The Telz Yeshiva in Europe as it looks today
He would often point out the great depth of the impression which the ideals and character of the yeshiva left upon the minds and hearts of bochurim in his day. He once commented that a bochur used to gain a full and rounded chinuch from his yeshiva, including training in the ability to express himself in writing. He would compare this with the results of the contemporary norm whereby bochurim change yeshivos every few years, never staying long enough in one place to put down strong roots.
HaRav Ordman may have been referring specifically to Telz, where special emphasis was laid on the ancillary tasks which would fall to the ben Torah in future positions of communal leadership and involvement. There is also no implication that such training involved the introduction of changes into the traditional yeshiva curriculum.
HaRav Ordman however, was more than just an alumnus of Telz in Europe. He was an example par excellence of what Telz sought to develop, one of its choicest products. Similarly, the yeshiva, his own teachers, HaRav Yosef Leib Bloch zt'l, HaRav Chaim Rabinowitz zt'l, and HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy'd, and his chaveirim, remained throughout his life, much more than memories for him. An inseparable part of his own character, he carried their spirit with him at all times.
He always mentioned the names of his own rebbes in awe and did not suffer hearing them spoken of with less respect than was due to them. Once, a bochur, home from yeshiva, was repeating a chidush of Reb Chaim Telzer's that he had heard during the zman. He added that in his own opinion the pshat was slightly different. HaRav Ordman grew visibly agitated.
`Before you speak about Reb Chaim Telzer,' he said `you have to remove your shoes!'
When he repeated a piece of Torah from one of his own teachers, he almost seemed to be transported back to Telz, reliving its original delivery and discussion.
Telz was a small, secluded town in the hills of the Zamut region of Lithuania. The spirit of the yeshiva and the affiliated educational institutions which Telz hosted permeated the whole town. Right until the war, there was no chilul Shabbos in Telz.
HaRav Isaac Ausband, rosh yeshiva of Telz Cleveland, recalled one Shabbos when the entire yeshiva was called out to protest the opening of a Jewish shop. When the HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch's Hy'd, pleas to close the shop fell on deaf ears, he announced that, `Although the four death penalties are no longer practiced by beis din, they still apply. We have done our best. Hashem will play His part.'
Later in the day, when the proprietor was closing the shop, the metal grill that he was lowering slipped and fell on him, crushing him to death.
If these were the standards of the town at large, the yeshiva itself was literally a citadel of Torah. Hundreds of bochurim, amongst them some of the finest minds in the Torah world, sat learning Torah to the exclusion of all other concerns. If one could have peered into the mind of a Telzer bochur, HaRav Ordman would say, one would see that it was wholly occupied by Torah, whereas today, a host of worries and problems prey on the minds of bochurim, preventing their full application to their learning.
Not only the hasmodoh but the scope of the learning was also of a different order to what we recognize today. Once, when a bochur reported which perakim of Bava Kamma he had completed during a winter zman, HaRav Ordman asked him, `And did you finish the masechta?'
His reaction to the bochur's negative reply was to relate that in Telz, he had once completed maseches Bechoros in just three weeks, together with a chavrusa with whom he learned every day at five thirty in the morning.
On another occasion, he told a talmid that in order to waken a chavrusa with whom he was to learn at five a.m., the arrangement was that Reb Nosson would go to the boy's home and pull on a piece of string that his chavrusa had tied to his finger the previous night and placed outside the window.
Once, when walking with this talmid, HaRav Ordman quoted a Medrash Yerushalmi, and in response to his companion's light hearted remark that apparently in Telz, they learned Yerushalmi and Medrash, he said, `When we were bochurim we used to know half of the Yerushalmi be'al peh!'
Although after the churban HaRav Ordman spoke very little about Telz, he would often mention that he had ten chaveirim in the yeshiva, who sat learning by day and night and who possessed all the necessary gifts of mind and heart for developing into gedolei Yisroel. He would then wonder at the hashgacha that had plucked him from Europe in time, while his friends had remained behind, perishing al kiddush Hashem.
