By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
In the midst of the worst period in the recent history of our people, Klal Yisroel lost its captain. On the 5th day of Av in 1940, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt”l was niftar. His distraught followers weren’t sure if they should make the levaya that day, Erev Shabbos, or if they should wait for Sunday and increase the kavod hameis. They had a shailah, but Rav Chaim Ozer was gone, and they did not know whom to ask.
At that moment, they understood what mourning meant. They grasped what they were lacking. In that moment of doubt, they gained a new appreciation for the immensity of the tragedy of the churban Bais Hamikdosh. They understood then that the calamity of the churban did not only mean that they were lacking. They were also stripped of the tools to cope with their loss.
The tower which had given strength and meaning to their lives was gone, and when they needed it most, they had nowhere to turn.
This year, too, we will enter Tisha B’Av experiencing that feeling of loss.
The Bais Hamikdosh was the epicenter of Hashem’s goodness. It was from there that all good came down to the world. The Urim Vetumim answered all questions. There was never a machlokes that could not be decided. Everything was clear. Am Yisroel totally relied on Hashem, Who guided them every step of the way. One who was in need of special assistance in the area of parnossah davened in the direction of the Shulchan. It was possible to pray in the direction of the Menorah to gain chochmah. The Mizbeiach was there for every Yid. A person who sinned and repented, and wanted to say, “I’m sorry,” brought a korban. One who wanted to express his thanks to Hashem brought a korban. Every Yom Tov had korbanos of its own, as did every Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and in fact every single day.
At the time of the churban, the Bais Hamkidosh was destroyed, the Urim Vetumim was taken from us; the Shulchan and Mizbeiach were gone, along with all of their benefits.
Up until his most recent illness, there was an individual who sat, closeted in a world of Torah, connected to the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Acharonim, connecting us in the process.
We had someone who saw with clarity and precision, his vision encompassing much more than we can see.
We had the benefit of a bulwark protecting us, the shelter of a giant in Torah, and now it’s been taken from us.
In the stillness of the predawn hours, the song began and continued, unabated, as he sat hunched over his Gemara in his room in Meah Shearim. The simple table in front of him held not just seforim and slips of paper. Rather, it sustained the world.
In a world of mortals sat this angel, but we viewed him with human eyes, thinking we understood. We didn’t. We couldn’t.
My son Yishai was privileged to attend a Shabbos seudah at the Kanievsky home. Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, a daughter of Rav Elyashiv, told him a story about her grandmother, Rebbetzin Levin, wife of Rav Aryeh Levin. Back in the Yerushalayim of a century ago, homes were equipped with neither cribs nor running water. Water was drawn periodically from a well and kept in a large tub inside the house for use. Babies slept on beds, often sharing the space with several siblings.
One day, Rebbetzin Levin prepared to leave her home to do some errands, her baby sleeping soundly on the bed. She made her way down the street, when a man suddenly stopped her and asked for a drink, telling her that he was thirsty. Rebbetzin Levin assured him that her errands would take her a moment and that she would soon be home, where she would accommodate him.
The fellow insisted that he couldn’t wait, claiming that he needed a drink immediately or he would faint. The Rebbetzin turned around and hurried back to her house to get him a drink. When she entered the apartment, she saw that the baby she had left sleeping soundly had fallen off the bed and landed in the large tub of water. She grabbed her baby from the water and placed her on the bed. She quickly ran out to bring a cup of water to the thirsty man, but he was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared.
Later, Rebbetzin Levin told her sister, Rebbetzin Frank, what had happened. Rebbetzin Frank related the incident to her husband, Rav Tzvi Pesach, who said that the thirsty man was Eliyohu Hanovi, who had come to save the baby because she would one day marry the godol hador.
Indeed she did, she married Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
From the time he was a child, Rav Yosef Sholom immersed himself in learning, seemingly disconnected from the realities of daily life.
Through world wars and political upheaval, he kept on learning. A state was declared amidst exploding shells and gun-smoke, but he learned on. The tiny country sustained hunger and privation, and assault from ever-present enemies, and he continued his learning.
