The Story Of The Chofetz Chaim's Attempts To Settle In Eretz Yisroel
By Yisroel Avital
The Chofetz Chaim
24th Elul 5781—The 88th Yahrtzeit Of The Chofetz Chaim. This article was originally published in honor of the sixtieth yahrtzeit of the Chofetz Chaim in 5753 (1993).
It is hard to exaggerate the influence that the Chofetz Chaim had on Torah life in the modern era. His extensive work in the mitzvos connected with speech, his monumental Mishna Berurah and the personal example he set as we hear in so many stories—all demonstrate at least one aspect of what Chazal meant when they referred to the lips of the tzadikim that still communicate in the grave. In honor of his 88th yahrtzeit, we here present the story of his attempts to come to Eretz Yisroel. There is no doubt that, had he arrived, the future course of the modern yishuv in Eretz Yisroel would have been radically different.
Reb Yisroel Meir HaKohen stood on the wooden bimah in the center of Radin's beis haknesses. The greatest tzaddik of the generation was asking his neighbors' forgiveness before his departure from the town.
"As a shopkeeper—who knows?—maybe I weighed out or measured for someone less merchandise than he paid for? As a neighbor, perhaps a chicken of mine once went out of my yard and damaged someone. And if I have stolen anything from anyone— the way to rectify a theft from an unidentified member of a community is to do something for the community's benefit. I therefore announce that the well of drinking water in my yard is now communal property. Draw as much water from it as you like, as long as you pardon me."
This wonderful story is retold in many a classroom as an example of the sage's fear of possessing even a single penny that belonged to others. If, though, one of the pupils raises a hand to ask, "Rebbe, where did the Chofetz Chaim live after he arrived in Eretz Yisroel?" he would be told that although the gaon made all the preparations for travelling to Eretz Yisroel, he never left Europe!
The Radin yeshiva building as it appeared this summer
Try and Try and Try and Try—and Try!
The Chofetz Chaim made four attempts to be oleh to Eretz Yisroel. The first time he put off his journey, it was to help with the reconstruction of the yeshivos in the wake of the Bolshevik terror. The second time, he yielded to the entreaties of the other gedolim who begged him not to leave Europe. The third time it was because his rebbetzin had taken ill, and the fourth time he was forced to delay because his daughter fell sick. He deeply wanted to make a fifth attempt but by then he was too weak himself to endure the privations of such a difficult journey.
Everything could have turned out differently, including the spiritual fate of Petach Tikva, where a house had been prepared to receive the Chofetz Chaim. Everything would have been different—but it was Hashem's will that the Chofetz Chaim should not reach Eretz Yisroel.
Part One: A Lifetime Ambition
It was not the aged godol's connection with Eretz Yisroel that surprised them, nor his yearning to reach the Holy Land—a dream whose fulfillment he had never despaired of realizing. None of these things were new to the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe. Everyone knew how great, how fierce was his desire to live in the land that he used to refer to as "the body of the Jewish People."
None of these things were secret; it was all common knowledge. Nevertheless, such was the attachment of Russian, Polish and Lithuanian Jewry to the godol hador, that when it became clear to them that plans were being made for the Chofetz Chaim's journey and that his departure was imminent, they were thunderstruck.
The Chofetz Chaim's longing for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, for the complete redemption and for the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid, suffused his being so entirely that they could be discerned in every step he took. One reason for the Chofetz Chaim's wish to go to Eretz Yisroel is evident from a remark he made—a remark which also illustrates his deep humility.
"Who knows," he would ask, "whether I will be among those who will be allowed to enter Eretz Yisroel when Hashem returns His captive people to their land? If however, I am already there, then there is a chance that I will not be driven out."
He was keenly aware of Eretz Yisroel's spiritual treasures. In chutz la'aretz he felt like a man who chokes because there is not enough air to breathe. The only place where the neshamah can breathe freely is Eretz Yisroel. Avodas Hashem and spiritual elevation are infinitely harder to achieve for a resident of chutz la'aretz then for one who resides in Eretz Yisroel.
