Translated by Jerrold Landau
by Eliezer Leoni
(according to the alphabet)
The essence of this group was the pride of Volozhin. Volozhin was their spiritual birthplace. From it they drew their ideology regarding the value of the study of Torah and the renaissance of the Jewish people. They gave birth to the image and form of Volozhin. Their learning was drawn from the Torah of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, with the Torah of the Netzi'v and the Torah of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Their words form chapters of Volozhin. When we examine the ideologies of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer or of Rabbi Mordechai Eliasberg we recognize in them the insignia and seal of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin and the Netzi'v. This speaks of Volozhin, and it makes no difference that Rabbi Mohilewer was born in the town of Hlybokaye and Rabbi Eliasberg in Cikishok [Čekiškė].
They were the faithful continuers of the Volozhin tradition. They planted saplings of Volozhin in every pace that they lived. Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe planted the Torah of Volozhin in Yehud, Rabbi Mordechai Epstein in Hebron, and Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer in the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Jerusalem. The modest chalutz of mild thoughts, Rabbi Mordechai Nachmani, planted the Torah of Volozhin in the Beit Midrash of Rehovot.
One strand joined most of them: patience. They were moderate in their ideology, masters of the golden path and tolerant of the views of others. They believe in togetherness and dwelling together joint action among the religious and the non-observant, for only through this means will the redemption be completed and will Zion be built.
In this way, the students were faithful to Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, for he too was not extreme in his views. He did not declare a war of boycott against Hassidism. On the contrary, he drew Hassidim near and brought the writings of the Hassidic greats into the Yeshiva library[*]. He dreamt of a blend of Hassidism and Misnagdut [the ideology of opposition to Hassidism], and thought in the recesses of his heart that if the two great cedars, the Gr'a [Vilna Gaon] and the Besh't [Baal Shem Tov] would have met the redemption would come.
This group takes a place of honor in our book, and we are proud of it. Out of concern for space, we were forced to only present a small portion of their many words and deeds.
Rabbi Eliasberg was 13 years old when he went to study in the Yeshiva of Volozhin. There, he was one of the choicest students of Rabbi Itzele, and a friend of the Netzi'v. He attained renown for his greatness in Torah. He made his nights like day [i.e. he studied day and night] and astounded his great rabbi with his diligence and desire for Torah.
The Torah that he studied in Volozhin, as well as the pogroms against the Jews in Russia during the 1880s, aroused the idea of settlement in the Land of Israel in the heart of Rabbi Eliasberg, and he gave himself over to that with heart and soul. He began to take interest in the needs of the community already during his youth. His example in this arena was his rabbi, Rabbi Itzele, who also worked greatly for communal needs, and was often absent from the Yeshiva due to his travels for the benefit of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Eliasberg regarded the revival of the desolation of the Land by Jews as the main thing. He said, We must increase the settlement in the Land of Israel by purchasing properties there and settling a large gathering of our people there, to work the land and built it up with fields and vineyards.
Rabbi Eliasberg differentiated between religions nationalists and natural naturalists. For the first, religion bound them to the Land of Israel, and for the latter, a natural love tied them to the nation and the Land. The source of differences of opinion between them stems from the source from where their national arousal stemmed. The arousal of the first comes from the words of the Torah and the Prophets, whereas the love of the nation and the Land of their fathers for the latter stems from the source of wisdom that they learned from the great ones of the nation.
According to Rabbi Eliasberg, the success of the upbuilding of the Land stems from the creation of alignment (in current lingo) between the nationalists and the natural ones He writes in his letter to Dr. Pinsker, When we need to do something for the benefit of the nation, we must bind two wisdoms together (i.e. the wisdom of the nationalists, and the wisdom of the natural ones) by two separate individuals, one great in Torah and the other in wisdom. When they are bound together, the first completeness that shone in Israel from ancient days has already been restored. The essence of the name of his book The Golden Path testifies to the intention of Rabbi Eliasberg to find the middle path through which the nation will go to greet its renaissance.
Even before Dr. Herzl, Rabbi Eliasberg said that our redemption would come with the help of the nations. He opposed Messianism that happens against the will of the nations and kingdoms. Our redemption must come in a natural manner, in a secular fashion and not through miracles the way of holiness.
Rabi Eliasberg wanted to see the Land of Israel, the land of life, the land of creation and of
youthful renewal, and not the place of refuge for the elderly and poor who come to be buried in the Holy Land so as to be freed from rolling through the tunnels.[*1]
He said, Until when will the Land only be a place of refuge for the poor of Israel, or for scholars who distance themselves from the ways of the world, whose conduct is solely in holiness, or for the elderly who come alive from the Diaspora to dig their graves in the Holy Land, and live the rest of their lives from the wealth that they earned in the land in which they lived.
Ahad Ha'am held Rabbi Eliasberg in very high esteem. He dedicated an article to him titled Rabbi Mordechai Eliasberg in which he calls him the Enlightened Rabbi.
Even in his work Divrei Shalom [Words of Peace] (page 56), Ahad Ha'am writes: In my eyes, finding such a rabbi among the lovers of Zion is a faithful testimony to the wonderful power in Chibat Tzion to straighten the crookedness and to draw near those far. Further, he writes, The Rabbi and Gaon speaks words of peace, and his heart is full of love to the entire nation as it is, without differentiation by class.
For his entire life, Rabbi Eliasberg desired to fulfil the commandment of building up the land with his own body. In his old age, he said, May the Merciful One grant me the merit of making aliya to our Holy Land, to work its soil as a simple works. They asked him, Our rabbi, your energy is to work the land? Rabbi Eliasberg responded, It is no big deal. I will be a guardian of gourds…
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook said that Rabbi Eliasberg was one of the few of the sublime people who penetrated to the depth of true Zionist thought.
The Volozhin Yeshiva enriched the spirit of the writer Zalman Epstein. It created within him the basis for humane culture, which was a blend of the Torah of Judaism and of secular wisdom. The Netzi'v planted the love of Zion within him.
Zalman Epstein writes about the Yeshiva: Through the influence of the youthful life that filled the Yeshiva, the study of Talmud and its commentaries also received some special lifeforce, of feeling and movement, of joy in the present, if it is possible to say so. The dry, wrinkled, aged face of that study was as if it was no more. They studied Torah, Gemara, and the early commentators, not out of fear of Heaven or because it was a mitzva, but only because it was something real, a science, wisdom The cold was not great, and they did not worry about a purpose in life, just like the European youth completed himself with general and classical studies, without worrying about is future and asking himself what purpose the poetry of Homer and the rhetoric of Cicero would have in his life.
When someone from a small city studied in Volozhin for several years, he turned into another person from the perspective of his external appearance, his clothing, his manner of speaking, and his movements. He would attract the attention of everyone when he returned to his home, and he would become an example for the rest of the youths of his city. When a young man studied in Volozhin, that itself was a sort of diploma regarding the knowledge of Torah and scholarship.
The nationalist doctrine of Zalman Epstein is based on the idea of unity and drawing from the source of Judaism. Zalman Epstein based the idea of unity on the verses in the Torah portion of Vayishlach: And he arose that night, took his two wives, two maidservants, and eleven children, etc. and brought them across the river, etc. And Jacob remained alone, and a man fought with him. These verses are bound with words of lore, that Jacob remained because he had not yet taken over small flasks, and the man who fought with him was the ministering angel of Esau.
Zalman Epstein states that this story is completely difficult based on the simple understanding of scripture, for when the entire family approached the river crossing, Jacob should have crossed together with them. But he did not do so, as the Torah states: And Jacob remained alone. At times, there are difficult incidents in life that led to the separation between fathers and sons. Here, however, according to tradition, Jacob remained alone only because of small flasks that do not take any special place among household objects. The bitter results were not long in coming: Since Jacob remained alone, the ministering angel of Esau fought with him. At times when the father is separate and the children are separate then Esau comes to fight with Israel. Had Jacob not concerned himself with the small flasks and instead crossed and advanced along with his children the ministering angel of Esau would not have dared fight with Jacob. When there is disunity among the people, especially due to small flasks then life is damaged and limping.
