok Yeshiva since my relative, the Gaon Rav Eliezer Shach shlita joined the yeshiva as a maggid shiur, and I have it on reliable information from members of that Yeshiva that the learning is on a superior level especially now that my above relative has been accepted there, for he is great in Torah and influencing others in Torah . . . "

In 5696 (1936) the Rosh Yeshiva became a maggid shiur in Karlin Yeshiva in Luninetz, which was headed by the Rebbe Rav Avrohom Elimelech Perlow zt"l.

This is how Rav Shach came to serve as maggid shiur in Karlin Yeshiva: The most important rabbonim of Lithuania and Poland were once in the middle of a meeting when a young man stormed into the room without noticing any of the rabbonim present. Some of the participants tried to prevent him from entering the room but he insisted on proceeding with his mission. "I must go in," the young man said and turned straight away to HaRav Chaim Ozer, telling him. "I've got a simple solution to yesterday's problem."

One of the Rebbes got up and protested, "Yungermanchik, a little derech eretz!" The avreich apologized to those present and left the room. HaRav Chaim Ozer smiled and said to the rabbonim: "When this avreich has a question or an answer, he is not concerned about anything else, so there is nothing to protest about."

The Karliner Rebbe, who was also present at this meeting turned to HaRav Chaim Ozer and said, "I am looking for such a personality to serve as Rosh Yeshiva of my yeshiva."

The Rebbe's wish was fulfilled and HaRav Shach became rosh yeshiva in his yeshiva, a position he maintained for four years.

During this period Rav Shach was arrested for protesting chilul yom tov. He protested against Jews who desecrated the sanctity of Shavuos, which fell on erev Shabbos, by buying fish from non-Jews. In a letter written to the management of the Vaad Hayeshivos in Vilna dated Monday 9th Sivan 5697 (1937), HaRav Shach wrote the following about these events:

"You must have read in the newspapers reports about what happened here. I wish to inform you what happened last Friday morning after davening. The yeshiva had been up all night learning, as is customary, and davened after alos hashachar. After davening I noticed some Jewish ladies buying fish from two [non-Jewish] fishermen. I immediately went over to them and protested this abomination, of yom tov being publicly desecrated. Straight away two policemen came over and arrested me, having gathered testimony from some non-Jews that I had incited Jews not to buy produce from non-Jews. Boruch Hashem after people interceded with the procurator in Pinsk I was released after having been imprisoned for two days. At the moment I do not know whether there will be a trial about this. The report in the newspaper is therefore a lie, and tomorrow a report will iy"H appear in the newspaper by the IATA giving a correct version of what happened, and this will atone for the great fear we felt in the town, especially following the events in Brisk."

In 5700 (1940) the Rosh Yeshiva reached Vilna, where he spent some time with Rav Chaim Ozer with whom he held a lot of Torah discussions, at the same time learning a lot from him about Jewish leadership. Rav Shach admired Rav Chaim Ozer greatly for his greatness in Torah and for the way he bore the yoke of leading the nation.

While he was in Vilna in 5700 the Rosh Yeshiva's daughter, Miriam Reizel, passed away. He recalled that following her petiroh, whenever Rav Chaim Ozer met him he would comfort him, saying, "Rebbi Shach, `Had Your Torah not been my delight.' Rav Shach added that Rav Chaim Ozer also had a daughter, an only child, who died young.

During the levaya, which took place in the Vilna cemetery, HaRav Shach's son Efraim, yibodel lechaim aruchim remained with Rav Chaim Ozer, who held him on his lap, playing with him and making him feel relaxed.

A Lion has Come Up from Bovel

In 5700 (1940) HaRav Shach immigrated to Eretz Yisroel. He said that he came without enough money to support himself for even one day and without even the most minimal possessions, because all his possessions, including his personal effects, had been confiscated at the border. He went straight away to the home of his uncle, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer.

