Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Cheshvan 5762 - November 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Ashkavtei DeRebbi -- The Levaya

On Thursday night, 16 Marcheshvon, a heavy pall of mourning enveloped all sectors of Torah Jewry in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, as it was learned that Maran HaGaon Hagodol HaRav Elozor Menachem Mann Shach, ztvk"l, rosh yeshiva of the Ponevezh yeshiva, returned his pure soul to its Maker. Maran was Rosh Kol Bnei Hagolah, Am Yisroel's helmsman and one of the remnants of Knesses Hagedolah. He is deeply mourned by the entire Jewish people, and in particular by his many students who loved and esteemed him as their beacon of light.

On Thursday night, the ailing Maran's health took a drastic downward turn. Students in yeshivos throughout the world were requested to arouse rachmei Shomayim and to pray for his recovery. Torah study and tefilloh shifts were organized and masses of Jews tearfully recited prayers and Tehillim for his sake. Jews from all circles entreated the Borei Olom at a huge prayer rally at the Kosel to have pity upon our generation and to forestall the petiroh of the great tzaddik who had guided the entire Jewish people.

Throughout the night, Maran hovered between life and death. At 2:40 AM, Rabbenu Hagodol, the prince of Torah, the pride and glory of Yisroel, Maran the Avi Ezri, was niftar. As his pure soul went up to Shomayim, his family and close students surrounded his bed in the Sheba hospital in Tel Hashomer, tearfully reciting Shema Yisroel and Hashem Hu HoElokim. As the word spread to yeshivos, their prayers changed to these refrains as well.

The bitter news spread quickly to Jewish communities throughout the world. At the crack of dawn, when the news reached all of the country's yeshivos, the heichal of the Ponevezh yeshiva and its surrounding streets filled with people.

Mourning announcements were posted throughout the country, calling upon Beis Yisroel to bemoan the great loss. Country-wide transportation was organized, and hundreds of thousands of heartbroken, bereft Jews from all sects and circles headed to Bnei Brak to accompany the godol hador to his resting place in the Netzivei Ponevezh cemetery. The massive levaya, the largest Eretz Yisroel has ever known, was a magnificent display of kovod haTorah.

Binso'a Ho'oron

Two hours after the petiroh, Maran's bier was brought into the Ponevezh heichal. Tearfully, Maran's students did kriya over their beloved mentor who had taught in Ponevezh for over fifty years. The bier was then placed on the bimah which was surrounded by yahrtzeit candles. Hundreds of students who had stood on their feet the entire night reciting Tehillim, sobbed bitterly.

As the time of the levaya (10 a.m.) neared, all streets and paths leading to the heichal became black with mourners. Hundreds of buses brought hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country to Bnei Brak. All of the country's gedolim, poskim, roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, admorim and dayanim came to pay their final respects to the godol hador. Bnei Brak was closed to traffic starting at 8 a.m., many hours prior to the levaya. The city's botei din were closed during the time of the levaya. An hour before the beginning of the procession, chapters of Tehillim were recited in the heichal, while the throng filling the area responded verse by verse.

The levaya began at 10 AM with a public recital of Tehillim led by HaRav Tzvi Eisenstein, the rosh yeshiva of Tiferes Tzion. The Yud Gimmel Middos, Selichos, Ezkera Elokim, Shema Koleinu, and Hashem Melech were recited three times. For nearly half an hour, the entire assemblage entreated Hashem to have pity upon His Nation. Heart-rending shouts pierced the air and resounded in the nearby streets. All of Bnei Brak seemed to be at a standstill. More than 400,000 Jews wept the loss of the godol hador and bemoaned the great void formed in the world as the result of the petiroh of the tzaddik. Tears of a generation bereft of its glory, its grandeur and its splendor, flowed like water.

Following the recitation of Tehillim, Rav Chananya Cholak announced that in accordance with Maran's last will and testament, no hespedim would be delivered. A lamentation, however, was recited by Maran's son-in-law, HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman.

In his stirring lament, HaRav Bergman portrayed Rabbenu Hagodol, Maran ztvk"l and cried out that we are Yesomim hoyinu ve'ein ov. We have lost the godol hador. We lack the tools with which to assess his greatness. Such hasmodoh in Torah, such yegio, transcending all natural bounds, such integrity, such lofty character traits.

