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A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Ellul 5767 - August 16, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Eliezer Sorotzkin zt"l

By Betzalel Kahn

Thousands of gedolei Torah, roshei yeshivos, bnei Torah and many of his talmidim took part in the levaya of HaRav Eliezer Sorotzkin zt"l, a ram at Yeshivas Telz in Cleveland and the founder of Telz-Stone and its various institutions in the mountains near Jerusalem, who passed away on 28 Av at the age of 92.

Eliezer Sorotzkin was born on 7 Sivan 5675 (1915) to HaRav Zalman, the gavad of Zeshtil and Lutzk and later chairman of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in Eretz Yisroel. His mother, Soroh Miriam, was the daughter of HaRav Eliezer Gordon, the gavad of Telz and Eliezer's namesake. He had a twin brother, Dovid, who died in childhood.

When he was a year old World War I broke out and the family fled to Minsk, where he lived in the same house as the Chazon Ish, who often held him on his lap while he was learning. Eliezer attended the local talmud Torah in Zeshtil and went on to study at the yeshiva ketanoh under HaRav Chorgin. In 5689 (1929) when his father was asked to serve in the rabbinate of Lutzk, Eliezer transferred to Yeshivas Beis Yosef in Lutzk under HaRav Moshe Reisz.

As the skies over Europe turned dark with the horrors of war about ten years later, he was at home in Lutzk and could not return to Mir for Elul Zman. Instead he traveled to Vilna, where he worked indefatigably to bring his parents and siblings to Vilna and to save many other Jews. He went to Telz for the winter zman, where his relatives served as ramim. On Erev Pesach 5700 (1940) he fled to Shanghai with talmidim from Yeshivas Mir and spent the remaining years of the war at the yeshiva there.

On 15 Sivan 5702 (1942) he married the daughter of HaRav Eliyohu Meir Bloch, who later became rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telz-Cleveland. At the wedding, which was held in the main hall of the yeshiva in Shanghai, HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz served as their shushbin. While they were still in Shanghai they had a daughter, a second daughter who passed away a few weeks after she was born, and a son, whose bris was held in the heichal of the yeshiva. Maran Hamashgiach HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein served as sandak.

During these years his penchant for acts of chessed started to come to the fore. Once, for example, when one of the students had to be hospitalized with an infectious disease, he arranged his release and brought him to his home to nurse him back to health.

In Elul 5705 (1945) he sailed to San Francisco, where he boarded a train for Cleveland. Upon arriving in Cleveland all of the students of Yeshivas Cleveland turned out to greet him, led by his father-in-law, HaRav Eliyohu Meir Bloch. This was his first meeting with the survivors of the war from his family. He joined the kollel associated with the yeshiva and gave shiurim on occasion. In light of his ability to form ties with people he was often asked to engage in fundraising projects for the yeshiva, whose material foundation was credited largely to his efforts. Later, when Germany sent reparation payments earmarked for the yeshivas, Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l chose him to distribute the funds at his discretion.

In 5713 (1953) the yeshiva fell into dire financial straits. Rav Eliezer went to South America for an extended period, where he succeeded in putting the yeshiva back on its feet. During this trip he stopped in Santiago, Chile, where he found the kehilloh divided following a dispute between the heads of the community. Rav Eliezer stayed until he had made peace between them. Since he was compelled to remain away from home for such a long time he moved his family to Eretz Yisroel for a year and a half and in the summer of 5715 (1955) went to visit them and to participate in the fourth Knessia Gedoloh of Agudas Yisroel.

After his father-in-law, HaRav Bloch, passed away that year he began giving a regular shiur at the mechinoh run by Yeshivas Telz, and even gave mussar talks.

In 5723 (1963) when a fire burned down the yeshiva buildings claiming the lives of two students, he spent six months in New York raising money for the construction of new buildings, which stand to this day.

