The Admor of Vishnitz zt"l, president of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel, who led Vishnitz chassidus for four decades, passed away late Tuesday night, on 20 Adar, at the age of 95. He was one of the great Chassidic leaders of all Klal Yisroel.
During his father's lifetime, he was constantly at his side, both in resurrecting Vishnitz chassidus after the Holocaust and in setting up chassidic institutions. He headed Vishnitz chassidus and influenced all of Klal Yisroel since his father, the Imrei Chaim zt"l, passed away on 9 Nisan 5732 (1972). For almost forty years he bore the yoke of leadership.
From the time of his passing at around midnight there was a mass movement of young and old towards the great beis hamedrash of Vishnitz in Bnei Brak. At around 2 a.m. the mittoh was brought to the beis medrash, to the cries of pain and anguish of those assembled. The feeling of orphanhood and mourning was evident throughout the area, as the many thousands mourned the great loss.
As dawn broke thousands began to come to Bnei Brak from all over Israel to accompany the Admor ztvk"l to his final resting place in the Beis HaChaim Zichron Meir in the Ohel of Admorei Vishnitz. The Beis Din of Vishnitz issued guidelines calling for bitul melochoh during the levaya.
Many chassidim came from Europe and the US, having left immediately upon hearing the sad news. The Admor of Square and the Admor of Satmar (Kiryas Yoel), both sons-in-law of the Admor ztvk"l, came from the US. Many more came during the shiva.
The levaya set out on Wednesday from the Ahavas Yisroel beis medrash in Bnei Brak's Kiryat Vishnitz. The crowd was estimated at more than 100,000, as rivers of people came from all over and converged on the Beis Medrash in Bnei Brak. At 11 a.m. the taharoh was performed and then the mittoh was brought to his private room in which he received Klal Yisroel for forty years. His large family entered the room to part from the Admor.
The mittoh was then brought into the great beis medrash where hakofos were performed by the rabbonim and morei horo'oh of Vishnitz from all over Israel. The pesukim of the hakofos were said by HaRav Eliezer Dovid Friedman of London. After that the sons said the brochoh of Dayan Hoemes and tore Keriah as many of those assembled joined them. In keeping with tradition, there were no hespedim.
The levaya began to move towards the cemetery. The route was lined by thousands including many tinokos shel beis rabban who came to participate in the levaya of one of the gedolei hador. During the course of the procession, it was joined by the Admor of Skver and the Admor of Satmar who arrived from the US. The mourners included his sons HaRav Yisroel, HaRav Menachem Mendel, and his other sons-in-law the Belzer Rebbe and HaRav Menachem Ernster (Rosh Yeshiva of the Vishnitzer Yeshiva in Bnei Brak). He is also survived by his brother, the Vishnitzer Rebbe of Monsey.
The Admor HaRav Moshe Yehoshua Hager ztvk"l was born on 13 Sivan, 5676 (1916) to the Admor HaRav Chaim Meir the author of the Imrei Chaim. His mother was Margalit, the daughter of HaRav Zeev if Rachmastrivka. His family comes from the line of Kossov-Vishnitz, Mezeritch, Koritz, Zlotchov, Tchernobel, Shpali, Rozhin, Ropschitz, Djikov and others.
It was during the dark days of the First World War. The grandfather, the great Ahavas Yisroel and his son the father the Imrei Chaim who had been blessed with a first born son, felt that the neshomoh of the newborn was that of a manhig Yisroel. At the bris they chose not to name him after one of his holy recent ancestors, but after the first leaders of the Jewish people: Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua bin Nun who were mentioned the parshiyos of the week of the birth and the week of the bris.
The family was forced to move to Grosswardein where the young child grew up at the knees of his grandfather, the Ahavas Yisroel. In the cheder of Grosswardein he developed a reputation as an outstanding student. His thirst was to learn Torah and mussar. Sometimes when he did not understand something he would burst into tears. On Shabbos nights, after the tisch of the Ahavas Sholom, he was seen delving into the Chovos Halevovos.