"We ought to be aware that today we are accompanying the holy elder the Chofetz Chaim, the gaon HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the Chazon Ish and the Gaon of Brisk, whose talmid our master was. These four leaders of their generations, transmitters of our heritage -- they are the ones who set the Torah up firmly."

At the end of his hesped, HaRav Bergman read parts of Maran's last will and testament. During the reading, anguished cries were heard in the yeshiva heichal. In his will, Maran conducts a severe cheshbon hanefesh.

The will begins with these penetrating words: "Since no man knows when his time will come, I have resolved to take stock of all that has been, particularly regarding those hidden things where one can be mistaken and can mislead others [in failing to distinguish] between good and bad, and thinking that something is a mitzvoh, when in truth it is an aveiroh and is springing from a bad trait. All should feel sick and faint about this. Woe to us from the day of judgment! Woe to us from the day of rebuke! Who will emerge righteous before You in judgment?"

"I would also like to ask all those talmidim who know that they received some benefit from me, whether in Torah, whether in yiras Hashem or whether in good character traits, to do chesed towards me and to learn for the elevation of my neshomoh, even a single mishnah, or a single mussar thought, and this shall be my reward. For I too, sacrificed myself for the sake of your success in learning and if it will be in my power to do anything or to advocate good for you, I will do so beli neder."

Maran's will closes with, "And my prayer is that I should merit to stand before Hakodosh Boruch Hu after having done complete teshuvoh,

"From me, who parts from you with love,"

At the end of his hesped, HaRav Bergman mentioned those who had served Maran loyally during recent years, among them HaRav Yechezkel Eschei'ek and Maran's grandson Rav Chaim Bergman. HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman then asked that Maran be a meilitz yosher on behalf of the Torah world and the entire Jewish people.

The Procession

At the end of HaRav Bergman's stirring hesped, Maran's son, Reb Ephraim Azriel sheyichyeh, recited Kaddish. The levaya then proceeded through Wilkomirrer, Saadya Gaon, Rav Dessler and Chazon Ish streets until reaching the Netzivei Ponevezh cemetery.

The procession moved slowly and the massive throng refused to leave the yeshiva, in its desire to come close to the bier of Maran, leader of Klal Yisroel. His many students refused to part with him and clung to his bier in the heichal, finding it hard to believe that it was being removed from the yeshiva hakedoshoh where he had taught for fifty years.

Finally, after the ushers pleaded with the crowd to make way so that the bier could be taken out of the heichal, the entourage began to move. The procession left the yeshiva at 11:30 AM. It was headed by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, maranan verabonon the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, hundreds of roshei yeshiva, marbitzei Torah, dayanim, morei horo'oh admorim, rabbonim and talmidim.

Throughout the entire procession, talmud Torah children stood beside their rebbes. Thousands of women who had left their Shabbos preparations and tens of thousands of Bais Yaakov students gathered in special sections.

Hundreds of policemen deployed throughout the city closed its entrances to traffic, to allow passage of the entourage. Police forces and security guards hired by the municipality supervised the procession. Police helicopters hovered above, to maintain order and to direct traffic.

The massive stream of mourners filling the city's streets was a magnificent display of kovod haTorah. The scene reminded many of the words of Amos, "In all the streets there is mourning." At a certain point, due to the congestion, the bier could no longer be carried and was transferred to an ambulance, which was followed by the crowd until the cemetery.

The procession along Chazon Ish Street took a long time, and many preceded it to the cemetery. After the taharoh in the cemetery, cries and wails were heard.

Maran was buried at about 2 P.M. in a special plot purchased by his son-in-law. For a long time following the burial, thousands surrounded the grave, finding it difficult to part with Maran, the prince of Torah, Rosh Kol Bnei Hagolah, in whose light all Beis Yisroel was warmed. At the gravesite his son, Reb Ephraim, delivered stirring words of parting.

People remained beside Maran's grave until close to candle lighting time, praying for the deliverance of the entire Jewish people and for personal deliverance. His students sat on the ground, in line with the halochoh that a talmid should mourn his rav muvhak.

Mourning and bereavement enveloped all who accompanied the serid dor dei'oh, leader and guide of Am Yisroel and Torah's great sustainer whom Hakodosh Boruch Hu so mercifully granted our generation.


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