Translated by Esther Mann Snyder The Gaon R' Shlomo Polachek, known by the honorable title, The Ilui (prodigy) of Maytchet (now Molchadz), was born on the fourth day of Hanukah 1877 in the small remote village of Sanitzinitsh near the town of Maytchet. His father, R' Yosef, was a religious person yet a simple country man who worked by leasing the post office and the public bath of the village. His mother was a modest, G-d fearing woman who died at a young age. When he reached school age, R' Yosef brought him to nearby Maytchet to study in a heder (Hebrew schoolroom) where after a while he was called the Ilui of Maytchet, and was praised throughout the world for his learning.
From his early years the child Shlomo'le was discovered to be a wonder child. Immediately after he entered the heder of the Maytchet teacher (melamed) to learn to read Hebrew, he was advanced to the class already studying Humash (Bible), and shortly after he was studying Gemara (Talmud) and he was only five years old! When he could learn no more from the teachers in town his father brought him to the Slonim Yeshiva. The Head of the Yeshiva was at that time R' Hersh from Maytchet, a great scholar, who insisted on accepting only talented youth. At first, he didn't accept Shlomo but after the child showed excellence in Talmud proficiency in an exam of several tractates, the Rabbi agreed to accept him and placed him in the highest class. Soon, even the level of studies in Slonim wasn't challenging enough for his talent, and he transferred to Novahrudak to his learned uncle, R' Mordechai Movshovitz. Shlomo'le learned everything very quickly and with amazing ease, grasped the Talmudic debates and the sharp-witted casuistry (pilpul). He knew how to answer cleverly every question and often expressed ideas similar to those of the great early commentators like the Tosfot, the Maharasha and others, without having previously learned them. His brilliant mind was receptive to Torah learning and his prodigious memory helped him acquire an extraordinary expertise. It was sufficient for him to glance at a certain tractate in order to remember the issue by heart and to understand the depth of the question extremely quickly.
The next and most important station of the child prodigy was the Etz Haim Yeshiva in Volozhyn, which was famed as a place where one could learn with great rabbis and scholars, headed by the Natziv - Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda (R' Hersh Leib) Berlin. His acceptance at the Yeshiva at the age of twelve became known near and far. After he passed the interview with the head of the Yeshiva, where he answered all the questions and apparent difficulties with extraordinary sharpness, he was placed in a Torah knowledge duel against the Rabbi and Gaon R' Haim, the husband of the granddaughter of the Natziv. R' Haim who was later known as R' Haim from Brisk, the Genius of the generation, attacked the young Shlomo'le with all his strength and the youth returned the attack with greater vigor until R' Haim stopped and said with much wonder:
The Prodigy from Maytchet! and he carried this name and memory with much modesty until his last day
|The Genius R' Shlomo Polachek
- the Prodigy from Maytchet
Shlomo's bar-mitzva was celebrated within the Yeshiva, and this was initiated by the Natziv himself. In his special relation to the young prodigy he saw special importance in the life of the Yeshiva and decided to diverge from the usual tradition at Volozhyn. The Natziv invited to his home the important people of the town and held a Mitzva dinner in the boy's honor.
The Gaon R' Haim invited the bar mitzvah boy to give a piplul (casuistic discussion) before those assembled and even suggested to him which citations in the Talmud should be used as a basis for his speech. However, the great spirit and knowledge of Shlomo wouldn't be limited by this framework and he took off and as if floated through many, varied issues which came to his brilliant mind. It was like orchestra players obeying their conductor.
When he completed his first homiletic interpretation to the joy and cheers of the assembled, R' Haim said with fatherly affection: My son, you didn't say what I thought, however, what you did say was better than what I thought. Shlomo's reaction was typical of his modest and humble character - he became very emotional that he had the courage to give a sermon before great Torah scholars until he began to cry out loud. R' Haim then said, My son, don't be sad, also I cried at my bar-mitzva.
|The Rabbanit Haya Rivka Polachek|
In 1892, when the Volozhyn Yeshiva closed, the Maytchet Prodigy moved to the Knesset Bet Yisrael in Slobodka. The head of the Yeshiva, R' Natan Tzvi Finkel, who always praised his Yeshiva as one that was full of talented men and geniuses, was extremely happy with the arrival of the Maytchetnik. However, the way of teaching ethics and morals (musar) in Slobodka wasn't to R' Shlomo's liking. In this Yeshiva they didn't espouse musar that derived from books of repentance but rather that which came from the heart and was expressed by good virtues and deeds, feeling of love for the other, etc. Since R' Shlomo's heart was drawn to his rabbi R' Haim, he left the Yeshiva and went to Brisk to live near his rabbi and to benefit from his inspiration. He set his place of learning in the Bet Midrash Mishmar Kloiz until the time came for him to take the military examination. After he finished his military obligation in Russia, he traveled to Vilna and joined the kibbutz of the Gaon R' Haim-Ozer Grodzanski.
After Volozhyn, he made several stops along the way, however, Vilna was the most important stage in his life and in the formation of his character as the Ilui of Maytchet. Vilna, as is known, was a city where the Haskala (Enlightenment) movement built a base and greatly influenced its surroundings, and even the wall of the kibbutz of R' Haim-Ozer was breached by its influence. Most of the students of the kibbutz, who had already learned much Talmud and Rabbinic decisors (poskim) and wanted to start teaching, began secretly reading secular books, perhaps to become more prepared to lead their future students. However, the Ilui of Maytchet did this openly and set times both for Torah and secular reading, and was among those who looked but were not hurt by the secular knowledge. When the world of science was opened to him, he read many books in Hebrew and foreign languages. He read the Hebrew and foreign language newspapers and took a great interest in the sciences especially mathematics whose sharpness was appropriate to his brilliant mind. A famous professor in Vilna wrote about the Gaon of Maytchet that the world of science lost a great professor of mathematics. His interests were wide and he even played chess where he also displayed his genius and famous players invited him to play against them.
After he was released from military service and his brilliance became well-known, marriageable daughters of rich men and of acclaimed rabbis were suggested to him. However, in accord with his natural modesty, he found his future wife in the village of Ivanitz close to Minsk. He was twenty-three years old when he married Haya-Rivka Rubintzki, the daughter of a wealthy but simple and honest man and it was a good match. However, he hadn't yet found a place to settle down and still had some searching to do. After the wedding, he tried his hand in commerce, but he wasn't meant for it; after he lost his money in a short time, he returned to Vilna to study Torah in seclusion; after a time he was chosen to teach in the Yeshiva in Lida.
At that time the Ilui met with R' Aharon Rabinovitz, the son-in-law of R' Yitzchak-Yaakov Reines, the Rabbi of the town of Lida. Rav Reines, who was one of the founders of the Mizrachi movement, established a Yeshiva in Lida with a nationalist tendency and planned to merge Torah with general education, according to the method of Torah with an occupation which was widespread in Germany; the Ilui was comfortable with this orientation. R' Aharon was the one who had discovered the young Shlomo'le and brought him to Volozhyn and now he rediscovered him and brought him to Lida. R' Shlomo was twenty-eight when he was invited by Rav Reines to come and serve as the head teacher of the Yeshiva and supervisor of the Talmudic section.
The Lida Yeshiva was not just another stop along the way but opened a new period in his life. Until now he was known as a modest, quiet scholar, sitting alone in a corner and diligently studying on his own. From now on, his main attribute and quality as a teacher, educator and Torah lecturer took form. Even more so, he was revealed, also to himself, to be an extraordinary Talmud lecturer who drew crowds of students from all the yeshivas in Russia to listen to his method of study, his explanations and new interpretations. For nine years he taught and lectured as thousands of students thirstily drank in his words, whose basis was in his brilliant logic.
