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Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro

by Shimon Zak (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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A.

Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro was born in Volozhin on the second day of Sukkot 5640 [1879] to his father Reb Yeshaya and his mother Sara. During his childhood, he studied writing and arithmetic along with the religious subjects, but from the age of 12 and beyond, he only studied Gemara from expert Torah teachers, especially from his rabbi, Rabbi Ziskind.

In those days, a public school for Jewish children was opened in Volozhin by the Russian authorities, as was the case in other Russian cities. The child Moshe Shmuel, wishing to also become educated in secular subjects, registered as a student at the new school. However, Rabbi Ziskind summoned the child's mother and warned her that if Moshe Shmuel does not leave the school, he will be “removed from his cheder.” In accordance with the demands of his mother – a typical Jewish mother who excelled in her natural intelligence and love and reverence for Torah masters and students, and who played a great role in the education of her three sons in the study of Torah and the fear of Heaven – the lad left the school.

During his childhood, Moshe Shmuel witnessed all the difficulties that afflicted the famous Yeshiva in his native city, and the changes that took place in its leadership: the closing of the Yeshiva by the Russian government in the year 5652 [1892], and its reopening in the year 5655 [1895] when Rabbi Meir Levin, who had been the rabbi of Moscow, was accepted as rabbi in Volozhin. The lives of the residents of the city of Volozhin were connected with the life of the Yeshiva in many ways, and the closing of the Yeshiva was a cause for heavy mourning in the city. This event also greatly moved the heart and tender soul of the lad Moshe Shmuel.

In the year 5663 [1903], Rabbi Moshe Shmuel married Chaya, the daughter of the Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Avraham Abba Zak, may G-d avenge his blood, the rabbi of Olshad (Alsėdžiai) in the Lithuanian area of Zamot [Zhemaitiya]. Both in the time he studied in Yeshiva, and after his marriage, Rabbi Moshe Shmuel excelled in his diligence and dedication to the study of Torah. With this, he also felt himself comfortable in world culture and the new Hebrew literature. However, he would only peer into the Haskalah books incidentally, literally at a time that was not day or night[i]. His primary world was with the Talmud, and its early and later commentators. His true love of Torah burned inside him, and that was his entire

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interest, in accordance with the ancient poet: “Your Torah is my desire.”[ii] His broad and deep Torah knowledge was not a source of income, or a means of any practical application. He satisfied himself with a life of simplicity and modesty both at that time, as well as in later years. A desire for an expansive life was foreign to him. However, he was one of those who grasped a great deal in matters of the spirit: his occupation in such gave purpose to his life and was the source of his happiness. This is the sublime meaning of “Torah for its own sake” – if one says “Torah” – it says everything.

 

B.

After several years, Rabbi Yisrael Moshe traveled to Kovno and studied in the Kollel there for one year. There, he was ordained to the rabbinate by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Kovno and Rabbi Moshe Danishevski of Slobodka. Then, he studied for a period in the Kollel of Rabbi Hayim Ozer in Vilna. He collected material for his book “Our Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin” while he was in Vilna. Then, Rabbi Moshe Shmuel studied for about three years in the Kibbutz of Rabbi Itzele of Ponevezh. After his marriage, Moshe Shmuel fulfilled the words of our sages: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah”[iii]. Until his marriage, he had only studied in Volozhin. In the year 5674 [1914], Rabbi Moshe Shmuel was invited to give classes in the Yeshiva that was founded in the town of Aniksht [Anykštis]. However, the First World War broke out at the end of the year, and the Yeshiva was closed.

The Yeshiva of Volozhin remained his spiritual birthplace throughout all his wanderings to places of Torah. Even though at times he expressed his dismay over the lack of direction in the study paths of the Yeshiva heads during a specific period, it remains a fact that it was not only his fundamental knowledge in Talmud and its commentaries that he obtained from the Volozhin Yeshiva, which he later deepened and broadened through diligence and dedication throughout the years until he became one of the Torah greats – but this Yeshiva also forged his moral personality and his spiritual image. The years of his study and education in Volozhin were decisive years in his life, the light of which shone in him until his last day. The warmth that his soul absorbed during those early years of his life remained etched in the fire of love for the Yeshiva of Volozhin and its Torah. Its influence never ceased throughout all the days of his life. The physical uprooting from the world of Volozhin in the midst of difficult life conditions – and later also from the world of scholarly Lithuania – did not cause a spiritual uprooting from that world. He remained faithful to the tradition and spirit of Volozhin. Typical of his soulful connection to the Yeshiva of Volozhin is the fact that his Torah-oriented literary efforts began with his book “The History of our Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin,” and the final article that he wrote was about Rabbi Itzele of Volozhin (published in HaDoar approximately two weeks after the death of the author).

 

C.

