The pen is inadequate, especially at these difficult hours of
piercing pain and confusion, due to the terrible tragedy
comparable to the Bais Hamikdosh burning. However, we
must at least try to put into words, for the sake of future
generations, a small part of the shining image of Rabbeinu
The following words are therefore a first draft, woefully
inadequate in depth and breadth, in the short time allotted
to put something to paper -- with a pen soaked with tears.
Prince of Torah
Any attempt to express the koach haTorah of Rabbeinu
with words such as shkeidoh, hasmodoh and the
like, can not do justice. Rabbeinu Hagodol ztvk'l was
a precious expression of toiling in Torah and ahavas
haTorah -- from childhood through old age. In his youth,
he fulfilled the dictum of "exile yourself to a place of
Torah." When the world was raging he ignored everything
around him and cleaved to Torah despite poverty and want. And
so for many decades to come, he learned Torah in every and
any situation, fulfilling "the Torah I learned during
[Hashem's] anger, that stood for me."
His command of all the Torah's treasures, which was never
superficial knowledge but rather from delving deep -- whether
a difficult sugya, a halocho in Rambam or a
posuk in Chumash Bereishis -- was a symbol and
example of "yogato umotzoso," of ameilus in
His disciples were amazed at everyday displays of his
unquenchable desire for learning. When he was working on
clarifying a sugya, he looked like someone who was
overtaken by a powerful thirst. He used to run to the
seforim shrank like a young boy, quickly pull out a
Rambam, swiftly leaf through it and "swallow" its words
Even when the burden of the community was placed on his
shoulders and he was surrounded by all kinds of problems, it
was difficult to sever him from his studies. As soon as he
finished taking care of an urgent matter, he again grasped
the sefer in front of him, like someone who was cut
off of his lifeline and needed air to breathe.
Ahavas haTorah beat in him like an uncontrollable
"taivo" -- pikudecho ta'avosi. One could see
him absorbed in his thoughts, murmuring thoughts in learning
to himself at all times, even during unconventional
situations that amazed anyone who saw him. "Be'ahavo
Author of Avi Ezri
The seforim Avi Ezri, fruit of decades of toil, became
cherished possessions of scholars in our generation. His
entire life Rabbeinu instilled in his student to not be
"enslaved" to a specific derech halimud, but only to
the emesshitas rishonim
in truth without necessarily being bound to the prevalent
sevoras. His original approach, which sheds a new
light on every sugya and every halocho in
Rambam, among which he put into writing, testify to his sharp
view that he "delved into the depth of matters with a fine
tuned sensitivity" and, as HaRav Chaim Ozer ztvk'l,
author of Achiezer defined it in a Torah letter he
sent him, "his penetrating understanding."
Unlike many other authors who publish their sefer and
are grateful for the finished product, Rabbeinu never
considered himself finished with his work. And so additional
editions were created -- the second, third, fourth and
fifth -- in which he added things that he had clarified again
over the years, many times in ways other than his original
one. There was always a new light, the fruit of unceasing
toil and hard work.
The Rosh Yeshiva
"Maran the Rosh Yeshiva" everyone called him. Some just said
the Rosh Yeshiva. In either case, he was the Rosh
Yeshiva. For about fifty years Rabbeinu stood at the helm of
Yeshivas Ponovezh with HaRav Dovid Povarsky zt'l and
HaRav Rozovsky zt'l.
Rabbeinu's devotion to the yeshiva and his talmidim
was legendary. He saw his as a twenty-four hour job that was
not confined to saying shiur alone, but included being
constantly present during sedorim, guiding disciples
and instilling in them the truth, forming a close
relationship through discussing divrei Torah. He
ingrained in them the approach to learning and clarity of
understanding, as well as the desire to know and understand
more and more -- as a living example of ahavas
haTorah. A rosh yeshiva, he said, must also be on top of
his talmidim every day and every hour, because he will
have to give an accounting for every talmid who was
A few weeks before the beginning of every zman,
Rabbeinu starting working on the sugyos, even though
he had already written about them and said shiurim for
many years, as if he were learning them for the first time.
The shiur was not prepared from a notebook or
sefer, but from a fresh iyun and libun
of the sugya. Thus he was mechadesh new
shiurim every semester.
Rabbeinu considered Yeshivas Ponevezh as the "mother of
yeshivos," which obliged it to preserve the original form of
a yeshiva, without any deviation. It was with this feeling
that he led the yeshiva. Even certain actions that he did not
consider essentially inappropriate and did allow other
yeshivos to do, he did not allow in Yeshivas Ponevezh.
His deep concern for the yeshiva knew no rest. When he felt
there was a need to increase the staff in proportion to the
blessed growth of the student body, he made every effort to
add additional ramim and mashgichim.
