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Schlesinger Family
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Rabbi Yechiel Michal Schlesinger.

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A meeting of heads of Yeshivas, Rabbi Yechiel Schlesinger is on the
bottom right, Jerusalem c 1945. Credit; Rabbi Schlesingers' daughter,
Lea Cherna Shulman.
Please let us know if you recognize others in the picture.

Standing on the far left is Rabbi Eliezer Silver, former Chief Rabbi of Cinncinnati OH and President of Agudas HaRabbonim of the U.S. and Canada, leader of Vaad Hatzala etc. Avrohom Krauss

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Rabbi Meir Schlesinger, son of Dr. Falk Schlesinger of
Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, the brother of Rabbi
Yechiel.

 

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Dr. Falk Schlesinger zt'l, whose name is proudly borne by the
Institute for Medical-Halachic Research, was the second Director
General of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and it was he who brought
the hospital from the 19th Century into the 20th.

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Dr. Falk Schlesinger zt'l, whose name is proudly borne by the
Institute for Medical-Halachic Research, was the second Director
General of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and it was he who brought
the hospital from the 19th Century into the 20th.

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The mother of Rabbi (Lord) Immanuel Jacobovitz, former Chief Rabbi of England, is a cousin of the Schlesingers.

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I ran across this item this morning.  I wonder if this was written by Lea's father:

www.danwymanbooks.com/german/german.htm

53. . Schlesinger, Michel. SATZLEHRE DER ARAMÄISCHEN SPRACHE DES BABYLONISCHEN TALMUDS. Leipzig: Verlag der Asia Major, 1928. Cloth;

8vo. Xix, 330 pages. 1st edition. Gilt titles. In German. Series:

Veröffentlichungen der Alexander Kohut-Stiftung, Bd. 1. Includes bibliographical references and indexes. SUBJECT (S): Aramaic language

-- Syntax. Talmud. Pages brown. Very good condition. (SW-3) (ID#15605) $150.00.

Best regards, Stephen

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#schles-12: Family Tree
Hillman
Schlesinger

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From: <yudaron@yahoo.com>

from left to right Rabbi Elieser Silver, Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hilman the father in law of Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmuel_Yitzchak_Hillman
the 2 Sefardi Chachamin are I Rav Jacob Adess And Rav Efraim Hakohen.
Yehuda A. Horovitz
Jerusalem Genealogist 

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Tscharne (Charlotte) Wreschner (Falk), Zev Nachum Wolff Wreschner parents of sarah schlesinger

Schlesinger
Schlesinger

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Zev Nachum Wolff Wreschner, Tscharne (Charlotte) Wreschner (Falk)
Parents of Sara Schlesinger.

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Sitting on the left eliezer Lipman Schlesinger

Schlesinger
Schlesinger
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Tscharne (Charlotte) Wreschner (Falk), Rebekka Wreschner (Goldschmidt), Zev Nachum Wolff Wreschner, Sarah Schlesinger, Betty (Baila) Guggenheim, Eliezer Lipman (Eliezer) Wreschner, Joseph Goldschmidt

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His daughter; Lea Shulman writes;
Harav Schlesinger was a very special Yeshiva leader. He never had an enemy. Yeshiva bachurs, who studied with him more then sixty years ago, are still unable to forget him. Even today they continue to adore him and speak of him often, . .
One of his students explained to me that part of his appeal was that he was such a mench!
He performed his duties in a kind, simple and unassuming manner. Hi did it, because the work had to be done. Although he did his task diligently he avoided any disputes. Example of his shying away from any arguments could be seen by his decision to name the Yeshiva in Jerusalem "kol Torah"
Originally my father wanted to call the Yeshiva; "Kol Yaakov"
"Hakol kol Yaakov v'hayadaim yedai Eisav."
During those days in Jerusalem another group chose the name Kol Yaakov. In order to avoid any bickering or mix up with this group he gave up his wish and changed the name to "Kol Torah". His brother in law told this information to us.
Rebbetzin Mattel Schlesinger o"h
By Betzalel Kahn
Last Friday thousands of people tearfully accompanied the distinguished Rebbetzin Mattel Schlesinger o"h on her last journey in this world. She was the widow of the late HaRav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger zt"l, rosh yeshiva and founder of Kol Torah Yeshiva. She was over 96 years old.
The Rebbetzin was born in Biel, Germany on 29th Elul 5604 (1904) to HaRav Moshe Yehuda Jacobson, an active member of the local community, and to her mother Channah, who was known for her chesed activities within the community. Her father, a descendant of some of the most illustrious families of German Jewry, was known for his fierce adherence to pure halochoh and original undiluted Judaism. The story goes that because of worries about the kashrus of the local mikveh, his family would travel for an hour to the mikveh in the neighboring town. In order not to insult the rov of his town, who supervised the kashrus of the local mikveh, they would also dip in this local mikveh the following day.
In this house Rebbetzin Mattel absorbed an intense Jewish education of Torah and yir'oh. She excelled in her studies at the local school, her intellectual qualities merging with her wonderful character traits into a personality of exceptional nobility.
She was orphaned from her father zt"l when she was ten years old. This event strengthened her personality and made her twice as mature as other girls her age. Due to her outstanding capabilities, as well as her dedication to her tasks, she was appointed the head of a kindergarten in the Karlsruhe community for a period of three years, amazing everybody with her devotion to the education of Jewish children. When she left this position, the community awarded her a special certificate, which extolled her amazing devotion, the special attention she paid to every child and his problems, and her efforts to inculcate the spirit of original Judaism into tender young souls.
When she reached a marriageable age she made it clear that she wanted to marry "the biggest talmid chochom in Germany," and in 5690 (1930) she married the great iluy and masmid, HaRav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger, one of the top bochurim of Slobodke and Mir Yeshivos, who had acquired a reputation of toiling in Torah with depth and acuity.
He absorbed the Torah of the great rabbonim of prewar Europe. In both his Torah studies and his yiras Shomayim he followed in the footsteps of the "chassidei Ashkenaz" of the previous generation, his father Rav Eliezer zt"l and his grandfather Rav Eliakim Getshick zt"l, who disseminated Torah and yir'oh in the Hamburg kloiz for many decades.
Before the sheva brochos week was over, the young couple said farewell to their family in Hamburg and set off for Ponevezh, Lithuania. The chosson wanted to join the ranks of the famous Yeshiva there. The fact that Mattel agreed to leave her place of birth and the home of her wealthy family in order to settle in far-off Lithuania, to lead a life of pure Torah and absolute devotion to her young husband's spiritual needs, was a source of much astonishment to all her acquaintances.
The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Y. Sh. Kahaneman zt"l recounted in later years the extent of the Rebbetzin's love for Torah: She gave birth in Ponevezh to her oldest son, Rav Moshe Yehuda, and would take him for a walk next to the windows of the Yeshiva. When he asked why she was doing this she said that because of her husband's great hasmodoh she did not see him very much, and so she at least wanted to enjoy the sound of Torah emanating from him. In addition, she also wanted to get her son used to the voice of Torah from an early age.
During his time in Ponevezh, Rav Yechiel Michel also trained to become a dayan, doing shimush in the beis din of the Ponevezher Rov. He acquired a magnificent reputation, and was called to serve as a dayan on the Frankfurt beis din, and as the head of Rav Breuer's Yeshiva there. As soon as he arrived he managed to instill a new spirit into the community and the Yeshiva, and his talent for leadership of the generation in the path of Torah and yir'oh and for maintaining high religious standards within the community very quickly manifested themselves. Rebbetzin Mattel during this period gave her husband complete moral support, taking care of the household, and ensuring that he would be able to fulfill his duties undisturbed.
In 5697 (1937), the Nazis were in power and were making the life of the Jews a misery by means of officially enacted legislation and unbridled incitement. The persecutions became even worse during 5698 (1938-39), and Rav Yechiel Michel reached the conclusion that the end of German Jewry was fast approaching. In accordance with a ruling of HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt"l Rav Yechiel Michel remained in his position, but when the situation deteriorated, and it became almost impossible for him to engage in spiritual activities and his own life was in danger, HaRav Chaim Ozer permitted him to escape and to make use of his abilities in other places.
Although he was offered the prestigious position of rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaas Yeshiva in New York, he preferred to move to Eretz Yisroel, because there it was not compulsory to teach children secular studies and because in Eretz Yisroel -- unlike in the Diaspora -- there was no concept of "Sunday," which has idolatrous connotations to it. His rov from Galanta Yeshiva, Rav Y. Z. Dushinsky zt"l, who had already settled in Eretz Yisroel, also ruled that he should move there. Rav Schlesinger's aspiration was to establish a yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel for German bochurim who had moved to Eretz Yisroel.
With obvious hashgocho protis Rav Schlesinger managed to escape the German inferno together with his wife and children on the morning after Kristallnacht, the 11th of Cheshvan 5699 (1938). A chain of miraculous events, during which Rav Yechiel Michel hid in the floor of a rented taxi, led them to the Switzerland, where the rov's brother-in-law, Rav (per his niece- he was an ambassador, not a Rav Yugoslavian Consul in Switzerland) Yechiel Guggenheim z"l, was waiting for him. Rav Guggenheim did everything in his power to help the rov and his family.
During his stay in Switzerland Rav Schlesinger looked for donors willing to help him in his ambition of opening a yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. Although his efforts were not met with success, he was not deterred and as soon as he reached Yerushalayim, a few days after Pesach 5699 (1939), at the beginning of the summer zman he founded Kol Torah Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, setting a clear Torah path for German Jewry in particular, and for immigrants from western Europe and members of the new yishuv in general, to show them the joys of omol haTorah mixed with pure yiras Shomayim along the lines of Lithuanian Yeshivos, nurturing and educating them with his in-depth shiurim and electrifying mussar talks.
Rav Yechiel Michel ran the Yeshiva's spiritual and material affairs with incredible devotion, with Rebbetzin Mattel at his side, with her love of Torah, her wisdom, and her disdain of materialism. She had agreed to accompany him to Eretz Yisroel for the sake of Hashem and His Torah, despite all the difficulties which she knew would be her lot. She gave her husband the remainder of her father's dowry to use for the bochurim in the Yeshiva, and helped him with the day-to-day needs of the bochurim, many of whom were refugees from war-torn Europe. She also helped him by recruiting funds for the establishment and continued existence of the Yeshiva. Her brother Rav Moshe Jacobson zt"l also offered assistance to this new Yeshiva, his brother-in-law's life's mission.
In addition to the financial aspect, the work involved in founding and maintaining the Yeshiva also took a toll on the Rosh Yeshiva's health, and after many years of absolute devotion to the Yeshiva and its bochurim Rav Yechiel Michel developed a sickness from which he never recovered. Despite his poor health, Rav Schlesinger gathered his strength for the sake of the Torah, and in order to facilitate his continued position as rosh yeshiva he moved with his family into the Yeshiva building. The family made do with a room inside the dormitory building, and the Rebbetzin's determination and purity of spirit helped the family overcome all the difficulties.
Demonstrating characteristic care and devotion, the Rebbetzin accompanied the rov on his trip to England to recruit finances for the Yeshiva's Building Fund. ( Per he daughter; she did not join him on the trip to England- She wished he would not go but he was needed in England to secure finances for the Yeshiva) She was very worried about his fragile state of health. About a year later, on the 9th of Adar 5708 (1948) the Rosh Yeshiva passed away, aged 50.
After his petiroh, the Rebbetzin felt a duty to continue her husband's great labor and, after consulting with the Chazon Ish zt"l she traveled to chutz lo'oretz to recruit funds for maintaining the Yeshiva without taking any remuneration for herself, thus following her husband's example during his lifetime.
She also devoted herself to raising her eight children on her own to Torah and yiras Shomayim, the youngest of the orphans being just six weeks old. Her sole concern was to raise her children along the path laid down by her late husband. Living in terrible conditions of poverty (her daughter, Lea Shulman , felt that they never lived under "terrible conditions of poverty", their uncle supported the family greatly) the Rebbetzin brought up her children in the Torah path, taking care of their spiritual development with warmth and love, using her resources of wisdom, and her spiritual and emotional strength, despite her widowhood and loneliness, the day-to-day difficulties, and the trials of the period, both spiritual and material.
Hashem rewarded her efforts to raise her sons and daughters in the spirit of their great father. Before she did anything, she would always ask herself first what her husband would have done, at the same time consulting with the Chazon Ish and other gedolim about various matters. The gedolim were amazed by her greatness and insight and honored her greatly, as was befitting for an eishes chover who was conspicuous in her great love of Torah.
Whenever she went to consult with HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l -- her husband's chavrusa whom he appointed as his successor as rosh yeshiva -- he would stand up for her as an eishes chover.
The Rebbetzin was a role model for all her acquaintances. She always had the right word for each occasion, showing her family and acquaintances the correct path in life, and teaching them how to stand up to life's trials and temptations. She herself was a living example of what she preached. Her prayers, which were recited slowly and with great feeling whilst ignoring her surroundings, were a wonderful example to onlookers as to how to communicate with Hashem with one's entire inner being.
The Rebbetzin had the merit of seeing her efforts bear fruit. Her sons and sons-in-law are outstanding talmidei chachomim, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are worthy of their great ancestry. She was constantly involved in all her descendants' development and education, both young and old. She had an insight into the specific nature and character of each one of her dozens of descendants, and approached each one accordingly. Even in her very advanced years, until the very end, she expressed a constant interest in the development of each one of them. Her mind was totally lucid until the end.
On erev Shabbos parshas Behaalosecha she felt unwell and was taken to Shaarei Zedek hospital. During the week she became weaker and her condition deteriorated, but she remained aware of her situation. When her son asked her why she was sighing, she replied, "I'm not sighing because of the pain, it's because of my sins."
Last Thursday there was a further deterioration in her condition, but she encouraged her family to travel to Bnei Brak for her granddaughter's wedding. At the same time she turned to one of daughters-in-law standing at her bedside and said to her, "In a few hours I shall encounter the divine presence!" In the late evening hours she went into a restful sleep, in the course of which her soul left its earthly abode.
The Rebbetzin's levaya, which was attended by many thousands, left Kol Torah Yeshiva last Friday. Eulogies were delivered by her eldest son, the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Moshe Yehuda, HaRav Shmuel Auerbach rosh yeshiva of Maalos HaTorah, her son, Rav Eliezer, head of Kollel Volozhin in Bnei Brak, her son, Rav Avrohom, head of Kollel Beis Yechiel in Bnei Brak, Rav Yisroel Bondheim, a ram at Kol Torah Yeshiva, Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth rosh yeshiva of Chochmas Shlomo, Yerushalayim, her son, Rav Eliakim, author of Pnei Moshe, and her son Rav Yaakov, all of whom stressed her greatness as an eishes chayil, the crown of her husband and "Mother of the Yeshiva" who supported her husband in founding and maintaining the Yeshiva. They talked about her strength of spirit over fifty-two years of widowhood, during which she ran a household and raised her descendants to Torah and yir'oh.
At midday the Rebbetzin was laid to rest in the family plot at Har Hazeisim. She leaves behind her an extended and wonderfully blessed family, headed by her oldest son, HaRav Moshe Yehuda, who replaced his father as rosh yeshiva and her sons and sons-in-law: Rav Nosson Zvi Shulman, Rav Ben- Zion Bordiansky, ram at Kol Torah and Rav Shimon Shreiber, author of Vezos Liyehudo and head of a kollel in Tel Aviv.

Schlesinger family
Chassidus Ashkenaz Restored: HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt l -- 9th
Adar 5759, His Fiftieth Yahrtzeit