He never wrote down his new interpretations, however his students did so for many years covering 1500 lessons (shiurim), which they used to reread and study. They gave one copy of each lesson to their rabbi/teacher in the hopes that one day, perhaps when he was older, he would edit and publish them. However, due to his moving from one place to another and the travails incurred, which were caused by the difficult times during the first World War and the terrors of the revolution and the following pogroms, the precious treasure was lost. However, copies of some lectures were saved by his students and after he added his latest ideas which he innovated in the Yitzhak-Elhanan Yeshiva in America, the book was published in 1947 in New York; it was entitled New Interpretations of the Ilui from Maytchet. The project was initiated and edited by his son-in-law, R' Yehuda-Leib Goldberg.
Rabbi Reines, the founder of the Yeshiva in Lida, passed away on 14 Elul 1915, as if the heavens darkened so he wouldn't see the destruction. With the dangers of war and its terrors threatening to break down the Yeshiva walls, five days after his passing, the heads of the Yeshiva and about 110 students decided to leave, besides many students who dispersed each to his own destination. Among them were the Ilui, Rabbi R' Avraham the son of Rabbi Reines, R' Eliyahu-Ber the supervisor (mashgiah) and others together with their families. After the many travails they suffered on the roads disrupted by corps of soldiers, the Lida Yeshiva was invited to settle in Yelisbetgrad in southern Russia. Charitable persons from near and far promised to donate to the material sustenance of the Yeshiva.
The Yeshiva was active for six years in Yelisbetgrad, and the Ilui from Maytchet was the moving spirit. He had administered the Yeshiva in Lida for 9 years in comfort and with sufficient means. But here, the Yeshiva was in a situation of poverty and distress, while outside there was fighting and at home fear of hunger and need. Thus hundreds of students sat and learned Torah and wisdom in an isolated island in the midst of a sea of blood, fire and smoke. They hoped that the situation would soon pass and they would be able to return to the good old days. But, the war was over in the rest of the world and only in Russia was there fighting between the revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries, who killed many and especially took out their anger on innocent, helpless Jews. And they reached Yelisbetgrad. There were bloody battles between the red and the white camps that fought each other for control of the government. They erupted into the town and did much damage; there were terrible rumors of gangs of rioters that destroyed many communities across Russia and slaughtered thousands of Jews in strange and cruel ways. The robber Grigori and his gang outdid other gangs and were thirsty for Jewish blood; they attacked Yelisbetgrad and carried out a great slaughter. For three days the murderers rampaged like wild animals and cruelly killed men, women and children. About four thousand Jews were murdered. With great courage the Ilui withstood the tumult of the war and even spread a spirit of calm and safety in the Yeshiva, but the cries of his tortured and dying brothers wounded his heart so deeply that he never fully recuperated until his last day on earth.
Due to the terrible conditions, the Yeshiva had to shut its doors and the students dispersed. Soon after the signing of a peace treaty between Russia and Poland, R' Shlomo acquired a visa to leave the horrible country, and after many weeks of difficult travel and illnesses the family crossed the border to Poland and arrived in Bialystok,
where he taught in the Tachkimoni Yeshiva for a year. Then he received a telegram from America inviting him to teach at Yeshiva Yitzhak-Elhanan in New York. He delayed his answer for a while due to personal doubts as to whether he should continue his travels and go overseas or to stay where he was, since he was tired of moving around.
On the advice of his friends and admirers he decided to travel to America alone to observe the situation and conditions of Jewish life there and whether they would be appropriate for him and his family. After just a short stay he made the fateful decision to accept the position of head of the Yeshiva [Rosh Yeshiva] at Yeshiva Yitzhak Elhanan to the joy of all his friends and those who had heard of him. He immediately sent documents to bring his family to America. They experienced difficulties in travel at that time of troubles and dangers to the Jews and finally reached the safe shores. New York was a large Jewish center where R' Shlomo would be able to administer the Yeshiva and the students in a calm atmosphere and would be surrounded by a respectful attitude and boundless admiration.
Picture Caption: Street sign in Jerusalem. Ha'Iluy Street, named after R' Shlomo Polachek from Maytchet
The Ilui became involved in local activities. He was an active member of Mizrachi and devoted to the idea of a renaissance of the Jewish people in its holy land. He was also a member of the Rabbinical Union of the United States and Canada and learned thoroughly the state of affairs of American Judaism and its complexities. He worked devotedly for the Ezrat Torah fund that gave financial support to rabbis and heads of yeshivas in Europe. He had two more grand plans that he wished to accomplish. One was to visit Eretz Yisrael and see with his own eyes the holy land that was being rebuilt from its desolation. The second was to arrange and publish the Torah interpretations of his admired rabbi, the Gaon R' Haim of Brisk. Unfortunately he became very weak and wasn't able to complete these plans. He served six more years teaching Torah at the Yeshiva, but the terrors and horrors he witnessed in Europe seemed to have entered his blood
and filled his mind with suffering thus leading to his early death after a short illness of two weeks. He was only 50 years old.
He passed away on 21 Tamuz 1928 while still murmuring his last words of Torah on his death bed. His wife passed away in New York on 5 Elul 1949.
If the Ilui of Maytchet wasn't privileged to go physically to Eretz Yisrael, his heart's desire, then he went spiritually. The City of Jerusalem, with the initiative of Rabbi Shaar Yashuv Cohen, Deputy Mayor, decided to memorialize his amazing person by naming a street after him, HaIlui Street, R' Shlomo Polachek, in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, near streets named after Rabbi Reines and other great Torah scholars. In an impressive ceremony that was held on 21 Tamuz 1968 on the 40th anniversary of his passing many participated including his family, city dignitaries, government ministers, past students, many rabbis and yeshiva students and the Chief Rabbi, all of whom had heard of the Ilui of Maytchet as an incredible legend from past days.
Even with the passing of the delicate soul, his story didn't end. His great spirit didn't die. His spiritual legacy that he gave to the people of Israel, his profound Torah interpretations - were held deep in the hearts of his students and his many admirers across the world. The memorial sign granted him in Jerusalem the holy city, was a monument to his blessed memory that will remain in our spirits forever.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the two sons of the Ilui, both graduates of Yeshiva Yitzhak Elhanan, are prominent men of science in the areas that the Ilui was drawn to in his youth. One is Dr. Aharon Polachek - a famous mathematician, expert in the field of electronics and associated with the Atomic Agency of the government of the United States. The second one is Dr. Avraham Polachek - Head of the Faculty of Medical Studies in the Veterans Hospital in Brooklyn.
The Ilui's daughters are: Risha who is married to Yaakov Pines and lives in New York. Libbe is married to Rabbi Yisrael Movshovitz who serves as the rabbi in the Hillcrest Jewish Center in New York and is the Chairman of the Trustees of the synagogue at Kennedy Airport. Sarah and her husband Rabbi Yehuda-Leib Goldberg live in Israel. Rabbi Goldberg is associated with the Chief Rabbinate in Haifa. Two grandsons of the Ilui, the brothers Shlomo and Moshe Goldberg are engineers who also live in Israel.
Translated by Esther Mann Snyder The Gaon [genius] and Hasid Rebbe Yosef-Mordechai Mordkovski ztzl, or as he was called, R' Yashe the Maytcheter, a native of the town of Maytchet was among the finest Hasidim in Slonim, and served as the first head of the Yeshiva Torat Hesed of the Slonim Hasidim in the city of Branovitz; he taught very many students. His wonderful personality and character, a figure carved totally from dignity and wells of spiritual purity filled his whole body.
