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[Page 95]

Rabbi Hayim's demise

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

R' Hayim passed away on Sivan 14th 5581 (1821) at the age of 72. He was interred on the Volozhin cemetery inside a stone cabin (Shtibl). On its entry was engraved a memorial text in Hebrew. The text was composed of 12 rows. Their first letters were arranged respectively to the letters of “HAYIM BEN ITSKHAK” which means “Hayim Itskhok's son”.

R' Hayim's memorial, the stone cabin with the inscription were destroyed during the Fascist's occupation. Sorrowfully we could not find any picture of the tomb. In the Volozhin Yizkor Book page 45 is presented Rabbi Eliyahu's corner on the Vilna graveyard. R' Hayim's corner at the Volozhin cemetery was built in a similar style.

Rabbi Eliyahu's corner at the Vilna graveyard - page 45

Rabbi Eliyahu's corner at the Vilna graveyard – page 45

Left (1) – Tomb of Rabbi Itskhok, R' Hayim's father, Right (2) – Tomb of Rabbi Zalmele, R' Hayim's brother, Middle (3) - Tomb Of R' Eliyahu the Vilna Gaon.

The text engraved on Rabbi Haym's tomb

*Hayim in Hebrew means Life*

The Babylonian Talmud's Wisdom and Jerusalem's Intellect are the source of Life*.

Kabala's glow and the brilliant legends' splendor have chosen Life.

The pure to God devoutness, advice, resource and bravery are part of Life.

Secrets of many studies and Almighty's knowledge are searching Life

In his learning house, among his students are presented the ways of Life.

Lament, weeping and wailing is accompanying the rise of the soul of Life.

Howl, cry and scream wherever resides the spirit of Life.

With scream of angels, Gods winds are blowing when carrying the soul of Life.

Grace, truth and charity are walking before him in the countries of Life.

Holiness, modesty and justice are filling the world through ways of Life.

His shining there is inspiring in his place, the tree of Life.

God Almighty took him to see God's goodness, in the country of Life.


The text on R' Hayim's tomb in Hebrew - page 95

The text on R' Hayim's tomb in Hebrew – page 95

The legend tells that R' Hayim refused to enter the paradise alone without his Volozhin students and inhabitants. He desired to come inside with the entire people of Israel. “R' Hayim told the Heavens Entourage: I'm not strong enough to support the great honor which I do not deserve. I cannot pass the threshold. Let me stay here to await the days of the Messiah, the generation worthy of it, when the Eden gates will open for the entire world. The Heavens consented to the noble demand and Rabbi Hayim stays between Heaven and earth until now, praying for the salvation of the Volozhin students and inhabitants.

As for the tomb, R' Shneurson writes in his book: “I was once at the Volozhin graveyard and I visited there R' Hayim's tomb, over which a white stone cabin is built. On the cabin wall a holy text glorifying the Rabbi is engraved. At the text top I observed a picture of an eagle. I did not dare to ask what its meaning should be. But I had no doubts that the Eagle represents the Polish emblem. I was sure that the Volozhin owner, Tishkevitsh the Polish count helped in establishing the memorial cabin for the renowned Rabbi's remnants as he assisted to build the big stone house on the Volozhin market center for the man he held in high esteem, Rabbi and Master R' Hayim fonder and head of the famous Volozhin Yeshiva.”

The text on R' Hayim's tomb in Hebrew - page 317

Beys Horav- The Rabbi's house – page 317

This picture shows the southern façade of the Volozhin Rabbis' house, taken in the nineteen thirties. It was situated at the market square. Its northern façade overlooked the Yeshiva and the main Volozhin Synagogue, the Beys Medresh.

The house was built in stone for Rabbi Hayim by the Volozhin count Tishkevitsh. The big white house belonged during the first half of the 19th century to Ms. Malka Perlman, nee Itskhaykin, She wasEli-Zalman Itskhakin's grand-daughter, who was Rabbi Hayim Volozhiner's grand-son. The translator of the above article is Malka Perlman's grandson.

Malka Perlman's house (Beys Horav) was nationalized by the Soviets in 1940. During the war the house burned out. Inside its reconstructed stone skeleton is situated now the Volozhin Univermag.