By Moshe Musman, based on the writings of Rabbi Aharon Surasky and
Rabbi Sholom Meir Wallach
Part I
Introduction
HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt l, rosh yeshiva and founder of Yeshivas
Kol Torah, Yerushalayim, lived - almost - in our own times. His
yeshiva, one of the largest and best known in Eretz Yisroel today, has
a major role in the growth of the Torah community there, and in other
countries. The most important and immediate lessons to be learned from
him are to be gained from studying his character: his love of Torah,
his brilliance, his human qualities, his zeal and alacrity, his
single-minded dedication to spreading Torah and above all, his fear of
Heaven and of sin, that are noticeable at every point in his life. Yet
our account starts long before HaRav Schlesinger was born, and it
includes much background material along the way, on the premise that
the more detailed the portrayal and the fuller the context, the
greater will be the impact of his story.
The spiritual and cultural tempest which beset German and Central
European Jewry over two centuries ago with the coming of the
"enlightenment," ravaged the spiritual glory of old and established
communities that had existed in those lands for many hundreds of
years. In the birthplace of the Reform movement, by the mid-nineteenth
century, there remained in the large cities, relatively speaking, just
a handful of families that remained steadfast in their faith and in
their commitment to Torah. Yet those few still exemplified the deep
yet simple faith, the Torah scholarship, the righteousness and piety
and the nobility of character that had once typified the Jews of their
lands.
From amongst them arose a number of valiant individuals, who led the
faithful remnant and voiced their protest over the grave damage that
had been and was being wreaked upon their brethren. However, even
though gedolei Yisroel of the stature of the Oruch Leneir, the
Wurtzburger Rav and HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt l, were worthy
defenders of authentic Judaism, revered by all segments of world
Jewry, they could not reverse the clock. It was too late to repair the
damage caused by the tides that had passed over German Jewry and swept
its spiritual treasures away.
Besides these gedolim, whose names and work have remained well-known
to Torah Jews all over, there existed numerous other great
individuals, who lived, who taught and who led the faithful among the
German communities. Their spiritual stature too, recalled the
chassidei Ashkenaz in the period of the Rishonim and was a continuum
with the glory of German Jewry during the five centuries that
followed. It was to these men that the Seridei Eish was referring when
he wrote, "It ought to be recorded for posterity that amongst the
German rabbonim were tzaddikim, men of piety and holiness, to whom
multitudes would have flocked in other countries, to benefit from the
radiance of their Torah and [their] yirah" (ShuT Seridei Eish, chelek
II, siman 53).
Many of these great men are not better-known today both because of
their own deep humility and also because owing to what had happened --
and the fear of it happening elsewhere -- it unfortunately became
common to regard German Jewry in its entirety as being somehow
tarnished. And indeed, despite the presence of such truly illustrious
individuals, there was no way back for the multitudes. It was only
along HaRav Hirsch's path of Torah im Derech Eretz that sizable
numbers of Yidden were able to remain within or to rejoin, the ranks
of Orthodoxy.
In the following articles, we survey the ancestry, the life story and
the work of one of the contemporary chassidei Ashkenaz: HaRav Yechiel
Schlesinger zt'l.
Although HaRav Schlesinger only attained his full stature by drinking
from the Torah wellsprings of the Hungarian and Eastern European
yeshivos of his time, he represented a type of greatness that is
associated with earlier generations of German tzaddikim. He blended
Torah greatness with exceptional piety, absolute integrity and intense
holiness. A scion of a long and noble line of German Jewish ancestors,
HaRav Schlesinger was a key figure in the transplantation of one of
the withered branches of German Jewry to the holy soil of Eretz
Yisroel, where it flourished anew, in healthy spiritual surroundings.
HaRav Schlesinger's immediate goal upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel in
mid 5699 (1939), was to establish a yeshiva for the sons of the olim
and refugees from the German lands. Although the number of such
families among the Torah faithful members of the new yishuv was
continually increasing, there was no Torah institution to cater to
their own distinctive character and orientation. The need for such an
institution was urgent, for the result of them not finding their place
in the Torah community would likely be their absorption into
institutions that belonged to other, less committed ideologies. HaRav
Schlesinger also envisioned the establishment of a Torah community
grouped around the yeshiva, that would work to recapture some of the
spiritual glory of German Jewry in its heyday.
Heaven willed otherwise however, and the vision was not realized in
its entirety. After literally giving his entire life to his talmidim
and to the yeshiva which he built for them, HaRav Schlesinger was
called to the yeshiva shel ma'aloh at the early age of fifty, just
under ten years after the yeshiva's opening. In the half century that
has passed since then, the institution which he founded in
Yerushalayim with such purity of intention and self- sacrifice, has
flourished. Yeshivas Kol Torah gradually became, and today remains,
one of the largest and foremost yeshivos gedolos in Eretz Yisroel,
where some of the finest students in Eretz Yisroel's yeshiva community
learn alongside many bochurim from communities all around the world
whom the yeshiva attracts. In many respects, the indelible impression
of HaRav Schlesinger's ideals and ambitions has always shaped the
yeshiva and the education it has provided, as the thousands of alumni
in Eretz Yisroel and around the Jewish world attest.
Our survey of the rosh yeshiva's family background -- peopled by
eminent personalities who are worthy of study in their own right -- is
followed by the story of his yeshiva years in some of the prewar Torah
centers of Hungary, Germany and Lithuania, and the period of his
rabbonus in Frankfurt which culminates in the riveting account of his
and his family's last minute escape from Nazi Germany.
With HaRav Schlesinger's arrival in Eretz Yisroel, the focus of story
shifts to the painstaking work of establishing a yeshiva tailored for
the needs of a particular group, while remaining dedicated to the
highest ideals of the yeshiva world, and the ongoing, sober yet
impassioned presentation of age-old truths to the wider community,
upon which the success of such an endeavor depends. Above and beyond
the fascinating interaction of differing traditions and approaches
which was played out in HaRav Schlesinger's experiences, and most
important for us, is the portrait which emerges of a great marbitz
Torah who dedicated every fiber of his being to drawing his fellow
Jews closer to Torah and to raising new generations of bnei Torah, who
would always remain firmly bound to the strong roots he enabled them
to sink in the beis hamedrash.
@SUB TITLE = Reb Getschlik Schlesinger: Talmid of the Oruch Leneir
In 5596 (1836), HaRav Yaakov Ettlinger zt'l, the author of the Oruch
Leneir, set out from Mannheim, where he had headed his own yeshiva in
the town's kloiz for ten years, on his way to Altona in response to
that community's invitation that he serve as their rov. He was
accompanied in this move by two of his greatest and closest talmidim,
who were to assist him in opening a yeshiva in his new domain.
One of the two was HaRav Elyokim Getzel Schlesinger zt'l (who was also
known as Reb Getschlik), to whom several teshuvos in Binyan Tzion and
in Oruch Leneir on Yevomos are addressed. Some of the details of that
trip, which have been handed down by family members, give an idea of
the complete dedication to Torah and the degree of immersion in its
study which typified those generations.
As the two talmidim did not possess sufficient means to hire a coach,
they made their way from Mannheim to Altona on foot -- a distance of
some five hundred kilometers. At night, they lodged at inns along the
way and spent most of the dark hours immersed in Torah discussions.
HaRav Schlesinger was eventually called to Hamburg to head the local
kloiz, where the sound of Torah study could be heard virtually around
the clock. Despite his sharp mind, his piercing intellect and his
broad Torah knowledge, Reb Getschlik did not adopt the title Moreinu,
since this honor was reserved for ordained rabbonim only. Since they
were not informed otherwise, it was assumed by everyone that the new
head of the kloiz never had semichah conferred upon him.
Five years after Reb Getschlik's arrival, an additional maggid shiur
was engaged to help teach the growing numbers of lomdim in the kloiz.
Although the new teacher had received semichah, and was perfectly
entitled to be called Moreinu, for the community to do so would be
awkward for it would give the misleading impression that Reb Getschlik
was somehow subordinate to him. The problem was solved when a letter
arrived in Hamburg from the Oruch Leneir himself, informing the
community that his talmid Reb Getschlik actually had received a
semichah from him years earlier, but out of modesty he had been
reluctant to have it known, and had even asked his rebbe to help him
keep it a secret. Now, however, in view of the circumstances, the
Oruch Leneir felt that it was correct to make it known that the
community's first teacher also fully deserved the title Moreinu.
It was not just his title that Reb Getschlik made efforts to conceal.
He also hid the true extent of his Torah greatness. One Purim, having
fulfilled the mitzvos of the day, a slightly inebriated Reb Getschlik
was asked if he would agree to be tested on his knowledge of
mishnayos. The retort was, "Do you imagine I'm drunk?" and it was
accompanied by Reb Getschlik's ready agreement to tackle questions on
any mishna anywhere in Shas. Whichever mishna his colleagues started
reading from, he continued by heart. After completing the text of the
mishna, he went on to repeat the comments of the Bartenura and ended
up with the Tosfos Yom Tov. Some hours later however, Reb Getschlik
deeply regretted his uncharacteristic behavior and he used it as an
example to his own talmidim of the dire consequence of indulging in
too much drink.
Reb Getschlik's greatness was recognized by the members of his
generation, both great and small. In a reply to someone who had
written asking him about repenting his sins, HaRav Ezriel Hildesheimer
zt'l, wrote, "As to giving advice about undertaking fasts and the like
-- I am not the man to consult. However, for this purpose, I know a
man of G-d, who is like very, very few others that I know, the rav and
gaon Rabbi Getz Schlesinger, an extraordinary talmid chochom, a holy
and a pure man. He may be able to make tikunim available to you."
Rav Binyomin Ze'ev Jacobson zt'l, relates that Reb Getschlik was the
only rov in Germany who was referred to by people as hakodosh. There
were many who travelled to Hamburg to seek a brocho from him, among
them a young R' Yaakov Rosenheim zt'l, who recalled in his memoirs
being taken by his father to Hamburg when he was eighteen years old to
see Reb Getschlik. The latter's grandson, HaRav Yechiel (he was
sometimes also known as "Michel" which is a diminuitive for the name
"Yechiel"), knew that stories circulated about how his grandfather's
prayers and blessings had been instrumental in various wondrous
occurrences and events.
Though there were many outstanding talmidei chachomim learning in the
Hamburg kloiz, it was to Reb Getschlik that the communal leaders
unanimously turned when the city's rov, HaRav Osher Stern zt'l, was
niftar just two weeks before Pesach, asking him to fill the position.
Typically, Reb Getschlik replied that he agreed to stand in only as a
temporary replacement to deal with the pressing shailos that demanded
attention just then. The community was in no great rush to find anyone
else, however, and Reb Getschlik remained in the rov's position for
almost a full year, until the community was shaken by an event that
had dire consequences.
When nearly a year had passed, an incident involving a mistakenly
contracted kiddushin took place. Reb Getschlik's fear of sin was
boundless and he ruled stringently, requiring that a get be given, to
counter any shade of suspicion that the kiddushin had been effective.
Powerful elements in the community were opposed to this, preferring
that the entire incident be hushed up in order to save the faces of
the respectable families whose members had been involved. Reb
Getschlik fought to have the matter made known and when his efforts
met with no success, he resigned his post. He remained deeply troubled
however by the lack of action on the part of the parties and their
supporters, and the possibility of tragedy that was being courted. As
a result, he became weak and took ill. His situation worsened during
the summer months and he passed away in suffering on the twentieth of
Elul 5660 (1900).
The following description of Reb Getschlik and his life's work was
engraved upon his matzeivoh: Ner Yisroel, Pillar of Torah and
Storehouse of Yiroh, the gaon and chossid . . . fluent in every part
of Torah; he stood like a raised banner for all his generation and the
light of his Torah illuminated afar; holy and pure from the day of his
birth . . . he devoted every day and each moment to his Maker's glory
and he chose to shelter in his G- d's sanctuary; he pursued justice
throughout his life; his deeds were kindness and truth; humility and
going modestly with his G-d were the crown of his character.
The Lamed-Vovnik of Hamburg: HaRav Eliezer Lipmann Schlesinger
HaRav Yechiel's father, HaRav Eliezer Lipmann, combined the traits of
greatness in Torah and character with modesty and utter self
effacement, just as his father Reb Getschlik had. An appreciation of
his true greatness lies beyond us. Based upon the little we know, we
can only imagine what his stature must have been.
Reb Getschlik for example, was well versed in kabolo as well as in the
revealed Torah and though he transmitted this knowledge of his to his
son, Rav Eliezer Lipmann himself did not reveal this knowledge of his
to anyone. Those who were knowledgeable enough themselves however,
such as the Admorim who used to stay as guests at the Schlesinger home
in Hamburg, noted that every movement of Rav Eliezer's was made in
accordance with the dictates of halocho as well as the teachings of
kabolo. He was thus known to them as "the Lamed-vovnik of Hamburg." He
was also referred to as Hechosid mei'Ashkenaz and Reb Yeruchom
Levovitz zt'l, the Mirrer mashgiach, described him as a living Mesilas
Yeshorim.
HaRav Eliezer Lipmann received semichah from his father when he was
eighteen years old. His main teacher however was HaRav Ezriel
Hildesheimer, who also conferred semichah upon him. When he was about
to become engaged, Rav Eliezer Lipmann stipulated that he be allowed
to travel to Bobruisk, Russia to learn for a year before the wedding.
He wished to study there with HaRav Refoel Shapiro, son-in-law of the
Netziv and father-in-law of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt'l. The Netziv
had been an acquaintance of Reb Getschlik's and this was apparently
why the son of the latter particularly desired to learn under the
son-in-law of the former. Though he learned with great application
while in Russia, Rav Eliezer Lipmann was loathe to live as anybody's
guest and he supported himself by giving private lessons in
mathematics to the son of one of the town's wealthy scholars.
He maintained this practice throughout his life, and was unwilling to
derive the slightest monetary benefit from learning and teaching
Torah, in accordance with the basic halocho as stated in the gemora.
He taught limudei kodesh for thirty-six years in the Hamburg Talmud
Torah School, yet he refused to accept any salary for those hours, his
source of income being the lessons in mathematics and chemistry which
he also gave there. He also conducted shiurim for ba'alei batim and
other young people, his schedule beginning well before daybreak and
ending late at night -- yet he would not take any payment from them.
With such a teacher, the pupils in the Hamburg Talmud Torah never lost
sight of the goal of their education. HaRav Eliezer Lipmann's students
testified that one could draw fear of sin even from his classes in
math and chemistry, not to mention from his limudei kodesh.
Incidentally, his knowledge of mathematics was so extensive that he
was offered a chair in that discipline at the local university, a
position which would have afforded him a much more comfortable
livelihood than the one he eked out from his few hours of teaching. He
turned the post down however, giving two reasons for doing so. First,
he explained, a minute of teaching Torah to Jewish children was worth
more than the most lucrative professorship and second, he had an older
brother who was also a scholar of mathematics and he feared that it
would cause his brother distress were he to accept the appointment.
Rav Eliezer would rise at four a.m. and begin his day with two shiurim
for ba'alei batim, before shacharis. The family was always particular
about tevilas Ezra, and his brother R' Yechiel was known to break the
ice that covered the surface of the mikveh in the winter in order to
immerse himself. While all could see that Rav Eliezer's days were
filled with teaching Torah, none could guess at the depth of his
learning until his hearing began to fail and the doctor attributed it
to exertion and mental effort.
Likewise, the true breadth of his Torah knowledge was revealed to all
when, in his old age, Rav Eliezer Lipmann's sight failed him, and he
continued giving his shiurim on gemora and commentaries by heart. When
his son Rav Yechiel was invited to address the Hamburg community, he
reviewed his speech at home in his father's hearing. Rav Eliezer
Lipmann derived much pleasure from listening, but he also put his son
right several times on the exact wording of the gemoras he was
quoting, though he had no seforim in front of him!
@SUB TITLE = In the Eyes of Two Who Knew Him
Here are some personal recollections of a grandson of HaRav Eliezer
Lipmann, ylct'a, HaRav Elyokim Getzel Schlesinger, rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivas Horomoh in London, who stayed for a time in his grandparents'
home when he was a young boy of six.
HaRav Schlesinger recalled the impression which the atmosphere of
restraint in the home made upon him, even at such an early age. He was
also impressed by his grandfather's measured, controlled movements. If
he behaved too boisterously, a serious expression would enter his
grandfather's eyes and he would pass his hand over the child's head.
When this happened, his grandmother immediately called him from the
room because grandfather was "angry."
One night, a meeting was held in the house on some communal matter
and, as was customary, a blank sheet of paper was laid beside every
place for recording notes and comments. The following morning, young
Elyokim Getzel surveyed the table. Every sheet was covered with
scribbles and writing, with one exception -- the paper before his
grandfather's place was clean and unmarked.
When the days of selichos arrived and Rav Eliezer Lipmann wanted to
awaken his young grandchild to accompany him, he did so by standing
next to his bed, repeating over and over again, "Selichos, Getschi,
selichos. Getschi, selichos. . . "
He continued thus for a long time, his calls growing neither louder
nor quicker; neither did he put out his hand to shake the boy awake.
This was the pattern each and every day; he was woken by the same
calm, restrained calling.
Further light is shed upon Rav Eliezer Lipmann's illustrious
personality by the following lines of hesped which were delivered by
his mechutan, R' Yaakov Rosenheim, who extolled the almost forty years
during which, "he influenced generations of talmidim with his shiurim
in gemora, that were based upon his deep and broad Torah knowledge,
and which were at the same time shiurim in faith and true yiras
Shomayim. . . For a short time, he even served as director of the
Talmud Torah, but he resigned this post so that he could devote more
time to Torah. He was a talmid chochom in the full sense of the
expression, by virtue of his fundamental knowledge of the sources of
halocho in Shas and poskim; knowledge that was neither sullied by the
slightest shadow of unclarity, nor undermined by any trace of doubt or
of guessing an answer. Such knowledge was the product of unceasing
application, of a wonderful memory and of a systematic way of
thinking. These endowments brought him extraordinary tranquility of
spirit, which constantly directed him upwards, along the path of the
upright . . .
"His clear thoughts, his determined spirit and his deep emotions, were
all branded with the seal of true yiras Shomayim. Thanks to them, he
knew how to imbue his household, the school and the community with the
piety of German Jewry, how to show favor to a young child with a
glance full of love and how to feel the suffering of Klal Yisroel. He
served as a living example of trust in Hashem and of living in the
light of His Torah. I heard one of the honorable elderly members of
the kehilla saying, `One would have to traverse seas and continents in
order to learn Torah and middos from Lipmann Schlesinger' -- and that
is no exaggeration. Another maspid enumerated the levels of the
Mesilas Yeshorim, showing how he had attained every one of them --
that too is no exaggeration. The hundreds, rich and poor alike, who
found counsel and guidance in his blessed home, will testify that it
was so. The hundreds of disciples who were fortunate to obtain Torah
and yiroh from him, will also testify that it was so, as will his own
family, his three sons and his daughter, the products of his training
and his heritage!"
@SUB TITLE = First Blossoms
The home in which HaRav Yechiel grew up was also shaped by his mother,
a daughter of HaRav Nochum Zev Wreschner zt'l, whose father, the rov
of Zarkov, had been a very close talmid of Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt'l. Her
mother was a granddaughter of the Beis Meir on both sides, as well as
of the Pnei Yehoshua and the Moginei Shlomo.
According to family tradition, her son, HaRav Yechiel, was the
hundredth rov among the descendants of the Beis Meir. Although Rav
Nochum Zev possessed a record of his family's lineage to Rashi and