In 5919 (1959) he traveled to South Africa to conduct a fundraising drive and wound up strengthening the local yeshiva, Yeshivas Beis Yitzchok, as well. During one of his subsequent trips to South Africa he was notified that his mother had become a burden on his father, HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin, and that she should be moved to a convalescent home for a short period to allow his father to regain his strength, but nobody was able to persuade her to go of her own accord. HaRav Eliezer took a detour to Eretz Yisroel rather than traveling directly to South Africa, and was able to convince his mother. Upon his departure his father said HaRav Eliezer's efforts saved his life.

One night, as he was traveling down a dark road, his driver fell asleep and the car went off the road and down a slope. Miraculously he survived the accident, though he was seriously injured. Before he was extricated from the car he thought to himself that he had merited the blessing for longevity in the Torah, "Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long" (Shemos 20:11).

In 5725 (1965) when HaRav Mordechai Katz passed away he began to give a shiur in the yeshiva gedoloh and continued for four years.

In 5727 (1967) he began his life's work: founding Kiryat Telz- Stone in Israel. While his father-in-law was on his deathbed he expressed his desire to establish Yeshivas Telz in Eretz Yisroel. Over the years various efforts were made, but none of them proved successful. Though he hoped to settle down to focus on his shiurim and his talmidim, he felt an obligation to carry out his father-in-law's wishes.

After consulting with the Ponevezher Rav it was decided to build the yeshiva in the mountains near Jerusalem. "Telz- Stone will one day become a part of Jerusalem," predicted the Ponevezher Rav. HaRav Eliezer undertook widespread lobbying in order to start the community, and in Sivan 5727 (1967) a site was located. The head of the Yehuda Regional Council strongly opposed the construction of the chareidi community, but eventually formed a close friendship with the founders of Telz-Stone, helping them any way he could.

Only months after the Six-Day War came to an end the land was purchased. After making arrangements for the development work he returned to his shiurim at Yeshivas Telz-Cleveland, but it soon became clear the plan could not be carried out unless he set up residence in Jerusalem. So in 5769 (1969) he moved his family to Jerusalem's Bayit Vegan neighborhood, and in 5737 (1977) moved to Telz-Stone, the first chareidi community set up in Eretz Yisroel during that period.

Yeshivas Telz was set up as soon as the community got started. The yeshiva was headed by HaRav Mordechai Gifter and HaRav Boruch Sorotzkin, his brother. Two years after it was begun, Telz-Stone had some 200 families, Torah institutions, a kollel and in 5744 (1984) Yeshivas Meor Eliyohu was started by HaRav M. Bloch, followed by Yeshivas Meor Eliyohu Letzei'irim.

HaRav Eliezer Sorotzkin was a tremendous baal chessed. His sons referred to him as a "gaon" in carrying out acts of chessed. He had close relationships with gedolei Yisroel, especially HaRav Shach zt"l, who he consulted with on a regular basis.

He was also very close to his father, the gavad of Lutzk, until the latter's final days. Although HaRav Eliezer was sick for the past several years, his mind remained sharp.

He passed away on Motzei Shabbos Re'eh. When the levaya set out from the square outside Yeshivas Mir- Jerusalem he was eulogized by HaRav Yitzchok Ezrachi, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir, the deceased's son HaRav Yosef, his son-in-law HaRav Mordechai Goldschmidt and his grandson, HaRav Eliyohu Meir Goldschmidt.

HaRav Eliezer Sorotzkin zt"l is survived by HaRav Yosef Yehuda Leib, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Meor Eliyohu in Telz- Stone, HaRav Avrohom Moshe, manager of Yeshivas Telz- Stone, HaRav Ben-Tzion, a renowned psychologist in the US, and HaRav Tzvi Mordechai, a ram at Yeshivas Chochmas Shlomo in Jerusalem. He is also survived by his sons-in-law, HaRav Shlomo Eisenberger, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telz- Cleveland, HaRav Mordechai Goldschmidt, the moro de'asra of Mishkenos Yaakov in Beit Shemesh, and HaRav Eliezer Mordechai Briskman, a ram at Yeshivas Mir, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren following in his path of Torah yir'oh and chessed.


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