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25 Adar 5764 - March 18, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Even If You Don't Comprehend, Your Soul Comprehends

by B. Rom

A wealth of new stories about past gedolei Yisroel from the treasury of HaRav Gavriel Ricklis zt'l in the work "Zichron Gavriel"


A new compilation of chiddushei Torah was released last year in memory of HaRav Gavriel Ricklis zt'l a survivor from the dor dei'ah in Ponovezh and Telz in Lithuania, and in his latter days, in Eretz Yisroel. He passed away four years ago in Bnei Brak.

His biography appears at the end of the work, written up by his son-in-law HaRav S. M. Jungerman, head of the yeshiva and other institutions in Zichron Yaakov. In this biography we found many facts that were heretofore unknown regarding his brilliance, key kernels of which we shall present before the reader. The stories are translated from the book, with slight changes in style, but not in content.


One of R' Gavriel Ricklis' ancestors studied in Volozhin under Maran R' Chaim Volozhin zy'a. It is told within the family in his name about the time he was present in the yeshiva on Chol Hamoed Succos, in 5558 (1798). The yeshiva held a Simchas Beis Hashoeva and the singing and celebration were extraordinarily exuberant.

Suddenly, R' Chaim went over to the bimah and pounded it with his fist, hushing the tumult of the celebrants. You could hear a pin drop. R' Chaim stood for some time, engrossed in his thoughts. Finally he said, "In these very moments, the Gaon of Vilna just passed away." (The distance from Volozhin to Vilna was several days travel time, yet HaRav Chaim was able to sense the loss through his divine intuition.)

R' Dov Ricklis zt'l, rosh yeshiva Ponovezh in Lithuania of the younger students, was one of R' Gavriel's uncles. He was a genius as well as a tremendous masmid. During World War One he fled to St. Petersburg, where he made the acquaintance of Maran, the Rogatchover Gaon ztvk'l. They decided to study together and one night, they encountered a difficult passage which neither could resolve. It was getting very late and they decided to retire for the night, leaving the question still hanging.

In the middle of the night R' Berchik (R' Dov) awoke and suddenly, he was struck by the answer to their impasse. He quickly washed his hands, recited the blessing for the Torah, and sat down to review the subject in depth. He then got dressed and made his way to the Rogatchover.

It was wartime, and bands of armed men roamed the streets, pillaging and killing ruthlessly and squaring off their own vicious accounts with private enemies. It is not difficult to imagine the terror that struck the hearts of the members of the Rogatchover household when they heard knocks in the middle of the night.

"Who is there?" someone asked timorously.

"Ich," was the simple reply.

If the man speaks Yiddish, the Rogatchover immediately paskened, we must let him in. So someone opened the door and in walked R' Berchik. The Rogatchover scolded him for coming at that unearthly hour. "Why couldn't it wait till morning?" he asked. "There is shooting going on all the time!"

R' Berchik defended himself. "I had to come. Whenever I heard shots, I hugged the wall of a house. When they stopped I continued. I continued to walk in the intervals between shots. And boruch Hashem [I am here] with the teirutz."

In 5663, R' Gavriel studied by HaRav Abba Grossbard ztvk'l, from whom he learned about the battle that Maran R' Yisroel Salanter zy'a waged against the Maskilim, who demanded control over Jewish education and the introduction of a full curriculum of secular studies. The latter hired a venerable and very respectable-looking Jew to castigate R' Yisroel and shame him in public.

The day came when R' Yisroel was invited to address a large audience in Vilna. When he went up to the podium, that man strode forward and shouted, "Who are you, you baal gaavah, to come and address this gathering?"

An uproar ensued as people rushed towards him with violent intentions, but R' Yisroel would not let anyone touch him. He bade everyone be silent and listened to the man's tirade with bowed head. The man ranted on, accusing R' Yisroel of being a "hypocritical scoundrel" and so on. R' Yisroel nodded in acquiescence at every insult hurled at him. But when the man accused him of being a thief, R' Yisroel turned to him and said in all innocence, "Please tell me whom I cheated so that I can make amends and pay him back."

When word of this incident reached R' Yisroel's disciple, HaRav Simchah Zissel of Kelm, he remarked, "R' Yisroel conducted himself like Dovid Hamelech, who said, `When enemies rise up against me, I bend an ear' (Tehillim 92,12). It is advisable for a person to listen to what his enemies accuse him of so that he will know where to improve himself."