Rebbe Yashe was a great genius in Torah, pure hearted and devout. His brilliance shone brightly from his face. He was rich in knowledge and ideas, open hearted and great minded, reaching heights as one of the ancient Hasidim - and everything was marked with nobility. In the small Slonim synagogue (shtibel) in Baranovichi the Hasidim used to tell stories about his radiance. From every movement and simple word of R' Yashe, even from every blink of his eye, people would be influenced and felt that here stands a man of wonders who encompasses in his soul all the world and he walks slowly all his life as someone who is walking in the highest sphere called nobility [in Kabbala]. Superior genius emanated from his sharp casuistry (pilpul) on a difficult passage, and he reached the level of nobility when he fervently prayed the Nishmat kol hai prayer. His nobility was adorned with a certain grace, a quality of holiness, natural modesty and all other virtues that noted spiritual refinement.
A Noble Soul
This is how he looked: short stature and slim, bent over and withdrawn, his face adorned with a short yellowish beard and his eyes always shining and sparkling. R' Yashe carried all through his life burdens of torments and suffering. He suffered for many years with incurable tuberculosis of the bones. When they poured iodine on his open wounds for disinfection and cure, his screams made one's hair stand on end. He never
had any respite from his tribulations, not calm, nor peace, yet despite this, joy and happiness was always on his face.
R' Yashe was also dignified in his clothes, his walk and his eating. His character was the living embodiment of the Shulhan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). He was always calm, moderate and never ran nor skipped. If this was the case on weekdays, on Shabbat he walked as is written, He walked with small steps as is appropriate for the escort of the Shabbat Queen. Even on a winter Shabbat, when the road was full of deep puddles and the rain came down in torrents, he didn't, G-d forbid, walk any faster. The dignity of the Shabbat engulfed him with a glow not of this world. Also in his ways of eating he behaved with dignity. Once it happened that he hadn't eaten for a long while and the hunger bothered him, yet when they brought him a loaf of bread, he didn't have a knife with which to cut a slice. R' Yashe relinquished the bread and continued to be hungry. The dignity won out over his hunger
His originality was enchanting. His attitude to every matter was according to his own criteria, with concepts he created himself, the deed of a one of a kind genius. He distanced himself from this world and all its useless materialism; he was much higher than such crassness. He couldn't understand, literally, why a person would need furniture in his home. Once, R' Shmuel'ke sent him from Slonim to Minsk, to live there for a time, so he could influence the Hasidim in the local shtibel and arouse them and reawaken their faith. The community gave him a spacious apartment to live in, furnished beautifully and adorned with expensive drapes. R' Yashe was not used to such things. The wealth, exaggerated comfort and all the material accessories troubled his soul. How could he consent to live in such a place? He invited several of the important Hasidim to sit with him and they sang melodies of devoutness for a few hours and spoke words of faith until R' Yashe felt that air in the apartment was somewhat purified.
R' Yashe was always full of devotion, without being distracted, full of restrained fire. His young students viewed him as an ancient Jew, a Zadik, a righteous person who grew up in the cave of R' Shimon Bar-Yohai. Since the time he went out into the world and saw people busy with the routine tasks of life, his heart became full of wonder, They receive the life of the world, yet they deal with life of the hour!
R' Yashe was a good model also in giving charity. He never had a personal income and all his life he was supported straight from the hands of the Holy One. When someone slipped a loaf of bread into his home, he would, first, estimate its value and put aside maaser ksafim (giving a tenth of income to charity). Once, his friends collected 200 zloti to enable him to travel to the summer resort of Otbotzk for a cure for his pneumonia. As soon as he received the money he put aside maaser (10%), 20 zloti for charity.
He had all the virtues of the Rabbis; all the specialness of a noble soul, those called by the Sages Princes of men, adorned him. His great Rabbi, the Admor, author of the Divrei Shmuel, spoke of him thus, R' Yashe is a gaon in Hasidism as he is a gaon in Torah! Also the great Rabbi Rebbe Mordechai-Haim of Slonim, when he returned to Eretz Yisrael after visiting the author of the Divrei Shmuel, about 70 years ago, spoke about his special meeting with R' Yashe from Maytchet, saying with emphasis, I never imagined that in Lithuania there are such good Jews
A Masterly Pedagogue
Rebbe Yashe excelled in teaching Torah and was a superior educator. He was considered the molder of the character of the new generation of Baranovichi Hasidim, who grew to glory after the First World War.
The days then were chaotic. The Slonim community that had developed there for generations had now reached a condition nearing disintegration. The violence of the war that depressed everything, caused a number of precious and enthusiastic Jews to forget that they were Hasidim, that it was incumbent on them to be connected to the Rebbe. The time was that of the changeover of Admorim due to the passing of the Admor Rebbe Shmuel'ke, ztzl, and they should be behaving as Hasidim. Against the backdrop of spiritual neglect in Baranovichi, R' Yashe appeared as the savior from Maytchet, who moved there with his family. He returned the crown to its former glory as he spoke to each person, with strong faith and kindness, his whole intention was to restore the destroyed altar of G-d. R' Yashe instilled a new spirit in the Hasidim. And they, enthusiastically hastened to the sofer (scribe) to buy new tefillin (phylacteries), to get a new talit katan (four-cornered, fringed ritual garment); the more devoted among them bought extra, new large talitot (prayer shawls) in order to have made from them larger talits according to the mehadrin (meticulous observance) size. Those concerned with cleanliness started again to dip in the mikve (ritual bath) for extra purity for the morning prayer. Old and young, they all were influenced by R' Yashe, and began to travel to Rebbe Avraham, who lived at that time in Bialystok, until he finally agreed to their wish and moved his court and Bet Midrash to Slonim.
(* About this splendid generation see a wonderful description in the collection, Siyum HaTkufah (End of a Period), appendix to the book Zichron Kadosh (Holy Memory), in memory of the Admor Rebbe Shlomo from Baranovichi, published by Yeshiva Bet Avraham, Jerusalem. At the end of the booklet there is a list of the Slonim Hasidim in Maytchet who perished in the holocaust).
At the request of his rabbi, the Admor of Slonim, R' Yashe founded in Baranovichi the Yeshiva Torat Hesed, a place of Torah and education for the young Hasidim. There was a previous attempt to establish this Yeshiva before the World War, by the Admor Rebbe Shmuel'ke and the Gaon Rebbe Zev-Meir Sheinberg, the rabbi of Baranovichi. However, the troubles and pogroms erupted and both these great rabbis died. Now, it was decided to implement this holy idea. R' Yashe was appointed head of the Yeshiva and taught Torah to many. He shared with his students the treasures
of his rich spirit with generosity and an open heart. According to his best students, listening to his lectures was a real spiritual joy. R' Yashe would share with them the pangs of learning, bringing the hard work of his new innovations, learn with them the Talmud with great thoroughness, as if this was the first time he tried to understand and learn the Talmud. After he covered a section with them in a simple fashion, he started to look for the hidden complex issue. When it was found, he attempted together with his students to find a reasonable explanation for the difficulties that had arisen. At the end of the class, that lasted 5 - 6 hours every day, the issue studied became very clear and illuminating.
R' Yashe meant everything to his students: a genius, a righteous man, a hasid, modest and the highest virtue - the noblest character. Every step he took, every breath expressed dignity and refinement. The worst reprimand he was able to give to a student who was talking with his friend about matters not related to the Torah, demonstrates his character: Why aren't you afraid of committing such a serious sin as ‘And you spoke about them and not worthless words! ’
The Virtue of Trust
Two findings happened to R' Yashe without his looking for them, and he told about these things himself. One - on the day that he was to perform the commandment of Pidyon HaBen (redeeming the firstborn) of his son R' Noah, he didn't have any money but his trust was great. He went out to the street and by chance saw a shiny coin sparkling in the light; it was worth five sela.
The second, happened before a holiday; he wanted to visit the Admor but he didn't have the money for a train ticket. R' Yashe wasn't worried because he always said, Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains. If a man must travel to his Rebbe, which is almost like making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the mountains will block his way, that is there are obstacles and he must overcome them. He didn't even consider cancelling his plans which were in his eyes an unbreakable rule. He would say, What do I care about the roar of lions, first I must take a bag of bones (from the Yiddish), and pointed to his body and bring it to the court of the Rebbe. All the rest doesn't matter.
