In a very sorrowful funeral procession, many thousands of Bnei Brak residents headed by the elite of rabbonim, roshei yeshiva and their students, dayonim and esteemed figures of the Torah world including throngs of avreichim and bnei Torah, escorted to his final rest the renowned HaRav Yaakov Galinsky, elder of the Mussar movement, product of Yeshivas Novardok, leading maggid and mashpia of this generation who restored countless lost souls to their source and drew myriads closer to pure avodas Hashem. HaRav Galinsky passed away on Thursday afternoon, 22nd of Shevat at the age of 93.
HaRav Galinsky was born on the 4th of Teves, 5681 (1921) in Kreinik, Poland, to his father, HaRav Avraham Tzvi, a close talmid of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin, and to his mother, Devorah. He grew up in a home of Torah, yiras Shomayim and mesirus nefesh to the strict letter of mitzvah-observance and of boundless love for Torah. He imbibed his exemplary refinement of character from his eminent parents, especially his benevolent eye towards others. His outstanding figure was formed and molded in this excellent home which produced a man of Torah who was guided by the beacon of Truth. Those very attributes of nobility of soul and refinement of character were already apparent in him as a child, coupled by an appealing mien of genuine modesty, love of chessed and of his fellow man surrounding him like an aura.
He received his basic education in the cheder in Kreinik, going on to the Novardok yeshiva ketana in his city. He filled his every moment with intense study, while amazing his teachers with his exceptional refinement, wholesomeness and integrity, coupled with his devout love for Torah.
As a child, he had the privilege of being blessed by the Chofetz Chaim who visited his city in order to gather donations for the Vaad Hayeshivos which he had established together with HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. Little Yaakov's father took him to hear the Chofetz Chaim's address. Here, he heard and saw the godol hador and was duly blessed by him. The impressive sight was engraved upon his mind and was ever before his mind's eye throughout his life.
Outgrowing the yeshiva ketana, he went on to Yeshivas Novardok in Bialystok, headed by HaRav Avrohom Yaffen, son-in-law of the Alter of Novardok. He cleaved unto his rosh yeshiva, who, in turn, favored him very much, seeing in him a future godol beYisroel who would illuminate the eyes of his people with his Torah and Mussar teachings.
He continued his intense study day and night with ardent application, serving as a role model of indefatigable hasmodoh and zest, filling his stores with the masechtos of Shas and acquiring amazing expertise in all of Torah. His masters raved about his phenomenal and gifted grasp and straight-thinking. His wonderful middos were also evident to all.
During this period he came to know the Steipler Gaon zt"l. He said, "When I was in the Bialystok yeshiva, I wanted to learn mussar in solitary. I went to one of the shuls that stood empty between the times of tefillos. When I went in, I suddenly heard a voice from the ezras noshim. It was a pleasant voice, that repeated what it was saying over and over. `Shmuel said to Rav Yehuda: Sharp one, grab! Grab! Grab and eat! Grab and drink! Because the world goes by like a festival.' I stood as if nailed to the spot. I listened and my heart melted. It was the author of the Kehillas Yaakov who, from then on, grabbed and grabbed until he became the Godol Hador."
Eventually, HaRav Yaffen asked him to be in charge of the Tat of the yeshiva. As he told it, "At first I declined. I was afraid that doing this would take me away from learning, as it says, `Give them public responsibilities and they will self-destruct.' I asked Maran the Chofetz Chaim who said that, on the other hand, chesed helps learning Torah. The Chofetz Chaim told me to undertake the job, but to do everything connected with it only on erev Shabbos after noon." In the course of the years he acted as the right-hand man of the Rosh Yeshiva in many issued that affected the community.
With the outbreak of World War II, when the Germans conquered Poland from the West and the Russians from the East, on Rosh Hashanah 5700 (1939) the Germans bombed Bialystok. Masses of yeshiva bochurim found shelter in Vilna, including the Novardok talmidim who arrived in Vilna on Succos that year.
At that time HaRav Galinsky wanted to meet HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt"l. HaRav Chizkiyohu Mishkovsky zt"l, the rov of Kreinik whom HaRav Galinsky knew well, was able to get him an appointment for the next day. He could not sleep the whole night from excitement, and spent it reviewing Yevomos which he already knew well, so that if asked he would not hesitate and would answer right away, "15 women exempt their tzoros and tzoros tzoroseihim from chalitzah and yibbum..." When he arrived for his appointment, dozens of people were waiting to go in, but he was summoned in right away.
He described the meeting, "I was certain that the first question I would be asked would be what are you learning? And the second question would be: what did you mechadesh? And the third question would be: what else did you mechadesh? However Maran asked different questions: 1] When did you last get a letter from you parents? 2] Do you have a good blanket? 3] Let me see your shoes. I was embarrassed when I showed him my shoes and he immediately gave me money to buy a new pair and said, `This is your home. It is open to you twenty-four hours a day.' When I went out I burst out crying. I felt that someone cared about me. He did not ask about the tzoros of the yevomos but about my personal tzoros (troubles)."