thereby all the way back to Dovid Hamelech, he belittled it so that
misplaced pride would not turn the heads of any of the family. It was
in the home that HaRav Nochum Zev's daughter, Sorah, built together
with HaRav Eliezer Lipmann that HaRav Yechiel received his earliest
education.
As a boy, Yechiel attended the Hamburg Talmud Torah, where his father
HaRav Eliezer Lipmann taught. The institution had been founded by
HaRav Mendel Frankfurter z'l, and its program of studies had been
arranged in accordance with the Torah im Derech Eretz outlook by a
previous rav of the city, Chacham Yitzchok Bernays zt'l, who had been
a colleague of the Oruch Leneir (who served as rav in neighboring
Altona), and who was the rebbe of HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt'l.
Young Yechiel's overpowering love for learning Torah was apparent very
early on and he would spend hours engrossed in learning gemora and
commentaries. In the Hamburg Talmud Torah it was obligatory to go
outside for recess and get excercise. Yechiel used to take a gemora
and walk from one side of the school yard to the other during the
recess period.
Besides his great love of Torah, his piety, his fear of sin and his
righteous conduct were also apparent to his mentors and his friends
from a very young age. His tefillos were offered amid great emotion
and deep yearning. He took great care over every syllable he uttered
and every movement he made. His father greatly rejoiced over his young
son and once, as he fondled Yechiel on his lap, he was heard to
exclaim, "I don't know how I merited having such a gifted son!"
When Yechiel was older, he began learning with the city's rav, HaRav
Avrohom Shmuel Binyomin Spitzer zt'l, a native of Hungary and a
product of its yeshivos. HaRav Spitzer trained his talmid in the
approach to learning of the yeshivos where he himself had developed.
Each sugya was studied comprehensively, with all the relevant opinions
of Rishonim and Acharonim, as well as any other sugyos that had a
bearing on the topic. The thrust of the study was directed towards
achieving a thorough understanding of the practical halocho that
resulted from the varying interpretations of the gemora and the
resultant opinions.
The high estimation in which HaRav Spitzer held his talmid is apparent
from the fact that he conferred semichah on him, which he usually made
a point of refraining from doing. To a request from one of Rav
Yechiel's colleagues for a similar honor, the rav responded that he
would only agree, "when you display the same fluency in maseches
Chulin, gemora, Rashi and Tosafos page by page, with the gemora open
in front of you, as Rav Yechiel does without it!" (And on another
occasion, the rov remarked, "I'm not worried about the future of Torah
Jewry in Germany if it can raise a godol like Reb Yechiel!")
It was on HaRav Spitzer's recommendation that Rav Yechiel set out for
the yeshiva of HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky zt'l (the Maharytz), in
Galante, which was then one of the most thriving of the Hungarian
yeshivos, for what was to be one of the happiest periods of his life.
@SUB TITLE = A Rebbe for Life
A very close relationship developed between HaRav Yechiel and HaRav
Dushinsky, and it remained so until their deaths, only several months
apart in 5709 (1949). HaRav Yechiel regarded HaRav Dushinsky as his
rebbe muvhak, and on a number of occasions the latter showed the
extraordinary estimation he had for his beloved talmid, whom he
addressed in one of his teshuvos (chelek I, siman 51), "My beloved and
cherished talmid, outstanding and exceptional in Torah and yiras
Shomayim. . . "
The Maharytz would tell other gedolim, his colleagues, that his talmid
Reb Michel from Hamburg, possessed the quality of "making his teacher
wise." He would extol his outstanding talmid's tremendous toil in
Torah to them and his total application, and would reveal his
discovery that Reb Michel learned far into the night, with his feet
immersed in a bowl of cold water to keep him awake. (Another method
which Reb Yechiel used to fight sleep was to hold a burning candle
between his fingers, which soon aroused him if he slumbered for more
than a few moments.) In addition, HaRav Dushinsky would often remark
that Reb Michel was at home in all of Shas and those close to the
Maharytz related that Reb Yechiel was a very close confidante of his
while still a bochur in the yeshiva.
The method of study employed in the Hungarian yeshivos of those days
differed markedly from that of the Lithuanian ones. While in the
latter, the major part of the time was devoted to the students'
independent learning, the learning in the former was centered around
shiurim, of which there were usually three: an in-depth shiur [iyun],
a simple shiur [bekius] and a topical [sugya] shiur that dealt
exhaustively with a particular subject in the gemora that was being
studied.
The Maharytz would often combine all three, delivering them together
and lecturing for long stretches -- sometimes up to six hours -- at a
time. He would elaborate at great length and in great detail on the
comments of all the major Rishonim, and would then go on to show how
the points raised by the Acharonim were thereby addressed. (HaRav
Dushinsky's contemporaries were amazed at the amount of time he
allotted to the delivery of his shiur, wondering how it was that a
communal rav and leader, who was burdened with a thousand different
queries and concerns, found the time and the strength to say any major
shiurim, let alone such long ones.)
Despite his own grueling regimen of independent learning, Reb Yechiel
attended all of HaRav Dushinsky's shiurim, standing up throughout as
he feared that he would doze off from exhaustion if he sat down. Since
all the other talmidim were seated though, he would bend down over the
table, so as not to be any higher than the others. Although it was not
generally his practice to interrupt the shiur for questions, the
Maharytz would stop in order to respond to Reb Yechiel's points and
comments, and would discuss them with him.
In his burning love of learning, Reb Yechiel was somewhat
overextending himself. As well as depriving himself of sleep,
everything else was done as quickly as possible, or sometimes not at
all. Letters home were composed hurriedly, while he leaned on a window
sill in the beis hamedrash.
HaRav Dushinsky made a point of ensuring that his talmidim maintained
order and cleanliness in themselves and in their surroundings. He had
occasion to upbraid Reb Yechiel about such matters, noting that he was
going about in creased trousers and with unpolished shoes. Out of
concern for his talmid's health, his rebbe asked the owner of the
house where Reb Yechiel lodged to make sure that all the lights were
extinguished by a reasonable hour -- but this did not help. In fact,
Reb Yechiel overworked to the point where he required treatment at the
local hospital.
When the Maharytz moved with his yeshiva to Choust, after having been
invited to serve there by the community in 5680 (1920), Rav Yechiel
returned to Germany. He nevertheless maintained contact with HaRav
Dushinsky, consulting him about every major step he took in life. On a
number of occasions, Rav Yechiel would praise the approach to learning
and the guidance offered in the Hungarian yeshivos, which were close
to his heart.
Almost twenty years later, when Rav Yechiel arrived in Eretz Yisroel,
HaRav Dushinsky (who had been appointed seven years before as av beis
din of the Eida HaChareidis and successor to HaRav Yosef Chaim
Sonenenfeld zt'l), honored his distinguished talmid with delivering a
shiur in his yeshiva; an honor which his older talmidim said he had
not bestowed on anybody else throughout his fifty years as a rosh
yeshiva. Twice a year, on Shabbos Hagodol and on Shabbos Shuvoh, Rav
Yechiel would make what was then a trek across the city, from his home
in Yerushalayim's Kiryat Shmuel neighborhood to Beis Yisroel, to
listen to the drosho of the Rov.
One Chapter Closes and a New One Opens
It was at the request of his father, HaRav Eliezer Lipmann, that Rav
Yechiel then joined the Rabbiner Seminar in Berlin, in order to attain
the further, secular, qualifications that were necessary for obtaining
any position as a rov in the land of his birth. By so doing, he was
treading a path that several past gedolei Torah had followed, such as
the Oruch Leneir, the Nachal Eshkol and others. The Seminary, which
had been founded by HaRav Ezriel Hildesheimer, was led at that time by
HaRav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman zt'l, (author of Teshuvos Melameid Leho'il)
whose Torah knowledge and character made a deep impression upon HaRav
Yechiel.
HaRav Hoffman was succeeded by HaRav Avrohom Eliyohu Kaplan zt'l, a
young and brilliant talmid chochom, who was one of the finest products
of the famous Slobodke Yeshiva of Kovno, Lithuania. It was through
HaRav Kaplan that HaRav Yechiel made his first acquaintance with the
Lithuanian approach to learning, with its emphasis on logical
analysis, accurate definition, and deep, penetrating reflection, so as
to reveal the building blocks of each topic and discover the ideas and
concepts that were the underpinnings of its discussion in the gemora.
For Rav Yechiel, there now began a process of fusion of the Hungarian
and the Lithuanian approaches in his own learning (though it is more
accurate to regard them as stresses on different aspects of the
learning, rather than two distinct approaches). He found no
contradiction between them and adopted the best of each.
He engaged in the secular studies in the knowledge that other
disciplines served only as "handmaidens" to the only true wisdom, the
wisdom of Torah. From his youth, Rav Yechiel had an inclination for
natural science. (It was said that he knew the names of a thousand
species of plants.) However, the discipline to which he had since
dedicated his life -- Torah - - led him to pursue a different course
in the studies which he now had to undertake. He concentrated on
Semitic languages, receiving his doctorate for a comprehensive
dissertation on The Construction of Aramaic in the Talmud and the
Midrashic Literature. The depth and the breadth of knowledge which
this work displayed resulted in its becoming a standard textbook for
courses in this field. As a result of his outstanding performance, Reb
Yechiel was also offered a choice of academic posts, all of which he
of course declined. Many scholars who saw his doctorate were convinced
that it could only be the fruit of a lifetime's dedication to research
in this field and when Rav Yechiel's rebbetzin heard about this in
later years, she asked him how long it had actually taken him to
compose. He replied, "I wrote it in the course of one year, in the
time that remained after completing the fixed sedorim of Torah
learning." Although we don't know exactly how much time remained to
Rav Yechiel after his regular sedorim, it should be noted that in
other years we know that he was in the habit of learning virtually all
through the night as well as the day.
His reply is reminiscent of the Netziv's, to a certain maskil who had
expressed his amazement at the former's mastery of Hebrew Grammar,
despite the fact that he spent all his time learning Torah, while the
maskil, who had devoted himself to the study of grammar all his life,
was in no way superior to him. The Netziv replied by comparing his own
situation to that of a customer making a large order at a store, who
is not charged for the packing materials he needs to take away his
purchase, and the maskil's to that of a stranger who enters the store
after him and asks for a quantity of free wrapping paper and string,
for which he is of course expected to pay in full.
During this period, Rav Yechiel also made a specialized study of the
times of day in halocho. He produced two monographs on this topic
entitled Sho'os Zemaniyos and Eizehu Bein Hashemoshos? (clarifying the
opinion of the geonim who disagree with Rabbenu Tam), and these
appeared in the rabbinical periodical Yeshurun, published in Berlin by
Rabbi Dr. Joseph Wohlgemuth zt'l. These works too, remain important
sources for subsequent lomdim researching this topic, and several
other works written since have been based on Rav Yechiel's
conclusions.
When the halachic debate over the international dateline arose with
the arrival of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Japan in the early years of the
Second World War, Rav Yechiel was one of the authorities consulted
regarding which days should be kept as Shabbos and Yom Kippur. His
nephew, HaRav E. G. Schlesinger of London recalls having asked Rav
Yechiel in later years why he did not republish the pamphlet on bein
hashemoshos. His uncle replied that he had since retracted many of the
things that he had written there as a young man and that he intended
revising the work and publishing a new, different treatment of the
subject. Sadly, this plan was never realized.
Rav Yechiel had perhaps originally expected to seek a position upon
completion of his studies in Berlin but as a result possibly of HaRav
Kaplan's urging, or at least his influence, he decided to first travel
eastwards, to slake his tremendous thirst for Torah in the great
Lithuanian yeshivos. When HaRav Kaplan was niftar suddenly at a very
young age, his talmid from Hamburg was asked to be one of the
maspidim. However, when Rav Yechiel went up to speak and stood facing
the aron, his tears choked him and, completely overcome, he was unable
to utter a word.
The distress which having to spend part of his time involved with
other studies for his doctorate occasioned Rav Yechiel, and his great
joy at finally being freed from their yoke, are evident in his
reaction upon their completion. As soon as he heard that he had
received his doctorate, he sent a brief telegram home containing the
message, "Ben chorin la'asok beTorah (Free to study Torah)," to which
his father HaRav Eliezer Lipmann commented, "I was waiting for such a
telegram."
Already a talmid chochom of considerable standing, HaRav Yechiel had
the greatness to regard himself as a talmid, as he readied himself to
imbibe Torah and mussar from some of the greatest personalities of the
generation. It was towards Slobodke, where his mentor HaRav Kaplan had
developed, that he first set his sights.
End of Part I
Introduction
This second installment of our series on HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger
zt'l, surveys his years in the great yeshivos of his day, and follows
him to Frankfurt, to his first communal position, and on to Eretz
Yisroel. Though the circumstances dealt with are diverse, one
particular trait is always prominent. In seeking a phrase that gives
an accurate impression of his great uncle, HaRav Elyokim Getzel
Schlesinger, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Horomoh in London writes, "It is
hard for me to employ the conventional titles, though they all applied
to him -- a gaon, a tzaddik, pious, humble, pure and holy, a rosh
yeshiva and a poseik. He was all of these things, yet they do not
capture the overall perfection and the true dimension of his greatness
. . . I was fortunate to know him as a bochur . . . when he was rav in
Frankfurt . . . as a refugee . . . when he arrived in Eretz Yisroel .
. . during the years he worked in Yerushalayim . . . and as he
prepared to return his pure soul to its Creator. If there is anything
that defined him even in a small way, any particularly noticeable
thread that ran throughout his life, it is one trait: fear of sin,
which is the last stage on the path set out by the Mesilas Yeshorim.
This quality shone from his countenance. Anyone possessed of a
slightly discerning eye could see it; he was unable to conceal it.
That was the first impression that he made on the gedolei Yisroel with
whom he came in contact."
We will see that this was also the overriding impression which Rav
Yechiel made upon his fellow bochurim in Slobodke and Mir. It also
typifies his subsequent tenure as rav, marbitz Torah and poseik in
Frankfurt, as it does his behavior during his and his family's narrow
escape from Nazi Germany via Switzerland, to Eretz Yisroel. Whether as
a talmid, or as a teacher and leader, in both tranquil and in
dangerous times, it was his fear of sin, and his unswerving
determination to fulfill Hashem's will in any and all circumstances
that was the sole factor in determining his reactions and responses.
Sojourn in Kovno
The first portion of Rav Yechiel's sojourn in the yeshivos of
Lithuania was also the longest. He learned in Slobodke for three
years, during which time he grew close to the rosh yeshiva, HaRav
Isaac Sher zt'l, and to the mashgiach, HaRav Avrohom Grodzinsky zt'l,
Hy'd. (An extra tie to HaRav Sher and his family was formed when HaRav
Nosson Tzvi Shulman, only son of HaRav Mordechai Shulman zt'l -- who
succeeded his father-in-law HaRav Sher as rosh yeshiva of Slobodke in
Bnei Brak -- married a daughter of Rav Yechiel.)
Also mentioned in connection with Slobodke are Rav Yechiel's
acquaintance with HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt'l, who greatly
admired him, though on consideration of the stated facts, it seems
that this came about after the latter's departure from Slobodke. HaRav
Sher and HaRav Grodzinsky only became rosh yeshiva and mashgiach,
respectively, when HaRav Epstein and the Alter travelled with most of
the bochurim to Eretz Yisroel in the course of 5684-5 (1924). Since
Reb Moshe Mordechai left Slobodke with the first contingent of
bochurim several months before the Alter travelled with the last, and
since the Alter had already left when Rav Yechiel arrived, the
acquaintance with Reb Moshe Mordechai probably developed more during
the latter's return visits to Europe from Chevron.
While learning in Slobodke, Rav Yechiel also got to know the rav of
Kovno (the city of which Slobodke was a suburb), HaRav Avrohom Dov Ber
Cahana-Shapiro zt'l, author of Teshuvos Devar Avrohom. HaRav Shapiro
was an immense gaon, and his seforim were famous for the astonishing
breadth which they displayed in the treatment of every aspect of the
topics under consideration, and the extraordinary fluency in the
opinions of the Rishonim and the penetrating analysis thereof. For his
part, Rav Yechiel had already been described by his rebbe HaRav
Dushinsky as being "at home in all of Shas," to which the Devar
Avrohom later added his own praise that the scholar from Hamburg
possessed "a discerning, critical faculty." It is not hard to see that
such a partnership must have proven highly successful, and beneficial
to both parties.
In recalling Rev Yechiel as a talmid in the yeshiva, Rav S. Y. Rose
(who later served as rov of Munich) mentions, "There were hundreds of
bochurim in the yeshiva but Rav Yechiel stood out and made a lasting
impression."
His deeply emotional tefillos, were also recalled by those who learned
with him in Slobodke. It was however, later in Mir that Rav Yechiel
came into contact with a number of recent and contemporary Torah
leaders, with the result that we have many more firsthand
reminiscences about him from that period than we do from his time in
Slobodke.
Michel From Hamburg
HaRav Schlesinger of London has recorded a report of Rav Yechiel's
arrival in Mir. He writes, "Dayan Moshe Swift zt'l, told me that when
they found out in Mir that `Dr. Schlesinger of Hamburg' was about to
arrive, he wished to see him, so he went to the railway station to
meet him. He saw two people get off the train. One was a man of short
height, with a beard and payos and an unkempt appearance. "That's
surely not Dr. Schlesinger," he thought to himself. The other man was
dressed in modern style, was clean shaven, and very neat and tidy.
"That must be him," he thought, and he approached the man. When they
had gone several paces together the new arrival said to him, "Why are
the streets here so neglected? At home in Radin the streets are
better."
He then realized that this was a bochur from Radin, not the doctor
from Hamburg. With no other choice, he went over to the first
traveller, who had the appearance of a frum idler, and asked if he was
Dr. Schlesinger. The latter dismissed this with a wave of his hand,
"I'm not Dr. Schlesinger. I'm Michel Schlesinger from Hamburg."
(However, it was true that he had already earned a doctorate.)
The new arrival, whose reputation had preceded him as noted above,
impressed the other bochurim with his own distinctive and balanced
blend of toil in Torah and saintliness of character; even among the
most distinguished bochurim, there were very few whose excellence in
one of these spheres did not somehow outshine their attainments in the
other.
It was said in Mir, for example, "If there are five talmidim in the
beis hamedrash, Yechiel is one of them and if there is only one, it's
Yechiel." At the same time, his neighbor in lodgings, HaRav Shlomo
Shimshon Karelitz (who later became av beis din in Petach Tikvah), was
able to apply Chazal's words, "Do not read halichos but halochos," to
him, commenting that every single aspect of Rav Yechiel's behavior,
every halichoh, was a halocho, the result of a thorough determination
of the correct course in each situation. And is it any wonder that Rav
Yechiel displayed such rounded perfection when it was his practice to
preface his Torah study with the tefilloh of the Sheloh Hakodosh: "I
want to learn so that my learning will bring me to fulfill the Torah
in practice, and to attain upright character traits?"
Rav Yechiel's pure, heartfelt prayer is remembered by people who met
him at all stages of his life. HaRav Efraim Bordiansky zt'l (who also
became one of the Schlesinger family's mechutonim), recalled the depth
and emotion of Rav Yechiel's daily tefillos, and their even greater
intensity at times of particular stress and tension. He remarked that
an unforgettable impression was made in Mir during the
sheini-chamishi-sheini fasts in the years 5689-90 (1929-30), when the
Jews of Russia were suffering heightened persecution under Stalin, by
the profuse weeping which suffused Rav Yechiel's tefillos. This
astonished many of the bochurim -- their own feelings were not so
intense, though their own families in Russia were affected, while Reb
Michel, with no relatives there, was so deeply moved, solely by the
spiritual suffering of his fellow Jews. (It is interesting to note
that a parallel phenomenon was noted by HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv who
wrote in 5642 (1882) of his "boundless amazement" of the fact that
"several thousand people fasted [in Frankfurt] because of the
persecution of our Russian brethren . . . just like on Yom Kippur."
See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman
(ArtScroll), p. 196.)
The fact that every drop of his time and strength were devoted to
toiling in Torah did not serve as grounds for allowing himself any