One time he told of an incident in his youth. During the final days before Pesach, the beis medrash in the home of the Ahavas Yisroel had already been cleaned for Pesach, and in the final days the focus was on the living quarters. The Rebbetzin of the Ahavas Yisroel told the youth, who was learning inside, to go out and play so that they could clean inside. "But don't go into the beis medrash," she warned, since the beis medrash had already been cleaned for Pesach.
The boy went outside and immediately looked for an open window into the beis medrash, which he soon found and jumped into. He lost himself in his learning for hours. He was suddenly aroused by footsteps. It was the Rebbetzin coming to investigate the sounds coming from the supposedly locked beis medrash.
The next day found him again looking for a quiet corner in which to learn. He could not sit in the house, and the beis medrash was locked. But his great love for Torah could not be quenched by the waters of Pesach cleaning, and he again found an open window and jumped into the beis medrash.
Many years later when he was rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Vishnitz in Tel Aviv, he was told about one of the bochurim who had jumped through a window into the beis medrash. "If it was because he wanted to learn Torah," he said, "it is not terrible..." and proceeded to tell the erev Pesach story of his youth.
When he was still young his father the Imrei Chaim would live the home for long periods, staying in Villchovitz in Marmarosh where he was the rav. In those periods he learned from his brother-in-law, HaRav Yehuda Horowitz ztvk"l of Djikhov.
He used to learn together with HaRav Meir Maggid zt"l. One time they were learning together and trying to understand a certain Shach in Choshen Mishpat. After many hours of learning together, R' Meir decided to go to sleep since he used to get up early every day. The Admor, who was not satisfied with his understanding of the holy words of the Shach, decided to stay in the beis medrash. R' Meir went to sleep and rose at his accustomed time. At four in the morning, as he entered the beis medrash he was surprised to hear the sweet voice of the Admor, working on the same Shach. He went to him. "R' Meir," cried the Admor excitedly. "I have pshat in the Shach!"
He once told his son HaRav Yisroel that he used to learn the Ketzos at night and he would spend six straight hours after ma'ariv every night. On leil Shishi he would learn through the night. One of the neighbors of the Imrei Chaim noticed the hasmodoh of the lad and told his father that he was worried about his health.
The Imrei Chaim called in his son and told him, "Learning every night for six hours is fine. But learning all night on leil Shishi (Thursday night) I do not allow, since the next night, leil Shabbos, we must be awake to sit with other Jews. You must abandon your practice and preserve hour health."
And so he did because, "If Father says so, one must listen to him..."
His tefilloh was like a burning fire, and chassidim who came for the holy days to the Ahavas Yisroel and saw how he said the Lesheim Yichud before putting on tefillin, and with all his soul he would beseech, "to subjugate the desires and thoughts of our hearts to the service of Hashem Yisborach," would say wonderingly, "This young man will one day be a great rebbe."
The Admor would tell of the great hasmodoh of his grandfather: "Many times I would go to him on erev Shabbos after he had finished his preparations for Shabbos and he would sit and learn. The sweetness of his learning Torah lishmoh would be absorbed by all my limbs, and the wonderful aroma was registered deep inside of me." Chassidim understood from this that the Admor learned his hasmodoh and his central point in life of not wasting a minute, from his great grandfather.
While still in Grosswardein he learned with many of the best talmidei chachomim there, including HaRav Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss zt"l, later rov in Manchester and even later the Gavad of the Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim and author of Shut Minchas Yitzchok. For a period he learned in the yeshiva on Vishnitz run by his uncle the Damesek Eliezer.
When it was time for him to get semichoh for a hetter horo'oh the Imrei Chaim asked HaRav Weiss to prepare him. The Admor did shimush lehoro'oh by the Minchas Yitzchok. Many years later the Minchas Yitzchok revealed a bit of his admiration for the koach haTorah of the Admor, saying, "Even in Grosswardein, when he was a young avreich, he was already a sheim dovor. And that is aside from the fact that he was the son of the Rebbe."
In 5696 he received semichoh from HaRav Yaakov Elimelech of Desch Hy"d, HaRav Pinchas Tzimetbaum the ravad of Grosswardein Hy"d, and HaRav Yechezkel Weidman the rov of Sitchel Hy"d. Some time later he also received semichoh from HaRav Mordechai Brisk Hy"d, the rov of Toshand and author of Shut Maharam Brisk.
