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9 Iyar 5765 - May 18, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Yeshayohu Dovid Briskman, z"l

By Betzalel Kahn

HaRav Yeshayohu Dovid Briskman zt"l, one of the last survivors of the pre-Holocaust yeshivas, passed away on Motzei Isru Chag (or the eighth day of Pesach outside of Eretz Yisroel) at the age of 93.

Yeshayohu Dovid was born in Sarni, located in Poland's Province in 5672 (1912). His father, HaRav Menachem Zalman, was a prominent Karlin-Stolin chossid, one of Yeshivas Mir's first talmidim and a close follower of HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, zt"l.

He grew up in a home suffused with Torah and yiras Shomayim together with his older brother Moshe Hy"d, who was nicknamed Moshe Masmid while studying at Yeshivas Mir and eventually married the daughter of HaRav M. Karelitz, the brother of the Chazon Ish; his younger brother Pinchos zt"l, who married the daughter of the Admor of Skolya and was a talmid muvhok of HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Hy"d and a talmid at Yeshivas Mir; and two sisters, one of whom married HaRav Yeshayohu Shimanowitz zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbenu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ), and HaRav Mordechai Shmuel Yogelnik Hy"d the rov of Wizwa.

Upon coming of age all of the brothers were sent to holy yeshivas. When the Chofetz Chaim passed through their town one day their father asked him for a brochoh for parnossoh, but after he mentioned that all three of his sons were studying in yeshiva the Chofetz Chaim said, "Then you are a very wealthy man and you don't need any brochoh."

By the age of 12 Dovid had already left home to attend Yeshivas Novardok in Bialystok under HaRav A. Yaffen. Among his fellow students at the yeshiva was the Kehillos Yaakov. Rav Dovid also studied at Yeshivas Novardok in Pinsk and Lutzk, where he served in the rabbinate of HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin. He did shimush under HaRav Sorotzkin and received semichoh from him at a young age, receiving one of only three semichoh letters HaRav Sorotzkin wrote before the War. Rav Dovid also received semichoh letters from the author of Mishmeres Sholom on the Pri Megodim and from HaRav E. Y. Finkel, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir.

Later he arrived at Yeshivas Mir, where he delved into his studies for many years and cleaved to HaRav Yechezkel Levinstein. For the rest of his life he held onto a precise, orderly notebook from his time at Mir containing his own chiddushim and the chiddushim circulating in the yeshiva. This notebook serves as a rare historical document chronicling the yeshiva's wanderings during the war years since it notes the date and place of writing—Kaidan, Lithuania, 5700; Kobe, Japan, 5701; Shanghai, China, 5703.

The memories from the yeshiva's period of exile in Shanghai remained deeply etched in his mind for the rest of his life and he passed them on to his offspring, who grew up on the wondrous stories of Torah study through mesirus nefesh and miracles on a daily basis. Toward the end of the war, when heavy bombing by US planes started to claim many lives the area of the yeshiva which was located near military- industrial factories, a proposal was made to divide the yeshiva to help ensure at least some survived—vehoyoh hamachaneh hanish'or lifleitoh (Bereishis 32:9).

The Mashgiach came out strongly against the idea, saying that the yeshiva's ability to survive depended on the Torah study of all members of the yeshiva together, and promising that no tragedy would befall the yeshiva members as a result of the bombing. He quoted the Medrash Tanchumo on Parshas Noach which says that in every calamity HaKodosh Boruch Hu saves two yeshivas from sword and destruction in order to prevent the Torah from being forgotten by Am Yisroel, adding that Yeshivas Mir was one of those two yeshivas.

Surprised by the bitochon the Mashgiach showed in this decision, which meant taking upon himself great responsibility for the fate of the yeshiva, Rav Dovid went to speak with the Mashgiach, who told him that every day the founders of the yeshiva and his rabbonim came to him from the World of Truth and told him how to proceed. In fact, despite heavy bombing in the area, the yeshiva went unscathed.

On another occasion, as Rav Dovid accompanied the Mashgiach through the streets, bombs started to fall, sending all of the passersby running for cover. Grabbing onto the Mashgiach's hand Rav Dovid began to run as well, but the Mashgiach stopped him and said, "There is no need to flee. Every bullet has its destination. We should step into a courtyard because of mar'is ayin but beyond that there is no need to worry."

In addition to the yeshiva members the ghetto was home to many other European refugees who lived in poverty and want and were severed from Yiddishkeit. Seeing their misfortune Rav Dovid organized a small group of yeshiva members to raise funds for these refugees, supply them with food and medicine and invite hundreds of them to Shabbos seudos at the yeshiva, where they heard divrei Torah and chizuk.

