By E. Leoni
The Volozhin Jewish Community Origins
Translated by M. Porat zl and edited by Mike Kalt and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
According to our sources, Volozhin was founded in the 15th Century. The Volozhin estate belonged then to the Volozhin counts, who originated from the counts of Oshmiana. The village was a part of the Oshmiana district in Vilna Guberniya.
The creek Volozhinka (Wołożynka) crossed the town from north to south. The stream's name probably became the town's name. It is also told that oxen flocks encamped here on their way from Minsk to Vilna. It is claimed that Vol (Woł) is the origin of the name of the town Vol in Russian means ox. The shtetl is situated 56 km from Oshmiana, and 112 km from Vilna. The Volozhinka stream pours out into the Islotsh (Isłocz) River.
Jews settled there during the second half of the 16th century. 383 Jews lived there between 1764 and 1766, 590 in 1847. The population was 2,528 in 183 houses in 1867, and 2,466 in 523 houses (including two mansions) in 1893, of which 1,900 were Jews. 2,452 Jews lived there in 1897.
Fishel Schneerson describes its topographical shape: Volozhin, a small little town, is situated on the Minsk to Vilna highway. It is surrounded on several sides by low mountains, which impart some measure of importance to the town. It seems that the mountains summoned the town to superior actions. The shtetl is divided in two parts; the upper one is situated on the hilltop and is called Arooftsoo Up Hill. The second part, on the east, is positioned in the Volozhinka Valley, and it's called Aroptsoo Down Hill.
The Volozhin soil was excellent to raise cattle and horses and to cultivate flax. Those were the
main products to sell at the bazaars that gathered 4 times each year at the town markets, as well as at the smaller weekly market days. (Translator's note: one of them uphill at the Market Square in the town center, the second one down hill at the Horses Market on the right shore of the Volozhinka.) At the end of the 19th century there existed in Volozhin a linen factory, owned by Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. As Rabbi Meir Berlin explains, It was not long before he (i.e. Rabbi Hayim) came to Volozhin and became… the owner of a textile factory. Forty years ago, it was still possible to see a ruin in Volozhin, which, as was told, was the place of this factory.
(The intersection of Vishnayava and Horochki Streets)
Similarly, the Jews earned their livelihoods from leasing from the landowners and purchasing grain from the villagers. This can be surmised from the sermon of Rabbi Hayim, which states, And the rest of the people must understand that perhaps, Heaven forbid, they will stumble in the sin of competition. For, in our abundance of sins, it is very common in our times for people to go to the market to purchase grain from a gentile, as well as by adding to the lease fees. This matter seems permissible to the masses of the people, and people should lament this..
In time, Volozhin transferred to the ownership of the Czartoryski counts. The Volozhin estate, including lands of the area containing 81 villages and hamlets, passed into the possession of count Jósef Tyszkiewicz in 1803, It passed to his son Jósef in 1839. His son Michal received a portion in 1844. From 1894, it transferred completely to the ownership of Michal Tyszkiewicz.
Jósef Tyszkiewicz transformed Volozhin from a big hamlet to a little, but nice, town. He planted a beautiful garden on the banks of the Volozhinka, as well as a small grove. In the garden, there were fruit trees nonfruit trees, all types of vegetables, flowers, animals, and birds brought from distant places. All this was tended appropriately by the servants and employees of Count Tyszkiewicz.
It is interesting that the lands of Volozhin transferred to the ownership of Jósef Tyszkiewicz in the same year that Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin founded the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva (5563 1803). Rabbi Hayim built the Yeshiva in 1807, and Count Tyszkiewicz helped him greatly. He cut trees from his forest, and his workers constructed the planks and boards for the building of the Yeshiva.
Friendly relations between the family of the count and the household of the rabbi became a tradition. Just
as of Jósef Tyszkiewicz was friendly with Rabbi Hayim, relations between the count's son Michal and Rabbi Hayim's son Itsele (Yitzchak) were particularly strong, to the point that the count summoned a sculptor to Volozhin to make a porcelain bust of Rabbi Itsele, to place inside his palace.
A student of Volozhin from three generations ago testifies about this:
I recall from my early youth, when I merited to be a student of the great Yeshiva of Volozhin, I was told that the there were old, valuable objects in the palace treasury of the Polish count Tyszkiewicz, located in the large garden in that small city. There was a portrait of Rabbi Yitzchak Volozhiner sculpted from porcelain.
The first Volozhin Community head was Rabbi Yitzchak, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin's father. The Itskhakin family had settled in Volozhin in the 16th century, and were among the first Jews who settled there. They laid the foundations of the community.
We have testimony from Rabbi Yitzchak's son, Rabbi Hayim, regarding the effectiveness and essence of Rabbi Yitzchak as the head of the community
Once on the Holy Sabbath during the meal, a statement of our sages (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 1) was presented before our rabbi of the Diaspora, the Gaon and Hassid Rabbi Hayim, may the memory of the holy be blessed, of Volozhin. The Gaon Rabbi Hayim of blessed memory was surrounded by his primary students, that is, his son, the great Gaon, the prince of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak, may the memory of the holy be blessed, as well as other honorable great people. The following is the statement of our sages: Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A communal administrator who raises himself with pride above the community not for the sake of Heaven, does not merit to have a son who is a scholar. The Gaon Rabbi Hayim of blessed memory said as follows: If a communal administrator rules proudly over the community for the sake of Heaven, he is blessed to have a son who is a scholar. Faithful testimony to this is the honor of my master, my father, of blessed memory, who was a communal servant. The people listened to his voice, and he conducted his communal service in a high fashion, as was the custom of our Jewish brethren of those times, when the leaders of the community, headed by the administrator (parnas), ran the city in accordance with Torah and the commandments, as well as in accordance with the law of the state. However, we also know that the community and its servants always looked out to not impinge of the honor of the great ones, but would not pay attention to the lowly householders and impoverished people, knowing that they would not dare to be brazen to their communal leader. However, my honored father, of blessed memory was very careful to avoid imposing upon them with fees and the like. Even though the people trembled before him, he ruled over them for the sake of Heaven, and therefore merited to have a son who was a scholar, and who would have been considered a scholar even during the times of the Mishnaic and Talmudic sages. This is my brother Rabbi Zelmele.
Already from the first days of Volozhin, its children were educated in the spirit of the Torah and commandments. The head of the community was the father to the poor, and concerned himself with their needs.
Rabbi Yitzchak married a wife from the Rapoport family, one of the oldest families of European Jewry. The name Rapoport comes from the family of Rofeh [doctor] from the city of Porto in the Verona district of Italy. The heads of the Rapoport family escaped from Germany to the city of Porto in the year 5222 (1462) due to persecution and murder. There, they increased greatly. In the year 5227 (1467), we hear that the prominent Rabbi Hayim Katz Rofeh attempted to settle many Jews in the Holy Land. Rivka, the wife of Rabbi Yitzchak, was the daughter of Rabbi Yisrael HaKohen Rapoport, who died in Vilna on 12 Av, 5540 (1780). Her illustrious son, Rabbi Hayim, maintained a correspondence with her father regarding halachic questions and responsa. One responsa is published in Chut Hameshulash (section 11, 27).
Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin Great Teacher & Educator of the Community of Volozhin
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Rabbi Hayim, the rabbi and educator of the Jews of the Volozhin, was one of the great forgers of ideas in Jewry during the latter generations.
His son, Rabbi Itzele, describes the Torah oriented educational activity of Rabbi Hayim in the introduction to Nefesh HaHayim:
Even though the majority of the words in his explanations stand in the high places of the world, based on the Zohar and the writings of the Ar'i [Rabbi Isaac Luria] of blessed memory through his righteousness he would cloak them, simplify them and conceal them so as not to exalt his words as if he was explaining hidden [trans: i.e. mystical] ideas. He would sweeten them as honey and milk under his tongue and spice under his garments, so that he could explain them clearly to the masses. This was so that the many who had not filled themselves with Talmud could purify their deeds in the proper spirit of fear of Gd, and not stumble in emptiness and meaninglessness…
He would not refrain from telling over a section of the weekly Torah portion on a daily basis after the morning prayers. All who entered the Beis Midrash would exit full of content, each one having absorbed in accordance with their way. Those who loved simple explanations would absorb the depth of his simple explanation of scripture, and those who expounded ideas (exegetes, who knew how to explain passages of scripture via innuendo) expounded on what they heard, on that which emanated from his mouth in brief. All the listeners rejoiced with the sweetness of his lips that spoke clearly, as one reading a section of Torah to schoolchildren. This good deed was so precious in his eyes, that he left any holy matter and ran to the Beis Midrash while the congregation was still worshiping, and young and old were there.
The pedagogy of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin was based on the adage of our sages, we give over to
a person in accordance with his strength. That means, there must be correspondence between the power of understanding and the depth of the idea. Rabbi Hayim did great things with this concepts he planted the thirst for Torah in the hearts of the Jews of Volozhin. Rabbi Nisenbaum writes the following about this thirst in the latter generations:
The students would also visit the home of Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik and engage in didactic discussions with him on words of Torah. At times, they would bring in his name some question to the Yeshiva, where almost all the students would busy themselves with finding the answer for him. Then, they would disperse to the Beis Midrashes of the city to search in many books, for perhaps they might find something.
Rabbi Hayim's educational principle was that half understanding, partial understanding that does not delve into the depths of the issue, is worse than no understanding. Let a person's learning always be clear and clean; that is, fundamental understanding. Rabbi Hayim applied this principle to himself. He learned and reviewed, and never stopped until the matter became clear to him. Reb Itzele writes the following in the introduction to Nefesh HaHayim:
He would exert effort to contradict his own words. He would review his words and deliberate over them with the scale of his intellect, how to come to the truth with straight logic and proper consideration. Someone who sees this will understand the wisdom that is thereby expressed, how he would minimize his intellect in his eyes. He had a lowly spirit [translator: i.e. was humble], as our sages have said: The words of the Torah are retained only by a person of a lowly spirit (Taanit 7a).
The teaching of Rabbi Hayim include the doctrines of godliness and of moral teaching, that demonstrate to a person how to attain wholesomeness. Rabbi Hayim brought his own proofs regarding Torah that were taught by the early sages, that Gd is not immanent, not immersed in the internals of the world, but rather transcendental, over and above the world. His words are as follows:
Why do we use a euphemism for the name of the Holy One Blessed Be He, and call him Makom [trans: the place i.e. the Omnipresent One], because He is the place of the world, and the world is not his place. Just as a place tolerates and holds some object placed upon it, in this ideation, the Creator and Master of All, His Name Be Blessed, is the true place, that bears and maintains the worlds and all of its creatures. If, Heaven forbid, He would remove his energy from them for even one moment there would be no place for existence of all the worlds, as is stated: ‘And You maintain them all.’ This is the point of foundation cornerstone of the faith of Israel.
In other words: spirituality is the decisive reality. Without it, it, things are inanimate matter and devoid of any meaning or purpose.
Just as a vessel standing in some place, even though the vessel has its own reality nevertheless, if the vessel did not have a place upon which to stand
it is as if it never existed. Thus, even though the world itself is perceptible and seems as its own reality He Whose Name Is Blessed is its place.
On account of The Place as the essence of the Creator, there is a support for physical essence, and its reality is dependent on His reality. Regarding the essence of Gd, Rabbi Hayim testifies to the faith with the intuition of the soul, and its proof is based on a deep connection: the Creator exists without connection to the physical world, and His reality is metaphysical. He is the founding source of the human soul. The relationship of the soul to the body is like the relationship of the Creator to His world. That is, even though it (the soul) is not a body, but is rather has the concept of an independent vessel it is the place of the body, and gives it a hold on reality. The transcendental reality of the soul of a person is guarantee of its eternity.
The faith in the influence of the soul is the actual reality with respect to the life of a human being, for the reward in the World To Come does not come in a box as a matter guaranteed from the outset, but is rather the result of good deeds and toil in Torah.
Everyone is happy with his lot says Rabbi Hayim in his explanation and relies on the Mishnah:
All of Israel has a share in the World To Come, as is said, ‘Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, wherein I glory.’[i].
However, they do not pay attention to the continuation of that Mishnah, which states:
And these are the ones who have no share in the World To Come: One who denies that the resurrection of the dead is in the Torah, that Torah is from heaven, and an Apikoros [heretic].
(Tractate Sanhedrin 10:1).
And this is the matter of the reward of the World To Come, which is based on the deeds of man himself. This is what our rabbis of blessed memory stated: ‘All Israel has a share for the World To Come’ and not ‘in the World To Come,’ for the World To Come is the work of man himself, who broadens and prepares the share (that is the share in the World to Come) for himself through his deeds.
Rabbi Hayim devotes a large place in his teaching to the moral education of man, purifying his traits and way of life. A life of justice and righteousness is preferable to the study of Torah. A person who studies Torah and worships with devotion, but steals from people and occupies himself with theft and deceit after his study and prayers the Torah denigrates him as someone who immerses [in a ritual bath] with the unclean creature still in his hands. Separating from sin is the precondition for the study of Torah.
Apparently we will be amazed when we see how many people confess with a whole heart and request
forgiveness and atonement for sins, but it is worthless, for the main point of repentance is abandoning sin. However, there is no benefit to this matter, for the essence of repentance is abandoning sin, especially sins committed in a repeated fashion to the point where it seems to the person as something permissible, for he becomes very attached to it and it is difficult to abandon it. Regarding this it says, ‘let the wicked person abandon his sins’ [translator: Isaiah 55:7]. That means that the sin has already become consolidated with him, and he is then called a wicked person. Thus, he should first abandon his and then ‘he will return to Gd.’
There is no value to confession without abandoning sin, for a person is liable to continue the sin even after the sin on account of being accustomed to it, as is stated ‘as a dog returns to his vomit.’ [translator: Proverbs 26:11] (A sermon of the Mahara'ch [Rabbi Hayim].