The Jews of Lithuania were never pampered with enjoyments and lives of excess. They were satisfied with little. However, even this little amount was not readily available in every house. There were many whose lot was a measure of carobs from eve of Sabbath to eve of Sabbath[iv]. Many of the marred Yeshiva students, Torah scholars, and Yeshiva educated people in every city and town who managed to gain a role in the world of commerce, and found some source of livelihood for themselves and their families,

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were unable to get accustomed to the ways of commerce and awaited a rabbinical seat. If a rabbinical position became open, many would leap forward, and the competition was great among the young rabbis. This would be the case even in a small, poor town that could barely provide a meager livelihood for their rabbi. Furthermore, even in scholarly Lithuania, the bumptious ones who knew how to promote themselves had the upper hand over the more reticent, modest ones whose souls were disgusted by cheap, loud, publicity.

Rabbi Moshe Shmuel, with his generous traits and sublime character, with a noble spirit and refined soul, could not get accustomed to the demands of this cruel reality. After much doubt and hesitation, he decided to part from his family for a while and to move to the United States. With a heavy heart full of sorrow, his family members, acquaintances, and friends parted from him. This decisive step frightened them: would he succeed in overcoming the difficulties of acclimatizing to that far-off, strange world? Would he succeed in finding a firm basis under his feet in the new world, whose principles, lifestyle, and spirit were so different than what he was used to?

He indeed stumbled across many difficulties during his first period in America. Only after many difficulties was he appointed to the honorable position of principal of the Rabbi Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. He served in that position for approximately 25 years. However, that did not bring him to complete rest. There as well, there were petty, narrow-minded trustees who embittered his life, to the point where he was forced to turn to the Agudas Rabbonim [Rabbinical Union]to protect his rights. He endured much suffering throughout his life. However, his difficult experiences and bitter trials did not crush his spirit or affect his integrity. Those who came in contact with him benefited from his good spirit, the light of his face, and pleasant demeanor, and enjoyed his great knowledge and personal charm. He found his comfort in the study of Torah and in his literary pursuits. It seems that during the difficult moments of his life, he felt the need to distance himself from the environment and to unite with the spiritual world of the Torah great and luminaries, the sparks of whose souls also burned within his soul. From time to time, he would publish articles that exhibited great analytical depth and deep sharpness in the Torah of our sages of his generation and of previous generations.

In his article “One of the Superior People”[1], Dr. Yitzchak Rivkind of blessed memory writes about the great contribution of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel to Volozhin research.

“He was 29 years old when he published “The History of the Gaon Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin” in the year 5669 [1909]. This first work brought attention to the author and his research. Rabbi Moshe Shmuel had all the talents of the soul to become the historian of the supernal Volozhin. He was a native of Volozhin, and remained a man of Volozhin until his final day. Volozhin was in him, and he lived as Volozhin.”

He revered the greatness of the Yeshiva from his youth until his final day. His work

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“The Yeshiva of Volozhin During the Years of its Closing and its Opening”[2] concludes with an ode to the Yeshiva.

“Volozhin always had some sort of attractive force, lofty and hidden from the eyes of everyone, secluded and enclosed within the walls of the Yeshiva. The spirit of the Gaon Rabbi Hayim, may the memory of the holy be blessed, the founder of the Yeshiva, hovered within it always and adorned it with a unique charm, which never left it until its last day.”

Rabi Moshe Shmuel died in Brooklyn (United States) on 9 Cheshvan, 5623 (November 6, 1962)[v].

Original Footnotes:

  1. HaDoar, 7 Kislev 5623 [1922], and in the anthology of writings of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel, “Rabbi Moshe Shmuel and his Generation” pp 23-31. Return
  2. HaDoar 5622 [1922], issue 36. Return

Translator's footnotes:

  1. A common expression for devoting a very small amount of time to something. Return
  2. Psalm 119:92. The ancient poet is King David. Return
  3. Pirkei Avot 4:14 Return
  4. A Talmudic expression for a meager amount of food, based on Tractate Taanit 24b. Return
  5. For more information, and his gravestone, see http://kevarim.com/rabbi-moshe-shmuel-shapiro/ Return


Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin)

by Shimon Zak (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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“The nobleman of the house of Volozhin” – Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan was called that by his acquaintances and those who appreciated him. He was born in Volozhin on 29 Nissan 5640 (April 10, 1880). The unique methodology of the Yeshiva of Volozhin found its full, sublime expression in his personality. A wonderful blend of broad Lithuanian scholarship, Israelite intelligence, populist simplicity, trappings of nobility, paternal tenderness and warmth, the strength of a spokesman and leader, the flame of a deep soul, and the sharp depth of analytical skills consolidated within him. He also studied in the Telz Yeshiva for a certain period during his youth. This Yeshiva greatly strengthened his vitality, which was embedded within his soul already from his early youth.

After his marriage, he worked for a short period in business. (His father-in-law Reb Tovia Rabinowitz was one of the large-scale merchants in the Zamot district of Lithuania – a wonderful character of a Lithuanian Jew who merged Torah and greatness). He settled in Vilna during his period of business. However, Rabbi Bar-Ilan did not find satisfaction for his soul in the world of commerce. He was a man of vision and internal drive, and he aspired to a different field of endeavor that would find release for his great aspirations and many talents. He moved to Berlin after a brief period and founded the HaIvri weekly, which became the mouthpiece of the Mizrachi organization. The newspaper continued to fill that role afterward, even when its editor moved it to New York at the beginning of the First World War.

