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26 Cheshvan 5765 - November 10, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
"And You Shall Sit by the Evven HoEzel"

by B. Re'eim

Part I

Every story brought before the readers, every fact, is a heritage for us, enabling us to understand and to become wiser, to know the ways of his life, for these are our beacons to teach us how we must live our own lives.

"Each story, each fact, made a tremendous impact upon me and enabled me to gain knowledge and understanding for all periods in life," wrote Maran HaGaon R' Shach ztvk'l about his illustrious uncle.

A compilation of illuminating facts about the sublime character traits of Maran HaGaon R' Isser Zalman Meltzer ztvk'l. His yahrtzeit is 10 Kislev.


There was a stone in Jerusalem called the Evven Hoezel. This was Maran HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztvk'l.

Can the pen of a writer delineate the precious biography and the extent of his greatness? From the narrow pathways of Jerusalem there burst forth and rose a sun which was never extinguished, the light of the rabbi of Slutsk: Golden links in the chain of Torah transmitters and disseminators.

Evven Hoezel is not only the name of a written work. It is the name of a man, of a marvelous way of life, in life, riveting, instructing. It is a cornerstone for the figure of a man created in the image of the Divine. As his famous son- in-law, Rosh Mesivta of Lakewood, pronounced him, "A vestige from the great souls of the primordial generations of Creation."


It was on a summer's day in Jerusalem. HaRav Isser Zalman donned his simple, threadbare, shabby chalatel, which was the subject of so many discussions. The rebbetzin maintained that the author of Evven Hoezel, president of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and senior `statesmen' of roshei yeshiva of his generation — deserved more honor than he was willing to accept.

That morning, his friend and disciple from the Slutsk period, HaRav Osher Sendomirsky zt'l, came in to visit Maran. Before he entered the study, the rebbetzin whispered to him, " . . . and he looks like a simple porter. Don't you think, R' Osher, that you are obligated to be concerned for his esteem, his image? He is your master, after all. You sat, the two of you, for nights on end in study." And two tears coursed down her cheeks, one searing, the other half laughing.

R' Osher entered and was greeted with R' Isser's usual beaming countenance. He pressed his visitor's hand warmly and asked in a whisper, "Is something bothering you, R' Osher?"

R' Osher declared ceremoniously, "Slutsker Rov! Master of all yeshiva students, how can you go dressed in apprentice's clothing? What about the shame caused to Torah?" But R' Isser Zalman dismissed his remark with total disregard.

Slutsk is a city in Lithuania. Members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah don't wear uniforms. R' Osher summons his strength and tries once more. "I am but dust and ashes under the feet of the Rosh Yeshiva. If the honor of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah carries no weight here, then allow me to invoke the distress of the rebbetzin."

"Her distress..." R' Isser Zalman sighs deeply and whispers to himself, "The rebbetzin's distress... And what about my distress?" But on the morrow, R' Isser Zalman went to say the shiur klolli in Yeshivas Eitz Chaim wearing a suitable, rabbinical coat.

One of the young men whom R' Isser Zalman regarded highly and whose study regimen he guided became engaged to a girl of Hungarian extraction. They insisted on honoring R' Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky ztvk'l, rabbi of the Eida Chareidis, with officiating at the wedding.

Someone from the side of the chosson however, offended that Maran R' Isser Zalman was not asked to be mesadder kiddushin, went to him to express his dismay and apologize. R' Isser Zalman hastened to mollify him, saying, "Why are you making such a fuss about this? Just a short while ago, a wedding took place in a Jerusalem neighborhood and the local rabbi, who is quite young, officiated, while I was merely honored to recite one of the blessings under the chuppah. I think that the blessings are a fitting honor for a Rosh Yeshiva. And in this particular case, where the mesadder kiddushin is none other than R' Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, rabbi of Jerusalem, it is certainly fitting that he reserve that honor. You should not be upset in the least because that is how things should be. The local rabbi should be mesadder kiddushin and the Rosh Yeshiva should be honored with saying the blessings."

When the chosson's relative heard this stated out of true humility, without a smattering of rancor or affront to his honor, he could not help being impressed and asked what he deemed would be Maran's reward in the World to Come. Such modesty, so marvelous, can only be something ingrained in a person from birth.

In his pure simplicity, Maran agreed and said, "It is quite possible that I won't receive any reward for this." Thereupon, the young man told the Rosh Yeshiva that chassidim retell from R' Aharon of Karlin that whoever is born with innate good traits will not receive even a thousandth of the reward given to one who toiled and labored over his own character improvement. "In spite of this," R' Aharon would add, "I envy a person who was born with good middos."

