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Rav Meir Halevi Chodosh, ZT"L

Rav Meir Halevi Chodosh, ZT"L
A Mashgiach Par Excellence

By D. Sofer

This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey NY.
Rav Meir Chodosh was a talmid muvhak of the Alter of Slabodka, Rav
Nosson Tzvi Finkel. Often, the two would discuss the Alter's deep
belief in gadlus ha'adam, the greatness of man.
"Man," the Alter would explain, "is the crown of creation. His soul is
hewn from Hashem's Throne of Glory, and has unlimited potential. When
man is aware of his lofty stature, new vistas open before him, and his
ambition to achieve greatness in Torah intensifies. Yeshiva students
must not be content with mediocrity. They must strive for perfection."
Rav Meir internalized these teachings and, years later, sought to
convey them to his own talmidim. He succeeded - and not just by
sharing them in his writings, discourses and shiurim, but also by
bringing them to life through personal example.
A rebbi in Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, which Rav Meir was instrumental in
founding, once related how three weeks before Rav Meir's passing, a
group of high school students who were unsure whether to go onto a
yeshiva gedola or hesder yeshiva, visited the Chevron Yeshiva.
"In the yard," the rebbi recalled, "they noticed that the door to an
apartment was open. Peeking inside, they saw an elderly Jew deeply
engrossed in his studies, oblivious to the people around him.
"The students asked who he was, and were told that he was the
91-year-old mashgiach of the yeshiva, whose mind could not be diverted
from his studies. The students found this hard to believe, and they
decided to take turns watching him.
"During the two hours in which they observed him, the mashgiach did
not lift his eyes from his sefer," the rebbi concluded. "Then and
there, the high school students decided to enroll in yeshiva gedolas,
instead of in hesder yeshivos."
Rav Meir Chodosh was born on 27 Shevat, 5658, in the Lithuanian city
of Paritch. His father, Rav Ben Tzion, and his mother, Machla, were
very pious people whose primary concern was providing their children
with a genuine Torah education.
Since Rav Ben Tzion often had to be away from home, the burden of
attending to the children's chinuch fell on his wife. Although the
family was poor, she hired a private melamed to teach her children.
The family sometimes went hungry, but the melamed always got paid.
When Rav Meir was 10, his mother sent him to study under Rav Pesach
Pruskin in Shkolv, since Paritch had no yeshiva of its own. A
year-and-a-half later, Rav Meir returned home to Paritch and began to
study with his older cousin, Leibele Lebowitz, a student at the
Slabodka Yeshiva. Leibele, however, soon returned to yeshiva, and Rav
Meir was left without a chavrusa.
On his next visit home, Leibele took the young Rav Meir back with him
to Slabodka, hoping to register him in the yeshiva. However,
Slabodka's mashgiach, Rav Ber Hirsch Heller, refused to accept him
because of his age.
Rav Meir, though, wasn't crushed by this rejection. He decided to
remain in Slabodka and prove to the yeshiva's staff that he was worthy
of becoming a full-fledged student.
But since he hadn't been accepted into the yeshiva, Rav Meir had no
place to sleep or eat. This, however, did not deter him. He slept in
the hallway of a home owned by a Kovno resident, and he subsisted on a
loaf of bread he had brought from home, plus a small piece of herring
that he bought with the pocket money his mother had given him. When he
finished the loaf of bread, he bought stale bread with the remainder
of his pocket money.
Despite these hardships, he studied with outstanding hasmada in the
yeshiva. In fact, just three weeks after he came to Slabodka, he
managed to learn in depth until Daf 28 in Masechta Kiddushin.
Word of his accomplishment soon reached the mashgiach. He decided to
test Rav Meir, and soon accepted him into the yeshiva despite his
young age. Once Rav Meir was a full-fledged student, the yeshiva
allotted him one of the highest stipends.
In his first zeman in the yeshiva, Rav Meir passed the demanding "pin
test." In this test, a pin was jabbed into a Gemara at random and the
student being tested was told which word it had pierced on one of the
pages. Then he had to recall the words the pin had pierced on
subsequent pages.
It was during his years in Slabodka that Rav Meir became the Alter's
close disciple and confidant. Their relationship lasted for 17 years,
until the Alter's passing in 1927. It is said that Rav Meir not only
absorbed the Alter's teachings, but also resembled him in all of his
traits and manners.
After two years in Slabodka, Rav Meir returned to Paritch to visit his
mother. During that period, his father, Rav Ben Tzion, had gone to
America in an effort to earn a livelihood. Unable to bear the
loneliness and separation from his family, Rav Ben Tzion asked his
family to join him there. But Rav Meir and his brother, Rav Dovid,
were both in Slabodka at the time, and their roshei yeshiva rejected
the idea.