Zalman Epstein opined that had the Nation of Israel remained with its full, unique national character, despite the bitter, dark exile of 2,000 years, and despite the lack of a homeland and national life this is thanks to Judaism, and thanks to the Torah of Moses and the Prophets. If there is division among the nation, who do not find satisfaction with this Judaism they [i.e. the national character] leaves the nation forever, and is lost from among the community of the people of Israel. For, without this Judaism there is no longer a place for Jews. Judaism is the reason for the existence of the Nation of Israel.
Zalman Epstein states: Judaism is one of the most precious, excellent stones that are found in the spiritual treasury of the human race. The eternal curse, down to the dust, would fall upon that nation who has such a precious gem, who purchased it with the blood of its mighty forefathers, and gets up one cloudless morning and casts it off as an undesirable object, giving over its birthright to the wilting sprout, to the day-old gourd, to the passing shade.
However, Epstein does not only preach Judaism, but also that one should be immersed in the culture of the nations. However, the main thing is: the holiness of Israel, faithfulness to our ancient world, guarding the pillars of the Tents of Jacob that they do not move from their place.
Zalman Epstein regarded secular wisdom as solely the sheets of the tent, where there is no issue if their colors change or are swapped. This was the same situation as with the tent of the tabernacle that Moses constructed. Its foundation was built of standing acacia wood, but the covers atop the tent were of various types: some were of goats, others were of rams, and some of tachash.[*2] 
There is no doubt that new generations will arise among Israel who will remove the old in favor of the new in many corners of life, and life on the soil of the homeland will receive a new color this is the process that is bound with reality, and we cannot stand in its way, for this is the doctrine of life. However, says Zalman Epstein, There is one vital factor, unique and special, that Israel will stand at its full stature in the center of the renaissance, along with the renewed land and the renewed human being.
Moshe Mordechai Epstein
He was one of the great and wonderful personalities that emanated from the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein earned the title the Ilui [genius] of Baksht. This title was not easily given in the Yeshiva of Volozhin. It would only come after great investigation and examination, with which they used to examine the most excellent of the students. They would then nickname them in accordance with their great talents and qualities.
Along with Torah, the Netzi'v implanted the love of Zion in the heart of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai. He was one of the initiators and founders of the Nes Ziona organization a secret organization that operated clandestinely and even kept its activities away from the eyes of the Netzi'v.
|The insignia of Nes Ziona
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein left the Volozhin Yeshiva in the year 5648 (1888). He moved to Aleksoto (adjacent to Kovno), and married a daughter of the Frank family, who were faithful to the Mussar [morality] doctrine of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. The Volozhiner student accepted the doctrine of Mussar, and later became one of its pillars.
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai influenced the family of his father-in-law with the spirit of the love of Zion. With this influence, the house turned into a center of publicity for the settlement of the Land of Israel. In the year 5650 (1890) an organization for purchasing land and settling in the Land of Israel was founded in Aleksoto. The name of the organization was Nez Ziona. With its founding, it was explicitly noted that its members wished to live in the Land of Israel in the spirit of Nes Ziona of Volozhin.
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein traveled to the Land of Israel in the year 5650  as a delegate of the organization, along with Yehuda David Botkowski (a merchant and Chovevei Tzion member from Suwałki) to actualize the purchase of land. They purchased 30,000 dunam of land upon which Hadera was founded.
The news of the purchase of Hadera immediately spread in the Diaspora (and of course, reached Volozhin as well). Every lover of Zion saw it as their duty to bless the translation. Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer and Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector blessed the translation and those involved with it.
In the year 5651 (1891), Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein traveled to the Land of Israel once again. He had a bundle of money in his hand to complete the details of the purchase of the land, which was very complicated in those days. Menachem Mendel Nachumowski, also a student of Volozhin and a member of Nes Ziona, also joined him. However, they encountered great obstacles. The seller refused to fulfil the conditions related to the drying of the marches and the malaria. This was the cause of great disappointment to the directors as well as to Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein.
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai immersed himself in his spiritual world. He felt that a different yoke was pushing atop him, not the yoke of obtaining property, but rather the yoke of Torah. He would not be able to occupy himself with the purchasing of land and founding of settlements, but rather, a different task of building and planting was awaiting him the work of building Judaism.
A great tragedy occurred in the year 5652 (1892) the Volozhin Yeshiva closed. However, then the sun of the Slobodka Yeshiva shone. Many of the students of the Volozhin Yeshiva found a place in that Yeshiva so they could continue their Torah studies.
The head of the Slobodka Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel (The Saba of Slobodka) was seeking a young Gaon who could develop the Yeshiva. He found Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein fitting for this position. In the year 5654 (1894), Rabbi Moshe Mordechai was appointed by the Saba of Slobodka as head of the Yeshiva, which was one of the largest wellsprings of Torah at that time.
Indeed, this choice succeeded. The young Gaon, aged 25, dedicated himself to his high position with the entire warmth of his heart. Thousands of students streamed to this new Nehardea[*3].
When he was serving as head of the Yeshiva of Slobodka, his great book Levush Mordechai on Tractate Bava Kama was published at the beginning of the year 5661 (1900). It was accepted with honor and reverence in the world of studiers. This book,
like all his other books, was accepted in all Yeshivas as a fundamental book to attain the proper path in direct understanding and extra depth in the study of Torah.
The First World War moved Mordechai Epstein and his Yeshiva to Minsk, and from there to the district of Poltava. These wanderings proved clearly to him that there is no longer a place for a Torah center in the Diaspora, and he began to dream of moving the Slobodka Yeshiva to the Land of Israel.
In the summer of 5684 (1924), the first group of students arrived in the Land of Israel, and the cornerstone of the Slobodka Yeshiva in Hebron was laid in Elul of that year.
Rabbi Epstein made aliya to the Land of Israel in 5685 (1925) after being away from it for 45 years. His first stop was Hadera. That settlement, which caused him so much disappointment and bitterness during its early years, as if Hadera rendered its residents bereaved was now flourishing and sprouting up. Rabbi Epstein enjoyed the vision before his eyes, for his efforts were not for naught.
In Hebron, the city of the patriarchs, the golden chain that began in the hills of Volozhin and continued to the summits of the Mountains of Jerusalem and Hebron was once again tied to the soul of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein. That which he received and inherited in Voloshin he bequeathed to the Yeshiva of Slobodka, both in the Diaspora and in Hebron. Even though the Slobodka Yeshiva was conducted in accordance with the Mussar methodology (which was not the way things were in Volozhin), the pillar of Torah that was the fundamental foundation of the Yeshiva of Volozhin was transplanted to Slobodka. Thus, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein continued the chain of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, of the Netzi'v and of Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik.
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein only taught Torah in Hebron for four years. Disturbances broke out in the Land in the year 5689 (1929). Twenty-four of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai's students, great in Torah, were slaughtered before his eyes. The Yeshiva in Hebron was destroyed, and its survivors moved to Jerusalem.
The frightful disturbances and terrible destruction crushed Rabbi Epstein's soul and destroyed his health. He died in holiness and purity after disseminating Torah in his Yeshiva for 40 years.
One of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein's students writes about his rabbi: He was one of the last of the early Gaonim of Israel. This type of Gaon revealed and opened the storehouses of Torah in all aspects. These were the type of people in whose hands were the keys to the treasuries of Torah in all its types and subjects. They felt as if everything emanated from themselves, for everything was open and revealed to them.
Yehuda Leib Don-Yechia
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Don-Yechia as one of the rare students of Volozhin who left an interesting chapter of memoirs about the Yeshiva. In his memoires, he relates that he was 19 years old when he decided to move to a place of Torah, To the praiseworthy Volozhin Yeshiva. The Yeshiva left a strong impression on him. He was especially impressed by the Netzi'v and Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik. He describes the Netzi'v as short, with white hairs on his head and beard, and his entire body filled with energy and action.
Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik especially attracted his heart. He is described as, Having the head of an aged lion, connected to deep brain power. His image is etched forever in the memories of all who saw him.
As Rabbi Don-Yechia writes, his classes gave satisfaction to the audience, also due to their unique manner of expression. Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik knew how to express the finest of reasoning in a logical fashion. He was the statue of Talmudic logic. He knew the character and soul of the Talmudic rock very well.