leniencies in halocho, though it would not have been hard to let them.
HaRav Bordiansky further related that once, on Simchas Torah, he came
across Reb Yechiel in the yeshiva's library, looking through various
works of halocho. Upon asking what the matter was, Reb Yechiel told
him that he had a headache and wanted to take a short nap. However, he
went on, while Chazal designate sleeping as one of the ways of making
Shabbos pleasurable (oneg), today was Yom Tov, when there is a mitzvah
of simcha. Whilst sleeping was pleasurable, one did not experience joy
while asleep, hence maybe it is forbidden to sleep on Yom Tov. Only
when HaRav Bordiansky was able to show him that, based on what was
written in one of the most famous works of halocho, there were ample
grounds for ruling leniently, did Reb Yechiel go off to rest.
Although there were arovos for arba minim available in Mir, Rav
Yechiel was not overly enthusiastic about their appearance and he
spent several hours searching for a different sort that were more
comely in the eyes of the halocho. His joy at finally finding them was
apparent throughout the evening of that day.
We are also told that he was the only bochur in the yeshiva who slept
in the succah -- building himself one for that purpose -- despite the
low temperature. He slept there on the night of Shemini Atzeres too,
in accordance with the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, for this was his
family's tradition. In other areas too, he adhered faithfully to the
customs of his family (such as keeping to the Gaon's practice in
taking care to avoid the prohibition of chodosh grain) and his
community. Rav Shamshon Refoel Weiss zt'l, noted that though a bochur,
Rav Yechiel would appear for shacharis wearing his tallis, which other
German bochurim in the yeshiva did not do, presumably since they felt
uncomfortable about standing out.
Did Not Neglect Lechavero
In no way did his consuming involvement with bein odom lamokom lessen
his awareness of the needs of those around him. A son of the family
with whom Rav Yechiel lodged related that each morning, the members of
the household would find containers of usable (that is, not frozen)
water before the door of their house. This greatly surprised them, for
the water was delivered in the evening and usually froze outside
overnight.
Eventually they discovered that their lodger, Rav Yechiel, had a hand
in the matter. He was a very early riser and, irrespective of the
temperature, he would go first thing to draw fresh water, which they
would later be able to use straight away.
Indeed, even as a bochur, devoting his energies principally to his own
advancement, his Torah was still "the Torah of chesed" (Succah 49).
There were many bochurim in the Mir who had arrived from other
countries and backgrounds, who needed time to adjust to the atmosphere
and demands of the yeshiva. Rav Yechiel was especially considerate of
the members of this group.
He would learn Shev Shemaiteso with them to introduce them to yeshiva
learning, and show them how he approached a sugya and delved into its
depths. His attention and guidance was a decisive factor in their
eventual acclimatization and in all their subsequent attainments.
HaRav Shlomo Wolbe recalled the advice he received in the name of Rav
Yechiel -- that he should learn until he dropped onto his bed from
exhaustion!
In the Eyes of Gedolei Yisroel
In the semichah which he bestowed upon Rav Yechiel, the Mirrer Rosh
Yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt'l, wrote, "When he appeared in
our tent I saw that he was full of Hashem's word . . . and he has
continued to immerse himself in halocho here, growing in his
penetration and his fluency in Shas and poskim . . . casting precious
illumination with his chiddushim . . . He is one of those special
individuals, one of the few who are ever ascending . . . wonderful in
the goodness of his character . . . a noble soul inlaid with the
purest of traits, every aspect of his conduct is becoming, his way is
that of modesty, and the pure fear of Hashem hovers over him."
Reb Yeruchom zt'l, the mashgiach, who himself combined nobility and
great beauty of character with very deep insight into the strengths
and weaknesses of human nature, highly estimated Rav Yechiel, upon
whom he had a deep and lasting influence (in later years, the latter
would repeat Reb Yeruchom's teachings to his own talmidim). He once
commented tellingly that although Rav Yechiel "was not a mussarnik, he
was an example of what the mussar approach aimed at for its
followers." From the lips of Reb Yeruchom, there could perhaps be no
greater praise.
HaRav Shimon Schwab zt'l, recalled that when Reb Yeruchom received a
letter from Rav Yechiel after the latter's return to Germany, he
gathered all the foreign bochurim, showed them the letter and said
excitedly, "This is just like a sefer Torah! There isn't one extra
word; there isn't one missing word. That is how one ought to write!"
Another extraordinary token of Reb Yeruchom's estimation was that upon
Rav Yechiel's departure from Mir, the former accompanied him to the
nearest railway station.
On occasional visits to Radin, Rav Yechiel met and made the
acquaintance of the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, conversing with him in divrei
Torah. Rav Nisan Waxman zt'l, reported having heard the Chofetz Chaim
speak admiringly about Rav Yechiel and commenting that he had made a
better impression on him than any of the other Jews from Western
countries who visited him in that period ("Er iz mir gefallen gevoren
besser fun alleh").
This remark made a great impression on those close to the Chofetz
Chaim, and in the yeshivos, where it soon spread, for the Chofetz
Chaim's practice was generally to avoid making any evaluations of
others, positive or not. Rav P. Spitzer (who was a talmid of Rav
Yechiel's later in Frankfurt) related that when, on one of his rebbe's
visits to Radin, someone speaking to the Chofetz Chaim had referred to
Rav Yechiel as "der Deitscher lamdan" (the German scholar), the
Chofetz Chaim had corrected the speaker saying, "Er iz nit kein
Deitscher lamdan; er iz a Litvisher gaon" (He's not a German scholar;
he's a Lithuanian gaon)!
Rav Yechiel first got to know HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt'l, when
he paid him a visit while passing through Vilna on his way home to
Hamburg from Mir, to prepare for his approaching wedding. The
venerated leader of Eastern European Jewry highly estimated Rav
Yechiel and praised him lavishly. That visit saw the beginning of a
warm friendship and an ongoing correspondence.
Kollel in Ponovezh
Rav Yechiel's kallah, Metta Jacobson, was also descended from an old
and distinguished German Jewish family. Her father was a staunch
upholder of authentic Torah life as demonstrated by the following
story, which also shows that the two families shared some important
qualities.
Reb Moshe Yehuda Jacobson z'l, was not entirely happy about the
kashrus of the mikveh in the town where he lived, so he instructed his
family to travel to the mikveh in a neighboring town. However, in
order to avoid causing any embarrassment to the local rov who
sanctioned their town's mikveh, they would also visit the local mikveh
on the following day.
Immediately after the week of sheva brochos, the young couple set out
for Ponevezh, where Rav Yechiel joined the kollel that was attached to
the yeshiva. He had first met the Ponevezher Rov and rosh yeshiva,
HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt'l, at the first Knessia Gedola of
Agudas Yisroel in 5672 (1912), in the organization of which Rav
Yechiel's older brother, who lived in Vienna, had played a part.
Ponovezh had a large Jewish population, its beis din was well known
and the Rov was already famous for his outstanding Torah scholarship
as well as his clear- sightedness. Rav Yechiel spent his afternoons in
the beis din, obtaining practical training in halachic ruling in
anticipation of taking a rabbinical position. In the evenings he
learned in his own home with the gaon Rav Shraga Feivel Horowitz Hy'd,
one of the Ponevezher Rov's brothers-in-law.
During the rest of his time, he devoted himself to learning with
undiminished application, which neither interfered with, nor suffered
from, the fulfillment of his new obligations. In the first year of his
marriage he was particular to take a daily stroll with his wife. The
young rebbetzin's devotion to her husband's learning was such that she
agreed to make their first home in a tumbledown wooden hut in
Ponevezh, foretelling the much greater sacrifices she would be making
in the years that lay ahead.
One former practice of Rav Yechiel's that did change was the fasting
in which he had frequently engaged as a bochur without feeling any ill
effects. His young wife objected, apparently on grounds of health, and
asked him to inform her in advance if he wanted to fast so that she
could prepare him more nourishing food. When he failed to do this, she
said that if fasting was indeed so beneficial she would join him.
However, to this Rav Yechiel would not agree.
Rav Yechiel's firstborn, his son HaRav Moshe Yehuda ylct'a, who today
is the rosh yeshiva of Kol Torah, was born in Ponevezh. One day, as he
was about to enter the yeshiva, the Ponevezher Rov encountered
Rebbetzin Schlesinger walking past the yeshiva's windows with her
young son. In response to the rov's question -- apparently this was
not the place usually favored by mothers for strolling -- the young
rebbetzin explained that she wanted to hear the sound of her husband's
voice as he learned and she also wanted her infant son to hear the
sound of Torah study (see Yerushalmi Yevomos, perek 9). This was a
story which the Rov enjoyed telling repeatedly in the years that
followed.
A Call from Frankfurt
Upon the recommendation of R' Yaakov Rosenheim z'l, Rav Yechiel was
called from Ponevezh to Frankfurt to deliver the hadran at a siyum
hashas that was being held there. There was considerable tension
simmering in the community at the time, due to the existence of two
blocs that differed in the direction they wished to see the community
take.
On the one hand, there were those who pointed proudly to a thousand
years of unbroken and undiluted Jewish German tradition, from the days
of Rabbenu Gershom and the Maharam MiRottenburg, all the way down to
the Oruch Leneir, HaRav Hirsch and the Nachal Eshkol in their own
times.
On the other hand, the problem was that German Jewry was becoming less
and less able to train its own Torah leaders with sufficient learning
and stature that it so badly needed. HaRav Ezriel Hildesheimer had
learned in the Hungarian yeshivos, as had HaRav Spitzer of Hamburg.
Other rabbonim who had held important positions in Germany in those
days, had learned in yeshivos even further east: HaRav Yitzchok Halevi
Rabinowitz, author of Doros Horishonim had learned in Volozhin and
HaRav Avrohom Kaplan had learned in Slobodke. Though it inevitably
meant the introduction of other traditions and approaches, it was
unavoidable, argued the advocates of the opposing view, that future
rabbinical leaders be recruited from the Torah centers of Hungary,
Lithuania, Poland and Russia.
In this strained atmosphere, the prospect of Rav Yechiel's appointment
raised the hope of restoring unity to the community. Born and bred in
Ashkenaz and steeped in its traditions and minhogim, yet having
developed in the leading Torah centers of the time, the great yeshivos
of Hungary and Lithuania, he was eminently suited for a position such
as Frankfurt needed filled and he was immediately acceptable to all.
Rav Yechiel discussed the proposal with his mentors in Ponevezh but
there, opinions differed. The Ponevezher Rov and his brother-in-law
HaRav Kalman Asher Braun zt'l, felt that Rav Yechiel would be able to
achieve more elsewhere. Frankfurt was after all not a mokom Torah and
they apparently felt that older bochurim who were self- sufficient and
wholly immersed in gemora, such as he would be teaching if he found a
position in a yeshiva elsewhere, stood to gain much more from him.
Rav Yechiel on the other hand felt that he should seek no further. He
argued that only someone like himself, who was thoroughly acquainted
with the spirit and traditions of German Jewry -- who was indeed a
part of it -- could succeed in effecting changes there for the better.
He had undergone training in Berlin with a view to taking a position
in Germany and he felt this to be a calling.
His point was accepted and with the blessings of his friends in
Ponevezh, Rav Yechiel moved back to Germany. The post he was to fill
was actually that of dayan. However, since Dayan Posen was already
there and since Rav Yechiel's real longing was to teach Torah, some
division of labor was arranged and the two assumed duties of both a
more horo'oh and a rosh yeshiva.
Reluctance to Rule
Profound fear of Heaven and of sin underscored Rav Yechiel's approach
to psak on both the individual and communal levels. The very same
sense of responsibility that bade him tread with the utmost care
before issuing a ruling, prompted him to stand fearlessly when the
integrity of halocho was at stake. On the one hand, he felt the full
weight of determining halocho for others and it was his custom to
study Sha'ar Hayiroh in Reishis Chochmoh before ruling. He
investigated thoroughly, occasionally involving other dayanim in the
deliberations and allowing nothing to rush him until he was satisfied
about his verdict, though this sometimes took hours.
Reb Zev Lang, who later worked with Rav Yechiel in Yerushalayim as the
secretary of Kol Torah, once brought him a shailoh that had come
before his wife, who was the mikveh attendant, one Friday night. Rav
Yechiel immediately began to consider the matter and delved into the
halocho for two hours before he ruled. Only then did he return to his
own family for seudas Shabbos.
When necessary, he was able to transmit his boundless yiras Shomayim
to others. Once, one of the wealthy members of the community was party
to a din Torah involving a very large sum of money, which would be his
subject to his taking an oath, which he was prepared to do. Rav
Yechiel managed to convince the man that avoiding the monetary loss
was not worth incurring the extremely serious consequences of
swearing, even truly, in Hashem's name.
On the other hand, when the course he had to take was clear, he
betrayed no reluctance at all. He would cling to it with tenacity and
allow nothing to influence him, whatever the cost to himself in
strength or status. In matters of kashrus he was uncompromising. He
would personally visit the farms and barns where milking was carried
out under the community's aegis -- and if this meant putting in an
appearance in the dead of night or travelling by sledge in the winter
over snow covered country, so be it!
Once, he discovered a severe lapse in the supervision of a very large
dairy which was owned by one of the leaders of the community, who was
also among its staunchest financial supporters. When the owner refused
to comply with the new dayan's demand that he appoint a full time
supervisor, Rav Yechiel decided to rescind the dairy's certification.
The owner threatened to secede from the kehilla, which would have
serious financial consequences for it, endangering the operation of
its independent institutions. Rav Yechiel was not intimidated in the
slightest by these threats and he maintained his position firmly. The
other communal leaders were alerted and, though the dairy owner
carried out his threat, they ultimately lent Rav Yechiel their full
support. He was also personally involved in supervising the shochtim
and butchers as well as the kashrus of eruvin and mikvo'os.
Despite his acceptance of the burden of ruling for as long as it was
placed upon him, Rav Yechiel was overjoyed when he was released from
it. To an acquaintance whom he met years later en route to Eretz
Yisroel after his miraculous escape from Nazi Germany, Rav Yechiel
remarked that he had a double reason to rejoice: first at the prospect
of living in Eretz Yisroel; and second at his freedom from . . . the
yoke of having to rule in halocho, which enabled him to devote himself
completely to disseminating Torah.
He commented similarly to his wife during that period that never again
did he intend to assume the yoke of a rabbonus, for he found the
burden of being personally responsible for the halachic rulings that
had to be given, too heavy to bear. Henceforth, he would engage in
what was his foremost goal, teaching and spreading Torah.
A Leader for his Times
When the German government enacted a ban on shechita unless animals
were stunned beforehand, a country-wide debate opened as to whether
stunning prior to slaughter was halachically acceptable. There were
those who argued that a supply of kosher meat was necessary for
hospital patients and for the elderly and that ample justification and
grounds existed for ruling leniently.
As one of those who opposed this course, Rav Yechiel responded that
stunning simply could not be halachically sanctioned and those for
whom meat consumption was vital, were permitted to eat non-kosher meat
anyway. If kosher meat could not be satisfactorily prepared locally,
it could be imported from Denmark, for which he made the necessary
arrangements, travelling personally to supervise there until the very
end of his tenure in Germany.
Rav Yechiel's involvement in the controversy was far more extensive --
he was in fact the prime mover in opposition to stunning -- though
typically, he played down his part and tried to remain out of the
limelight as far as he could. He produced a pamphlet which reviewed
the entire issue in all its halachic aspects. (This was first printed
in Eidus Ne'emonoh and appeared again in Eish Tomid, the memorial
volume published in memory of the kodosh Eliezer Schlesinger hy'd, Rav
Yechiel's grandson who was shot by an Arab in 1990.)
He prefaced his comments by noting that he did not intend to deal with
any of the wider implications of the decree, such as whether Jewish
innovators and ignoramuses might not find license in a lenient
conclusion for effecting further easing in religious restrictions,
whether yielding now might not teach the gentiles to make repeated use
of this method of cowing Jewish opposition to their decrees (a fear
mentioned by Rashi on Sanhedrin 74), or whether such a method of
slaughter would be considered to be cutting the animal's trachea and
esophagus after they had been rendered insensible by the stunning
(which the Rogochover Gaon zt'l, held to be a complete
disqualification of the shechita).
The only question which he wished to address, he wrote, was whether
stunning resulted in the animal's being classed among the eighteen
types of tereifos, inasmuch as this was something that depended on
experiment and examination by those knowledgeable in science and
medicine "and we, the rabbonim of Germany, are able -- and are
therefore obliged -- to judge the categories of these tests." As to
the other "serious and generalized fears," (aforementioned) to which
the decree gave rise, "let the generation's gedolim and its geonim
decide, in accordance with their deep Torah counsel." The thoroughness
and comprehensiveness of Rav Yechiel's treatment of the entire topic
revealed much about the issue to the halachic authorities before whom
it was brought for resolution.
Rav Yechiel travelled to Vilna to consult Rav Chaim Ozer on the issue,
though in order to avoid coming into open conflict with an eminent
authority who was in favor of ruling leniently, it was judged
expedient for his presence to be kept secret and the elderly gaon
ruled that he should remain indoors while there, even praying on his
own.
At the Third Knessia Gedola
His connections with the contemporary gedolim brought Rav Yechiel to
the third Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad in 5697
(1937), where he was one of the youngest Torah leaders in attendance.
When HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt'l, Hy'd saw that the members of the
German delegation had begun to arrive, he asked repeatedly, "Has Reb
Michel Schlesinger arrived yet?"
When Rav Yechiel did arrive, Reb Elchonon greeted him with joy and a
beaming countenance. The Ponevezher Rov embraced and kissed his friend
and talmid.
The gaon HaRav Akiva Sofer zt'l, the rov of Pressburg who was also
attending the Knessia, asked to speak to Rav Yechiel privately and at
a later time, HaRav Sofer revealed what the two of them had discussed.
There had then been some ferment in HaRav Sofer's yeshiva in favor of
introducing the Lithuanian approach to learning -- which HaRav Dessler
zt'l, referred to as "protection against the tide of haskoloh" -- of
independent contemplation and analysis, in place of the system that
was traditional in the Hungarian yeshivos, where all the discussion
centered around the rosh yeshiva's intricate sugya shiur.
There was of course much to be said for both sides. The Hungarian
method enjoyed seniority; many geonim and eminent poskim had developed
in the yeshivos which employed it; it was unique in the guidance it
conveyed in determining practical halocho, and in the amount of
knowledge that could be imparted to the talmidim, which was of great
importance in those communities, where marriages were usually arranged
at a young age. The depth, the brilliance and the polish of the
Lithuanian approach on the other hand, held their own appeal for
eager, young minds.
It was to Rav Yechiel, who had studied for many years in both
Hungarian and Lithuanian yeshivos, that the rov of Pressburg now
turned for advice. Would he recommend a change in course?
Rav Yechiel replied at length in the negative. He felt that the
Hungarian method was suited to the local conditions, to the roshei
yeshiva and to the talmidim, and that it ought not to be changed. "I'm
relying on you!" HaRav Sofer told him as they concluded their talk.
Upon his return to Pressburg, HaRav Sofer voiced a complaint, namely,
that while talmidim in Polish yeshivos were laboring over the
difficulties posed by the Chasam Sofer and their resolution, new paths
were being sought in the Chasam Sofer's very own yeshiva in Pressburg!
That closed the issue.
The veneration of so many Torah leaders did not lessen Rav Yechiel's
deep humility and unless absolutely necessary, he downplayed his own
standing. When one of his colleagues tried to convince him to call
upon the elderly Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes zt'l, who was attending
the Knessia, he replied that since he had no specific reason just then
for approaching the Rebbe, he did not wish to disturb such a holy man.
At last Rav Yechiel was prevailed upon to agree, and he spent some
time in private audience with the Rebbe, who bestowed his blessing
upon his children and who later commented about Rav Yechiel,
"Everything he does is for the sake of Heaven!"

