Kovno Home Page
Kovno Stories Links
Kovno Stories
Rabbi Yitzchok Eizek Sher
Click on Photos to Enlarge

Rabbi Yitzchok Eizek Sher

Rav Yitzchok Eizek Sher, the son of Rav Yosef Chaim Sher, was born in
5635 (1875) in the city of HaluskRav Sher ZT"L
By D. Sofer
This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey NY.
The Alter of Slabodka would often ask students what they thought about
certain top bochurim in the yeshiva. His purpose in asking such
questions was to uproot his students' petty jealousy and to mold it
into the purely motivated envy of kinas sofrim.
One time, he asked a group of students, "What do you think of Yitzchok
Eizek Sher?"
"He's very likable and genial," a student replied.
"What do you mean?" another student cried. "Is that all you can say
about Reb Yitzchok Eizek?"
"That's a perfectly fine description," the Alter said with a smile.
"It says far more than you think. A person who finds favor in the eyes
of man, also finds favor in the eyes of Hashem and is obviously a
complete man."
It was very likely Yitzchok Eizek's genial nature that attracted him
to the Alter of Slabodka when the Alter delivered a shiur in Yitzchok
Eizek's hometown of Halusk.
That shiur was based on Chazal's dictum that "one who shows his fellow
whitened teeth [i.e. smiles at him] is greater than one who serves him
milk." The shiur had a profound impact on Yitzchok Eizek, who was
always searching for ways to assist and gladden others.
Immediately after the shiur, Yitzchok Eizek asked the Alter to accept
him into his yeshiva, Knesses Yisroel. As soon as the Alter returned
to Slabodka, Yitzchok Eizek followed him there.
He remained a talmid of Slabodka for the rest of his life, eventually
becoming the rosh yeshiva of its Bnei Brak branch after World War II.
Rav Yitzchok Eizek Sher, the son of Rav Yosef Chaim Sher, was born in
5635 in the Russian city of Halusk. As a child, he not only displayed
unique talents, but also outstanding character traits.
After completing cheder in Halusk, he joined a group of students in
the city 's beis medrash and also attended shiurim given by Rav Boruch
Ber Lebowitz, who was the rav of Halusk at that time.
From Halusk, Yitzchok Eizek went on to study in Volozhin, which was
then headed by the Netziv's son-in-law, Rav Refoel Shapira. In
Volozhin, Yitzchok Eizek gained acclaim as an outstanding lamdan with
unique middos.
( Also studied in Plotzk)
After being inspired by the Alter's speech in Halusk, Yitzchok Eizek
joined Knesses Yisroel. There he studied b'chavrusa with Rav Avrohom
Grodzinski, hy"d, one of the finest students of the yeshiva, who
eventually became its menahel ruchani.
Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, who was a student in Slabodka at
that time, remembered the young Yitzchok Eizek.
"The kindly and brilliant Rav Yitzchok Eizek of Halusk was the
yeshiva's best student," he once remarked. "The Alter would send many
students to him for guidance, and appointed him head of the yeshiva's
Vaad Hamussar."
In 5663, Rav Yitzchok Eizek married the Alter's youngest daughter,
Mariasha Guttel, and moved to Kelm where he continued to learn
diligently. In Kelm, he became close with its baalei mussar,
especially Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, who played a crucial role in shaping
Rav Yitzchok Eizek's personality. He also studied for a brief period
in the Mir, where his brother-in-law, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel,
served as rosh yeshiva.
A short while later, he returned to Slabodka, where he absorbed the
Alter's teachings, in time becoming the prime advocate of the Alter's
In 5671, the Alter appointed Rav Yitzchok Eizek to the position of
rebbi in the yeshiva. As a rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Eizek was beloved by
his students. Despite his easygoing and amiable nature, he had no
difficulty imposing discipline in the yeshiva. His students obeyed him
out love for him, maintaining an appropriate distance from him even
though he was so genial toward them.