A short time later the Communists took over in Vilna and the talmidim of Novardok were exiled to Siberia to forced labor camps. When they arrived they were told that they were sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in a labor camp. As soon as they arrived in Siberia, all the gemoras and tefillin were taken away from them and thrown into a fire. Only two pairs of tefillin that were previously hidden were saved from the Communists. These two pairs of tefillin, one of which belonged to HaRav Galinsky, survived the entire stay in Siberia and were used by all the bnei yeshiva.
The bnei yeshiva were very depressed and broken by the burning of the tefillin and gemoras, and the sentence of twenty-five years in the camps. They decided to gather for a sichas chizuk one evening after the work. They looked for someone who could say divrei chizuk in a minute-and-a-half and they looked at HaRav Yaakov Galinsky. There in the wilderness of Siberia, he said, "Chazal said that [to] whoever is ma'arich on the word Echod in Krias Shema, they lengthen his days and years. This is in need of explanation, since one must have kavonoh when saying every word. Why spend more time especially on Echod? And Chazal added that the main thing is the letter daled since it is hard to lengthen it. The idea is that the word Echod is an acronym for Alef the oneness of the Creator, Ches that He is the only ruler in the world and in the seven firmaments above, Daled that He is one and that he rules over the four directions in the heavens. Lengthening the letter Daled shows that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is not just found in Novardok and Vilna and the United States and Eretz Yisroel, but also here in Siberia. One who is ma'arich on the word Echod and has the above in mind, and knows that Hashem is with him even here, to him they will lengthen his days and years and he will merit to survive the Siberian Gehennom and to return to a full Torah life." All the bnei yeshiva responded to this talk in the wilderness of Siberia: "Hecheyisonu!"
Towards the end of the war, even the guards in the Siberian forced labor camps were drafted to the battlefield, and the bnei yeshiva were freed from the camps on condition that they live in a nearby area, under restricted conditions. The situation coupled with their severe malnutrition resulted in some of the bochurim catching typhus, and HaRav Galinsky was also hospitalized for this sickness. Next to him in the hospital was a big strong yeshiva bochur who also had typhus. Everyone told HaRav Galinsky that he had no chance of surviving the terrible sickness, but in fact the big strong yeshiva bochur next to him was niftar from the typhus. Before he passed away he said to HaRav Galinsky, "I have some money. Take it. It's yours." HaRav Galinsky recovered.
When he went back to the place he had been staying, they refused to let him in for fear of catching the typhus. They said they had burned all his belongings. He decided to leave and set out on foot in the direction of Bucharia. He walked for two weeks along the train tracks, eating bread that he was able to buy with the money from his neighbor in the hospital.
After two weeks he reached Marcha (Tashkent?) in Bucharia and he went around looking for a house with a mezuzoh on its door. He wound up at the home of Rav Isaac Roth zt"l, the local shochet, who hosted him in his home as long as he stayed there.
At the time there were a lot of Jewish refugees in the area from Russia, Lithuania and Poland. They sent their children to learn in the local schools. Infused with the Novardok sense of mission, HaRav Galinsky decided to open up a chareidi Talmud Torah. He was repeatedly warned that opening a talmud Torah could be a seriously dangerous act, but he went ahead anyway. He found a local non-Jewish resident who hated the Communists and was willing to let the Talmud Torah meet in his home, but the parents were afraid to send their children since ration cards were issued only to those who sent their children to the local schools. "No food without a blue slip." So R' Yaakov went out to try to get hold of a supply of blue slips so he could open his school.
He met a Jew who bought and sold blue tickets on the black market. He managed to awaken the Jewish spark in him, and he agreed to sell R' Yaakov a supply at cost price. R' Yaakov raised enough money to buy a supply of the blue tickets and the Talmud Torah opened.
After a short period, the authorities discovered the underground Talmud Torah and arrested R' Yaakov, charging him with trafficking on the black market — a crime punishable by death! He spent half a year on death row, but even that turned out for the best since during that period everyone with a Polish passport was drafted to fight the Germans and R' Yaakov was left alone.
When he was asked how he managed to survive on death row, where he was also tortured to get him to reveal those who financed his purchases of ration tickets, he said, "I survived with Kedorla'omer, the initials of Kol De'ovid Rachmono Letav Ovid." With siyata deShmaya he was eventually released from jail without any further punishment.
In 5705 (1945), while still living in Bucharia, he married Tzivia Brod. Right after the wedding the new couple moved to a displaced persons camp in Germany, where he met his old friend from Bialystok HaRav Gershon Leibman zt"l. The two worked together to found a Talmud Torah there, and to revive the spirit of the survivors. HaRav Galinsky helped many couples to get married in those camps.
In the cellar of a local monastery, someone found a Vilna Shas. HaRav Galinsky took the Shas and managed to have more printed up to encourage learning.
In 5709 (1949) he reached Eretz Hakodesh, settling in Bnei Brak. He immediately became a follower of the Chazon Ish, and the latter charged him with many tasks having to do with saving immigrant youth in that tumultuous period.