In the United States, Rabbi Bar-Ilan became known as a talented leader and first-class organizer.

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He travelled the length and the breadth of the United States, and with his enthusiastic, fiery speeches, he agitated religious Jewry and the circles close to it in America. He was received everywhere with love and reverence. His audience of thousands was influenced by his enthusiasm, and was drawn by him to Zionist national activity. He literally reeducated our Orthodox brethren in America. He aroused them from their frozen state and indifference, and exposed them to the path of the renaissance movement, which was strange to them to that point. The Mizrachi organization, which was founded in all Jewish communities of the United States through his influence, attracted many who had previously been far from issues of Jewry. Throughout many years, it served as the most vibrant and active foundation of the Zionist movement in America, both from a national-cultural perspective, as well as from a practical perspective. From that time, a bridge was formed over the abyss that separated American Jewry from that of the old world. The feeling of common fate between American Jewry and the Jewish nation in general was implanted in the hearts of our brethren in America. Their hearts were opened to help their brethren in the Diaspora, and toward the building of the homeland in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Bar-Ilan played a great role in this revolution, which took place at that time within American Jewry and continues to that day .

 

His Literary Activities

“From Volozhin to Jerusalem” – this was the way of life of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan. This was a long path strewn with obstacles, but it was completely filled with activity and deeds, and illuminated by the ancient lights. In his memoirs between the two volumes of “From Volozhin to Jerusalem” Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan brings to life an entire era, and presents to us a long row of rabbis, Gaonim, activists, scholarly householders, mighty in Torah and with many deeds, wonderful characters revered in the eyes of the people, with whom the author felt himself at home in their company already during his youth. With a faithful hand, he portrays the people of that era, with their temperaments, essence, and talents. Through this, we become familiar with the environment in which they acted, and the place that each of them took in the Israelite world. The research abilities of the author, developed already from his early youth, are astounding. His portrayals testify to a fine sense of psychology, which enabled him to penetrate into the nature and understand the character of anyone with whom he came into contact. Light, hearty humor can be sensed between the lines, as well as a relationship of honor and reverence toward the personalities he describes. The personal weaknesses of some of them is also not lost upon us. Rabbi Bar-Ilan's memoirs will serve the historian as a valuable source of Jewry of the 70 past years.

Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan's literary activity over 35 years was broad and variegated. He published hundreds of articles on the issues of the times in periodicals published by himself, as well as in those published by others. There was no cultural, political, or communal issue within our world that was not subject to his analysis, via his clarifications and explanations according to his unique methodology, and fitting with his weltanschauung. A small portion of his articles and essay are collected in the Bishvilei Hatechiya [On the Paths of the Renaissance] anthology, published by the “World Covenant for the Torah V'Avoda Movement” on the 60th birthday of the late author. Aside from articles on current events, some of his essays on personalities were also published in that anthology. These essays excel in deep analysis of

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the personalities of many of those who laid the foundation of our revival movement, especially from the world of rabbis and Torah greats, the chief spokespeople of the Chovevei Zion era, some of whom later stood at the right hand of Herzl

Rabbi Bar-Ilan's third book is Rabban Shel Yisrael [Rabbi of Israel], a comprehensive biography of his father the Gaon, the Netzi'v of Volozhin – his personality, influence, and activities in the fields of Torah and the Chovevei Zion movement.

His style was fundamental and influential. He would create and forge his own sentences and connections with a wonderful voice. Their root was from the Bible, which lived inside him, and gave expression to his thoughts, moving his lips voluntarily and involuntarily. The words were flavored and spiced with adages from our sages from the world of halacha and Aggadah. Rabbi Bar-Ilan did not like the concise, summarizing style. Rather, he loved to expand broadly. He would add many accompanying statements, and connections and comparisons from the world of thought and culture, over and above the central matter. However, these “additions” were a form of “from issue to issue in the same issue.” They were not of the form of “extraneous material detracts,” but rather the opposite: they enlightened the eyes of the reader and broadened his knowledge and outlook.

The crowning achievement in his Torah-literary efforts was the publication of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, which he edited along with Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin. This significant Torah endeavor was carried out from that time, according to plans, by Rabbi Zevin, may he live long. Twelve volumes have already been published.

Rabbi Bar-Ilan's literary work and national-communal activities were like two sides of one coin: the thought and deeds blended inside him in a full, harmonic blend. He was not only the greatest innovator in the ideology of Mizrachi, the explicator and commentator of the fundamentals and ideas of the movement that he headed, but he was also the decisor in all practical matters. The great enterprise that clothed his ideas and opinions in the form of a multitude of literary and nationalist activities, the concern for the spiritual and moral situation of the people in the Land and the Diaspora, and the internal impetus for unceasing activity, accompanied by a deep internal flame, did not permit him to restrict himself to the world of study and ideas. They took him out to the expanses of life that demanded his responses and reactions day by day and hour by hour.