At that time a maggid shiur from a yeshiva in Tel Aviv came to see Rav Shach offering him the position of rosh yeshiva. HaRav Shach recalled:

"His yeshiva at that time was still without secular studies. It was an ordinary yeshiva with proper bochurim. (At that time I still was not so much aware of the Chazon Ish, since he was not yet so well-known. The Brisker Rov had also not yet come to Eretz Yisroel. [So he did not and could not ask their advice - Ed.]) I asked my uncle HaRav Isser Zalman what to do. He thought about it for a day and then told me to accept the position, which I did. The maggid shiur in that yeshiva gave me an advance of 13 lirot, which was a lot of money at the time, with which I also bought some furniture -- what I have now is what I bought then -- and I rented an apartment in the middle of Baalei Melacha neighborhood in Tel Aviv. I was relaxed there and successful. The management of the yeshiva was happy with me.

"As I said, the yeshiva at that time was run like an ordinary yeshiva without any secular studies, and that maggid shiur never spoke anything about such things. Once, when I was in my room in the yeshiva building, Rav Avrohom Farbstein zt"l, subsequently rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, who was a young man at the time (and was a regular visitor to my uncle's house, Rav Isser Zalman, from where I knew him) found me immersed in my thoughts. He asked me what was troubling me. I told him that I had the feeling that people around me were surprised that I had this position here and that I did not understand why. He told me that the Chazon Ish was in Bnei Brak and I should seek his advice.

"I went straight from the yeshiva to the Chazon Ish and asked him what to do. He told me that I certainly had to leave my position. He added that from what he heard about me already in chutz lo'oretz from Rav Chaim Ozer and from the divrei Torah he had seen which were published in Knesses Yisroel in Vilna in 5792 (1932), it was surprising that I had accepted a position there. He then made some severe criticisms of the head of the yeshiva -- not against the yeshiva but against him personally. He added that if in the next world they will say that hadn't they signed for you for a parnossoh for the year and how could you dare to abandon that parnossoh, I should reply that I did not want to make a parnossoh that way and I will be left alone. I told him: Shouldn't I go to my wife first to prepare her for this step? But he told me (in these words), `If a mitzvah comes by your way, do not let it sour!' (Mitzvah habo'oh leyodecho al tachmitzenoh.) And he said no more.

"I therefore went straight from the house of the Chazon Ish to the head of the yeshiva in Tel Aviv without going home first, and told him that I was resigning. He was surprised. At first he thought that I wanted a higher salary and he offered to double it, but I resigned without any further ado and left the yeshiva that same day. Afterwards I went home to tell my family that I had resigned. When I told Rav Isser Zalman what had happened he was full of praise for what I had done."

In 5741 (1941), at the instruction of the Chazon Ish, HaRav Shach was called by HaRav Ben-Zion Bruk zt"l to serve as maggid shiur in his Yeshiva Beis Yosef in Yerushalayim, where HaRav Shach remained until 5704 (1944).

In 5744 he went to serve as a ram in the Kletsk yeshiva in Rechovot that was founded by the son of HaRav Isser Zalman. Later he returned to this yeshiva to say shiurim in 5710 and 5711 (1950-51).

In 5745 the Rosh Yeshiva was asked to become a maggid shiur in Lomzhe Yeshiva in Petach Tikva which had been founded by HaRav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon zt"l. He served there for six years as maggid shiur alongside HaRav Reuven Katz zt"l, the rov of Petach Tikva, HaRav Eliyohu Dushnitzer zt"l, Rav Y. Boruchsohn zt"l, Rav M. L. Ozer zt"l and Rav D. Zochovsky zt"l.

During all the periods that the Rosh Yeshiva served as maggid shiur and rosh yeshiva in Petach Tikva and Rechovot and also when he first took up the position of Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, Rav Shach would only go home on Shabbossos, devoting all his energy to the yeshiva, conveying to the bochurim the Torah which he had received from his rabbonim and paving them a path in avodas Hashem by demonstrating to his talmidim that the Torah was the main thing in life. His image served as an illumination for the rest of their lives.