His classes were free of the taint of didactics. Rather, they were replete with fundamental depth. In the Yeshiva, they said that Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik could split a hair into two. Rabbi Don-Yechia writes, Indeed, there was a need for special effort in order to understand the fine details of his explanation. However, anyone who merited to understand him would go forth with a great bounty. The rabbi writes, Rabbi Soloveitchik's head functioned endlessly like a steam engine.
In Volozhin, Rabbi Don-Yechia was among the members of the Netzach Yisrael organization. This was the organization that bore the news of the advent of Zionism. Members who excelled in the knowledge of Torah, in the fear of Heaven, and in literary talents were accepted into this organization. When they recommended that he join this organization, he made the condition that the organization must ensure that the idea of the love of Zion be expressed with holy purity, as a step toward the coming of the righteous redeemer. The organization disseminated the books of Sh. R. Hirsch and the brief history of Zeev Javitz to the Yeshiva lads.
Rabbi Don-Yechia studied at the Volozhin Yeshiva for three years. When it closed, he moved to Brisk to continue studying Torah from Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik, who had been appointed as rabbi of that city.
After he married the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen, the elder of the rabbis of Vilna Rabbi Don-Yechia got to know from up close the activists of Chovevei Tzion, headed by Zeev Javitz. The religious Zionists in Vilna founded an organization called Shaarei Zion, the members of which gathered in the Strashun library and occupied themselves with Torah and the ways of religious Zionism. Rabbi Don-Yechia gave the classes in Halacha.
Rabbi Don-Yechia saw the eternal path of the nation of Israel within religious Zionism. He published a booklet called Zionism Based on Religious Outlook that served as important publicity material for religious Zionism. Among other things, this booklet states, Not only does the Zionist idea not contradict religion,
but, on the contrary, it is in accordance with religion, based on the words of the prophets and the Talmud. Anyone who places obstacles in the path of Zionism will eventually have to give account. In another place in that booklet, he writes: Supernal providence has provided us with the idea of Zionism as a balm and cure for all the ills of our nation at this time.
Rabbi Don-Yechia believed that The Jew the sublime person, according to the image of the Torah will arise in the Land of Israel.
Droyanow was one of the few of the students of Yeshivat Ets Hayim of Volozhin who remembered Volozhin and pined for it all the days of their lives. The grace of Volozhin was never erased from his heart. In the year 5691 (1931), when he came to Poland on a mission of the Jewish National Fund, he was invited to Białystok for a celebration hosted by the students of the sevenths grade of the Hebrew gymnasja. At that celebration, Droyanow presented memories of Volozhin for an extended period.
He went to study in the Volozhin Yeshiva when he was 16 years old (in the year 5646 1886). When he arrived, he joined the Chovevei Zion group of the Yeshiva students. He as examined for the first time by the Netzi'v several months after he entered the Yeshiva. Droyanow relates that he entered the library of the Netzi'v. The rabbi placed one of the sharp didactic books before him, showed him a section, and asked him to study it for an hour or two, and then present its contents. Droyanow delved deep into the section, and when he was sure that the topic was clear to himself, he presented the section to the Netzi'v. After he finished his words, the Netzi'v said to him that he indeed fully understood the intention of the author, but he did not succeed. The Netzi'v asked Droyanow to take out Tractate Chullin from the bookshelf, from which was the source of the Talmudic discussion that formed the topic of the sharp didactics. When Droyanow looked into the source, he noticed that the author added the word no to the Talmudic source, and if one uses the original version of the Talmudic source, the didactic argument falls apart completely.
The Netzi'v said to Droyanow, You see, my son, had you started with this, that is by looking into the source of the Talmud statement you would not have had to exert effort for naught. This lesson that Droyanow learned from the Netzi'v, that is that one must always go to the original source and not suffice oneself with a secondary or tertiary source served as the candle for him in his wide-branched literary work.
Droyanow testified about himself that he learned about pioneering [chalutziut] itself in its sublime meaning from the Volozhin Yeshiva. Droyanow said, A chalutz [Zionist pioneer] is our kloiznik [someone who frequents a kloiz], our kabbalist, who dedicates his soul to the supernal awakening, to the unification of worlds, someone who dedicates his entire soul to the holiness of his work and the holiness of his life.
Droyanow regarded the Volozhin Yeshiva as a mighty fortress that guarded Judaism and Jews from all sorts of usual and unusual winds. When he studied in the Yeshiva, one elder, they told him about one of the heads of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva who was afraid of lightning and thunder. When he saw the sky darken and thunder threatening, he would immediately leave his home and enter the Yeshiva building. He would not move from there until the sky cleared, and the thunder and lightning ceased. That elder would say, Here, in the tent of Torah I am not afraid of any tribulations in the world.
Droyanow learned from the Netzi'v that the condition of living in our Holy Land is going back to the sources. When ne repents and returns to the source only then can he stop wandering through the world. The words of the Netzi'v are based on the legend that is told about the Holy Ar'I (The G-dly Ashkenazi Rabbi Yitzchak). It is told about the Ar'I that he once went out of the city to isolate himself, and saw all the trees, fields, and the entire river all filled with wandering souls. He asked them, What are you doing here? They responded, We had not repented during our lifetimes, when we were in the world of humans, and we did not strengthen the hands of our friends to repent. This is our punishment: We have been pushed outside the bounds, and we are wandering through the world. The Ar'i answered them: Repentance is great in that it reaches the Throne of Honor. No gate is locked in the face of repentance. Every time is its time. Repent, and you will stop being wanderers.
Droyanow saw the Archimedean Point in the Zionist Movement. What Archimedes did not succeed in we have succeeded. He searched for a point outside the world, in order to turn the entire world around it and could not find it. We have found it. We have found our homeland, the Land of Israel, which was outside of our world for a prolonged period.
In the year 5691 (1931), he went on a mission for the Jewish National Fund of Poland. During this mission, he studied and researched Polish Jewry. He reached very dark conclusions. In every corner, he saw the cloud of degrading poverty, where begging for bread was widespread in its entire fierceness.
He describes the Jewish Street in Vilna: Male and female shopkeepers, sitting like mourners at the doors of their empty shops, with no customers. Tailors and shoemakers murmuring like autumn flies at their machines and workshops, silent with no work.
Already then, Droyanow foresaw the destruction of the Jewish town, and the following words escaped his mouth: My precious town! In you I was born, raised, and educated, and in you
I spent the days of my youth. How great is my longing for you. And from these longings I hear that you are forlorn, dying, and passing away, for your end is nigh.
Droyanow saw a special depth in Zionism. This is not merely a return to the homeland. This is not merely a return to a life of independence and a life of creativity. This is much more. This is a blend of a supernal awakening with an earthly awakening. When the students of Rabbi Akiva entered the Pardes[*4] he said to them: When you enter toward the pure marble stones, and it seems to you like water be careful not to say: Water, water! Because the pure marble stones have some other essence, a different depth than simple water. That is the same with Zionism, which cannot be regarded as a simple path.
Droyanow made his biggest contribution to the Zionist movement in his book Writings about the history of Chibat Zion and the Settlement of the Land of Israel which is a veritable source to understand the Chovevei Zion movement.
Droyanow earned a name for himself in his Book of Jokes and Sharpness, which was published in three parts. Volozhin plays a significant role in this book. The jokes in Volume II, sections 2274 to 2296 are Volozhin jokes. I will include some of them:
Kalonymus Zeev Wissotzky
He was the son of poor parents. During his youth, he went to settle in a village founded by Jews around Dunaburg [Dvinsk or Daugavpils]. He settled in Moscow in the year 5614 (1854) and became wealthy through the tea trade. As he became wealthier, he did a great deal of charitable deeds.
His love for Zion was implanted in his heart at the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, where he had studied for three years. Already in the year 5633 (1872), when Rabbi Kalisher began his work for the benefit of the settlement of the Land of Israel, Wissotzky was one of the first to offer generous donations. His independent, fruitful work for the settlement of the Land of Israel, which bore much fruit, began in the year 5644 (1884). From that time, he was the first for anything good and effective that was to be done for the revival of the Land of Israel.
He disseminated the idea of the love of Zion among the wealthy Jews of Moscow. With their participation, he founded a group for the settlement of the Land of Israel, which would send significant sums of money for the benefit of those who settled in the Land of Israel. He assisted the members of the Balkind family to purchase land in Gedera (Qatra, as it was called in those days).