After a while, however, Rav Ben Tzion again pleaded with his family to
come to America. When he promised to enable his sons to continue their
Torah studies, the roshei yeshiva sadly acquiesced. Just then, World
War Two II broke out and Rav Meir's mother tragically died, curtailing
the family's plans to move to America.
Later, Rav Ben Tzion said that he was happy that his sons hadn't come
to America, where their progress in Torah would likely have been
Rav Ben Tzion himself remained strong in mitzva observance in America,
and never desecrated Shabbos there, despite the many hardships he
During the war, the Slabodka Yeshiva moved to Minsk, and Rav Meir and
Rav Dovid joined it there. Soon, many other Eastern European yeshivos
also fled to Minsk, among them Brisk, Radin, Volozhin, Mir, Kelm and
In Minsk, many youngsters were attracted to Zionism and other secular
ideologies. Rav Meir and a number of friends tried to devise a way to
counteract this trend. They soon found that the only to do so was by
strengthening their own Torah study. To achieve this goal, they formed
a daily study group whose members took turn delivering chaburos. This
group studied 20 pages of Gemara a week.
When the Bolsheviks gained control of Minsk, they began to harass the
yeshiva students. As a result, Slabodka's roshei yeshiva decided to
move the yeshiva to Krementchug, a Jewish city in the Ukraine.
When a peace treaty was finally signed between the warring countries,
the yeshiva was permitted to cross the border and return to Slabodka.
Only two students remained behind - the Chodosh brothers. Their
sister, Gronia, had contracted typhus, and was to be married in a few
weeks, and they couldn't leave her.
The two bothers remained in Krementchug until after Gronia's wedding,
and then returned to Slabodka, crossing the border illegally.
Back in Slabodka, the yeshiva burgeoned, especially since there was no
longer a draft threat looming over its students' heads.
During this time, the yeshiva was headed by the Alter, and its
mashgichim were Rav Avraham Grodzinski and Rav Ber Hirsch Heller. Rav
Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Finkel and Rav Reuven Grozovsky were among
its students.
However, this golden era did not last for long. The Lithuanian
government soon cancelled the draft exemptions for the yeshiva
Some students wanted to go to Eretz Yisroel in order to avoid the
draft, but the Alter opposed sending them to Eretz Yisroel alone,
since there were no yeshivos suitable for them there.
It was then suggested that the yeshiva's staff and students go to
Eretz Yisroel as a group and open a new yeshiva there in the Slabodka
That suggestion was accepted, and Rav Avraham Grodzinski set out for
Eretz Yisroel, where he opened the Knesses Yisroel Yeshiva in Chevron.
Later, at the Alter's request, Rav Grodzinski returned to Slabodka,
and in 5685, the Alter, accompanied by Rav Meir and the final group of
students still living in Europe, set out for the already established
yeshiva in Chevron.
The yeshiva in Chevron flourished, and Rav Meir became the Alter's
right hand. In 5686, he married Tzivia Leah Hutner, the daughter of
Rav Naftali Menachem Hutner. She had come to Eretz Yisroel alone, and
lived in the home of her uncle, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the Rosh
Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva.
After the Alter's petira in 5687, Rav Meir remained in the yeshiva,
overseeing its students' spiritual growth, together with Rav Yehuda
Leib Chasman.
This tranquil period, however, was cut short by the Arab massacre of
Chevron 's Jews on Shabbos morning, 16 Av, 5689.
The Thursday prior to the massacre, as Rebbetzin Chodosh and a friend
were on their way to the market, they heard an Arab whispering,
"They're buying food for Shabbos, but don't know that they won't be
here for Shabbos. Arabs from Yerushalayim are on their way here and
will put an end to them."
The rebbetzin quickly returned home and suggested to her husband that
they spend Shabbos in Yerushalayim. But Rav Meir replied, "If it's so
dangerous, how can we leave the students alone? We have to warn
Chevron's Jews of the situation."
The two quickly told the head of Chevron's Jewish community, Dan
Slonim, about what the rebbetzin had heard. But he was not alarmed.
Chevron's Arabs, he assured them, were friendly with local Jewish
residents and wouldn't permit Arabs from Yerushalayim to harm them.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. That Friday, trucks filled with Arabs
from Yerushalayim arrived in Chevron. They quickly succeeded in
inciting Chevron' s Arabs to massacre the Jews.