In terms of the yeshiva's policy, Rav Yitzchok Eizek's appointment as
a rebbi was an innovation. It was the first time the very same person
was charged with teaching Gemara and delivering mussar.
The Alter made such an appointment in order uproot the notion that
prevailed in certain circles that profound scholarship in Torah and an
affinity for mussar do not go hand in hand.
Rav Yitzchok Eizek was outstanding in both his Torah scholarship and
his perception of mussar, demonstrating that these two areas are not
separate divisions of Torah, but rather inseparable entities.
It is said that he used the same niggun in his Gemara shiurim and his
mussar shiurim in order to stress the inseparability of the two. He
even entitled his monumental mussar work "Shiurei Mussar," and not
"Sichos Mussar," in order to stress that point.
Many of these mussar discourses involved in-depth analyses of the
greatness of the Avos and other figures in Tanach.
With the outbreak of World War I, the yeshiva, which was forced to
leave Slabodka, moved to Minsk and Kremenchug. This was a very
difficult period for the yeshiva, which suffered from both material
want and persecution from the Bolsheviks.
During this period, Rav Yitzchok Eizek boosted the morale of the
students and strengthened their emuna and bitachon.
In 5680, after the yeshiva returned to Slabodka, Rav Yitzchok Eizek
began to head the Beis Yisroel Kollel, founded by the Alter. This
kollel was attended by some of the most outstanding graduates of the
Slabodka Yeshiva.
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky staunchly supported this kollel. "A world in
its entirety will be built from these avreichim," he wrote in a
letter. "They will produce future generations of talmidei chachamim."
During this period, Rav Yitzchok Eizek began to transcribe his
chiddushim in halacha and mussar. Some of them appear in an anthology
entitled Beis Yisroel, which he compiled. He also published special
journals called Shiurei Mussar, which contained select mussar
discussions of the Alter.
In 5688, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel went to Eretz Yisroel, along with the
majority of Slabodka's students, and settled in Chevron. At that
point, Rav Yitzchok Eizek was appointed rosh yeshiva of Slabodka's
European division, and together with its mashgiach, Rav Avrohom
Grodzinski, continued to raise the spiritual level of the yeshiva.
Due to the difficult circumstances, Rav Yitzchok Eizek also had to
shoulder the yeshiva's financial burden. He traveled to America on
several occasions to raise funds for the yeshiva. While in America, he
made efforts to strengthen Yiddishkeit there, delivering mussar
discourses in many communities. He also founded an association of
Slabodka students for the purpose of strengthening Torah.
After the Alter's petira, Rav Yitzchok Eizek and Rav Avrohom
Grodzinski published part of the Alter's writings in journals called
Or Hatzafon.
A few weeks before the outbreak of World War II, Rav Yitzchok Eizek,
who was in poor health, went to a spa in Switzerland, and was still
there when the war began. As a result, he was spared from the fate
which befell the rabbanim and students of the yeshiva in Lithuania,
all of whom perished al kiddush Hashem. Rav Avrohom Grodzinski was
among those kedoshim.
After much wandering, Rav Yitzchok Eizek reached the shores of Eretz
Yisroel. For a while, he lived in Yerushalayim, where he delivered
mussar shiurim. Dozens of people attended these shiurim, which were
renowned for their rich content and clarity.
When the Nazi troops neared Eretz Yisroel's gates, Rav Yitzchok Eizek
delivered one particularly stirring shiur in the Chevron Yeshiva.
"During one wartime period," he began as he rose to the bima, "two
people took a walk. Suddenly, they were accosted by a swarm of
mosquitoes. One of the men raised his hand and chased the mosquitoes
away in an instant. 'Our enemies,' he then told his companion, 'are
even less important in the eyes of the Borei Olam than those
These words, uttered at such a time, had a tremendous impact on his
listeners, and dispelled their feelings of despair.