“The obligating situation that we should be active, that we should at least feel ourselves that our days do not pass idly… we have lost a great deal as long as we ourselves do not sense the constant activities, unceasing achievements, whether small or large – as long as we do not stop progressing and going from task to task, from deed to deed.” (Bishvilei Hatechiya [On the Paths of Revival], page 147)

 

His Educational Activities

For many years, the heads of the Zionist movement displayed an attitude of indifference to the questions of Hebrew culture, and ignored issues of Hebrew education and the need to develop such. The unfortunate results of this attitude were assimilation, national denigration, and the distancing of a significant portion of the younger generation of Jews

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in the Diaspora from Jewish values and national appreciation. This situation aroused fear in the hearts of the leaders of the nation. This was deliberated at the conventions and Zionist Congresses of recent years, and resolutions were accepted obligating the Zionist movement to dedicate its finest powers and energy to the strengthening of Hebrew education and nurturing Jewish consciousness.

Rabbi Bar-Ilan was one of the prominent personalities of Mizrachi who delved deeply into questions of education. He even reached set, firm opinions in this realm. “Study is not the main thing, but rather education” – Rabbi Bar-Ilan stressed in his speech at the convention a few days before his death, “to clarify the educational questions of Mizrachi. We must educate toward Torah and its commandments. And what are the commandments of the Torah if they are not fulfilled? The question comes to the fore today especially, can we rejuvenate life, and not a slow rejuvenation, but one with great energy and fire; our aspiration is not only to continue with what we have, but rather to renovate values and habits.” (Hatzofeh, 16 Nissan, 5709 [1949])

 

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The Kirya (Campus) of Bar-Ilan University

From right to left: 1) The Stollman Administration Building.
2) The Wurzweiler Library.
3) the Goodman Tower and the Polak Building

 

Rabbi Bar-Ilan regarded the crisis of the generation as the crisis of education, which misappropriated its role. In our educational efforts, we must especially pay attention to improving the moral makeup and composition of the generation. This task is much more difficult than the imparting of knowledge. “In recent years, we have seen how entire nations, millions of people can turn crazy: humans can become worse than beasts of the field…”

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“This is not only because of wantonness and coarseness in the world, not only because of errors and crimes around us, but rather travesties in the full sense of the term.” (Bishvilei Hatechiya, page 172).

Rabbi Bar-Ilan saw the vision of everything within the Torah, in accordance with the adage “Turn it over and over, as everything is in it”[i]. Simultaneous with his national and Zionist activities, he toiled and worked all his days to raise the splendor of Torah and its students. For this purpose, he founded Mifal Hatorah [Torah Project] to provide assistance to the Yeshivot and to publish a complete Israeli set of Talmuds, as well as the institute for Torah research. He also participated in founding the Yeshiva of the New Settlement, the agricultural Yeshiva, and others. Rabbi Bar-Ilan merited to have the religious Bar-Ilan University named for him.

The Hebrew village was not only a strong physical fortress in Rabbi Bar-Ilan's eyes, but also a shelter and eternal stronghold of the spirit of Israel and love of the Land. How great was Rabbi Bar-Ilan's joy when he lid the cornerstone for the agricultural Yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh. He regarded this blend of Torah and agriculture as a blend of two fundamental values of great influence from an educational and moral perspective.

With great sharpness and words filled with agony and pain, Rabbi Bar-Ilan spoke out against those who permitted themselves to display an indifferent and hesitant attitude toward the State of Israel because the outlooks of its heads and leaders were not on par with those of Mizrachi. “It is forbidden to bring such thoughts to mind. I stand by my opinion that the State of Israel is an obligation regarding the Torah and commandments. The State of Israel is a Heavenly phenomenon, the footsteps of the Messiah and the beginning of the redemption. With the founding of the State of Israel, we must also introduce the study of the laws of citizenship into the school curriculum. We must instill into the hearts of the students the spirit of the state and a recognition of national consciousness, not only of the past, but also regarding that which we are doing in the present. We are creating history at every moment…” (From the concluding speech at the convention of educational matters – Hatzofeh, 30 Nissan 5709 [1949]).

Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, the spokesman for religious Jewry, the leader and statesman, the talented writer, the man of vision and deed, the wonderful orator, who brought news of the renaissance to the dispersed of Israel in the many countries of the world, the initiator and creator of many varied literary Torah and national endeavors in the United States and in our country – embodied with his personality an image of great glory and splendor, overflowing with light and wisdom. This was the noble image of the “family of the rabbi”[ii], and the last Mohawk of the splendid Volozhin tradition.

He died in Jerusalem on the 19th of Nisan, 5609 (April 18, 1949)

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Pirkei Avot 5:22. Return
  2. Beit Harav – a term for the rabbinical family stemming from Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Return


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The Home
of Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Derechinski

(Memories and Impressions)

by Yona Ben-Sasson, Jerusalem

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

In the Shadow of the Cedars of the Dynasty of the Household of the Rabbi

In the Volozhin Cemetery, aside from the regular monuments, there were two or three canopies of the early founders of the Ets Chaim Yeshiva in the city – the canopies of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin and his dynasty. These canopies did not serve as regular venues of pilgrimage for wailing and making petitions. Indeed, on occasion, someone with hard luck would come to pray at the grave. However, the primary uniqueness of these canopies was that they marked the chain of sages who imparted to Volozhin a status of importance within Eastern European Jewry of the 19th century.

