Wednesday morning 28 Av there was a sudden serious relapse in the condition of HaRav Eliashiv. All the yeshivos were called upon to offer urgent prayers for his recovery, including shifts of prayer and study non-stop. The battle for his life was pitched throughout the day until at 16:46, the heavenly legions won and claimed him for their own to the fervent cries of Shema Yisrael exclaimed by throngs of close students and family by his bedside in the Shaarei Zedek hospital.
Rabbenu was born to his father, HaRav Avrohom, rav and av beis din in Hommel, Russia, author of Bikurei Avraham and son of the famous HaRav Moshe Arener, and to his mother, Chaya Musha, daughter of the holy Kabbalist, HaRav Shlomoh Eliashiv, called after his famous work, "Leshem Shevo v'Achlama," and renowned for his brilliance in the revealed and mystic Torah. HaRav Avrohom later changed his name to that of his father-in-law, Eliashiv.
He was born in Shavel, Lithuania, on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, 5670, and was nurtured in the greenhouse of Torah, exalted traits, total dedication to Torah and love for it, yiras Shomayim and exemplary character.
An only son, he was born after 18 years of his parents' childless marriage. His mother had been told by numerous doctors that she had no hope to bear a child. Hearing this verdict, one time, she wept so bitterly that she aroused her holy father's attention. Upon hearing her plight, he blessed her that she would, indeed, bring a child into the world. Her pregnancy was fraught with danger but finally, on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, Rabbenu was born.
The young Yosef Sholom was very close to his grandfather, the Leshem, as can be seen from what he wrote when the former was thirteen: "My drasha speaks about the existence of angels and the heavenly legions, which I wrote through great effort, assisted by my grandson, the young Yosef Sholom, son of my daughter Chaya Musha."
His diligence was already exceptional at a young age, alongside a blessed rare aptitude and quick, acute grasp. He, himself, told how before he turned five, the Chofetz Chaim passed through their town, Shavel. His father, HaRav Avrohom, took the boy along to greet the luminary. The Chofetz Chaim blessed him that he follow in the footsteps of both of his illustrious grandfathers. This was the only time he laid eyes on the Chofetz Chaim.
When he was five, all the Jews were expelled Shavel and went to live in Hommel, where his father served as av beis din, attracting the elite of Torah scholars from Russia. He studied under both his father and grandfather during these formative years, imbibing from their vast knowledge, their yiras Hashem and gaining from guidance, which no one else of his age could boast. His grandfather transmitted many of the Torah's secrets and mystical allusions. In one letter, which was later published, he writes, "This letter was written by "my grandson, since my eyesight is weak, and I dictated it all to him."
When he was thirteen, his family decided to go to Eretz Yisroel. They were able to get the highly coveted entry permit thanks to the world fame of the Leshem. The family arrived on Taanis Esther, 5684 (1924). The Leshem and his family received a royal welcome by the rabbanim of Yerushalayim, many of whom became his adherents from then on.
Rabbenu established his study place on the Ohel Sarah Beis Medrash on Rechov Chevra Shas in the Meah Shearim neighborhood. Here he sat, day and night, consuming page after page of gemara, rishonim, acharonim, poskim, intensely for eighteen hours at a time without a break, without even looking up.
He absorbed the bulk of his Torah from his father. As he sat and studied, people couldn't help marveling at his diligence and his sweet and cogent manner of explaining, rhetorically asking and answering, following this way of study throughout his life.
They tell of an American scholar who happened to pass by Ohel Sarah and couldn't help being impressed by the youth who sat all by himself. "Why aren't you studying in cheder?" he asked. The young boy said he preferred learning this way. The visitor began asking him questions and soon discovered that he was fluent in everything, verbatim, and understood everything in depth.
His father used to gather young boys who had gone off to work to help support their families, and he would teach them Torah. Thus was established the unique Tiferes Bachurim network which rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of young boys who would surely have gone astray.
In Cheshvan, 5689, Reb Yitzchak Isaac Herman suggested the match of HaRav Arye Levine's daughter for Yosef Sholom. That month, he became engaged to Sheina Chaya, who was to devote her whole life to aid her husband's growth in Torah. They were married on Erev Rosh Chodesh Nisan and HaRav Arye Levine became enamored of his son-in-law.
His father, HaRav Avrohom died suddenly in 5704, and his spiritual child, the several branches of Yeshiva Bachurim, remained without a captain. The Rav of Eidah Hachareidis, HaRav Zelig Reuven Bengis, called up HaRav Yosef Sholom to take over the responsibility. For seventy years, he delivered shiurim there, attracting great men, over two hundred, to hear his pearls of wisdom which encompassed the entire gamut of Torah, Halachah and Kabbalah. Many came from afar and even brought young children to absorb their lively heat and beauty.
He became very attached to HaRav Bengis, and when he turned twenty-eight, the latter gave him semichah in a writ that praised him to the skies. In a letter which HaRav Bengis sent to him when he was thirty, he likewise showered upon him phrases of elaborate praise.