Rav Yitzchok Eizek continued to raise people's spirits with articles
like this one, which appeared in the journal Knesses Yisroel: "During
these days of calamity, when the earth and the seas are like sponges
that absorb only Jewish blood and tears, we must recite 'Hatov
Vehameitiv' out of gratitude for Hashem's kindness to us. We must also
acknowledge that Hashem Yisborach is here, with us, in the Valley of
Meanwhile, the Slabodka Yeshiva was flourishing in Chevron. But on
Shabbos morning, 16 Av, 5689, the Arab massacred Chevron's Jews.
After the massacre, the survivors reestablished the Chevron Yeshiva in
Yerushalayim. Rav Yitzchok Eizek, at the advice of the Chazon Ish,
reestablished the European branch of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei
The yeshiva's cornerstone was laid in Shevat 5707. At that festive
event, Rav Yitzchok Eizek declared: "From the day of the destruction
of the Beis Hamikdash, Hakadosh Boruch Hu has nothing in His world
except the four cubits of halacha. The same applies to us. After the
terrible destruction of Europe's Torah centers, we have nothing but
the four cubits of Torah - the yeshiva."
Situated on a hill not far from Givat Rokach, where the Chazon Ish
once lived, the Slabodka Yeshiva attracted scores of outstanding
students. It was there that Rav Yitzchok Eizek continued to produce
generations of talmidei chachamim, and to impress upon them the
Slabodka derech.
Under Rav Yitzchok Eizek's guidance, the learning at the yeshiva rose
to a very high level. His charismatic and warm personality attracted
some of the finest students from Eretz Yisroel and abroad. These
students came from many circles, including Chassidic ones. In his
unique and genial manner, he encouraged and inspired each of his
students, many of whom eventually became prominent figures in the
Torah world.
In Eretz Yisroel, he was also a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah,
and would actively participate in its meetings, expressing his
opinions on every issue on the agenda. A few days before his petira,
he made great efforts to attend a Moetzes meeting held in Tel Aviv,
despite his failing health.
He had many plans for rekindling the spark of Slabodka and expanding
mussar study in the yeshivos of Eretz Yisroel. However, his poor
health prevented him from realizing all of them.
One dream that he did fulfill in Eretz Yisroel was publishing a sefer
called Avraham Avinu, distributed by Netzach Press. In this work, he
presents figures such as Avrohom Avinu, Sara Imeinu, Eliezer, Rivka,
Hagar and Lot from a deep mussar perspective. This work was to have
been one of a series on figures in the Tanach. Sadly, he was unable to
continue writing the series.
In the sefer Avraham Avinu, Rav Yitzchok Eizek conveys his special
approach to Torah study. One of his main points was that as far as the
study of Tanach is concerned, yeshiva students never develop the
concepts they acquired when they were small children in cheder. These
concepts, he insisted, must be expanded as one matures, and the
figures of Tanach must be viewed by the adult student from the
perspective of gadlus hadam.
PETIRA ( 1952)
Rav Yitzchok Eizek was niftar on the 10th of Shevat, 5712, after
suffering from a heart attack. His levaya was attended by thousands.
Hespedim were delivered by some of the greatest Torah and mussar
personalities of the time, among them the Ponevezer Rav, Rav Yosef
Shlomo Kahaneman and Rav Eliyahu Lopian.
When Rav Yitzchok Eizek's mita passed the home of the Chazon Ish in
Zichron Meir, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein delivered a hesped in his
Today, some 50 years later, the Slabodka Yeshiva on Rokach Hill
continues to flourish, and the light Rav Yitzchok Eizek kindled
decades ago continues to shine
Some other information from the internet;
When the wife of Rav Isaac Sher, zt"l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Slobodka,
was being hospitalized, a very unusual request was made. Rav Sher
asked if he could also be admitted to the hospital along with his
wife. He explained that he wanted to be there with her at all times to
share, as much as possible, what she was gong through. Only that way
would he be best able to help lighten the pain she was experiencing
and the burden she was carrying.
Permission was granted and they were both 'admitted' to the hospital.
They remained there together for a number of weeks until the Rebbetzin
was ready to be released.