R' Isser Zalman enjoyed this insight, and parried with a play on words that truly reflected how he felt about this subject. "I do not shun honor because of my frumkeit but because of the inherent krumkeit [deviousness / idiosyncrasy] in honor."

And he noted further that sometimes, one finds oneself in a public gathering where insult or shame is caused to some person. "If I am the object of it," he noted, "it lasts for a mere moment since I immediately introspect and see that this is a form of suffering that does not come at the expense of time wasted from Torah study. I should, in fact, be thankful for such an opportunity. And thereupon, I am immediately reassured."

HaRav Avrohom Rapaport zt'l told the following: HaRav Dovid Bleicher Hy'd considered the spiritual heir of R' Yosef Yoizel, the Alter of Novardok ztvk'l was martyred al Kiddush Hashem together with his wife and children and some of his disciples in the final year of World War II, after the Nazi beasts discovered the bunker in which they were hiding.

By a miraculous way, one daughter managed to escape. When HaRav Mishkovsky, former rabbi of Kreiniki, heard of this in Eretz Yisroel, he burst into tears of joy that through Hashem's mercy, one holy vestige of this great man had survived.

This daughter of R' Dovid Bleicher was in need of extensive medical care in a Swiss sanatorium due to what she underwent in the Holocaust; it was a matter of life and death. But the immigration authorities in Switzerland refused to award her a visa for fear that she would never leave their country. They agreed, however, to let her go to a sanatorium only if she was able to show she had an immigration certificate for Palestine.

R' Avrohom Rapaport traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to visit the home of HaRav Isser Zalman to find a way to secure such a certificate. At this same time, R' Isser Zalman was hosting his son-in-law, HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l, head of the American Vaad Hatzoloh for the Rescue of the European Survivors. The three of them put their heads together and decided that R' Avrohom should go to the Brisker Rov to hear what he had to say. The Brisker Rov, in turn, sent R' Rapaport to R' Moshe Blau, since with his affiliation with Agudath Israel, he would be able to obtain an immigration certificate for her.

The next step was to send a telegram to Agudath Israel in Switzerland, telling them to arrange for the certificate from the small allotment which they were allowed. R' Aharon suggested that the telegram be signed by three people: Rabbenu, author of Evven Hoezel, the Brisker Rov and himself.

R' Isser Zalman was somewhat surprised at this and said to his son-in-law, "I can understand that if you, R' Aharon, and the Brisker Rov are signed upon the request that it will carry the full weight, since you are both world-famous, and it will make a deep impression. But my signature will make no difference either way, for who can has heard of me in that country?"

The Mashgiach, HaRav Meir Chodosh ztvk'l related: "HaRav Isser Zalman possessed an unusually great trait, that of a `good eye.' He always saw the best in his fellow man and considered him much better than himself."

R' Meir would add, "I would note how when he spoke with one of the men of gigantic Torah stature of Jerusalem but whom the Torah world considered, nonetheless, below R' Isser Zalman, himself, he deferred to him in full humility, regarding the other as far greater than himself. It is difficult to describe his abject submission to that scholar.

"In fact, I found it difficult to fathom his power of self nullification, since the Gemora determines that a Torah scholar must possess a minimal measure ("an eighth of an eighth") of self pride, but R' Isser Zalman did not even possess that much!"

The Evven Hoezel and his great disciple, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk'l, were once walking along a Jerusalem street. In the course of their conversation, R' Shlomo Zalman said, "The Gemora states that `whoever has an ill person in his home should go to a Torah sage and ask him to pray for mercy.' Why does it advise him to go to a wise person rather than go to a righteous one?

I once heard R' Eliyohu Kletzkin from Lublin explain this in a humorous light. If he were to go to the tzaddik right away, he would receive his blessing and the ill person would recover immediately. The tzaddik would then regard himself as a miracle-worker and become vainglorious. Better that he go to a wise man who understands the power of a blessing per se and would not consider himself a wonder worker if his prayer succeeds in effecting the desired recovery."

When R' Isser Zalman heard his words, he said, "What you just said is simply marvelous! Why, people come to me every day asking for my intercession for the sick people in their family or for blessings in other areas. They tell me that I must pray for them; I must help them.

"Even bnei Torah come to me and ask me to pray for them. Between you and me," he continued confidentially, "you know that these Torah scholars are greater than I. I find it difficult to even describe their yiras Shomayim and their great meticulousness in mitzvos. They sit and study Torah in extreme deprivation and poverty and are satisfied with their meager lot. Why, then, do they come to me? In what way am I better than they? Does the fact that I was blessed with a good intellect make me superior? You, yourself, know that the opposite is true."