Very impressed by his efforts, the Mashgiach also transferred a substantial sum to support the project. At one point Rav Dovid presented him with a detailed expense report for these funds, but the Mashgiach refused to look it over saying that he knew whom to put his trust in when he provided the money.

At the end of the war Rav Dovid sailed to the US with HaRav Abba Berman, who passed away last week, and HaRav Reuven Fine. The Hand of Providence remained with them on this journey as well. When the ship came upon a minefield on the eve of Tisha B'Av the captain, noting their Jewish appearance, asked them to pray for Heavenly Mercy. The young men recited Tehillim tearfully all night long. In the morning the captain informed them the danger had passed and that he considered it a miracle.

When he arrived in New York, although he did not know English and the American ways were completely foreign to him, Rav Dovid did not rest on his laurels but set about building the local Torah world. Even before he was married he had been appointed chairman of national yeshiva committee and manager of the Bais Yaakov seminary under HaRav Kaplan in New York. He also served as rov of the Moritsher Shul in Williamsburg, edited and published a Torah-based newspaper in Yiddish called Bais Yaakov and was among the heads of Ze'irei Agudas Yisroel of the US.

A few years later he got engaged to the daughter of HaRav Moshe Zalman Levine, the rov of Sao Paulo who had studied bechavrusa with the Sdei Chemed in Chevron before moving from Jerusalem to Brazil, and was also the grandson of HaRav Yaakov Leib Levi, av beis din under HaRav Yehuda Leib Diskin and the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Keil, a yeshiva in Jerusalem for mekubolim.

After their engagement he moved to Brazil, which was a spiritual wasteland at the time. Alongside his business activities, he worked extensively to promote Yiddishkeit, giving regular shiurim and stirring slumberers to teshuvoh at the local beis knesses during the Yomim Noraim. As a ben yeshiva he sanctified the Name of Heaven through his dignified conduct and elevated middos in a place that had no idea what a yeshiva is. He worked extensively to influence Jewish youth and encouraged many of them to travel to the US and Eretz Yisroel to study in yeshiva, thereby saving them from spiritual demise.

When he inspected the local mikveh he came to the conclusion that a new mikveh would have to be built. Together with a chavrusa he spent several months studying maseches Mikvo'os and the associated halochos. Meanwhile he raised the funds needed for construction and saw the project through under his exacting halachic supervision.

Under the direction of the Mashgiach, Rav Dovid sent large sums of money to needy bnei Torah in Eretz Yisroel. He maintained a regular correspondence with the Mashgiach, who offered his beloved talmid encouragement and took an interest in the details of his day-to-day life and spiritual development. Rav Dovid also maintained contact with the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, who sought and received his help in constructing the renovated building for Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rav Dovid was constantly working to raise funds among his fellow kehilloh members in order to help maintain yeshivas in Eretz Yisroel. He also accompanied many leading roshei yeshivas in their rounds of visits to the wealthy members of the kehilloh and hosted them in his home for extended periods of time. He also tended to the individual needs of Jews around the world, never sending someone away empty-handed, sometimes covering all wedding expenses anonymously.

As his three children grew older he began to consider the possibility of moving to Israel to provide them a suitable Torah education despite the material well-being that was his portion. The gedolei Torah he consulted in the US, including HaRav Moshe Feinstein and HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt"l, wavered, weighing his children's education against his contribution to the religious advancement of Brazil.

In order to reach a final decision he traveled to the US with his wife and met with his rov, the Mashgiach. Before he had even finished relating his doubts the Mashgiach instructed him to move to Eretz Yisroel immediately. Returning to Brazil they packed their things right away and made the move.

For decades he served as the rov of the Stolin-Karlin beis knesses in Tel Aviv, where he elevated the bnei Torah of his kehilloh and honored every ben yeshiva who arrived at the beis knesses.

In Eretz Yisroel he continued to maintain close ties with the Mashgiach, seeking his advice frequently. On one occasion, when a sick Jew asked the Mashgiach to give him a blessing for recovery, the Mashgiach asked Rav Dovid to hold his hand and together they blessed the sick person.

When he reached an advanced age and no longer had various affairs to tend to Rav Dovid served as an emblem of a real ben Torah. He would sit and learn from morning to night, not wasting a single moment. His daily conduct attested to his yiras Shomayim, such as his insistence on wearing a hat whenever he recited a brochoh and his zerizus in performing mitzvas as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

On the night of the 23rd of Nisan he was summoned to Yeshiva Shel Maaloh at the age of 93. His is survived by his sons Rav Moshe Zalman, the rov of Beis Knesses Shimon Hatzaddik in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood, and HaRav Eliezer Mordechai, a marbitz Torah at Yeshivas Mir, his daughter who is married to HaRav Yair Kramer, the manager of a seminary in Jerusalem, his grandchildren and his great- grandchildren, all bnei Torah following the path of Hashem.


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