He had also heard of the opportunities for enhanced shemiras hamitzvos in the Holy land. In 5640 (1880), Rav Yudale, the Rabbi of Radin was oleh to Eretz Yisroel. It was from there that he wrote the following to his beloved friend, the Chofetz Chaim:
"In chutz la'aretz, I didn't feel the holiness of Shabbos or its radiance. Only when I came to the Holy Land did I begin to experience the kedusha of Shabbos and the splendor of its glory."
In fact, throughout his life it was the Chofetz Chaim's ambition to go to Eretz Yisroel. He always kept this prospect in mind and planned things so as to avoid situations that would prevent him from leaving chutz la'aretz.
At the engagement in 5641 (1881) of his first son-in-law, Rav Aharon Cohen (who wrote the seforim, Avodas Hakorbanos, Pirchei Aharon, Mateh Aharon and Beis Aharon and who passed away in Tel-Aviv on the 27th of Shevat 5697) to his eldest daughter Gittel, the Chofetz Chaim entered an explicit condition into the tenaim which stated that, although he had promised to support his son-in-law after the wedding, Rav Cohen would be unable to use this undertaking to prevent his father-in-law from travelling to Eretz Yisroel. He made a similar condition at the engagement of his second son-in-law, the gaon Rav Tzvi Levinson, to his daughter Soroh, in 5644.
Similarly, upon his own second marriage in 5664 (1904) to Rebbetzin Miriam Freyda (the daughter of Rav Hillel, the rav of Lafi) he stipulated that she be willing to travel with him to Eretz Yisroel. Once again, he made the same condition at the engagement of his youngest son-in-law, HaRav Menachem Mendel Zaks, to his youngest daughter Fayge, on the fourteenth of Shevat, 5683 (1923).
Throughout the years then, Eretz Yisroel was at the forefront of the Chofetz Chaim's mind. Very early on, he laid the groundwork for his eventual aliya.
Despite his great longing to travel to Eretz Yisroel, the Chofetz Chaim did not, as far as we know, attempt to go there before 1921. This was because he did not have an easy conscience about deserting European Jewry, leaving multitudes of Jews bereft of his devoted care.
Some ten years before the first attempt which we mentioned above, he wrote a letter to Rav Shmuel Krusnafurek which is dated "yom Sheini leparshas Tetzaveh, 5671 (1911)." Rav Shmuel was then preparing to travel to Eretz Yisroel and the Chofetz Chaim wrote, attempting to dissuade him:
"I have heard a popular report that your honor is presently girding himself to travel to Eretz Yisroel. In truth, to settle in Eretz Yisroel is a very worthy thing, as is well known. Learning Torah however, is an even greater mitzva. The proof is that it is permissible to travel from Eretz Yisroel to chutz la'aretz in order to learn Torah, even if it is solely for the sake of one's own learning...(There follows a long and detailed survey of Rav Shmuel's role in upholding Torah and mitzvos in his town, and a description of the havoc that would be wreaked if he left.) ...and even when a Rabbi will be appointed, you must be aware that if, in the meantime, the Chevra Shas will have disbanded, the entire journey is not worth it..."
The Chofetz Chaim then adds a sentence that is laden with meaning and which sheds light on his own actions, "...and this is one of the reasons that I myself do not travel to the Holy Land..."
Learning Torah, spreading and disseminating Torah—even in chutz la'aretz—are of even greater importance than building the Beis Hamikdosh. This is evident from chazal's observation (Megilla 16:2) that as long as Boruch ben Neriah remained alive, Ezra did not leave him to go up to Eretz Yisroel to build the second Beis Hamikdosh.
However, despite his position at the head of European Jewry, R' Yisroel Meir's great love for the land did not let him stop forming ideas and laying plans.
The First Attempt: The Chofetz Chaim Decides To Remain
The issue of the newspaper Machzikei Hadas (which was published in Yerushalayim) dated the fourth of Kislev 5681 (1921), thought that it was able to inform its readers of the astonishing development that, "the Chofetz Chaim, together with three famous rabbonim, are already on their way to Eretz Yisroel." And in fact, deep in the Russian interior, whence the Chofetz Chaim had been forced to flee during the First World War on an exile within an exile, a plan had taken shape for him to travel to Eretz Yisroel via Odessa. However, despite the newspaper's report, the year 1921 did not see the Chofetz Chaim's arrival in Eretz Yisroel.