The canopies were part of the landscape of the city. The praiseworthy rabbinical house, wise women, rabbis, greats in Torah, and Yeshiva heads were part of the character of Volozhin in every generation. The city, from young to old, including the area, treated the Household of the Rabbi with the status of spiritual aristocracy, independent of role and title.

There are several items in the archives of my maternal grandfather, Rabbi Hayim Hillel Fried, that typify the character of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, his son Rabbi Itzele, and his grandson Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried. There is an article of clothing that is fully a tallis, with which Rabbi Itzele would enwrap himself when he stood before ministers in Peterburg. From Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak, there remains holy objects and covers of holy books made in artistic fashion from silver, as well as manuscripts copied with decorative script by a scribe who was employed specially for this purpose.

From Grandfather, Rabbi Hayim Hillel Fried, there remains many bundles of diaries, each page beginning with the heading “the graces of G-d.” Their content includes the details of loans that he obtained, and sums lent to those in need. He would borrow from others in order to lend, since his own funds were limited. He wrote the events of his days on these pages. This diary, which could form an entire book, was in our possession. When he made aliya to the Land, he left it with my uncle, Rabbi Shmuel Fried, a rabbi in Vilna.

These three tangible remnants of three generations apparently signify the paths of the ways of life of these three great ones of Volozhin: communal conduct is signified by the tallis; the beauty and pleasantness of a person's spiritual life is symbolized by the art on the private objects of Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak, and the practical concern for the fate of each and every individual in the community, without being commanded to do so

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by the power of official office, and without the personal ability to respond to the needs of the public, is expressed by the diary “Graces of G-d” of Rabbi Hayim Hillel Fried

 

The Remnants of the Household of the Rabbi[a]

My mother, Freidele, was the daughter of Rabbi Hayim Hillel Fried. The rest of the sons and daughters of Rabbi Hayim Hillel spread out through various cities in Russia and Lithuania. One of the sons, Rabbi Shmuel Fried, served as a rabbi in Vilna. He was also known by the masses for his good heart and his concern for the public and the individual. Another son, Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak, was occupied with the lumber trade, at first in Russia and later in the area of Danzig. However, he set times aside to study Torah even when he was fully immersed in the world of business. His day-to-day comportment guarded the family tradition. The other daughters of Rabbi Hayim Hillel, Rechel (Rachel) the eldest and her sisters Esther and Batya, married men from the area of Volozhin and from Minsk. The connection with the sister Esther and her family was severed at the time of the ascent of the Soviet regime.

This article is dedicated to describing the character and life of my father and mother, and of Moshe Zalman.

 

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My father, Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Derechinski

 

“This was his teaching. He found everything in the Gemara. He only taught Gemara in his class. Everything was proper and exact. All didactic questions were answered in an incidental fashion. He fulfilled the principle: One should always teach one's students in a concise fashion. In his teaching methodology, he worked to develop the straightforward logic of his students.”
These words, written by the editor of HaMelitz, L. Rabinowitz, regarding Rabbi Hayim Tyktinski, may G-d preserve him forever, the head of the famous Yeshiva of Mir, are a perfect definition of Father, Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Derechinski of blessed memory, as a Torah great and a teacher in the Yeshiva. As you traverse Vilna Street, the main street of Volozhin, during the evening, you would meet an elderly rabbi strolling leisurely, leaning on his cane, accompanied by a family member or someone from the Yeshiva, discussing words of Torah.

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He would greet the passers-by with Shalom. They would move aside to clear the way for him. A shopkeeper or tradesman would rise from their place. This would express the respect of the householders of the city toward their rabbi. This respect was expressed not only due to their personal connection with a scholar, but also to the honor given to a representative of the Household of the Rabbi.

If, during the summer, you would veer off in one direction to the path leading to Mount Bialik and the forest behind it – Father would also be accompanied there, as in the city, by family members or students, and would be occupied with words of Torah. Even the gentiles who lived on the road opposite the rabbi would display a level of honor and respect to him, just as did the Jewish residents of the city. This level of respect for the rabbi in his own right, and as a representative of a branch of the Household of the Rabbi, was also expressed with his connections to the secular and religious authorities – the Starostowa, district officials, the commander of the brigade stationed in the city, captains, the clergy, etc.

Among the halacha books that were in Father's house, there was one the content of which was different from the rest. In addition to the pages of the book, it included sheets of parchment cut along the length and width, and written in the script of a scribe. These were gets [divorce documents]. The day of a get was a day of complete gloom in Father's house. The mourning of separation and the loneliness of divorce oppressed Father the rabbi, and organizer of the get ceremony, as well as Mother. Father did not tire in his efforts to bring peace to the family until the tragic moment of separation. When that bitter moment arrived, Father, the organizer of the get ceremony, took responsibility along with Mother, who bore the yoke of comfort along with the divorced woman whose world had been lost. This sad ceremony expressed the responsibility that the Household of the Rabbi bore for the fate of the individual, and his tragedies.

