Thousands were on hand in Queens on Monday for the levaya of HaRav Aharon Zelig Epstein zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Shaarei Torah deGrodna, a prominent figure in the Torah world in the US. The levaya continued the next afternoon in Jerusalem, leaving from Yeshivas Mir.
Zelig Epstein was born in 5671 (1911) in the town of Slonim, Lithuania to HaRav Meir Epstein, who was among the top students at Yeshivas Volozhin and went on to become a prominent figure in his community.
Endowed with exceptional abilities the young man become a great masmid and his rabbonim marked him for greatness.
He studied at Yeshivas Mir and when World War II broke out he traveled with the yeshiva to Shanghai, where he remained oblivious to the difficult conditions, continuing to grow in Torah.
After the war he settled in the US, where he helped build the Torah world. He married the daughter of HaRav Moshe Mordechai Shkop, the son of HaRav Shimon Shkop.
For 40 years he served as one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Vodaas. Thirty years ago he helped his son set up his now-famous Yeshivas Shaarei Torah deGrodna in Queens.
HaRav Epstein zt"l always shunned any public activity. He simply learned Torah his whole life. In trying to characterize his life, HaRav Eliahu Baumwolspiner recalled that HaRav Aharon Kreiser zt"l once told him that one of the major influences upon him was HaRav Dovid Rapoport of Baranovitch. Although he wrote seforim of chidushei Torah, HaRav Rapoport did not teach. Whenever HaRav Kreiser, as a student in Baranovitch, approached HaRav Rapoport to ask him a question in learning, HaRav Rapoport insisted that he was busy and perhaps R' Aharon could come back later. He was always and constantly engaged in intense learning, and found it difficult to make time to speak with anyone.
Even though he hardly spoke with him, HaRav Kreiser said in later years that the example of HaRav Rapoport's intense and constant engagement in Torah learning made a deep impression on him, and the model inspired him throughout his life.
HaRav Baumwolspiner, ylct"a, said that HaRav Epstein lived a life similar to HaRav Dovid Rapoport. He was engaged in learning and nothing else.
HaRav Zelig Epstein is survived by his son Rav Kalman, who heads the yeshiva, his son-in-law HaRav Aharon Mordechovitz, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continuing in the footsteps of their forefathers.