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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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.