In 5711 (1951) Rav Shach was asked by the Ponevezher Rov zt"l to become Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh. HaRav Shach recalled his first meting with HaRav Kahaneman: "I met him at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station in 5711. He told me that he was on the way to Yerushalayim [to see me]. I was surprised and asked him what he wanted to see me about. Then he told me about the yeshiva he had founded in Bnei Brak and he asked me to become its Rosh Yeshiva."


For fifty years he was totally dedicated to educating generations of talmidei chachomim to become gedolei Torah, instilling each talmid with the yearning for acquiring shleimus in Torah.

With unlimited devotion and paternal affection he nurtured each talmid like a growing flower, and in addition to drawing and watering from the historical wellsprings of Slobodka, Brisk and Slutsk, he managed with a determined spirit to impart the legacy of his rabbonim to future generations.

HaRav Shach left a huge imprint on many thousands of talmidim and followers, who witnessed his derech in avodas Hashem, and learned about the means of acquiring Torah and pure yiras Shomayim. They saw in him the figure of an oved Hashem whose whole being was dedicated to only one thing: serving Hashem with all his might, increasing kvod Shomayim, Torah, yiras Shomayim and mussar amongst Klal Yisroel.

His many talmidim saw in him a caring father figure who sought only their own good and wished to direct them in the ways of Torah and mussar that he had received from his rabbonim. With his sweet and pleasant manner he managed to deeply affect the bochurim and guide them in avodas Hashem, serving as the perfect model for the middos which he demanded from his students.

His shiurim in Ponevezh became renowned throughout the Torah world. They were delivered with immense enthusiasm and genuine rischa deOraisa. The beis hamedrash was full of argumentations back and forth and of pilpulin deOraisa. His profound shiurim were distinguished by their analysis and clarification of the sugyos and he would teach his talmidim how to penetrate the depth of a sugya and explain it.

For many long hours during seder time the Rosh Yeshiva would impart an atmosphere of rischa deOraisa in the beis hamedrash, as he would talk to talmidim about the sugya, questioning and answering, constructing new avenues of insight into the sugya.

There were times when he gave several shiurim a day in the yeshiva, daily shiurim as well as a shiur kloli, and there were even times when after the shiur he would travel to Grodno Yeshiva in Ashdod and Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Geula, Yerushalayim, to deliver shiurim.

The Avi Ezri

His shiurim and the fruit of his labor were published in his books Avi Ezri, which were published in several editions and became basic study material in the whole Torah world. In these books he presented his shittos in lamdonus and his bekius and powers of chiddush in all areas of Torah became apparent.

The Rosh Yeshiva's sefer Avi Ezri received the enthusiastic haskomoh of the Brisker Rov zt"l, whom Rav Shach already knew from the time he spent in Brisk. During that period HaRav Shach had spoken to the Brisker Rov on a certain Torah subject, after which the Brisker Rov had said that since his father Rav Chaim had passed away, he had not been fortunate enough to engage in pilpul and an in- depth discussion of sugyos haShas until this conversation with Rav Shach.

This is what the Brisker Rov wrote in his haskomoh in 5716 (1956): "My close friend, the great Gaon, showed me . . . in truth the Gaon . . . does not need an approbation from anybody, for he is a very great man with a mastery of Torah, sharpness and bekius, and his deep comprehension of pshat in all areas of Torah matches that of one of the gedolim of our generation. He has already become renowned for his shiurim . . . it is not for me or the likes of me to testify about him and his chiddushim. However, Chazal have said, `A man is to be honored by honoring his request.'"

When the Brisker Rov stayed in Switzerland he told his host about the humility of HaRav Shach. The following is taken from Shimusho Shel Torah:

"When Rav Shach finished his work Avi Ezri on the Rambam, he brought the manuscript of the book to the Brisker Rov and asked him to look at it and express his opinion about the chiddushim. The Brisker Rov, who had already known Rav Shach and the depth of his learning for many years, having spoken a lot to him in limud, was also amazed by these printed chiddushim and wrote his wonderful haskomoh to the Avi Ezri, in which he extols the virtues of the author and his chiddushei Torah.