The factor which caused the postponement of his journey was the precarious situation of the Yeshiva under the Bolshevik regime. Tragically, in the meantime, his son-in-law, Rav Zvi Levinson died. In order to save the Yeshiva, the Chofetz Chaim was forced to return to Radin. However, his journey back was undertaken on the understanding that as soon as he managed to reestablish the Yeshiva and set it on a firm financial footing, he would journey to Eretz Yisroel.
When he arrived in Radin it was clear that the situation was far more serious then had been imagined. Devastation stared him in the face wherever he turned. The Bolsheviks had succeeded in destroying and annihilating the best of Jewish life. Yeshivos had been abandoned and a new generation was growing up without Torah—the entire future of Judaism in the lands controlled by the Bolsheviks was gravely threatened.
Without chadorim and yeshivos there would be no education. Without support from ordered, settled Jewish communities, there would be no yeshivos. The factor which threatened to cut off the support that was extended to the great Polish and Lithuanian yeshivos was the disintegration of the once great Jewish center in Russia and its dispersal to smaller and newer countries.
The Chofetz Chaim entered the fray. He would not remain silent, nor would he rest. He worked hard and labored to galvanize all those around him. He instigated the founding of the Vaad Hayeshivos in Vilna, whose purpose was to guarantee the material upkeep of the sacred yeshivos. After much hard work, the organization finally succeeded in its aims and the crown of Torah learning was restored to its former glory.
The Chofetz Chaim arriving at the Knessia Gedola in 1923
Once the material basis for the future of the yeshivos had been secured, the Chofetz Chaim felt that he had managed in some degree to ameliorate the devastation wrought by the Bolsheviks. With this work successfully completed, he seems to have felt that his most productive period of service to European Jewry had ended and that the time had arrived to repay his old debt and fulfill his life's ambition of settling in Eretz Yisroel.
Once again, he tried to implement his travel plans. Here is a letter dated "Yom Rishon of Yisro 5683 (1923)" which was sent to Reb Dovid Potash. The last paragraph in his letter is deeply moving: "...now I have seen the matter which I revealed to his honor earlier— I hope that Hashem will help me to realize it. I ask his honor, when he is in the holy city, to pray to Hashem on my behalf that it will work out."
The Second Attempt: The Roshei Yeshiva Exert Pressure
Today, almost a hundred years after the events transpired, we are able to trace the story, step by step, as it unfolded. Our source of information is the original series of letters—pages which today are yellowing with age—that passed between Radin and Yerushalayim, Radin and Tel-Aviv, and Tel-Aviv and Radin. The major personality behind these events was Reb Dovid Potash.
Reb Dovid, who was one of the lay leaders in Eretz Yisroel, was an industrious worker who possessed deep yiras shomayim. He was close to many of the generation's gedolim and as the Chofetz Chaim's plans gathered momentum, it was a rare honor indeed which fell to him: to facilitate the Chofetz Chaim's aliya.
The exact date of the proposed journey is revealed in a letter written on the second of Tammuz 5685 (1925). Some six weeks later— immediately after Shabbos Nachamu, 5685—the Chofetz Chaim was to travel. This letter also mentions a house, in Petach Tikva, that had been found for the Chofetz Chaim. The writer, Rav Menachem Mendel Zaks, the Chofetz Chaim's son-in-law, inquired about the spiritual conditions in the town:
"...As is known, it is not my master, teacher and father-in-law's custom to sit idly by, in tranquility and isolation. His ambition is to listen to lessons of Torah and mussar...let his honor therefore inform me if the town is capable of providing a small group of between ten and twenty avreichim, who are great in Torah and in fear of G-d. My question relates only to the town's suitability and no more. His honor will surely let us know the expected date of the building's completion and it's location. It is also important that we know the identity of those good hearts have generously undertaken the building of a house for the gaon and tzaddik...we await his swift reply...please let us know further whether there is a garden around the house and the size of the town Petach Tikva...from, Menachem Mendel Yosef Zaks, son-in-law of the gaon, Rav Yisroel Meir, author of Chofetz Chaim, shlita.
Before he could travel, the Chofetz Chaim had to be photographed for his passport. Throughout his life, he had strenuously avoided being photographed. Once, a photographer came especially to Radin and managed to catch a "snap." When the Chofetz Chaim found out, he paid him for the frame and proceeded to destroy it. For his trip to the Knessia Gedola in 5683, the Polish Government issued him with a passport which did not require a photograph.