Then he sat and thought - What shall I do? I can't travel by train because I have no money, but in order to go by train my legs have to take me to the station and to the platform and that I can do by myself. Immediately, he packed his bag and left the house. On his way to the platform, he found a silver coin on the street that was enough to pay for the train ticket and he traveled to the Rebbe
R' Yashe passed away at a young age after much suffering and torments. This was at the end of the month of Tishrei, 1931. Two wallets were found in his room. One - where he would put money for Eretz Yisrael; and the second - contained 12 zloti that he had been saving up for almost a year to buy a beautiful etrog for Succot.
No descendants of R' Yashe survived; all his family perished in the holocaust. He didn't leave after him any written studies in Torah. But a few of his best students from Yeshiva Torat Hesed remained alive and his spiritual legacy lived on in their hearts. One of them was the Rav R' Nahum-Zev Barzovski zl who came to Eretz Yisrael in 1935 and later served as the Rabbi of Slonim Hasidim in Bnai Brak until he passed away in 1969. R' Yashe had a wonderful dynamic personality, he was a symbol of nobility - his students reflected the image of their Rav. Another one was his younger brother, the rabbi R' Shalom-Noah Barzovski, the founder and head of the famous Yeshiva of the Slonim Hasidim in Jerusalem, Bet Avraham. He is today one of the geniuses of the generation, a wonderfully talented educator, one of the recognized leaders of Torah Judaism and a prominent personality in the Rabbical Council of Agudat Yisrael. Additional students of R' Yashe live in various places in Israel and abroad, almost all of them excelling in lofty idealism and occupy important educational positions. These include Rabbi Moshe Chichik, the principal of the Ohel Yaakov school in Tel Aviv and others, many who actively fulfill the Torah of life they learned from their much admired rabbi and teacher.
May his memory be a blessing.
After his marriage he moved to the city of Lodz, the Manchester of Poland without the noise and commotion of a large industrial city. Here he was appointed a head teacher in a yeshiva for youth that was established by the Habad Hasidim in that city. He succeeded very well in education and won the affection of his pupils, being considered an exemplary figure. Also in the shtibel (small synagogue) of the Slonim Hasidim he was an admired and accepted person. The young Hasidim followed him as if captivated.
The Nazi holocaust destroyed what was dearest to him, his home and his children. On the day of the bar-mitzva of his eldest child the murderers, may their names be erased, took him and his three younger brothers and slaughtered them. R' Noah himself experienced the horrors of the holocaust and remained alive but his wounded soul never recuperated, the cries of his lost children constantly pierced his heart and kidneys. At war's end he found his way to Czekia to a displaced persons camp, where he taught Torah out of real devotion. He became ill with fatal tuberculosis and from day to day his condition worsened but he didn't cease teaching the surviving youngsters. He received an invitation from Jerusalem, Yeshiva Bet Avraham of the Slonim Hasidim, to come and teach the youth and have a positive spiritual influence but before he managed to respond he passed away.
His younger brother, R' Aharon Isser Mordkovski, zl, a dear, modest and pleasant Jew was among a group of Jews who were taken out of Maytchet by the Germans after the general killings and led to a forced work camp in Kadelichova, near Baranovichi. He died there in G-d's name after a short time. May G-d revenge his blood.
A magnificent figure of a devout Hasid, a superior Hasid, such was the patriarchic personality of R' Yisrael-Zalman son of R' Avraham Halevi ztzl Shlovski, from Maytchet (Molchadz). When I was a young child I met him, when he lived in Jerusalem, after he had lived a long time and passed the age of eighty (gil hagvurot). I was always drawn to him. I liked to look at his radiant face, his long beard white as snow and his goodly eyes like windows of his soul that shown through. I coveted his fervent prayer that was full of yearning and soulful pleading when he led the prayers like a sinning son before his father in heaven. I had a special pleasure when I sat next to him in the Bet Midrash (study hall) and listened to his pleasant voice as he learned Torah so deeply that he forgot about everything else. He would sit studying for many hours without a break, without moving his eyes from the volume before him, not even for a moment. I also stood next to his bed during the last minutes of his life, on the Sabbath evening, Parshat P'kudei of the year 1948, in his simple home in the neighborhood of Bet Yisrael. His eyes were glazed and on his face was spread an expression not of this world.
The Hasidim in the shtibel used to call him one of the remnants of the Great Knesset. My curiosity led to investigate his history. In my naivete I though that the old R' Yisrael Zalman was from that time as if that's the way he looked when he was born. After a time I realized that like all people he went through many stages in his life, from the crib to the grave, but he had what the Hasidim and others said on the festival of Simhat Bet Hashoeva, Happy we are if our youth didn't shame our old age. From his early days his eyes were full of good heartedness, simplicity, innocence and compassion. Even as a child he had a natural tendency to pour out his soul during his prayers, even then he was especially G-d fearing, and even during his lively adolescence he gave all his devotion to learning Torah. The Torah was his delight. R' Yisrael-Zalman loved the Torah with a limitless love. He also loved every Jewish soul as he considered every Jew as a living Torah.
R' Yisrael-Zalman Shlovski was born in Maytchet (Molchadz) in about the year 1863. His father, R' Avraham Halevi, instilled in him the essential seeds of a pure Jewish education and cultivated in him the desire to ponder and study the Torah. But his father died at a young age, before
his son Yisrael-Zalman reached the age of ten. He followed the funeral to the cemetery while crying bitterly and saying loudly, Who will teach me Torah, who will hire for me a rabbi and teacher.
His mother, now widowed, had almost no means. Good neighbors, merciful Jews began to take care of their needs. The diligent orphan was sent to school. When he turned thirteen and became a bar mitzvah he went to study in a Yeshiva in a nearby town and did very well. In addition to his diligence, the boy Yisrael-Zalman excelled in virtues and good manners, was punctilious in performing all the mitzvot (commandments) and fervently said his prayers from memory.
|Rabbanit Zlata||R' Yisrael-Zalman Shalovsky|
The Gates of Hasidism
Despite his young age the neighbors spoke very highly of him, as was done in those days and also from the goodwill of friends who viewed themselves obligated to care for the orphan and in this way to help him recuperate over the great loss to the family. They suggested to him as a bride one of the girls of Maytchet, Zlata whose parents lived in the same lane as his mother who was a widow. He accepted the suggestion and they became engaged to be married. However, the bride to be noted that maybe it was too early since the future groom was only fifteen years old. He hadn't yet studied enough Talmud and Rabbinic decisors (poskim), there was great doubt whether conditions of life would allow him to continue his studies, she said. It was then decided that he would go to learn for another period in the famous Yeshiva in Slonim and rise in his levels of Torah.
Here in Slonim, occurred the biggest turning point in his life. He grew closer to Hasidism. His father wasn't connected to Hasidism and its rabbis. Even he himself wasn't acquainted with and didn't know their way of life. In Slonim there lived a (Zadik) righteous man, Rebbe
Avrahamele Veinberg, a Torah genius (author of the books, Hesed leAvraham, Yesod HaAvoda, Be'er Avraham, and others). He had been the head of the local Yeshiva and after the death of his rabbi the Admor (Head Rabbi and Teacher) Rebbe Moshe from Kobrin, the Hasidim appointed him in his place. This righteous man established a new dynasty, which is the dynasty of the Admors in Slonim for generations to come. His Bet Midrash (study hall) became the center and magnet for hundreds of Hasidim from near and far; the Slonim group grew and spread from year to year and the city became a metropolis of Hasidism in Lithuania. For some time, the young Yisrael-Zalman had a secret ambition to get to know the Zadik and his ways. One day, while he was sitting and learning in the study hall together with his study partner of the same age, Yisrael-Zalman suggested that they both get up and go together to see the Table (tish, in Yiddish) as the Rebbe would hold such Tables also during the week and give Torah lectures to all those in attendance. He had to work hard to persuade his friend to join him. The boys were captivated by the Rebbe's study hall, where the Rebbe sat at the head of a table and gave a flowery, fiery speech about the Torah and musar (ethics and morals). They were extremely excited and moved from the first moment they became Hasidim and stayed with the Rebbe.