Rebbetzin Kanievsky shared another story with my son. She related that her own mother, Rebbetzin Elyashiv, was personable, outgoing and very popular. At her chasunah, she had many friends with whom to rejoice and the mood was festive.
On the other side of the mechitzah, the chosson seemed so serious, surrounded by relatives, neighbors and only a few friends. He had never learned in a formal yeshiva, and the walls and seforim of the Ohel Sarah shul – his “companions” since childhood – were “unable” to dance.
The kallah’s friends asked the bubbly kallah why she was so happy, while her new husband seemed so reserved.
“Why am I happy?” answered the kallah. “Ich hob chasunah mit der Toirah alein!” (“I am marrying the Torah itself!”)
In time, every Torah Jew would know his name, but what they might not know or appreciate is that he became famous only after many decades of being removed from the public eye and adulation.
The phenomenal gaon, Rav Zelig Reuvein Bengis, saw a young bochur learning by himself in the Ohel Sarah shul in Meah Shearim, and he thought that he should convince him to learn in a yeshiva. Seeing that he was learning Maseches Kiddushin, Rav Bengis asked the young Yosef Sholom if he could farher him. Rav Bengis was sure that he would be able to point out to the bochur that he was deficient in his comprehension of the Gemara and that he should go learn in a yeshiva. Rav Bengis was astounded by the young bochur’s understanding and thorough knowledge of the entire masechta and had tremendous respect for him for the rest of his life.
The shamas of Rav Bengis once noticed him rise melo komaso when the twenty-something-year-old Rav Elyashiv entered the room. The shamas was astonished and asked why he stood up for him. He responded, “Veil der yungerman ken azoi fil vi ahn alter gaon hador nohr ehr iz yunger.”
Following his marriage, Rav Elyashiv went to learn at Kollel Ohel Torah. He would sit and read the words of the sugya being studied in the kollel quietly, to himself. While everyone else would tumul in learning, he sat there reading, as if he was saying Tehillim. The rosh kollel pitied him and thought that, at most, he could learn Mishnayos, and that his chavrusah was tutoring him.
That was until the day the chief rabbi, Rav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi Herzog, entered the kollel to discuss with the yungeleit some serious agunah shailos with which he was having difficulty in the wake of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. The brilliant yungeleit he had hoped would be able to help him, were unable to assist him in arriving at a halachic solution he was comfortable with.
Until the new Mishnayos zogger felt an obligation to assist the respected rov with his halachic dilemma. The entire kollel and Rav Herzog sat there in amazement as Rav Elyashiv provided a brilliant analysis of the issues and assisted the chief rabbi with the difficult agunah shailos that had been tormenting him. From that day on, Rav Herzog regularly visited Rav Elyashiv to speak in learning, establishing a serious relationship with him, eventually appointing him as a dayan on the country’s highest bais din.
When Rav Elyashiv’s father, Rav Avrohom, known as the Homeler Rov, was niftar, his talmidim at the Tiferes Bochurim shul were distraught. Rav Avrohom had led their chaburah with warmth and devotion, and now he was gone. His son, still a young man, seemed so distant and so unapproachable.
Rav Herzog delivered a hesped. Standing on the steps of the Tiferes Bochurim shul, he faced the people and cried out, “Yes, you have lost a rov, but you have gained a godol.”
And they were comforted.
As reticent as he was, they soon came to appreciate the rov’s son, their new leader, the tall, introverted man with a gentle voice. They appreciated his incredible clarity in learning and his meticulousness in his speech, his walk and his schedule. They began to hold their heads a little higher. After all, this developing Torah giant was their rov.
He was a godol and they were his people.
Despite the burdens of growing fame, Rav Elyashiv’s best friends remained the seforim and thick stone walls of the Ohel Sarah shul, where he spent his days and most of his nights closeted in the four amos of halochah. From within the cold shul with high ceilings, halochah began to go forth to Klal Yisroel, as astute Yidden began to seek him out.
Over the years, he became the address for Yidden in search of a brochah, chizuk, guidance, and clear, articulate p’sak halochah.
His mastery of Torah was unparalleled.