[Page 99]

Rabbi Itsele Volozhiner –
Hagaon Rabbi Itskhok ("Hagrits")

R' Itsele, his personality, cleverness and sharpness

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by E. Levitan

Soon after Rabbi Hayim's departure, the Yeshiva presidency passed to his son, Rabbi Itzkhok, who was affectionately called by most people; “Reb Itsele”. Reb Itsele was born in the year 5540 (1780).

Reb Hayim was his own son's educator. He instructed him in “the seen and unseen”. At one occasion the boy had the privilege to meet the Vilna Gaon, the HAGRA (Hagaon Rabbi Eliyahu). It came about when he accompanied his father to see the Rabbi “whose face was compared to the Almighty Angel's face”.

Reb Itsele told one of his most prominent students, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, the story of the memorable visit: “Once when my father went to see the Hagra, I asked to join him. Taken aback, my father said in great apprehension: “You too? You desire to see the great man?” In my turn, I became a little frightened. But I was still determined and I said: “Yes I want to go”. Father hesitated, but finally he agreed. When we started our journey I realized that my father's face was pale from terror and fear, and as the cart approached the city of Vilna he became more and more drained of color. By the time we arrived to the town it was difficult to recognize him. He asked me again: “Are you sure that you would like to see the Rabbi?” I made a great effort and said: “Yes!” When we arrived at the front of the great man's door, my father was so afraid that his feet and hands trembled. He repeated his question again: ” For the last time, do you want to enter?” And then we entered the Gaon's room.”

Rabbi Moyshe Shmuel Shapiro tells that this visit had occurred when R' Itsele was ten years old. Hagra suggested that his young guest would recite some Torah sayings. R' Itsele clarify a complicated sentence from the Torah. Hagra was impressed by the child's wisdom and his pleasant voice. He said to Rabbi Hayim: I'm sure that the boy would become an excellent orator and preacher.

Rabbi Itsele contemporaries named him “The Nation Rabbi”, “Israel's President”, “The Jewish Scholar” and “The National Spokesman”. He was greatly versed in the Torah and full of wisdom. He was also skilled in understanding human behavior and deeply involved with his people.

R' Itsele was not restricted by the laws only. It is told that he used to enclose himself in his room, not to be disturbed during his studies by the any passerby. Once Rabbi Hayim knocked on his door and told him: “Do not isolate yourself, go out Itsele and take on your shoulders the public burden, the duties for which you were created.”

A Volozhin legend told that when Rabbi Hayim set the Yeshiva-corner- stone, he turned to his entourage saying: “I'm investing in this building my son Itsele future” (in his words: “Yikh moyer do ayn mayn Itselen”). He said it because the young Itsele wanted to study abroad in a German town, which were at those times the symbol of freedom and religious reforms. Rabbi Hayim was full heartedly against it. He thought that the important yeshiva project would keep his son in Volozhin. Indeed, his hope was later realized

R' Itsele was active in the Yeshiva management. His word was the final word that was said in many important decisions. R' Itsele was devoted to his father's instructions. He wrote in his introduction to R' Hayim's book “The Soul of Life”: “My father, who dedicated his entire life to strengthen and to glorify the Yeshiva, ordered in his final testament that I should follow one command only: to gather all my strength and to do all that is possible to establish this school in order that the holy Torah would be preserved forever”.

Reb Itsele was faithful to his father's orders. His Yeshiva lessons became famous. Avrom Kopernik, R' Itsele's student, praised him: “I'll never forget the pleasant feelings I had during the time I would attend the daily lessons of our great and genial teacher Rabbi Itsele”.

Reb Itsele's personality lives amongst the people. But nothing was left in writings. Apart for his introduction to “Nefesh Hahayim” (The soul of Life) and the accounts in “The Holy Mouth”, which were published by Dr. Kopelovitsh, Reb Itsele did not write anything. Rabbi Borukh Epstein gave in his book “The Blessed Source” a character description of R' Itsele: The ways of Hagrits (Hagaon Rabbi Itskhak), were ways of love and of dignity. They were based on the Volozhin ethical code model. His words were soft and polite, full of integrity, grace and modesty. For these qualities the people loved him and honored him. His sayings were Torah for his people and his opinions were sacred.