Wissotzky extended great assistance to Petach Tikva during its first years, He made sure that the residents
would not be dependent on the table of the philanthropist but would rather become independent. He was of the opinion that the upbuilding of the Land would not come from donations alone, and he thought of other sources to raise funds. He was influenced by the words of Smolenskin, that the movement to settle the Land of Israel could not wait for centuries or even decades. If the Jews do not succeed in working toward the settlement of the Land of Israel within one or two decades there will be no hope of reaching their goal in a natural fashion, for German settlers and others have set their eyes on the Land of Israel, and have begun to settle it and to purchase land there.
In order to advance the building of the Land, Smolenskin recommended the development of business, trades, and manufacturing in the Land of Israel. In the fashion of the countries of Europe, in which manufacturing brings livelihood to the majority of the residents, trade and manufacturing can absorb a large population in the Land of Israel as well. Wissotzky was prepared to contribute a tenth of the needed funds at the outset to begin manufacturing efforts in the Land.
At the Katowice Convention, Wissotzky expressed his willingness to invest 3,000 rubles himself, and he also wanted others to do the same. He also was interested in the Land of Israel turning into a spiritual center that will enlighten the entire Jewish Diaspora.
In his will, he left a sum of close to a million rubles for the benefit of the founding of a Beis Midrash for Torah and wisdom in the Land of Israel. He obligated his heirs to give over this sum through the course of fifty years, and the rate of 20,000 rubles a year. In his will, Wissotzky appointed Ahad-Ha'am and Rabbi Mza'h as trustees of this bequest. A portion of this bequest enabled the establishment of the Technion in Haifa[*5].
Leib Yaffe, the well-known Zionist emissary, was the grandson of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe (see later on about him). He went to study in the Yeshiva of Volozhin at the age of 18. His older brother Zalman was already studying there. He live in the house of Peretz the wagon driver, who would bring the residents of Volozhin and the Yeshiva students from the Molodchana stop to Volozhin.
Leib Yaffe was accustomed to isolating himself on the hills that surrounded Volozhin. There, his Zionist poems already began to form. He and his brother would get up while it was still night and go to the Yeshiva, as Bialik writes in Hamatmid:
In the morning, in the morning, before one can distinguish
Between blue and white, between a wolf and a dog,
At the time that from the silent darkness sparkle
All the stars of the morning, a host of myriads.
He pours out his longing for Zion in his poem There is no Beis Midrash, in which he doubtlessly describes the night of Tisha B'Av in the Beis Midrash of Volozhin:
In the darkness of the small Beis Midrash
One can only recognize the dark faces
The congregation listens sadly to Eicha
And laments and sighs through the dirges…
I do not recite, I do not weep, I only look
With tired, with dry eyes
Around at the people, who are sitting
In stockings, as they twist about and bend over.
How dull is the glow of the lights
That fall from the old candelabras…
They lament on the ground, as is the custom
As they have already lamented for tens of generations.
They weep over the ruins of the past
Of good fortune, long confused and lost,
The children of the people, who in exile
Have also become a ruin.
It is dark… The holy ark
Is bare, without the parochet [ark cover]…
I am silent, but I am in the synagogue along with the congregation
Who sigh and lament, without energy.
It could be that I am the only one who feels
How terrible is the suffering
Of the people who are far from their homes
How great is the destruction of us both.
Leib Yaffe writes that Chibat Tzion was a part of his essence from his childhood days. He was connected to the Land of Israel in a natural manner. His maternal grandmother, Rabbi Fishel HaKohen Lapin, and his paternal grandfather Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe made aliya to the Land.
As a guideline for his nationalist activity, he took the well-known statement of Dr. Herzl: Our activity
is so sublime, to the point that we must speak about it in the simplest words. Leib Yaffe conquered the masses with his straightforwardness, with words uttered in a simplest fashion. He strove for a blend of the doctrine of Ahad Ha'am and the political Zionism of Herzl a synthesis of Jews and Judaism. The wonderful expression of Menachem Sheinkin always stood next to his eyes: Had the Besh't [Baal Shem Tov] and the Gaon of Vilna united the Messiah would have come. The Messiah will therefore come as a result of the unity of Herzl and Ahad Ha'am.
Leib Yaffe knew how to find pathways also in the hearts of opponents of Zionism. He told of a visit with one Tzadik, a great Hassid, who was so influenced by the words of Leib Yaffe, that he said to him, Indeed, our paths are separate, but we will enter the redemption together.
Leib Yaffe did not believe that the redemption of Israel would come through the liberation of enslaved nations. These are not dependent on each other. He brought words from the speech of Adam Mickiewicz about Slavic literature: It is for naught that you seek to tie the Jewish question with the Polish question by promises of land purchases and a good physical future for the Jews. Is it possible for the Jewish nation to forget all the tribulations it endured through centuries? Can they forget their bright past for a morsel of bread? How great was the tragedy of the world that it was so treacherous against the remnants of the ancient people, who never lost their faith in Divine providence.
Leib Yaffe concerned himself with the traditional purity of our national endeavor. He said, It is typical regarding the internal feelings of our nation, for already from ancient days, when darkness covered the land and a fog the nations, King David was not able fight the wars of G-d and to build G-d's sanctuary, for he had spilled blood.
Leib Yaffe was fundamentally a great national poet. He wrote many poems, the finest of which was Behold, We are the Generation, which radiated with longing for the nation and the homeland:
Behold, we are the generation to which Heaven decreed
The path sought through longing for the fire,
And it did not reach the peak,
And the hunger of the heart did not satiate.
We have a Land whose rocks are scaled
With the marrow of bones, and with blood,
The paths of its deserts will be scaled by youth,
Every rock drips red.
And everyone who lives and breathes in it
Will be wasted from a placid life
And his soul will be cut off in calm…
And we we shall grab without stop
In agony and happiness
Despair and hope
We will fall and rise up,
And go on to be raise
To the heights of the peak Where the light is blinding.
This was the fruits of Leib Yaffe's education in Volozhin, as he strolled on Mount Bialik and walked through the alleyways of Volozhin at the end of the 19th century.
Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel's father, Rabbi Dov Ber, was one of the great students of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. He was one of the first group who studied in Volozhin. Rabbi Hayim was exuberant in his praise of this student, and said that he as awesome like one of the early sages.
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe was born in Ruzhany in the year 5580 (1820). At a young age, he went to study at the Ets Hayim Yeshiva, which was, according to the words of Bialik, A foundry for the souls of our nation. The Yeshiva of Volozhin forged the spiritual character of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel throughout all the days of his life.
He was from the second generation of students of the Volozhin Yeshiva, and studied Torah from the mouth of Rabbi Itzele. Rabbi Shmuel Salant, Rabbi Mordechai Eliasberg, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer, and the Netzi'v were his friends during his studies.
At the Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel was considered to be sharp and precise. When Purim arrived, his friends sought to select him as the Purim Rabbi a custom that had taken root already from the time of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. According to this custom, the Yeshiva students selected a Yeshiva Head [Rosh Yeshiva] to serve for one day in place of the true Yeshiva head who was fired from his position for that day. The lads would choose the sharpest and most incisive student as the Purim Rabbi. In his writ of the rabbinate they would write that he is the rabbi for one day and that all his Torah lessons and lectures must be random sharpness without a scintilla of truth.
When Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe was chosen as the Purim Rabbi, all the students gathered
together, including the Yeshiva head, Rabbi Itzele. The Purim Rabbi stumbled and delivered a speech of deep didactics in order to solve a certain question regarding a contradiction between the Jerusalem Talmud and Maimonides and the didactics was close to the truth.
The students turned to Rabbi Itzele and asked him to judge the Purim Rabbi, who changed the condition that was set with him, that it was forbidden to give a lesson that had even a scintilla of the truth. Rabbi Itzele smiled and said, Indeed it is so, the didactics themselves were true, but this is the problem: Maimonides and the Jerusalem Talmud upon which these didactics were built neither existed or were created, but rather they were formed in the mind of the sharp, incisive Purim Rabbi.
