Mourning and pained, throngs of people accompanied HaRav Sholom Shachne Zohn to his eternal rest. HaRav Zohn was a rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaas for many years in Williamsburg, author of "Ateres Yaakov" chiddushim on many tractates of Shas, Zohar and others, also shu"t Ateres Yaakov, and one of the great elders of our generation, a pillar of pure avoda and hashkofoh. He was also a link between the past generation of Mussar giants who was privileged to meet the Chofetz Chaim, was a devoted disciple of HaRav Yeruchom of Yeshivas Mir and studied with HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz of Kamenitz. He absorbed the ways and teachings of these latter generation giants both in knowledge and spirit, becoming a living example of yiras Shomayim and self sacrifice for all Jewish values.
HaRav Zohn passed away on the seventh of Teves at the blessed age of 101 and is mourned by the masses of his talmidim and adherents.
HaRav Zohn was also deeply influenced by HaRav Yaakov Yosef Herman, one of the builders of chareidi Yiddishkeit in the U.S. whose unforgettable figure is captured in All for the Boss, which quotes Rav Zohn's original tribute to this mentor. "Were it not for Rav Yaakov Yosef, I and many more young folk would have fallen by the wayside of a materialistic society, remaining street urchins for the rest of our lives."
Rav Yaakov Yosef took Rav Zohn out of public school and pushed him to attend a yeshiva in New Haven. Four years later, he advised him to relocate to Yeshivas Mir in Poland and went as far as to accompany him on the boat to Europe, claiming that he had business there. Rav Zohn was in very close contact with HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg throughout his life.
Upon arrival in Mir, Rav Zohn asked to be accepted in the yeshiva. HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel asked him to say `ah shtikel Toirah.' The Rosh Yeshiva listened attentively and was deeply impressed, declaring that "This is the first time I've heard an Amerikaner expounding so beautifully," as Rav Zohn told, adding that he was overcome with emotion. This was Rav Zohn's sign that all of his previous toil, his steady study application had borne everlasting fruit.
He studied in Mir for three-and-a-half years and, after his marriage in Europe, went to study in Kamenitz, under HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, for the next year-and-a-half until the outbreak of WWII forced him to return to the U.S. He experienced overt miracles in his escape and was fortunate to be able to take part of his wife's family along and save them. The couple moved to Boston before settling in Williamsburg, where he served as a rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaas for eighteen years.
Many chapters in the development of chareidi Judaism in America can be attributed to Rav Zohn, as the gedolei Yisroel of his generation thrust him into communal activity in many areas which were pivotal to Jewish survival and mitzvah-observance. He threw himself into each project with full energy and dedication, using all of his blessed talents therefore. One such project was the periodical he put out by "The Committee for Strengthening Religion in the Spirit of Yisroel Sabba," where he wrote many articles on various areas that needed religious reinforcement.
The work was not easy in the least, demanding prodigious effort, but he forged ahead, under the guidance of the captains of Torah-true Yiddishkeit. One memorable campaign involved the battle against the women's draft in Israel in 1953. He traveled to Eretz Yisroel to consult firsthand with the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov who guided him in how to best fight the battle from abroad. They expressed their deep respect for him and showered him with the blessing that his efforts in this area would stand him by in this world and the next.
Rav Zohn conveyed their messages to the gedolim in America: HaRav Aharon Kotler, HaRav Eliezer Silver, HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky and HaRav Yitzchok Hutner. They directed him to stage huge public demonstrations throughout the U.S., including one in front of the Israeli consulate, while publishing information in Jewish newspapers against the draft. His articles made the headlines throughout the country and his outspoken style raised a storm in the Algemeiner Journal.
A modest person by nature, he worked quietly and surely. A heavy snow fell on the day scheduled for a major demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate. Many people feared a chillul Hashem if no one were to attend, and felt obligated to come, which resulted in huge numbers making a tremendous impression even on the gentile public. This large demonstration played a significant role in the ultimate decision of the government of Israel to suspend the program for drafting women.
After many years in the United States, including some 30 years as a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Torah Vodaas, in 5730 (1970) he moved to Eretz Yisroel, where he opened the special kollel for learning Kodshim according to the halochoh in the Har Tzvi shul in Jerusalem. He saw this as a fulfillment of the charge of the Chofetz Chaim to strengthen the study of these areas. He worked hard to collect the funds to keep the kollel going. Those who davened in the shul were able to see his great tzidkus as well as his learning with enthusiasm behasmodoh, and his davening.
He used to daven in his corner of the beis medrash. During krias HaTorah, since his hearing was not good, he used to stand next to the baal korei in order to see the text of the Torah and to read along with him.