Reb Itsele would demand from his colleagues, Rabies, teachers and Yeshiva seniors to act moderately, to express themselves in decent language, in modesty and humbleness, according to the principled requirements. In particular he requested to calculate the words before speaking, to speak with care and caution and to respect every person's honor and dignity. Reb Itsele would punish with harsh words students or teachers who transgressed those principles. He would not tolerate in any case indecent and crude behavior.

It was said by the eldest of that era, that the source of the politeness, modesty, morality and good manners, in which excelled the Volozhin Yeshiva people, had been Reb Itsele's teaching and implanting.

And generally Reb Itsele was a man of great intelligence and felling. He loved and exerted to understand all what his eyes have seen and his ears have heard.

Reb Itsele knew languages. Like his father he spoke Russian and Polish fluently. He was Interested in medicine, he was able to read and to understand Latin. He would even check his students and tell them which medications to take. However he did not inflate his expertise. In the case of a serious eyes illness of his favorite student the writer Kalman Shulman, he sent him to Vilna to the renowned Professor Poritshinski with an introduction letter, where the patient eventually recovered.

Reb Itsele loved his Yeshiva boys and made sure that they lived a healthy life style. In summer days, after the afternoon Minkha prayer the students used to leave the Yeshiva and walk to the town outskirts, to breathe some fresh air and to enjoy the natural beauty. The outdoors walking refreshed them, strengthened and helped them in their Torah study. When Reb Itsele would see inside the Yeshiva walls students who remained studying, the Yeshiva head would personally approach each one, to extinguish his candle and ask each diligent boy to go outside to the fresh air.

As for his knowledge in medicine it is told, that once when one of his most valued student fell sick, a medical assistant, known as a diagnose specialist, was called from Ivianitz.. Reb Itsele listened to him and found that the assistants' medical skill is very poor. The Rabbi said: I wonder how do you live in Ivianitz despite the saying that “a town without a doctor is prohibited to live in for a Talmid Khakham – a scholar”. The other inhabitants they may stay in Ivianitz because they think that they have a doctor in shtetl, but you, knowing that this is not true, how can you live in, bypassing the sage's instructions?

Reb Itsele was very careful not to offend someone by a hard expression. Once he described, an unreliable person in such words: “People are blessed with memory in many degrees. One remembers events that happened ten years ago, another may retain facts, which happened twenty years ago, but our friend has such a phenomenal memory that he remembers events, which never happened”.

However on one occasion R' Itsele did not control his anger and responded to a certain writer who asked him for endorsement with a grain of sarcasm. The writer brought him three essays; one on the Book of Job, a second on the Song of Songs and a third on the Book of Proverbs. He asked the Rabbis' opinion of the three articles. R' Itsele approved the work on Job but refused to approve the last two. The writer asked for the reasoning behind the decision. The Rabbi answered: “Job had multitudes of calamities and one more would not make a dent, however, what is the reason for which you attach one to King Salomon?

[Page 103]

Dr. Max Lilienthal – his expedition to Volozhin

By E. Leoni

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

Dr. Max Lilienthal - page 103

Dr. Max Lilienthal

Reb Itsele was renowned for his ardent opposition to the Haskala (Enlightenment) movement.

In the eighteen-forties the Tsarist government decided to make fundamental reforms in the Jewish education methods. This was to be done by establishing primary and rabbinical schools, which would replace the existing Heyder's and Yeshivas. The Russian education minister Ovarov considered that this approach would bring the Jews closer to the gentile population.

The Haskala writers admired the minister. RIBaL –Rabbi Itskhak Ber Levinson dedicated him an epigram.

Ghastly clouds cover the sun of wisdom,
But at God's order the mighty savior came
Fresh winds had blown to enlighten the world
“Ovar Ov” - “the cloud passed away”
(Ovar Ov means in Hebrew-The cloud passed away)
Ovarov introduced a preacher into the Jewish Reservation zone to spread the “Enlightenment sun theory” within the stubborn Jewish population and to explain the government's intentions. Dr. Lilienthal was chosen for this mission.

Dr. Lilienthal was born in Munich where he graduated the German university. He was educated as a typical German Jew. He was an ardent supporter of moderate religious reforms. He managed the Jewish school in Vienna and managed to improve the Hebrew teaching significantly. Dr. Lilienthal believed in his mission. First he visited Minsk and Vilna. He failed in both places. The Doctor decided to try his influence on the great Jewish religious leader, on Reb Itsele the head of the Volozhin Yeshiva. He knew that if he gained the Rabbis' support, the reforms would succeed and so would his journey.