"When Rav Shach went back to the Brisker Rov's house, the latter gave him the approbation. Rav Shach looked at it and quickly put it into his coat pocket. After Rav Shach left his house, the Brisker Rov looked pensive, and he then turned to members of his family and said, `Judging from the way Rav Eliezer put the haskomoh into his pocket, it looks like he has no intention of printing it.' He therefore sent his son, HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, to tell HaRav Shach in his name that the haskomoh had been given to him on condition that it was printed. HaRav Shach confirmed that he had not intended to print the haskomoh and his whole intention in showing the Brisker Rov the manuscript had only been to hear his opinion about the sefer. It was enough for him, he said, that he agreed with him and what need was there to print the haskomo? HaRav Yosef Dov repeated his father's instructions and it was only because of the Brisker Rov's insistence that the haskomoh was actually printed.

"When the Brisker Rov was in his host's house he asked his host to bring him a copy of the Avi Ezri, and the Brisker Rov went through the haskomoh with him, explaining everything he had written in it."

With the Brisker Rov

Rav Shach's acquaintance with the Brisker Rov continued for many years. From the time that the Brisker Rov came to Eretz Yisroel, the Rosh Yeshiva would come to Yerushalayim for Friday and Shabbos and spend all his time in the Brisker Rov's company.

In this context we should point out an incident retold by one of the roshei yeshiva who was present at the time: There was once a meeting of gedolim in the Brisker Rov's house. HaRav Shach was sitting next to the Brisker Rov. When the gedolim arrived, Rav Shach got up for one of them. The Brisker Rov turned to Rav Shach and said to him, "You're giving them your seat? They have to give you their seat!"

When HaRav Shach moved from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak the Brisker Rov would send him talmidei chachomim to ask him questions in halocho.

HaRav Shach recalled: "During the period that I was living in Yerushalayim I never went to visit the rabbonim who were living there, because I was very close to the Brisker Rov and he told me things that he never revealed to anybody else, not event to members of his family. I knew that if I would visit them they would want to hear the Brisker Rov's opinion about various topics and I was particular not to say anything in the name of the Brisker Rov. That was also why he was so open with me, because he knew that everything that he revealed to me would remain secret. Therefore I did not go to visit them, to avoid any unpleasantness if they would ask me and I would not be able to answer them.

His Links to the Gedolim of Yesteryear

HaRav Shach ztvk'l, personally met many of the great luminaries of past generations, men whose teachings guide us to this day. He had longstanding connections with many of them in the course of which they would converse together in divrei Torah. They would also discuss communal matters with him and the different issues which arose over the years, and many times appointed him their envoy for various purposes.

These links were apart from those he had to his great teachers, among whom were the geonim HaRav Itzele Ponovezher, HaRav Yechezkel Bernstein, author of Divrei Yechezkel, the Alter of Slobodka, the Slobodka roshei yeshiva HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein and HaRav Isaac Sher, Klal Yisroel's prince, HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, HaRav Shach's uncle HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, author of Even Ho'ezel, and the Brisker Rov -- zecher tzadikim ukedoshim livrochoh.

HaRav Shach merited meeting the Or Somei'ach, to whom he addressed a letter containing divrei Torah, as he notes in a letter he wrote about the publication of a sefer zikoron for the great gaon HaRav Meir Simchah of Dvinsk ztvk'l: "I merited seeing him and I wrote him a letter with divrei Torah, but the time was inauspicious, for he departed from us to the other world and I did not receive a reply . . . "

Our master met the Chofetz Chaim a number of times and received daas Torah from him on a range of matters, which guided him in leading communal affairs in later years. His admiration of the Chofetz Chaim's greatness and holiness was boundless. In a letter, HaRav Shach refers to the Chofetz Chaim as "our teacher, the gaon and kodosh, with whom Hashem has merited our generation, who illuminated our minds in every area of Torah, in halochoh, in Torah discussion and in pure yiras Shomayim . . . teacher of the entire exile . . . ztvk'l.