I could only imagine the profound effect that Rav Sher's sorely missed
presence must have had on the students at the Yeshiva. The lesson of
those weeks of his absence must have equaled years of intense study in
caring for a spouse.
In laws of Rabbi Sher;
Beile Dvora Shulman was the wife of Reb Simcha Shmuel Shulman, who had
received semichah (ordination) from the Aruch HaShulchan (Rabbi
Yechiel Michel Epstein), beginning with the words: Simchah B'MiOno
V'Shmuel B'Korai Shmo. Yet he refused to accept a rabbinical position,
and became a manufacturer. After he died at forty, his young widow
dedicated the rest of her life to raising her eight sons and one
daughter to a life of Torah. In spite of all sorts of difficulties,
she realized her goal: Some learned in the Lomza Yeshiva (they ate
Shabbos and Yom Tov meals in our house for years), some in Slobodke,
some in Kamenetz. One of them, Reb Mordechai, (1902-1953) married
Chaia Miryam , the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Sher of Slobodka, and
became Rosh Yeshiva in the Yeshiva Slobodka in Bnai Brak, Israel.
Their only son ( they also had two daughters), Rabbi Nathan Shulman,
replaced him. Now the two sons in law head the Yeshiva.
by Chaim Shapiro
The words "you shall be for me" also indicate that it is a
responsibility for Jews to conduct themselves as "a kingdom of priests
and a holy nation." because they have the privilege of fulfilling "you
will hearken to My voice and observe My treaty" It is a privilege for
the Jews to be able to serve G-d by doing the commandments. It is
therefore appropriate to endeavor to be worthy of this privilege - by
truly acting like a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation"
(R' Yitzchok Aizik Sher - P'ninim MiShulchan Govoha
According to Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher, ztz"l, Lot had come to Sedom in
order to bring its inhabitants closer to the path of Avraham Avinu.
Still, once his home was no longer a sterile environment, Lot and his
family quickly succumbed to infection from the contagious moral
diseases of Sedom.
Rav Isaac Sher zt"l explains that Yaakov did not need to buy the
birthright from Esav in order to be considered the b'chor {firstborn}.
Similarly, Esav did not lose the birthright because he had sold it to
Reuven, the firstborn of Yaakov, was destined to be the kohen {priest}
and the king. Because of the slight sin he performed when, thinking he
was fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring his mother, he moved Yaakov's
mattress from Zilpah's tent to his mother, Leah's tent, he lost the
b'chorah. There was no need for any sale. Reuven wasn't deserving --
he therefore couldn't and wouldn't get it.
The firstborns were designated to perform the divine service of
sacrifices. They disqualified themselves by participating in the
'cheit ha'egel' {the sin of the golden calf}. The tribe of Levi, by
not worshipping the egel {calf}, were chosen to perform the service in
their stead. Once again, there was no need for a 'sale'. If they were
not worthy then it was transferred to others who were.
If so, then regardless of the sale, Esav, who was not worthy, was not
going to be the
b'chor. Yaakov, who was deserving, was clearly the b'chor
Cheshbon ha-Nefesh
This work offers a step-by-step approach to character refinement.
Facing Hebrew and English, with an introduction by Rabbi Yitzchok
Isaac Sher of Slobodka. 192 pp.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller of Ocean Parkway New YorK.....
In 1932, he followed Reb Izaak Sher to Slobodka, where he spent 6
years learning.....
Reb Boruch Yitzchak Levine (1910-1988). His paternal grandfather was
Reb Menachem Nachum, who was very close to the Chofetz Chaim and was a
talmidim of Reb Nachum of Horodna, the Chofetz Chaim's mentor. His
maternal grandfather was Reb Yehuda Leib Davidson, a talmid of Reb
Yisroel Salanter, who served as Rov in Des Moines, Iowa, and later in
Ohio and Los Angeles. ...... Shortly thereafter, he became Rov of the
Mekor Chaim suburb of Yerushalayim and started a yeshiva there with
the assistance of Reb Eizek Sher of Slobodka.