Dr. Lilienthal arrived in Volozhin some days before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Itsele received him cordially and accommodated the important guest at his home. They discussed the topic during three days and three nights. On the eve of the holy day after the separating meal, the Jews of Volozhin assembled inside the Beys-Hamedrash great synagogue, which was illuminated by hundreds wax candles. Wrapped in praying shawls they stood crowded and awaited Rabbi Itsele's oration silently, which he used to preach every year prior to the Kol-Nidrey solemn prayer.

Reb Itsele arrived with his guest and delivered his speech:

“Concerning the preparations of the Hakohen Hagodoyl (the High Priest) for his Yom Kippur services in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (Holy of Holies) we learn from the Mishnah of “Yoma” (chapters A, F): The Eldest judges delivered the Major Priest to the Eldest Priests. They took him up to the Autinas house and made him swear: Sire, Kohen Godoyl, all of us - Emissaries of the house of law and You who represent the house of law, we forswear you not to change any word from all that was ordered: He swears and cries, and they swear and cry”

Is it not strange – asked Reb Itsele – is it not our sages who warned us not to think evil about a person without any reason? Did they not say, “Disgracing a friend in public is like to spill his blood” and ”a person doing it shall not have his part in the Future World?” We read many similar sayings like “Those who suspect an innocent are injured in their body” and so on. And what do we learn from this Mishnah? The contrary: At the period when the Holy Temple existed the Eldest Priests would express a suspicion – and about whom? – the High Priest, anointed by the Lord! And of what did they suspect him? – Of heresy, of denying the Oral Law! – And Where? – Inside the Holy Temple! – And when? – On the eve of the frightful Judgment Day!

He asks and he answers: Yes it's true, when it concerns a private person and his private deeds, we are forbidden to suspect someone without any foundation, and until he's accused he should be considered not guilty. The case of a public person is different, an emissary of the people, and a person who is dedicated to his Congregation or Nation's interests. Suspecting such a person is not only permitted. On contrary we have to inspect and to examine his intentions, are they altruistic in God's name and would his acts, Heaven forbid, not cause a mishap to the Jewish People. Such a man, although he would be a prominent and God fearing Kohen Gadol, we shall examine him, double and triple the examination, and make him swear in public before his people, to insure that his behavior and his deeds would not affect our people's traditions and the holy Torah commandments.

Dr. Lilienthal understood the allusion. He mounted on the stage and turned to the praying people: “Rabeyssay - My masters, our most honored Rabbi Itsele's oration was not directed to you, but to me. I took on my responsibility the government's order to perform this public occupation. Every son of the Jewish people may follow my thoughts and acts, and here I swear: - saying it he turned to the synagogue arc and took out a Torah scroll – In the name of Him who gave us this Holy Torah, swear I that my intentions are pure and dedicated to our people's interests and to the name of our God. And also do I swear that if I realize that I was mistaken and in my eyes it become evident that Ovarov is affecting our religion in any way– I will draw my hands from this work”.

Dr. Lilienthal wrote on his return from Volozhin: “I met in Volozhin the renowned Genius, our teacher Rabbi Itskhok. I found in him a bright man and wise scholar, an enlightened person full of wisdom and intelligence, a God fearing Jewish leader. I have done all that is possible to be accepted by him as a loving son, I called: Father, Father- Beloved and bright, you are the knight of Israel”.

[Page 105]

R' Itsele, his journey
to the Rabbinic session in Petersburg

By E. Leoni

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

The results of Dr. Lilienthal's visit were not as it was desired. The government decided to search solution for this problem in Petersburg at the Rabbinic Session. Rabbi Itsele, Rabbi Menakhem Mendl Shneyerson from Lubavitsh, Isroel Halperin the Berditshev bank manager and Betsalel Shtern the Odessa School manager were members of the delegation to this session.

The session was called to discuss the Jewish education methods. The Jewish population accompanied the delegation with deep anxiety, with fasts and prayers. The delegates were faithful to those who sent them. The authority's efforts were in vain. To Ovarov's question at what age the religious education of a Jewish child should begin, Reb Itsele answered “Twenty years before his birth”.