This time though, he needed to travel abroad and there was no choice. Hoping to keep the entire matter secret, the Chofetz Chaim contacted a gentile photographer who agreed to develop only one picture and to hand the negative over to him to be destroyed. However, a Jewish competitor somehow heard about this arrangement and the gentile allowed him to copy the original picture. Those who saw the Chofetz Chaim during his lifetime insist that the portrait, which is so widely circulated today, does not bear a true likeness to the appearance of the venerated tzaddik.
One other concession that the Chofetz Chaim had to make for the sake of reaching Eretz Yisroel was to obtain certification of his being a Rabbiner. He had never adopted the title "Rabbi," always signing his letters simply as, Yisroel Meir HaKohen of Radin. Now, he turned to Reb Chaim Ozer with the request that he prepare an official document stating that he was a Rabbi!
Everything had been ready right after Pesach 5685 (1925). However, when the rabbonim and roshei yeshiva found out, a meeting was hurriedly convened in Vilna to discuss this development. The participants reached a unanimous conclusion: "An attempt must be made to try to influence the Chofetz Chaim to delay his journey, at the very least, if only for the sake of the Vaad Hayeshivos."
Calmly, as was his way, the Chofetz Chaim listened to their arguments and he tried to dismiss them. "I am an old man, what more can I still achieve...?" he asked the petitioners.
Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzensky responded with a quote from his grandfather- in-law Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who, in a similar situation had remarked to one of the gedolim of his own time, "A father doesn't leave his children even when he has grown old. Why is it so important that he remain near them? Because, when he sits at the table with his children and grandchildren, his mere presence is enough to ensure that they conduct themselves differently. Polish and Russian Jewry request that the Chofetz Chaim remain seated at our table. His presence will add an extra dimension to events."
The grave of the Chofetz Chaim earlier this summer
The Chofetz Chaim listened, accepted this line of argument and postponed his journey once again. The new date that was set for his aliya was Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5685.
As erev Rosh Chodesh Elul approached however, a third trial arrived. With a few short weeks left before the Gaon Hador was to set off for the Holy Land, a letter was publicized in Vilna, in the name of the Chofetz Chaim. In the letter, he addressed all his brethren in the Diaspora. Its contents were as follows:
"As Hashem has favored me and I have reached the age of gevuros, I am planning, with Hashem's help, to ascend to the Holy Land, "to desire its stones and to favor its dust," I wish to take leave from my brethren and my people who inhabit these lands, giving my blessing. Chazal have said, `We do not know whether prayer precedes a blessing or whether a blessing precedes prayer. When the posuk says, "And this is the blessing," we conclude that prayer precedes blessing.' I therefore spread my supplication before Hashem Yisborach, the guardian of Yisroel, to have mercy on His people who are beset by troubles and captivity, to leave them a remnant and to take them out from their straits to comfort and to send them His anointed one to bring them good tidings and consolation.
"My beloved brothers! It is hard for me to be parted from you at this difficult time, when Heaven's judgments are extended over us and each days curse is greater than the other's; when the spiritual devastation is tremendous. I feel myself duty bound to mention our obligations to Hamakom Boruch Hu: When the pupils of R' Eliezer Hagodol asked their teacher, `What can a man do in order to escape the travails (preceding the arrival) of Moshiach?' He replied, `Let him busy himself with Torah and deeds of kindness.'
"R' Eliezer found no other advice to offer his pupils as to how they could escape those bitter calamities other than Torah and chesed. At such a time, when, from the sheer magnitude of our troubles, both fathers and sons have, in our sins, moved far away from our holy Torah and even young children are being educated in schools where there is no Torah and no fear of Heaven, and the chadorim are forsaken and deserted, we have nothing left—but the Torah, the four amos of halacha within the beis hamedrash walls, in the yeshivos which, in Hashem's mercy on us have been left as a remnant.
"However, due to the intense poverty and the shortages, the continued survival of the yeshivos is endangered. It is known that the purpose of our coming to this world is so that everyone may realize his own portion in Torah, as Rabban Yochonon Ben Zakai said, `If you have learned much Torah, do not congratulate yourself for it is for this that you were created.' The entire creation is for the Torah. If we slacken in out Torah, the disgrace which this causes the Torah and those who study it is great indeed. Why, most of creation is of no benefit to us, neither to our souls, nor our bodies.