 

 


Part II
Introduction
This second installment of our series on HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger
zt'l, surveys his years in the great yeshivos of his day, and follows
him to Frankfurt, to his first communal position, and on to Eretz
Yisroel. Though the circumstances dealt with are diverse, one
particular trait is always prominent. In seeking a phrase that gives
an accurate impression of his great uncle, HaRav Elyokim Getzel
Schlesinger, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Horomoh in London writes, "It is
hard for me to employ the conventional titles, though they all applied
to him -- a gaon, a tzaddik, pious, humble, pure and holy, a rosh
yeshiva and a poseik. He was all of these things, yet they do not
capture the overall perfection and the true dimension of his greatness
. . . I was fortunate to know him as a bochur . . . when he was rav in
Frankfurt . . . as a refugee . . . when he arrived in Eretz Yisroel .
. . during the years he worked in Yerushalayim . . . and as he
prepared to return his pure soul to its Creator. If there is anything
that defined him even in a small way, any particularly noticeable
thread that ran throughout his life, it is one trait: fear of sin,
which is the last stage on the path set out by the Mesilas Yeshorim.
This quality shone from his countenance. Anyone possessed of a
slightly discerning eye could see it; he was unable to conceal it.
That was the first impression that he made on the gedolei Yisroel with
whom he came in contact."
We will see that this was also the overriding impression which Rav
Yechiel made upon his fellow bochurim in Slobodke and Mir. It also
typifies his subsequent tenure as rav, marbitz Torah and poseik in
Frankfurt, as it does his behavior during his and his family's narrow
escape from Nazi Germany via Switzerland, to Eretz Yisroel. Whether as
a talmid, or as a teacher and leader, in both tranquil and in
dangerous times, it was his fear of sin, and his unswerving
determination to fulfill Hashem's will in any and all circumstances
that was the sole factor in determining his reactions and responses.
Sojourn in Kovno
The first portion of Rav Yechiel's sojourn in the yeshivos of
Lithuania was also the longest. He learned in Slobodke for three
years, during which time he grew close to the rosh yeshiva, HaRav
Isaac Sher zt'l, and to the mashgiach, HaRav Avrohom Grodzinsky zt'l,
Hy'd. (An extra tie to HaRav Sher and his family was formed when HaRav
Nosson Tzvi Shulman, only son of HaRav Mordechai Shulman zt'l -- who
succeeded his father-in-law HaRav Sher as rosh yeshiva of Slobodke in
Bnei Brak -- married a daughter of Rav Yechiel.)
Also mentioned in connection with Slobodke are Rav Yechiel's
acquaintance with HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt'l, who greatly
admired him, though on consideration of the stated facts, it seems
that this came about after the latter's departure from Slobodke. HaRav
Sher and HaRav Grodzinsky only became rosh yeshiva and mashgiach,
respectively, when HaRav Epstein and the Alter travelled with most of
the bochurim to Eretz Yisroel in the course of 5684-5 (1924). Since
Reb Moshe Mordechai left Slobodke with the first contingent of
bochurim several months before the Alter travelled with the last, and
since the Alter had already left when Rav Yechiel arrived, the
acquaintance with Reb Moshe Mordechai probably developed more during
the latter's return visits to Europe from Chevron.
While learning in Slobodke, Rav Yechiel also got to know the rav of
Kovno (the city of which Slobodke was a suburb), HaRav Avrohom Dov Ber
Cahana-Shapiro zt'l, author of Teshuvos Devar Avrohom. HaRav Shapiro
was an immense gaon, and his seforim were famous for the astonishing
breadth which they displayed in the treatment of every aspect of the
topics under consideration, and the extraordinary fluency in the
opinions of the Rishonim and the penetrating analysis thereof. For his
part, Rav Yechiel had already been described by his rebbe HaRav
Dushinsky as being "at home in all of Shas," to which the Devar
Avrohom later added his own praise that the scholar from Hamburg
possessed "a discerning, critical faculty." It is not hard to see that
such a partnership must have proven highly successful, and beneficial
to both parties.
In recalling Rev Yechiel as a talmid in the yeshiva, Rav S. Y. Rose
(who later served as rov of Munich) mentions, "There were hundreds of
bochurim in the yeshiva but Rav Yechiel stood out and made a lasting
impression."
His deeply emotional tefillos, were also recalled by those who learned
with him in Slobodke. It was however, later in Mir that Rav Yechiel
came into contact with a number of recent and contemporary Torah
leaders, with the result that we have many more firsthand
reminiscences about him from that period than we do from his time in
Slobodke.
Michel From Hamburg
HaRav Schlesinger of London has recorded a report of Rav Yechiel's
arrival in Mir. He writes, "Dayan Moshe Swift zt'l, told me that when
they found out in Mir that `Dr. Schlesinger of Hamburg' was about to
arrive, he wished to see him, so he went to the railway station to
meet him. He saw two people get off the train. One was a man of short
height, with a beard and payos and an unkempt appearance. "That's
surely not Dr. Schlesinger," he thought to himself. The other man was
dressed in modern style, was clean shaven, and very neat and tidy.
"That must be him," he thought, and he approached the man. When they
had gone several paces together the new arrival said to him, "Why are
the streets here so neglected? At home in Radin the streets are
better."
He then realized that this was a bochur from Radin, not the doctor
from Hamburg. With no other choice, he went over to the first
traveller, who had the appearance of a frum idler, and asked if he was
Dr. Schlesinger. The latter dismissed this with a wave of his hand,
"I'm not Dr. Schlesinger. I'm Michel Schlesinger from Hamburg."
(However, it was true that he had already earned a doctorate.)
The new arrival, whose reputation had preceded him as noted above,
impressed the other bochurim with his own distinctive and balanced
blend of toil in Torah and saintliness of character; even among the
most distinguished bochurim, there were very few whose excellence in
one of these spheres did not somehow outshine their attainments in the
other.
It was said in Mir, for example, "If there are five talmidim in the
beis hamedrash, Yechiel is one of them and if there is only one, it's
Yechiel." At the same time, his neighbor in lodgings, HaRav Shlomo
Shimshon Karelitz (who later became av beis din in Petach Tikvah), was
able to apply Chazal's words, "Do not read halichos but halochos," to
him, commenting that every single aspect of Rav Yechiel's behavior,
every halichoh, was a halocho, the result of a thorough determination
of the correct course in each situation. And is it any wonder that Rav
Yechiel displayed such rounded perfection when it was his practice to
preface his Torah study with the tefilloh of the Sheloh Hakodosh: "I
want to learn so that my learning will bring me to fulfill the Torah
in practice, and to attain upright character traits?"
Rav Yechiel's pure, heartfelt prayer is remembered by people who met
him at all stages of his life. HaRav Efraim Bordiansky zt'l (who also
became one of the Schlesinger family's mechutonim), recalled the depth
and emotion of Rav Yechiel's daily tefillos, and their even greater
intensity at times of particular stress and tension. He remarked that
an unforgettable impression was made in Mir during the
sheini-chamishi-sheini fasts in the years 5689-90 (1929-30), when the
Jews of Russia were suffering heightened persecution under Stalin, by
the profuse weeping which suffused Rav Yechiel's tefillos. This
astonished many of the bochurim -- their own feelings were not so
intense, though their own families in Russia were affected, while Reb
Michel, with no relatives there, was so deeply moved, solely by the
spiritual suffering of his fellow Jews. (It is interesting to note
that a parallel phenomenon was noted by HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv who
wrote in 5642 (1882) of his "boundless amazement" of the fact that
"several thousand people fasted [in Frankfurt] because of the
persecution of our Russian brethren . . . just like on Yom Kippur."
See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman
(ArtScroll), p. 196.)
The fact that every drop of his time and strength were devoted to
toiling in Torah did not serve as grounds for allowing himself any
leniencies in halocho, though it would not have been hard to let them.
HaRav Bordiansky further related that once, on Simchas Torah, he came
across Reb Yechiel in the yeshiva's library, looking through various
works of halocho. Upon asking what the matter was, Reb Yechiel told
him that he had a headache and wanted to take a short nap. However, he
went on, while Chazal designate sleeping as one of the ways of making
Shabbos pleasurable (oneg), today was Yom Tov, when there is a mitzvah
of simcha. Whilst sleeping was pleasurable, one did not experience joy
while asleep, hence maybe it is forbidden to sleep on Yom Tov. Only
when HaRav Bordiansky was able to show him that, based on what was
written in one of the most famous works of halocho, there were ample
grounds for ruling leniently, did Reb Yechiel go off to rest.
Although there were arovos for arba minim available in Mir, Rav
Yechiel was not overly enthusiastic about their appearance and he
spent several hours searching for a different sort that were more
comely in the eyes of the halocho. His joy at finally finding them was
apparent throughout the evening of that day.
We are also told that he was the only bochur in the yeshiva who slept
in the succah -- building himself one for that purpose -- despite the
low temperature. He slept there on the night of Shemini Atzeres too,
in accordance with the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, for this was his
family's tradition. In other areas too, he adhered faithfully to the
customs of his family (such as keeping to the Gaon's practice in
taking care to avoid the prohibition of chodosh grain) and his
community. Rav Shamshon Refoel Weiss zt'l, noted that though a bochur,
Rav Yechiel would appear for shacharis wearing his tallis, which other
German bochurim in the yeshiva did not do, presumably since they felt
uncomfortable about standing out.
Did Not Neglect Lechavero
In no way did his consuming involvement with bein odom lamokom lessen
his awareness of the needs of those around him. A son of the family
with whom Rav Yechiel lodged related that each morning, the members of
the household would find containers of usable (that is, not frozen)
water before the door of their house. This greatly surprised them, for
the water was delivered in the evening and usually froze outside
overnight.
Eventually they discovered that their lodger, Rav Yechiel, had a hand
in the matter. He was a very early riser and, irrespective of the
temperature, he would go first thing to draw fresh water, which they
would later be able to use straight away.
Indeed, even as a bochur, devoting his energies principally to his own
advancement, his Torah was still "the Torah of chesed" (Succah 49).
There were many bochurim in the Mir who had arrived from other
countries and backgrounds, who needed time to adjust to the atmosphere
and demands of the yeshiva. Rav Yechiel was especially considerate of
the members of this group.
He would learn Shev Shemaiteso with them to introduce them to yeshiva
learning, and show them how he approached a sugya and delved into its
depths. His attention and guidance was a decisive factor in their
eventual acclimatization and in all their subsequent attainments.
HaRav Shlomo Wolbe recalled the advice he received in the name of Rav
Yechiel -- that he should learn until he dropped onto his bed from
exhaustion!
In the Eyes of Gedolei Yisroel
In the semichah which he bestowed upon Rav Yechiel, the Mirrer Rosh
Yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt'l, wrote, "When he appeared in
our tent I saw that he was full of Hashem's word . . . and he has
continued to immerse himself in halocho here, growing in his
penetration and his fluency in Shas and poskim . . . casting precious
illumination with his chiddushim . . . He is one of those special
individuals, one of the few who are ever ascending . . . wonderful in
the goodness of his character . . . a noble soul inlaid with the
purest of traits, every aspect of his conduct is becoming, his way is
that of modesty, and the pure fear of Hashem hovers over him."
Reb Yeruchom zt'l, the mashgiach, who himself combined nobility and
great beauty of character with very deep insight into the strengths
and weaknesses of human nature, highly estimated Rav Yechiel, upon
whom he had a deep and lasting influence (in later years, the latter
would repeat Reb Yeruchom's teachings to his own talmidim). He once
commented tellingly that although Rav Yechiel "was not a mussarnik, he
was an example of what the mussar approach aimed at for its
followers." From the lips of Reb Yeruchom, there could perhaps be no
greater praise.
HaRav Shimon Schwab zt'l, recalled that when Reb Yeruchom received a
letter from Rav Yechiel after the latter's return to Germany, he
gathered all the foreign bochurim, showed them the letter and said
excitedly, "This is just like a sefer Torah! There isn't one extra
word; there isn't one missing word. That is how one ought to write!"
Another extraordinary token of Reb Yeruchom's estimation was that upon
Rav Yechiel's departure from Mir, the former accompanied him to the
nearest railway station.
On occasional visits to Radin, Rav Yechiel met and made the
acquaintance of the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, conversing with him in divrei
Torah. Rav Nisan Waxman zt'l, reported having heard the Chofetz Chaim
speak admiringly about Rav Yechiel and commenting that he had made a
better impression on him than any of the other Jews from Western
countries who visited him in that period ("Er iz mir gefallen gevoren
besser fun alleh").
This remark made a great impression on those close to the Chofetz
Chaim, and in the yeshivos, where it soon spread, for the Chofetz
Chaim's practice was generally to avoid making any evaluations of
others, positive or not. Rav P. Spitzer (who was a talmid of Rav
Yechiel's later in Frankfurt) related that when, on one of his rebbe's
visits to Radin, someone speaking to the Chofetz Chaim had referred to
Rav Yechiel as "der Deitscher lamdan" (the German scholar), the
Chofetz Chaim had corrected the speaker saying, "Er iz nit kein
Deitscher lamdan; er iz a Litvisher gaon" (He's not a German scholar;
he's a Lithuanian gaon)!
Rav Yechiel first got to know HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt'l, when
he paid him a visit while passing through Vilna on his way home to
Hamburg from Mir, to prepare for his approaching wedding. The
venerated leader of Eastern European Jewry highly estimated Rav
Yechiel and praised him lavishly. That visit saw the beginning of a
warm friendship and an ongoing correspondence.
Kollel in Ponovezh
Rav Yechiel's kallah, Metta Jacobson, was also descended from an old
and distinguished German Jewish family. Her father was a staunch
upholder of authentic Torah life as demonstrated by the following
story, which also shows that the two families shared some important
qualities.
Reb Moshe Yehuda Jacobson z'l, was not entirely happy about the
kashrus of the mikveh in the town where he lived, so he instructed his
family to travel to the mikveh in a neighboring town. However, in
order to avoid causing any embarrassment to the local rov who
sanctioned their town's mikveh, they would also visit the local mikveh
on the following day.
Immediately after the week of sheva brochos, the young couple set out
for Ponevezh, where Rav Yechiel joined the kollel that was attached to
the yeshiva. He had first met the Ponevezher Rov and rosh yeshiva,
HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt'l, at the first Knessia Gedola of
Agudas Yisroel in 5672 (1912), in the organization of which Rav
Yechiel's older brother, who lived in Vienna, had played a part.
Ponovezh had a large Jewish population, its beis din was well known
and the Rov was already famous for his outstanding Torah scholarship
as well as his clear- sightedness. Rav Yechiel spent his afternoons in
the beis din, obtaining practical training in halachic ruling in
anticipation of taking a rabbinical position. In the evenings he
learned in his own home with the gaon Rav Shraga Feivel Horowitz Hy'd,
one of the Ponevezher Rov's brothers-in-law.
During the rest of his time, he devoted himself to learning with
undiminished application, which neither interfered with, nor suffered
from, the fulfillment of his new obligations. In the first year of his
marriage he was particular to take a daily stroll with his wife. The
young rebbetzin's devotion to her husband's learning was such that she
agreed to make their first home in a tumbledown wooden hut in
Ponevezh, foretelling the much greater sacrifices she would be making
in the years that lay ahead.
One former practice of Rav Yechiel's that did change was the fasting
in which he had frequently engaged as a bochur without feeling any ill
effects. His young wife objected, apparently on grounds of health, and
asked him to inform her in advance if he wanted to fast so that she
could prepare him more nourishing food. When he failed to do this, she
said that if fasting was indeed so beneficial she would join him.
However, to this Rav Yechiel would not agree.
Rav Yechiel's firstborn, his son HaRav Moshe Yehuda ylct'a, who today
is the rosh yeshiva of Kol Torah, was born in Ponevezh. One day, as he
was about to enter the yeshiva, the Ponevezher Rov encountered
Rebbetzin Schlesinger walking past the yeshiva's windows with her
young son. In response to the rov's question -- apparently this was
not the place usually favored by mothers for strolling -- the young
rebbetzin explained that she wanted to hear the sound of her husband's
voice as he learned and she also wanted her infant son to hear the
sound of Torah study (see Yerushalmi Yevomos, perek 9). This was a
story which the Rov enjoyed telling repeatedly in the years that
followed.
A Call from Frankfurt
Upon the recommendation of R' Yaakov Rosenheim z'l, Rav Yechiel was
called from Ponevezh to Frankfurt to deliver the hadran at a siyum
hashas that was being held there. There was considerable tension
simmering in the community at the time, due to the existence of two
blocs that differed in the direction they wished to see the community
take.
On the one hand, there were those who pointed proudly to a thousand
years of unbroken and undiluted Jewish German tradition, from the days
of Rabbenu Gershom and the Maharam MiRottenburg, all the way down to
the Oruch Leneir, HaRav Hirsch and the Nachal Eshkol in their own
times.
On the other hand, the problem was that German Jewry was becoming less
and less able to train its own Torah leaders with sufficient learning
and stature that it so badly needed. HaRav Ezriel Hildesheimer had
learned in the Hungarian yeshivos, as had HaRav Spitzer of Hamburg.
Other rabbonim who had held important positions in Germany in those
days, had learned in yeshivos even further east: HaRav Yitzchok Halevi
Rabinowitz, author of Doros Horishonim had learned in Volozhin and
HaRav Avrohom Kaplan had learned in Slobodke. Though it inevitably
meant the introduction of other traditions and approaches, it was
unavoidable, argued the advocates of the opposing view, that future
rabbinical leaders be recruited from the Torah centers of Hungary,
Lithuania, Poland and Russia.
In this strained atmosphere, the prospect of Rav Yechiel's appointment
raised the hope of restoring unity to the community. Born and bred in
Ashkenaz and steeped in its traditions and minhogim, yet having
developed in the leading Torah centers of the time, the great yeshivos
of Hungary and Lithuania, he was eminently suited for a position such
as Frankfurt needed filled and he was immediately acceptable to all.
Rav Yechiel discussed the proposal with his mentors in Ponevezh but
there, opinions differed. The Ponevezher Rov and his brother-in-law
HaRav Kalman Asher Braun zt'l, felt that Rav Yechiel would be able to
achieve more elsewhere. Frankfurt was after all not a mokom Torah and
they apparently felt that older bochurim who were self- sufficient and
wholly immersed in gemora, such as he would be teaching if he found a
position in a yeshiva elsewhere, stood to gain much more from him.
Rav Yechiel on the other hand felt that he should seek no further. He
argued that only someone like himself, who was thoroughly acquainted
with the spirit and traditions of German Jewry -- who was indeed a
part of it -- could succeed in effecting changes there for the better.
He had undergone training in Berlin with a view to taking a position
in Germany and he felt this to be a calling.
His point was accepted and with the blessings of his friends in
Ponevezh, Rav Yechiel moved back to Germany. The post he was to fill
was actually that of dayan. However, since Dayan Posen was already
there and since Rav Yechiel's real longing was to teach Torah, some
division of labor was arranged and the two assumed duties of both a
more horo'oh and a rosh yeshiva.
Reluctance to Rule
Profound fear of Heaven and of sin underscored Rav Yechiel's approach
to psak on both the individual and communal levels. The very same
sense of responsibility that bade him tread with the utmost care
before issuing a ruling, prompted him to stand fearlessly when the
integrity of halocho was at stake. On the one hand, he felt the full
weight of determining halocho for others and it was his custom to
study Sha'ar Hayiroh in Reishis Chochmoh before ruling. He
investigated thoroughly, occasionally involving other dayanim in the
deliberations and allowing nothing to rush him until he was satisfied
about his verdict, though this sometimes took hours.
Reb Zev Lang, who later worked with Rav Yechiel in Yerushalayim as the
secretary of Kol Torah, once brought him a shailoh that had come
before his wife, who was the mikveh attendant, one Friday night. Rav
Yechiel immediately began to consider the matter and delved into the
halocho for two hours before he ruled. Only then did he return to his
own family for seudas Shabbos.
When necessary, he was able to transmit his boundless yiras Shomayim
to others. Once, one of the wealthy members of the community was party
to a din Torah involving a very large sum of money, which would be his
subject to his taking an oath, which he was prepared to do. Rav
Yechiel managed to convince the man that avoiding the monetary loss
was not worth incurring the extremely serious consequences of
swearing, even truly, in Hashem's name.
On the other hand, when the course he had to take was clear, he
betrayed no reluctance at all. He would cling to it with tenacity and
allow nothing to influence him, whatever the cost to himself in
strength or status. In matters of kashrus he was uncompromising. He
would personally visit the farms and barns where milking was carried
out under the community's aegis -- and if this meant putting in an
appearance in the dead of night or travelling by sledge in the winter
over snow covered country, so be it!
Once, he discovered a severe lapse in the supervision of a very large
dairy which was owned by one of the leaders of the community, who was
also among its staunchest financial supporters. When the owner refused
to comply with the new dayan's demand that he appoint a full time
supervisor, Rav Yechiel decided to rescind the dairy's certification.
The owner threatened to secede from the kehilla, which would have
serious financial consequences for it, endangering the operation of
its independent institutions. Rav Yechiel was not intimidated in the
slightest by these threats and he maintained his position firmly. The
other communal leaders were alerted and, though the dairy owner
carried out his threat, they ultimately lent Rav Yechiel their full
support. He was also personally involved in supervising the shochtim
and butchers as well as the kashrus of eruvin and mikvo'os.
Despite his acceptance of the burden of ruling for as long as it was
placed upon him, Rav Yechiel was overjoyed when he was released from
it. To an acquaintance whom he met years later en route to Eretz
Yisroel after his miraculous escape from Nazi Germany, Rav Yechiel
remarked that he had a double reason to rejoice: first at the prospect
of living in Eretz Yisroel; and second at his freedom from . . . the
yoke of having to rule in halocho, which enabled him to devote himself
completely to disseminating Torah.
He commented similarly to his wife during that period that never again
did he intend to assume the yoke of a rabbonus, for he found the
burden of being personally responsible for the halachic rulings that
had to be given, too heavy to bear. Henceforth, he would engage in
what was his foremost goal, teaching and spreading Torah.
A Leader for his Times
When the German government enacted a ban on shechita unless animals
were stunned beforehand, a country-wide debate opened as to whether
stunning prior to slaughter was halachically acceptable. There were
those who argued that a supply of kosher meat was necessary for
hospital patients and for the elderly and that ample justification and
grounds existed for ruling leniently.
As one of those who opposed this course, Rav Yechiel responded that
stunning simply could not be halachically sanctioned and those for
whom meat consumption was vital, were permitted to eat non-kosher meat
anyway. If kosher meat could not be satisfactorily prepared locally,
it could be imported from Denmark, for which he made the necessary
arrangements, travelling personally to supervise there until the very
end of his tenure in Germany.
Rav Yechiel's involvement in the controversy was far more extensive --
he was in fact the prime mover in opposition to stunning -- though
typically, he played down his part and tried to remain out of the
limelight as far as he could. He produced a pamphlet which reviewed
the entire issue in all its halachic aspects. (This was first printed
in Eidus Ne'emonoh and appeared again in Eish Tomid, the memorial
volume published in memory of the kodosh Eliezer Schlesinger hy'd, Rav
Yechiel's grandson who was shot by an Arab in 1990.)
He prefaced his comments by noting that he did not intend to deal with
any of the wider implications of the decree, such as whether Jewish
innovators and ignoramuses might not find license in a lenient
conclusion for effecting further easing in religious restrictions,
whether yielding now might not teach the gentiles to make repeated use
of this method of cowing Jewish opposition to their decrees (a fear
mentioned by Rashi on Sanhedrin 74), or whether such a method of
slaughter would be considered to be cutting the animal's trachea and
esophagus after they had been rendered insensible by the stunning
(which the Rogochover Gaon zt'l, held to be a complete
disqualification of the shechita).
The only question which he wished to address, he wrote, was whether
stunning resulted in the animal's being classed among the eighteen
types of tereifos, inasmuch as this was something that depended on
experiment and examination by those knowledgeable in science and
medicine "and we, the rabbonim of Germany, are able -- and are
therefore obliged -- to judge the categories of these tests." As to
the other "serious and generalized fears," (aforementioned) to which
the decree gave rise, "let the generation's gedolim and its geonim
decide, in accordance with their deep Torah counsel." The thoroughness
and comprehensiveness of Rav Yechiel's treatment of the entire topic
revealed much about the issue to the halachic authorities before whom
it was brought for resolution.
Rav Yechiel travelled to Vilna to consult Rav Chaim Ozer on the issue,
though in order to avoid coming into open conflict with an eminent
authority who was in favor of ruling leniently, it was judged
expedient for his presence to be kept secret and the elderly gaon
ruled that he should remain indoors while there, even praying on his
own.
At the Third Knessia Gedola
His connections with the contemporary gedolim brought Rav Yechiel to
the third Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad in 5697
(1937), where he was one of the youngest Torah leaders in attendance.
When HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt'l, Hy'd saw that the members of the
German delegation had begun to arrive, he asked repeatedly, "Has Reb
Michel Schlesinger arrived yet?"
When Rav Yechiel did arrive, Reb Elchonon greeted him with joy and a
beaming countenance. The Ponevezher Rov embraced and kissed his friend
and talmid.
The gaon HaRav Akiva Sofer zt'l, the rov of Pressburg who was also
attending the Knessia, asked to speak to Rav Yechiel privately and at
a later time, HaRav Sofer revealed what the two of them had discussed.
There had then been some ferment in HaRav Sofer's yeshiva in favor of
introducing the Lithuanian approach to learning -- which HaRav Dessler
zt'l, referred to as "protection against the tide of haskoloh" -- of
independent contemplation and analysis, in place of the system that
was traditional in the Hungarian yeshivos, where all the discussion
centered around the rosh yeshiva's intricate sugya shiur.
There was of course much to be said for both sides. The Hungarian
method enjoyed seniority; many geonim and eminent poskim had developed
in the yeshivos which employed it; it was unique in the guidance it
conveyed in determining practical halocho, and in the amount of
knowledge that could be imparted to the talmidim, which was of great
importance in those communities, where marriages were usually arranged
at a young age. The depth, the brilliance and the polish of the
Lithuanian approach on the other hand, held their own appeal for