Maran HaRav Elozar Menachem Man Schach Zt"l
By Rav Mordechai Kamenetsky
Rav Schach ( born in Vablonik to Bat Sheva nee levitan and Rav Azriel
.....Eventually the young prodigy joined the great Yeshiva of
Slabodka, Knesses Yisrael, under the leadership of the legendary Alter
of Slobodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel In the short time he was there he
developed a close relationship with Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher, Rav Moshe
Mordechai Epstein and above all, with the great Gaon Rav Isser Zalman
In Slobodka, it soon became apparent that Rav Schach was destined for
gadlus. Though he would continue on to become a talmid of other
Yeshivos, he would forever feel a closeness to Slobodka, extolling the
praises of its unique approach to Ameilus baTorah, and the Shviras
Hamidos which is the prerequisite of true character refinement. He
would always refer to Slobodka as “Aim HaYeshivosâ€Â-the
mother of
yeshivos and would declare that “all of the Yeshivos in existence
today, bIn 1932, Rabbi Izak Sher, zt'l, Rosh Yeshiva of the Slobodka
Yeshiva in Lithuania, and son-in-law of the yeshiva's founder, the
Alter of Slabodka (Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel) zt'l, came to America to
raise money for the Yeshiva. While in the United States, Rabbi Sher
delivered several shmuessen in the Broadway Central Hotel where he was
staying. Young Avigdor Miller was impressed with the mussar system he
espoused, and felt drawn to Slabodka. He had one problem: he was
learning with great diligence, utilizing every spare moment; what more
would he accomplish in Slabodka? He consulted Rabbi Yehuda Davis, an
old friend of his from Baltimore, who had already been to Slabodka and
was going back. He advised him, "What it takes four hours to learn
here, you can learn in one hour in Slabodka." The decision was made.
Rabbi Sher's visit was during the Depression, and he did not come back
with much money for his yeshiva, but he did succeed in returning with
goods far more precious: dedicated American bachurim, who would
eventually be instrumental in changing the face of American Jewry.
Slabodka Years
Reb Avigdor arrived in Slabodka before Shavuos. In Slabodka, his
hasmada (diligence) became even more intense. During the first three
hours of the day he wouldn't talk to anyone, even if they wished to
discuss the Gemora. If approached, he would motion "Later" with his
The yeshiva only provided one meal a day. The $10 monthly that his
parents sent him went for rent and food, leaving little for clothing.
Later, when the dollar was devalued and $10 was worth only $5, he
often went hungry. No sacrifice was too big for the sake of enhanced
Torah learning.
In 1935, he married Etel Lesin, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Moshe
Lesin, zt'l, Rav of Neustadt-Zugind, a prize student of the Alter of
Slabodka. Rabbi Mordechai Shulman, zt'l, his rebbi's son-in-law and
later Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka, was the shadchan, and was later
involved in helping him obtain a position in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim
both in Eretz Yisroel and America, are an outgrowth of Slob....
A person is required to perform all of his actions from the
perspective of truth, says R' Mordechai Shulman, zatzal (1902-1953;
Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva). Even Pharaoh was required to fulfill G-d's
will out of a recognition of truth. He was made to realize that
Moshe's prophecy was true. (In fact, we find that Pharaoh searched
for the truth. Chazal say that he sent his servants to examine the
encyclopedia in search of an answer to the question (5:2), "Who is
If Pharaoh was expected to free Bnei Yisrael out of recognition
of the truth, it follows that when Moshe first came to him, he was
capable of seeing the truth. What stops a person from recognizing
the truth immediately? His preconceived notions which blind him.
(quoted in Legacy of Slabodka p.144)
His son in law;
27 Shevat Reb Mordechai Shulman, rosh yeshiva of Slabodka
A student once offered Rav Mordechai Shulman, Rosh Yeshiva of
Slabodka, a Torah insight that was somewhat illogical. The Rosh
Yeshiva asked the student, "Where did you get that insight from?" "I
didn't get it from anywhere, it was my own!" the young man proudly
replied. "That's not what I meant,' the Rosh Yeshiva explained. "G-d
gave the Jewish people the Torah and every Jew received his portion.