HaRav Ordman was also very attached to his distinguished younger brother, HaRav Yisroel Ordman, who was a maggid shiur in Telz and who married the daughter of HaRav Zalman Bloch Hy'd, the mashgiach. Until the end of his life, the tears would flow freely from his eyes every time he said the Keil moleh rachamim for his brother.
Other sources attest to HaRav Ordman's standing in the yeshiva. HaRav Chaim Stein, rosh yeshiva of Telz, Cleveland, remembered Reb Nosson as the senior bochur who was assigned to learn with him in 5686, when he arrived in Telz as a youngster. They learned together for a year. Today, HaRav Stein recalls Reb Nosson Ordman as having been `meihachashuvim shebechashuvim,' one of the yeshiva's elite, who was among those who would speak before the bochurim in the yeshiva.
Interestingly, Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l, also met Reb Nosson Ordman in Europe, while he was serving as rav of Tzitevian. Speaking in Eitz Chaim on a visit to London, Reb Yaakov's son, Rav Binyomin Kamenetsky related that a group of Telzer bochurim would visit the town during the summer, spending some time at one of the dachas there. Reb Yaakov was especially impressed by Reb Nosson, the brightest of the group and they would go walking and spend time together.
Rebbe and Talmid
The relationship between HaRav Ordman and the MahaRY'L Bloch was extremely close. Reb Nosson was `fun Telzer Rov's kozaken, one of the Telzer Rov's Cossacks,' i.e. a member of his inner circle, as it was expressed by HaRav Leib Lopian zt'l, Gateshead rosh yeshiva and a very close friend of HaRav Ordman's from the years they spent together in Telz onwards.
An indication of just how close the rebbe-talmid relationship was can be gained from the fact that for the MahaRY'L"L Bloch's shloshim, Reb Nosson was chosen to be maspid him on behalf of the yeshiva. He was just twenty-four at the time.
Perusing Shiurei Da'as, it is amazing to see how exactly HaRav Ordman fit the guidance contained therein. In some cases, one can almost imagine Reb Nosson sitting and listening (e.g. the shiur, Ka'anovim Bamidbar, vol. III, #16). Much that was said about MahaRY'L"L Bloch himself (for example in the hesped delivered by HaRav Eliyahu Meir Bloch zt'l, on his father's shloshim, printed in Shiurei Da'as Vol. III), seems just as applicable to HaRav Ordman. The closeness of their relationship can be readily judged from the hesped which HaRav Ordman delivered for his great teacher (See section below), every line of which resounds with a sense of utter bereftness at the loss on a personal level.
Moreover, a comparison of the likenesses of HaRav Bloch and HaRav Ordman bears out the observation quoted by Aharon Surasky in his biographical account of HaRav Bloch that, `Over the years, he shaped and formed the spiritual complexion of each [of his talmidim], their manner and expressions, until the faintest likeness to Reb Yosef Leib was discernible in their faces.'
The same nobility of bearing and tranquility of spirit are visible in pictures of both rebbe and talmid. (See also Rabbi Y. G. Bechhofer's article on Telz in Yated a year ago, which contains a descriptive account of the Agudath Emes Vesholom, a group within the yeshiva whose members accepted upon themselves the special approach to avodas Hashem advocated by MahaRY'L Bloch zt'l and his successors. It seems more than reasonable to assume that Reb Nosson was a member of this group.)
Much has been written about the unique `Telzer derech' in lomdus, mussar and avodas Hashem. It was an approach that sought to unify all the intellectual and emotional powers of a person for application in all areas of avoda; to penetrate to the foundations of a sugya using the logic of the heart; and to transcend the limitations of human nature by harnessing the uplifting power of the intellect.
One day in London, coming across a bochur in Eitz Chaim who was sitting learning aloud in a tune normally reserved for poring over mussar works, HaRav Ordman commented that, `In yeshiva we used to say, "It is good to learn gemora with the heart and mussar with the head."'