eager, young minds.
It was to Rav Yechiel, who had studied for many years in both
Hungarian and Lithuanian yeshivos, that the rov of Pressburg now
turned for advice. Would he recommend a change in course?
Rav Yechiel replied at length in the negative. He felt that the
Hungarian method was suited to the local conditions, to the roshei
yeshiva and to the talmidim, and that it ought not to be changed. "I'm
relying on you!" HaRav Sofer told him as they concluded their talk.
Upon his return to Pressburg, HaRav Sofer voiced a complaint, namely,
that while talmidim in Polish yeshivos were laboring over the
difficulties posed by the Chasam Sofer and their resolution, new paths
were being sought in the Chasam Sofer's very own yeshiva in Pressburg!
That closed the issue.
The veneration of so many Torah leaders did not lessen Rav Yechiel's
deep humility and unless absolutely necessary, he downplayed his own
standing. When one of his colleagues tried to convince him to call
upon the elderly Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes zt'l, who was attending
the Knessia, he replied that since he had no specific reason just then
for approaching the Rebbe, he did not wish to disturb such a holy man.
At last Rav Yechiel was prevailed upon to agree, and he spent some
time in private audience with the Rebbe, who bestowed his blessing
upon his children and who later commented about Rav Yechiel,
"Everything he does is for the sake of Heaven!"
The most succinct way of summing up Rav Yechiel's contribution to the
chinuch of his talmidim in Frankfurt is that he injected a powerful
dose of vibrant Yiddishkeit into their lives. The yeshiva and
community were of course strictly Orthodox, but the local youth had no
vision of the full Torah life that their rebbe had experienced in the
yeshivos of Hungary and Lithuania, and which he now came to embody for
them. Now there came an opportunity to live not only by the orderly
ticking of the regulated Jewish way of life, but to beat in unison
with its very heartbeat.
In the last few years before the final curtain descended on German
Jewry, the community experienced a degree of spiritual revival and
there was much that could be achieved. Where possible, Rav Yechiel
directed bochurim eastward to learn. One such talmid was HaRav Moshe
Eisemann, zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Vineland (a cousin of the Baltimore
mashgiach), who went to Ponevezh. Other talmidim were sent to Yeshivas
Mir and other major yeshivas in Eastern Europe. There were other
talmidim who also went on to achieve greatness in Torah and yiras
Shomayim, while others grew into upright ba'alei batim, fully
committed to regular Torah study as well as meticulous mitzva
observance.
The most symbolic expression of the new spirit which Rav Yechiel
infused was the Simchas Torah dance the last year of the yeshiva in
Tishrei 5698 (1938) in which he led his talmidim around the beis
haknesses, despite the disapproval of some of the members -- to whom
such conduct was so unheard of as to seem undecorous and ungenteel.
This caused a real stir in Frankfurt.
Rav Yechiel was nicknamed Die Schwartzer Rov (the black rabbi). One of
the "innovations" which earned him this title was his teaching that a
chosson should not give his hand to his own kallah before their
wedding. In general, although he personally accepted many stringencies
upon himself, he demanded no more from his talmidim than faithful
adherence to halocho, particularly in areas where a degree of laxity
had become acceptable. His own conduct -- the selfless dedication to
spreading Torah and to fulfilling mitzvos, which his talmidim had
constantly before them -- may well have been the medium which conveyed
his message most powerfully.
Reb Michoel Isaak recalled the time when a trip to Denmark for kashrus
supervision necessitated Rav Yechiel's making a twelve hour train
journey overnight, spending all of the following day supervising,
returning by train that very night, and only reaching Frankfurt in the
early morning. Yet nonetheless he arrived in the yeshiva on time and
delivered his regular shiur, for its full duration and in all its
customary depth.
Another talmid, Reb A. Rimon, remembered when several talmidim were
sitting with Rav Yechiel while his father, HaRav Eliezer Lipmann
Schlesinger, who suffered from foot ailments as an old man, was seated
at the head of the table. The bochurim saw their rebbe suddenly leave
his seat and bend down over his father to arrange his feet more
comfortably.
Another example of his wholehearted dedication to mitzvos was his
practice during the summer days which he spent resting and
recuperating in a village not far from Frankfurt. Since there was no
kosher minyan there during the week, Rav Yechiel made the trip back
into town each evening -- a matter of walking and then spending an
hour on the train -- for mincha and ma'ariv with a minyan. He would
then spend the night in his own home, and after shacharis, travel back
again to the village.
Wide Vistas and Keen Foresight
Rav Yechiel was a man of broad vision and he undertook harbotzas Torah
in its widest sense. He did not limit his efforts to his talmidim in
the yeshiva but worked to provide all groups of the Orthodox youth
with as much spiritual preparation for their futures as he could.
He led a group known as Torah Umussar for young men who worked during
the day. He delivered a nightly shiur to them which was aimed at
covering as much material as possible, in order to give them as good
and broad a grounding in Torah as possible.
One of the members of Torah Umussar recalled the strong desire which
he and his friends had to participate in these shiurim, each and every
one of which was precious to them. Even many years later, he still
remembered their deep disappointment when their beloved teacher did
not come to deliver the shiur one evening. Another talmid remembered
the shmuessen which Rav Yechiel used to deliver to them. These formed
the basis of their outlook upon life and introduced them for the first
time to the idea of learning Torah for its own sake.
When the Nazis attained power in 5693 (1933), and began their gradual
but systematic persecution of the German Jews, it was natural that the
first to feel the impulse to get up and leave would be the youth whose
lives lay ahead of them, while the older generations, were inclined to
hope that things would eventually improve.
Chareidi youth in Germany was then organized in Zeirei Agudas Yisroel
and Ezra. These organizations decided to set up No'ar Agudati, whose
purpose was to prepare its members for aliya to Eretz Yisroel. The
headquarters of the new group was in Frankfurt in the same building in
which the Schlesingers lived, and members were expected to interrupt
their work or studies elsewhere and to move there, where they would
receive training in the pursuits they would be taking up.
Rav Yechiel built a relationship with the No'ar Agudati, being
accepted by them as their halachic authority and spiritual guide. He
aimed to introduce them to the idea that they needed spiritual, as
well as physical, fortification for life in Eretz Yisroel and that a
year spent learning there in a yeshiva would go a long way towards
providing them with the tools they would need. In the framework of the
training provided, members accepted this year of learning upon
themselves. His halachic guidance included teaching them the halochos
of kiddush Hashem, because of the uncertain future in Europe and
elsewhere. Later on, in Eretz Yisroel, his involvement in the
spiritual absorption of his landsmen continued.
Managing such an array of activities and responsibilities, each of
which singly would have been enough to fully occupy most people, was
only possible because Rav Yechiel's approach was that he was merely
trying to live up to his obligations. He had originally accepted the
post in Frankfurt because he felt a responsibility towards the youth
in his country of birth. What prompted him to take on additional
burdens was the conviction that if there was any way in which he could
draw others closer to Torah, he had a positive obligation to do so,
together with the determination to do his very best to live up to all
such obligations. Because of this, his influence spread and was felt
far beyond his own city. Leaving Germany purely for personal reasons
was therefore an unlikely option; Rav Yechiel felt unable to take such
a step without asking the godol hador for guidance.
It had always been clear to Rav Yechiel that his sojourn in Frankfurt
would only last until his oldest son reached an age when the law of
the land required him to attend school. He was unwilling to place him
in a framework that included far more secular studies than the
absolute minimum that was compatible with a Torah education. He was
not against the school there, but he wanted more for his own children.
This was what he had told HaRav Yosef Yonah Horowitz, the av beis din
of Kehillas Adass Yerei'im, when he had inquired of Rav Yechiel how
long he planned on staying in Frankfurt.
When his son reached school age, Rav Yechiel attempted to open a
cheder type talmud Torah in Frankfurt but the time was not opportune
due to the steadily worsening situation. Rather than send him to the
existing school, he kept his son at home, and he asked several of his
talmidim to learn with him privately until he would be able to
organize a full cheder. This was in the fall of 1938 (5698), only a
few months before Kristallnacht. The press of subsequent events
prevented these plans from being realized.
Despite his foreboding regarding the future, Rav Yechiel was still
reluctant to leave without getting Reb Chaim Ozer's approval. This was
not forthcoming. Rav Yaakov Rosenheim also had a hand in the matter,
fearing that there would be a sharp spiritual decline in the yeshiva
and in Frankfurt in general were Rav Yechiel to depart.
Eventually things became so bad that he was hardly able to engage in
any religious activities at all, and by that time Rav Yechiel himself
was in danger. Reb Chaim Ozer now gave his consent to leave and the
question of where to go came to the fore.
The Gathering Storm
Although Hitler ym"sh, had been crusading against the Jews for years
and his party had come to power in 5693 (1933), some years passed
before it became generally apparent that things were just not about to
blow over. In April 1938 a meeting was held between the British Prime
Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Nazi leader which yielded the
Munich Agreement, granting Germany further territory in return for a
pledge that there would be no further territorial demands. Chamberlain
was proud of his policy of appeasement and hailed the agreement as
ensuring "peace in our time." He was widely believed, though just
eighteen months later Hitler cast the agreement aside when the German
army invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War.
However, even at the time of the Munich meeting, Hitler's real
ambition was fully understood by Rav Yechiel, who approved the
agreement in a conversation with some bochurim, saying that it bought
time: "Boruch Hashem -- if there had been a war he would have killed
all the Jews." Those who heard him smiled and were convinced that his
view was extreme. In retrospect, of course, he was tragically
prophetic.
Antisemitic incidents sharply increased in the course of that year,
and though Rav Yechiel felt that the entire kehilla should leave the
country, there were many who still believed that there was no
immediate danger and communal life went on. At this point, Rav Chaim
Ozer would not permit Rav Yechiel to interrupt his activities and
abandon the community.
One day, Rav Yechiel was travelling by train and studying a sefer in
German entitled Chukei Ho'avodoh, by Rav Moshe Findling z'l. A Nazi
officer noticed the book and confiscated it. When he saw the title, he
yelled, "The Laws of Labor?! Underground communist literature!"
The Rosh Yeshiva was taken to the nearest police station and arrested
for possessing subversive anti-government literature. It was only the
next morning that his family realized that something was amiss and,
after making inquiries, they found out what had happened. Rav Yechiel
was released only after a concerted effort was made on his behalf with
the authorities.
One day during Succos 5699 (1938), the last in Frankfurt, German
hooligans attacked Rav Yechiel's succah with stones while the family
was eating in it. One stone penetrated the sechach and only by a
miracle did not hit someone. The Schlesinger's gentile maid went with
the stone to the police station and said, "Herr Chancellor certainly
doesn't want this!" but needless to say, her complaint went unheeded.
Rav Yechiel did not show the slightest sign of fear as the rocks came
in, saying, "Lo ye'une latzaddik kol ro."
Rav Yechiel still insisted on sleeping in a succah, though he moved up
to a neighbor's rooftop succah that was out of the range of
projectiles.
Less than a month later, the infamous Kristallnacht took place, when
hundreds of botei knesses and thousands of Jewish shops and businesses
all over Germany were despoiled, burned and razed. Many Jewish men
were arrested and in the morning, equipped with lists of names and
addresses, Nazi officers continued to round up prisoners. These lists
were headed by the names of religious and communal leaders.
Rav Yechiel left his house as usual on that morning and made his way
to the shul. As he passed the beis haknesses, which he saw was going
up in flames, he joined a group of Jews who were attempting to rescue
the sifrei Torah from the burning building. Their efforts were to no
avail, for a wall of fire blocked any approach. From behind, they
heard cries of distress. The shamash had been among those already
arrested that morning and his wife was beside herself with her
distress and was refusing to leave her home, which adjoined the
burning beis haknesses. Disregarding the flames, Rav Yechiel went
inside and brought her out, saving her life.
Then Rav Yechiel went home. He wanted to go to the yeshiva, saying, "I
know that it's dangerous for Jews to be seen in the streets today,
especially those who look like rabbis, but I reached the conclusion
that if even one talmid shows up today, it's worthwhile taking the
risk in order to teach him." The truth is that people did not realize
the full extent of the danger at that time.
Mrs. Schlesinger said that she did not want him to go alone and she
would accompany him. As they approached, from a distance, the man in
charge signaled to them that there were no classes that day.
On the way home, they passed a large group of Nazis who had
congregated in the street. There was also an SS officer who was racing
back and forth on a motorcycle. Any male Jew who came into their
clutches suffered blows or worse.
Mrs. Schlesinger walked in front of her husband, trying to shield him
from view. Miraculously, the two passed right by all the Nazis without
incident. Mrs. Schlesinger said later that cannot understand how they
managed this.
Rav Yechiel took his young son with him (to avoid yichud) to stay for
a while at an almono who lived nearby. (HaRav Schlesinger today still
remembers that they learned parshas Noach together there.)
From there they went to Mrs. Schlesinger's mother's home, and the rest
of the family joined them.
Mrs. Schlesinger had sold her bedroom furniture in anticipation of
leaving, and she received 300 marks for it. She kept the money in her
morning dress, and it was in this dress that she left and it was
exactly the amount necessary to get to the border.
In fact, just two days earlier, word had come from Rav Chaim Ozer
allowing Rav Yechiel to leave. He had been considering whether to go
to America or to Eretz Yisroel but in view of the immediate danger
into which he had been plunged, how to get out of Germany now became
the burning question.
Miraculously, contact was established with Rav Yechiel's sister, Mrs.
Guggenheim, who lived in Basel, Switzerland. Her late father-in-law,
Saly Guggenheim, had served as the Yugoslavian Consul in Switzerland
and his family was still in possession of the means to enable the
Schlesingers to get out of Germany and into Switzerland. They were
told which border crossing to reach and were promised that the
passports would be sent there.
From the Lion's Jaws
Escaping from Frankfurt was the next hurdle. It was difficult enough
to find an empty taxi in which to travel, for many Jewish families
whose heads had been arrested were now hiring cabs, trying to relocate
for their own protection. The Schlesingers passed up the first
available taxi, as its driver appeared more sympathetic to their
oppressors than to them and he could well have delivered them to the
nearest police station.
The driver that they found spoke strongly against the Nazis, which
made them somewhat at ease. Rav Yechiel took the precaution of lying
down on the floor of the car, shielded from sight by his children,
since any male Jewish adult who was seen outside was arrested.
The family was already out of the city when they realized that one of
the children was missing. He had been taken out earlier by a nanny for
a walk and had not been at home when the others made their hasty
departure. A decision had to be made about what to do. Cold logic
dictated that having come thus far, the family should go on and find
some way to have the child brought to them later on. However, Rav
Yechiel was firm in his resolution that they continue together or not
at all.
Returning to the city was unthinkable and, given the situation, it
would be next to impossible to find yet another taxi to go back and
bring the child. Then the driver remembered a friend of his who drove
during the night hours and who was just then rising in order to begin
his work. The driver reached the man at his home, gave him directions
and the relevant descriptions for intercepting the nanny and her
charge on their walk in the street, and told him where to bring the
child in order to meet up with them. Things went quite smoothly, but
only when this mission had been accomplished did the journey continue.
There was more danger further on. While waiting at a level crossing
while a train passed, a Nazi officer interested himself in the family
excursion, explaining how difficult it was to travel on the crowded
roads just then. This too turned out for the best, for the officer did
not suspect anything and he even gave the cab driver instructions as
to the best way to travel, thus making his own amazing contribution to
the escape.
Finally, late that night, the Schlesingers arrived at their
destination: the town of Freiburg on the Swiss border. Mrs. Guggenheim
was there to meet them. While Rav Yechiel and his rebbetzin had to
wait until their new passports arrived, his sister took the children
away with her in her own car, relying on the vehicle's diplomatic
markings to ensure smooth passage past any guards. However, a
policeman noticed that the car had arrived without passengers and was
now full and he signaled her to stop. She ignored the order and drove
on.
The following day, the Guggenheims received a visit from a policeman
who was searching for the illegal arrivals. Mrs. Guggenheim tried to
pass the children off as her own but when the policeman called the
oldest Schlesinger child over and asked him to identify himself, the
boy burst into tears and the truth emerged. The policeman declared, "I
have been ordered to return the children to Germany. Though I have
been in the police force for forty years, I would prefer to resign
rather than to carry out such an order."
Mr. Guggenheim promised that the children would be out of the country
within a fortnight and the policeman accepted his word and left. Mr.
Guggenheim's mother arranged for them to stay at a chareidi boarding
school in France.
In Hiding
Although the false passports gained Rav Yechiel entry into
Switzerland, it was still prudent to lie low, lest the forgery be
discovered upon close inspection. His brother-in- law, Reb Yechiel
Guggenheim z'l, who was always at the forefront of the efforts to save
the family, at times even endangering himself, found the Schlesingers
accommodation in a village near St. Galen. Moreover, that place was in
quarantine at the time because of an outbreak of cattle disease. This
gave them a good chance to escape detection. Even under the trying
circumstances, Rav Yechiel's trust in Hashem did not waver and he also
adhered to all his customary halachic stringencies as best as he
could.
So that he would resemble the picture on his passport, he was forced
to shave. Though this caused him great anguish and some tears, he did
so. He was careful to leave extremely long sideburns to ensure that he
would avoid the transgression of shaving the corners of the beard,
though this gave him a rather strange appearance. He managed to
arrange a minyan for tefilla in the village and as Pesach approached,
he invited a guest in as tenth man, so that there would still be a
minyan. During the escape, he stressed that while he would do anything
and everything permissible, he would not transgress the ruling of the
Shulchan Oruch and declare himself to be a gentile, whatever the
circumstances. Since this bordered on the Torah's prohibition against
idolatry, there could be no question of leniency.
There were relief organizations in Switzerland that offered
unconditional financial assistance to refugees. However, Rav Yechiel
refused to accept anything from them, preferring to subsist frugally
on whatever he had managed to bring with him from Germany of his own.
He only agreed to take a loan from his brother-in-law. With the help
of the Sternbuchs of Zurich, a legal temporary visa was eventually
procured for the family and arrangements were made for the children's
return from France.
While they were in Switzerland illegally, Rav Yechiel and Mrs.
Schlesinger stayed at the home of the Sternbuchs for a time. Rav
Yechiel did not want to stay long since, as he correctly suspected,
the Sternbuchs gave their own bedroom to the Schlesingers while they
hosted them.
Eastwards or Westwards?
Rav Yechiel's subsequent destination had been the subject of much
thought, long before his sojourn in Switzerland. It seems that while
still in Germany the matter had been resolved, though perhaps not
finally settled.
Practically speaking, there were two possibilities: either the United
States or Eretz Yisroel. HaRav Elchonon Wassermann knew Rav Yechiel
from the latter's years in the yeshivos and he highly valued his
character and his talents as an educator. Contacting his friends in
America, Reb Elchonon had suggested Rav Yechiel for a position in
Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg.
Through the efforts of HaRav Pinchos Teitz zt'l, high level diplomatic
activity had been initiated in order to have American visas issued in
haste to the family by the American consul in Frankfurt. From Vilna,
Rav Chaim Ozer also gave his consent to this move. In the event, it
seems that the visas did not arrive before the family was forced to
flee Germany but at some stage during their stay in Switzerland, the
option became viable again.
The other possibility was to go to Eretz Yisroel, where Rav Yechiel
already had conceived the idea of establishing a yeshiva of his own. A
bold, clear vision of what had to be done in order to bolster Torah
chinuch among the young generation in Eretz Yisroel was certainly
necessary, in order to even entertain the idea of opening a brand new
institution in the conditions that prevailed there at that time. Yet
Kol Torah did not yet exist, whereas Torah Vodaas did.
It seems only reasonable to assume that the family was assured of some
means of support in Eretz Yisroel (though preliminary attempts made in
Switzerland to raise funds for the new yeshiva were not successful),
yet leaving any material considerations aside, the choice was still
not straightforward. Even if we concede that the position in America
may not have been a certainty, it was more certain than anything in
Eretz Yisroel. Given the possibility of obtaining a position as a
marbitz Torah in a large, established yeshiva situated in a major
Jewish center, that was also materially well-established, the choice
seems to have been visionary, perhaps even prophetic.
Yet it would be a complete mistake to imagine that Rav Yechiel was a
dreamer of the type that harnesses everything to the pursuit of a
hoped-for goal, even when there is no realistic plan of how it is to
be achieved.
In general history lehavdil, such examples are numerous, and it is
often the fate of the visionary to dash himself against a harsh and
unsympathetic reality. Though it may transpire that the visionary was
accurate in what he perceived, it falls to others, who are more well
grounded, to seize the idea at some later time and develop it along
more solid lines.
Gedolei Torah, in contrast, are pragmatic in their deliberations and
in the decisions they make. They are inspired -- but at the same time,
they keep two feet on the ground. Anyone who has ever discussed a
problem at length with a godol beTorah has seen how a situation is
examined exhaustively, from all points of view, all of which are taken
into account in the answer.
When we examine the factors which were crucial in arriving at his
decision, as Rav Yechiel himself enumerated them to his nephew HaRav
E. G. Schlesinger of London, we discover that his plans for opening a
yeshiva were not foremost among them. His prime concern was to make
the right choice for the chinuch of his own family. He had been
unwilling to enroll his oldest son in the Jewish school in Frankfurt
because of the time spent there on secular studies, and he wanted
something better for his children. He felt that it would be best for
them, both in Olom Hazeh and in Olom Haboh, that they grow up with
Torasom umnosom. This was, however, his personal desire for his own
children.
He discovered that the situation in America was similar, while in
Eretz Yisroel, there were chadorim that taught virtually only limudei
kodesh. Another consideration which he mentioned was the opportunity
to escape the need to conform to the gentile week with the Sunday
holiday when, as Rav Yechiel put it, there was a whiff of idolatry
abroad in the street. At the time he contacted HaRav Elchonon
Wassermann about whether he could bring up his children to Torah in
America. HaRav Elchonon answered, "In America no, but in Brooklyn
yes."
Ultimately, the choice was not even his own. While still in Germany,
Rav Yechiel had asked his brother-in-law, Reb Moshe Jacobson, to put
the situation to his rebbe, HaRav Dushinsky, who was by then serving
as rav of Yerushalayim, and to obtain his advice. His rebbe's verdict
was: Eretz Yisroel.
Though the destination was clear, the deliberations had not yet ended.
Since he had a chance for immigration visas to the United States, Rav
Yechiel was loathe to make use of the valuable immigration certificate
to British mandate Palestine that had been arranged for him. Legal
entry to Eretz Yisroel was impossible for the vast majority of
European Jews, except the few who could obtain certificates. Assured
of a refuge across the Atlantic, Rav Yechiel was no longer in a
life-and- death situation in Europe, as so many others were who had
nowhere else to go. How could he make use of a certificate for Eretz
Yisroel, when it could be the means of enabling another Jew to escape
from almost certain annihilation? Although he fully intended staying
in Eretz Yisroel, he nevertheless opted to forgo the certificate and
enter on a tourist visa, on which basis he hoped to secure a permit
for permanent residence, though this involved him great hardship. All
the authorities were understandably skeptical that a German Jew would
come temporarily and later return to Europe. They were reluctant to
issue a tourist visa, but somehow they got it.
Thus it was that a few days after Pesach 5699 (1939), Rav Yechiel and
his family set sail from Marseilles on an Italian boat, bound for
Eretz Yisroel, holding tourist visas. In fact they were not sure if
they would stay in Eretz Yisroel or continue on to America. It was
only the first minute that they set foot on the holy soil of Eretz
Yisroel that Rav Yechiel turned to his wife and told her that this was
their permanent place.
In the winter of 5708 (1947-8), Rav Yechiel set out on his mission to
raise money for the yeshiva's building fund to England. (On the side,
he also considered it important that there be chareidi citizens in
Eretz Yisroel and he did what he could in England to encourage
chareidim to move to Eretz Yisroel.) Rav Yechiel had also purchased a
new coat from yeshiva funds, which was more becoming for a
representative of the yeshiva than his old one was. When his mission
was completed and he returned home, however, Rav Yechiel fully
reimbursed the yeshiva from his own money for the coat -- though it
had only been necessary to buy it because he was travelling in the
yeshiva's service -- and also for several private journeys he made
while away, the costs of which he had recorded in a notebook, together
with all his other expenses. He handed the notebook to Reb Zeev Lang
z'l, and asked him to calculate the amount due to the yeshiva so that
he could take it from his private account.
During his first weeks in England, Rav Yechiel's attempts to raise
money met with little success and he even considered giving up and
returning to Eretz Yisroel. However he heard from his old friend and
mentor, the Ponovezher Rov zt'l, that he himself had also been
unsuccessful at the beginning of his own trip but had nonetheless
pressed on undeterred.
In the second month of his English travels, Rav Yechiel indeed saw
considerable success and he was able to return home with what in those
days amounted to a small fortune which, as things turned out, would be
crucial to the yeshiva's survival.
In London, Rav Yechiel was helped by Dayan Abramsky zt'l, the av beis
din, and by Dayan Moshe Swift zt'l, who had known Rav Yechiel as a