"My last request to you before I depart, therefore, concerns strengthening Torah and the yeshivos. I remind you of the last prophecy of the last of the prophets: before the promise of `Behold, I send you Eliyahu Hanovi..and he will return...' he told them, `Remember the Torah of My servant Moshe...to all of Yisroel...' This is the foundation and the main merit for the complete redemption. I request and entreat my brothers, bnei Yisroel, both young and old, to hearken and to pay attention to this, my last wish, to guard the light of our holy Torah which continues to provide illumination, in the holy yeshivos. We are left without anything, everything has been taken from us! Only the living neshamah which Hashem has breathed into us, namely, our holy Torah, is still awake, is alive. Hashem's aron<>D> has not been captured and it goes in front of you, to save you from all your enemies."
The Chofetz Chaim had already sold or given away his simple furniture. The seforim and other articles were packed in big wooden crates. Those articles that would be needed immediately had already been sent. Evidently, the disposal of his material goods was a much simpler matter than the personal preparations in which the Chofetz Chaim was endlessly involved. The hopes of his household that the journey might at last become a reality were not shared by the rest of Russian and Polish Jewry. Terror gripped their hearts at the prospect of facing the future bereft of their patron in Radin. A dreadful fear descended on the Jews in the hamlets and villages, a feeling of bereavement was in the offing. The blasts of the shofar took on additional meaning that year.
That Elul, the generation's leaders travelled again to Vilna. Another meeting was convened in Reb Chaim Ozer's home which resulted in the selection of another committee that would go to Radin to beg the Chofetz Chaim to stay. The members of the committee were: R' Boruch Ber Leibovitz (Kamenetz), R' Pesach Pruskin (Kobrin), R' Elchonon Wassermann (Baranowitz), R' Eliezer Yehuda Finkel and R' Yeruchom Levovitz (Mir).
They set out without delay. When they reached Radin and laid their request before him, the Chofetz Chaim initially took exception to the whole idea.
"Perhaps you think that I am a prisoner here, that I am not allowed to leave?" he asked them.
Rav Boruch Ber, who was the spokesman, began to weep profusely, begging the Chofetz Chaim to stay at least until after Succos, to ensure further support for the yeshivos. The other members of the delegation added their entreaties and implored the Chofetz Chaim to give up his plan.
Once again, the Chofetz Chaim gave in, putting off the journey until the last day that his documents were valid— this was a Tuesday, yom Shlishi leparshas Lech Lecha 5686.
The Chofetz Chaim hastened to inform Reb Dovid Potash of his changed plans. A letter he wrote to Reb Dovid dated the twenty-fourth of Elul 5685 concludes with wishes for a kesiva vechasima tovah and the following message:
"I must inform you, by the way, that it was my soul's desire to enter the gates of Yerushalayim for the Holy Days. However, it did not work out and I am forced to wait until after Succos, im yirtzeh Hashem."
The Roshei Hayeshivos had requested him to wait and the Chofetz Chaim, in his humility, considered himself "forced"! A letter sent by R' Elchonon Wassermann to Reb Dovid Potash on erev Succos from Radin (where R' Elchonon usually spent the Yomim Noraim, so that he could be with his rebbe the Chofetz Chaim), contains references to the events of those weeks:
"The holy Zaken here is extremely weak—may Hashem fortify and strengthen him in the merit of Klal Yisroel who need him—yet he is preparing himself to travel to the Holy Land, despite the fact that his departure from our parts will be the cause, chas vesholom, of a terrible deterioration in Torah and emunah—as of yet, we have no way of knowing how things will turn out. The state of the yeshivos here is dreadful, particularly that of our own yeshiva. May Hashem have mercy on the remainder of His people and on the remnant of the scholars."