At this stage, he entered the very elite Kollel Ohel Torah, headed by HaRav Aharon Bialystocki and HaRav Avrohom Garbuz, together with the famous HaRav Shmuel Wosner, HaRav Shlomo Karelitz, HaRav Shlomo Tene, HaRav Shmuel Baruch Werner and others. In a recent visit, HaRav Wosner reminded Rabbenu how in his youth he had stood for hours at a time without wavering. "I don't have that strength today," HaRav Yosef Sholom admitted.
Rabbenu refined his body and indentured it to pure Torah study through exalted yiras shomayim, never stopping during his many waking hours, thus acquiring worlds of knowledge. His study was in order to full the Torah perfectly, through piety and G-d-fear. He kept regular hours and for many years it was said that one could set his watch based on his arrival in the beis medrash. His time was used to its fullest and he dedicated himself to Torah learning and learning according to the halachic result in particular.
During this period, HaRav Yitschok Isaac Herzog zt"l, then Chief Rabbi of Israel, used to give shiurim in the kollelim of his son-in-law HaRav Hilman zt"l. He often posed questions that had been asked of him by people around the world, and he would ask chavrei kollel to write teshuvos. One of the very difficult shailos that was asked by someone in Yemen was about a hetter aguna. HaRav Herzog asked HaRav Eliashiv to write a psak, and when he saw the result he was stunned by the gadlus that he saw in the answer and he asked Rabbenu to serve as a dayan in the Chief Rabbinate beis din. In Kislev 5711 he was appointed an official dayan. Rabbenu's rebbe, HaRav Bengis, said that the appointment was important for the success of Klal Yisroel.
Some time later, Rabbenu asked HaRav Betzalel Zolty zt"l to take a psak to the Tchebiner Rov for his assent. One of those present was a talmid muvhak of HaRav Bengis and he declared, "There is already a great rav and posek for the next generation."
In 5716 Rabbenu was appointed to the Beis Din Hagodol of the Chief Rabbinate. In 5733, during the public controversy over the mamzerim that were permitted by the Chief Rabbi, Rabbenu resigned from the Beis Din Hagodol and was one of the leaders in the struggle against what he saw as a threat to the very core values of faithful Jewry. Rabbenu stood firmly against those who threatened Kerem Beis Hashem.
Already in those days he was a recognized halachic authority and people sent him shailos from all over. He used to wake up at 2:30 a.m. and learn with enthusiasm, with a special niggun that only few were zoche to hear. He would learn until it was time to daven shacharis at the Tiferes Bachurim shul.
With the founding of the Degel HaTorah movement by HaRav Shach in 5748, he was called upon by HaRav Shach to shoulder part of the responsibilities of the klal. At the founding keness of Degel HaTorah in Binyanei HaUma in 5749 which HaRav Eliashiv attended, HaRav Shach said (during his speech): "A great man is sitting here, perhaps the greatest in the world in halacha, and in everything, as [Chazal] said, `Who is a talmid chochom? He who is asked the halacha in every area and he answers.' People should defer to him."
HaRav Shach said many times, "When the time comes that you can no longer ask me, go up to Jerusalem." For his part, HaRav Eliashiv said on many occasions, "Among the many aspects of the gifts of Maran HaRav Shach zt"l, it should be mentioned that in addition to his holy work in spreading Torah to the generation, he also took upon himself the yoke of leading the entire generation."
At their last meeting, HaRav Shach said to HaRav Eliashiv that his own health does not allow him to continue to bear the yoke of leading the community and he was asking HaRav Eliashiv to take the responsibility upon himself. Rabbenu asked if it was a specific issue that had come up about which the Rosh Yeshiva was asking his opinion. HaRav Shach replied that it was a general request that HaRav Eliashiv deal with the issues of the klal. Rabbenu replied, "Boruch Hashem we have the Rosh Yeshiva." Maran began to cry and said, "I cannot see and my strength is waning. I feel that I can no longer bring to'eles. I request that Rabbe Yosef Sholom accept the yoke upon his neck."
HaRav Eliashiv's family tell the following story: Decades ago HaRav Shach once came to the home of HaRav Eliashiv to discuss the issues of the day. When HaRav Shach entered, Rebbetzin Eliashiv complained to him: "Rosh Yeshiva! For many years I have been carefully guarding my husband Rav Yosef Sholom from all distractions. I took upon myself the entire burden of the household and kept away from him anything that would disturb his learning. I gave up all pleasures, because the main thing is that he should be able to do the thing that he loves the most, learn the holy Torah. And now you come and want to involve him in leading the community. Aren't there others who can help you for Klal Yisroel?"
HaRav Shach answered: "That is exactly what I seek. Only someone who has toiled in Torah his whole life, and has nothing in his world besides Torah can help me lead the generation. Someone whose entire essence is dedicated to Hashem is the one who can lead Klal Yisroel."