Rabbi Hayim warned the Jews of Volozhin to keep away from inappropriate competition in business that might impinge on a person's livelihood:
And the rest of the nation must understand, perhaps Heaven forbid they will stumble in the sin of competition, for, in our great sins, it is very common in our times when people go out to the marketplace to purchase food from a gentile. His friend may come and also wish to purchase the same merchandise about which the first person is still negotiating with the gentile, and does not want the second person, who is already discussing with the gentile, to get it. When the second person sees this, he becomes jealous of his friend who is purchasing it for a low price. Even though he knows that the merchandise will remain with the first person, he offers a price greater than the gentile himself asked. On account of this, the first person is forced to give the gentile this price. It is the same with regard to adding to leasing fees. This matter has turned into something regarded as permissible to the masses of the people. Let all moaners moan about this, for who shall say that my heart has merited this. (sermon of the Mahara'ch).
Just as every person is required to be of clean hands and a pure heart there is a doubled and redoubled obligation on the communal activists and leaders:
And the leaders must ascertain for themselves about whether, Heaven forbid, they are lording over the community not for the sake of Heaven. For even if they are occupied in a holy matter, if their intention is merely to increase their own honor, and not for the sake of Heaven they are in the category of those who impose their fear in the land of the living, Heaven forbid. (sermon of the Mahara'ch)
The problem of reward and punishment is dependent on the importance and value of the person, for the greater the person the more he is scrutinized, for his sins shake the Throne of Glory. A very heavy responsibility rests upon those who occupy themselves in communal affairs. When they conduct their mission deceitfully, they endanger the wellbeing of the community.
The damage is commensurate with the level of grandeur of the soul of the person. Someone who sullies the courtyard of the king is not comparable to someone who sullies his own home. This is even more so regarding the throne of the king, and especially his clothing. According to this, we see that even though people commit the same sin, their punishment is not equivalent. This one
is judged in accordance with the level of his soul, and that one is judged in accordance with the level of his soul. This one sullied the courtyard of the king, and this one his throne therefore his punishment is greater than that of his fellow.
If one of the king's warriors is lazy and does not conduct himself appropriately in battle, and thereby endangers not only himself, it is not similar to someone who endangers himself, but does not cause damage or danger to the rest of the army. However, if the leader of a 50person battalion is negligent and lazy, or the leader of a 1000person battalion is so, he causes damage to their 50 or 1000 people who fall in battle due to his negligence, for he was supposed to be their protector. And if the chief commander is lazy, he causes the entire war to be lost. (sermon of the Mahara'ch)
Since the Jews of Volozhin were completely enveloped in the atmosphere of Torah, and regarded this as something selfevident they did not display special excitement toward the Yeshiva and its Gaonim. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netzi'v) explains this, as told in the following story:
One, one of the Netziv's students asked him: Let our rabbi teach us, indeed everyone sees and knows that there is no searching for the level of soulful astonishment and sublime spirit in a person passing through Volozhin, on account of the honor of Torah pervading in every path and corner. Behold, it is as if the question arises on its own: Why is it with the dwellers of Volozhin itself, that is, its residents, citizens, elders, youth that the see the preciousness of the Torah all day and night, yet nevertheless, it is as if they are cold as ice and frozen as a stone.
The Netziv responded with a fine story told by one of the cantors that came to him on account of his cantorial position. The cantor told as follows: once on Simchat Torah, as I was leading the procession of the congregation in the Hakafot [trans: festive Torah processions on Simchat Torah] around the bima, with a Torah scroll in my arms, and in the arms of all those in the procession, as was the custom, with the younger and older children surrounding, circling us from all sides, pushing themselves to kiss the Torah scroll I sensed and noticed a small girl standing throughout the entire seven processions. Not only did she not push her way through her friends to kiss the Torah scrolls, but she let her friends through, as if saying: Go yourselves, kiss the Torah scrolls as you desire. Whereas she herself did not move from her place, and one could not notice any amazement or feelings of oy with her. This seemed strange in my eyes. Since I am by nature a person of words, who loves to look into things, I called the girl and asked her: Why did you not move toward the Torah scrolls to kiss them, as your friends did?
The girl responded: For me, a Torah scroll is nothing new, and I am not amazed by it, for I see it in my house, and I never stop looking and staring at Torah scrolls day and night. All the tables and benches in our hoe are virtually full
of Torah scrolls and portion of Torah scrolls. I eat and a Torah scroll is beside me. I am quiet and a Torah scroll is before me. Anywhere I go, sit, or stand, I encounter a Torah scroll. I asked the girl: Whose daughter are you? She responded: The daughter of a scribe of Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot.
The Netziv responded: The response of the girl solves the question of your friend regarding the apparent cold relationship, so to speak, of the Jews of Volozhin toward the Yeshiva, for they are immersed in this holy camp from their childhood, and they never cease to hear the sounds of Torah day and night. From this, their feelings cannot sense the holy feelings and the soulful enjoyment that the guests who pass through Volozhin for days or hour feel.
Volozhin and Hassidism
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Volozhin was known in the world as a fortress of Misnagdism [i]. The ideology of Misnagdism was forged there, and not only in the Vilna of the Gr'a [Vilna Gaon]. Nefesh HaHayim by Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin is the book of principles of the Misnagdic world. This book was not especially pleasing to the Hassidim, whereas the Beit Harav [House of the Rabbi] dynasty regarded it as the holy of holies. It is told that the granddaughter of Rabbi Hayim once listened to a discussion of Hassidim who were uttering accusations against Nefesh HaHayim. The granddaughter got involved in the conversation, and uttered a brief statement: It is forbidden to take the Nefesh HaHayim into one's hand. When the Hassidim heard this sharp statement, they thought that she agreed with them. She revealed her intent to them and stated, It is forbidden to take this book into one's hand, for it is the holy of holies, and renders the hands impure.[ii]
Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin wished to draw the Hassidim close. He did not fight a boycott war as did his rabbi, the G'ra. In this area, he forged his own path, and he looked at Hassidism with his own lens[15a].
According to his opinion, Hasidism as based on the Baal Shem Tov did not come to uproot Judaism, or to changes the accepted forms of religious customs. He only wished to bring life to the Nation of Israel in a new manner, which was good and effective according to his opinion but about which he, Rabbi Hayim, did not agree with. He says the following in Nefesh HaHayim:
And even some of those who aspire to draw close to Gd have chosen for themselves to dedicated their entire course of study to books regarding fear of Heaven and morality for all their days, without making the main part of their endeavor in the study of Torah to scripture and the great body of law. They never saw the light, and the light of Torah has never illuminated them. May Gd forgive them, for their intentions are appropriate, but this is not the path to acquire the light of Torah.
Many Hassidim studied in his Yeshiva. Rabbi Hayim did not treat them badly, but rather drew them near with love and friendship. Even the Hassidim who passed through Volozhin and wanted to see his face he would keep them with him for a few days so he could befriend them. His son, Rabbi Itzele, owned all the books of Hassidic greats. He delved into them, and he would include many statements of Hassidim in his sermons.
A great thing happened around the year 5568 (1808): Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, Rabbi Yisrael Markish of Minsk, and Rabbi Aryeh Leib Katzenelbogen of Brisk all joined together with Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev and gave their asset to the publication of the Talmud in Kopust [Kopustai].
After the death of the G'ra, Rabi Hayim refused to sign the ban against Hasidim. When his friends expressed surprised and asked him how he was able to separate from the opinion of his rabbi, he responded that his rabbi, the G'ra, was literally an angel of Gd, but to slaughter another a Jew requires a command from the Holy One Blessed Be He Himself. He brought a proof from the Binding of Isaac.
Rabbi Hayim's tolerant attitude can be explained by his desire to increase peace in the world. The following is written in Dor Deah:
Once, a conversation took place between Rabbi Hayim and one of the Hassidic greats. For the sake of peace, Rabbi Hayin proposed that the Hasidim worship in the Ashkenazic mode. The Hasid claimed that the changes are vital based on the hidden wisdom[iii] and their proper energy at the time of the acceptance of the prayers On High. Rabbi Hayim responded: If this is the only reason that the changes were made it is best that both of us, both you and me, do not worship at all, so long as there is peace upon Israel and we do not divide ourselves into multiple factions.
Similarly, Rabbi Hayim was prepared to worship in Sephardic fashion[iv], so long as it does not increase controversy among Jews. As Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Katzenelbogen writes in Shaarei Rachamim: He ordered his student, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, who traveled from here to a place among the Sephardim, to not change their custom and to worship in their fashion.
As the years went on, family ties were forged between the House of the Rabbi and the Hassidic world. Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin's greatgrandson married the daughter of a Hassid, whose grandfather was a student of the Great Maggid, Rabbi DovBer of Mezritsh.
The following is told to Yitzchak Izak HaKohen in the book Shaarei Yitzchak:
It is known that the Gaon Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin of blessed memory, the greatest of the students of the Gr'a, may he be remembered for life in the World To Come, married off his grandson grandson of Rabbi Eliezer, the paternal grandson of Rabbi Yosef of blessed memory, to the daughter of the Hassid Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of blessed memory of Seimatis, the son of the Gaon and Hassid Rabbi Uziel Meizlish, the author of Kerem Shlomo, the student of the rabbi and Maggid Rabbi DovBer, as is written in the introduction of the aforementioned book Kerem Shlomo.
Their hatred and jealousy had already dissipated, and the students of the Gaon, the aforementioned great rabbi and Maggid, his friends, students, and students of students, great in Torah and Hassidism, famous Gaonim, authors of holy books both about the fear of Gd as well as about Halachic didactics and responsa spread out and grew in number. All of Israel relies on them as on the early and latter decisors, as is known and renown. Many of them are included in The New Names of Gaonim, printed recently for the third time with the approbation of the sages of our generations, may their Creator and Redeemer protect them. Most Jews, rabbis, and seekers of Torah in our country of Russia and Poland, as well as nearby countries, are attracted to them in all their customs, as is known and renown.
And I saw one book published in the previous generation, at the time of the aforementioned dispute (that is, the dispute between the G'ra and Rabbi Shneur of Liadi), as well as many letters in the name of great ones. It is impossible to believe that these words emanated from their mouths, the mouths of those great in Torah and fear of Heaven, for they are full of words of mockery, riddles, and castigation, for which it is not worthwhile to respond to, and all their questions have no basis…
The writer continues on and provides details about the good relations of the greatgrandson of Rabbi Hayim with the Hassidim in his city, and about his visit to their Beis Midrash. This scion of Hassidim tells about hidden aspects of Torah that were illuminated
by the scion of the Beit Harav. He announced that he literally revived him with ideas that had been hidden to him to this point.
This closeness is attested to by the words of Berdichevski, who states:
Everyone who is familiar with the pathways of the dispute between the Gaon Rabbi Eliahu of Vilna and Rabbi Shneur Zalman Schneerson of Liadi knows that the Gr'a did not have any reliable understanding of Hassidism at all. He did not know that the spirit of the captive nation gave birth to Hassidism, and that Hassidism did not come to turn the nation away from Torah, but rather to rectify it and to breathe into it a living spirit instead of a suppressed spirit, to return the hearts of the People of Israel to their Father in Heaven, and to direct them in the meanings of Judaism. The Gr'a considered them as a religious sect separate from the general masses, as a sect whose aim was to forge a path under the seat of Judaism. In his great isolation, he only knew Hassidism from the hearsay of those who slander, who brought the defamation of the Hassidism to him and attributed deeds that should not be done to them. Therefore, he shook up the world regarding them.
The Role of Volozhin in the Poetry of Chaim Nachman Bialik
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
|Ch. N. Bialik during the Hamatmid period|
Volozhin gave over Chaim Nachman Bialik to modern Hebrew literature. Had Bialik not studied in Volozhin we would not have merited the powerful creativity of the chief of Hebrew poetry. His first poem, El Hatzipor [To the Bird], written on Mount Bialik, and his great poem Hamatmid[i] are completely Volozhin. We find an impression of Volozhin in every one of Bialik's poems.
Even though Bialik only remained in Volozhin for one year and four months, he was bound to the city and its Yeshiva with his whole heart. The poet writes in Hamatmid:
Times have changed, and you are far from your borders
I set up my altar, I gave my threshold
But I still remember you all, you all
Your picture accompanies me, it will not move from my heart. The writer Zalman Epstein expresses well the influence of Volozhin upon Bialik:
The soil of Volozhin was full of moisture and life, and fine, fruitful seeds were planted in the students of the Yeshiva. Later on, when the conditions for growth converged, they sprouted and yielded bountiful fruit. It is sufficient to read the name of the bright star Bialik. The influence of Volozhin on his talent was great and for the good. The blend of the past with the future regarding the life of our people, the understanding of the internal content of the study hall in all its light and darkness, the richness of style and expressions from the Mishna and Talmud of which Bialik worked wonders all of this he inherited from Volozhin. Had he not studied there, he would not have been the same Bialik that we now have. He would not have written poems like Hamatmid. The atmosphere of Volozhin was needed to moisten and water all of ancient Judaism with illuminating dew with his mighty talent, and to fill it with the spirit of ancient Israel from Babylon until now. From the wings of this eagle received their Jewish form in Volozhin, and sent out results to the portion of his nation.
Bialik came to Volozhin, according to his own testimony, to study there Seven wisdoms and seventy languages.
Bialik writes, After many experiences that are difficult for me to touch at this point, I traveled to Volozhin at the age of 15, relying on news that spread in my town amount the lads, that in Volozhin they study both the revealed Torah and hidden Torah [ii] together with Gemara, as well as seven wisdoms and seventy languages. And between Volozhin and Berlin it is like one step.