bochur in Mir. Dayan Swift described Rav Yechiel's untiring efforts on
the yeshiva's behalf and recalled that he once met Rav Yechiel in the
street in a state of near collapse.
Dayan Abramsky told Dayan Swift, "I am releasing you from attending
sessions of the beis din so that you can accompany the rosh yeshiva of
Kol Torah on his calls!"
Further testimony to Rav Yechiel's self-sacrifice while travelling on
the yeshiva's behalf is to be found in the book, Eso Dei'i
Lemeirochok, by HaRav Binyomin Zeev Jacobson zt'l. " . . . I was
together [with him] in the course of a very harsh winter in London.
Despite the fact that he was already a weak person, his devotion to
his charge was boundless. All of us could see -- even from a distance
-- this tzaddik's righteousness, cloaking everything he did in
tremendous simplicity. This was a true picture of a `bowed tzaddik,'
and of `an upright man of faith,' (tzaddik kofuf, ne'emon poshut)".
His dedication to the purpose of his visit is illustrated by the
following story, in the light of which the story that comes after it
is rendered all the more impressive.
Some talmidim of Rav Yechiel's in Gateshead invited him to visit the
town and deliver divrei Torah and words of mussar. Their rebbe
responded that the sole reason for his coming to England was to
advance his yeshiva's cause. All his time there was dedicated to this
goal and he would therefore be unable to accept any undertaking that
did not bring some benefit to the yeshiva. The talmidim collected a
sum of money for the yeshiva, and Rav Yechiel then felt able to
fulfill their request.
HaRav Schlesinger of London recalls that while in England, his uncle
"was invited to one of the family relatives, who wanted to donate a
large amount of money. The members of the household received him
warmly and prepared an evening meal in his honor. However, since they
were not observant, he refused to eat. They asked him to at least have
a cup of tea but he refused that as well, though they told him that if
he wouldn't drink, they wouldn't give anything. He did not want to
drink however, and they withdrew their pledge."
All in all, the trip was a great success in terms of the yeshiva's
building fund, as well as in other ways. The Rosh Yeshiva's visit left
a lasting impression upon those who met him, and probably the arrival
of many of the English talmidim who came to learn in Kol Torah in
later years was a result of this.
When Rav Yechiel's son, HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger ylct'a,
travelled to England some twenty years later on behalf of the yeshiva,
one of the communal leaders advised him, "Go to the same places as
your father zt'l. The deep impression which he left behind on his
visit is still etched on the hearts of those who had contact with
him."
Yerushalayim Besieged
Rav Yechiel arrived back in Eretz Yisroel in the spring of 5708
(1948), and was at first unable to return to Yerushalayim because the
city was cut off by fighting from other areas of Jewish population.
Fighting between Jews and Arabs had escalated in the months and weeks
leading up to the departure of the British administration and forces
(which were to be completed by mid-May and mid-August, respectively).
From their villages and firing positions high in the hills overlooking
the road to Yerushalayim (mainly at Sha'ar Hagai, the main pass at the
beginning of the mountains, and Kastel, the final ridge before
Yerushalayim), Arab sharpshooters fired on Jewish traffic bound for
the city, killing passengers indiscriminately and burning vehicles.
The road was virtually impassable and since the city's Jewish
inhabitants were entirely dependent for food upon supplies that were
brought along this road from the coastal plain, the Arab stranglehold
on the supply route had very serious implications.
A concerted effort in the first weeks of April to dislodge the
attackers was partially successful. The Kastel was held by Jews long
enough to allow three large convoys of food and supplies to reach the
besieged city. While the first two convoys (on the fifth and seventh
of Nisan 5708) were fired upon and suffered casualties, they managed
to get through with relatively minor difficulties. The third convoy
however, which travelled on the tenth of Nisan and consisted of three
hundred trucks carrying Pesach supplies of chickens, eggs, sugar and
matzos, had a very difficult passage.
Arabs attacked at Sha'ar Hagai and a number of Jews were killed or
wounded. (The shells of the six trucks that had to be abandoned still
remain at the side of the Yerushalayim-Tel Aviv highway along the
sharp slope of Sha'ar Hagai.) It was on this convoy, which in fact was
the last civilian one to get through, that Rav Yechiel finally managed
to return home.
While waiting for an opportunity to return to Yerushalayim, Rav
Yechiel had asked the Chazon Ish whether money he had collected for
the Building Fund could be used temporarily for the food for the
talmidim. The Chazon Ish replied that a certain percentage of the
money was rightfully due to the Rosh Yeshiva personally, as
compensation for his efforts on the yeshiva's behalf, and since Rev
Yechiel did not intend to take a penny for himself, that percentage
could certainly be used for a different purpose. In fact, the lion's
share of the money was used up while the siege lasted.
Life in Yerushalayim at this time was very dangerous. The city was
small and much of it was within rifle range of Arab territory. Simply
to go out into the street was to risk being the target of a sniper's
bullet. As mentioned, Rav Yechiel deemed the nutritional needs of his
talmidim sufficient justification for going out to look for a pharmacy
where he could purchase vitamin supplements for the meager rations
upon which the city's inhabitants subsisted during the siege. He
presumably also went through the streets for tevillas Ezra.
Concerning this family minhag, Rav Elyokim Schlesinger of London
recalls, "Following the custom of his forbears, he went to the mikveh
when appropriate. Before my chuppah, he said to me, `You should know
that our fathers kept tevillas Ezra with great mesiras nefesh.' He was
pleased when I told him that I remembered, from when I was young, that
my grandfather Rav Eliezer zt'l, had broken the ice that covered the
mikveh. He also told me that his going to the mikveh had saved lives."
Rav Yechiel also had a key to the mikveh in Frankfurt which was very
unusual in those days.
Although most of the money which Rav Yechiel had collected at such
self-sacrifice was used to sustain the yeshiva during the difficult
period following his return, the problem of where to accommodate the
growing yeshiva was resolved -- albeit several years later. Today, the
yeshiva occupies beautiful (though crowded) buildings in the heart of
Yerushalayim's Bayit Vegan neighborhood.
The Stern brothers, whose family belonged to the kehilla in Fulda
where HaRav Boruch Kundstadt zt'l had been dayan, erected the central
dormitory building. Some years later, through his ties with Reb Zeev
Lang, Mr. Max Stern put up a fine, spacious beis hamedrash adjoining
it. With the yeshiva's expansion in recent years, the beis hamedrash
has had to be made even larger, by incorporating part of the adjacent
entrance hall but it still strains to accommodate all the talmidim,
kein yirbu.
The Day Wanes
As the weeks passed, Rav Yechiel's illness worsened. Yet with supreme
effort he continued delivering his shiurim. When, towards the end of
that summer, he had to enter the hospital, his talmidim went with him.
They would arrive in pairs, gemoras in hand at his specific request
and would sit by his bed, learning.
Rav Yechiel lay on his bed suffering, his eyes closed, as the bochurim
learned together quietly. When they encountered a difficulty, they
would hear the Rosh Yeshiva's voice clarifying the matter for them.
When he heard a Rashi read incorrectly, Rav Yechiel, from his bed, was
able to correct the reader.
One time his son asked if it was not bitul Torah for the bochurim to
come. He answered, "A bochur must know that sometimes it is necessary
to do certain things."
HaRav Schlesinger of London writes, "He wrote his booklet on caring
for children on Shabbos when he was already bedridden and he asked me
to show it to the Chazon Ish. Our master took the booklet in order to
study it overnight. He returned it to me the next day with his
comments, which testify to the high esteem which he had for my uncle's
writings."
It seems that this work had been in preparation for a long time,
possibly years. The incident which had provided the impetus for its
compilation had taken place when Rav Yechiel visited a fine, upright
family of friends on one of the chareidi settlements on Shabbos, and
had noticed that in taking care of their young children, they were
inadvertently stumbling into forbidden melochos deOraissa.
He was eager to do everything possible to fill the vacuum in this area
and to provide the necessary halachic guidance. Although the booklet
"How Should I Care For My Children On Shabbos And Yom Tov?" is a slim
one, Rav Yechiel commented that he had invested as much in preparing
it as in a large sefer. His characteristic reticence in issuing
practical halachic rulings dictated that every ruling be preceded by a
thorough review of the halochos and that every sentence be formulated
in a way that ensured that it reflected the halocho with the utmost
clarity and precision.
Rav Yechiel consulted a children's doctor while preparing the booklet
but the major contribution to its production was apparently his weekly
chavrusa with HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l. The two had first met
when the yeshiva was situated near the old Sha'arei Chesed
neighborhood where Rav Shlomo Zalman lived and a close friendship
developed. For several months they learned together every Shabbos,
from just after the morning seuda almost until mincha, clarifying the
practical application of hilchos Shabbos to life in modern homes. (Rav
Yechiel's kuntrus can thus be regarded as the forerunner of the
comprehensive Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchosoh, which was published
several years later by HaRav Yehoshua Neuwirth ylct'a under Rav Shlomo
Zalman's aegis.)
It should also be mentioned that Rav Yechiel himself once commented
that when the time came to appoint a new rosh yeshiva, Rav Shlomo
Zalman (who was his junior by some ten years), would be a suitable
choice. Before the shiva for Rav Yechiel had ended, Rav Shlomo Zalman
was asked to fill the position.
Another product of this period was She'al Ovicho Veyageidcho, Rav
Yechiel's commentary on the Haggodo shel Pesach. In the form of
explanations of various passages in the Haggodo, he conveyed some of
his fundamental ideas about our ancestral faith and the uniquely
Jewish method of its transmission from generation to generation. He
writes, "In the father's replies [to the Mah Nishtanoh], the two
principle ideas which the seder night comes to teach and to implant
within our hearts and those of our children have thus been explained:
the first idea, which has two aspects -- that the foundation of our
nation's physical existence as well as its spiritual existence, is
independent of any natural process, coming rather, entirely from
Hashem, Creator of the world -- Vekeirevonu, Hashem has drawn us close
. . . -- This is attested to by the contrasting allusions to which we
applied the questions in mah nishtanoh. The second - - ...la'avodosoh,
to His service -- that the purpose of our nationhood is only `ba'avur
zeh, for this,' because of and for the sake of our fulfillment of His
mitzvos, as servants who fulfill their masters, in the manner
exemplified by na'aseh venishma, meaning that actual physical
fulfillment must precede understanding and knowledge." The Haggodo was
first issued for Rav Yechiel's sheloshim and last year was republished
by the yeshiva for his fiftieth yahrtzeit.
HaRav Schlesinger of London has recorded the following story, which
took place at this time. "When the time of the bar mitzva of his first
born, HaRav Moshe Yehuda arrived, my uncle was already in the
hospital. He asked me to prepare his son's drosho and also noted which
topic and which Rabbi Akiva Eiger were to be discussed. With siyata
deShmaya and because of him, I prepared the drosho, which pleased him.
It is generally accepted in the family that I was close to the Brisker
Rov zt'l, though it was not so. At that time, it was very hard to get
an audience with him for his home was open to all. I was something of
a household member there, on the instructions of the Chazon Ish zt'l,
who told me that I had to find a way to the Rov. [However,] though a
year had passed, I had not yet merited our master's addressing a
single word to me. My uncle said to me, `You are close to the Brisker
Rov. Take my son, so that he can repeat the drosho to him.'
"Though this placed me in a quandary, I could not refuse. I asked one
of our master's [i.e. the Brisker Rov's] sons, with whom I was close,
to convey my uncle's request to his father. To my amazement, when our
master heard my uncle's name, he called me inside and the boy repeated
his long drosho in its entirety while our master listened right to the
end, which he was not accustomed to do. He wished mazel tov and we
went out.
"We had not reached the end of the street when our master's son came
running after me and said that our master was calling me. Naturally I
was shocked but, with no choice, I [went back and] entered our
master's room and saw him bending over the Rambam which the bar mitzva
boy had just reconciled. He asked me, `Who said this chiddush?' I was
shocked but I answered bashfully, `I did.' He said, `Zitst (Sit
down),' and from that moment I was fortunate to be close to him -- all
in my uncle's merit."
HaRav Bundheim recalled Rav Yechiel's adherence to every requirement
of halocho during his illness, despite the personal difficulty it
involved. Before he made any brocho, Rav Yechiel rinsed his mouth and
cleaned it carefully, though it was an effort for him and every
movement distressed him (see Orach Chaim siman 172).
A Tzaddik Takes Leave
At the beginning of 5709 (1948), the government was about to introduce
identity cards to all citizens. Everyone was called upon to hand in a
photograph of themselves and the deadline for receiving the pictures
was fixed for Chol Hamoed Succos. From his hospital bed, Rav Yechiel
adjured his talmidim and family to make sure they were photographed
before the festival began. Rav Yechiel himself tried not to be
photographed at all and, although he did not require this stringency
of others, he wanted to ensure that they avoided the melochoh on chol
hamoed.
The time he too a photograph was after the war when he sent his
mother-in-law, who had survived the camps and was in Switzerland, a
picture of his family whom she had not seen for many years. Aside from
this, the only pictures of Rav Yechiel that the family has are those
made for identity cards.
Erev Succos 5709 -- Two of the gedolei Torah of Yerushalayim, who were
also teacher and pupil, lay mortally ill in Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital:
HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky zt'l, av beis din of the Eida HaChareidis,
and HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger.
HaRav Dushinsky was then over eighty years old and was very frail. On
erev Succos, he passed away. Those close to Rav Yechiel were afraid of
the effect that the news would have on him and HaRav Boruch Kundstadt
zt"l, who led Kol Torah together with Rav Yechiel, stayed at the
bedside of his friend and colleague for several hours that day to keep
away any visitors. Since HaRav Dushinsky's levaya was held in the
hospital grounds (where he was temporarily interred, since the passage
to the cemetery on Har Hazeisim was closed to Jews as a result of the
fighting) it was possible that a number of the participants may have
decided to use the opportunity to pay a bikur cholim visit to Rav
Yechiel, leading him to realize what had happened.
However, Rav Yechiel realized by himself. When he heard the quiet that
had descended upon the neighboring room, he burst into bitter tears
and took upon himself to learn mishnayos for his rebbi's merit. Five
months later, shortly before he himself passed away, Rav Yechiel told
his nephew, HaRav E. G. Schlesinger who had also learned Torah under
HaRav Dushinsky, the place he had reached in the mishnayos and asked
him to complete learning them. Whether any obligation rested upon Rav
Yechiel under the tragic circumstances of his own petirah is unlikely,
yet even so, he wanted his promise to be fulfilled and the mishnayos
learned in his teacher's merit.
Teves-Shevat 5709 (1949) -- Rav Yechiel's rebbetzin was in the last
month of pregnancy and, as previously, he insisted that she spend
Shabbosos in the hospital in order to minimize any chillul Shabbos,
despite the difficulties that her doing so would cause in their home
under the circumstances.
Despite his own problems, Rav Yechiel's heart still ached over the
spiritual welfare of his brethren. When his talmid, Reb Dovid Grosberg
who cared for him in the hospital, mentioned that three thousand olim
had recently arrived in the country, Rav Yechiel burst out crying. In
response to Reb Dovid's amazement he explained, "There must be
hundreds of children among them and what kind of chinuch will they
get?"
On a visit to the Rosh Yeshiva, one of the rabbonim of the yeshiva was
entrusted with an important mission. It shows how exact his cheshbon
hanefesh and hakpodoh bedin was. Rav Yechiel told him about a certain
couple at whose wedding in Frankfurt he had been present. There had
been some halachic reservation about their kesuvoh and they needed a
new one written. Since the original kesuvoh had been drawn up by the
city's rav, it had been proper to refrain from pointing this out at
the time. However, the matter needed correcting.
As Shevat drew to a close, Rav Yechiel's illness progressed and his
situation worsened. The full grandeur of his personality was evident
during this critical period. He accepted his terrible suffering with
love for his Creator and never lost sight of the duties and
obligations that were still incumbent upon him. He continued learning
Torah with his last vestiges of strength and he prepared himself for
the transition that lay ahead. No word of complaint escaped him.
Referring to his departure from his family, he told R' Moshe Schweber
"it would have been good" had he been able to continue raising his
children. A minute later he caught himself and said that was not the
right way to put it. "It would have been pleasant for me (mir
angenehm)," he said. (Meaning, that we never know what is good, but we
can say what we prefer.)
Final days
Adar arrived and the situation was critical. While talmidim and
friends intensified their prayers for his recovery, Rav Yechiel
himself was looking forward, fully aware of his position. At this
time, he drew upon the powers of endurance that he had developed
throughout his difficult life to ensure that his spirit emerged
unscathed.
In his last week, he asked his talmid HaRav Yehoshua Neuwirth ylct'a,
to move his bed nearer to the window. He wanted to see the new moon
and to make kiddush levonoh. He was filled with joy at being able to
fulfill this mitzvo. Only a few days would elapse before he would be
meeting the Shechina again . . .
Motzei Shabbos parshas Tetzaveh -- After havdoloh, Rav Yechiel
addressed those who were with him and said, "Take the becher home. It
won't be needed anymore . . ."
7th Adar 5709 -- This was the yahrtzeit of Rav Yechiel's father, Rav
Eliezer Lipmann Schlesinger zt'l, and for Rav Yechiel, it had always
been a special day of introspection and self-examination. His nephew
R' Elyokim Getzel was with him and he heard Rav Yechiel reproving
himself saying, amongst other things, "When a person comes before the
Heavenly court, nobody can help him there, no relative and no friend.
Just the person himself stands there for judgment . . . "
8th Adar -- Rav Yechiel wanted to encourage his rebbetzin, tlct'a who,
with tremendous dedication, had willingly undertaken a life of
relative poverty, following him first to learn and then to disseminate
Torah, and continually assisting him in all his undertakings. His
message to her was concise. "Boruch Hashem, there is nothing to
regret. I have merited establishing a yeshiva, moreover, in
Yerushalayim ir hakodesh. I have also merited to kindle eight lights .
. . Nothing to regret . . . and much to be thankful for."
The rebbetzin continued to devote herself to the yeshiva and, after
consulting with the Chazon Ish, she went to Europe and worked on the
yeshiva's behalf.
That same day, Rav Yechiel called over his nephew and asked him to
watch over his children's Torah chinuch. "It was not a vague request,"
recalls HaRav E. G. Schlesinger. "He conveyed to me the character of
each of his children and which points required special attention in
each particular case."
Thursday night, the 9th of Adar 5709 -- Rav Yechiel was making his
final preparations. Shortly before his petirah, his brother Dr. Falk
Schlesinger z'l, who was assisting him, removed Rav Yechiel's watch
from his wrist. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Schlesinger showed a talmid
(R' Ezriel Hirsch) who was present, that the watch stopped working
precisely at the moment Rav Yechiel's neshomo left him. Later, Dr.
Schlesinger said that it started working again by itself the following
day.
In his final moments, Rav Yechiel read the posuk (Tehillim 4:5),
"Tremble [before Hashem] and do not sin; take this to heart [when
lying] on your couch and be silent forever." After this he said the
piyut, Yigdal Elokim chai, which is based upon the Rambam's thirteen
principles, with strong, unshakable faith. When he reached the final
verse -- "Meisim yechayei Keil, berov chasdo; boruch adei ad, sheim
tehilloso, Hashem will revive the dead, in His great kindness; may the
name of His praise be blessed for ever and ever." He repeated it again
and again, until he returned his neshomo to its Maker. (When the
Brisker Rov asked Dr. Schlesinger what Rav Yechiel had done in his
last moments, he was very impressed when he told him that he had
reviewed the thirteen principles.)
In torrents of rain, and shrouded in grief, crowds of bnei
Yerushalayim and its yeshivos, talmidim of Kol Torah and olei Ashkenaz
accompanied Rav Yechiel as he was taken from the yeshiva, where he had
been eulogized by gedolei Torah and leaders of the generation. In the
course of his hesped, Rav Yechiel's colleague HaRav Kundstadt
mentioned that the Rosh Yeshiva had asked him to announce that half of
his merits belonged to his rebbetzin, tlct'a, who had stood at his
side with devotion through the years.
To the sound of the weeping and lamenting of his talmidim and
followers, Rav Yechiel's body, purified through a life of toil in
Torah and of suffering, was <%- 2>laid alongside the grave of his
rebbe HaRav Dushinsky, in the Beis Hachaim plot on the grounds of
Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital, as the rain continued to pour down.
Afterword: In Retrospect
In conversation with two of his closest confidants, the Chazon Ish
once either himself referred to Rav Yechiel as a second Chofetz Chaim,
or remarked that it was said that he was such.
HaRav Schlesinger of London writes, "He lived for approximately fifty
years and it is amazing that in his short life -- and for several
years he was ill -- his personality developed to such greatness and he
was active in so many endeavors. Quality however, need not necessarily
be accompanied by quantity and `a little of what is pure is truly a
lot,' in the words of the Chovos Halevovos. It is hard to believe that
fifty years have already passed since he departed. All the experiences
with him and memories of him are as alive as on the day they took
place -- in fact even more so, for `a man does not fully comprehend
his rebbe's mind for forty years.' With the passage of time,
everything one has seen or heard from a great man takes on new meaning
and added depth. This is the everlasting, eternal quality of the
truth."
In retrospect though, perhaps this comparison can be extended beyond
Rav Yechiel's personal righteousness and Torah greatness, to include
his powerful influence on shaping future generations. In his
appreciation of Rav Yechiel, Reb Fishel Gelernter wrote, "He felt that
restorative properties of Torah could revive whoever studied it, if
they developed into bnei yeshiva and bnei Torah whose prime objective
is immersion in Torah and delving into the depths of halocho, like a
talmid chochom whose Torah is a permanent fixture in his heart. He
viewed the spirit of Torah and of Judaism as the determining factor in
every field of life, neither capitulating to the pressures of
circumstances and routine on the one hand, nor recoiling from reality,
as it is, on the other.
"In founding his yeshiva, his own way of life was evident . . . He
recognized the only fundamental principle which is capable of
guaranteeing [the survival of] Judaism, namely, [the importance of]
each and every ben Torah, for whom Torah is permanent and fixed while
all other concerns are temporal and of secondary importance. The
yeshiva saw its purpose in disseminating Torah not only among those
sectors whose principle occupation was Torah study. It undertook to
teach, in the yeshiva way, all who knocked at its doors, with the
result that even those who saw their vocation outside the walls of the
beis hamedrash, left suffused with Torah and yiras Shomayim . . . and
would continually return, from the world of parnosso, to a place of
Torah and yirah.
"These aims threw open the yeshiva's gates before all groups and
communities in Eretz Yisroel . . . the spirit and the approach of the
yeshiva's founder can be seen in its unique path -- to train a
generation, with no distinctions of community, country of origin or
occupation, towards the ideal of [being ] bnei Torah, towards
[continual] progress in Torah knowledge and yiras Shomayim in the
spirit of the posuk, `I have asked one thing of Hashem, that I shall
request, my dwelling in the house of Hashem all the days of my life .
. . ' He exemplified the life of a ben Torah to his talmidim, in whose
world nothing exists save the dalet amos of halocho."
Though Rav Yechiel's vision of recreating the glory of the German
kehilla in Yerushalayim, was not realized to the extent that he had
hoped, his work and that of the other roshei hayeshiva towards the
initial spiritual rehabilitation and the subsequent spiritual
flowering of the members of their native community was crucial. In
fact it would be grossly inaccurate to view the wider vision as a
failure. While there may be no central kehilla where chassidus
Ashkenaz can be witnessed in the renewed glory of its heyday, many
hundreds of Kol Torah alumni belonging to communities from all corners
of the Jewish world, were raised in the yeshiva to strive for the
ideals of chassidus Ashkenaz. Thus, through Kol Torah, many of those
sterling qualities have once again become diffused among Klal Yisroel,
rather than remaining localized.
In recent decades, the strongly German component of the yeshiva's
leadership has been joined by some of the finest products of the
Lithuanian yeshivos, thus slightly blurring the old distinctive
approach. Nonetheless, the foundations which Rav Yechiel laid are
still recognizable.
Irrespective of the nuances of their own training, all the yeshiva's
teachers exemplify the straightforwardness, honesty and sincerity that
are identified with the yeshiva. The yeshiva continues to play a major
role in the expansion of the Torah community in Eretz Yisroel. Rav
Yechiel showed his talmidim what a true ben Torah is, and inspired
them to follow his path. In so doing, he planted a sapling that has
grown into a mighty tree, that flourishes to this day.
For the Sake of Shabbos
Many are the examples of Rav Yechiel's scrupulous observance of
Shabbos. HaRav Schlesinger of London writes, "Once during the midday
meal on Shabbos, one of his daughters cut her finger deeply. He sent
me to Dr. Levy, a G-d fearing doctor who lived nearby, and warned me
not to do anything before I came back and asked him. I got back and
told him that according to Dr. Levy an operation was necessary or she
was liable to lose her finger. My uncle immediately responded, `Merely
danger to a limb? It's forbidden to do anything!' [Meaning, no chilul
Shabbos with melochos that are forbidden by Torah law, for those
forbidden by the rabbonon are permitted where there is danger to a
limb.]"
After Rav Yechiel's fourth child was born on Shabbos, he would pray --
and he wrote a tefillah for his wife to pray -- that subsequent births
not take place on Shabbos. The rebbetzin would thereafter spend the
last few Shabbosos of her pregnancies in close proximity to the
hospital, to minimize as far as possible any chilul Shabbos that might
have been necessary. Rav Yechiel was determined about carrying out
this arrangement and no personal considerations of the difficulties
involved would deter him. (A source for this care can be found in the
Mogen Avrohom, 330,1, quoting the Sefer Chareidim.)
In fact, from that time on, the children were either born shortly
before Shabbos began or just after it had gone out. Rav Yechiel
himself had been born and had his bris on Shabbos. He learned Hilchos
Milo and did his sons' milos himself in order to `atone' for his own
bris having been on Shabbos. This too, is mentioned in the seforim of
early authorities as a measure of special piety.
In addition, on his way to kabolas Shabbos, Rav Yechiel would go with
the mazhirei haShabbos, those venerable sons of Yerushalayim who would
enter shops at candle lighting time to warn of the approaching
Shabbos. To his sons he explained the obligation to join those who
provided the necessary rebuke and reproof in spiritual matters.