A deep love of Zion was awakened in the heart of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe already when he heard Torah from the mouth of Rabbi Itzele. One evening, when he was sitting in the Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel delved deeply into the verse Your clothing did not wear out (Deuteronomy 8:4). He saw in this verse an expression of our life in the Diaspora. In the Diaspora, we are forced to live through miracles, with Miriam's well, with and your clothing did not wear out., and similar miracles. The time came to return to the settled land to our land and homeland. There, we will not live a life dependent on miracles. Rather, we will live in a natural fashion, as is the way of all people.
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel connected himself to the Land of Israel with strong love, not merely from the traditional points of connection, but rather because he felt and believed with full faith that there is no other place in the world aside from the Land of Israel that can serve as a place of refuge for our nation. He expressed his faith in Zion with his unique sharpness. He said, Three festivals you shall observe for me each year (Exodus 23:14), namely The season of our freedom, the season of the giving of our Torah, and the season of our joy. We should add a fourth season: the season of our refuge that is to make refuge and to escape the Diaspora.
He was hitched to the yoke of Chibat Zion from an early time. In the year 5643 (1883) he became the assistant of Rabbi Yechiel Berl, the owner of Halevanon, to choose eleven families of Jewish farmers from one of the settlements near Ruzhany (his hometown), and bring them to the Land of Israel. These families were the one that founded the Moshav of Ekron.
In the year 5642 (1882), Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe published an article in Halevanon (issue 13) in which he spoke against immigration to America, and in favor of aliya to the Land of Israel. Among everything, he wrote in this article that anyone immigrating to America would indeed find livelihood in that land, but in such, only the individual would be saved, and not the nation as a whole. Not so with our Holy Land, for it is a long, difficult path at first, but it is short, good and easy at the end. For it will be the guide to myriads of families. Jaffa, Akko, and Haifa will become commercial cities like Odessa and Livoy[*6].
At the end of the year 5648 , Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe made aliya to the Land of Israel at the age of 68. He refused to settle in Jerusalem on account of the disputes that were taking place there ate that time. He chose Yehud, to which the first ones of Petach Tikva moved in the year 5642 (1882) on account of the malaria that spread there. Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel brought his student Rabbi Yechiel Michel Pines and the historian Zev Javitz with him to Yehud.
Yehud became the first agricultural settlement of Torah oriented people through the influence of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe. The Chevel Torah organization of Jerusalem decided to found a sort of permanent Beis Midrash for rabbis in Yehud. This organization sent to Yehud on its own account young men to study Torah from Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe.
After he visited Yehud, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer said that anyone who wants to attain some sort of concept of the World To Come should go to Yehud and see the world of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe there. This is a world where there is no jealousy, hatred, or competition, but rather of righteous people sitting, with their crowns on their heads, basking in the radiance of the Divine Presence[*7]
Rabbi Meir Gimple was also known for his sharpness and incisiveness, as is demonstrated by the following story: He built up a large library. His way was to lend books from his library to anyone who asked, but he made two conditions that the borrower will not write any notes or glosses in the book, and that he will not sign his name in the book. Once, an unsophisticated Jew came to him and asked him to lend him the Mishna of Order Moed. Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel fulfilled his request, but he repeated the aforementioned conditions. The person took the Mishna and began to study. When he reached the Mishna in Tractate Eruvin: Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda say: this is a donkey driver and a camel driver [*8] (chapter 3 Mishna 4), he did not understand the meaning of this Mishna. He thought that there might have been a printers error, and it should have said: He is certainly a donkey driver. He liked this theory, and he wrote on the page: fully a donkey driver.
When he returned to the Mishna book to Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel, he showed him his emendation of the Mishna. Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel said to him with a smile: You did not fulfil my two conditions: You wrote a gloss in my book, and you also signed your name on the book.
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe became ill with malaria three years after his aliya to the Land. He died on 25 Cheshvan 5652 (1892). Rabbi Meir Gimpel continued the tradition of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin in Yehud. In order to continue this tradition, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Pines approached the Netzi'v and asked him to serve as the head of the Yeshiva of Yehud. The Netzi'v refused for reasons that we described on page 58 (see there).
Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer was one of the great students of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, who was attracted to the idea of the settlement of the Land of Israel. He spoke explicitly about a Jewish state that would soon gather in the dispersed of Israel. Regarding the verse: And you shall return each person to his estate and each person to his family
he shall return (Leviticus 25:10) Rabbi Mohilewer expounded: When we will return to our land, to our old estate, then each person will return to his family. Then, we will find our lost children, our family that we have lost in the Diaspora.
Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer's grandfather, Rabbi Yosef of Horodok, was a student of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Rabbi Hayim called this student Yosef Daat. Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer's father was also great in Torah. He taught his son Torah and Talmud, as well as The Guide For the Perplexed, the Kuzari, and other books of research and philosophy. Out of concern lest the research books might arouse doubt and uncertainties in the heart of the son his father sent him to study in the Volozhin Yeshiva. Rabbi Itzele and his son-in-law Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak received him with honor, for his name went before him. He was ordained as a rabbi by them.
The idea of settling the Land of Israel began to take hold of Rabbi Mohilewer while he was still living in Volozhin. He understood that the task of preparing the hearts would be difficult, because the nation is not prepared for redemption. He found references for his suspicions in the Torah. It is written, And the sea returned to its strength toward morning (Exodus 14:27). Rabbi Mohilewer asked: Why was the sea in such a hurry, such that it already returned to its strength toward morning? The answer is: because even with all the signs and omens, Moses was not sure that the Jews would not want to return to Egypt to the fleshpots. Therefore, as the day was breaking, the sea hastened to returned to its full strength to block off the path for the Children of Israel.
At the Katowice Convention, Rabbi Mohilewer chose to speak about the vision of the Prophet Ezekiel regarding the dry bones (chapter 37). Rabbi Mohilewer said that it seemed that the dry bones were separated completely from the body of Community of Israel, and the Nation of Israel stopped being a nation like all the other nations of the world. Then the earthquake came, anti-Semitism came, affecting all Jews, whether religions or secular. This immediately led to a drawing close of the various sections of the nation. However, the drawing close was not sufficient until they will all be united with the common idea of the settlement of the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Mohilewer founded the first organization of Chovevei Zion in Warsaw in the year 5642 (1882), together with Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Meizel of Łódź. They issued a proclamation that was sent to every rabbi, to arouse them to work for the building of the Land in their cities and communities.
However, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik thought of an even greater idea. Instead of turning to the people to donate their coins, he said it would be better to approach 100 very wealthy people, asking each to donate 10,000 rubles for the upbuilding of the Land. Then, they would have a million rubles at one time, and they could do great things.
Even though Rabbi Mohilewer was unsure whether they could find 100 such philanthropists, he nevertheless agreed
to follow this path, and he told Rabbi Yosef Dov that he would begin by finding the first ten philanthropists. Then he, Rabbi Mohilewer, would complete the task by finding the remaining 90.
At the time that these Gaonim were searching for the philanthropists, and had already found two, a proclamation was issued about the founding of Bilu [acronym for] House of Jacob, Let us Arise and Go) [from Isaiah 2:5]. When Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and Rabbi Eliahu Hayim Meizel heard that students, that is, secular individuals, were traveling to Israel they were concerned due to the suspicion that the Holy Land would turn into a secular land. However, these two Gaonim remained with Chovevei Zion. When Rabbi Yechiel Brill, the owner of Halevanon, came to Russia in the year 5654 (1883) on behalf of the well-known philanthropist[*9] to search for Hebrew farmers to found a settlement in the Land of Israel, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik helped him in this matter.
Rabbi Mohilewer first made use of the tribulations of the Jews. He regarded the Land of Israel as a place in which the Nation of Israel would become a nation of farmers and laborers. When Chovevei Zion decided in Warsaw to found the Moshava of Rehovot, they sent from among themselves Rabbi Eliahu Zeev Levin-Epstein. He returned to Warsaw in order to give a report on the Moshava and what is happening there. The leaders of Chovevei Zion, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer among them, gathered together. Levin-Epstein rose up and spoke the praises of Rehovot: all of its residents set times to study Torah. Among them are those well versed in Bible, Mishna, and Gemara.
Rabbi Mohilewer stopped him and said, Your mission was to found a Moshava in the Land of Israel in which the residents are occupied with agriculture, and not to found groups for Torah. We are not lacking in Talmud study groups even in the Diaspora.
Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer also preached for a transfer to a life of labor and creativity in the Diaspora. He thundered against the Jewish factory owners who fulfil the blessing with which Jacob blessed Esau, and you shall serve for your brother (Genesis 27:40). He said mockingly and bitterly, Would it be that the Jewish tycoons fulfil all the commandments of the Torah, just as they fulfil the commandment ‘and you shall make your brother serve’[*10] From this, it can be implied that the Jewish factories are open to tens of thousands of gentile workers, but are locked before our Jewish brethren.
The work of Rabbi Mohilewer in the field of Chibat Zion is connected to interesting episodes. We will tell about two of them: He once visited Kovno. When he was staying in the home of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, who was his close friend, Rabbi Mohilewer asked Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan to permit the convening of a meeting of Chovevei Zion in his home. Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, who was also a faithful lover of Zion, immediately agreed. However, Yaakov Lifschitz, a great detractor of Chovevei Zion was also in Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan's home. He warned Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan that a great danger could expected in his home due to this gathering.
Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan sent a note to Rabbi Mohilewer, that for various reasons, the meting cannot take place in his home. The next day (this was a Friday), Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan came to the hotel of Rabbi Mohilewer and invited him to dine at his table for the Sabbath. However Rabbi Mohilewer declined this invitation.
In response to the astonishment of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, Rabbi Mohilewer responded, I am here in a hotel. If I order Sabbath meals here, I will be certain that the meals will be prepared, and I will have what to eat for the Sabbath. However, if I accept the invitation of your honor to eat in your house, and I do not order anything here, then I am afraid that your honor will send me a note that ‘for various reasons, we cannot eat in my house,’ and then I will remain hungry…
This is the second episode: The founding meeting of the Zionist organization in Russia took place in Białystok, where Rabbi Mohilewer served as the city rabbi. Due to his weakness, the attendees of the convention came to his home. Rabbi Mohilewer requested two things of them: to have their heads covered and to speak in Yiddish. Dr. Bernstein got up and said, We will do the first in honor of the rabbi. The second request is difficult to fulfil, because they are not fluent in the Yiddish language.
Rabbi Mohilewer responded to them, It is not for me that I make this request, but rather for the benefit of the matter. You certainly know that Moses our Teacher was ‘heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.’ Specifically this deficiency was a great benefit to the redemption, for had Moses been a great orator, then, when he would come to Pharaoh, he would certainly have delivered an enthusiastic speech about the value of human justice, world brotherhood, national freedom, etc. to the point where he would have forgotten the main point, the redemption of Israel. However, since he was ‘heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,’ he did not elongate his words when he came to Pharaoh, but rather went directly to the point, ‘Dismiss my nation.’
It is the same here: You are all excellent orators, and if you speak in the language in which you are fluent, I fear that enthusiastic orations will be heard here about the value of our idea, and the need for our work, to the point where we will forget the crux of the matter the founding of the Zionist organization…
Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer maintained a connection of discourse with the great ones of the nation. We will especially note his debate with Baron Hertz Ginzburg. In one of his discussions, he told the Baron that if the wealthy people invest their money for the benefit of the Land of Israel, we will merit to see, with G-d's help, a Jewish state in our day.
The Baron told him, The state certainly needs a railway, a telegraph, and the like. How can we Jews observe the Sabbath and festivals if we have to make sure that the trains depart on time? Rabbi Mohilewer responded to him, First of all, let the wealthy people build the railway and set up the telegraph in our land. Regarding the observance of the Sabbaths and festivals, we, the rabbis, will concern ourselves…
Another time, Rabbi Mohilewer debated with the Baron about the Land of Israel from the point of view of political and economic outlook. When the Baron saw that Rabbi Mohilewer was outsmarting him with his intelligence through his responses, he turned the conversation to another issue, and said to him: Your Torah honor certainly believes that the Messiah will eventually come and return us to the Land of Israel. So how is it that a rabbi such as yourself is conducting publicity in order to force the end [of time], and does not wait until the coming of the Messiah?
Rabbi Mohilewer responded, Since My Master the Baron debates with me from a political and economic perspective, I thought in my heart that the Baron is perhaps more expert at this than I am. However, when he starts to speak to me about issues of faith in the Messiah it would be appropriate if he left this question to me: a rabbi
of Israel [i.e. among the Jewish people] is presumed to be more expert in matters of the Messiah than Baron Ginzburg.
Rabbi Mohilewer succeeded in winning over the heart of Baron Edmond Rothschild. The baron did not believe that the Jews were cut out for being diligent workers of the soil. However, he charged Rabbi Mohilewer with finding ten families of Jewish farmers, and to attempt to found a settlement in the Land of Israel. If this attempt succeeds, he would take the issue of the Land of Israel into his hands. Rabbi Mohilewer found Jewish farmers around Ruzhany, in the district of Grodno. They were brought to the Land of Israel, where they founded the Moshava of Ekron.
Rabbi Mohilewer continued to preach patience regarding the non-observant, and to draw them near to work together in the work of the nation. In his letter to the First Zionist Congress, he wrote, We do not look at the firefighters who come to extinguish the fire to determine whether they are proper and complete in their religious outlook. He held that the Land of Israel was given to the entire Hebrew nation. For according to the Yalkut of Eicha[*11], did not The Holy One Blessed Be He say that Would it be that the children of my nation be in the Land of Israel, even if they impurify it. Rabbi Mohilewer said, Rather, we must enlist all energies so that the Land will not be impurified, but rather that it be sanctified with greater force.
Rabbi Mohilewer greeted the First Zionist Congress with hidden trepidation. At the opening of the congress, he sent a letter to Dr. Herzl, beginning with the prayer: Be with the mouths of the representatives of your nation the House of Israel, guide them with what to say, make them understand what they should speak, that they should not falter in their tongue, and they should not stumble in their pronunciation[*12] This letter was read from the podium of the congress, and made a strong impression on those gathered. It was published in Hameilitz. Sholom Aleichem translated it into Yiddish in the booklet that was published by Professor Mandelstam about the First Congress in Basle.
Isser Zalman Meltzer (Zunia Mirer)
His father sent him to the Yeshiva of Volozhin when he was of the age of Bar Mitzvah. The Netzi'v became very upset that they sent a child to his Yeshiva, which was designated for great scholars. However, after a few days, he was recognized in the Yeshiva as having great talent. He turned into a dandled child of the Yeshiva, and even the older students of the Yeshiva found it interesting to discuss words of Torah with him. They were amazed at the straightforwardness of his intellect, his quick grasp, and his refined behavior.
They said about him: There are many types of geniuses in Volozhin. There is a half genius, a great genius, an excellent genius, and there is also a genius of geniuses. However the genius with the definitive article is Isser Zalman.
Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik liked this excellent student very much He drew him near. Despite his young age, he brought him in to the restricted circle of lads with whom he prepared and organized his lessons before he delivered them in the Yeshiva. Rabbi Hayim would say that when Zunia Mirer opens his mouth the pathways of the mind are opened to him. He would further say that Zunia Mirer has a straightforward intellect, and if Zunia agrees with a straightforward explanation it is correct.
One day, the Netzi'v saw Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik pacing and walking with his student Isser Zalman Meltzer, with Rabbi Hayim's arm hugging the shoulders of his student, as they were sharpening each other with Torah novellae. The Netzi'v smiled and said, Rabbi Hayim on his neck, and they are occupied with Torah (based on the Talmudic statement: millstone on his shoulder and he is occupied with Torah? (Kiddushin 29) [millstone is rechaim, which sounds like Reb Hayim.]
Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva for seven consecutive years (5644-5650 1883-1890). Then he went to study for a year in the Yeshiva of Radin, under the auspices of the Chofetz Chaim.
In the year 5654 (1894), Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer as appointed as the Rosh Yeshiva of Slobodka, along with his elder brother-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein. When a dispute broke out in that Yeshiva in the year 5657 (1897) regarding Mussar, Rabbi Isser Zalman moved to Slutsk, where he founded the Slutsk Yeshiva. Prominent students of the Yeshiva of Volozhin such as Rabbi Yosel Slutsker (one of the great students of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin) and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (the great-grandson of Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik) , had formerly sat on the rabbinical seat of Slutsk.
In his Yeshiva classes, Rabbi Isser Zalman planted the Torah of Volozhin, based on the foundations of his rabbi, Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik. His style of study was indeed very close to that of Rabbi Hayim, but with regard to his relationship to the Land of Israel and its renewed upbuilding, he was closer to his rabbi the Netzi'v. He loved Zion, and was a member of the Nes Tziona group.