Without seeing a living example of this derech however, it is hard to gain a practical appreciation of how this was realized. HaRav Ordman was such an example. Although he hardly ever spoke about Telz, in his speech, manner and outlook, he himself was the most eloquent exposition of what Telz was.
The Wellsprings Overflow
Quoting Reb Chaim Volozhiner, HaRav Ordman would explain the essence of being a mashpi'ah, one who influences others. Rather than trying to develop influence by directing one's energies outwards, it is necessary to work on filling oneself with spirit, to the point that inner resources overflow, touching and affecting other people. This was the key to his own effectiveness as a rebbe. It also enables us to appreciate other aspects of his life as a bochur in Europe.
Having spent years absorbing the teachings and the outlook of HaRav Bloch, Reb Nosson undertook to further his rebbe's ideas and apply them in the communal sphere. The MahaRY'L Bloch felt a strong sense of responsibility towards the general Jewish community and to this end, he was involved in a wide range of projects whose aim was to strengthen Torah and yiras Shomayim among the public. He was a staunch supporter of Agudas Yisroel, as were all the Telzer rabbonim and their families.
His talmid Reb Nosson was no exception. He would travel to speak on behalf of the Aguda. His rousing, passionate calls for faithful Jews to join together in order to protect true Torah values must have stirred many hearts. During these years, he was outspoken in his rejection of both Zionism and Religious Zionism.
Writing was another area of his activity. Already in Telz, he was one of the editors of the journal Yiddishe Leben, which was published there during the nineteen thirties. All this work was inspired by his deep love for the truth and his longing to see Klal Yisroel living up to the Torah's highest ideals.
Already an acknowledged poseik and lamdan, steeped in Torah and mussar, his abilities as a writer and speaker perfectly suited him for these tasks. He had filled himself with the Telzer spirit to such a degree that it spilled over.
HaRav Ordman's work in this sphere continued in England until the early sixties with his editorship of the Aguda publications Jewish Weekly and Jewish Post. If the combination of the positions of rosh yeshiva and editorship of a party newspaper has a strange ring to us today, it is only because of the weakening of idealism within the parties themselves and the public's faith in their ability to act as instruments for collective spiritual awakening.
The necessity for the organization of Torah Jewry into a single political entity in the early part of this century was born of the emergence of other Jewish political groups which sought to break away from everything which Klal Yisroel stands for. This necessity was clearly articulated by the Telzer Rov and many other gedolim at the time, as is well known.
Besides this however, during the initial decades after the founding of the Aguda, there was also great hope that gathering the diverse strands of European Orthodoxy would herald the assembly of a unified Klal Yisroel under the banner of Torah. While all of today's Torah leaders still agree on the need for political representation, factionalism and the vying of various groups to promote their own interests have greatly reduced those hopes. HaRav Ordman's involvement with the Aguda lessened during the sixties and he was reluctant to become involved in politics.
A Difficult Parting
After learning in Telz for about eighteen years, Reb Nosson left the yeshiva in 1934. He rejoined his family, who had moved to the nearby town of Shavli several years earlier and learned there for a year in the Choshen Mishpat Kollel of the town's rov, the gaon HaRav Archik Bakst zt'l, who conferred on him a `Yore Yore, Yodin Yodin' smicha entitling him to rule on questions relating to any of the four divisions of Shulchan Oruch. (This was one of the only two smichos which, according to his grandchildren, HaRav Bakst ever awarded.)
One of Reb Nosson's chavrusas in Shavli was Rav Betzalel Levin Hy'd, a talmid of Mir and author of the work Index to the Malbushei Yom Tov, an index to the earlier sefer written by his ancestor, the Tosafos Yom Tov. HaRav Ordman later married one of Rav Levin's sisters, to whom he had become unofficially engaged several years earlier.