However, that Torah must be a Torah of truth. An insight that is not
true could not have been given at Sinai. That's why I wanted to know
where you got your insight from!"
Harav Baruch Rosenberg
His son, HaRav Avrohom, said, "All his life he would learn with
chavrusas until 1:00 am and would go to bed around 2:00 . . . We have
no conception of his greatness in Torah. But when we know that Maranan
HaRav Y. Abramsky zt"l and HaRav Mordechai Shulman zt"l would ask for
his opinion regarding the shiurim they gave, we realize how great he
was in Torah. And his greatness in Torah was matched by his greatness
in chessed, in gemilus chassodim, in middos shebein odom lechavero, in
bringing orphans into his home and in all of his greatness in Torah he
was a giant in humility. Who can replace him?"
A person is required to perform all of his actions from the
perspective of truth, says R' Mordechai Shulman, zatzal (1902-1953;
Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva). Even Pharaoh was required to fulfill G-d's
will out of a recognition of truth. He was made to realize that
Moshe's prophecy was true. (In fact, we find that Pharaoh searched
for the truth. Chazal say that he sent his servants to examine the
encyclopedia in search of an answer to the question (5:2), "Who is
If Pharaoh was expected to free Bnei Yisrael out of recognition
of the truth, it follows that when Moshe first came to him, he was
capable of seeing the truth. What stops a person from recognizing
the truth immediately? His preconceived notions which blind him.
(quoted in Legacy of Slabodka p.144)
Ohr Harzafun: (R' Natan Zvi Finkel; 1849-1927). This work is
a collection, arranged according to the Parasha, of the lectures
of the "Alter" of Slabodka, as R' Natan Zvi was known. The school
of Slabodka, taught that man's primary means of service in this
world would be, not to focus on his negative side, but to find
positive attributes within himself and elevate those further. The
students of Slabodka played leading roles in Jewish life during and
after World War II. Among them (followed by the Yeshivas with
which they were associated): R' Aharon Kotler (Kletsk, Lithuania
and Lakewood, N.J.); R' Yaakov Kamenicki (Yeshiva Tora VaDa'as in
Brooklyn and Monsey); R' Yitzchak HaLevi Ruderman (Ner Israel,
Baltimore); R' Yitzchak Hutner (Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in New York
and Yerushalayim); R' Mordechai Shulman (Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in
New York; Slabodka Yeshiva in Israel); R' Dovid Leibowitz and his
son, R' Henach; R' Isaac Sher; and R' Yehuda Leib Chasman
(Slobodka Yeshiva in Chevron and, after the Arab massacre of that
Yeshiva in 1929, in Yerushalayim).
After Maran underwent a difficult operation, the professor who treated
him ordered him to meanwhile stop smoking. The doctor's orders
disturbed Maran immensely and he expressed his exasperation to his
childhood friend, HaRav Mordechai Shulman zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivas Slobodka in Bnei Brak, when he visited him in the hospital.
While the two roshei yeshiva were talking, the professor unexpectedly
entered the room. Maran right away asked him: "When will I be
permitted to smoke?"
The professor answered: "Dear HaRav Shach. If you have stopped
smoking, do not start again!"
At that moment Maran the Rosh Yeshiva reached a decision. He told
HaRav Shulman: "If smoking is indeed dangerous for my health, I will
He immediately took the package of cigarettes from the drawer and
threw it under the bed. From the moment he resolved never again to
smoke, he said, he never felt any desire to smoke.
Maran told this story when he wanted to demonstrate to his household
what Chazal (according to the Zohar [2:162b]) mean by "Nothing is
stronger than one's willpower." He would say that since "All
beginnings are difficult" (Rashi, parshas Yisro 19:5) the path to
reach such a decision is beset with thorns, but after making a firm
resolution, one succeeds with siyata deShmaya to carry it out.