When R' Yisrael-Zalman returned to Maytchet for his wedding, everyone noticed that he had become a different man, and pointed to him and whispered in amazement, a new person has arrived in our town! He joined the Hasidim in Maytchet who prayed in a special shtibel (small synagogue) and would travel often to the Rebbe who lived in Slonim. He became integrated into the life of the Hasidim and became like one of them, a born Hasid. However, R' Yisrael-Zalman didn't go too far. He stood with his feet on the ground, taking part in this world, finding work and livelihood from producing candles. The man was great because of his natural simplicity, his innocence, openness, and his graceful speech. The great Admor displayed much affection to this fine young Torah student and this was noticed by the sharp eyes of the veteran Hasidim.
Serves in Sanctity
When the Admor Rebbe Avraham ztzl went to the heavenly Yeshiva, on 11 Heshvan 1884, his grandson Rebbe Shmuel, son of Rebbe Michel-Aharon ztzl, followed him as the head of the community, which he led for 32 consecutive years. The name and fame of the new Rebbe grew and grew from day to day as one of the heads of the Diaspora. He was prominent as an extraordinary personality, a holy man and apart from this world, roaming in higher worlds and yet well integrated into the lives of his followers and trying to improve the general conditions of the people, as a ladder standing on the ground and his head reaching the heavens. The new Rebbe viewed R' Yisrael-Zalman as someone who was worthy to fulfill the role of serving in sanctity [attending the Rebbe's needs]. The Hasidim who asked about this found many hints, and some mentioned the story of the Zadik Rebbe Mendele from Riminov, among the heads of Hasidism in Galicia, who chose as an attendant for himself Rebbe Tzvi Hirsh. When asked what did the Zadik see in this man, he answered, Isn't it written in the Bible, ‘He who walks in the path of innocence and in awe of G-d, he shall serve me’
The purity of the soul of Yisrael-Zalman was now revealed in all its glory. When he heard of the Rebbe's intention, he went to him and apologized submissively, I am very worried, I fear that from such closeness to the Rebbe my mind won't be clear and my Hasidism will be impaired, like the gabbaim (men who stand on either side of pulpit where Torah is read) However, R' Shmuel, who knew very well his character and understood his worry, calmed him and said, I guarantee you, Yisrael-Zalman, you will not be hurt by this.
And indeed, Yisrael-Zalman was not harmed by his new role. For many years he served the Rebbe with awe and reverence, as a servant towards his master. He became a member of the household and very close to him, he decided who and when someone could meet with the Rebbe and he managed the court. Nevertheless, whenever he had to stand before the Rebbe face to face, his heart beat strongly - he was considered one of those who can enter without asking permission. He prepared himself with reverence whenever he entered the holy room, inspected his clothes with care, straightened his beard and sidelocks (payot in Yiddish), retied his sash and knocked with awe on the door.
From now on, he divided his time between Maytchet and Slonim. He spent months with the Rebbe or traveling with him. He knew how to manage all things with wisdom, faithfulness and devotion.
On Sabbaths and Holydays he conducted the activities at the Rebbe's table when the Hasidic community was invited. He served him the foods and at the same time also took care of the guests who had come from other places, read out the names of the people who had contributed and also mentioned the names of the sick and oppressed who needed help. In addition, he listened attentively to the words of the Admor. The day after Sabbath or a holyday, R' Yisrael-Zalman wrote down the Rebbe's words, and the Rebbe checked everything that was written. Once he wasn't accurate enough due to all his tasks and the Rebbe called him and said, You deserve a flogging. R' Yisrael-Zalman was very shocked until one Friday when going to the mikvah (ritual bath) the rebbe took a small branch and pretended to whip him on his shoulders. R' Yisrael-Zalman was relieved as if he had been spared a terrible punishment.
The notes of R' Yisrael-Zalman later on served as the main basis for the collection of teachings of the Admor Rebbe Shmuel ztzl, which were published in a book by Yeshivat Bet Avraham (Jerusalem, 1969) more than fifty years after his death (Divrei Shmuel). In the preface to the book (p.29) it is written that most of the book was based on the notes from the words of the Rebbe, by the holy attendant R' Yisrael-Zalman Halevi Shlovski, zl. Many thanks to R' Eliyahu-Benyamin Tanenhoiz (Kuziel), the grandson of R' Yisrael-Zalman, who while in Europe after the terrible holocaust, as a remnant of the annihilation, went to Maytchet where his grandfather had lived and searched for and found the notes on the roof of the house where they were well preserved, and gave them to us. The episode of finding the notes was publicized in more detail in the newspaper HaModia (Issue 3063, 14 Elul, 1960).
R' Yisrael-Zalman's belief in the sages has no equivalent in this world. Until his last day he used to tell wonderful things about the great Admor, deeds that have witnesses. Here is one story: Once a fire broke out in the home of R' Yisrael-Zalman in Maytchet; the room where he made candles was totally destroyed. All the machines and devices went up in flames - his livelihood was gone. He traveled to the Rebbe to tell of his woe. The Admor asked for details about how the candles were made and he told him the particulars. The Rebbe told him, Listen, G-d gives his blessing that your workshop will produce twice as much. Don't give up, go and build a new room and you will do very well. R' Yisrael-Zalman said at the end of the story that there is nothing to add, what the Rebbe said came true. The righteous man decrees and G-d fulfills.
Lover of All Jews and Judaism
The highest of his noble virtues was his love of Israel - Jews and Judaism. R' Yisrael-Zalman fulfilled the saying, Love your fellow man as yourself in its simple and deep meaning, in a manner so natural and so touching, that a simple pen cannot describe the place that each and every Jew found in his heart.
We remember the words of the Head of the Yeshiva Bet Avraham in Jerusalem, the Gaon Rebbe Shalom Noah Brazovski, in the introduction to his book, Divrei Shmuel, mentioned above (page 25).
And it's worthy to mention here the faithful escort who accompanied the Admor in all his travels, this is, of course, the servant of holiness the famous teacher and rabbi R' Yisrael-Zalman Halevi Shlovski zl. Our Rebbe spoke about him thus: R' Yisrael-Zalman was the best of attendants, of whom it can be said, that if he was great in the position of a faithful shepherd as he was - in his virtues of nobility and goodness - then he was the most appropriate one to be the attendant to the faithful shepherd [the Rebbe himself]. The RYZ loved every Jew even a small child, as if it was his son and brother, and thus became among the Hasidim of Slonim a symbol of loving his fellow man. He was happy in the happiness of others and sad in the sadness of another as if it was his own sorrow. Here is a small detail, but very enlightening, that tells much about the position of attendant to the faithful shepherd. At the funeral of our Rabbi which was held in Warsaw in the midst of the First World war, when no one could enter or leave and the Jews were forbidden to take part in the funeral, what did R' Yisrael-Zalman do? He walked after the coffin the whole long way from the house of the Hasidim of Warsaw to the cemetery. The whole way he said out loud before him all the names of the Jews from tens of shtibels all of whom he knew from memory, the men, women and children. Such was the faithfulness and devotion of the attendant of the faithful shepherd.