He often told of his visit to the Chofetz Chaim. He said that just to look at him was like a sefer mussar. "What I saw by him in four days, was like learning mussar for four years straight. It is hard to believe how every move of his was exactly calculated according to the halochoh."
He also used to say, "Everyone can be a Chofetz Chaim. In our times people think the Chofetz Chaim came down like an angel, but this is a mistake! He worked hard his whole live and he built himself. He was like any other person, but he purified himself until he reached his lofty level."
He told HaRav Tuviah Freund, one of the heads of Otzar Haposkim, that he longed to see the Chofetz Chaim but, as a talmid in the Mir Yeshiva, he had no opportunity to do so. When he was almost 20 years old, he once had to take care of some matter in Warsaw and he went there together with his friend Rav Alexander Lunzer. Instead of going straight back from Warsaw to Mir, they went to Radin where the Chofetz Chaim lived. "It was erev Shabbos and we got there just a half hour before Shabbos," he said.
"That we succeeded in getting there was a miracle. We left Friday morning and there was a heavy snowstorm. At the time there was no train stop in Radin, so we got off at the nearest station, which was 20 kilometers from Radin.
"Radin was a small village in the Vilna district. Usually, whoever wanted to go to Radin would take the train to the nearby city and then hire a horse and wagon to take him the rest of the way. But the day we arrived, snow was falling and it was very cold, and no one was willing to take us to Radin under those circumstances. With no better choice, we took a horse-drawn sled. But the snow was very heavy and we could not see the road. There were times when we thought we would have to make Shabbos in the middle of the road. Besiyata deShmaya, the man leading the sled knew the way well, and with great effort we managed to arrive in Radin 30 minutes before the shki'ah, straight to the home of the Chofetz Chaim.
"We down our muktza objects, took off our coats which were soaking wet as appropriate, and we right away davened mincha and kabbolas Shabbos and then listened to the talk of the Chofetz Chaim.
"There was a minyan in the home of the Chofetz Chaim. After kabbolas Shabbos and before ma'ariv he would give a chizuk talk. There were two times that he would speak on Shabbos. The first was between kabbolas Shabbos and ma'ariv, and the second was at seuda Shlishis. They used to say that the one between kabbolas Shabbos and ma'ariv was more penetrating. The sicha at seuda Shlishis, which was attended by many of the residents of the city, was more practical and he would talk about what one should do."
When he was asked to say over the shmuess that he heard from the Chofetz Chaim between kabbolas Shabbos and ma'ariv, R' Shachne agreed to do so if the audience agreed to accept upon themselves what rabbeinu the Chofetz Chaim had said. "Did the Chofetz Chaim speak to the walls?" he said. "He spoke to people. What he said applies to each and every one.
"The Chofetz Chaim Hakodosh said that when, after 120 years, one goes up, they will demand to know why he lived without a cheshbon nefesh. He compared it to an owner of a small store, who each night calculates his income, his expenses and his profits. According to the results he plans his steps for the next day. The owner must see each day if the store is profitable or making a loss. He must know how much he earned yesterday, because if he does not know, he will not know how to run his store tomorrow.
"It is the same for each person in Olam Hazeh. He must account each day: what did I do for He who has given me life, food, clothing, children, health and parnossoh.
"The Chofetz Chaim sat near the table when he spoke his holy words. I cannot forget how he banged on the table loudly and asked, `How can we leave such a big business (groisse gesheft) and to continue on for so many years without making a cheshbon nefesh? How can one live without a cheshbon nefesh vis-a-vis the Borei Olom? With a continual cheshbon a person can acquire his Olom [Habo]. In any circumstances it is osur to let a day go by without making an accounting of the income and expenses of mitzvos and ma'asim tovim that one did. We must take upon ourselves to make a cheshbon nefesh,' the Chofetz Chaim summed up his shmuess."
R' Shachne also said, "The proper way to rise up is by accepting upon ourselves to make a daily cheshbon nefesh. After that, if he sees that he did not fill his day with Torah and mitzvos he should sit down and learn mussar for half an hour. In yeshivas they used to learn a sefer mussar each day for half an hour and this was davka after deep thought about cheshbon nefesh. All of the avodoh of a person in Olom Hazeh is like `Repent one day before your death.' Does a person know when he will die? So he must do teshuvoh today since he may die tomorrow and the result will be that all his days will be with teshuvoh."