Now we look at the image of Father from a different perspective. It was Sabbath in the synagogue. The Shacharit service had concluded, and one of the worshippers approached the Holy Ark to take out the Torah scroll. However, they prevented him. What happened? -- They are holding up the Torah reading![2] – Once time – it was the butchers whose meat the rabbi had declared non-kosher. They arose, defending their livelihoods, and did not permit the Torah to be taken out until

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a remedy was found for them. Another time, it was the recruits who were new draftees to the army, demanding reparations and assistance due to their draft to the army (apparently, a relic from the era of the czar, when those who went to the army freed others in a bodily fashion from serving).

The delaying of the Torah reading was a holy matter. The tumult would last for hours. The many would not dare impinge upon the rights of the few who were decrying injustice and demanding protection. Then the rabbi approached the Holy Ark, surrounded by a storm, as those bitter souls continued their screams and complaints. However, with all this, they cleared a path for the rabbi, and nobody was so brazen as to make any sort of physical contact with him. Father took out the Torah scroll and brought it to the bima, accompanied the entire time by those who ere delaying the reading, and repeating their complaints.

The delay of the reading reached its end, and they began to read the Torah. However, this was not sufficient. During the time of the service or immediately thereafter, the rabbi began to deal with and adjudicate the complaints of those who stopped the reading, and ensured that justice would be done. This was the power of the rabbi within his community.

The concern of the rabbi was extended to every Jew, and not only to the Jews of his city. A unit of the border guard (K. O. P.) was stationed in Volozhin, which included Jewish soldiers. Father left his studies and classes at the Yeshiva, set out, convened meetings, and enlisted the philanthropists. As a result, “Maachal Kasher” [Kosher Food] – a kosher kitchen for Jewish soldiers – was set up. It was one of the few in Poland during those days. Father was busy with this mitzva for several years, and worked as the prime mover in this matter. He worked with the commander to grant the soldiers payment for kosher food, he supervised the workers of the kitchen, and he took interest in details, including the portion of food that would be appropriate for the army directives, etc.

In the times prior to his aliya to the Land in 1934, Father's strolls with family members in the city and the fields of the area were dedicated both to words of Torah as well as the commandment of settling in the Land of Israel, for Father was a true “Chovev Tzion” [Lover of Zion]. In the Yeshiva, he encouraged and supported the formation of a group of Yeshiva students who went out to agricultural hachshara in a farm in the area. This was perhaps the only hachshara group that stemmed from a Lithuanian Yeshiva and made aliya in organized fashion as a group of pioneers. On these strolls, the conversation turned to aliya to Zion and to the life of the farmers who were working the ground, benefiting from the toil of their hands.

His pining for Zion was emotional. He ignored his old age, and believed that he would literally fulfil the commandment of settling in the Land of Israel with his own body. Father of blessed memory did indeed merit such, and he served as the rabbi of the farmers who were working the land in the Moshava of Yavne'el, where his son Moshe Zalman lived. As a great one in Torah, as a scion of the family tree of the Household of the Rabbi, and as a lover of Zion and its builders – Father earned a relationship of esteem in this Moshava of veteran workers of the soil.

Father's relationship to the upbuilding of the Land was expressed in his Torah works – with a full pamphlet at the end of his book Ohel Moshe, bringing a halachic solution to the bitter question for agricultural farms in the Land – milking on the Sabbath.

Even in his final days, when he was serving as a rabbi in West Jerusalem, he earned for himself a status of honor and esteem among the residents of the area. The characteristics of a great scholar and continuer of the tradition

[Page 242]

of Torah authority were an essential part of his personality, and stood for him wherever he went. Father never stopped studying despite the difficulties of the times and tribulations of life. A list of his Torah publications appears at the end of his book Masa Levi: two books in print, and a collection of novellae on the Talmud and responsa in manuscript. He also published more than twenty articles in Torah anthologies: Sinai, Shaarei Zion, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.

 

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Rebbetzin Freidele Derechinski (nee Fried)

 

The following is etched on the gravestone of my mother, Rebbetzin Freidele, at the Sanhedria Cemetery in Jerusalem: “Here is buried a wise and righteous woman.” This description of wisdom and righteousness was not just a cliché. It defined Mother's essence, as the residents of Volozhin knew her. Grandfather, may the memory of the holy be blessed, Rabbi Chaim Hillel Fried, once found under her pillow a note from mother, when she was a child. She requested her permission to study. A portion of her request was granted. They hired a private teacher for her to teach her Bible and the Hebrew language. She was successful at her studies, and she was well-known until her last days for her expertise in Bible and the treasury of the Hebrew language. This was wondrous in the eyes of the great ones and sages of Israel, such as Rabi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski and Rabbi Meir Berlin, may the memory of the holy be blessed. Rabbi Bar-Ilan (Berlin) wrote in his book “From Volozhin to Jerusalem” that the women of the Household of the Rabbi played a central role in the Household of the Rabbi. They imparted character and direction to the Household, and were true partners with their husbands in the spiritual leadership and dissemination of Torah to the public. My mother was one of those women. However, in addition to her role in the Household of the Rabbi, she also had her own mitzvot. The blessed pen in her hand served as a mouthpiece to the poor and suffering people of the city. Her letters were sent on their behalf to relatives and friends of the families in the United States, and brought assistance to these afflicted families. The people of Volozhin knew that they had a mother who would present their requests with a full heart and honorable expression – and they would be answered. They also had utility closer by. Anyone in need of assistance in Vilna, the district city, received a letter from her to her brother, the rabbi there, and he helped anyone who was experiencing difficulty. She also wrote letters to Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski to help those in need, and he respected her requests.