Soon after he received the hetter horo'oh, the Ahavas Yisroel was lying in bed during his final illness and the Imrei Chaim asked him a halachic question. "Your son the rov is here, ask him," said the Ahavas Yisroel.
Soon after the passing of the Ahavas Yisroel, when the Imrei Chaim could not continue as rov of Villchovitz because of his duties in Grosswardein, the Admor became the rov of the area.
"I was about ten years old," tells Rav Abir Weiss Hy"v, "and I once entered the beis medrash in Villchovitz. Suddenly the rov came over to me, grabbed my hands warmly, and said, "Don't you know this world is nothing. Let's do teshuvoh!" At that time the rov was no more than 25 years old.
The Admor used to divide his time between Villchovitz and Grosswardein. At the beginning of 5700, his father agreed to his request to found Yeshivas Vishnitz in Grosswardein. Many people advised against it because it was a time of emergency and poverty, but the Imrei Chaim was not deterred. The Admor also undertook to see to the gashmiyus as well as the ruchniyus. Soon the new yeshiva grew to around a hundred bochurim.
At a conference of Kesher Eison that took place in 5770 under the leadership of the Admor ztvk"l to mark Seventy Years of Chinuch, one of the survivors of that era, HaRav Avrohom Mordechai Malik Hy"v, spoke movingly about how his learning in the yeshiva saved him during the awful Holocaust. Every day when saying Oleinu leshabei'ach in the Concentration Camp he would recall the wonderful nusach that the Admor used during the Yomim Noraim for that prayer in the yeshiva.
In Villchovitz the Admor founded a cheder. He bore the expenses of fifty youngsters from impoverished homes, and the other fifty students paid their own way. The Admor was hoping to turn Villchovitz into a Torah center and to eventually found a yeshiva gedoloh.
In Adar 5704, as the Nazis conquered Hungary, the Admor fled to Grosswardein to be with his father. The way was already filled with danger. Even in Grosswardein they were living in bunkers and everyone was thinking about how they could cross the border to Romania which was not under the rule of the reshoim at that time.
On 7 Iyar 5704 the Admor and his wife left along with tlct"a their oldest child, now the Skverrer Rebbetzin. It was a difficult night and they Admor frequently recounted their miraculous escape. Early the next morning they reached the Romanian border and 8 Iyar has been observed since then as a day of thanksgiving for their escape to safety.
Their trials were not yet over. They were arrested by the Romanian police and spent several hours in a very unpleasant jail. Eventually some local Vishnitz chassidim were able to secure their release and they were taken, still as prisoners, to the home of Rav Yehuda M'atias zt"l.
Rav Yehuda later told, "I had received information about the plans of the family of the Vishnitzer Rebbe to cross the border and I was prepared to help them. When I heard that the son of the Vishnitzer Rebbe and his family were released from detention and would be brought to our village, I immediately prepared accommodations for them where they could rest after their ordeal. They arrived in the wee hours of the night. However, as soon as the [future] Rebbe entered the house and saw the holy books, he went into the library for long hours, sating his soul that longed for the holy Torah, after not having been able to learn properly for several days."
"For the rest of my life I can see the scene before my eyes: a Jew who revives himself and strengthens his broken soul and body through learning gemora for hours."
After a stay of several months in Bucharest, Romania, the Admor, encouraged by his father who had, in the meantime, also managed to escape to Romania, decided to go to Eretz Yisroel as he had long desired. Experiencing more miracles, the small young family made their way by boat and train through Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, arriving finally on the land of Eretz Yisroel just before Shabbos Mevorchin Elul, 5704.
His uncle, the Damesek Eliezer, was elated at his arrival and appointed him rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Vishnitz that had been refounded in Tel Aviv. The Admor was the entire staff, and he bore the yokes of rosh yeshiva, ram, mashgiach and counselor.
In those pre-State days, the spirit of the street was dominated by nationalistic sentiments, against the background of the awful destruction in Europe. Against the overwhelming spirit of the Zionist street stood the Admor, the Rosh Yeshiva, a great talmid chochom who did not compromise and continued his holy work throughout the difficult times. He rose early for tefillah, and made sure to have enough time to start the day learning as a preparation for davening. His prayer and Torah were like a burning fire and his entire being were an image of the chassidim of previous generations who disdained this world and focused on the eternal truths.