Elsewhere, he writes about the Chofetz Chaim, "Not long ago, Hakodosh Boruch Hu brought us a gaon in Torah and in yir'oh, the Cohen Godol, the tzaddik of the world . . . ' (Michtovim Umaamorim, vol. V., #452).

On several occasions, HaRav Shach acted as an emissary for his uncle, putting Reb Isser Zalman's questions to the Chofetz Chaim. This happened during the period following Reb Isser Zalman's arrival in Eretz Yisroel, when he stood at the head of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim and would ask his nephew, who was still in the diaspora, to go and ask the Chofetz Chaim's advice.

Whenever some communal matter arose requiring a decision which HaRav Shach needed to make, he would say, "I myself know nothing. However, I have a tradition from the Chofetz Chaim that such and such should be done . . . " (alternatively he might say, " . . . but I have heard from the Chazon Ish . . . "). Sometimes he would remark, "I did not hear this, but I have no doubt that the Chofetz Chaim would have decided like this and since he is no longer alive, I have to decide."

In the essay Bezos Ani Botei'ach, HaRav Shach is quoted saying, "I imagine to myself, were the Chofetz Chaim to be living with us today, without a doubt he would explain verbally and write an explanation of what has taken place and what is being demanded of us at such a time. However, we do not have the Chofetz Chaim to shoulder the burden of leadership, `We are orphans and have no father.' "

HaRav Shach met HaRav Shimon Shkop ztvk'l, once in Vilna. Following Reb Shimon's petiroh, after the war had broken out and the yeshiva had been exiled from Grodno to Vilna, HaRav Chaim Ozer asked HaRav Shach to head the yeshiva. He also met HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt'l when he came to stay with his uncle Reb Isser Zalman in Slutsk and they discussed divrei Torah together.

Our teacher knew HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Kamai ztvk'l, during the time he stayed in Mir, where his father-in-law, Rav Ben Tzion Gilomovsky zt'l, Reb Isser Zalman's brother-in-law, lived. There is a correspondence of divrei Torah between them. HaRav Shach related that he once met HaRav Elchonon Wassermann ztvk'l, Hy'd, rosh yeshiva of Ohel Torah and had a lengthy Torah conversation with him.

HaRav Shach had a very special relationship with the Chazon Ish ztvk'l. He often mentioned his great merit in having served as the emissary between the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov, carrying messages in both directions. Since he spent a lot of time with the Brisker Rov, when the Chazon Ish wanted to discuss something with the Brisker Rov pertaining either to the community or to an individual, he would call upon HaRav Shach to take his question to the Brisker Rov or to put the matter before him. The Chazon Ish sometimes sent a messenger to call HaRav Shach to come to him.

In one of his letters to our teacher, while the latter was serving as a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Petach Tikva, the Chazon Ish writes, " . . . There is something . . . with the gaon of Brisk, which I have been asked to convey to his honor the gaon, shlita. I might come tomorrow to Petach Tikva to transmit the matter, from one who seeks your welfare, I"sh."

Our teacher related what happened on one of the occasions that he was sent with messages between the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov. He once came to see the Brisker Rov and found him very worried and upset. HaRav Shach was alarmed and asked the Brisker Rov what had happened. The Rov replied that a certain rav had just been to see him and he told him that the Chazon Ish had agreed to the establishment of a national Agudas HaRabbonim, and that the Chazon Ish had requested that the Brisker Rov also agree to it.

