It was a cold and rainy Monday morning, Rosh Chodesh Shvat,
5685. At ten o'clock, a large crowd gathered in the Eitz
Chaim Yeshiva, located in the courtyard of the Churva
Synagogue in the Old City. When it was packed full, the doors
were closed and many disappointed people were left
The honorary guest arrived on schedule at eleven. The
rabbonim kept praising the eminent new Rosh yeshiva, R' Isser
Zalman Meltzer, who had arrived recently from the Polish town
of Kletzk. Eventually, the introductory speeches ended and
the new Rosh Yeshiva delivered his first shiur to the
packed audience of Jerusalem's elite Torah scholars. It was
clear that a new era had just begun and that a major change
was taking place. This first shiur truly fulfilled the
expectations of the many erudite talmidei chachomim of
R' Isser Zalman Meltzer was a product of the Lithuanian
yeshivos of Volozhin, Radin and Slobodka, and he was expected
to create in Eitz Chaim a synthesis of the Lithuanian style
of learning (of acquiring knowledge for the purpose of
teaching others and of creating a continuation and lineage of
pure Torah study in Klal Yisroel), on the one hand, and on
the other, to combine it with the diligence of the
talmidei chachomim of Jerusalem who devoted their
whole lives to study in the beis hamedrosh.
It was obvious that the new synthesis of both schools was
going to enhance the learning of the noted Eitz Chaim Yeshiva
of Jerusalem, and the audience was filled with enthusiasm.
"Beila Hinda, there's a letter for you from your
chosson," Golda Frank, the rich widow, addressed her
young daughter, handing her a closed envelope. With a bright
smile, Beila Hinda retired to the large library to read the
letter in privacy. But the smile was soon wiped off her face -
- the letter bore bad news, and as she continued to read, the
tears began flowing freely unto the pages.
Mrs. Frank peeked in and was surprised to see her daughter
"What happened in Mir?" she asked in concern.
"He is very sick," whispered the young bride.
"He will recover soon," promised the mother.
"He is sick with consumption," wept Beila Hinda.
For a moment, Golda Frank stood still. Then she walked over
to the window and gazed out at the blooming flowers and the
blue skies above. The world is celebrating spring as
though nothing has happened. "When was the tuberculosis
diagnosed?" she asked, finding it difficult to utter the
"Recently. My chosson suggests that under the
circumstances, we break the engagement."
"It is your decision, Beila Hinda," said her mother. "What do
you intend to do?"
"Had I already been his wife, I would do everything in my
power to make him well again. Consumption can be cured. Now,
however, it seems that I do have a choice..." She looked at
her mother with tear stained eyes, shaking her head slowly
from side to side. "But I am not going to make the choice
myself. I shall travel to the Chofetz Chaim and ask his
The distance from Kovna, Lithuania, to Radin in Poland is
great. Beila Hinda sat in the train, keeping her eyes glued
to her Tehillim. The scenery outside did not arouse
her interest. Eventually, she grew tired and closed her eyes,
but couldn't fall asleep. She kept on thinking about her
imminent meeting with the godol hador. She would tell
him about her deceased father's wish that she marry a great
talmid chochom. Her chosson -- and until, that
is, if and when, she broke the engagement, that is what he
still was -- certainly met that criterion. However, she was
afraid of becoming a widow, herself. Being an orphan was
difficult enough... Her emotions were all stirred up with
these conflicting thoughts that raged behind her closed
She reached her destination and soon was pouring out her
sorrowful tale to the tzaddik. He reassured her,
saying, "There are two parts to your problem but they are not
connected to one another. Longevity, you should know, has
nothing to do with good health. Marry this young man and care
for his well being, his health. I wish you both a long life
Isser Zalman Meltzer and Beila Hinda Frank were married. They
lived in Kovna, where he pursued his studies diligently while
his wife supported them by managing a factory of leather
goods. One day, R' Isser Zalman told his wife happily that R'
Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rosh Yeshivas Slobodka, had offered him
the position of maggid shiur. What a wonderful
opportunity, they agreed.