Bialik quickly realized that he had made a mistake: aside from Gemara and rabbinic decisors, the Yeshiva of Volozhin did not have any of the seven wisdoms nor any language of the seventy languages. Even the teaching of the Russian language, which was imposed on the Yeshiva by the government, was to fulfil the requirements. In the Yeshiva, they only studied Gemara, Gemara, Gemara.
Bialik slowly made his peace with the reality. The essence of the spacious Yeshiva and the light and voice of the 400 students who never ceased swaying over their Gemaras through all the hours of the day influenced Bialik to make peace with the situation. The mighty one and ruler of the Yeshiva in those days, the Netzi'v, undoubtedly also influenced him to come to terms with the situation. The Netzi'v was the elderly, widehearted man of love, whose attracted the hearts of the students to the Yeshiva with the light of his facial countenance, the pleasantness of his words, and his refined personality.
Bialik delved into the Gemara with his full soul. His diligence was so great that it also astounded the Netzi'v. When he examined him after a few months, and realized his great proficiency in Talmud, he testified about him, That this was the first time that I saw a lad from Volhynia who was diligent and knowledgeable in Gemara as he was.
The time that Bialik spent in the Volozhin Yeshiva was a blessing to his mighty talents. There, the spirit of poetry came upon him. From Yarmulke Mountain, the young poet appeared with the song of the bird on his mouth. Bialik would spend many hours alone on this Kippa, and many days with the poetry that began to pulsate within him. It was there that he wrote his first poem, El Hatzipor, in the year 5651 .
Bialik struggled through many struggles of creativity on the Kippa. This was known by only very few of the Yeshiva lads, the Maskilim from among them, who gathered around the Volozhin poet and cleaved to him from the first day he arrived in Volozhin. These friends felt almost subconsciously that, in the future, Bialik would lighten up the eyes of all of Israel with the precious light of his creativity. They copied for themselves, one person to the next, every new poem that Bialik wrote in Volozhin.
After a year and four months in Volozhin, Bialik decided to actualize the desires of his heart, and he set out for Russia to acquire modern education. His departure from Volozhin left a great impression, as Abba Blusher writes in his memoirs:
One day, we accompanied Bialik a distance of two parasangs, along the path that leads to the Maladzyechna Station. A large number of people were accompanying him since Bialik was beloved and accepted by all who knew him. Everyone trusted that he would imbue honor upon the Yeshiva in days to come. The entourage sat to rest next to a small hill on the side of the path. Bialik sat in the middle, and his entourage sat around him in a semicircle, singing songs of Zion. The wagon driver began to call out. The entourage stood up from where they were sitting and shook off the dust. The farewells began, with hugs, kisses, handshakes, and blessings. Hands were raised. They placed Bialik on the wagon, and it began to move. Due to the crowding, Bialik fell from his seat and was standing on his knees, half sitting and half standing, as he bid farewell with a final blessing to those who accompanied him. With each turn of the wheels of the wagon, they became farther and farther away from him, until they completely disappeared from sight. When the wagon appeared as merely a small dot on the far horizon, the entourage returned to the city, full of the sadness of parting. After time, when Bialik became famous in the world, and it became known in Volozhin that Chaim Nachman of Zhitomir was Chaim Nachman Bialik, they named that hill upon which they bid farewell Bialik Hill.
Bialik recalled Volozhin with nostalgia all his life. Yaakov Pichman tells that at a party with his friends in his home in Homburg, Bialik told about his life in Volozhin all evening.
In his book about faroff days, his heart was warm. Memories and images arise and come to life before us with such clarity that we literally breathe the air of the Volozhin Yeshiva. All the tenderness preserved in his heart from this precious refuge of youth is now poured out like a melody from his heart. Pichman continues and states: This was a new edition of Hamatmid a poem in prose, as if it was now recorded from the teller, as it was. It was perhaps also the sublime creation of Hamatmid in verse.
The Great Ones of Volozhin
Some claim that the main uniqueness of Volozhin stems from the Eitz Hayim Yeshiva that was founded therein. If you remove the Yeshiva, it becomes a town like all other town of Poland and Lithuania. The historical truth does not confirm this claim. The city of Volozhin has its own pedigree. The founding of the Yeshiva was a result of the presence of great Gaonim, natives of the city, as well as Gaonim born outside the city, who turned their wellsprings toward it.
Volozhin was famous and known amongst Jewish communities for may years before the founding of the Yeshiva. Micha Yosef Berdichevsky defines its positive traits very well:
The Gr'a chose the small city of Volozhin to actualize his lofty idea, for two reasons: a) he regarded the city of Volozhin was dear to the people of Lithuania, for the famous Gaon, the author of Shaagas Aryeh, lived there, about whom they said that he was capable of organizing a summary of the entire Talmud in his mind in one hour; as well as the Gaon, compared to an angel of the Lrd of Hosts, Rabbi Zalman. These two Gaonim gave Volozhin a great name, to the point where it seemed to the people of Lithuania that the atmosphere of Volozhin generated wisdom. b) He saw that the Gaon Rabi Hayim of blessed memory was by nature a sublime person, sitting in the shadow of Torah and the shadow of money. Therefore, he chose him and his city to found the cornerstone of the highlevel Yeshiva.
The Shaagas Aryeh Volozhin's Spiritual Father
Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation by M. Porat zl and Mike Kalt and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
|The Shaagas Aryeh|
There was already an important community in Volozhin during the second half of the 18th century, and a Sinai and uprooter of mountains [i] such as the Shaagas Aryeh served twice as the rabbi of the city.
Rabbi Aryeh Leib (the Ra'l), son of Reb Asher Gunzberg, was born near Minsk in the year 5455 (1695). He was known as Shaagas Aryeh (The Roar of the Lion), from the title of his book. We do not know anything about his Torah educators, and through which means he attained greatness in the Talmud and its commentaries. In the year 5493 (1733), at the age of 38, the rabbi of Minsk, Rabbi Yechiel Heilperin, author of Seder Hadorot, invited him to serve as head of the Minsk Yeshiva. During his first years in that city, the author of Seder Hadorot would walk together with him as a friend and brother. When they walked together in the marketplaces, people would whisper: Here is a Sinai with an uprooter of mountains.
However, these friendly relations did not last long due to the hard character of the Shaagas Aryeh. He recognized his own greatness in Torah too well, and therefore refused to subordinate himself to those superior to him if he saw that they had made an error in some matter. He did not fear anybody. In cases where he did not find that the halacha [decisions on Jewish law] was built on the foundations of the Talmud, he would push it aside with his strong hand, and let people say what they may. He permitted himself to use sharp language in his responsa, even against the decisors such as the Rema, Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, and the Sha'ch. We find that he used expressions such as there is no reason to his words, he erred greatly in this, I don't know what he is talking about, and his words are mixed up and nonunderstandable, etc.
The Shaagas Aryeh nullified as the dust of the earth [ii] all the Torah giants, except for the Gr'a, whom he honored and revered. Only to him did he show favour, as he said, All the sages of Israel seem to me like a garlic husk, with the exception of Rabbi Eliahu of Vilna. The Gr'a himself honored the Shaagas Aryeh greatly, and said that Rabbi Aryeh Leib is the Yeshiva head in revealed Torah. Therefore, he testified that the Shaagas Aryeh could organize the entire Talmud in his mind in one hour.
It was not long before the Shaagas Aryeh impinged upon the honor of Rabbi Yechiel Heilperin as well as the parnassim [administrators] of the community of Minsk. Many enemies rose against him, and he was obliged to leave Minsk in the year 5502 (1742). He cleared a place for his student, Rabbi Rafael HaCohen (Hamburger).
The Shaagas Aryeh was accepted as the rabbi of Volozhin in the year 5510 (1750), and occupied that seat until the year 5515 (1755). The Shaagas Aryeh had been invited by the head of the community, Rabbi Yitzchak, the father of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. The Shaagas Aryeh opened a large Yeshiva in Volozhin, and he was called Reb Leib the Rosh Yeshiva [Yeshiva Head] by the Jews of Volozhin. His choicest students were Rabbi Hayim and his elder brother Simcha. Reb Itzele, the son of Rabbi Hayim, writes regarding this in his introduction to Nefesh Hayim: They (i.e. Rabbi Simcha and Rabbi Hayim) then accepted the Torah methodology of the rabbi of rabbis, the Gaon of Gaonim, the lion of the upper realms, Rabbi Aryeh Leib, may he rest in peace, the author of the Shaagas Aryeh.
The Yeshiva founded by the Shaagas Aryeh in Volozhin was unique in its kind, in that the study was in the manner of simple explanation and straight intellect. The Shaagas Aryeh was the father of the simple expositors of Volozhin. His student, Rabbi Hayim, used this methodology as the foundation stone of the Eitz Hayim Yeshiva. The following is a story that verifies the methodology of the Shaagas Aryeh: Once on Shabbat Hagadol, he delivered a long lecture of deep didactics in the great synagogue of Minsk, proving with 150 reasons and 5,689 partial innuendos that chometz is permissible on Passover. All the Torah greats present were astonished at the great sharpness displayed by that Gaon. After the Sabbath, the Gaon took a candle in his hand and began to search through all the corners of the synagogue, and under the benches and the tables. When he was asked: Our rabbi, what are you searching for? He responded:
I am looking for the Jews of Minsk. Where are you, Jews of Minsk? Doesn't the Torah say: Do not eat any leaven (Exodus 12:20). Of what use are thousands of Shaagas Aryehs in their sharpness, questions and answers when the simple explanation of the scripture is before your eyes?! Isn't this vain didactics, making the straight crooked, and making the Torah into a bandage?!
The community of Volozhin was poor at that time, and it did not have a complete set of Talmuds. Volumes of Talmud at that time were hard to find, especially in Russia and Lithuania. Only a few individuals of great wealth who loved Torah, or large, important communities succeeded in purchasing an Amsterdam edition of the entire Talmud, published in its entirety in the year 55125525 (17521765). The impoverished population of Volozhin was unable to obtain a complete set of Talmuds. The parnas Rabbi Yitzchak, the father of Rabbi Hayim, would travel outside Russia for his business. Once, his wife Rivka asked him to purchase a complete Amsterdam edition of the Talmud, the price of which was very high. Rabbi Yitzchak listened to his wife, and brought a fine, splendid set of Talmuds back with him to Volozhin. On account of his business and his role as communal parnas, he was not able to respond to all the scholars in Volozhin and nearby towns who wished to peruse one tractate or another. Therefore, he gave the keys to the volumes of Talmud to his wife, who would willingly permit the scholars to peruse the Talmud in her home. As is said, the Shaagas Aryeh, who was not able to obtain his own Talmud due to poverty, would also come frequently to look into the Talmud volumes of the communal parnas. However, Rivka could not bear to see him pound his feet from time to time to come to her home to look into the Talmud, so she offered to send him any tractate that he needs by way of his assistant, whether for his own perusal or to teach the Yeshiva students. Therefore, the Shaagas Aryeh blessed her that her sons become great in Torah. His blessing was fulfilled.
During the years that the Shaagas Aryeh lived in Volozhin, he collected all his Torah and halachic novellae that he wrote during those many years, and compiled them into a book called Shaagas Aryeh. This book contains many acronyms. It is said that this is due to the poverty of the author, who did not have enough paper on hand, so he utilized more acronyms than usual.
The Shaagas Aryeh earned his livelihood with difficulty in Volozhin, and lived a life of want, for his salary was three guilder per week. He wore an old kapote on weekdays as well as the Sabbath. His difficult situation caused bitterness, and he also got angry at his wife in his vexation. Once she said to him: You are a bad man. He responded to her: You are more correct than I! Ada'm R'a [אדם רע bad man] is the acronym for: אביון דך מך רשׁ עני[iii] and these are the sources of my vexation.
In her desire to help her husband, his wife kneaded dough in the homes of others and earned some coins. Nevertheless, the poverty was very great, and the Shaagas Aryeh could not bear his straits and observe the Torah in poverty. He requested from the city parnassim that they add a half a guilder to his salary. The city notables gathered and adjudicated seriously, but could not find any means of giving him a raise, for the communal coffers were meager and empty. Therefore, the Shaagas Aryeh was forced to leave Volozhin after living there for five
years and disseminating Torah in his Yeshiva, from which world luminaries went forth. However, this was not his only reason for leaving Volozhin. The Shaagas Aryeh wanted to publish his book. There was no printing press yet in Lithuania and Poland in those days, so he was forced to wander faroff to Germany and publish his book in Frankfurt an der Oder.
The Shaagas Aryeh and his wife were housed in the Hekdesh [hostel for indigents] in Frankfurt. He sat in the Hekdesh, lit a candle, and began to study the Rambam aloud, as was his custom. Some of the paupers woke from their slumber and uttered sharp words and curses at the guest who was disturbing their sleep. He extinguished the candle, went outside, and studied by the moonlight. When morning broke, and the slumberers awoke from their sleep, they saw that someone was standing outside dancing from joy. His wife was also rejoicing with him.
The manager of the Hekdesh looked upon this scene. When the dance finished, the manager asked him: What is the cause of your happiness? The Shaagas Aryeh responded: A great miracle happened to me last night, and therefore I am thanking the Blessed Gd and dancing in a circle from joy. I had a difficult question on the Rambam, which was bothering me for many days, and I could not find an answer. This past night, the Blessed Gd lit up my eyes and I was able to answer it completely. This is the reason for the joy.
After publishing his book, he returned to Russia, and reached the city of Smilovich, where Rabbi Rafael HaKohen was serving as the rabbi of the city. He remained there for some time, and returned to Volozhin in the year 5523 (1763). He remained there for one year, until the year 5524 (1764). That year was known as a year of special importance in the forging of the image of Volozhin, for that time, his greatest student, who later would become famous as the Gra'h (The Gaon Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin), studied there.