He took interest and investigated every single detail of
yeshiva life. He considered the yeshiva a "mikdosh
me'at" in which there is weight to every detail that
molds the personality of the bochurim, their
"business," ideas and goals.
Father of Yeshivos
Over the years, the influence of the Yeshiva spread to other
yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and abroad. New yeshivos were
established with Maran' s encouragement and guidance, and all
disseminators of Torah came to consult him on yeshiva
policies and the students.
Thus Maran set policies of the yeshivos and kollelim,
stressing the obligation to keep the yeshiva schedules as
they have always been, including davening and
mussar seder. Any change in the established
sedorim was seen as a breach in mekomos
His desk contained weighty sheilos on criteria for
accepting students and the number of staff. His decision
became a foundation, and the entire yeshiva world abided it.
Whenever a new yeshiva was established, Maran the Rosh
Yeshiva investigated its staff and schedule.
He always used to say that a mashpia ruchani, a Torah
educator or maggid shiur, and especially a rosh
yeshiva, cannot be chosen according to criteria for secular
speakers. It is not enough to be talented in saying
shiur, because a marbitz Torah is a link in the
chain of Torah disseminators from Har Sinai, and he
has to be an example of how a talmid chochom behaves
in every way -- in Torah, yir'oh and good
middos. The yeshiva must produce the future Torah
scholars, which can only be done out of a sense of tremendous
responsibility and lofty ideals.
The scope of this article does not allow for a detailed
description of his approaches in yeshiva matters of our
generation, which are known to all marbitzei Torah all
over. More on the topic will be discussed.
Maran the Rosh Yeshiva felt that the yeshivos are the
heartbeat of Klal Yisroel and stood guard on them.
Whenever the issue of drafting yeshiva students came up, the
Rosh Yeshiva announced publicly that it is considered a
decree of destruction. We still remember his words at the
opening of the Yarchei Kalla that if this decree is
passed, we will all leave Eretz Yisroel -- and Torah will
continue to exist.
In his later years, from his sickbed, he asked that it be
publicized that according to him "it is ossur to go to
the army and one must give up his life for it." Gedolei
Yisroel and roshei yeshivos joined his words. He fought
with falsifiers from within who established a "yeshiva-high
school" in chareidi guise. Rabbeinu opposed this phenomenon
with all his might.
In the zechus of all of this and more, he was
considered the founder of the yeshiva world and the father of
yeshivos in our generation.
Rabbeinu Hagodol ztvk'l considered the approach of
baalei mussar from HaRav Yisroel Salanter
ztvk'l as the lifesaver of yeshivos in later
generations. In his letters, he called to be strict in
keeping the mussar sedorim as an inseparable part of
building Torah in every bochur and avreich.
Rabbeinu's sichos mussar instilled his listeners with
a yearning for lofty heights. He lit up each posuk and
ma'amar Chazal with a precious light that displayed
the greatness of man on one hand and the dangers lurking for
him on the other hand, and pointed to man's tremendous
responsibilities and how to achieve them. He especially
explained at length the parshos dealing with the
Ovos hakedoshim and yetzias Mitzrayim, because
"ma'asei ovos simon labonim." Through the manner with
which Klal Yisroel was formed, we understand our
obligations even today.
In his personal life he was an example of exalted character
traits; his entire essence was to give to others and he did
not ask anything for himself. He devoted many long hours to
listening to individuals' sorrows and tried to help as much
as he was able.
He lived with a constant cheshbon hanefesh, constantly
evaluating his deeds, turning them over and over to purify
them from any impurities. At the twilight of his days, he
began to calculate all of his actions from his youth,
weighing if he did the proper thing.
Purity of Mind
His purity of mind, like his purity of hands and heart,
propelled Rabbeinu to make extreme demands of himself, which
increased sevenfold when he bore the yoke of the
He did not favor relatives when distributing the large sums
of tzedokoh money he was given every month and
vehemently refused to use his influence for his family, even
if it just meant a short phone call to secure someone a
position. He felt that someone who bears the yoke of the
community cannot be indebted to anyone.
His words still reverberate in our ears: "I don't have
yerushos and I don't have chazokos." They were
accepted as words that came from the heart and entered the
heart, and gave a tremendous mussar power to all his
communal decisions. Everyone knew that his da'as Torah
could not be changed, because he had no personal
consideration in it, just the pure truth.
Transmitter of Tradition
Rabbeinu Hagodol ztvk'l was zoche to transmit
the tradition of the gedolim of the previous
generation, from whom he received the ways to acquire Torah
and yir'oh that he bequeathed to our generation.