Despite his great expertise in the two Talmuds, the Babylonian and Jerusalem, Rabbi Isser Zalman would always say, I only recognize one page of Gemara, the page that I am currently studying. There are scholars whom, when you ask them what they are studying, respond: the six orders of Talmud. They think that they are studying the entire Talmud at one time. However, he, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, would say about himself, I am only studying folio so-and-so, and no more.
Most of his novellae are collected in his book Even Haezel, based on the verse And you shall sit near Even Haezel (I Samuel, 20:19). According to the interpretation of Rashi there, Even Haezel is a stone [even] upon which there is a signpost for travelers. These are the explanations and novellae on the words of the Rambam [Maimonides].
In the year 5685 , he made aliya to the Land of Israel, where he was invited by the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Jerusalem to serve as its head. Here, he continued the tradition of Volozhin.
May my lot be with you, the modest ones of the world, the silent souls
Who weave their lives in secret, discreet in thought and action,
Concealed dreaming, of few words, and great splendor;
The preciousness of your spirit is hidden within you as a pearl in the bottom of the ocean,
Your hearts a holy sanctuary, and your lips its closed gates.
(Ch. N. Bialik: May My Lot Be With Them)
Such was Reb Mordechai Nachmani, one of the layers of the foundation stone and founders of the settlement of Rehovot. He was modest in thought, dreaming secretly, and full of splendor.
He basked in the shadow of the Netzi'v and Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik for about four years. The Bible and Mapu's Love of Zion led Reb Mordechai to Chibat Zion.
Almost directly from the Volozhin Yeshiva, he made aliya to the Land of Israel; in the year 5650  and worked in Ekron. He came to Rehovot on the intermediate days of Sukkot 5651, with preparations for the first plantings. From then he lived there in a life of Torah and work. The Moshava, which was then at its beginning, quickly learned to hold the value of this precious man in esteem, and everyone loved him.
In the year 5656 (1896), the Ezra Chovevei Zion organization of Berlin purchased 50 dunams of land in Rehovot, and divided it into five fields. A small house and barn was built on each field, and they were allotted to five workers in Rehovot. The candidates were chosen by the Moshava committee. Reb Mordechai Nachmani was chosen as one of them. In the year 5662 (1902), he was chosen to the Committee of the Nine, which crafted the laws of the Moshava.
When the committee of farmers was first set up in the year 5682 (1923), Reb Mordechai Nachmani was chosen to the committee. His public work was conducted with modesty and dedication.
He regarded the Balfour Declaration as the Beginning of the Redemption. From that time, he stopped reciting the Tachanun prayer[*13] as he regarded the era as the eve of a festival.
Reb Mordechai Nachmani was one of the few spiritual people in Rehovot, who never departed from the ways of the spirit throughout his life. The Torah of Volozhin was not forgotten from his heart. He was a faithful soldier for the revival of the Hebrew language. After the British conquest, he stopped speaking any other language, and only spoke Hebrew at home, on the street, in the synagogue, and at gatherings.
He was righteous and upright in all his ways and deeds throughout his life. These traits gave him the status of a spiritual guide in Rehovot.
Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum went to study in the Volozhin Yeshiva at the beginning of the year 5644 (1883). In his words, he returned from the Yeshiva expert in the three Bavas Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, and Bava Batra). Rabbi Nissenbaum described his methodology of study in the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, which, as he testifies, was also the methodology of study of the majority of the Yeshiva students in his day, in the following words, Bread and tea morning and evening, bread and a hot dish at lunchtime, and a piece of meat each Sabbath. A straw sheet on the hard bed, and a pillow and blanket for sleeping. And Torah was our toil all day and for almost two watches of a winter night.
When the Yeshiva closed, he wrote to Bialik the following emotional words, Without doubt, the bad, terrible news that the holy Yeshiva has closed has reached your ears. We have been afflicted with a great misfortune. Our limbs have been crushed, our bones have been separated, over the destruction of the Holy Temple, for it was destroyed my eyes are a source of tears, and on the destruction of the Holy Temple, for it is closed, my heart is torn within me. [*14]
He was a member of the Netzach Yisrael organization when he studied in the Yeshiva. When the Yeshiva closed, Bialik went to Rabbi Nissenbaum in Minsk and asked him to take over the leadership of the organization. Bialik wrote to Rabbi Nissenbaum regarding this journey: Before my eyes arose that selfsame evening when I passed through Minsk on my route from Volozhin to Odessa, and I went through the dark alleyways of that city to look for you, as a demon, to fulfil the mission of my comrades and to prepare your hearts to join the covenant of the Netzach Yisrael organization. I sought and I found you and your friends as a demon in one of the Beis Midrashes of Minsk, where we discussed long and short about Netzach Yisrael and its goals.
Rabbi Nissenbaum turned to the members and asked their opinion about the future of the organization. In the months of Elul 5652 and Tishrei 5653 (1892), Rabbi Nissenbaum received responses from 18 members who comprised the majority of the members. All of them agreed that Rabbi Nissenbaum together with Rabbi Don-Yechia would act as the central committee of the organization. Rabbi Nissenbaum served as the head of the committee. He continued to direct the headquarters of Netzach Yisrael for two years, until the organization disbanded in the year 5654 (1894).
Already in the year 5643 (1887), Rabbi Nissenbaum joined Chovevei Zion. He acted primarily in the realm of Hebrew culture. In the year 5651 (1891), he founded the Safa Berura organization in Minsk.
At the beginning of the year 5654 (1893), he began to serve as Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer's secretary. In that year
he was among those active in the planting of an etrog orchard, which was planted on the 27th of Nissan of that year, the 70th birthday of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer. The orchard occupied 50 dunams, and was meant to supply etrogim to the Jewish Diaspora, so that they will no longer have to purchase Corfu etrogim. The orchard was destroyed during the First World War, and a Kibbutz of Hashomer Hatzair was set up on the location.
As a token of recognition for Rabbi Nissenbaum for his great activity in the planting of Gan Shmuel, which formed the basis of Hadera, one of the neighborhoods of Hadera was given the name Shechunat Yitzchak [Neighborhood of Yitzchak] by the Hadera city council in the year 5698 (1938).
Rabbi Nissenbaum centralized the activities of Chovevei Zion throughout the cities of Russia and Poland. He visited many cities, and enlisted the activists for the settlement of the Land of Israel. He made it a principle to preach once a month in the Hebrew language a great innovation in those days.
He believed that national work should be done with joy and enthusiasm. Only in this manner would it be successful. He explained the verse those who sow in tears shall reap in joy (Psalms 126:5) as follows, All who sow, whether in tears or in joy will reap. Both will reap. The difference is in ‘they go forth in weeping.’ Those who do their work with weeping, with lack of energy and sadness will carry the load of the seed, he will harvest only that which he planted, and no more.
Yosef Zundel Salant
Rabbi Yosef Zundel was born in Salant [Salantai] in the year 5540 (1779). He was one of the first ten students of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin. As is known, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin loved all his students, but he especially recognized Yosef Zundel because he displayed sparks of holiness and nobility. He would say of this student, My Zundel is a man of full stature.
Rabbi Yaakov, the rabbi of Karlin (author of Mishkenot Yaakov), one of the great students of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, once said to the son-in-law of Rabbi Zundel, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, Our great rabbi, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, loved his students. However, he loved your father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Zundel more than he loved all of us.
During the years of his study in Volozhin, Rabbi Yosef Zundel acquired for himself, through great diligence, great, deep expertise in all Torah subjects, in both the revealed and hidden [i.e. Kabbalistic] Torah. He would spend nights as days immersed in his studies, as he minimized his eating and drinking.
Rabbi Yosef Zundel especially won the heart of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin on account of the deed that his student did with his mother. It is told that they found Yosef Zundel on a rainy day sweeping a path on his knees on one of the roads. He was thoroughly wet from rain and dirty with mud, as he was covering the road with stones. He did that in honor of his mother, who would pass through that street daily to worship in the synagogue so that she would not step on the mud.