Hasidism - the cluster of his life
After the war, R' Yisrael-Zalman was devoted to the young son of the Rebbe, the Admor Rebbe Avraham from Bialystok-Baranovichi (author of the book Bet Avraham on the Torah) who followed his father in the holy service. He was considered, of course, very distinguished by the Hasidic community,
young and old alike surrounded him with waves of admiration. The new Rabbi felt respect and honor for R' Yisrael-Zalman but he himself didn't change and remained a devout Hasid, submissive and self-deprecating before the great Admor. When the Rabbi passed away suddenly, on 1 Iyar 1933, R' Yisrael-Zalman courageously held the community together unified around the young successor, the Admor, Rebbe Shlomo-David-Yehoshua, the only son of the author of the Bet Avraham, whom he cared for very much.
R' Yisrael-Zalman rose to spiritual heights in his relationship with the young Admor. When the young Rebbe, only twenty years old, was crowned, the Hasid who had known his grandfather (author of Yesod HaAvoda) treated the young Admor as his respected rabbi in every way. But not only that: in 1936 R' Yisrael-Zalman and his wife Zlata moved to Eretz Yisrael. After only a few years, the terrible Nazi violence occurred. In this holocaust more than 50 of his descendants perished - sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Only one of them survived, R' Eliyahu Tanenhoiz, today in Jerusalem. And yet when the news arrived R' Yisrael-Zalman accepted it as the will of heaven and didn't complain or cry until his grandson told him that the Admor Rebbe Shlomo-David-Yehoshua was killed by the Nazis. At that moment his heart was torn and he moaned bitterly, Oy to me, also the Rebbe is gone! Also in the following days he couldn't be consoled, saying that the murder of the holy Rebbe wounded his heart even more that the personal tragedy of the murder of so many of his descendants!
The rest of his life he spent in the apartment in Jerusalem that was given for his use by the generous R' Yosef Weinberg, a Slonim hasid, near the home of the Rabbi, the Righteous one, Rebbe Mordechai-Haim Slonim, ztzl, head of his community in Eretz Yisrael. Close to his home stood the shtibel of the Slonim Hasidim in Jerusalem and R' Yisrael-Zalman became the moving spirit among them. It is interesting to note for several reasons the following letter that R' Yisrael-Zalman sent to the Slonim Hasidim in Eretz Yisrael and abroad about two years before his death.
To my dear beloved brothers who are in my heart wherever they may live, may they be blessed and enjoy goodness forever.
I thank G-d for his great benevolence, who let me live and reach old age to live with my people and brothers in Jerusalem, the holy city that should be rebuilt, and enjoy the sight of the excellent young men learning Torah, full of faith and Hasidism, blessed by G-d while we sit in our Yeshiva Bet Avraham in Jerusalem. And our rabbi RYA who worked hard to establish here the cornerstone to Torah and prayer and love of our fellow men in the city of Zion.
In this bitter time, when my heart is broken and torn to pieces from all that happened to our people, that was taken from us all the holy and dear to us in the diaspora and only a few remained, I don't have anything
to console me and revive my painful and wounded soul but only the sound of learning Torah that emerges and rises to me from the wonderful young men of our holy Yeshiva. Dear men who are full of the awe of G-d, who were able to be a model in the time of our Rabbi Yesod HaAvoda that I was privileged to be in his protection.
The sound of the Torah rises to me in my home day and night from the wonderful young men in the Yeshiva and that is my only comfort since I was hurt by the hand of G-d. I remained one of a few from all my precious family and my brothers and friends, may G-d have mercy on us to save us and take us soon to a great light.
I turn to you my dear ones to maintain with all your strength this holy Yeshiva that guards the holiness that will not be extinguished and watch over the holy community of precious youth who shall continue in the path of faith that was passed on to us generation by generation.
By this virtue, the living G-d commanded us to save our remnant and to give blessings of life and peace and good to all the helpers of our Yeshiva. And our eyes should see that G-d will return to his people, Yaakov will be joyful and Israel will be glad.
Your friend and one who loves you from his heart and soul
Yisrael-Zalman Halevi Shlovski
In due course
One night at the end of the month of Adar I, 1948, R' Yisrael-Zalman saw in a dream the Admor Rebbe Shmuel ztzl from Slonim who called out to him, Yisrael-Zalman, come to me! With very much worry he told his friends about the dream. Indeed, after only a few days R' Yisrael-Zalman was called to the heavens. Old and full of days R' Yisrael-Zalman was gathered to his Rebbe in the heavenly Yeshiva, and there serves him. His soul left in purity at midnight on Sabbath eve, 2 Adar II, 1948, at the age of 85.
The days were days of war after the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. The road to the Mt. of Olives, which was the traditional burial place, was totally closed. Therefore, they buried him, after the Sabbath, in a temporary cemetery of Agudat Yisrael on Shmuel HaNavi Street, in northern Jerusalem. A large crowd followed him despite the heavy rains and regardless of the sound of gunshots heard during the funeral. They buried him on condition that when the road to Mt. Olives opened they would bring him to a permanent burial there. After 21 years passed, and following the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War, it was accomplished by his only grandson R' Eliyahu Tanenhoiz. In the month of Adar 1968, the Slonim Hasidim in Jerusalem assembled - including young men who had never met R' Yisrael-Zalman and had only heard about him - to accompany the pride of the group to his last resting place. He was buried in the Prophets Section at the heights of Mt. of Olives which overlooks the place where the holy Temple stood, on Mt. Moriah.
His beloved wife, Zlata, may she rest in peace, passed in Jerusalem on 27 Nissan 1954 at the age of 82 and was buried in the cemetery of Har Hamenuhot.
He was one of the great Hasidism, who visited frequently the elder Hasid Rebbe Mordechai Malkovitz ztzl (died in 1810), an early Admor (Head Rabbi and teacher) in Lithuania. In the pamphlet Ma'ase Avot, appendix to the book Tovat Avot (a collection of Biblical discourses of the Admors from Lakhovitz-Kobrin-Slonim, third edition, Jerusalem, 1970) appears this story:
Our Teacher (Maran) SK from Slonim heard from Our Holy Rabbi and Teacher Rebbe Nahum Shub zl this story from the early days when Rebbe Shalom zl still was a rabbi in Maytchet and Rebbe Nahum zl was a shohet and bodek (ritual slaughter and inspector) and both were very poor. One day one of the Hasidim went to Lakhovitz before Shabbat and when he bade farewell to R' Shalom he asked him to please mention him to the Rabbi SK and say in his name, What is the purpose of his leaving me such a poor man that I don't even have a piece of bread to eat? The hasid did as he was asked and when he returned to Maytchet he told RS the words of the Our Teacher (Maran), Tell R' Shalom, that I thought that when he became old he would request from me high levels and illuminations in the Torah and prayers, and yet at the end he asks for food.
Later, after the second Shabbat, RS visited Our Rabbi and the whole time he was with him he didn't mention anything. When he was about to leave, the SK said to him, R' Shalom, Do you believe that a real Jew is able to know the root of the soul of a man of Israel in all his reincarnations?; one who already passed to the root of the soul of the first man, Adam, and in all the reincarnations that he will still have to experience until the coming of the Messiah. And RS answered, I believe. Again he asked, do you have anything else to ask? And RS answered, I have nothing more to ask. And then his heart was calm. Later, Our Rabbi zl arranged for him to be appointed to the Rabbinate in Vilyeyka, and told the people of the town that they must supply all his needs. That is that he should have chicken or meat for lunch every day and there should be people at his holy table every day of the week, and he should be comfortable.