The Brisker Rov had not given clear response and the rov had departed. The Rov was highly disturbed and said that he was unable to fathom the Chazon Ish's opinion on the matter. He himself rejected the entire idea out of hand and he simply couldn't calm down. He was worried about the dreadful breach it would cause among Klal Yisroel's faithful were the plan cholilohto come to fruition. "The land was delivered into the hand of the rosho," and the compromisers would take control of the organization and force it to carry out their policies, using it as an instrument for implementing their destructive "reforms."

The Brisker Rov asked HaRav Shach to travel to that rav and convey to him his unequivocal opinion, that whoever set up such an organization would be considered, "a sinner who leads the multitudes to sin."

HaRav Shach immediately rose and set out to see the rav, on a long journey that in those days took several hours. When he arrived at the rav's house, he was informed that the rav had gone to visit his son. HaRav Shach turned around and got onto the return bus. On the way, the outward bus passed them and HaRav Shach spotted the rav to whom he had been sent, returning home. HaRav Shach got off the bus and started making his way back to the rav's house on foot, where he finally delivered the Brisker Rov's message.

Afterwards, he continued on to Bnei Brak and went in to see the Chazon Ish, who had reportedly been in favor of the organization's establishment, to hear his opinion on the subject and to convey the Brisker Rov's opinion to him. As soon as he entered, the Chazon Ish told him that he had received a letter from R' Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, in which Reb Chaim Ozer expressed his amazement at the Chazon Ish after a certain rav had come to see him to ask for his support in forming an Agudas HaRabbonim and telling him that the Chazon Ish supported the idea. Reb Chaim Ozer was amazed as to how the Chazon Ish could lend his support to such a plan.

The Chazon Ish went on to say that he had replied to Reb Chaim Ozer that the report about him was groundless and that he had always shared Reb Chaim Ozer's opposition to the scheme. HaRav Shach thus received an answer to his question before he even asked it.

The gedolim maintained a united front in their opposition to the plot and it came to nothing. (See Michtovim Umaamorim vol. III, pg. 100)

HaRav Shach saw the Chazon Ish as the supreme rabbinical authority in all matters where a resolution of the halochoh was needed. He said that here in Eretz Yisroel, the Chazon Ish's recorded opinion should be followed in many matters.

While the Chazon Ish lived, HaRav Shach would consult him with his doubts and ask him how to proceed. Once, while delivering a hesped for the Brisker Rov, he said, "We remember when our teacher the Chazon Ish lived and we would bring every difficult matter before him and he would guide and lead us in our lives" (Michtovim Umaamorim vol. III, #145).

A firm friendship had existed between HaRav Shach and the Steipler Rov ztvk'l since their youth, at the time they first met in Pinsk when the Steipler was serving as rosh yeshiva of the Novardok Yeshiva there. In our days they stood together as leaders of the generation, and were of one mind and opinion, while each deferred to the other in boundless estimation and admiration, as everybody knows.

They would send each other their seforim, whenever a new volume of Kehillas Yaakov or of Avi Ezri was published. Once, when the Steipler sent a new sefer that he had just brought out, he told the emissary who was to deliver it, "I know that HaRav Shach doesn't need my sefer, but it is a merit for if my sefer stands in his bookcase . . . "

In 5741 (1981) when HaRav Shach was ill, the Steipler sent him a letter in which he heaped blessings upon the head of, "Our master, the gaon, glory of the generation, avi gedor, who makes fences and stands in the breaches, the gaon Rav Elozor Menachem Shach shlita." Further on in the letter he writes, "I bless his glorious elevation with all my heart . . . may Hashem yisborach send him a perfect recovery from heaven soon, a complete recovery to every limb of his holy body, and may he remain at his post, disseminating Torah to the multitudes, to thousands and to tens of thousands, and may the Land be illuminated by his honor . . . " (See Karaino De'igarto, vol. II, pg. 42).

On many occasions, the Steipler told those who turned to him with questions, "You should ask HaRav Shach. His initial reaction is daas Torah."