The following story is connected to the years of study of Rabbi Yosef Zundel in Volozhin: The students of the Yeshiva
saw him walking every morning and evening on the gentile street with a pipe in his mouth in general, an unseemly trait for a Yeshiva lad. They told this to Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Rabbi Hayim invited him to his house and said to him, My Zundel, they say of you that you stroll in the morning and evening on the gentile street with a pipe in your mouth. Is there any truth to this rumor?
Rabbi Zundel responded, Everything is true and correct, but I am justified. Our rabbi surely knows that hunger pervades in Volozhin, and having no alternative, many Jews of the city are forced to eat ‘gentile bread’ that is, bread baked in gentile bakeries. I have therefore decided to stroll morning and evening on the gentile street. Along the way, I enter the home of the gentile baker, and ask permission to take a coal from his stove in order to light my pipe. Incidentally I toss a toothpick into the burning oven, and I thereby save the Jews of Volozhin from eating gentile bread
As a student of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, Rabbi Yosef absorbed great love for the Land of Israel. The desire of his heart was to settle in Jerusalem. At the age of 52, he began to prepare for his journey to the Holy Land, and he arrived in Jerusalem in the year 5598 (1837).
He settled in the Hurva, and would circle the walls of Jerusalem from time to time, in order to fulfil the verse: Circle Zion and go around it, and count its towers (Psalms 48:13). Many houses were expanded and built in Jerusalem due to his influence. He was filled with joy and gladness each time he saw a new house being built in Jerusalem, to the point where he virtually danced on the streets out of great joy. He would say, The land should be built by whomever builds it, and finally the land will belong to us.
Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant lived in Jerusalem for close to 28 years. An epidemic broke out in Jerusalem at the beginning of the year 5626 (1865), from which Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant also perished. He died on 3 Cheshvan of that year.
Rabbi Shmuel Salant came to the Yeshiva of Volozhin with his Talmud. He had already become known as a genius. Rabbi Itzele, the Yeshiva head of that time, greeted Rabbi Shmuel Salant with great honor. He set aside a special room for him for his studies, and brought an entire set of Talmuds there, so that he would not have to move around to search for any point of halacha.
Rabbi Shmuel Salant expanded his knowledge and depth in Torah in the Volozhin Yeshiva. There was no bounds to his diligence and dedication to Torah. He would minimize his sleep, and delve into Torah during the nights.
Rabbi Itzele, who was quite amazed with the breadth of Talmudic knowledge of Rabbi Shmuel Salant
appointed him to teach classes in the Yeshiva. This was his first step in the public dissemination of Torah. He merited special esteem from the great ones of the generation, who prophesied great things about him as a great halachic decisor of the generation.
When Rabbi Shmuel Salant was in the Yeshiva of Volozhin, he exchanged letters with Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov (one of the great students of the Gr'a), who was already living in the Land of Israel. In those letters, he expressed his strong desire to settle in Jerusalem.
His years of study at the Yeshiva of Volozhin were etched deeply in the heart of Rabbi Shmuel Salant. His spiritual life was greatly enriched. He rose on the ladder of Torah, and also drew his strong love of Zion from the Yeshiva.
He made aliya to the Land of Israel in the year 5601 (1840), and settled in a dwelling in the courtyard of Hurvat Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid in Jerusalem. This dwelling had no light and no ventilation. There were no windows in its walls, so light penetrated through the door. A Talmud Torah was founded in the Hurva. With time, the Ets Hayim Yeshiva (as a continuation of Ets Hayim of Volozhin) was founded alongside the Talmud Torah. It became a center of Torah education in the Land of Israel. This Yeshiva attained renown throughout the entire Diaspora.
Rabbi Shmuel Salant did not interpret love of Zion in in an abstract fashion. His opinion was that one does not love Zion (or is considered a supporter of Chovevei Zion) unless he makes aliya to the Land of Israel and settles there. The idea of working the ground enthused him greatly. He used to say, Anyone who works as a laborer in planting the soil of the Land of Israel not only receives his daily salary, but also his worldly salary, for in this case he brings the redemption nearer. When he saw the laborers going out to their work, he would say to them, May my lot be with you.
When they began to build dwellings in the Nachalat Shiva neighborhood in 5632 (1872), and there was an urgent need to complete them before the rainy season, , they asked to take 50 children from the Talmud Torah. They hesitated, for it is written, one does not take school children away from their [Torah] studies even for the building of the Holy Temple (Tractate Shabbat 119). However Rabbi Shmuel Salant decided to permit this, since the commandment of the upbuilding of Jerusalem draws the redemption closer.
During that period, the Jews of Jerusalem were very poor. It is told that once, a tourist visited Jerusalem. After he toured the various institution of the city, he asked Rabbi Shmuel Salant if all the residents of Jerusalem are poor. Heaven forbid, responded Rabbi Salant. When the tourist asked him again, And what about the rest of the residents? Rabbi Salant responded, they are indigents…[*15]
Rabbi Shmuel Salant served as the rabbi of Jerusalem for 70 years. He was known for his good heart, and his dedication and concern for poor and those undergoing difficult times. It is said that once after he issued a judgment regarding monetary matters, the loser thundered and threatened to break all the windows in the home of Rabbi Salant.
Rabbi Salant turned to the people in his house and said, And he thinks that I will hold back, will be silent, and will not do anything? The litigant was afraid of the threats of the rabbi, and he fled. Later, the people asked him what he inte4nded to do? Rabbi Shmuel Salant said, I would immediately call the glassmaker to install new windows…
* His relationship with Hassidim was also very different than the relationship of his rabbi. Many Hassidim studied in his Yeshiva. They were pious and dedicated to Hassidic doctrine, and he drew them near in love and friendship. He even ensured that the many Hassidim who passed through Volozhin and came to greet him would stay for several days, so that he could become friendly with them. Once, the wise Rabbi Yisrael Jaffe, a publisher, passed through Volozhin, and the Gaon Rabbi Hayim kept him until the Sabbath. At a meal, he asked him to tell over some novel idea from his rabbi, the Gaon Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. His son, the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak, possessed all the books of the Hassidic Admorim, as well as many sermons and Hassidic writings in manuscript. He would peruse them, and blend in many precious ideas of Hassidim in his lectures. Once, his father the Gaon Rabbi Hayim came during a lecture, and he liked the words of the lecture very much. He said, My son is a great sermonizer Legend has it that after the death of the Gr'a, the Gaon Rabbi Hayim and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi came to Vilna to debate about Hassidism, and to quiet the fire of dispute. However, their journey did not yield results. (Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapira, The History of Our Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, end of Chapter IV.). Return
1*. There is a Talmudic statement that, at the time of the resurrection of the dead, those who died outside of Israel will roll through underground tunnels to be resurrected in Israel. See https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-resurrection-of-the-dead/ Return
2*. The top cover of the tabernacle, tachash hides, has no definitive translation in English. See https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4298548/jewish/What-Was-the-Mysterious-Tachash.htm where, among others things, it might be translated as a ermine, badger, seal, antelope, okapi, zebra and giraffe or possibly even a mythical unicorn. Return
3*. A reference to an ancient Babylonian Yeshiva. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nehardea_Academy Return
4*. Literally ‘orchard’ but it means the garden of esoteric Torah study. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardes_(legend) Return
5*. For Rabbi Maza'h see the Hebrew article: https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%99%D7%A2%D7%A7%D7%91_%D7%9E%D7%96%D7%90%22%D7%94 (you can translate it online). Return
6*. Perhaps Lwow. Return
7*. A quote from the Grace after Meals of the Seder night. Return
8*. For the quote in context, see https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Eruvin.3.4?lang=bi Return
9*. Baron Edmond Rothschild Return
10*. Although the original verse is that ‘you shall serve your brother’, the Hebrew can be twisted to mean ‘and you shall make your brother serve.’ Return
11*. A commentary on the Book of Lamentations. Return
12*. This prayer is taken from the supplication recited by the prayer leader in the middle of the repetition of the Musaf Amida of the High Holy Days. Return
13*. A supplicatory portion of the daily prayers, omitted on festive occasions. Return
14*. These words are written in the style of the kinot [elegies] of Tisha B'Av. Return
15*. The two Hebrew words for poor people are different here with the latter one, evyonim [indigents] indicating a deeper state of poverty than the former one, aniyim. Return
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Valozhyn, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 15 Jul 2022 by JH