R' Gavriel would often tell about HaRav Yeruchom Levovitz ztvk'l, who served as mashgiach in Ponovezh before coming to Yeshivas Mir. In 5678 (1918), at the end of World War I, refugees began returning to Lithuania, among them R' Yeruchom together with a group of his students. (These included Maran HaRav Dov Povarsky ztvk'l, later rosh yeshivas Ponovezh in Eretz Yisroel.) They reached Slobodka, only to find the beis hamedrash in partial ruins. R' Yeruchom sent his disciples out in search of some basic furniture and seforim from local shuls for the yeshiva building.

"Tomorrow," he announced, "we will begin studying here."

On the following days, hundreds of students flocked to the building and R' Yeruchom delivered shiurim, as well as mussar talks. When Maran the Alter of Slobodka returned, he was surprised to find hundreds of students deeply immersed in study, with the regular study sessions carrying on as if nothing had ever happened.

R' Yeruchom went over to him and said simply, "Here, take your yeshiva back."

And he picked himself up and went off to Ponovezh, where he stayed until his return to Yeshivas Mir in 5684 (1924).

Maran HaRav Eliezer Gordon of Telz ztvk'l passed away in 5670 (1910). The Mashgiach in Telz was R' Shmuel Fondiller zt'l, Hy'd, rov of Ritiva. He worked hard to bring HaRav Yosef Leib Bloch ztvk'l back to Telz to fill the place of his father-in-law, but the laymen of the community feared that he would be too exalted and removed from the common folk and would be unable to relate to them well. R' Shmuel convinced them to take a rabbi who would also be able to serve as baal tefillah during the upcoming Yomim Noraim.

And so it was that R' Yosef Leib Bloch led the prayers in the large central synagogue in Telz using the special nusach that he brought with him from Volozhin. Immediately after Yom Kippur, the community presented him with a formal writ of rabbinate, signed by the members of the kehilloh. From then on, he only delivered lectures on Shabbos Shuvoh and Shabbos Hagodol, which were attended by all the young students of Yeshivas Telz as well as by the members of the kollel and all the Yeshiva alumni.

When the gabboim went to him and asked him to speak at a more common, simple level, R' Yosef Leib reassured them by saying, "Even if you don't understand what I am saying, your souls understand!"

R' Gavriel once told an audience that during the controversy that raged in Vilna over the rabbinate, Maran the Chazon ish ztvk'l left his home in Vilna and went to stay in a flour mill in Telz for half a year, just to get away. The owners of the mill had no inkling of his stature but they instinctively felt that he was a figure of caliber and quality. They saw, for example, how careful he was concerning the prohibition of chodosh, new wheat, and they treated him with great deference.

Before he left, R' Gavriel continued, the Chazon Ish said that as a measure of gratitude for their kind hospitality, he wished to divulge a secret and give them good advice. He said that soon an iron broom would begin sweeping across all of Europe, and it would destroy everything in its path. He advised them to pick themselves up and move to Eretz Yisroel.

When R' Gavriel finished his speech, a young man rose from the audience and said to him, "My mother was a member of that family. She was the only one who believed his words and followed his advice by emigrating to Eretz Yisroel. And she was the family's sole survivor. I, her son, can testify to the veracity of this story."


When he reached Eretz Yisroel, R' Gavriel taught in several yeshivos, including Tel Aviv and Herzliya. One particular student was an exceptionally unruly and disruptive young man who made teaching very difficult. R' Gavriel tried every means and method he knew to win him over, but was unsuccessful.

Finally, he went to the Chazon Ish and asked him what to do. Who should make way for whom? The Chazon Ish ruled that if he had, indeed, made every possible attempt to improve the student and gain his favor but had failed, he should eject him from the yeshiva for the sake of all the other students.

After the Chazon Ish passed away, R' Gavriel was faced with a similar, though opposite question. A student who had been studying with him wished to continue with Torah studies but his parents insisted that he go on to high school and receive a matriculation degree. His mother said she would get a heart attack if he thwarted her wish.

R' Gavriel went to R' Kanievsky ztvk'l who sent a messenger to the mother with these words: "Let's make a bargain. Your son shall continue in yeshiva and I'll pray that nothing will happen to you." The mother capitulated and today her son is a distinguished Torah scholar who disseminates Torah on a major scale.

Aside from these stories, there are many that revolve around Yeshivas Ponovezh in Lithuania, involving HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman ztvk'l and HaRav Osher Kalman Baron Hy'd, the mashgiach of Ponovezh, as well as about Yeshivas Telz. This volume also includes chiddushei Torah from rabbinical figures and students of Yeshivas Zichron Michoel from Zichron Yaakov, which is headed by R' Gavriel's son-in-law, HaRav S. M. Jungerman shlita.

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