He also said that after the droshoh, his friend Rav Alexander Lunzer who had come with him introduced him to the Chofetz Chaim, saying that he was an American bochur who had come from America to Poland to learn Torah. He was sure that the Chofetz Chaim would be impressed and give him a special brochoh. He came from so far away! And it was rare in those days that a young boy would come from America to learn in Europe. It was a very difficult trip. And in America the idea of learning Torah was generally very weak.
"But the Chofetz Chaim was not impressed and did not get emotional or see the trip as anything special. He said in reply, `HaKodosh Boruch Hu bechvodo came down from the Shomayim with the Hosts of Heaven to give the Torah to Am Yisroel on Har Sinai. In order to receive the Torah properly, one must certainly travel even from America to Poland.' He did not add to this."
After he approached him the Chofetz Chaim took the Chumash that was lying on the table and said in a whisper, "Dem Aibishter's chibbur! (The book written by Hashem.) He explained that people look at the works of the Rambam, who was among the greatest of the rishonim, or even the works of R` Akiva Eiger, who was among the greatest of acharonim, with deferential awe. How much kovod and admiration must we feel when we hold a Chumash, the composition of the Borei of all worlds. This is what he said and right after that they started davening the Shabbos ma'ariv.
"The Chofetz Chaim used to talk to the bnei yeshiva twice a week, on Friday and on motzei Shabbos. His sichos were extremely simple, but nonetheless full of enthusiasm and emotion. He used to bring things out so fully that you could feel them with your hands. One of the subjects I was zoche to hear from him was about emunah in the coming of Moshiach. While he was talking about Moshiach it seemed as if: Here! He's coming! He is right outside the door, waiting for someone to open it and then he will come in with all his glory.
"His sichos left their imprint on the very souls of all those who heard them. From his sichos one came out saturated with a yearning for something mysterious and hidden, that could come any minute and turn everything to the good."
He remained in the yeshiva in Radin after Shabbos. After four days he went back to Mir. He did not stay to learn in Radin. The Chofetz Chaim himself would advise various bochurim to go to other yeshivas where the gashmiyus was better (more plentiful). In the early years, only a few dozen non-Radin-residents could have a meager existence there, since it was a very poor village.
The hashpo'oh of his visit in the holy home of the Chofetz Chaim left its strong imprint throughout his life. Whoever was zoche to visit him felt tangibly the concept of the value of time, in a way which was unparalleled. Time after time he would repeat in a voice choked with tears, his face aflame, the penetrating words of the Chofetz Chaim on the importance of the matter that the greatest cheshbon hanefesh that a person will be called upon to account for in the Olom Ho'emmes is that he lived without a proper cheshbon. These words, coming from a pure heart and a holy mouth, penetrated the hearts of the many talmidim and listeners to the words of the gaon and tzaddik ztvk"l. The bottom line was the value of time and the importance of using it to learn and toil in Torah and to generally do the will of HaKodosh Boruch Hu.
He left a heritage of not living without a cheshbon. "Life without a cheshbon is not life," he used to say from the depths of his heart.
He lived the saying of Chazal zokein veyosheiv beyeshiva until his very last days. He continued to toil in Torah and avodoh with deveikus and gevurah, giving over the Torah of earlier generations.
Just two months ago he published another volume of his series Ateres Yaakov on Shas, on Brochos, Shabbos and Eruvin. He participated in the lechayim in the occasion of the release of the new volume. Recently he was very weak and on 7 Teves he returned his pure soul to its Creator in Shaarei Tzedek hospital.
His levaya left from his home on Even Haezel Street in the Ezras Torah neighborhood of Jerusalem. A large crowd led by gedolei Torah, roshei yeshiva and rabbonim attended. After saying a few chapters of Tehillim, the maspidim were HaRav Gedaliah Waldenberg, the rov of the neighborhood, HaRav Yitzchok Ezrachi, a rosh yeshiva of Mir Yeshiva, the Mashgiach, HaRav Don Segal, HaRav Simcha Scheinberg, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Ore, HaRav Moshe Zorger, a motz of the Eida Chareidis and rov of the Satmar community in the neighborhood, HaRav Shaul Dolinger, rosh yeshivas Pri Eitz Chaim in Ashdod, and his grandson, HaRav Shaul Dov Pelman.
The levaya went through Meah Shearim where the Admor of Toldos Aharon was maspid, and then continued to Har HaZeisim. He is survived by two sons, HaRav Boruch Zohn of Baltimore and HaRav Elchonon Zohn of Queens, New York City, as well as three daughters, and thousands of talmidim all over the world to whom he transmitted the Torah path of life, bitterly weeping over the loss of a leader who had been a vital link with the past generation of gedolei Torah uMussar.