Once while he was in Siberia, he had been forced onto a starvation diet for 40 days. At the end of the period, he was given, as a special favor, a bowl of hot soup. This soup was not the best, but after 40 days on a starvation diet it seemed quite good.
While the soup was in front of him, a Jew came in who, it was evident, was undergoing the punishment of a starvation diet, and he was obviously in great suffering. HaRav Galinsky later described how he considered whether to give this Jew — who had the unusual name of Cholev — part of the soup. Having just undergone the same regime, HaRav Galinsky knew how difficult it was.
After a few seconds he came to a decision. He said to himself, "Yankele, Yankele. Can you really eat all alone while a hungry Jew is standing nearby?" He offered some of the soup to Cholev who hungrily ate it up.
Many years later in Eretz Yisroel in the early 50's, new immigrants from North Africa were held in camps where the Zionist establishment worked to acculturate them out of their Jewish roots. The Chazon Ish sent HaRav Galinsky to one of those camps to find out how many of the parents wanted to give their children a chareidi education.
"I arrived at the camp with another talmid chochom (who is now one of the great poskim of Bnei Brak). Right away we saw that there was no way we could get in. The camp was locked up tightly on all sides. We went back to Maran zt"l and described the situation to him. The Chazon Ish told us to go back and dig a tunnel under the fence and to use it to go into the camp."
HaRav Galinsky and his partner followed the instructions of the Chazon Ish and soon they were inside the camp. But before long the madrichim caught them. It turned out that the madrichim were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim. They were chosen as such so that the madrichim would not be able to have any contact with the children since neither understood the other's language. That way the management would be the only ones who could influence the new immigrants.
The madrichim spoke in Yiddish to the two uninvited guests, and demanded that they leave. "We pretended not to understand the language," said Rav Yaakov. They left them on the side, and Rav Galinsky listened carefully to what they were saying to each other. Before long he heard one say to another, "Soon Cholev will come, and then we will decide what to do with them."
The name "Cholev" rang a bell for HaRav Galinsky, but he could not immediately recall where he had heard it before. Then he remembered the incident with the soup. It turned out that Cholev was one of the senior madrichim in the camp.
After a short time Cholev came and, when he saw Rav Galinsky, he immediately remembered the hot soup that he gave him in his time of need. He slapped HaRav Galinsky enthusiastically on the back, as a sign that he wanted to pay him back for the great favor he did many years before.
"Do you want me to help you get out of here?" asked Cholev.
"I know how to do that myself," joked HaRav Galinsky.
"I knew that I could use his good will now," recalled HaRav Galinsky, "and I decided to go for broke. I took him aside and quietly asked him to find out which parents were interested in chareidi education. Cholev heard my request and was taken aback. He had not anticipated such a task. But in the end his hakoras hatov won out, and he decided to help me. He told me to wait until the other madrichim left, and he would find out what I wanted to know."
Before long, Cholev returned with a list of 65 parents who desired a chareidi education for their children. The list was eventually passed on to the proper authorities, and a significant number of them went to talmudei Torah and yeshivas and later set up wonderful Jewish homes.
At the request of the Chazon Ish he went to Chadera to be the partner of HaRav Elchonon Perlmutter zt"l in setting up the yeshiva there. For many years he was marbitz Torah there. His talmidim benefited from his clear shiurim, and his ability to make the Torah truly beloved by them.
Later he founded a network of kollelim in Yerushalayim, Modi'in Illit, Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak. On his travels to raise money for the kollelim, he organized communities to adopt one of the kollels. Hundreds of avreichim are learning in those kollelim.
Alongside his incredible hasmodoh were no less outstanding his fine disposition, valuable character traits and nobility of personality.
For decades he gave mussar sichos and shiurim all over the world. Wherever he went he attracted a large audience that came to hear his speeches, that were filled with the Torah and mussar of Novardok and spiced by his many stories.
In Eretz Yisroel he also traveled the length and breadth of the country to spread dvar Hashem. Many returned to their roots as a result of his wise and gripping talks. He was a father figure to many.
He also spoke to enthusiastic audiences in many yeshivas. He used basic yesodos derived from Shaarei Teshuvoh, Orchos Tzadikim and Mesillas Yeshorim.
He was expert at expressing the ridiculous aspects of evil and avodoh zorah. He would arouse the love of Torah in his audiences as he showed the emptiness of materialism and excessive concern for superficial things.
His sichos and droshos were collected by HaRav Sholom Meir Wallach in his series Vehigadeto on Chumash and on Elul, Yomim Noraim, Succos and the Haggodoh. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky testified that his works increased yiras Shomayim.
He was hospitalized at the beginning of the week in Maayanei Hayeshua where his condition deteriorated until he passed away.
His levaya took place in Bnei Brak, leaving from the Lederman shul on Rashbam street. He was buried in the Netzivei Ponovezh cemetery. He is survived by his wife, sons, daughters, and their families, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who continue his legacy, as well as many thousands of talmidim and followers.