Rabbi R' Yaakov-Sender Grinberg was the last of the rabbis in Maytchet, and he perished in the Nazi holocaust, dying a hero's death (as will be told), and was one of the best young rabbis among the Lithuanian (Lita) Jews in Poland. He was a great scholar, brilliantly talented, with a broad vision and horizons, a wonderful speaker and active in public matters. From his youth he stood out as a perfect personality and he was known in the world of rabbis and Yeshivas.
|Rabbi R' Yaakov-Sender Grinberg|
He was a scion of a family of geniuses and Hasidim. His father, R' Avraham Grinberg zl from Slonim was the son of the Our Teacher (Maran) from Drobin, one of the respected members of the Gur Hasidim in Poland, who was a devout follower of the great Admor Rebbe Yehuda-Leib Alter zl, author of the book Sfat Emet. The rabbi from Drobin decided at one point to leave his community and move to Slonim. This was after he received the approval of his Rabbi who conditioned the move that his child would study with the same teacher with whom studied the sons of the Admor Rebbe Shmuel'ke from Slonim. Thus R' Avraham Grinberg studied with the same teacher as the young son of the Rebbe, who was later known as R' Avraham'le,
the Admor (Head Rabbi) of future Hasidim, known also by the name of his book, Bet Avraham. When R' Avraham grew up he married Miriam-Gittel, the highly intelligent daughter of the Hasid R' Moshe Mintz zl, who was associated with the father of the Slonim dynasty, the Admor author of Yesod Ha'avoda. He was one of the important personages, a wonderful man who served G-d all his life; he was both intelligent and clever and didn't seek honors. All their descendants followed the path of Torah, the boys in Yeshivas and the girls in the school Bet Yaakov of Agudat Yisrael. Rabbi Yaakov- Sender was the eldest of the sons and he had two brothers. One was Rabbi and Gaon Rebbe Haim-Haikl who wrote a few books of Halacha (Jewish law) and served as a rabbi in the town of Keneh (today named Kamajai and is north of Vilna) and served also as a member of the Committee of Publishers of Vilna. He fled during the holocaust traveling through Japan and China to Eretz Yisrael. He was a neighborhood rabbi in Tel Aviv and a publisher of rabbinic journals from time to time until he passed away on 15 Heshvan 1970. The second brother was the Rabbi and Gaon Rebbe Shmuel, who studied in the Mir Yeshivas in Poland and America and now lives in Brooklyn.
Rabbi Yaakov-Sender excelled in his studies even as a youth. He was gifted with a sharp comprehension and a great desire to know and understand, was blessed with personal charm and many youth of his age befriended him. He had a fiery personality and was always looking for new spiritual ideas and seeking wider horizons. At a very young age he began learning Torah in the local Yeshiva in Slonim from the Head of the Yeshiva the Gaon Rebbe Shabtai Yogel ztzl (who, at the end of his life, was living in Ramat Gan and started a Yeshiva there in place of the one that was destroyed in the holocaust). He also studied with the staff of teachers until his Torah knowledge became so scholarly that he was able to make new interpretations of the texts. He was in the highest class of young Hasidim who were studying in this mitnaged (against Hasidism) Yeshiva, as the leader of the group. He spent a short time in the Radin Yeshiva, the Yeshiva of the Hofetz Haim, and in other yeshivas until he was ordained as a rabbi. Due to his good reputation he was invited by the Admor from Stolin-Karlin to be the Head of the Yeshiva that was built by him and called Bet Yisrael. Here, was spread before him a wide field to teach Torah. He had an excellent manner of speaking, with interesting and illuminating explanations, with pedagogic exegesis and therefore his students thirstily drank in his words. While he was still at the beginning of his career, people foresaw a shining future for him like a rising star. Thanks to the efforts of the Admor of Slonim, who was close to him, he was exempted from military service in the Polish army (this episode is told fully in the collection Ahimeir that was published by his brother Rabbi Haim-Haikl, in Tel Aviv, Summer, 1968). The small community in Brosh (near Volkovisk) invited him to become their Rabbi.
From there he came to Maytchet. Theoretically, he was appointed to the position of local rabbi but in practice he was part of the public Jewish life in all Poland-Lithuania whether in his energetic work for Torah education or in his integration into the organization of Agudat Yisrael. His lively personality didn't allow him to rest on his laurels. He corresponded about halachic questions with the great rabbis including the Gaon Rebbe Haim-Ozer Grodzanski from Vilna. These letters were the basis of his important book on the laws of divorce, Kochav MeYaakov, which was printed close to the beginning of the Nazi holocaust.
When the days of wrath arrived Rabbi Grinberg stayed with his community and didn't leave them. Together with them he shared the cruel fate. He proved his courage on the threshold of death, when the Germans came to his home in the summer of 1942 to seize him together with all the Jews of Maytchet who were being taken to execution. He stood up against the murderers, grabbed an axe and courageously attacked the German officer who stood before him and severely beat him. This action made an inerasable impression on the people. However, a few hours later he was caught again by an armed corps that led him to the road from which no one ever returns.
May his memory be blessed.
When Rebbe Nahum Shub was young he lived in Maytchet and his prayers shone brightly. He was very poor and lacked even a piece of dry bread, all his livelihood came from the Holy One He quieted his hunger with Torah and sated his thirst with prayers reaching the heavens as was done in Lachovitch, and all his bones would sing and pray. And yet when the Admor Rebbe Mordechai Malkovitz ordered him to move to Slonim to work as a shohet and bodek (ritual slaughter and inspector) and his meals would be given to him, he complained to his rebbe:
-- What did you want from my life, what was I lacking in Maytchet? In Slonim I don't have the lofty Sabbaths that I had there. And the prayers also aren't as they were there, not shining enough when I was hungry and wore one shirt for seven weeks, then I prayed in a completely different manner
Aharon Sorski (The Hasidic Greats, in HaModia HaTzair, Jerusalem, issue 185, p. 8)
R' Yitzhak Gratzikovitz zl was one of the notables in the Maytchet community. He was the son of Moshe Aharon Gratzikovitz, a well known figure among the Slonim Hasidim in Baranovichi, and married one of the young woman in Koslovich, a village near Maytchet. He made his home there, managed a flourmill that was driven by the power of the stream of water from the river and was blessed with 8 lovely children. He lived for while in the town and shared the fate of the Jews of Maytchet during the holocaust, when he moved with his family into the town and lived there until the bitter end.
R' Yitzhak had a dear, fine soul, all the good virtues and was loved by all; he was a charming person. He was known as a real Hasid that all his bones will say. In the winter days he would sometimes use an axe to break the ice, which was half a meter thick, in the river in order to perform a ritual immersion before he prayed in order to add sanctity and purity to his prayers. His rabbi the Admor Rebbe Avraham'le ztzl from Slonim loved him very much and showed special attention to him before all the Hasidim, something done rarely, and was also pleased when R' Yitzhak would assist him - which was considered special honor. Everyone who knew R' Yitzhak well was ready to swear that the man was totally without an evil inclination, was without any tendency to sin and see ugliness in the world - he was by nature good and did good deeds. It was as if all his being was merged with the root of goodness under the sun.
Even his exterior appearance was charming. He was tall and stood erect, a strong build and courageous. Because he lived alone in the desolation near the flourmill, he always had a gun (licensed from the Polish government) and the wicked feared to annoy him.
He perished on Kiddush HaShem (martyrdom) together with his family, murdered on Rosh Hodesh Av 1942, and was buried in a mass grave together with the rest of the martyrs from Maytchet.
May G-d take revenge on his blood.
A handsome young man, clever and sharp - so was Rebbe Meir-Meirim in his youth. His great diligence in studying the Torah and his wonderful purity were greater than his natural qualities. While still quite young he found his place among the great scholars in Kobrin, and was considered a gaon (genius) and very devout.