The gedolim of this generation were in awe of how much he knew. Rav Shmuel Auerbach wrote a landmark peirush on the complex masechta of Ohalos, investing thirteen years of toil in it. When the work was ready for print, he went to Rav Elyashiv to show it to him.
As Rav Shmuel himself said, “I left his home with real chalishus hada’as (dejection). I had spent thirteen years living and breathing the concepts of the masechta, and the rov was completely at home in it, more so than me. There was nothing, no conclusion or proof, that wasn’t poshut to him.”
A close talmid of Rav Elyashiv added a postscript to the story.
“Rav Shmuel was the second generation that experienced chalishus hada’as from Rav Elyashiv,” said the talmid. “At the chasunah of the children of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the two families sat together to receive their guests. At precisely ten o’clock, Rav Elyashiv rose to his feet, said, “Mazel tov, mechutan,” and left the hall. He had his carefully guarded schedule to protect and would be up at two thirty in the morning for a full day of learning.”
Rav Meir Simcha Auerbach related that his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman, had chalishus hada’as from this. “I knew he was a godol,” said Rav Shlomo Zalman. “I just didn’t realize how great he was!”
On another occasion, Rav Shlomo Zalman said, “In der dor foon Rav Akiva Eiger, volt ehr eichet geven ah chiddush.” Not prone to exaggerations, Rav Shlomo Zalman, himself a master of halachah, was expressing the sheer greatness of his mechutan’s command of the entirety of Torah.
A master over the Torah, and also over his own heart, in complete control of his emotions.
One day, there was an electrician in the Elyashiv home doing some work at the time Rebbetzin Rochel Zilberstein, wife of Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein and a daughter of Rav Elyashiv, was ill. She passed away, and Reb Aryeh Elyashiv went to tell the rov the news, hinting that all was not right. Rav Elyashiv understood what that meant and stood up, ready to leave to attend the levaya.
Before leaving, however, he went over to the electrician. “There will probably be a commotion later,” he said, “but there is a din of beyomo titein secharo, that a worker must be paid on the day he performs a service.” Rav Elyashiv removed his checkbook and ensured that the worker received his due before setting out for Bnei Brak and the levaya.
The story of his mother’s forbearance and dignity in the face of humiliation, when a neighbor dirtied her laundry, has often been retold. The Rebbetzin didn’t react and instead swallowed her hurt. When her father, the sainted author of the Leshem, heard of her conduct, he blessed the long childless couple with a son.
Less known is the sentence the Leshem added to the brochah. The mekubal assured his children of a son who would brighten the world with his Torah, adding, “Un viffel men vet em vellen shteren fun lernen, vet men nisht kennen.” It will be impossible to pull him away from the Gemara or nudge him an inch out of the four amos of halochah, declared the Leshem.
Halochah defined his every word. Someone once asked him a shailah about kashering liver and whether it is necessary to kasher the grates upon which the liver had been broiled. He told the person who asked him to go into the kitchen and ask Rebbetzin Elyashiv how she kashers the liver.
So the fellow walked into the kitchen and asked the Rebbetzin how she kashers the livers. She responded, “Ich leb shoin mit Reb Yosef Sholom zechtzig yohr, un mir hoben doh in shtub kein mohl nit gegesen kein leber. (I am already living with Reb Yosef Sholom for sixty years in this home and we have never eaten any liver.)”
The yungerman went back to Rav Elyashiv, and the rov asked what the Rebbetzin said. The questioner repeated what she said. Without expressing any emotion or commenting on the fact that he hadn’t known that he had never eaten liver in his home, Rav Elyashiv said to him, “Oib azoi, darf min paskenen dem shailah.” He discussed the halachic issues with the yungerman, quoting teshuvos of Acharonim, and told him that the grates upon which liver is kashered do not need to be kashered prior to being used again.
Rav Elyashiv was only interested in the truth. His only concern with respect to every issue and every topic was what the Torah had to say about it and how to view it through the prism of Torah.
Someone once came to him for a heter to absolve a neder. Rav Elyashiv asked the man why he had made the neder in the first place. The man explained that he did so out of fear of a certain individual. Rav Elyashiv sternly rebuked him, saying, “Lo saguru mipnei ish – men tuhr nit moireh hoben foon kein mentch. (The halacha doesn’t allow for fear of another human being).”