The Steipler told his great son HaRav Chaim Kanievsky yblctv'a, "Nobody cares about the community, with one single exception: HaRav Shach. Heaven has appointed him as the generation's leader and he is the only one who conducts communal affairs as they ought to be conducted."

On another occasion the Steipler said, "Rav Shach's opinion is daas Torah; his mouth is like mine and his hand is like mine. Tell him that I am grateful to him for filling the breach, because if he wouldn't, everything would rest upon my shoulders."

In a letter printed in the sefer Toldos Yaakov, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita writes, " . . . the history of our master, my father and teacher zt'l, who was Klal Yisroel's teacher in the last generation and who led the community of the chareidim lidevar Hashem together with ylct'a our master the gaon Rav Elozor Menachem Shach [shlita], for thirty years, since the petiroh of the Chazon Ish zt'l on the fifteenth of Marcheshvon 5714 until his own petiroh on the twenty- third of Menachem Av 5745."

His Leadership

Following the petiros of the gedolim of the previous generation, HaRav Shach was looked up to as the leader of the generation as a whole and of the Torah world in particular. It was a burden that he bore faithfully for tens of years.

His voice was heard in every public confrontation over the fundamentals of our religion, and he also spoke out against various distorters of the Torah path who arose both from within and without the Torah camp. Many remember him as the standard-bearer in numerous campaigns against compromising halochoh, for example in permitting mamzeirim, as happened when the then-Chief Rabbi decided to allow a pair of mamzeirim to marry, in opposition to the opinions of the various botei din that had deliberated on the case.

HaRav Shach knew no fear or hesitation and he expressed his opposition publicly and openly, since he saw grave danger and a terrible chilul Hashem in the incident.

He had sharp criticisms of the Poalei Agudas Yisroel (PAI) and National Religious parties. He considered their ideologies harmful to the pure, genuine Torah outlook. In the period leading up to the elections in 5734 (1974), when Agudas Yisroel made a joint list together with PAI, HaRav Shach and the Steipler ruled that people should not vote at all. The Torah community in its multitudes followed the directions of the gedolei Yisroel.

HaRav Shach led a difficult but consistent battle against various kinds of nationalistic and Messianic ideologies. Even before the threat posed by the Lubavitch movement was apparent, he came out openly against the danger which it posed with its beliefs. He utilized every opportunity to warn of the danger in being swept up by the Messianic fervor and by the leader who stood at its head. At the outset, there were many who did not perceive the magnitude of the danger, or the stage that things would yet reach in future years. HaRav Shach was undaunted by the criticisms of him and he continued his campaign to distance all those faithful to pure Torah outlook from any closeness with counterfeit Messianism.

He was active in all the various campaigns, such as those opposing the conscription of women, the desecration of graves and many others. There was not one major issue affecting Klal Yisroel that he was not involved with, down to its smallest detail.

He served as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah and since 5737 (1977) he was its chairman, placing his imprint upon every issue that affected the community at large. As leader of the Torah community, he was chosen to serve as president of the Vaad Hayeshivos, in which capacity he initiated several enactments whose purpose was to preserve the integrity of bnei Torah at all times. He stood guard against any attempts to introduce changes in the holy yeshivos and kollelim, which he viewed as the foundation of Klal Yisroel's survival.

Whenever the issue of army conscription for bnei yeshiva reared its head, he rose like a lion in opposition to the inciters and issued a public warning that should this come to pass, we would all leave Eretz Yisroel and go to a country that would allow us to learn. He ruled that such a measure should be opposed, even to the point of sacrificing one's life.

He also served as president of Chinuch Atzmai, where he stood watch over the purity of the Torah education in the schools for boys and in the Bais Yaakov institutions. He called for increased manpower for Torah education and wanted to see students who sought their inspiration in the Jewish nation's eternal wellsprings of spirit. He saw Chinuch Atzmai as a great and important enterprise and he devoted himself to its development for the sake of the education of Jewish children.

