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12 Tishrei 5764 - October 8, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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HaRav Refoel Yitzchok Wassermann, zt"l
by A. Cohen

Cloaked in mourning, a crowd of thousands, including gedolei Torah, rabbonim, and bnei Torah, participated in the levaya of HaRav Refoel Yitzchok Wassermann zt"l, who passed away without warning last Wednesday at the age of 80. Among the gedolei Torah on hand were HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitz, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, HaRav Nissim Karelitz and HaRav Yerachmiel Gershon Edelstein, shlita.

A great cry went out as the mittoh left HaRav Wassermann's home last Wednesday, 27 Elul. A bitter hesped was delivered there by Eida Chareidis Gavad HaRav Y. Tuvioh Weiss, who said, "I can attest that my brother and friend who I have known for over 50 years was an emblem of the verse, `Achas sho'alti mei'eis Hashem . . .' He had only a single desire, `Shivti beveis Hashem kol yemei chayay.'"

The procession headed toward the Ohel Yaakov yeshiva and kollel via Bnei Brak's main thoroughfares, Rechov R' Akiva and Rechov Chazon Ish, which were packed with mourners. It then continued on to Kollel Chazon Ish, which HaRav Wassermann helped to establish and where he headed one of the chaburos in the lifetime of his rav muvhok, the Chazon Ish zechuso yogen oleinu.

Afterwards the mittoh was brought into the main hall of Ohel Yaakov, where HaRav Wassermann taught Torah for over thirty years even until his final day on earth. Last Tuesday, although he felt his heart was weak, he made a special effort to come to the kollel to deliver the shiur kloli to strengthen the avreichim in their learning.

HaRav Shmuel Wosner, the rov of the Zichron Meir neighborhood, spoke of his harbotzas Torah with tremendous nekius in yiras Shomayim as he fought to mend breaches. He then recounted that when the Chazon Ish made his famous pruzbol over 50 years ago and looked for a third dayan, he told HaRav Wosner to call HaRav Wassermann, and made an uncommon remark when he added, "R' Yitzchok is a wonderful dayan."

Afterwards the talmidim and avreichim carried their rebbe into the beis medrash, where he was eulogized HaRav Lefkovitz, who cited Chazal's axiom, "The departure of tzaddikim is worth more than the 98 curses in Parshas Ki Sovo." He concluded by asking HaRav Wassermann to act as an advocate for all of his talmidim and family members, and for Klal Yisroel, which is in need of great mercy.

Rosh Yeshivas Slobodka HaRav Boruch Rosenberg said, based on the commentaries to maseches Ovos the words, "Umosroh leYehoshua" actually mean every individual passes on the Torah, a task to which the deceased dedicated his entire life.

HaRav Yaakov Edelstein, rov of Ramat Hasharon and Naot Yosef in Bnei Brak and HaRav Wassermann's mechuton, recalled that in 5702 (1942), when he went to study at Yeshivas Lomzha- Petach Tikva the deceased, then a young bochur, went up to him to ask whether he was comfortably situated at the yeshiva. "The warmth his face radiated remains with me to this day," noted HaRav Edelstein.

Afterwards HaRav D.T. Ordentlicht, rov of Beitar Illit who once taught at HaRav Wassermann's yeshiva, noted his combination of greatness, pleasantness and mesirus nefesh for the sake of his talmidim.

He was followed by another of HaRav Wassermann's mechutonim, HaRav A. Ben Shlomo, who described the deceased's successful work in the French Diaspora.

Weeping bitterly, his son-in-law HaRav Chaim Yisroel Shapira, rosh yeshivas Shaarei HaTorah, parted from him. He recalled HaRav Wassermann's near brush with death 17 years ago and his wife's devotion in taking care of him.

The procession then proceeded down Rechov Chazon Ish to the Shomrei Shabbos Cemetery, where he was buried at sunset. Following stimas hagolel his son HaRav Boruch, a ram at Yeshivas Shaarei Torah, offered impassioned words of parting.


Refoel Yitzchok Wassermann was born on 6 Kislev 5685 to HaRav Nachman Shmuel Hy"d, the gavad of Stoisk and a long-time talmid of HaRav Boruch Ber Leibovitz. HaRav Nachman Shmuel was known for his gadlus in Torah, tzidkus and great concern for the poor, and all of these traits were manifested in his dedicated leadership of his kehilloh during the Holocaust.

HaRav Refoel Yitzchok managed to secure a certificate to enter Eretz Yisroel through one of the heads of the Mizrachi movement, as a sign of appreciation for his father's outstanding leadership of the entire community without exception.

He spent the first few months of World War II at Yeshivas Baranovitch, where he had close, personal ties with HaRav Elchonon Wassermann, and with the mashgiach, HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky.

After consulting the Gra's famous goral he fled for Eretz Yisroel in 5700 (1940). Arriving without his parents as a lone refugee he began his studies at Yeshivas Lomzha in Petach Tikva. His friends from this period recount his fabulous shekido and omol as well as his radiant face familiar to all. He was acquainted with Maran HaRav Shach zt"l and the other gedolei Torah at the yeshiva, which served as the setting for the famous story of how HaRav Shach recanted a shiur he gave there following HaRav Wassermann's kushyo. As a young man he began to form a lifelong relationship with the Chazon Ish, who encouraged him like a father and guided him in Torah like a master craftsman guiding his apprentice.

After marrying the daughter of the famous mohel, HaRav Yisroel Yitzchok Shakul, he continued to live in Petach Tikva, studying at the Lomzha kollel. Later he moved to Bnei Brak where he was among the Chazon Ish's talmidim.

Through his learning he also formed an intimate relationship with the Kehillas Yaakov, who sent him to Yeshivas Chachmei Tzorfas at Aix-les-Bains in 5718 (1958). As a marbitz Torah there he made the place flourish, raising the talmidim to high levels of Torah and yir'oh. He even merited seeing second and third generations of talmidei chachomim issue forth from his talmidim in France, who remained close to him until the end of his life.

HaRav Wassermann also served as a ram in Antwerp for a short period, where he formed a friendship with HaRav Y. T. Weiss. In 5723 (1963) he moved to England where he began his period in the rabbinate as the rov of a kehilloh in Kehal Chareidim of London. He gained renown there for stopping breaches and for his powerful drive to do Hashem's will. During this period he set up a kollel in London, where the idea of a ben Torah continuing his Torah studies after getting married was almost unknown. To this day the kollel still bears the name Kollel HaRav Wassermann.

In 5733 (1973) he returned to Eretz Yisroel to accept a position as Rosh Yeshivas Ohel Yaakov, a post he held faithfully until the very day of his passing.

HaRav Refoel Yitzchok Wassermann is survived by his wife; his sister Channah; his sons HaRav Nachman, HaRav Pinchos in the US and HaRav Boruch; his sons-in-law, who are well-known marbitzei Torah veyiroh; grandchildren and great- grandchildren through whom he had the merit to set up a tribute to his family, which perished in the Holocaust.


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