A very somber procession of thousands of students and alumni of Yeshivas Hevron and Hevron Geula, led by gedolei Yisroel shlita, accompanied HaRav Chaim Sarna zt"l, the beloved only son of HaRav Yechezkel Sarna zt"l, who returned his soul to its Maker Thursday morning, at the age of 82. Author of Be'er Lachai Ro'i on the Rambam, he taught thousands of students over the course of decades and was a stupendous talmid chochom conversant in all areas of Torah study.
Chaim Sarna was born in Hevron on 9 Adar Alef 5689 (1929), the only son and one of only two children born to Maran HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Hevron and chairman of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and to Pesha Miriam, the daughter of HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the rov and av beis din of Slobodka and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Slobodka in Kovna. In 5684 (1924) the yeshiva moved from Slobodka to Hevron, where it was set up by HaRav Epstein and his son-in-law, HaRav Yechezkel Sarna.
When Chaim Sarna was six months old, the riots of 5689 (1929) broke out and he was spared, though the rioters intended to harm HaRav Yechezkel and his family.
The riots began on 18 Av. On that bloody Shabbos HaRav Yechezkel Sarna was staying in Jerusalem. He had planned to spend Shabbos in Hevron with his family and students, but the bus he intended to take failed to arrive, forcing him to stay in Jerusalem. Because he did not arrive in Hevron, his family stayed in the home of their grandfather, HaRav Epstein, which spared their lives.
After the bloody riots the yeshiva moved from Hevron to Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood, where the deceased grew up.
As a boy he studied at a talmud Torah under "the Russisher Rebbe," as he was known, the father of HaRav Aharon Cohen, HaRav Yechezkel Sarna's brother-in-law.
Though not yet bar mitzvah age, he began studying at Yeshivas Mekor Chaim in Jerusalem, where he remained for two years, learning under HaRav Moshe Tikotchinsky, who he considered his rov muvhok, and HaRav Boruch Yitzchok Levine. During these two years he mastered Bava Kama, Gittin and Kiddushin. The yeshiva occasionally had the privilege of receiving a visit from HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, who came to see his son there.
When his uncle, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l arrived for his bar mitzvah in 5702 (1942), Chaim gave a droshoh that included a kushiyoh on his book Even Ha'ezel, to which HaRav Meltzer responded with satisfaction: "Even young Chaim asks kushiyos on me."
Later he transferred to Yeshivas Tiferes Tzion in Bnei Brak, where he studied under HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt"l while living with the Levines. He also studied at Yeshivas Lomzha in Petach Tikva. At both yeshivas he studied with HaRav Chaim Kanievsky ylct"a and at Yeshivas Lomzha his chavrusas included HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira and HaRav Yosef Rozovsky zt"l.
He went on to study at Yeshivas Hevron, where his father was the rosh yeshiva. Top students at Yeshivas Hevron during those years recall his profound scholarship, saying his dorm room turned into a meeting point for the yeshivas leading students, who would plumb the depths of the sugyos with him late into the night.
In 5714 (1954) he married his wife Rochel, who passed away in Elul 5761 (2001), the daughter of HaRav Malkiel Friedman of Memmel Kovna — a leading student at Yeshivas Slobodka, a talmid muvhok of HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slobodka, and a chavrusa of R' Avrohom Eliyohu Kaplan, the leading student at Yeshivas Slobodka — and Soroh Yehudis Friedman Hy"d, who was known in Lithuania as Rebbetzin Soroh because of her exemplary character and respected husband. Both of them perished during World War II at the hands of the Nazis Hy"d.
At the onset of the War the family fled to Kovna, but in 5701 (1941) the Germans took control of the city. HaRav Malkiel Hy"d was killed in 5701 (1941) and his wife Hy"d was killed in 5704 (1944). All three of their daughters were spared through remarkable chasdei Shomayim. The eldest, Reishel Kotler, tichyeh, got engaged before the War to HaRav Shneur Kotler zt"l, later rosh yeshiva of Lakewood Yeshiva. Therefore she traveled to Shanghai. Two other daughters, one married to HaRav Chaim Sarna and the other to HaRav Yaakov Wolpe ylct"a, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ashkelon, managed to survive the war.
While in Kovna, HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Hy"d frequented their home and was even taken from there to his death at the hands of the Nazis. The daughter who married HaRav Chaim Sarna was the last to see HaRav Wassermann; as soon as he saw the Nazis coming he sent her up to the attic, fearing the Nazis would try to take her.
After marrying, HaRav Chaim Sarna regularly helped his father run the yeshiva and also helped publish his writings. He lived with his father in an apartment divided into two parts, and carried out the mitzvah of kibbud av v'em with extraordinary devotion, especially in his father's latter years.
He began teaching classes at the yeshiva in 5722 (1962) and upon his father's petiroh was appointed rosh yeshiva together with his uncle, HaRav Moshe Hevroni, HaRav Simchah Zissel Braude and his brother-in-law, HaRav Avrohom Farbstein.
Several years after the yeshiva moved to Givat Mordechai, HaRav Chaim returned to the buildings in Geulah where he set up the yeshiva that is now known as Hevron-Geulah.
For many years he was hard at work on his series of books on the Rambam and until his final days was deeply involved in teaching. Even during the past year, when he had to undergo several brain surgeries, after every operation he would soon gather his strength and return to his teaching and writing. Recently his condition took a turn for the worse and he passed away.
At the levaya, which set out from Yeshivas Hevron-Geulah, eulogies were given by HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the deceased's brother-in-law HaRav Yaakov Wolpe, HaRav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Mir Brachfeld, HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Bournstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Kiryas Melech in Bnei Brak and a former rosh yeshiva at Yeshivas Hevron-Geulah, and HaRav Reuven Miletzky, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Hevron-Geulah, HaRav Boruch Soloveitchik and HaRav Dovid Cohen.
HaRav Chaim Sarna zt"l is survived by his sister Channah, the widow of HaRav Avrohom Farbstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Hevron; his only child, Rebbetzin Soroh Yehudis, the wife of HaRav Boruch Soloveitchik, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Zeev in Jerusalem; grandchildren and great-grandchildren following in his lofty ways.