The heart of the Shaagas Aryeh was bad and bitter toward the Jews of Volozhin, who had forced him to leave the city on account of a half a guilder. Therefore, he decided to take revenge on them. It is told that he was once delivering a sermon in the Beis Midrash of Volozhin, and his sermon was so deep, to the point that the great studiers could not delve into its depths. When he finished his sermon, he said to the audience: You are greater than the ministering angels.
In what way? wondered the audience.
Why are you surprised, responded the Shaagas Aryeh. It says regarding the ministering angels: 'And their feet are like the feet of a calf' (Ezekiel 1:7). But as for you also your heads are like the head of a calf.
The Jews of Volozhin did not forgo the disgrace of the Shaagas Aryeh. Even after he left Volozhin for the second time and was accepted as the rabbi of Metz, they sent messengers to appease him and bring him back to the city. It is told that when the Shaagas Aryeh was living in Metz, and the city greats were sitting before him, he heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs.
Someone from Volozhin is walking, said the Shaagas Aryeh.
How does our rabbi know? they asked him.
The Shaagas Aryeh responded: A Volozhin native is recognized from his brazen footsteps.
The Shaagas Aryeh left Volozhin around the year 5524 (1764), never to return.
He was around 70 years old when he left Volozhin. He left for Vilna, and then he went to Metz. He found rest, wealth, and honor in Metz. His extended period of wandering through Lithuania, with his knapsack on his shoulder, filled with groats, a few objects, his tallis and tefillin, and a book of the Rambam, came to an end.
His eyes became dim as he passed the age of 80, but he continued diligently with his studies as previously, for diligence in Torah was second nature to him. He settled permanently in Metz. He amassed a bookcase full of books. He no longer depended on the power of his memory in his old age.
Once, as he was studying, he approached the bookcase to take out a book to peruse. The bookcase tottered and a pile of books fell upon him. He remained beneath the pile for about a half an hour, until the members of his household realized what happened and came to rescue him. As extricated him from there almost dead, he said in his clear language: All the authors fell upon me and sentenced me to death because I did not consider them, and I disputed them. However, the entire time that I was under the heap of books, I begged forgiveness from them. They all forgave me, with the exception of the author of the Levush (Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe), who was prone to anger. He did not want to forgive me on account of him, I was sentenced to immediate death, but as for me, my soul still desires Torah.
He died at an old age, around the age of 90, on the 25th of Tammuz, 5545 (July 3, 1785), and was buried in Metz.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, nicknamed Rav Zalmele
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Thus does the biographer Rabbi Yechezkel Feivel begin his book this is the Book of the Annals of Man, which is the biography of Rabb Zalmele.
There was a man in the city of Volozhin of Lithuania named Rabbi Yitzchak. He was a straightforward, upright man, Gd fearing and avoiding evil. He was wealthy, and conducted his business in a trustworthy fashion. A son was born to him on the 29th of Sivan, 5516 (1756) whose name was Zalman. From the cradle this child was different than the other children his age.
Rabbi Zalmele was the younger brother of Rabbi Hayim, the founder of the Eitz Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin. Through his name alone, there was already a hint and innuendo to the future, for Shlomo comes from the word shalem [complete or wholesome] for when the child would grow up, he would be complete in his deeds and traits, and, above all, his learning would be wholesome. Rabbi Hayim testified that the face of his brother was like the face of the Shaagas Aryeh. While still in his cradle, it was realized that he had some unique gifts. His mother Rivka protected him from everything, as if the surety of the Jewish people was given over to her.
He entered the cheder of Volozhin before he reached the age of three. From that time, the child was not involved in children's games. He only occupied himself with Torah. Once, the rabbi of Ruzhany, the Gaon Rabbi Avigdor, was a guest in the home of Rabbi Yitzchak, Shlomo Zalman's father. When he saw the small child lying in the cradle with a holy book
resting in his hands he said that it is a disgrace for holy books to be given as toys to toddlers. Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: This toddler is not like the others. For this toddler, this book is not a toy, but rather a book of study that he always looks into. Suddenly the child woke up, took the book and began to read it with great diligence. The Gaon stood in astonishment and said that he was certain that this child will become an example and sign in Israel, and many will aspire to his Torah.
When he was approximately four years old, his father made a celebration for the rabbis in honor of the great event that his older brother Simcha had learned the entire six orders of Mishnah by heart. Young Shlomole asked his father: Why are you making this celebration? In what honor is all this fuss? His father responded: This day is very great in my eyes, for I have merited to see my son know all the six orders of Mishna by heart. May it be that I merit to see you attain this level as well. Zalmele responded: Gather, your heart can be sure that, if Gd grants me length of days and a healthy body I will know books by heart, even more than you hope for. My brother, Reb Simcha, knows this small book (a small book of Mishna with a clear translation was on the table) and I will know by heart all books on the bookcase. As he spoke, he pointed with his finger to the large bookcase in the house.
When he was five years old, Zalmele already almost knew the five books of the Torah with Rashi's commentary by heart. He was like an overflowing wellspring. This was not with the help of a rebbe, but rather through his internal power that stormed and flowed within him at all times to know Torah. Already in his childhood he felt that Torah and wisdom are the true life of a person, illuminating with their light the material life, that is nothing other than vanity. True happiness is the love of Torah and wisdom.
Slowly, the wonder child became known throughout the area, and many people streamed to Volozhin to see him with their own eyes. A legend went around the elders of Volozhin of previous generations, that on the 15th of Elul 5525 (1765), a holy spirit from heaven descended upon the child Zalmanke of Volozhin, and he drew all of his spiritual nutrition from the upper source of wisdom.
Rabbi Zalmele's diligence and thirst for studies was beyond human means. He prepared his heart to be nothing other than a sanctuary for the service of Gd. When he was occupied with Torah, he was taken with and affected by its love so much, that his soul almost left his body. He was graced with two precious, rare traits: the power of memory and of diligence. When he was ill, he would read the book Tzitzat Novel by Rabbi Yaakov Sasportas. After his first reading, every little thing from the book, from top to bottom, was etched in his heart.
Leib, the son of Rabbi Ber of Vilna, said: Once Reb Ber saw the Tzadik Rabbi Zalmele going to and fro in the house, studying and repeating a Torah statement with great gusto and strong love. He read and repeated the matter, three times, twentyfive times, and up to a hundred times, until one could not count. Reb Ber stood in awe and wonder, and said in his head: Torah, Torah,
how strong is your love in the heart of Reb Zalman. Fire is consuming you. Then he grasped Rabbi Zalmele's hand and asked him: Tell me, how many times have you reviewed your studies? He responded: 250 times. He asked him: Did the sages not say, ' a person who studies his chapter 100 times is not the same as a person who studied his chapter 101 times.' And this is the highest point that the sages set regarding study and review. Rabbi Zalmele responded, stating that the measure mentioned by the sages is with respect to memory alone. However, to develop a love of Torah there is no measure to study. If one has time, one would review a single Torah issue for an entire year, for it is pleasant at all times.
He would wear gloves when he went to sleep so his hands would not touch his body while he was asleep. That way, he would be able to study immediately upon arising, without having to wash his hands. That was the extent to which Rabbi Zalmele was careful his time, so as to not lose even one minute of his life without Torah.
Rabbi Zalmele knew the preciousness of the supernal Torah, which was dearer to him than any of the pleasures of the earth. His soul was clear of all vain thoughts. Therefore, he did not forget anything that he learned, for the words of Torah were guarded and protected in his heart, in the way that people guard and protect things that their honor and lives depend upon. No natural affliction would keep him from occupying himself with Torah. He expounded the verse ‘Let us go in throngs [ בְּרָגֶשׁ beragesh] to the house of the Lrd’.[i]. בְּרָגֶשׁ [beraghesh] is the acronym for barad [hail], ruach [wind], geshem [rain], sheleg [snow].
Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin relates: Once, Rabbi Zalmele woke his assistant up from his sleep to study the regular lesson with him. He noticed that he was acting lazy. He began to reprove him and said: It seems to me that you are lying on your bed on a rainy, dark night, and someone comes to you and informs you that a pouch full of money is lying on the road. Would you not immediately get over your laziness and run like a deer without sensing the stones and other obstacles on the way. All of this effort is for something that is nothing other than toil and wind. A person will not take it along when they die, and it will not glorify his memory. How much more so must a person run like a deer to study Torah, for its merchandise is greater than fine gold, and all the objects in the world cannot be equal to it. Someone occupying himself with Torah finds life in this world, and his righteousness goes before him in the World To Come.
These are the books that Rabbi Zalmele knew by heart at the age of 24: the Bible with its Targum translations, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Tosefta, Mechilta, books of Midrash, and collections of Zohar and mystical rectifications, the books of Maimonides and his predecessors. All of these things were etched upon his heart, and fluent upon his mouth, as the shekakol[ii] blessing is known by all Jews.
Despite his great expertise, Rabbi Zalmele complained that the sources of knowledge were sealed before him. If he compares that which he knows with that which he does not know it would be clear to him that he knows nothing. His brother, Rabbi Hayim, relates that Rabbi Zalmele would often groan and complain bitterly in a vexed spirit. Rabbi Hayim asked him: Why are you groaning, my brother? He responded, Oh my brother! Would it be that it would be like previous months, during my youth, with the company of Gd upon me in my tent when I was one day less than 39 months old. That day, all the wellsprings of deep knowledge and the portals of heavenly attainment opened up for me, and bountiful influence streamed to me, flooding me and passing over my soul with strength. Several
items of knowledge and Torah attainments that I had been trying to achieve for many days, but could not, that remained like closed riddles to me, for I could not solve them through logic at that time became revealed to me in all their mystique. I have no words to describe the great, wonderful achievements that came to me at that time. However, when I turned with extra love to understand the essence of my achievement Woe! it was no more, for Gd had taken it from me.
Rabbi Zalmele desired spiritual completeness all his life. At every moment, he made efforts to strengthen the powers of his soul. His level of expertise astonished people and reached superhuman proportions. Nevertheless, he was very modest, to the point that he considered himself to be a person devoid of Torah and wisdom. When he heard that those who loved him honored and praised him it seemed to him as if fire and brimstone were streaming toward him. Everything that he learned and did was not for the purpose of imaginary honor, but rather for the honor of the Gdly soul in his nostrils. However, he did not suffice himself merely with the study of Torah, but he also worked to disseminate Torah in public, and to perform charitable and benevolent deeds. Study and knowledge alone do not bring a person to the level of a Tzadik. It is rather charitable deeds that do so. He interpreted the verse: For man was born for toil [לעמל] (Job 5:7) as an acronym: Study in order to do.
Rabbi Zalmele was very particular about reading the Bible. He said that it is our duty to know the grammar of the Hebrew language, for through it we can attain full understanding of the Bible. When he would hear some Bible teacher interchanging a word or a vowel, he would immediately point it out to him. Once, a person read a verse in the Torah and made an error in the verse and I will lie [ושׁכבתי] with my fathers (Genesis 47:30), and instead of and I will lie he read and I will sleep [וישׁנתי] with my fathers. Rabbi Zalmele said that this exchange of words was not a simple error, but rather a contradiction of a major principle of the Jewish religion the resurrection of the dead. Referring to death as lying is a hint to the resurrection of the dead, for a person who is lying will generally rise, other than those who were cursed, and about whom is stated They lie and will never rise again (Psalms 41:9). The word with my fathers is a great proof, deeper than all proofs in the world, regarding the survival of the soul. It proves that the fathers are alive and in existence in the eternal world, and did not disappear as flying dust. Through this, our faith is different than the faith of the idol worships, for Alexander of Macedon asked one of the philosophers: Who are more numerous the living of the dead? The philosopher responded: The living, for the dead are no longer in existence. Our faith states that even the dead are alive and in existence, and this is the interpretation of and I will lie with my fathers.
One of the wealthy men of Vilna, Reb Yechiel Michel Pasils, set his eye upon Rabbi Zalmele and took him for a groom for his daughter. A great change in Rabbi Zalmele's life took place in Vilna: there he became friendly with the G'ra [Vilna Gaon]. When Rabbi Zalmele came before the G'ra, the Gaon was very impressed by the depth of knowledge of this young person, and called out in astonishment: Wonder of wonders! At that time, they became connected to each other, and it was not long before that Rabbi Zalmele was considered as a unique person among the students of the G'ra, who called him My Rabbi Shlomo Zalman.
We can judge the relationship between the G'ra and Rabbi Zalmele from the following story: One day Rabbi
Zalmele was sitting with the G'ra, studying together until late at night. Suddenly Rabbi Zalmele dozed off and fell asleep, with his head about to fall off the table. The G'ra stopped his studying and placed one had under Rabbi Zalmele's head so it would not move. One of those close to the G'ra, who entered the room at that time and witnessed the scene, wanted to help the G'ra and remove his hand. The G'ra silenced him and whispered, Quiet! The entire Torah is now resting on the palm of my hand!
It was told regarding Rabbi Zalmele that once, he traveled by wagon from Vilna to his native city of Volozhin. It was during the month of Shvat. Rabbi Zalmele fell off the winter wagon due to the trotting of the horses, and the wagon driver continued on without noticing. When he later saw that Rabbi Zalmele had fallen off the wagon, he returned and found him sitting, studying with a book in his hands. He did not sense his fall or the cold outside due to his enthusiasm in his learning.
He did not even feel pain when he was occupied with Torah. Once, two scholars were sitting and studying the Tur with the Beis Yosef commentary. Rabbi Zalmele was with them in the house. They presented their questions to him. Rabbi Zalmele paced to and fro, as was his manner. As he was walking, a nail injured his foot, and blood flowed, but he did not know what had happened. He continued on and recited the sections of Tur and the Beis Yosef related to the resolution of the questions. He recited an entire page by heart with love and great joy, as if nothing had happened to him. Had they not interrupted his studies when they saw that he was loosing a lot of blood, who knows for how long he would have floated in the world of Torah without stopping.