The Third Attempt: Heavenly Intervention
From a different source, further information about the preparations for the journey that had been planned for the beginning of 5686 has come to us. Rav Moshe Blau, one of the leaders of the old yishuv and a founder of Agudas Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel, recalled his personal involvement with the arrangements. His first-person account was originally published in the chareidi weekly, Kol Yisroel, marking the Chofetz Chaim's fourth yahrtzeit in 5697. It tells the story of the miraculous way he was able to raise the necessary sum for the Chofetz Chaim's travelling expenses, following a secret discussion with Reb Dovid Potash at the home of HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld on Chol Hamoed Succos 5686.
While the rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva expressed their grave concerns over the effects of the Chofetz Chaim's departure from Europe, the ordinary Jew reacted with dread at the prospect of losing a much revered and deeply beloved leader. Towards the end of 5685, it seems that the Chofetz Chaim was inundated with visits from Jews coming to take their leave from him and requesting brochos, so much so that he was prompted to place the following notice in the Elul edition of the Vilna newspaper, Vort:
"I ask all my friends and acquaintances to caution all those who wish to come to me—whether for brochos or for other things—against coming. If they come—I will not answer them. I also ask that you [ensure] that they refrain from troubling me with letters and do not have complaints if I do not reply to them. I am hereby announcing that I will anyway not be travelling to the Holy Land before Succos, hbal"t..."
Then, just one day before the long-awaited journey was to begin, on yom Sheini leparshas Lech Lecha, something happened which caused yet another postponement: the Chofetz Chaim's rebbetzin fell gravely ill. Her doctors ordered that she be transferred immediately to Vilna where she had to undergo a major operation. Thus, the third attempt also failed.
Once something has repeated three times, a chazakah is established that it will continue. The Chofetz Chaim however, was not deterred by this argument. He told the members of his household, "Hashem will help; she will recuperate and im yirtzeh Hashem, we will go."
During this period however, showing that he realized how serious the situation was, the aged godol was also heard to remark, "It's the work of the Satan, mixing in everywhere—but he won't succeed!"
During the winter months however, while the rebbetzin was still too weak to travel, it was not at all clear whether the trip could be undertaken again. The Chofetz Chaim sent this letter to Reb Dovid Potash explaining the delay and keeping him informed of the situation:
"...even after the operation, the situation was almost hopeless in their [the doctors'] eyes. However, with Hashem's mercy and the tefillos of the many who prayed for her, she is out of danger, although still very weak. May Hashem strengthen her spirit. I asked the professor about travelling and he said that she should not be moved over distances or by sea. This was also the opinion of a well- known doctor, that it may be endangering her...
"Before I saw the circumstances that Hashem has brought about, I was resolved to travel to the Holy Land even though most of the world opposed me. Now I have seen what Hashem has wrought before my very eyes, that my wife is very weak and even if she regains her strength, the doctors have ordered that she not be moved around too much and my own strength has waned from all the travelling and the anguish. Aware now of my weakened state, I have backed down from my idea. I have said that doubtless, everything that Hashem does, He does for the good..."
After her illness, the rebbetzin slowly regained her strength and once again, the Chofetz Chaim began to plan. This time, though, everything was conducted in the utmost secrecy. The "ma'aseh Satan" to which the Chofetz Chaim had attributed the failure of his first attempts had perhaps come about because of all the publicity that had surrounded his planning. Quoting chazal, he said that the first luchos, had also been broken as a result of their having been given in public, amidst thunder and lightening. Ayin hora had thus been able to overcome them. The second luchos which were given to Moshe Rabbenu "privately," were the ones which endured.
The Chofetz Chaim also issued a public letter addressed to "the residents of the Holy Land," in which he explained fully the reason that his journey had been put off, in order "that it not appear strange to the public." He expressed his thanks towards—and asked forgiveness from—all those who had been instrumental in preparing for his arrival in Eretz Yisroel. He applied Chazal's teachings that "Hashem combines a good intention to the deed," and that "When a man intended to do a mitzva and was forced to refrain from doing it, the posuk nevertheless considers him to have done it." This letter appeared in the issue of Kol Yisroel which was published on the twenty-third of Shevat, 5686.
The building at the grave of the Chofetz Chaim this summer
The Final Attempt: Hashem's Hand Is Still Outstretched
As long as the rebbetzin's health did not permit travel, the Chofetz Chaim's fully accepted Hashem's decree and gave up his plans. In time though, her strength returned and it was once again possible to think of leaving.
