A huge crowd of mourners, headed by gedolei Torah and many hundreds of Jerusalemites and people from abroad, escorted HaRav Ephraim Greenblatt to his final resting place this past Friday, Parshas Bo, 2 Shvat. Rav Greenblatt, the rav of Memphis, Tennessee, was immersed in Torah and Halacha throughout his life and was a favored disciple of HaRav Moshe Feinstein, who entrusted him with disseminating Torah through the U.S. He was, in fact, one of the forerunners of the Teshuva Movement dating back many dozens of years. He toiled to bring the word of Hashem to remote cities in the U.S., while also authoring eight volumes of responsa, Rivevos Ephraim, which include thousands of illuminating letters in all areas of Halacha, as well as other volumes of Rivevos Ephraim on the Torah. In his later years, he moved to Eretz Yisrael and disseminated Torah in the Har Nof neighborhood. He passed away in the eighty-second year of his life and was buried shortly before Shabbos in the Har Hamenuchos cemetery.
HaRav Ephraim was born in Sivan, 5692 in Jerusalem to HaRav Avraham Boruch Greenblatt, who was familiarly known as `Boruch Masmid of Brisk,' for his outstanding diligence in Torah, day and night. He would sit in the Zichron Moshe beis medrash for hours upon hours without interruption. He never agreed to accept any rabbinical office but spent his days in intense study. Rav Ephraim's mother, Aliza, was the daughter of HaRav Chanoch Birenstock from Lodz.
In a special interview for the Yated Mussaf Shabbos a year ago, he spoke about his childhood. "When I was nineteen, I studied under HaRav Shach in Yeshivas Kletzk, which was then located in Rechovot, and was very close to him. One day, my father came to the yeshiva, stood at the entrance and called me over to speak with me. This was an extraordinary and very surprising event, because my father had never visited any of my institutions of education, being too absorbed with his own study. He asked how I was and then thrust a long letter at me to read, sent by my grandfather, HaRav Yitzchok.
"My grandfather wrote that since he was already advanced in age, he found it difficult to continue officiating in his rabbinical position. He begged my father to send me, Ephraim, to America, to learn the various responsibilities involved in the rabbinate so that eventually, I could take over. He added that the salary being offered could support the family in Eretz Yisrael very generously. He, in any event, could no longer help them out financially."
Rav Ephraim continues, "I approached my master-teacher, HaRav Shach, whom I had known from my childhood when he lived in Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem, with the letter and presented the different sides of the question. Was I obligated to comply to the request of my father and grandfather, leave the halls of the yeshiva and assume the position of practicing rabbi in America in order to support my family?
"HaRav Shach meditated upon the question and finally said: `Considering the situation and the fact that your father has eleven children and no source of income, and since you are the firstborn, you are indeed obligated to help support your father. Yes, you must accept your grandfather's summons and go to America to serve as rabbi.' Then he blessed me with success.
"In spite of the fact that I accepted this `decree' in good spirit, I found it very difficult to sever myself from my gemora and from the yeshiva ambience which I loved so, and decided to take council from HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer. He concurred with Rav Shach's insistence that I go to America and blessed me warmly that I succeed. He added, `I will pray that you succeed in bringing Jews from America to Eretz Yisrael.' I also went to HaRav Moshe Tikotsinsky, Mashgiach in Yeshivas Mekor Chaim where I had studied in the past and asked him to take me to his brother-in-law, HaRav Isaac Sher from Slobodka, to consult with him on a very important matter. After ma'ariv, we found ourselves seated at a table together with HaRav Isaac. I asked him what I should do and he agreed with the two opinions before. HaRav Moshe tried arguing with him, taking my side, saying, `But he is studying so diligently here in Eretz Yisrael!' HaRav Isaac silenced him and told him not to interfere with my mission to go and serve as a rav in America in order to be able to support my family. The Chazon Ish said the same as the others when I went to him with my question.
"I left the country by boat to the unknown land of America. The trip took sixteen days, during which I suffered greatly from seasickness, nausea and vomiting. It was a difficult experience. I arrived on a Thursday and headed for my grandfather's home. I would like to note that HaRav Aharon Kotler was the one who arranged all the necessary papers for me.
"On the day after my arrival, I said that I wanted to go to Lakewood to study in the yeshiva. A young lad like me had to be in a yeshiva setting. I added that HaRav Aharon had promised to accept me warmly when I arrived.
"My grandfather appealed to me desperately, saying, `Listen here, dear grandson, I am already old and who knows when my time will be up? I am the rav here and I give a speech every Shabbos. I am also the chazzan, the baal korei and the rav in every way that is needed. Please, begin assuming some of my responsibilities already.'
"It sounded strange to me at first but my grandfather pleaded so brokenheartedly that I capitulated. That Friday night, I said my first shiur and the next day, Shabbos, leined and served as chazzan. That very Motzei Shabbos, the members of the shul met to decide if I should be my grandfather's successor. They asked me all kinds of questions in limud. Since I had been studying Maseches Zevochim at the time I left, I began expounding my own chiddushim on the subject. They were so impressed that they unanimously appointed me as the next rabbi, succeeding my grandfather.
"On the following day, I pleaded with my grandfather to allow me to at least spend the weekdays in Lakewood, but he said that I had to attend the daily prayers every morning, which would make it impossible for me to go to Lakewood, a distance of two hours travel time each way.
"This was very difficult for me. I had been learning in yeshiva all my life. I asked my grandfather to find me a different yeshiva environment. He told me to go to Yeshivas Tiferes Yerushalayim under HaRav Moshe Feinstein, which was not too far away. I got there on Friday, the day when HaRav Moshe used to deliver his weekly shiur klali. I remember that the subject was the laws of hefker and he was discussing whether something became hefker, ownerless and unclaimed, the moment the owner was mafkir it, or if it only left his possession when someone else acquired it. I spoke up and said that the Mishneh Lamelech in Hilchos Zechiya examines this question as well. He asked me to bring him a Rambam and was surprised to see that I was right! He later asked my grandfather who the young fellow was, and my grandfather told him that it was his grandson from Eretz Yisroel. He asked where I was learning and my grandfather told him that I was looking for the right framework. HaRav Moshe told him to send me to his yeshiva on Sunday and that he would set me up with chavrusas and do whatever he could for me.
"I went on Sunday and was very impressed by the serious atmosphere of the 300 bochurim studying very energetically, and was happy to join them. To my surprise, when I arrived in the afternoon, the beis medrash was almost deserted. When I asked where everyone was, Rav Moshe's son, Rav Dovid, said that they had to flee because of the army conscription. Rav Moshe saw me and called me over to talk to me `in limud'. He was very impressed and said that I need not eat lunch in the yeshiva, and invited me to eat with him in his house. I remained in the yeshiva for a month, eating in Rav Moshe's home and studying with him together very often. This began the very close relationship we enjoyed for years."
... To Be Continued, hopefully.