Once, he was sitting in the Beis Midrash of Volozhin, and his clothes caught fire. The fire also touched his body, but he did not feel it at all, since he was engrossed in his studies with great enthusiasm, and he did not feel the pain of his body. Even though he was always immersed in the upper worlds, if he was asked to perform a mitzva, he would not hesitate for even one moment. He would immediately descend from the sublime world to the practical world. He would run to bring joy to a bride and groom, or to perform a kind act for anyone in need. The rabbinic adage was always upon his lips that the Holy One Blessed Be He was the groomsman for the first man and from this we learn that it is proper for a great person to be a groomsman to a younger man.
Once, Rabbi Hayim invited his brother Rabbi Zalmele to a wedding celebration. All those gathered at the wedding went to greet Rabi Zalmele. Rabb Hayim wanted to make his brother happy, so he brought musical instruments to play before him. However, Rabbi Zalmele sat with his lips constantly uttering words of Torah, as was his way. After a short time, the Gaon Rabbi Hayim entered the room. Rabbi Zalmele asked him: Did you not say that you would send musical instruments to play before me why did you not send them?
Once, after midnight, Rabbi Zalmele was sitting in the Beis Midrash in Shniposhik, and he needed a book that was hard to find, that dealt with that issue. He was anxious to look into the book. He knew that the book was located in the library of the Beis Midrash in Vilna. He put on his coat, and set out in the darkness of night. He went alone on the route, which was full of snow and ice, to go to the place he wanted. He arrived in Vilna in the morning, and immediately immersed himself in Vilna without resting at all.
We have with us the deep Torah doctrine of Rabbi Zalmele regarding the education of a person. His opinion was that
one must educate a person immediately after birth. The great sins that a person transgresses as he gets older are rooted from the outset, from his first day of life. Rabbi Zalmele said that the power of the beginning, and the root of all matter, when one is young, is very deep in essence. Therefore, errors that come at the outset are very great, for they develop and burst forth upward and upward.
The greats of the generation said that Rabbi Zalmele is second to the G'ra, and when the G'ra would be requisitioned to the heavenly court [i.e. when he passes away], he would take his place. However, this was not decreed from Heaven, and the generation did not merit this, for Rabbi Zalmele was taken back by Gd when he was 32 years old, ten years before the passing of the G'ra.
Immediately after becoming ill, Rabbi Zalmele sensed that his end was very near. This became clear to those close to him due to his frequent review of various statements regarding the day of death and passing away from the world. As he doubled over in his suffering, all of Vilna and Volozhin were in uproar, not wanting to believe that the time of his passing has arrived. Even though Rabbi Zalmele felt the footsteps of death approaching, the Book of Psalms did not depart from his hand, and he did not stop reading it with a sweet voice and silent enthusiasm even for a single moment, as if death was coming at that moment.
One of the rabbis who sat near his bed advised him to rest a bit from his reading. Rabbi Zalmele responded, ‘This is the Torah of a man who dies in the tent’[iii]. Rabbi Yochanan said: A person should not keep away from the house of study and from words of Torah even at the time of death. (Tractate Shabbat 83b). Who knows if I too have reached this point as well?
All those next to him wept secretly when they saw the crown of their head fall. The greats of Vilna who knew that such terrible news was liable to have a bad effect on the G'ra sought to hide from him the news of the passing of Rabbi Zalmele to the extent possible. However, when the G'ra complained about this when he found out.
The eulogizers from all corners of the land lamented and eulogized Rabbi Zalmele, saying:
You were born of a woman, but how similar you were to the sons of Gd [i.e. the angels]
When you were with us in the land, you were like the son of Amram [i.e. Moses] in heaven.
There is none like you, you are similar to an angel,
And you are like one of the ancient ones.
Rabbi Zalmele died on 9 Adar II, 5548 (1788). He is buried beside the G'ra and his father Rabbi Yitzchak.
On the rightthe grave of Rabbi Zalmele
On the left the grave of rabbi Yitzchak the father of Rabbi Zalmele and Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin
In the middle the grave of the G'ra (from the collection of Dr. Yitzchak Rivkind of blessed memory)
The Rabbinical Judge Rabbi Shimshon Rodenski
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Rabbi Shimshon served as the Rabbinical Judge in Volozhin during the period of the tenure of Rabbi Itzele, the son of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, as the head of the Etz Hayim Yeshiva. This position was given to him at the command of Rabbi Itzele. He served as the rabbinical judge in Volozhin for approximately ten years. Then, he was accepted as the rabbi of the city of Trab [Traby], Oshmiana District, where he served for approximately ten years. After the death of Rabbi Itzele in the year 5609 (1849), he was asked by his soninlaw Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried to return to his native city and serve as the head of the rabbinical court. Rabbi Shimshon knew that one does not refuse a great person. He returned to Volozhin, and served as the head of the rabbinical court of Volozhin for approximately 15 years, until the day of his death in the year 5626 (1866).
Rabbi Shimshon was known for his generous traits. The spirit of the Jews of Volozhin rested upon him, and they benefited from his advice and resourcefulness. Everyone revered him due to his deep fear of sin. He toiled greatly in Torah already from his youth. Even though he was sickly through all his days, he would toil in Torah day and night with his remaining strength. His modesty grew along with his diligence. He did not boast of his wisdom, did not seek greatness for himself, and did not covet honor, for he was created for this.[i]
Rabbi Shimshon had a great character trait, in that he was very stringent with himself. Even if something was clear to him in all its depth, he would continue to study and research the topic until he found a reason for doubt, why it is thus and not something else. Before he was appointed as a judge, he would investigate, search and research the books of the early and great commentators. He would even ask the advice of lesser people, for even in their words, there is the trait of making your teacher wiser[ii]. He did all this so he would not err or stumble, heaven forbid. He would push off the verdict to the following day in case he find any cause for merit in the guilty party. This stringency had an additional aim: Rabbi Shimshon wanted to serve as an example to his students, for them to learn every matter in depth as he did, so their hearts will not be presumptuous in issuing decisions, so that they not explain Torah in ways that are not according to the halacha, and so that they issue true judgments.
When Rabbi Shimshon was informed that a certain case would be brought to him the following day, he would remain awake all night, studying the halacha books, checking and examining them. He did not let slumber pass over his eyes until he had clarified the matter sufficiently.
Rabbi Shimshon lived a life of difficulty and want, and he observed the Torah in poverty. Despite his bodily weakness, he tended to his four children and provided all their needs. His illness became more severe in his older age, to the point that the Jews of Volozhin would ask themselves every morning: How is Rabbi Shimshon the Judge? Despite all this, his deep toil in Torah and in educating his children never ceased.
Rabbi Shimshon studied Torah for its own sake. The commentary of Rabi Hayim of Volozhin regarding the Mishnaic statement love the work, but hate the position of domination[iii] love the job of the rabbinate, that is the essence of toiling in Torah, the satisfaction that comes with it, without concerning oneself with the result that it brings. Even though Rabbi Shimshon did not escape this transgression, utilized the crown[iv], and served as a rabbi and rabbinical judge throughout his life he only did this unwillingly, as if forced, so that
he would be able to succeed in sustaining his household. However, in truth, he only loved the deep study itself, the cleaving to the truth of the important, eternal matters that have their source in the Torah.
The words of the sages were always before his eyes: A Sanhedrin that executes the death penalty once in seven years is called a murderous court (Tractate Makkot, Mishna 10). This is true regarding a judge as well, who would be called a perpetrator of injury were he to render the accused guilty, even on rare occasions. Therefore, after he would issue a guilty verdict against the accused, he would not be able to sleep, lest he was overly stringent and there might have been room for leniency. Once, the litigants came before him, and he issued a guilty verdict against the guilty party. Several years later, a convention of Torah greats convened in Volozhin. Rabbi Shimshon summoned the litigant who was found guilty, and asked him to present his case to this convention of rabbis, for perhaps they would find him innocent. He wanted the case to be adjudicated truthfully, and he was not concerned lest the rabbis issue a different verdict, and his honor would therefore be impinged.
In his great modesty, Rabbi Shimshon refused to publish his Torah novellae in a book. He would write them himself, so that he would not forget the reasoning of a verdict, and so that he could later look into it. It was his custom that after issuing a verdict, he would review, study, and delve into the matter again to ensure that he had not erred, and to make sure that he had indeed delved deeply into the matter. He had another reason: to make the investigation easier if a similar case were to come before him in the future. He wrote most of his Torah novellae for these two reasons.
In his old age, many of those who knew and revered him urged him to publish his novellae. He indeed began to organize the material and prepare it for publication, but his bodily weakness overtook him, and prevented him from carrying this out even though his Torah stood with him until his final day and issued a verdict on an issue regarding a lung[v] an hour before his death.
His eldest son YehudaLeib published his book Zichron Shimshon in the year 5539 (1879). The Netzi'v write the following in the introduction:
I remember days of yore, when I was involved in the group of the rabbi, the great luminary, our teacher Shimshon of blessed memory, the head of the rabbinical port here in the community of Volozhin. He would delve deeply into words of Torah and raise precious pearls. He also inscribed the book to be a memorial for him.
The rabbinical judge Shimshon Rodenski was the soninlaw of the Volozhin Starosta YosefYozel Perski. We learn this from the introduction of Rabbi Hayim Shimshon of Rakowice to his book Imrei Hayim (Keidiani, 5699 1938):
I hereby extend a blessing to my dear father, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Zalman Tovia, may he live long, the son of the splendid scholar and honored research, famous throughout the land, Rabbi Moshe Markowicz of blessed memory, the author of Shem Hagedolim Hashelisi [The Third Names of Great Ones] and the book Lekorot Arei Yisrael Verabaneihu [The Annals of the Cities of Israel and their Rabbis], and to my dear mother, the Rebbetzin Itel may she live,
the daughter of the honorable, splendid rabbi, Rabbi YosefYozel Perski of blessed memory, an elder of the community of Volozhin, the soninlaw of the righteous Gaon, Rabbi Shimshon Rodenski of blessed memory, head of the rabbinical court of the holy community of Volozhin, the author of the book Zichron Shimshon.
Rabbi Shimshon died on 5 Shvat, 5626 (1866).
Rabbi Aharon Bunimowitz the son of Rabbi Yitzchak, and the Great Storm in the Community of Volozhin
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
The Gaon Rabbi Aharon Bunimowitz was numbered among the Gaonim and Torah giants of Volozhin. He was one of the veteran students of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, and one of the head rabbinical judges of Volozhin. He served as the scribe of Rabbi Hayim's rabbinical court. He was also involved in secular affairs over and above his holy service, for he served as the head of the community of Volozhin for many years.
During his time, an event took place in Volozhin that caused a storm among the Jews of the city, the echoes of which spread afar. After the death of the Gaon Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, a question was brought before his son Rabbi Itzele regarding an adhesion [sircha] on the lung with a wound on the [thoracic] wall[i]. The lung has five lobes. If the lobes were compared to each other, this would be an adhesion and a sign of an injury to the lung. Rabbi Hayim was no stringent in matters such as this, relying on his great rabbi, the Shaagas Aryeh, who adjucaated the case permissively in accordance with the Beis Yosef, and established this as the practical halachic guideline in Volozhin. However, Rabbi Itzele did not accept the halachic decision of his father the Gaon in this matter. He did not want to permit or to forbid[ii].
The rabbinical judges of Volozhin gathered together and decided to ask the Torah greats of Vilna. They asked Rabbi Aharon to write the letter. This letter is a firstclass historical document, for it surveys the cultural and economic situation of the community of Volozhin in the first half of the 19th century.
The following is the content of the letter:
Cedars of Lebanon, mighty ones of Torah, protective shields (a flowery nickname for those who know how to defend their opinions and win debates), from whom Torah goes forth. They are the renowned, famous ones, sharp and expert, whom people are used to, intelligent and wise, fearing of Heaven and wholesome, pious, sublime holy ones, filling in the breaches, Gaonim of the land they are the rabbis and teachers of righteousness of the holy community of Vilna, may Gd protect it, and its sages, may they live. The splendor of their light shall shine like the morning light. Each one of them excels with their sharpness.
We must weep because the honor has been removed from us, and our joy has been exiled (this refers to the death of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin), fairest of brides[iii] and splendor of the entire earth, from whom emanated the emanations of life, the wellspring of living waters. He would respond appropriately and clearly to anyone who asked a pointed question. Now, when our honor has been removed and the crown of our heads has fallen who will give us the waters of Torah to drink, teach us the clear halacha. To which holy one shall we turn.
if not to the honor of the name of our holy, glorious ones, who are the splendor of our times, the heads of the Diaspora, who will show us the path, the path of Torah, upon which we should walk, and the action we should take with regard to the adhesion with a wound on the chest wall, about which the elder here in our community, the great tamarisk, the late Gaon, author of Shaagas Aryeh of blessed memory has already rendered a decision when he served as the head of the rabbinical court here in our community. Regarding this, throughout the Jewish Diaspora they conduct themselves in accordance with the decision of the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles), and the aforementioned elder Gaon issued a directive and decided the halacha in our community that it be permitted without any need at all to examine the lung. Later, when the High Priest, Rabbi Refael of blessed memory, the author of the book Torat Yekutiel served as head of the rabbinical court of our district, he also decided in accordance with the decision of the Rema of blessed memory. The Gaon and author of the Shaagas Aryeh of blessed memory served once again in our community, and it seemed as a laughing matter to him that he was asked this question once again. His response was that he had already issued a directive to permit this. He responded as follows with his sharp language: Kosher! Kosher! Our community has conducted itself in accordance with his aforementioned responsa for approximately 70 years now, that is even before the tenure of the late rabbi, the Gaon Rabbi Hayim of blessed memory. Throughout the life of the Admor[iv] the custom here was in accordance with the directive of the elder author of the Shaagas Aryeh, for he himself had heard the permissive decision from him.