In time he decided, for various reasons, to leave the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel. As one who had a long- standing sympathy for the plight of the Sephardic community, he was upset by the discrimination against the Sephardim in the public arena. In 5744 (1984) he worked for the establishment of the Shas movement and at the last minute instructed bnei Torah to vote for it. The Torah community followed his instructions and Shas was successful in the elections.

Eventually, when the party's workers engaged in excesses, acted contrary to daas Torah< and lent their support to the uprooters of religion, he did not refrain from coming out against them extremely vehemently, declaring that they were distancing themselves from the chareidi community. At that time, he supported the establishment of the Organization of Sephardic Marbitzei Torah, which was headed by the roshei yeshiva of the Sephardi yeshivos, and encouraged its activities with all his strength as the central body of Sephardic bnei Torah.

In 5745 (1985), he perceived the Torah world's need for a vehicle of expression and together with the Steipler Rov, he founded Yated Ne'eman, sacrificing himself for the paper's establishment and recruiting resources for it. He also set up a supervisory Vaada Ruchanit composed of roshei yeshiva, rabbonim and gedolei Torah, who determined every aspect of the paper's policy and watched over what went into it, with everything printed in it having first passed their scrutiny. There was fierce opposition to the establishment of a paper especially for the Torah world. However, HaRav Shach saw the project as being of supreme importance and he made tremendous efforts to put the paper on a solid foundation, to strengthen it and to lend it his support at all times. He guided the editors on a daily basis, as to their reactions to the issues of moment, and expressing his own daas Torah to them. Articles dealing with fundamental principles were even read out to him, word by word.

In 5746 (1986), he encouraged the establishment of Shearis Yisroel and the forming of its beis din headed by HaRav Chaim Sho'ul Karelitz zt'l as the central body for kashrus and for communal affairs for the Torah community. He called for people to join Shearis Yisroel and to strengthen it, as the finest hechsher, that is most in keeping with the wishes of bnei Torah.

In Tishrei 5749, he founded the Degel Hatorah movement, the public body centralizing the communal affairs of the bnei Torah, in the parliamentary and municipal forums.

The rally marking the launching of the new movement is remembered for its splendor. On the central dais were all the Torah disseminators and roshei hayeshivos, the halachic arbiters and the generation's leading poskim, in short, the Torah world, which united itself for the sake of this important undertaking.

Three months later he insisted that Yated Ne'eman have an English edition.

During all these years, HaRav Shach acted as the Torah community's navigator, charting its path in all communal affairs. In his annual address at the opening of the Ponevezh Yarchei Kallah, as in all his addresses to the community at large, he expressed his pure daas Torah.

These events always aroused great interest. Everyone used to wait to hear what he would say about any public issue that arose and every public letter of his concerning communal affairs quickly became the topic of conversation in the Torah world and even in the general Jewish world.

His articles and letters were collected in the volumes of Michtovim Umaamorim. A selection of his shmuessen on the parshiyos was published in Meirosh Amonoh, and a collection of the stories he told involving gedolei Yisroel was published in Shimushoh Shel Torah.

He was looked upon as a guide to both the community and to individuals. In his plain room in his home on the yeshiva's hill, many fateful decisions were made. Despite his preoccupation with communal affairs, he never stopped listening to the pains and distresses of individuals. He would share the pain of any individual who came into his home, offer sound advice and words of comfort and encouragement, and he would actively help as much as he could.

His communal activities never took his attention away from what was his principle obligation, namely, toiling in and disseminating Torah. Even during the stormiest periods, when the atmosphere was rife with public controversies and his home was inundated with communal figures coming to him for guidance, he didn't stop delivering his regular shiurim and shmuessen, and his entire being remained immersed in learning.

With his petiroh, our generation has lost its teacher, the nation's heart, a unique figure who remained to us from the levels of previous generations, the central support of Klal Yisroel, which he carried on his shoulders and in his heart, like a nurse carries an infant.

We have become orphans and we our father is gone. Who will give us a replacement for him?


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