Most of the following year was spent by HaRav Ordman serving on the beis din of HaRav Naftali Carlebach, in Baden by Vienna. Then, in 1936, he accompanied HaRav Zalman Bloch on a fundraising trip to England, where it seems that HaRav Ordman had already decided to seek a position.
That this was his intention is evident from a story which he would tell himself. Before leaving Europe, he was told by HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch that he would not meet with success in England and was either recommended, invited or instructed by the Telzer Rov to return to Telz. Obviously, it was known that he was travelling with a more permanent object in mind than a fund raising trip.
HaRav Ordman's poignant comment when retelling this story in later years was that while the first part of the Telzer Rov's words had indeed been fulfilled, nothing had remained of Telz upon which the second part could take effect. Why HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok should have made this cryptic and somewhat strange sounding parting wish however, is not readily apparent, unless one is acquainted with an earlier chapter in the history of Telz and the Telzer Rov's family.
Upon HaRav Zalman Bloch's arrival in England, a letter in Yiddish, signed by twenty-two London rabbonim as well as the British Chief Rabbi and the members of his beis din, was published in the press, calling upon English Jews to come to the aid of the Telzer Yeshiva. The financial situation was so difficult, wrote the rabbonim, that the yeshiva was actually in danger of closure. Over four hundred bochurim from all over the globe, including a large English contingent, were learning in the yeshiva. With the situation in Germany worsening, many German bochurim had also been arriving and the yeshiva had become a home to them.
`Brother Jews!' continues the letter, `We in England have an old reckoning with the Telzer Yeshiva, an account which imposes distinct duties upon us. Namely, the holy grave of the great, world renowned gaon, the founder of the Telzer Yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Gordon zt'l, who found his eternal resting place in the London cemetery. It is twenty-five years ago, reminding us of the tragic accident when the Telzer gaon and tzaddik... came to London to seek help for the yeshiva and to our great sorrow, found his grave.'
The `reckoning' mentioned in the letter was an oblique reminder of a shocking incident that had taken place in London when HaRav Eliezer Gordon zt'l, the founder of the yeshiva, father-in-law of the MahaRY'L Bloch and grandfather of HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, travelled to London in 1910 to raise funds which would enable him to pay off debts he had incurred in his efforts to rebuild the yeshiva and houses of Telz after they had been consumed in a great fire two years previously.
Upon his arrival, the city's rabbonim called a large meeting of wealthy and distinguished members of the Jewish community. HaRav Gordon addressed the gathering with great feeling and emotion, depicting the period of hardship that the town had passed through, as well as the great efforts that had been made to overcome it. From the participants' cool reception of his pleas however, he understood that the aid he so desperately needed would not be forthcoming. Later that night, he suffered a fatal heart attack, brought on by his distress and he passed away. He was buried in London two days later.
It seems more than likely that the memory of this painful experience led HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok to surmise that the arrival of a second Telzer godol, who exemplified the same infectious excitement in Torah learning as his own grandfather had, who possessed deep feelings and an emotional nature nurtured and developed in the Telzer tradition, would fare no better among the calm, reserved Englishmen whose equanimity in the face of a heartfelt appeal had dealt Reb Leizer Telzer such a blow.
It proved to be an accurate prediction. While anyone who went to seek out the godol beTorah in his yeshiva was richly rewarded, the influence of someone with HaRav Ordman's gifts, which would no doubt have had significant consequences elsewhere, was, to human eyes, hardly noticeable on the wider English scene.
Travels and Travails
On his way to England, HaRav Ordman passed through Riga where he met the Rogatchover. A Torah discussion developed from the presentation of a shailo concerning the Rabbinate, in the course of which HaRav Ordman quoted a comment of the Mordechai in Bava Metzia.
`Alter bochur!' retorted the Rogatchover, `Fun vanet vaist du a za Mordechai?' (Old bachelor! How do you come to know such a Mordechai?!) HaRav Ordman was well pleased with this, one of the Rogatchover's rare `compliments.'