HaRav Eliezer Dovid Friedman tells, "The Yeshiva was not exactly located in Tel Aviv. It existed 70 stories above the mundane city."
At the end of 5707, the Imrei Chaim arrived in Eretz Yisroel, about a year after the passing of his brother the Damesek Eliezer. The Imrei Chaim threw himself into reconstructing the community, founding Kiryas Vishnitz with all its institutions of Torah and chesed. He appointed his son as rov of the neighborhood, a position he assumed in 5711 and occupied for the next 21 years. He gave shiurim and answered halachic shailos and generally ran the community.
The Admor would consult with the Chazon Ish whenever he had a complicated issue. The Chazon Ish appreciated his greatness in Torah and his even greater yir'oh. On the day the yeshiva building of Vishnitz was dedicated, 2 Sivan, 5712, the family of the Chazon Ish was discussing whether the Chazon Ish would go, since he made very few public appearances. The Chazon Ish himself said that the rov there is a "frumer" and he decided to go. On another occasion, HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz reported that the Chazon Ish called the Admor one of the yechidei hador.
When the Brisker Rov visited Bnei Brak for the wedding of his son R' Meir shlita, the Admor visited him. As he was leaving, the Brisker Rov said to his son Rav Yosef Dov, "That young man can learn!"
He had a sixty year relationship with HaRav Shmuel Wosner shlita. He used to discuss the complicated issues with HaRav Wosner and even his father once sent him to the Shevet Levy to discuss an halachic issue.
On 9 Nisan, 5732, the Imrei Chaim passed away. The Sun set and the Sun rose. The Admor filled his great father's position, as the seventh link in the golden Vishnitz chain. From his home in Kiryat Vishnitz in Bnei Brak there radiated a great light to all corners of the Earth. Over the years Vishnitz communities were founded in dozens of places throughout the world.
A constant theme of his to his followers was to properly use all their time. He would constantly call upon all to dedicate all their free time to Hashem and His Torah.
Like a magnet, all were drawn to him, young and old. On Shabbos Kodesh all felt a unifying oneness in his presence, and he would hold his tischen for 4-5 hours or even more, filled with divrei Torah and praise to the King on High, in the Vishnitz tradition.
When he would spend Shabbos in one of the Vishnitz communities a tremendous crowd would join in. When he spent the Shabbos parshas Vayakheil in Boro Park in the year 5752, Jews from all communities flocked to spend the Shabbos in his presence. After Shabbos the Admor of Skulen said to the Rebbe: "Vishnitzer Rebbe! In the parsha we read, `Do not burn a fire in all your settlements on the Shabbos day.' But the Rebbe kindled a great fire this past Shabbos in our city!"
For many years he spoke at demonstrations about issues that are dear to the Torah community, such as drafting women, grave digging, as well as convocations for kovod HaTorah. When he became Admor he was appointed to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel, and was seen by maranan verabonon as a full partner.
In 5747 he was appointed the Nosi of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and he dedicated many hours of his precious time to the problems of Klal Yisroel.
All the years he did not leave his beloved yeshiva, and he used to give talks and shiurim to the thousands of bochurim. He used to give a special talk at the beginning and at the end of each zman.
Early in 5763, the Admor weakened considerably and he was not able to continue his avodoh as he had been accustomed to. His chassidim prayed mightily for his recovery, and they saw positive results from their efforts.
Despite his weakness he used to appear in public from time to time. His last public appearance was on leil Shabbos after Purim this year. Soon after that his health deteriorated seriously and a heavy cloud settled over the Vishnitz community. Sincere prayers were offered, but he nonetheless passed away at 12:40 a.m. on Tuesday night, in the room of his father the Imrei Chaim, where he had received many thousands over the years. The great heart that had led Chassidus Vishnitz for almost forty years, and was a partner in the leadership of all Klal Yisroel for decades, stopped beating, to the sound of Shema Yisroel being recited at his bedside.
The Admor is survived by his second wife who is known as an eishes chayil, great in chessed to all. With utmost dedication she oversaw the care of the Admor. May Hashem lengthen her days and years, ad bi'as Goel.