Mother left behind her contribution, Masa Laeifa, an introduction to Father's work Masa HaLevi, published after his death. In it she writes with great emotion about the events of Father's life

[Page 243]

from his childhood, tracing the places he lived – Slonim, Białystok, Vilna, Sorotzk, Wyszków, Volozhin, Minsk, Yavne'el, and Jerusalem. It also details his activities in the study of Torah and communal affairs. Masa Laeifa is a testament to her talent of portrayal and editing, and the richness of her language and style.

A characteristic picture is etched in my memory: Mother did not love the rabbinate as a source of income. The following was an unusual scene in the house. The tables were set, and the city notables were sitting around them. “For a happy occasion, what does one do?” They brought a writ of the rabbinate to Father to serve among the rabbis of Volozhin. There was a tradition in the Household of the Rabbi still from the days of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, preferring the work of Torah and communal leadership over a salaried rabbinical position. Grandmother had a respectable store, and she supported the household and even paid with her money Grandfather's debts that he borrowed to lend to others. Mother continued this tradition and maintained the store, until the times changed and the and the wartime disruptions resulted in a diminishment of livelihood, which became insufficient to support the home. Only then did Father agree to accept the rabbinical post.

This celebration of giving over the writ of the rabbinate melted immediately after the last guest left the house. Then, Mother burst out crying, and the honor and joy turned to anguish. Mother was distressed, and now the entire family was distressed that they were forced to earn their livelihoods from the rabbinate rather than from the toil of their hands.

Mother served as the address for anyone immersed in distress and worry. She was like an unofficial institution for advice and support. Her wisdom and pleasant demeanor, and the discussion with a scholarly woman shone upon anyone who was searching for support, advice, and comfort. However, this was real, from her very essence. Mother was a shattered soul, for she had endured many crises throughout her life. She lost her first husband, Rabbi Menachem Luntz, when she was young, and her oldest son, Eliezer Yitzchak, when he was a young child. She suffered during the tribulations of the First World War. After she made aliya to the Land, she was broken by the tragedy of the murder of her son Moshe Zalman, may G-d avenge his death.

Mother was a Rebbetzin not through the power of the writ of the rabbinate, but rather due to her personality and the tradition of the Household of the Rabbi. The name Freidele exemplified her traits of wisdom, righteousness and good-heartedness.

 

vol243.jpg
Moshe Zalman Ben-Sasson (Luntz)

 

In the family album one can see the photo of a charming lad at the age of Bar Mitzvah, with a Gemara under his arms, and dreamy eyes peering at you. This is Moshe Zalman, Freidele's son. He was a tender and wise child. Father taught him Torah and was proud of his novellae. His Bar Mitzvah speech from Emek Yehoshua made an impression in its time. His Torah novellae are recalled in Father's book Ohel Moshe, that he dedicated as a memorial canopy to Moshe Zalman after he was murdered,

During the 1920s, a young lad was sitting on a train, inwardly turned, without uttering a word. Next to him sat a Polish captain who attempted

[Page 244]

to get him to speak, but to no avail. The captain said to him, “Tell me, young man, what can I give you so that you will at least tell me one word?” The lad did not respond. This was the quietude of Moshe Zalman on the day he parted from the family on route to the Land of Israel. His internal world during that journey was full of an accounting of the soul of two decades of life that had passed.

He regarded himself as Mother's protector. When Moshe Zalman was a young child, and mother required caresses, joy of life, and support – he had to serve as a support for mother during her illnesses that she suffered from on account of the crises she endured.

When he left the bench of study and Gemara, he became the living spirit of Cherut VeTechiya [Freedom and Renaissance], the movement of chalutzim [Zionist pioneers] in Volozhin. He was involved in the establishment of the movement and in the social conventions. He also served as the ideological spokesmen and the recognized counselor of that group. Aliya to the Land was the pinnacle of what he absorbed from the Household of the Rabbi and the movement. According to his nature, these were values that became part of his personality and essence, leaving no room in his thoughts for other matters. However, since the world of his childhood and youth in Volozhin was very dear to him, he united completely with that world, and his ear was inattentive to the question of the captain who sat next to him on the train.

Moshe Zalman made aliya, and we followed him in aliya. My brother Chaim Hillel and I came to Yavne'el to visit him. We heard that Moshe Zalman Luntz would lecture that night in Beit Ha'am. We found that Moshe Zalman the first to arrive at Beit Ha'am! He set up the lecture hall, placed the benches and lectern, and swept the floor. That was Moshe Zalman. No domination, but rather work and service. He did not seek honor. He was the lecturer, and other should have been serving him. However, he served the community with whatever the community required, from setting up the benches to delivering his lecture.