He also saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Sholom Ber, shortly before the latter's petiroh. HaRav Ordman reported that the luminescence of the rebbe's face was like that of a mal'ach Elokim.
In London, HaRav Ordman was a guest in the home of HaRav Eliyahu Lopian zt'l. When HaRav Ordman married in London in 1937, all the sheva brochos were held in HaRav Lopian's home, neither chosson nor kallah having any family with them.
HaRav Lopian's sons had learned in Telz and were friendly with HaRav Ordman. His closest bond was with HaRav Leib Lopian zt'l, who later became one of the Gateshead roshei yeshiva.
HaRav Ordman began giving shiurim in the Machzikei Hadas in London's East End, which then served as the spiritual center for the thousands of Eastern European immigrants who had arrived and continued to arrive in the city. In addition, HaRav Ordman was rav of one of the batei knesses. By the time HaRav Ordman entertained serious thoughts of returning to Telz, the war had broken out and it had become impossible to do so.
When residents of London were evacuated from the city to Letchworth during the Blitz, HaRav Ordman insisted on making the hazardous trip into town each day in order to deliver his regular shiurim. He explained that his fellow Jews there were relying on him to strengthen their Yiddishkeit and he could not abandon them. He continued to make the trip into town throughout the Blitz, at considerable personal risk, on one occasion having to lie on the street when a bomb landed nearby.
In 5702, he was invited by HaRav Lopian to begin delivering shiurim in the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, which was then located in the East End. The rosh yeshiva was then HaRav Nachman Shlomo Greenspan zt'l, a great gaon who was a talmid of Reb Chaim Brisker, the Ridvaz of Slutsk and the Avnei Neizer. HaRav Lopian, a gaon and tzaddik who was an alumnus of Kelm and who later became famous as mashgiach of Kfar Chassidim, was then serving as mashgiach in Eitz Chaim.
Although the fate of Polish and Lithuanian Jewry was already apparent in the early war years, it was not until several years later that HaRav Ordman and his rebbetzin learned the details of what had become of the yeshiva and their own families. A surviving daughter of HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch visited London in 5709 and related the tragic fates of the Jews of Telz and Shavli.
From that day on, it was too painful for HaRav Ordman to engage in reminiscing about the world that meant so much to him. As the years passed, the pain never faded. His attachments seemed, if anything, to grow stronger. Yet he was never depressed.
Although the world of his youth remained alive for him, he did not live in the past. His joy and gratitude at having survived were always predominant, outweighing any other troubles he may have had. `I can never become depressed. Nothing can upset me,' he once commented to a talmid.
His overwhelming joy in Torah and his deep, sincere and tangible emunah enabled his mind and heart to contain his pain alongside his joy. And it is evident from the note upon which he concluded his hesped for his beloved rebbe, that this ability too, was part of the Telzer legacy.
* * *
HaRav Yosef Leib Bloch zt"l
Hesped for HaRav Yosef Leib Bloch zt'l,
delivered by HaRav Nosson Ordman, Cheshvan 5690, translated, excerpted and condensed from the original Yiddish.
We are all in mourning... We have all become orphans...
Not everyone has an equal share in the loss, however. Not all are suffering the same degree of sorrow. The greatest misfortune — incomparable to any other — is the one borne by us, his talmidim. Whose loss comes close to ours? Who can feel our pain? There is no comfort for our mourning, no similar misfortune to console us.
Our rebbe is gone! Our great rebbe, in whose lifetime yet we all sensed and knew, with all our soul and all our being that, `to depart from our rebbe is like departing from life.' He was the life source for our spiritual existence. Now he has been taken from us.
No! We do not feel it yet. We do not believe it yet. Our thoughts are paralyzed, the blood congeals in our veins, preventing us from grasping, from digesting this awful, terrible realization.
One doesn't want to believe that we no longer have our rebbe. He still lives within us. We still live with him.