When he reached the age of 15 the Maytchet community appointed the amazing young Ilui (brilliant one) as its rabbi, (as described in his book Nir, H'A). He was perhaps the youngest rabbi in history. He quickly became admired by the residents who immediately saw his brilliance and greatness. He was gifted with a quick and sharp grasp of matters. It is told that on his first Shabbat as rabbi in Maytchet, all the Jews thronged to his home to welcome him. When the people came to his home again during the week they were surprised to find him sitting and learning Torah with his face to the wall, not turning his head to see who had come. When he was asked about it he answered that he recognized the sound of each one's footsteps from the first time they came to visit. Through the years RMM (Meir Meirim) went from Maytchet through the glorious communities of Vishnova and Shvintzion, to carry on the crown of the rabbinate in Yakovshtat, the great city. His reputation preceded him. In a short time he became known as one of the geniuses of the generation, people from all places sent him Jewish law questions, great gaonim of the generation read his answers and quoted his innovations in their books, using them to glorify their own ideas.
One halachic discussion with the RMM out of many we find, for example, is in the book of responsa (answers to questions posed) of the Posek (decisor) of the generation, the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak-Elhanan Spector, head of the Rabbinical Tribunal in Kovno, Shut Eyn Yitzhak ( 8 Even Haezer, para. 34) who quoted him. And also in the collection Tvuna edited by Rebbe Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Musar (ethics and morals) movement, there is an important Torah article by the RMM.
Word of his innovations on the Jerusalem Talmud spread and amazed rabbis and scholars with their originality, their depth and honesty. During his work going through a version with defects in the text, he would re-arrange some passages and make corrections or study an especially difficult wording, the gaon was able to solve many questions and complications and refute casuistry that was given about a problem that actually did not exist. It is told of the famous gaon of Slonim, Rebbe Eizl Harif, known as having amazing expertise in the Jerusalem Talmud and was called a Tanna [one of the rabbis of the time] of the Jerusalem Talmud. He once sat at a party with some of the great ones of the generation including Rebbe Meir Meirim, and spoke about his innovations while the others tried to refute them and who attempted with all their intelligence to contradict his words. Rebbe Meir Meirim who sat to the right of Rebbe Eizl didn't take part in the discussion and was silent. Sometimes when R' Eizl read a passage, Rebbe Meirim quietly hummed a different melodic reading, as if meaning to say: the simple interpretation is totally different, instead of the melody of a difficult issue the passage should be read with the melody of a pause,
of a Tanna helping to understand the passage. The Gaon of Slonim was surprised, he silenced the debaters and yelled out: why do you need these pilpulim (casuistry) and refuting my words, here is Rebbe Meir Meirim who in his melodic reading refuted my whole case
Parts of his writings on the tractates of the Talmud (Zeraim - Warsaw, 1875; Moed - Vilna, 1890; Nashim) were published after death, by his children and grandchildren who later became the foundation stones of the scholarly writing on the Jerusalem Talmud. In addition, he wrote a book entitled, Luloaot (Vilna, 1876).
His character and personality were preserved in the tradition of wonderful stories. He was very modest and full of virtues. Once he traveled in a train car full of Jews, as a regular man. One of the travelers, somewhat capricious, noticed the gaon because he was wearing a small talit (four-cornered, fringed ritual garment) under his clothes next to his skin and another one on top of his clothes, in order to fulfill both opinions on how one must wear it. The man started to mock him, annoy him and even to humiliate him. When they reached the city a large group awaited at the station to welcome the Rebbe. The man quickly realized his mistake and went to the Rebbe's home to apologize saying that he didn't know whom he was insulting. He added a request, that he was about to receive employment from a rich person in town, and please would the Rebbe not spoil his chances and not mention the occurrence to anyone. But the Rebbe responded, I will do even more than that, I will go with you to the rich man and recommend you because if I do not repay you with a good deed in place of a bad deed, then I worry that I won't fulfill the instruction, ‘not to hold a grudge’.
Another time, a simple person humiliated him before the members of the community. Rebbe Meir-Meirim remained silent, forgave the insult and even behaved nicely to him. The members of the community came to him with an argument: Rebbe, isn't it true that a Torah scholar who doesn't take revenge like a snake is not really a scholar? The Rebbe answered: Listen. If I had taken revenge and after a long life I arrived at the court of heaven and they would ask me, why I took revenge. I would answer: What do you mean why, every scholar who doesn't take revenge Nu, imagine the laughter there. Now that I haven't taken revenge, when I will be asked why didn't I take revenge, since a scholar must take revenge on the insult to the honor of the Torah. I would answer them: I didn't know that I was a Torah scholar, how would I know?
His great wisdom that was demonstrated in his judgments became known. Even non-Jews who were involved in a dispute came to him for a resolution of their argument. He was asked why he refuses to take payment from the non-Jews yet he agrees to take from the Jews. He answered, my Jews know that it is only payment for time taken away from learning Torah, but the gentiles will think it is payment for the judgment and that is forbidden.
One case that came before the Rebbe involved a father and his son. The father claimed that his son was obligated to pay for his clothes and to support him. The son claimed, on his side, that he was very poor and had no money to pay for such things. The Rebbe delayed the decision until the next day and told them he would deal with the matter publicly. However, they should reverse their claims: the son should claim that he wants to clothe and support his father but the father will argue that he would not take a penny from his poor son. And so it occurred that this strange case was argued before a crowd and the Rebbe
Meir Meirim gave a true decision saying that the rich people in the community should see to it that the son will have enough money to support his father and thus the father and son became reconciled.
Later he was appointed the Rabbi of the city of Kobrin, where lived the Admor Rebbe Moshe ztzl, and where RMM lived until his last day. When The Admor of Kobrin passed away, the RMM followed the new Admor, the Gaon and Righteous One Rebbe Avramele from Slonim, who authored the books Hesed L'Avraham and Yesod HaAvoda. Both of them also became connected through marriage when the daughter of Meir-Meirim married the grandson of the Rebbe, the Rebbe Yitzhak Matityahu Sandberg. The young couple moved to Eretz Yisrael, 100 years ago and made their home in Teveriya (Tiberias) and built a large family. (One of their granddaughters, daughter of Rabbi Pinhas Mintzberg, son-in-law of the Rebbe Sandberg, married R' Eliyahu Tananhoiz (now in Jerusalem) the grandson of the Hasid R' Yisrael Zalman Shlovski zl of Maytchet, about whom we wrote in a previous chapter.
It is told about Rebbe Meir Meirim that he never spoke a false word. Once he was asked to give false testimony in order to save the life of a Jew being taken to his hanging. To save a life (pikuah nefesh). He was very upset and prayed to G-d to save him from telling a lie. And on that very day, he passed away. It was on 6 Heshvan 1874.
A Call for Help
By the Rabbi, R' Yisrael-David son of Yehuda, Head of the Rabbinical Court in Maytchet. Appeared in the newspaper, Hatzfira, 20 Iyar (20 May)1879.
The people of our town had not yet forgotten the anger of G-d three years ago, when many homes were set on fire and burned down to the ground. And now, G-d's hand touched us again on the Sabbath eve; when everyone was asleep, a loud scream awakened them from their sleep. The fire came from G-d and burned all the houses and stores in town with all their possessions, and no one escaped the damage. And despite the prayer houses in town, G-d spilled his anger and the great synagogue built beautifully, that was just completed and the Bet Midrash (study hall) with the Torah scrolls all were destroyed in the conflagration in the city of Maytchet.
It was a dark and tragic Sabbath day that was lit with flames. Oh! Whose heart will not be bereaved over the calamity that turned the city into a desert and many people were starving. Therefore, I will tell all the faithful tribes of Israel about the terrible disaster which happened to us. And you, the readers of Hatzfira, with the G-d of Abraham who always has mercy, please have pity and mercy on the wretched people of our town and bring them help from afar as was done by the cities near us, and especially the Rabbi R' Yosef Rozen, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Slonim.
This will be a wonderful charitable deed.
One distressed by the distress of his people, Yisrael-David son of R' Yehuda.
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