Dan Slonim tried desperately to ward off the rioters and to save his
fellow Jews, ordering them to remain in their homes. Since Chevron's
Arabs were guarding his house, he announced that whoever wished to
take refuge there was welcome. The yeshiva students were then told to
leave the yeshiva, with some going to Dan Slonim's home, and others to
the Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein's home.
Early Shabbos morning, a number of Dan Slonim's Arab friends offered
to take him to a safe place. But he refused to abandon the Jews who
had assembled in his home, among them Rav Meir and his wife.
Later that morning, however, the Arabs attacked the Slonim home,
murdering nearly all of its occupants. Rav Meir and Tzivia, who
managed to remain alive, threw themselves on the bodies of the
victims, and lay completely still. Assuming that they too were dead,
the Arabs left them alone.
When asked how he was able to maintain his presence of mind under such
circumstances, Rav Meir said, "I recited Viduy five times and believed
that if Hashem wanted me to live, I would survive the riots, too."
After the massacre, the yeshiva moved to Yerushalayim, settling first
in the Achva neighborhood, and then in Geula. During that period, Rav
Meir served as the yeshiva's mashgiach alongside Rav Yehuda Leib
Rav Meir's approach to his students was an outgrowth of his shared
belief with his rebbi, the Alter, in the gadlus ha'adam. In his
capacity as mashgiach, he maintained that since man is the crown of
Creation, the way to encourage him to achieve perfection is not by
belittling or rebuking him, but rather by uplifting him and
encouraging him to realize his potential.
True to the Slabodka spirit, he viewed each student as the embodiment
of the best in man, regarding his negative points as merely external
features that still hadn't been uprooted. As a result, he found it
difficult to expel recalcitrant students from the yeshiva, saying,
"The sons of kings must not be rejected."
However, he also taught that in order to be a prince, one must
cultivate noble character traits and live up to special ideals. One
such ideal was that a person should always benefit those around him,
particularly by being giving and generous.
Likewise, Rav Meir believed that if yeshiva students were princes, a
yeshiva must not be related to as a regular institution, but rather as
a sacred one, whose very walls absorb that sanctity. As a result, he
disliked such terms as "to enter" the yeshiva or to be "accepted" into
the yeshiva. A yeshiva, he said, isn't a mass of walls and windows
through which one enters, but rather a place with which one must fuse
and become part of its very stones.
Rav Meir also maintained that the yeshiva students should cultivate
the trait of self-mastery, each according to his own personal style.
"A mashgiach," he would say, "lights the ovens. But the oven must
continue to burn on its own."
He often repeated the Alter's maxim that one who is spoon-fed cannot
become a baal mussar. In line with this teaching, Rav Meir didn't
appoint a student to wake up the others for davening in the morning.
Of course, he believed that it was important to fight the trait of
laziness, but he also felt that the yeshiva students should feel
compelled to wake up on time, on their own.
Once a week, Rav Meir held a vaad, or mussar discussion, in his home.
Despite the fact that the vaad was an ongoing event, every week the
students had to request that it be held. If they didn't, it simply
wouldn't take place. Rav Meir didn't regard this demand as a matter of
courtesy, but rather a means for training his students to pursue
mussar, instead of receiving it on a silver platter.
Another highlight of Rav Meir's role as mashgiach was his shmuessim.
One of his students, Rav Amitai Shulman, recalled what took place
every time Rav Meir gave a shmuess.
"There was no need to announce the shmuess," he began. "The hundreds
of students of the Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim knew that the
moment the Mashgiach rose from his permanent seat in the yeshiva, his
shmuess would begin.
"Within seconds the students would form a semicircle around the
mashgiach, each one vying for a closer position, in order to catch the
mashgiach's first words, which were generally uttered quietly and with
intense concentration.
"But until those words were uttered, a heavy silence prevailed in the
yeshiva's study hall, which usually rumbled with the sound of Torah.
"Hundreds of eyes remained fixed on Rav Meir, following his every
gesture - all of which resembled those of the Alter. But the mashgiach
would remain motionless, finding it difficult to hide his hesitation.
Although he had had delivered shmuessim for nearly fifty years, he
always felt that each shmuess was his first one.
"After a few moments of silence," Rav Shulman continued, "he would
utter his first words, quite, calmly, and in a fatherly voice. In
general, he would open his shmuess with a verse, and then bring
midrashim on the same theme or present a dvar Torah which, on the
surface, was difficult to understand. Then his voice would grow a bit
stronger, although he still maintained his quiet tone.
"As he spoke, the links between the midrashim and the verses and how
they related to the mishnayos and sayings of Chazal, became clear.