However, the heart of the Admor of blessed memory did not see fit to permit this in other places. Toward the end of his life, he would say to the shochtim of our community that he would command his children to no longer follow this permissive decision. He also told his renowned, honorable son, Rabbi Yitzchak, may his light shine, the head of the rabbinical court of our community that he intended to give him a directive on this matter. However, when Gd took him away suddenly, we no directive was issued on this matter.
We remain as a post atop the mountain now, in that his son who took his place, Rabbi Yitzchak, may his light shine, the head of the rabbinical court of our community, does not want to issue a decision on this subject one way or another. We have seen that, in the opinion of the rabbi of our community, this is because under no circumstances does he want to do anything against the will of his late father, may the memory of the holy be blessed, for he trained him to conduct himself with honor toward him all the days of his life. So we, what can we answer regarding this?
Now, the entire city is perplexed, and the outcry is great. Because it is common (i.e. such a sircha is a common occurrence), and the loss would be great[v], we place our hope in the honor of your Torah knowledge. You will guide us on the path that we shall follow, and the actions we shall take in such a case to determine the halacha clearly, and so we will not
mislead in this issue, and so we can remove the complaints of the members of our community from the head of the rabbinical court and from us, for it is hard for the members of the community to change course in a halachic matter that has been established in a permissible manner here in our community for generations, in accordance with significant Gaonim from whose waters we drink. May we merit to cleave to the dust of their feet, and we await their lofty response to be sent through our representative who will give over this letter. We have sent a special representative to the honor of your Torah.
Awaiting your response, we, who sit in judgment here in our community, we sign, with the participation of those that frequent the Beis Midrash of our community, on 23 Kislev 5582 (1822), here in the holy community of Volozhin, may its Rock and Redeemer protect it.
Signed: Aharon the son of my father, my master Rabbi Yitzchak, may his memory be blessed for life in the World To Come
Asher the son of my father, my master Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman, may his memory be blessed for life in the World To Come
Yechiel Michel the son of my father, my master Rabbi DovBer of blessed memory
Avraham Simcha the son of Rabbi Nachman, may his memory be blessed for Life in the World To Come
Menachem Nachum the son of our late rabbi Avraham Avli, of holy seed
Moshe the son of Rabbi Nisan
Meir the son of Rabbi Hayim Katz, may his memory be blessed for life in the World To Come
Naftali the son of my father, my master the elderly Rabbi Aryeh Leib, may his light shine
Tzvi Hirsch the son of Rabbi Mordechai of blessed memory
We do not know the response of the rabbis of Vilna regarding this matter: However, since this lenient practice was the custom in Volozhin throughout all the days we can assume that a permissive directive was issued from Vilna. We can almost say that they relied on the fact that the Gaon Rabbi Hayim did not issue a command regarding this.
After his first wife died in Volozhin, Rabbi Aharon left for Vilna, where he was appointed as a rabbinical judge. His approbation on the Vilna and Horodno edition of the Talmud from the year 5595 (1835) as well as the Slavuta edition of the Talmud can be found among the approbations of the greats of the generation. His approbation is also printed in the book Poel Tzedek (Vilna 5597 1837) and in other books.
He lived in Vilna for approximately ten years, and died there on Adar 15, 5698 (1830). He left an only son, a scribe named Reb Hirsch Volozhiner.
The Scholars and Geniuses of Volozhin
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Rabbi Dov Aryeh Persky the son of Zelig Pinchas Persky was numbered among the learned people of Volozhin. He was descended from Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. He earned his fame from the commentary that he published on Keter Torah of Rabbi David Vital. This demonstrated his greatness in Torah. Rabbi David Vital lived in Toledo, Spain during the 15th century. His work, Keter Torah, is a prose discourse on the 613 commandments of the Torah, along with the seven rabbinical commandments that are not mentioned in the Torah (such as the kindling of Sabbath and Chanuka lights, the reading of the Megilla, immersion[i], and eruv), which all together number 620, which is numerogically equivalent with the word keter [כתר][ii]. The commentary of Rabbi Dov Aryeh Persky, published in Vilna in the year 5631 (1871) and 5640(1880), explains the details of the main principals and the reasoning of each commandment.
In his preface to the comment, the Netzi'v is effusive in praise of the author and his activities:
The eminent rabbi, our teacher Rabbi Dov Aryeh may he live, from our community of Volozhin, a scion of the family of my grandfatherinlaw the Gaon, the noble one of the shepherds, Rabbi Hayim, may the memory of the holy be blessed, the author of the holy book Nefesh HaHayim, has found it his place to define and broaden the thoughts of the Gaon Rabbi David Vital, may the memory of the holy be blessed, to publish crowns over the letters of the ten commandments, and to place beneath them all 613 commandments with innuendoes in explanatory rhetoric…
This author has added splendor to the matter by treating the letters of the ten commandments as headings. This will encourage people to review them every week, so that the rhetoric can be illuminated. He went further than this by anthologizing all the sources in the work of Rabbi David Vital of blessed memory. The lads, who have the strength to do so, will be able to draw from them. It is appropriate to recognize this activity with a pleasant countenance.
Rabbi Yoel DovBer HaKohen
He was born in Volozhin in the year 5585 (1825). He was the son of Rabbi Meir HaKohen, emissary of the Eitz Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, descended from the Gaon, author of the Shel'a[iii]. He was the friend and confidant of Rabbi Yose Ber Soloveitchik, who served as the deputy to the Rosh yeshiva of Volozhin. He was a full treasury
of wisdom and deep knowledge in Torah literature. He also knew many languages, and had the nickname Telemach because he translated Fénelon's Telemachus into Hebrew during his youth..
His expertise in Talmud, rabbinical lore [Agada] and Midrash was very great. He knew how to explain statements of the sages in simple languages, thereby providing insights into Torah. He was also graced with oratory talent, and many Jews of Volozhin came to hear him and to enjoy the clarity and pleasantness of his words.
While still young, he published a commentary of the Passover Haggadah, called Neveh Tehilla, in Vilna in the year 5606 (1846). Aside from this he composed a commentary on the Yalkut Shimoni on the Book of Bereishit [Genesis], and the book Batei Kehuna, which is a commentary on the Midrash Rabba of Bereishit and Shemot [Exodus]. The sages of Vilna praised this book greatly. The greats of the generation nicknamed the author the Great Rabbi, Fortress and Tower.
Many manuscripts on lofty and sublime matters, which were not published, remained in his legacy. He lived a life of poverty and suffering throughout all his days, but he never complained about his difficulties, for he found comfort in his life of fruitful creativity. He did not live a long life. He died in the ear 5641 (1881) at the age of 56 (His days ended [כלו] the numerology of כלו is 56).
The Genius Zalman Minkowski
The 19th century, which was the most fruitful in the annals of creativity and Torah study in Volozhin, put forth a lad who was a genius, who in addition to is great knowledge in Torah, also acquired expertise in secular subjects, languages, and science. This lad, Zalman Minkowski, astounded the Netzi'v, who said of him that there are very few like him in his generation. We only have one piece of writing regarding this wonder child, published in Hamelitz on 22 Iyar 5630 (1870), as follows:
An outcry of brokenness and weeping was aroused in our city (Minsk) at the news from Volozhin of the death of the rabbi, the great luminary, young in years but great in wisdom, a scion of a highlevel family in Volozhin, Rabbi Zalman the son of the honorable Rabbi Moshe Shalom Minkowski.
This flower was cut off while still in bloom, at the age of 23. The deceased dedicated all the days of his life on the altar of Torah and wisdom. Even to the extent that he gave himself over to the study of Torah with all his energy, he did not neglect the sciences, for which he had a great desire. He loved our holy language strongly, and he knew other languages
well. He also earned a great name in grammar and logic. He chose to learn the Russian language, and was able to translate it. He delved deeply into arithmetic and geometry, broadening his knowledge without the help of a teacher. The rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, a Yeshiva head in Volozhin, lamented and sighed over his death, and said of him that he was one of the remnants, the likes of whom can be found only very rarely in our days.
The Mashgiach Rabbi Shlomo David Dinkin
Rabbi Shlomo David Dinkin was one of the great scholars of Volozhin. His expertise in Talmud, rabbinical decisors, and the responsa of the early sages was wondrous. He occupied the rabbinical seat of the city of Propojsk (Mohilev district) for two years. When the Netzi'v heard of this excellent man, he brought him to Volozhin, and appointed him as Mashgiach [spiritual guide] of the Yeshiva. He filled this role faithfully for twelve years. During that time, when the Netzi'v was away from Volozhin, he would teach the class to the Yeshiva students.
When the Yeshiva was closed and the Netzi'v left Volozhin, the community of Volozhin chose Rabbi Shlomo David as the chief rabbi of he city. He served in that position for six and a half years. He taught Torah publicly throughout that entire period, through his Gemara classes, given daily to the scholars of the city. He was very diligent to his learning, and his mouth never stopped uttering his studies until his final day. Aside from his greatness in Torah, he had generous character traits. He got along with his fellow, and greeted every person pleasantly. People who suffered difficulties and ill luck would pour their tears out to him. He knew how to gladden sad, oppressed hearts with his good heart. He was greatly loved by the Jews of Volozhin due to his great love for all people. Everyone loved him greatly.
Rabbi Dinkin died on the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz [30 Sivan] 5658  at the age of 64. All the residents of Volozhin wept and mourned for their beloved, revered rabbi.
Rabbi Eliahu the son of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Neuwedel, a greatgrandson of Rabbi Zalmele
He was a greatgrandson of Rabbi Zalmele. His character arouses special interest. Torah and general knowledge were blended together with him. Rabbi Zalmele left behind a sevenyearold orphan daughter who grew up in the house of her uncle, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. When she came of age, Rabbi Hayim married her off to Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Rabinowicz, who presented classes on the Code of Jewish Law and Yoreh Deah in Volozhin.
Rabbi Eliahu Neuwedel was the grandson of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua, born to his father Rabbi Shlomo Zalman in the year 5581 (1821) in the city of Neustat (Kovno district).
While still a lad, his father brought him to Volozhin to hear Torah from Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried, the soninlaw of Rabbi Itzele. The student excelled with his straight intellect and deep diligence. His teachers predicted a bright future in the world of Torah for him. However, while still in the Eitz Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, he was taken
by the Haskalah. His desire for Haskalah brought him to the city of Raseiniai, where he became friendly with young Maskilim who later became wellknown. One of them was Shneur Zaks. Through them, he mastered Hebrew, German, and French. His difficult straits led him to Warsaw, where he earned his livelihood through private teaching. When he noticed that Hebrew education was suffering from a lack of useful books, he wrote the book A Guide to the Hebrew Language, based on the theory of Ulendorf. This book was published in 1873. Later, he published the book Father to Children to guide the students in good traits and manners.
Rabbi Neuwedel was one of the remnants of the House of the Rabbi of Volozhin, who blended Torah with secular knowledge, with neither contradicting the other. His children followed in the path of their father, and attained great achievements in science and education. One of his daughters became wellknown as a physician. Another graduated from the faculty of education in Peterburg.
He was run over by a horse in the month of Elul 5646  while walking on the street. He died on Thursday, 16 Elul 5646 after great suffering, at the age of 65. He is buried in the cemetery of Warsaw.
Reb Hayim's Contribution to Establish a Settlement of Misnagdim in the Land of Israel[i]
Translated by Jerrold Landau, based on an early translation by M. Porat zl and edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
Just as Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin planted the love of Torah in the hearts of the Jews of the city, so did he draw them near to the love of the Land of Israel. The connection to the Land of Israel was a great principle in his teachingsl. Rabbi Hayim believed that he would yet merit to see the coming of the Messiah during his lifetime. The first Zionist orator during the era of the Return to Zion, Rabbi Natan Friedlandl[ii], tells in one of his orations about a teacher who had studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva in his youth, and who testified that he had heard from Rabbi Hayim that he was waiting every day for the Rebbetzin to knock on the door of his room, interrupting his studies with the news that the Messiah has arrivedl.
The connection between Volozhin and the Land of Israel was mutual, and emissaries from the Land visited several times to obtain help and support for the Jews of Jerusalem, whose situation was very difficult, and who were not able to sustain themselves without annual support and donations from Jews of the Diaspora. Two emissaries from Jerusalem visited Volozhin between the years 17811788 (55425544)[iii] Avraham HaKohen of Lask[iv] and Rabbi Hillel Mizrachi. The former was an Ashkenazi who made aliya to Jerusalem from Poland, and the latter was Sephardic. They organized an annual collection of set donations, and appointed special trustees for this purpose. The donation was not
a onetime event. Despite the poverty, the community of Volozhin fulfilled its commitment and provided support for the Jews of Jerusalem in an honorable fashion.
Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin filled a leading role in the establishment of a settlement of Misnagdim in the Land of Israel. Thirtyone years after the aliya of a large contingent of Hassidim of the Baal Shem Tov in the year 5537 (1777), their opponents, students of the Gr'a, followed suit and made aliya to the Land of Israel. Their aim was to set up a Judaic center in the spirit of their rabbi. The referred to themselves as Perushim[v] (in contrast to Hassidim). The first contingent of students of the Gr'a, headed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, the son of Rabbi Baruch of Shklov, made aliya in the year 5568 (1808), and first settled in Tiberias. In the year 5576 (1815), Rabbi Menachem Mendel moved to Jerusalem in order to expand the Misnagdic Jewish settlement there, which he headed.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel decided to found a center in Lithuania for the support of the Perushim. He sent emissaries for this purpose. He sent two emissaries to Lithuania, Reb David Tabil and Rabbi Avraham HaLevi. Rabbi Menachem Mendel knew that one must place a Gaon of renown such as Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin as head of such an organization for it to succeed. The emissaries came to Volozhin together with Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov. Rabbi Yisrael tells the following in his memoirs:
The Merciful One brought me to the house of the Gaon, the Light of Life, the Rabbi of Volozhin. He read all the words of the heads of our Kollel, and he strengthened and adorned me with his holy writing. I brought the Gaon of Volozhin to Vilna, and we organized everything properly for the Holy Land. Several sheets of writing paper would not be sufficient to accomplish that which the Gaon of Volozhin did with his great wisdom and wonderful righteousness. We succeeded in founding a new, independent settlement.
Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin emphasized the importance of founding agricultural settlements in the Land. This can be surmised from the letter of Rabbi Hayim the son of Rabbi Tovia Katz, in which the following is written among the rest: We have already purchased lands in accordance with our close friend, the true Gaon, the famous pious one, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, may his light shine. We will yet succeed in purchasing lands when the opportunity comes our way, at the right place and the right time.
Foreword to the Zionist articles series by M. Porat zl and edited by Judy Feinsilver MontelReturn
The Volozhin Zionist movement was born with the birth of the Volozhin congregation.
Rabbi Hayim emphasized the role of agricultural settlements in Erets Israel and filled a leading part in its establishment. The Volozhin congregation of his time committed itself to support the Jerusalem Kehila permanently, and each year fulfilled the commitment (page 54).
A society for the benefit of Holy Land settlements has been established in Volozhin, which is headed by Hanaziv the prominent Eyts Hayim Yeshiva head This was printed in Hamaguid Journal on December 1886 (page 56).
It happened in the middle of the 19th Century: Seven times Rabbi Avrom Hayim Marshak took his walk from Volozhin to the Holy City and seven times he returned to his hometown beaten, wounded and robbed. From his eighth journey he did not return. R' Avrom Hayim was buried on the Mount of Olives in a grave that was designated for a great Sage.(read Reb Avrom Hayim Marshak page 510)
Inside Eyts Hayim Yeshiva, at the end of the 19th century, the Zionist organizations: Hibat Zion, Ness Ziyona and Netsah Isroel were founded. Our national poet H.N. Bialik took part in the foundation of Netsah Isroel (page 120).
The Zionist organizations flourished from the beginning of the 20th Century until the outbreak of WWII. Hundreds of Volozhin youngsters were involved in activities as members or sympathizers of the many Zionist movements that grew up on the soil of the friendly Shtetl.
It began with the youngsters of Tseyirey Zion and Liberty and Revival (page 393) before and during the First World War. The Zionist organizations became bigger and more important in the nineteen twenties and thirties: Branches of Hakhaluts (page 396) and Hamizrakhi (page 405), preparation sites for Aliya in Male Berki in Rudnik and at the sawmills inside Volozhin, Nest of Beytar (page 410) and Hakhshara of Hashomer Hatsayir (page 422).
Young men and women, many of them made Aliya, and ignoring it they saved themselves from the terrible holocaust. They took part in creating Israel and contributed their energy and power enthusiastically for this purpose.
Many of them ran away from the Nazi beasts into the wood ands joined the partisans and the Red Army. Some of them survived the war and made Aliya after the victory.
But the great majority perished. They were murdered together with their parents, brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends by the Germans and their local collaborators inside Volozhin.
Reb Hayim's Contribution to Establish a Settlement of Misnagdim in the Land of Israel
Translated by Jerrold Landau, based on an early translation by M. Porat zl and edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
Volozhin was one of the first cities in which a Hovevei Zion organization was established. Feivel (Favi) Bunimovitch represented the Odessa Committee of the Society supporting the Jewish farmers and craftsmen in Syria and the Holy Land in Volozhin.
As in other cities and towns, the activities of Hovevei Zion in Volozhin were primarily the collecting of donations for Jewish workers in the Land of Israel and for the Hebrew School in Jaffa. An announcement was published in Hamelitz on 1 Shvat, 5753 , as follows: With the marriage of Mr. Gershon the son of Reb Aharon Polak to Esther, the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Bunimovitch, which took place in Volozhin on Tuesday 15 Tevet 5653 , the inlaws made mention of our brethren, the workers on the mountains of Zion, above their main joy, and pledged a sum of 18 silver rubles for the benefit of the hired day workers in the Holy Land.
The Netzi'v was the father of the Hovevei Zion in Volozhin, as N. Tz. wrote to the editor of Hamagid:
We have news today for the readers of Hamagid. A society for the benefit of Holy Land settlements has been established here in Volozhin, headed by the great Gaon, the honorable Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netzi'v), may his Rock and Redeemer protect him, the head of the Etz Hayim Yeshiva… This sublime idea, coming from Hovevei Zion in Volozhin, is that much more valuable because their rabbi, known for his good name and praiseworthy, stands at the head and among its founders.
The Netzi'v published a letter to the Jews of Volozhin in Hamagid in Kislev, 5646  to arouse them to the support of the settlement of the Land. Among other things, this letter states, The groups should make aliya, settle and built the Land of Israel, and plant all sorts of fruit trees there. The writer Moshe Leib Lilienblum[i] wrote about this letter to ShP'R: It seems to me that the letter of the Gaon of Volozhin is more valuable than ten statements by various writers.
The Netzi'v believed that the Land would be built through the small donations of the masses of Jewish people for the Hovevei Zion movement is a movement of the masses. Along with the rabbis Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan[ii] and Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever[iii], he signed a proclamation to place collection plates in the synagogues on the Eve of Yom Kippur for the settlers of the Land. The proclamation was announced in all the synagogues of Russia. The custom of placing collection plates on the Eve of Yom Kippur for the benefit of the workers of the Land of Israel took place on the Eve of Yom Kippur 5655 , and spread throughout
the Jewish communities of Russia. A significant sum for this purpose was already donated in the year 5655.
Micha Yosef Berdyczewski[iv] writes about the great dedication of the Netzi'v to the idea of the restoration of Israel:
In one of the Netzi'v's orations to his students, as was his custom every year, he also touched on the idea of the settlement of the Land of Israel, and aroused the hearts of his audience to support the hands of the workers of the Holy Land. His eyes filled with incessant tears on account of his great enthusiasm when speaking about this topic. His words had a great effect on the hearts of the Yeshiva students, and many who were ambivalent to this point became firm supporters of the settlement of the Land of Israel.
The following story from an earwitness proves the extent of the Netzi'v's love of the Land of Israel: Rabbi Yisrael David, a native of the Land of Israel, was one of the emissaries of the Yeshiva. Once, when he returned from a journey the Netzi'v asked him about news of the Land. He inquired and asked about the lives of the Jews there. This was the time of settlement and acquiring land, the era of Rishon Letzion[v]. As the emissary responded to the questions of the Netzi'v, he began to complain about the settlers and the new arrivals, as he spoke badly about the Land. The Netzi'v interrupted him, and, with a voice suffused with anger, ordered him, Spy, leave the house![vi]
The emissary became quite perplexed and asked with great contrition: Rabbi, what is my sin and what is my iniquity? Did I not respond to your request? Everything that I said is the truth.
The Netzi'v responded, The spies also spoke the truth. However, one must not speak bad about the Land of Israel.
Toward the end of his life, the Netzi'v decided to transfer over the running of the Yeshiva to his son Rabbi Hayim, and to make aliya to the land of Israel. The letter of Yechiel Michel Pines[vii] from 21 Kislev 5652  testifies to this.
The daughter of Zion is still sobbing. Woe to her for she lacks a great man, the honorable rabbi and Gaon, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Jaffe[viii], may the memory of the holy be blessed. And behold a heavenly voice is roaring like a dove words of comfort saying, withhold your voice from weeping[ix], for here is your king, a Tzadik and saviour is coming to you. He is our honorable rabbi, may he live, who has decided to make aliya and dwell in your courtyards. Relying on this news, I have come to recommend matters before the honor of your holy Torah. For if he chose Zion he desires his sanctuary in one of the settlements.
This idea came to my heart after I saw with my own eyes the honorable activity done by the honorable, late Gaon (Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel) of blessed memory when he lived in Yahud. Aside from the fact that that settlement ensured that the Sabbatical year would not be violated in any detail, it also caused many to uphold the Torah and religion in all settlements.
Immediately after the passing of the Tzadik we took counsel to beg Rabbi Hayim to come here, but we were ambivalent, lest Rabbi Hayim does not want to leave his holy Yeshiva. Now that the news reaches my ear that Rabbi Hayim has decided firmly to make aliya to the Mount of Gd, I hasten to tell him what is on my heart. That it is his obligation to choose for himself a place for his Yeshiva in one of the settlements, and perhaps he may even find Yahud appropriate, as it is a secure, quite place, a place of Torah and prayer, and a small Yeshiva of young men prominent in Torah was set up there by the Degel Torah society. It is a place of clear air and sweet water. This will also promote the rebuilding of the ruins in that area, the inhabitants of which left because of a lack of soil. Yahud became the spiritual center of the physical Moshavim. In any case, whether he chooses Yahud or some other settlement it is for this reason that he left the Diaspora, to set up his Yeshiva in one of the settlements.
It is not known why the Netzi'v did not actualize his plan. Perhaps, the great burden of debts afflicted him. First and foremost, he girded the remnant of his strength to become free of his oppressors and to pay off all his debts.
After the death of the Netzi'v, the movement was inspired to increase the donations for Keren Hatorah [the Torah Fund] and for the workers of the Land. Several days after the death of the Netzi'v, a proclamation was published in Hamelitz with the signature of Michael Oriaszson and Shlomo Zalman Jaffe in Horodno [Grodno], calling for the giving of honor and glory to the revered, sublime name of the Netzi'v
A Zionist organization was founded in Volozhin in the year 5662 .The organization was founded by the preacher Rabbi Bezalel Zadikov. Many Jews of Volozhin made aliya under the influence of the appeal by Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin to the Jews of his city to personally fulfil the commandment of building up the Land. There are many gravestones of Volozhin Jews on the Mount of Olives from the years 5622 (1862) and 5624 (1864). We do not know when they made aliya to the Land, but we can assume that they lived in the Land for many years.[x]
The Economic, Cultural, and Social Situation of the Jews of Volozhin
Translated by Jerrold Landau and donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Volozhin was a poor town. In an earlier chapter we noted that it was forced to forego the Gaon, the author of the Shaagas Aryeh, because it was unable to add a small amount to his salary. The economic situation of the Jews of Volozhin deteriorated further during the last quarter of the 19th century. Poverty increased, commerce quieted, and many reached the threshold of hunger.
One of the great tribulations that afflicted Volozhin were the fires that caused destruction. A large fire broke out in the year 5575 (1815). Rabbi Itzele wrote about it in his introduction to Nefesh HaHayim:
Due to our great sins, many of the archived responsa that were hidden away (that is, that his father Rabbi Hayim hid away) were burned, due to our great sins, in the fire that was sent from Heaven on Wednesday, 14 Iyar 5575. Heaven help us, about half of the city was burned. The homes of many people were consumed by fire, and only His school (i.e. the Yeshiva building) was scorched by the fire that raged around it, but through the mercy of Gd was spared as a brand plucked from fire[i]. The books were also saved.
In the year 5640 (1880), a large fire broke out in Volozhin and consumed the part of the city next to the river. The recentlybuilt Beis Midrash also went up in flames. They succeeded in saving some of the books and Torah scrolls. However, many rare books, including writings of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, were burnt. The situation of those who were afflicted by the fire was frightening and terrible. Almost all were left naked and bereft of everything.
A large fire spread in Volozhin on June 27, 1886. Two hundred houses were burnt. At least two families lived in each house. Only a few houses remained in the market and in the Aroptzu [area behind]. The Yeshiva building built by Rabbi Hayim in the year 5567 (1807), two Beis Midrashes, the Gemilut Chasadim room with all its contents valued at 2,000 rubles were all burnt in the fire. The contents included valuable household utensils, and Sabbath and festival clothing that the poor would borrow from the wealthy to serve as surety. According to the regulations of the Gemilut Chasadim, the surety must be worth at least three times the value of the loan. The poor people were completely destroyed, and almost all the residents of the city suffered the indignity of hunger and want. As there were no houses, the people affected by the fire were housed in the barns and grain storehouses of the farmers.
The community of Volozhin was destroyed to the foundations. The Jews had no place to worship on Sabbaths and festivals. The appearance of the burnt, destroyed city grieved all those who saw it. The writers raised their voices in Hatzefira and Hamelitz, and called upon the Jews to provide assistance to Volozhin, which had sunk to the depths. Indeed, the Jews of Vilna, Minsk, Rakov, Stowbtsy, Ivenets, Oshmyana, Vishneva, and Lebedovo girded themselves to help, and sustained the Jews of Volozhin for a period of two weeks. However, this assistance was not sufficient to provide for the many needs. Day by day, the number of recipients increased whereas the number of givers declined. The harvest season was approaching, and the Jews were afraid that the gentiles would throw them out of the storehouses, and they would be left out in the cold.
During this time of trouble and tribulation, the Netzi'v arose as a savior to his community. He called out to the Jews of the world to help in the restoration of the Yeshiva and the city. Those asked responded immediately. Within a short time, the Yeshiva was built upon its ruins as a large, fine, stone building. Even Count Michał Tyszkiewicz[ii] participated in the endeavor and donated 800 trees for the Yeshiva and Beis Midrash buildings. Prysewski, the commissar of Count Tyszkiewicz, donated eight rubles, and Nykarsiewicz, a Christian from Zaberzeze, donated ten rubles. This was a significant sum in those days.