Is our rebbe really no longer sitting, still enclosed in his room, next to a sefer halacha or sefer kabbala, gliding through the infinite, hidden heavenly worlds? And weaving the Divine threads of emunah or Torah ideas for his children- his disciples.
The immediate future already beckons to us. The wall of the yeshiva is already telling us, that in life, some kind of influence is necessary for existence. Our survival requires us to draw spiritual nourishment into our lives.
The zman is starting. Maseches Bava Metzia is beginning. Everyone is waiting for the opening. Our rebbe should make the opening. We thirst for our rebbe's speech, for his voice...
The maspidim have already delivered their hespedim. I do not want to say a hesped... So I will not keep to the laws of hesped, with one exception: `In front of the deceased, only his own words are repeated.'
Do we possess a single thought which does not belong to our rebbe? Is there any correct feeling or idea [which we have] upon which our rebbe's stamp and behavior do not rest? Which has not been refined and crystallized by the pure lens that belonged to our rebbe's soul?
No! Everything is our rebbe's! Everything is `the word of the deceased'!
We find that Chazal say about Moshe Rabbenu: "When the time came for Moshe Rabbenu to pass from the world, HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to him, `Moshe, your days have come close [to dying].'
Moshe said, `After all this labor, You say, "Your days have come close?" I shall not die for I shall live and tell of the works of Hashem.'
HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, `You are not able to for "This is the totality of man" '
The commentators ask that if the reply of the Ribono Shel Olom that, `This is the totality of man,' simply meant that every man must die, then we are left with a difficulty. Didn't Moshe Rabbenu know that death is a natural process which every mortal being must undergo — that there is no change in the natural order?
Moshe Rabbenu knew and felt that he still had a lot to achieve, both for himself and for Klal Yisroel. This was the motivation for his request: `I need to live on. There is still much to achieve.'
And the Ribono Shel Olom said, "No! You cannot, `For this is the totality of man.'" When I created man, I foresaw a specific human stature, a level of perfection, of elevation, of cleaving to the Divine, for each generation. This degree of perfection represents the achievement of My will in the creation of every generation's `man.' Each generation and its own level, according to that generation's predetermined ability. And you Moshe, you have attained that limit of My will for what I wanted your generation to achieve. You have reached the goal of the creation of humankind."
For this is the totality of man! — [meaning, the collective level of the generation]. Every generation and its [stature of] `man.'
In each generation there is a representative, someone perfect, who encapsulates within himself the shape and form of the human stature of his generation, which the Ribono Shel Olom's thoughts foresaw for that generation. We can say that our great rebbe was also one of these, who elevated himself with his wonderful, multifaceted, giant neshomo and who attained the level of the human stature that was predetermined for our generation. `For this is the totality of man'!
Talmidim, bnei hayeshiva! Yes! We have lost our rebbe, who instructed us in every one of life's domains, who was our pillar of fire before every step we took in life. Today we are bereft of him. Let us not cry. Let us not shed tears. We will not assuage our pain with tears. Can tears express our pain? Can they serve as the language to convey our misfortune? There are no expressions. There is no terminology.
Let us hold the deep sorrow, the boundless sense of bereavement, in our [hearts'] deepest depths. Our souls will weep in hidden places!...
Talmidim! During these moments of mourning, let us [however] also not forget the great responsibility which remains ours. Let one force not displace another, as our rebbe always taught us: The foundation [of all] is [to be able to experience different feelings in] coexistence.
The wall is trembling...
Let us delve deeply into our rebbe's rich treasures of wisdom. We can make our rebbe live. If Chazal say that, `The lips of every talmid chochom whose teachings are repeated in this world, are articulate in the grave,' then this is true of those who taught Torah [only] with their lips.
But we can bring every part of our rebbe to life. Our rebbe taught us with every limb: every glance of his taught Torah, every movement showed wisdom, every aspect of his conduct taught emunah.
Come, let us not sever ourselves from our rebbe. Let us preserve the arono shel Yosef in the yeshiva's walls.
This remains our duty and our only comfort.
End of Part II