The Chofetz Chaim wrote again to Reb Dovid Potash: "Since the wish to return to the Holy Land has stirred in me, if Hashem helps me, I ask if his honor can send me an application, but with the precondition that the matter not be publicized (with the exception of those whom it is necessary to inform), in order that the [evil] eye not gain control. [This is] because I am fairly sure that one of the reasons for the cancellation of my journey last year was the tremendous publicity given to it by the newspapers and such-like. They called me a "gaon" and a "tzaddik", neither of which I am—what do I deserve honor for? As is known, the first luchos which were given amidst great publicity were broken while the second ones endured..."
Reb Dovid was successful in obtaining all the necessary documents a second time but then, something amazing happened. On the very day that the Chofetz Chaim received the documents from Eretz Yisroel, his young daughter Fayge fell sick. Thus, the fourth attempt to reach Eretz Yisroel also failed. The members of the household were of the opinion that this constituted clear proof that Heaven was preventing the journey. The Chofetz Chaim refused to give in, insisting that when Fayge recovered, they would travel. A fifth attempt was never undertaken however. There seem to be several reasons for this.
First, the Chofetz Chaim was old and frail. He was forbidden to undertake the journey by a doctor who had been especially brought from Vilna to examine him.
A second reason appears in a further letter from the Chofetz Chaim to Reb Dovid Potash. Thanking him for the certificates he had sent and for all the other trouble he had gone to, the Chofetz Chaim goes on to explain the further postponement. "There have been unceasing rumors over here," he writes, "due to the increasing numbers of people returning from there [Eretz Yisroel], that starvation and high prices are rife in Eretz Yisroel, as I have heard from people who have come back here. I am therefore forced to tarry here for it is impossible to travel at such a difficult time."
But there was another reason as well. The following story, which the Chazon Ish told, has been recorded by Rav Aharon Roter in his sefer, Sha'arei Aharon. "I heard in the name of the Chazon Ish...who told it in the name of...HaRav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri...at the time when everybody here was preparing to welcome the Chofetz Chaim...for it was definite that he was coming and a house had already been purchased for him in Petach Tikva. At that time, the holy elder [the Chazon Ish] told those close to him that the Chofetz Chaim would not come. Afterwards it turned out that he was right.
"They asked him, `How did the master know?'
"[He]...replied, `I am neither a novi, nor the son of a novi but it is [a matter of] Torah logic. It is quite clear that when the Chofetz Chaim reaches our Holy Land and sees the fire of machlokes [that burns] between the supporters of HaRav Sonnenfeld...and the supporters of HaRav Kook...[he] will say, "Did I labor to write my seforim, Chofetz Chaimand Shemiras Haloshon for nothing?" and he will immediately desire to make peace between them. He will go back and forth between them trying to arbitrate. However, as soon as he steps over the threshold of Rav Kook's house, those hotheads will take the Mishna Berurah and throw it under the table. That is something that Hashem does not want to happen and therefore, he will not come!' "
There was plenty of truth in HaRav Alfandri's words. The Chofetz Chaim suffered greatly from the discord that existed between the various parties and groups in Eretz Yisroel. When Jews would come to him for a brocho before being oleh to Eretz Yisroel he would warn them to be extremely careful about loshon hora, sinas chinom and machlokes. The spiritual "germs" of these afflictions derive their sustenance from the sin of the meraglim who spoke evil of Eretz Yisroel. The Chofetz Chaim argued that the protracted quarrels in Eretz Yisroel were really a tactic of the Satan, who would try anything to delay the redemption of Klal Yisroel.
So the Chofetz Chaim never realized his lifelong ambition. The house that was prepared for him still stands, on Rechov Herzl in Petach Tikva. When it was clear that he would not be coming, the house was taken over by Yeshivas Lomzha.
For many years, the first floor served as the dining room while on the second floor lived HaRav Elya Dushnitzer zt'l, a close disciple of the Chofetz Chaim, who taught in the yeshiva. The second apartment on that floor was occupied by HaRav Dov Zochovsky zt'l, the yeshiva's mashgiach. HaRav Nosson Zochovsky shlit"a recalls that even years after the episode of the Chofetz Chaim's aliya had ended, letters would still arrive at the house addressed to "Family Zochovsky, "Beis HeChofetz Chaim", Petach Tikva."