After a particularly successful day at the factory, not long
after, Beila Hinda came home in good spirits. She had made a
huge profit, and she found her husband also in a very happy
mood. She served him a glass of milk and waited while he
recited the blessing slowly and carefully and then drank it
down. She waited expectantly to hear what news he had to
"The Rosh Yeshiva called me over today and said that the
Ridbaz, Rov of Slutzk in Russia, had requested that he send
him a core of excellent students in order to create a new
yeshiva in his town. The Rosh Yeshiva asked me to head this
new establishment and to handpick the students I wished to
The room was quiet as Beila Hinda digested the news. R' Isser
Zalman did not register her hesitation for he began praising
the Ridbaz and waxed enthusiastic about the venture.
When he finally paused for breath, she asked, "And did you
give the Rosh Yeshiva a definite answer?"
"Of course I did! I was even able to provide him with a list
of fourteen excellent students I would like to take to form
the base of the new yeshiva."
"Oh. But you didn't ask my opinion, yet. I know how important
it is, what a tremendous challenge it will be for you to head
your own yeshiva. But I am afraid for your health. It
involves too much exertion. A yeshiva does not only mean
studying with the boys. It means caring for all their needs,
finding housing facilities, making sure they are fed and so
many technical details. This is too much of an ordeal and I
am afraid it is not for you..."
R' Isser Zalman was bewildered. Could it be that my wife
is reluctant to leave Kovna? he suddenly thought.
But Beila Hinda did have her husband's welfare primarily in
mind and suggested, "Why don't you go to Slutzk and try it
out? If you are satisfied and things are working out, I'll
join you there. If not, you can always come back here..." She
felt she must leave him an opening to back out of this
difficult undertaking. But it proved to be within his
capacity and some time later, the entire family moved to
The yeshiva in Slutzk flourished. The Ridbaz, R' Yaakov Dovid
ben Zev, was very helpful in financing and administering the
yeshiva. When, in 5663, the Ridbaz left Slutzk to go to Eretz
Yisroel, the vacant rabbinical office was offered to R' Isser
By now, he knew how difficult it was to be a Rosh Yeshiva and
was reluctant to accept the additional position. He consulted
his mentors, R' Chaim Soloveitchik of Volozhin, and the
Chofetz Chaim. Both heartily endorsed his accepting it.
World War I brought hardship and chaos to the world. Hunger,
misery, disease and death were rampant. The situation in
Russia was compounded by the Bolshevik Revolution. The
poverty that settled in the rabbi's household was intense.
Beila Hinda divided up their apartment and rented out half.
She baked rolls and sold them to the army. As the rabbi's
wife, she had the franchise for the sale of yeast and candles
as well. But all this did not suffice to feed the family.
Worse was the Bolshevik persecution of religion. R' Isser
Zalman was arrested several times for the `crime' of teaching
Torah. One night, the students escaped and crossed the border
to the Polish town of Kletzk. R' Isser Zalman remained behind
and was warned that soon he would be sent to Siberia, which
in his weakened health, meant sure death. And so he fled
Russia and joined his students in Kletzk.
A letter had been sent from Jerusalem to Slutzk, inviting R'
Isser Zalman to become the Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim, but he
was not prepared to leave his yeshiva, yet. Again, in Kletzk,
a letter arrived repeating the offer. It took two years for
him to finally see the writing on the wall. When, on Simchas
Torah, 5685, the local police raided the yeshiva in search of
`illegal attendance,' he decided that the time had come to
make aliya. He packed up and went to Eretz Yisroel,
with his wife and family joining him in Jerusalem some time
They settled in Jerusalem in a small apartment where they
lived for the next twenty-nine years. The yeshiva flourished
and R' Isser Zalman found the time to author his famous work,
Evven Hoezel. Unfortunately, even in Eretz Yisroel,
religious decrees were passed and women were called up to the
army. R' Isser Zalman felt greatly distressed by the
situation, as well as helpless to do anything. An acute
sadness settled upon him and in 5714, at the age of 84, his
heart stopped beating...
As the Chofetz Chaim had blessed Beila Hinda, she had a long,
fulfilled life by the side of her illustrious husband, whom
she tended faithfully as he steadily climbed the ladder of
Torah. Zechuso yogein oleinu.