During the Petersburg session used R' Itsele to wear a “Tales Koton”-a small four fringes praying shawl – with visible long fringes. Ovarov asked why the Rabbi's Tales is long and obvious, while Dr. Lilienthal's is discreet and unseen. Reb Itsele explained that the reason is theological. It was written that the Tales fringes should remind the believer of the Torah orders. Each individual is acquitted with a different memory. Doctor Lilienthal is well-educated, enlightened and talented; he has an excellent memory so even a tiny unseen fringe is able to remind him the Torah orders. On the contrary he, Reb Itsele is elderly; his memory is already not fresh enough to recall hundreds of the Pentateuch commandments so he must always have in sight a big praying shawl with long visible fringes.

The Rabbi's cleverness and sharpness found expression in his felicitous answers on Ovarov's and his entourage's remarks. During a debate Ovarov claimed that the Jews hate the Gentiles, he based it on the every day Jewish benediction “Sheloy ossonee Goy” – that He did not create me as a Goy. No, sire - answered R' Itsele – It is not from hatred, we say everyday also “Sheloy ossonee Eesho” - that He did not create me as a wife (Eesho in Hebrew means woman or wife), and is it possible that a Jew would hate his wife?

During R' Itsele's stay in Petersburg a Jew hating Pop (Russian orthodox priest) encountered him and said sarcastically: It seems that the Jews suspect their daughters and for this reason do marry them at premature age. – The answer was – Yes, for generations we marry our girls very young and the reason is a Jewish girl who eighteen hundred years ago came of age and was not married to a man. This virgin threw down on our people so many Tsores, that we suffer them until now.

The Pop irritated by the hitting answer pulled out a tobacco box, on one side of which was engraved a Jew on its other side – a dog. The pop turned it in his hands before the Rabbi. You surely are persuaded – said R' Itsele - that it is a novelty for us. It is known among our people, that a Jew when he turns over and inverts his faith to be a Christian turns simultaneously to be a dog”.

The Rabbinic session ended with compromise. The Heyders (Rabbinical primary teaching), for the time being, would not be affected. But the government education system contest would be permitted.

Ayzik Meyir Dik tells in one of his letters: “Today R' Itsele the head of the Volozhin Yeshiva arrived from Petersburg to Vilna, joyous and very content with the results from the Rabbinical Capital session”.

Rabbi Yakov Halevi Lifshits tells the opposite version: On his return way R' Itsele stopped in Vilkomir for Shabbat. The town Balabatim asked him to tell them about the session. The Rabbi was depressed: “There is nothing to tell – were his words – No salvation will come from this assembly, and I'm afraid of new anti religious and anti Semitic decrees. Bad winds are coming, and we shall pray only for compassion”.

Yakov Halevi Lifshitz wrote that R' Itsele was afraid of the results of the session. Before he went to Petersburg he asked to put among his journey belongings a warm sheep coat, lest God forbid, his mission failed and he was exiled to Siberia.

The government did not resign from its intended implementation. Secret orders were spread which called to contaminate the Jewish traditional education methods, to uproot the Jews from the Talmud, to alienate them from their origins, and to draw them closer to Christianity. The knowledge about these orders was transmitted to Dr. Lilienthal. He began to understand R' Itsele's worry. Dr. Lilienthal left Russia in 1845 and immigrated to the USA. He served as a reforming Rabbi in New York. He died in 1880.

In the meantime, R' Itsele's end approached. The rabbi went to be healed in Minsk. Returning home he passed away in the month of Sivan 5609 (1849). The cart with his body arrived in Ivianits on the eve of Shabbat. A conflict arose between the Rabbi's accompanists and the Ivianits people as to the place where R' Itsele would be brought to rest. Because R' Itsele during his entire life never did begin a journey on the eve of Shabbat it was decided to burry him in Ivianits.

In order to appraise R' Itsele's personality we'll bring the words of Rabbi Halevi Lifshits:

“Brothers, we know and we remember the Gaon, the sage, first man in Israel Rabbi Itskhak from Volozhin. His memory is still engraved on the heart of every son of Israel, his love and dedication to his people, his pure sentiments and positive thoughts. Many generations will remember his shrewd and sophisticated answers to the opponents of our people and religion and his great love to the Yeshiva, to his congregation and to the entire Jewish nation”.

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