"He would remain still for three quarters of an hour to an hour. At
the end of the shmuess, he would nod his head, and the students would
disperse. Only Rav Meir would remain in his place, studying yet
another halacha, answering questions, and gazing lovingly at his
"Moments later, Maariv would begin. At the end of the davening, Rav
Meir would return to his seat in the mizrach, stirred by the spiritual
strides his students were making.
"In these discourses," Rav Shulman concluded, "he would urge his
students to constantly progress and to strive to reach the greatest
heights. He would stress that remaining in one place it is forbidden,
since every lapse in progress marks the beginning of a regression."
Rav Meir invested boundless energy into helping his students improve
their middos. He often told them, "Chayav adam lomar mosai yagiu
ma'asai lema'asei avosai, Avraham Yitzchak v'Yaakov," "A person has to
ask himself, 'When will my deeds reach the level of those of my
forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?'"
If the students wanted an example of one who had achieved this lofty
level, they merely had to observe Rav Meir.
Once, a certain person publicly harassed him in an unspeakable manner.
Years later, that man's son enrolled in Ateres Yisroel, where Rav Meir
was serving as mashgiach. Rav Meir devoted particular attention to
that boy to show that he held no grudge against the boy's father.
The extent to which Rav Meir would go to avoid offending others
sometimes startled even his family.
Once, while he was hospitalized for a serious illness, his room was
filled with visitors. A doctor entered the room to take a blood test.
Rav Meir abruptly asked his guests to leave the room until the test
was over. The guests were surprised at this uncharacteristic request,
but quickly left.
Later, he explained his behavior to a family member. "That doctor has
difficulty locating my veins. I didn't want the visitors to see him
fumbling, because he might have been embarrassed. That is why I asked
them to leave."
In addition to serving as the mashgiach of Chevron, Rav Meir founded
Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, along with his son-in-law Rav Boruch
Mordechai Ezrachi, and Yeshiva Or Elchonon, along with his son Rav
Moshe Mordechai. He served as mashgiach in both of these yeshivos. He
also founded the Chevron Yeshiva's famous kollel, Yeshivas Beis
Midrash leTorah.
It is impossible to portray the relationships between Rav Meir and his
thousands of students without describing his fatherly love for them.
In all the yeshivos in which he served as mashgiach - Chevron, Ateres
Yisroel and Or Elchonon - his apartment was located on the ground
floor, near the yeshiva's main door, so that he would be near his
He gave the key to his private home to scores of students, explicitly
telling them, "You can come inside whenever you want."
Twenty-four hours a day, a huge vat of boiling water was perched on
the counter in his kitchen. Beside it was a can of coffee, tea bags
and cookies. Throughout the day, students would enter his private
apartment and refresh themselves with hot drinks, while those who
stayed up studying until after midnight would stop off at his home for
a drink before going to sleep.
On Erev Shabbos, Rebbetzin Tzivia Chodosh would prepare a huge pot of
cholent, and dozens of portions of gefilte fish for the many students
who invariably came to visit.
Rav Meir's powers of concentration were immense. Students could enter
his house, stand beside his table, and even make noise, but he
wouldn't look up until he had completed the material he had undertaken
to study at that time. Even on Simchas Torah, when his home bustled
with activity, he would sit in his room, not lifting his eyes from his
sefer until he had finished the portion he had planned to study.
His son, Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, relates that his ability to
concentrate served him well throughout the years.
"One time, in Paritch, he was caught without his identification card.
Just as the soldiers were about to shoot, a commander who lived nearby
looked out of his window. Impressed by Rav Meir's saintly appearance,
he told them to leave him alone.
"As he faced those soldiers, he made a certain resolution, which he
never revealed to anyone. In addition, he said that if he ever found
himself in trouble, he would reflect on that resolution.
"[Years later,] as he lay on the corpses of the massacred Chevron
students, he concentrated on that resolution, ignoring the chaos
surrounding him."
On Thursday afternoon, 28 Teves 5749, Rav Meir's daughter came to
visit him. She asked him how he was feeling and he answered , "Boruch
Hashem! Alive! (Chaim)" He then added, "Chaim! - Ein Kleinkeit!
Chaim!" (Life! A trivial matter! Life!")
"We all know that for him "life" was the opportunity for additional
mitzvos and Torah", explained his daughter.
Rav Meir was taken to the hospital Thursday night. At 2:30 a.m. he
lost consciousness, and at 4:30, while surrounded by his family, he
returned his pure soul to its Maker.
His levaya set out from the Or Elchonon Yeshiva and was attended by
thousands. He was buried on Har Hazeisim, near the grave of the Alter
of Slabodka, in the plot of the roshei yeshiva of Chevron.
His influence as the mashgiach par excellence, who produced tens of
thousands of students, will forever be felt.