One time his family asked HaRav Eliashiv why he was suddenly willing to lead the community, after decades of totally shunning any sort of community responsibilities. Rabbenu answered: "It is another thing was Maran the Rosh Yeshiva asks me. When I hear his request I cannot refuse him. He is the only person who has no personal interests. Everything he does, from beginning to end, is lesheim Shomayim. I am so impressed by him and his dedication to kvod Shomayim and anything that he asks of me, I must do."
"During one of the election campaigns," tells the grandson of HaRav Eliashiv HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Yisraelson shlita, "I went into the room of Saba zt"l and told him that there are some talmidei chachomim who differ with the Rosh Yeshiva in various steps that he took in public matters. Saba zt"l answered me: `Ask them if they ever had a difficulty in understanding something that the Rambam said, and in the middle of the night they ran to the yeshiva in a pajama shirt in order to find out the explanation of the Rambam. If something like that never happened to them, they have no right to argue with the Rosh Yeshiva. They lack the full measure of ahavas haTorah.' "
In the winter of 5755, when Maran the Rosh Yeshiva became very weak, the leadership passed to Rabbenu. Nonetheless, Rabbenu continued to spend hours each day learningn Torah. He also continued his shiur in Tiferes Bochurim. At the same time he answered all the rabbonim and politicians who came to him for guidance.
Over the years, Rabbenu worked to prevent many breaches. One of his particular concerns was the sanctity of the Jewish home, including the case of the mamzerim, and the long struggle to uphold proper standards of conversion. Recently he published a very sharp letter against invalid conversions performed in the Israeli Army. He was always firm against allowing any pesulei chitun within the community.
One of his famous psakim was in 5764 when shailos were raised about some of the sheitels being from tikroves avodah zorah from India and other sources in the Far East where even in our day there still exists avodah zorah like there used to be in more places in days gone by even though it has not been seen in the West for hundreds of years. The issue stirred up the community and it was discussed for weeks. A special messenger who was close to Rabbenu was sent by him to investigate the situation in India. On 24 Iyar 5764 the shaliach testified to Rabbenu about what he had seen and heard in India. As a result Rabbenu paskened that hair from such sources is tikroves avodah zorah and must be burned. No sheitels should be used for whom there was a chashash that they may have come from such a source and any existing ones should be destroyed.
The news of the psak spread very quickly and that night many sheitels were burned by noshim tzidkoniyos to fulfill the mitzvah of destroying avodah zorah. Many women had to go around for a while in snoods and hats as a result of the psak of Rabbenu.
Another controversial issue that Rabbenu worked hard on was the subject of brain death. Some said that a dying person's organs may be "harvested," choliloh, while the heart is still beating as long as there is brain death. Rabbenu said that as long as the heart is beating a person is considered alive and may not be disconnected from life sustaining equipment.
He also ruled that the jabo cow should not be used.
Many recall his stand against cell phones. He participated in a large keness on the subject and explained that there is no basis for any compromise in the matter.
He led the struggle against the damages of the Internet and other aspects of modern technology. Over the years he warned many times against reading the various weeklies and even published a special letter about their dangers and problems. (See links to various of these letters at the end of the article.)
Rabbenu was also very involved in the administration of chinuch for boys and girls. On several issues where it seemed to some that he took an extreme stand were later seen to have been crucial in avoiding serious dangers.
Rabbenu was also the final decisor in issues of kashrus encountered by Shearis Yisroel.
Ten years ago Rabbenu underwent medical treatment for a condition that was life threatening. All Klal Yisroel prayed for his refuah shleimoh, and bechasdei Shomayim Rabbenu recovered. From then on, the day of his refuah was observed after he gave his regular shiiur of Tiferes Bachurim.
In Shvat of this year, just a few months after Rabbenu underwent a serious operation, he did not feel well and was hospitalized in Shaarei Tzedek. Klal Yisroel worldwide shook the heavens with their tefillos, and the best doctors were brought in. In the end, on Wednesday 28 Tammuz, the holy soul of Rabbenu left this world and left us orphans.
The levaya was held the same night, in part because the daytime weather was so hot. Hundreds of thousands from all over Israel participated in the levaya which started about 10 p.m. and lasted until around 3 a.m. The public means of transportation were not effective and tens of thousands of Jerusalemites had to walk home. The streets were packed with people for miles.
HaRav Eliashiv had told his family that there should be no hespedim during the levaya. At first the Mashgiach HaRav Don Segal led the large tzibbur in Tehillim and Selichos and kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim. Rabbenu's son-in-law HaRav Yitzchak Silberstein said a few words in parting, "like a small boy who stands next to his father and just repeats what he heard from him."
He said that Rabbenu once said that the light in the Holy of Holies came from the Torah in the Aron Hakodesh, and this was the light that shines from a great talmid chochom.
As the levaya got under way, Maran HaRav Shteinman asked HaRav Chaim Kanievsky if he should make a full brochoh upon tearing kriah. HaRav Chaim said that at the levaya of HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, his own father the Steipler said that they should make the fulll brochoh upon tearing kriah, whereupon HaRav Shteinman tore kriah and made the full brochoh.
HaRav Eliashiv left behind hundreds and thousands of descendants following in his path. He merited to see a sixth generation of descendants.