 

 

These are the recollections of HaRav Yechiel Michel Shlesinger,
founder of the yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim, of HaRav Avrohom
Elya Kaplan zt'l, head of the Berlin Rabbinerseminar and a talmid of
Slobodke yeshiva, under whom he had learned. This essay was originally
published in Haderech, on the 11th Iyar 5704, for HaRav Kaplan's
twentieth yahrtzeit.From among the many talks he gave us and his many typical sayings,
there are two that remain engraved in my memory and which I recall
every day; which have taught me and guided me.
In the course of a rancorous argument among talmidim of the
Rabbinerseminar in Berlin over certain internal issues concerning
Jewry, one student voiced his opinion that even the good which Zionism
had done -- by drawing nearer some of those who had strayed away from
Judaism -- could not justify the movement's existence if at the same
time it was preventing the multitudes from following the path to
complete teshuvah.
As a case in point, the student mentioned Christianity which,
according to the Rambam at the end of his writings, also represents
one of the steps towards Moshiach, through its promulgation of
monotheism. Yet the Rambam makes it clear that for us, the religion's
founder epitomizes the Jewish renegade.
Nonetheless even the sins of the wicked are instruments in the
workings of Divine providence. Just as that sinner provided merit for
many people by spreading the belief in Hashem's unity, Zionism has
also merited us with the return of lost souls.
HaRav Kaplan zt'l, heard this discussion and called the student to
heed his rebuke. The rav first declared his enthusiastic recognition
of Agudism and its path that has been charted for us by our gedolim.
Then, he absolutely contradicted the idea that it was the crime of
Christianity that was the cause of the merit of monotheism spreading,
as mentioned by the Rambam.
It is inconceivable that a sin can bring any good to the world, just
as it is inconceivable that anything but good can result from a
mitzvah. If Christianity brought blessing to heathens it was not
because its founder was a sinner but because of the Jewish spark
within him.
Had this talmid of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyoh not scorned the task
which Divine providence had prepared for him, who knows whether, at a
time when there was such a strong trend towards converting to Judaism
among the ruling classes of the world, faith in Judaism might not have
swept people's hearts and truly brought Moshiach close even then?
That individual's movement away from Judaism precipitated the most
terrible curse in the world: two thousand years of golus Edom. And
nevertheless, because he was a Jew, a ray of light went out to the
world from the Jewish soul that was within him, as the Rambam alludes.
We, small human beings who view the world in its present state where,
in our many sins, each day's curse is greater than that of the day
before, are liable to be misled by this. And for the sake of the
eternal truthfulness of the Perpetrator of great deeds, it should be
stated that a slightly sinful outlook that has penetrated the world
has stolen from us the infinite light that lies deep within Yisroel.
Then, with his enthusiastic and persuasive words, our great rebbe
taught us the basis of Judaism's outlook according to the Torah,
namely, that even the slightest aveiro, the smallest divergence from
the will of Hashem, must cause damage and bring a curse to the world,
just as every single mitzvo act brings blessing.
These words, accompanied by his cheerful expression and his luminous
and pure eyes, engraved themselves deeply in our hearts and are with
us every single day, whenever we express an opinion or take any
decision in life. They were a beacon of light for me, preventing me
from being drawn after a false outlook -- as though the building of
our errant brothers is the construction of Eretz Yisroel.
No! It is not happening because of the sinners but in spite of the
sinners. Even in the circles that are closest to us there is a need
for us to transmit our rebbe's teaching and to review it morning and
evening. Everything that is being built today in Eretz Yisroel is
being built because the workers are Jews, and not through their
aveiros but in spite of their aveiros. The building would be better
and greater without their sins.
From now on, when we look at what is happening, will we know and
remember the lesson of this simple outlook on life, which comes from
our holy Torah? Every slight transgression of the Torah's law, even if
in our eyes it seems to bring great blessing to Klal Yisroel for the
fulfillment of Torah, will only bring a curse to our lives and lessen
the strengthening of Torah's light in the world.
And any distance we put between ourselves and aveiro, even the
slightest one, and any small mitzvah, even if it seems at the moment
to damage Torah and its fulfillment, influences the world for the
good, increases happiness and strengthens the Torah's light.
At this opportunity our rebbe said to us, "The Torah says, `Do not
favor them,' (Devorim) and it is forbidden to say, `How beautiful this
gentile is.' We must not even praise the outward beauty of a sinner,
so as not to be attracted to them. How much greater is the obligation
to refrain from giving praise to a wicked man's good deeds lest we be
drawn after his mistaken and misleading outlook from which his deeds
drew their inspiration."
And what delicacy of recognition our rebbe had. Despite his meticulous
observance of this halocho and his deep and correct understanding of
it, he never broke off his frequent practice of maintaining mutual
relations with a number of errant souls and others whose faith was
weak. He was inspired to this by a boundless love of Jews, which will
ultimately bring these people back to the path of good.

From: <Lonjew@aol.com>

HI
I came across your website,it's fascinating reading,do you know who
would be interested in buying a holy book that belonged to Reb
Getschlik Schlesinger of hamburg?

thanks
JOSEPH