The restoration of the Yeshiva influenced the general restoration of the community of Volozhin. The city earned all its livelihood from the Yeshiva, as the writer A. L. Lewinski writes:
Volozhin is the guesthouse of Torah, but a precious guesthouse, a living guesthouse on account of its guests. Israel has its Torah and it has its livelihood from its Torah. The lads of the Yeshiva of Volozhin are like an army brigade in the district city, from which it finds its livelihood.
From the financial records published by the Netzi'v, we learn about the role of the Yeshiva in the economy of the city. A special sector developed guesthouses. Almost every house had a special wing to house Yeshiva students. The guesthouses of Volozhin were famous throughout Russia and Lithuania. The wellknown writer A. Litwin perpetuated one of the guesthouse keepers in his story Przychulczka. This was the only source of livelihood to sustain the entire family. The Jews of Volozhin loved and revered the Yeshiva students very much. The writer Menachem Mendel HaLevi Ish Horowitz described some of this reverence:
In Volozhin, they respect the Yeshiva lad as an angel and as a rabbi and Gaon, or a great sage. They love these tenants, who are great in Torah and wisdom, are talented, and have excellent character traits. When he would wake up, the mistress of the house would already be concerned with his needs. When he came home from the Beis Midrash, the small room would be clean, the table set, and the meal would be on the table. There was quiet in the entire house! ‘The Yeshiva student is eating,’ whispered the mother to the young children, so they should not make noise at this time.
Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin would say that, were it not for the householders of Volozhin renting rooms to the Yeshiva lads, and had they not prepared the food for the lads, and had the entire town notregarded the Yeshiva with awe and respect what would we do?
The Yeshiva lads paid about 30 kopecks a month for room and board. The payment was not
in cash, but rather in notes. Sunday was the payment day in the Yeshiva, when the hosts would receive payment for the notes. The housewives of Volozhin awaited that day all week. They would gather in the women's gallery in the Yeshiva building, where the Mashgiach [spiritual overseer] sat and distributed the money to each one according to a list that had been prepared on Saturday night. Many of them, who were very impoverished, would receive an advance for the next payment based on a special assent of the Netzi'v.
Despite its poverty, when a fire broke out in the city of Lebedovo, Volozhin sent three wagons laden with bread, food, and clothing.
This lowly economic situation forced the communal heads to found institutions for social assistance. In Tishrei 5645 , the Mekabtei Nidachim [Gatherers of the Displaced] organization was founded, with the aim of caring to the abandoned orphans and children of poor people whose parents could not feed or sustain them. This organization sent those children to school, where they learned a profession that would provide them with a livelihood. Mordechai Bunimovich and Aharon Milikowski headed that organization.
In the year 5655 , the Chonen Dalim [Mercy upon the Poor] organization was founded through the efforts of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Meir Noach Lewin. Its purpose was to provide bread and other provisions for free to respectable householders who had lost their livelihoods and were suffering from hunger, and who were embarrassed to go from door to door requesting donations.
The Linat Hatzedek organization was founded in 5659  to provide significant assistance to poor people who were sick. It was headed by the elderly Menachem Mendel Bunimovich, who was a great expert and very competent in charitable affairs. Aside from hospitalization, they provided money, chicken, wine, and other provisions to the poor sick people. In cases of need, the society gave money to the sick person, so he could travel to a large city to consult with physicians. During its first three months of existence, the organization conducted important and very effective efforts for the benefit of the poor sick people of Volozhin.
A guesthouse was also founded in Volozhin. However, this house exposed the terrible poverty of the Jews of the city during those days. The house was small and narrow, and the walls were covered with much dust. It only had two broken beds. Often, four or five guests showed up at this inn at one time, so two or three of them were forced to sleep on the floor. This house was open and exposed to every wind. Many of the guests who came to Volozhin and were forced to sleep in this inn were particularly important people, including rabbis who came to seek rabbinical posts, as well as famous preachers and authors who came to request approbations for their books from the Yeshiva heads.
The health and medical assistance situation was very bad. There was no physician in the city. The district physician, Dr. Sawicki, lived in Aroptzu, but he was always busy in the hospital for leprosy, and had no time to provide help to other sick people in the city. Therefore, the Jews of Volozhin were force to summon
a physician from Vishneva. The price was high ten rubles for a visit and three rubles for the wagon ride. The physician would be very tired from the journey, and his examination was perfunctory and hasty. He was forced to return immediately, since many sick people were waiting for him in his city. Only wealthy people who were able to afford such a price to a physician would allow themselves such luxuries. What could the poor people, who did not have a coin to spend, do? The cries of these poor sick people came before the communal administrator. He stopped the Torah reading in the Beis Midrash[iii], but it did not help at all, for there was nothing with which to help them.
The issue of purchasing medicine was even more difficult. There was a pharmacy in the city, owned by a Russian, and he would flay the skin off the sick people. The poor people could not afford to purchase medicine, and many died prematurely of their illnesses. The pharmacy supervisor visited Volozhin on the Friday of the week of the Torah portion of Behaalotecha of the year 5654 [June 22, 1854]. The city notables came before him and asked his permission to open a pharmacy for the poor of Volozhin who could not afford to purchase medicine from the pharmacy due to the inflated prices. The supervisor acceded to them and gave them the requested permit. That Saturday night, the city notables, headed by Rabbi Meir Noach Lewin met together to figure out from where they could get money for that purpose. After an extensive deliberation, they decided to take 400 rubles from the Bikur Cholim coffers and to impose a duty upon every householder to donate what they could. All those present willingly pledged their donation. Mendel Bunimovich and Hillel Chaikin were the chief activists.
Regarding that inspector, it is fitting to say: Cursed are the wicked people whose good is not complete. A place was set up for the pharmacy in the lepers' hospital, under the supervision of Dr. Savitsky, at some distance from the city. It was difficult for the people of the city to get there, especially when the sick person was in a serious state and required immediate assistance. The Russian owner of the pharmacy did not place his hand in the plate[iv]. He had connections with the high windows. The plans for the Jewish pharmacy were shelved.
The Jews of Volozhin did not neglect the education of their children despite their poverty and difficult situation. A school was founded in the year 5647 (1887), which was to teach Russian and Hebrew in its curriculum. However, in the year 5654 , seven years after the founding of the school, the students who graduated Hebrew had no competency in Hebrew, as there was no Hebrew teacher there. The students only learned secular subjects. When the parents saw that they are not teaching Hebrew in the school (even though Hebrew language was part of the curriculum), they stopped sending their children to the school, and rather gave them over to melamdim [the traditional cheder teachers of young children]. The teachers saw that the school was liable to close, so they threatened the melamdim that if they would not give over three students from each cheder to the school, the cheders would be closed by order of the authorities. A great fear fell upon the melamdim, and they met to figure out what to do. It was decided to give over to the school children with learning difficulties, who required a great deal of care and were not succeeding at their studies, and who were not destined to become rabbis or leaders of the generation. However the teachers refused to accept them, and a culture war broke out in Volozhin with full strength.
There was already a Talmud Torah of an appropriate caliber in Volozhin in the year 5654 (1894). It was not housed in a single building, for there was not enough money to purchase a special building for the Talmud Torah. Therefore, they rented large, spacious rooms. The students were divided into three grades. Each grade had its own location, where the students were able to study without being disturbed. The melamdim knew their trade well, and were talented in the education of children. The main subject was the study of Bible with the abridged commentary of the Malbi'm. They learned the entire Bible, from beginning to end. When the students were competent in the Bible and its commentaries, and no longer required the assistance of the melamed, they began studying Gemara.
The trustees would come to the Talmud Torah along with three ordained young men every Sabbath to test the students. The trustees of the Talmud Torah concerned themselves with the students and their needs. They provided food, clothing, and shoes. There was an old custom in Volozhin that on Shabbat Shuva, a Mi Shebeirach[v] for every householder would make a pledge on that occasion for the benefit of the Talmud Torah. The trustees would collect the donations throughout the year for the upkeep of the institution.
The Beis Midrash was the center of spiritual life of the Jews of the city. Life ran in the spirit of tradition and faith; however sparks of aspiration for secular matters could already be seen. Even though the Yeshiva did not regard secular knowledge with a good eye, one cannot ignore the fact that there were students in the Yeshiva who were occupied in heretical subjects, in Jewish and general philosophy. It was even said about one of them that the pathways of Greek philosophy were as clear to him as the pathways of Volozhin. However, these were rare occurrences, and there was no noticeable change in the spirit of the Jews of Volozhin until a much later period than we are currently discussing. Nobody in Volozhin would have thought seriously about breaking the boundaries and changing the values during the 1880s. A single spirit pulsated through the city. Children cleaved to the faith of their fathers, and fathers regarded their children as continuing their traditions and way of life.
Religion was the joy of life of the Jews of Volozhin, as Menahem Mendel HaLevi ish Horowitz writes:
What is the goal that carries the soul of the Volozhin Jew on the Sabbath? Not to be a person of wealth with a huge fortune, not to raise oneself above everyone, not to have a multitude of pleasures, in the ways that are the hopes, aspirations and desires of all other nations. No, none of these are of value to him, they are as nothing and a zero in his eyes. For what would they give him or gain him? His strong desire and aspiration was ‘to see children and grandchildren occupying themselves with Torah and the commandments.’ This is the spirit which fills us on this holy day.
One must give only a bit of slumber to ones eyes to fulfill the commandment of ‘sleep on the Sabbath is a pleasure.’ Then, one should go to the House of the Lrd to listen to the lessons of the preachers. The sublime ideas delivered in precious style will attract his heart, fortify his soul
sanctify him and raise him up to the heights of the heavens. He will be suffused with emotion, and his soul will barely perceive the strength of these feelings.
The great enjoyment of a person of Volozhin was to listen to words of Torah in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The spirit of the Netzi'v and of Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik suffused the city. Even the Valozhynka River was saturated with the Emek Sheeila and Meishiv Davar[vi]. It was not a businessman or wealthy person who served as educational role models, but rather the Netzi'v. His presence in the city was its call to greatness. The Jews of Volozhin aspired to learn Torah and good character traits from these exemplary people.
In the year 5656 (1896), 300 Jewish families, consisting of 1,200 individuals, lived in Volozhin. In the year 5657 (1897), the population of Volozhin and its neighboring villages was 4,500, including approximately 2,500 Jews. These are not exact figures, for they include deceased individuals who were listed in the registries as if they were alive, and vice versa. The registry of births and deaths was disorderly, and many of those who lived in the world of truth walked about healthy and hale in the outskirts of Volozhin, and many who were already deceased were considered alive. There were also boys and girls who had not been born yet according to the registry. Despite all this, the aforementioned number is not that far from the reality.
In the year 5656 , there were a small number of wealthy people alongside the poor folk. These wealthy people worked in the grain, flax, flour, salt, sugar, and kerosene trades. A few were innkeepers, for one had to have a large room and expensive equipment to open an inn. On the other hand, there were many shopkeepers, and there was barely a house that did not have an adjacent store. One did not need special effort to open a store. Every householder could make a hole in the wall of his house, stick out his hand from the inside, and sell.
During those years, there was a change in the makeup of the Jewish population of the city: The power of the tradesmen and workers grew. They earned their livelihoods amply and respectably, and became the strong people of the city. The heads of the community would not lift a hand or a foot without them. No difficult question that was deliberated upon reached a solution without the agreement of the tradesmen and workers.
With the rise of power of the worker in Volozhin, an organization was founded called Chevrat HaPoalim [the Workers' Society], whose members were part of the young guard of workers. This society had its own prayer group [minyan], and wrote their own Torah scroll. They also had a rabbi, who would read from [i.e. teach them] the weekly Torah portion to them each week immediately following services. They would gather again in the evening, and the rabbi would teach them a chapter of the Code of Jewish Law.
In the year 5651 (1891), civilization began to penetrate Volozhin. The city was connected to the telephone network, and roads began to be paved. The road to Vilna, which was the main road of Volozhin, was laid first. The workers were not particularly competent, and the uncut rocks sunk into the ground, and were it was as if they never were.
From a political perspective, the Jews of the city were subordinate to the Czarist government. The enslavement and degradation of the Jews of Volozhin was expressed in a celebration that was organized to celebrate the miracle that took place to the Czar when he was saved from a serious train accident on October 17, 1888. To this end, a large celebration was arranged in Volozhin, where praise was given to Gd for saving the life of the Czar, may his glory be raised, his wife and children. The Netzi'v preached that we are commanded to love the king who rules over us, and to be faithful servants. His intention was based on the words of the wisest of men[vii] Fear Gd, my son, and the king (Proverbs 24:21). The fear of a king is compared to the fear of Gd.
Signs of strengthening of the economic situation were noticed at the beginning of the 20th century. The most obvious of them was the founding of the Society for Loans and Credit. The writ for Volozhin opens with this matter.
After great efforts, we succeeded in obtaining a permit to found a society for credit and loans, the lack of which was felt especially in recent times, when the large Christian shops began to compete with our small shops. Immediately after receiving the permit, approximately one hundred members joined the society. A general meeting was called to elect the leadership. The society granted its first loans, to the joy of all the members of the city, who hoped that it would ease their bitter situation.
This strengthening was not sufficient to ease the economic straits of the Jews of Volozhin. Therefore, immigration to the United States increased. Approximately one hundred families left within a short period. Most of the emigres were smallscale merchants and shopkeepers whose economic situation had become worse due to the drought, and the earnings from the shops had declined.
It must be noted, however, that very few of the tradesmen emigrated, because they, especially the tailors and the cobblers, earned a good livelihood from the Yeshiva students. In this era (the first decade of the 20th century as in previous years, most of the householders earned their livelihoods from the Yeshiva students, for there was almost no house in Volozhin that did not host three or four Yeshiva lads.
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