In his discussions with Torah disseminators or communal
activists, he used to tell amazing facts that he saw from
past gedolei hador. All his actions expressed his deep
connection to Torah mussar giants whom he merited to
He embodied the pure emunoh and the responsibility for
the klal of the Chofetz Chaim ztvk'l, the
leadership qualities and the bearing of the community's yoke
of HaRav Chaim Ozer ztvk'l, the love of mankind and
tremendous middoh of doing good of HaRav Isser Zalman
ztvk'l, and the concern to instill proper
hashkofoh and the standing guard on Torah and
halocho of the Brisker Rov ztvk'l and the
Chazon Ish ztvk'l
In his shmuessen he stressed that transmitting Torah
is the foundation of existence. The mishna of
"Moshe kibeil Torah miSinai umesoroh liYehoshua" was
often mentioned, as he said that only passing the Torah from
generation to generation without any kind of change can
ensure the existence of Klal Yisroel.
Pillar of Truth
Maran's middoh of truth led him in all his actions. He
fought for the truth, without extraneous calculations.
Considerations of "profit and loss" were strange to him; the
need to establish the truth was constantly before him.
And so, he was able to take courageous decisions like leaving
communal movements that he devoted his life to, or founded
and built with his own two hands, the moment he thought they
were not loyal to their obligations and mission.
When he felt that he must take care of a neglected community,
he worked for it even though it was not a popular thing to
do. Nevertheless, when communal leaders veered from the
proper path, he did not hesitate to lose political power that
he built up, because there is nothing that stands in the way
For the sake of truth, he was prepared to remain a minority,
even alone on the battlefield, because truth is not measured
in power and numbers that can be counted, but in a total
attachment to the hashkofoh of the pure Torah.
Avi Gedor -- was one of Moshe Rabbeinu's names,
because he fenced off the breaches of Klal Yisroel.
This was the way of all gedolim of later generations,
who stood on the front lines of the war against portzei
geder of the Reform, Zionist and Enlightenment movements,
as well as compromisers who wanted to combine the Torah with
In our generation Rabbeinu Hagodol ztvk'l stood in the
breach against every small change in our masores. He
used to often say (and it seems he said this in the name of
the Chofetz Chaim) that these generations, when most of
Klal Yisroel has veered from the proper path and only
a minority of the nation is like a pure pach shemen,
one must spurn any slight movement and any tiny change. Our
generation has a din of a gosseis, who cannot
be touched even if you intend his good. Every touch is
considered as if you spilled his blood and brought him closer
Rabbeinu stood alert and ready, watching like a loyal
watchman on his guard, that no change in our masores
occur, whether in educational matters, the structure of
yeshivos or actions of the community -- and any other
His deep understanding and diagnoses that fit to a
hairsbreadth, also came to a strong expression. Over the
years everyone saw how farsighted his view was, and even when
it seemed to some that he was exaggerating, it was later
evident to all that they were real dangers.
Today all shomrei Torah feel that if not for this
watchman, our generation would be breached on all sides
chas vesholom, institutions of kilayim and
shatnez would have penetrated into the chareidi
community and outside hashkofos would be percolating
in our midst.
Fighter of Hashem's War
When he had to stand up for the truth, Rabbeinu armed himself
for war with all his strength.
All of his students and acquaintances, who knew him as a soft
person, a good, kind, soft-spoken onov, then saw him
gird himself with the tools of war, in opposition to his
everyday qualities, and gather strength for the War of
Like a king of his troops, he took action and called to
action, drafted communal activists and instructed them to be
fearless and courageous. He spoke in public, publicized
letters, called for kinusim and to take action. He did
not rest until the threat on Torah life and Judaism's
foundations had passed.
Any attack on Klal Yisroel's kedusha and Torah
tradition was a danger to the existence of the nation.
Ahavas Yisroel and responsibility for the community,
which was ingrained on his heart, propelled him to go out to
difficult battles, that no other man dared take upon
Leader of the Generation
All these qualities and many others turned Maran Hagodol into
the leader of the generation who bore the yoke of the
community for decades. It was a unique phenomenon that the
entire Torah world bowed to his authority and accepted his
words unquestioningly, like the word of the urim
His speech at the beginning of the Yarchei Kalla in Av
became of unprecedented interest. Anytime a question arose,
it was heard all over, "What does the Rosh Yeshiva say?" The
media used to wait for Rav Shach's word.
Maran's feeling was that fortification of the Torah world
nowadays is only possible through establishing organized
institutions that give an address and platform to the Torah
world, whether in communal matters, public relations,
communal life or kashrus. He therefore established
Yated Ne'eman, Degel HaTorah and Shearis Yisroel -- entities
only he could have established, which seemed at first like
pipe dreams that had no chance.
We Are Orphaned
As mentioned, the scope of this article can not do justice to
even a part of the giant personality of Rabbeinu Hagodol
ztvk'l. This is merely a poor attempt to describe what
we lost. We are orphaned. We are orphaned -- and there is no