On the eve of Rosh Hashonoh, R' Isser Zalman sat by his table and said to his disciple and confidante HaRav Yitzchok Zaleznik zt'l, "You have no idea to what extent my master Morenu HaRav Chaim of Brisk held me in esteem. One time HaRav Zelig Reuven Bengis came to my hotel in Volozhin and said to me: `You don't know what just happened. R' Chaim sat at a meeting of rabbonim and proposed a question and then proceeded to answer it. Then he added, `This question is mine, but I cannot remember if the answer is mine or that of Zunye Mirrer. Such an answer does not conform to my style of straightforwardness; it suits the yashrus of Zunya far better.'"

After he told this, Maran R' Isser Zalman said to R' Yitzchok, "This is a sign that R' Chaim found something [of worth] in me. Now I must meditate in repentance for nothing better having come from me, for my not making something better of myself with that potential he saw in me."

Two weeks later, on Chol Hamoed Succos, Rabbenu told this story over a second time and concluded, "I was not sharp, nor was I profound, but I did have a straightforwardness. And despite this [my shortcomings], he saw fit to praise me. This shows that one should know what can be done with every person."

Upon another occasion, he once noted to his eminent disciple R' Chaim Brim ztvk'l, "When I studied in Yeshiva Volozhin, my master, R' Chaim, took a strong interest in me, even though I was a mere simple boy. This teaches you how important it is to befriend each and every person."

There was one person who occasionally visited the home of the Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim. R' Isser Zalman would ask him to say something innovative. He did so and later recorded the chiddush. Upon his next visit, he showed what he had written to Rabbenu. After studying the paper, R' Isser Zalman turned to the writer and said, "There is one approach which concurs with what you have written here very well, but the commentaries do not accept that approach. I am sure that you don't mean to embrace that either in your mind. I imagine that you intend to continue to build up your chiddush, and that what you have written so far is only an introduction to the very concept that you will further develop."

Maran once sat in his home together with his disciple, HaRav Tzvi Broide zt'l engaged in study. Suddenly, he laid his hands upon his head and said, "Oy, vey!" In answer to R' Tzvi's alarm, he said that he was suddenly attacked by a terrible headache. "What kind of a headache?" asked R' Tzvi in great concern.

Said R' Isser Zalman, "I was suddenly reminded that when I was in Slutsk, I expelled one of the students from the yeshiva. Who knows what happened with that student? Perhaps he is a Communist today without a vestige of Jewishness to him. If I hadn't ejected him, he might still be an observant Jew . . . "

R' Tzvi Broide tried to reason with his master and said, "If Rabbenu had decided at the time to expel the student, he must have had those selfsame doubts at the time, as well, and overcome them, nonetheless, in favor of ousting the student. This decision must have come after much heavy deliberation in the subject and had carried, at the time, the weight of a psak halocho, a decision carefully based on all the possible ramifications."

R' Isser Zalman heard him out and persisted, "Still, it is possible that he would have remained a Jew had I allowed him to remain. But now, who knows what he is today — how far has he distanced himself?"

R' Tzvi attempted further arguments of convincing Rabbenu that he must have done the right thing at that time, and these eased his mind somewhat. He did ask, however, how long ago this had taken place. "Forty years ago," was the reply.

On one of the visits of Maran HaRav Yechezkel Sarna ztvk'l, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron, to Rabbenu, the latter said to him, "Who knows what heavy bundle we will be dragging along with us to the World of Truth?" He was referring to the tremendous personal responsibility of every rosh yeshiva towards the spiritual development and conduct of the students attending the yeshiva, and their future conduct after they left it.

"How true," replied R' Yechezkel. "It is like a heavy sack slung over one's shoulder, where the front side weighs more than the back." What he meant to say in his metaphor is that each rosh yeshiva has a tremendous responsibility for the development of his students, and will surely be accountable for his efforts when the final reckoning is made after his death. Still in all, a rosh yeshiva's merits will ultimately outweigh any faults or mistakes he may have made with any of the students.

R' Isser Zalman would always sigh heavily when invoking the responsibility he owed towards his students, and would say, "Who knows what we are carrying along with us to Olom Habo?"

His devoted efforts towards each and every one of his students was remarkable. "Each and every one of us — his disciples and adherent followers — felt as if he were an only child by Maran R' Isser Zalman, as if Rabbenu's sole purpose in coming to Eretz Yisroel and settling in Yerushalayim was for the sake of nurturing and developing me," R' Shlomo Bukspan zt'l used to tell.

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