A scorpion stung him as he was looking after the defensive weapons that were hidden in “Salik” for he was responsible for security. Here too there was domination, but rather service. He was the one who cleaned the weapons in “Salik” and he did not demand recognition or fame. At that time, there was no antidote to snake bites in Yavne'el. The paralysis spread through Moshe Zalman's body, and he was only saved through the mercies of Heaven.

Moshe Zalman kept a diary, from which we learn about the areas that caught his interest. Issues that were of utmost importance to the group during that period are recorded in his diary alongside details of his work, family matters, etc. Feelings of responsibility and bearing the burden of the group and family needs were expressed in his diary.

Moshe Zalman was a chalutz [pioneer]. That is, he did not work solely for a need to earn a living, but rather due to his weltanschauung that connected to the problems of the group, to issues of the spirit, and questions of the nation and redemption. The factors that spurred on his work were ideological factors. This is the clear sign of a chalutz.

When settlement was taking place in the Beit Shean valley, Moshe Zalman decided that his place was in that place which called out to chalutzim – that is to those who responded to vital needs to which there was nobody else to take care of. He

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wanted to move to a pristine, desolate, and dangerous area. However, he did not merit such. He was murdered by an ambush of Arabs on his way to an evening farewell party that was arranged for him.

His final words before his soul departed were: “Mother! Mother!” Even though he was a chalutz concerned with the needs of the public – his first concern was for his mother. Nobody knew like him the suffering and tragedy, and he tried to ease her lot in life to the extent possible. He even took on the family name Ben-Sasson to keep up the faith of her mother (Freidel = Sasson)[3], and to impart continuity to the unity of the family so that the three brothers would be called by the same name[4].

There is a large monument in the Yavne'el cemetery, different than the rest. This is the monument of Moshe Zalman and his two friends who were killed together by the ambush. There is no special pilgrimage to this monument, but it speaks to the heart of people from both Yavne'el and Volozhin who knew Moshe Zalman face to face.

The canopy of the Household of the Rabbi, which is noted for its uniqueness in the Volozhin cemetery, found its continuation in the unique monument in the Yavne'el cemetery. Through his personal fine traits, his responsibility to the group, his concern for its fate and its establishment, his concern for the individual and his faithful group, Moshe Zalman was a continuation of the branch of the Household of the Rabbi, which began with his grandfather Rabbi Hayim Hillel and continued through his father and mother Freidele.

 

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The grave of the three in Yavne'el

The grave of the three in Yavne'el. The grave of Yehuda Ilovich, Moshe Zalman Ben-Sasson, and Gedalyahu Geller, who were murdered on 2 Nisan 5697 (March 14, 1937) returning from a party that was organized in their honor in Bayit-Gan.
The following is engraved on the monument: “The three martyrs of Yavne'el, beloved and pleasant during their lives, and not separated in their deaths. Murdered on the evening of Monday [i.e. Sunday night] 2 Nissan, 5697.”
The following is engraved on the monument of Moshe Zalman: “Moshe Zalman Luntz Ben-Sasson, a scion of the Gaon Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, born 21 Elul, made aliya in 5683 [1923].”

 

Original footnote:

  1. Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor HaLevi Derechinski was born in Slonim. (The exact year of birth is not known. Apparently it was around 5634 – 1874.) His family was related to the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor of Karlin. He was the youngest of the five sons of the family. He lost his father when he was about ten years old. He studied Torah in Białystok, [Page 240] supported by his brother the Gaon Rabbi Yonah, a friend of Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk [1]. From there he moved to his second place of Torah, Vilna, where he became known as a great and diligent studier.
    He became connected with the family of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva heads when he got married to Freidel, the daughter of Rabbi Hayim Hillel Fried, may the memory of the holy be blessed. He occupied himself with Torah in the home of his father-in-law until the First World War. When the war broke out, he moved to Minsk, where he continued with the study of Torah. He became friendly with the great rabbis who lived in that city. The family returned to Volozhin after the First World War, and Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor was appointed as rabbi and Yeshiva head. The entire family made aliya to the Land in the year 5692 [1932]. Rabbi Derechinski served as rabbi in Yavne'el, Israel. He loved Zion and was faithful to the house of Mizrachi throughout his entire life. He died on 12 Shvat 5704 [1944].
    The works of Rabbi Derechinski include a) Ohel Moshe, dedicated to the memory of the martyred son Moshe Zalman (Jerusalem, 5699 [1939]); b) Masa HaLevi (Jerusalem 5704 [1944] with the volumes i) Masa HaLevi – novellae on the Talmud; ii) Masa HaLevi – Responsa. Furthermore, Rabbi Derechinski published articles in important periodicals.
    Return

Translator's footnotes:

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meir_Simcha_of_Dvinsk Return
  2. This was a common form of protest to grab the attention of the community. Return
  3. Freid (Freida – of which Freidel is a diminutive) means joy in Yiddish, whereas Sasson means joy in Hebrew. Return
  4. Moshe Zalman was the son of a different father than the two younger brothers, one of whom is the author of this article. Return

 

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