One time, as people were waiting on line to pose their questions for him to rule on, they heard awful shouts emanating from the rov’s room. There was an obviously unstable woman screaming at Rav Elyashiv that he had killed her husband. She yelled that she had a knife in her pocketbook and was going to stab him in his heart for killing her husband.
The people ran to the Rebbetzin, who was in the kitchen, and asked her what to do. She told them not to worry. The woman is not well, the Rebbetzin explained, and her husband had died. “She convinced herself that Rav Elyashiv killed him, and she comes here once a month and screams at him,” said Rebbetzin Elyashiv. “Her shouting has a calming effect on her. When she finishes screaming, she is much calmer. She then comes in here and I have tea and cake with her. She leaves with a smile on her face.”
Upon hearing her tell this story, one of the people wondered if it was loshon hora to repeat this. She didn’t answer him, but she told someone she knew, “How could anyone think I had spoken loshon hora? I am the daughter of Rav Aryeh Levin. Is it possible that someone who grew up in his house can speak loshon hora? Is it possible that someone who lives with Rav Yosef Shalom can speak loshon hora?”
Their holiness, purity and fidelity to halacha were such that the rebbetzin did not think it possible for anyone who grew up and lived with them to act contrary to the way Hashem desired.
Torah was the one and only reality in his life. Those who view the world with Torahdike eyes marveled at his every nuance.
I met a precious Yid, Rav Gedalyah Sheinen, who merited blowing shofar in Rav Elyashiv’s minyan on Rosh Hashanah. After davening, Rav Sheinen would go with Rav Elyashiv to his two-room apartment and blow shofar again according to the shitos of certain Rishonim whose opinions regarding the tekios are not codified in Shulchan Aruch. Those who wish to fulfill these opinions have additional sounds of the shofar blown according to various interpretations.
On the Rosh Hashanah before her passing, Rebbetzin Elyashiv was ill and unable to go to shul to hear the shofar. When Rav Sheinen finished blowing the extra tekios for Rav Elyashiv, he asked the godol if he should go into the Rebbetzin’s room and blow the sounds according to the Shulchan Aruch, so that the Rebbetzin could fulfill the mitzvah.
To his amazement, Rav Elyashiv told him not to. “Today is Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, so the obligation to hear shofar is only miderabonon. Women were not obligated to hear shofar, but they accepted the obligation upon themselves. Since it is a tirchah for you to blow more kolos, you should rather go home than blow for her.”
Rav Sheinen left the small apartment and was headed down the steps when he heard Rav Elyashiv coming after him. “Kumpt tzurik. Come back,” said Rav Elyashiv. “It’s true that the obligation to hear shofar today is only miderabonon, and for women it is an even lesser obligation, and that’s why I sent you away. But my wife will be so happy to hear the kol shofar, and by blowing for her, you will be doing a chessed, and chessed is a mide’oraisah. Therefore, I am asking you to come back. For a de’oraisah, I can be matri’ach you.”
I personally had the zechus to benefit from the sensitivity and the rochav lev of this quintessential ish ho’eshkolos. In 1999, I merited to go to Eretz Yisroel with my family. I received a call from Rav Yosef Efrati, Rav Elyashiv’s trusted personal assistant, who said that he told the rov, as he referred to him, that I was in Yerushalayim, and he asked that I come with my wife and children. I told Rav Efrati that we would visit during Chol Hamoed, as it had already become customary for people to pass by the rov and receive his brochos. He responded that Rav Elyashiv specifically wanted us to come before Yom Tov and that we should bring along someone to take pictures.
Rav Efrati explained that the rov was of the opinion that photographing was an activity that shouldn’t be practiced on Chol Hamoed, and since he wanted us to be able to have pictures of the encounter, he asked that we come before Yom Tov.
Rav Efrati gave us a time to come and said that he would be there to bring us into the rov’s home. It was sort of strange, as we didn’t know the purpose of the visit, but we were happy to be granted a private audience with Rav Elyashiv.
When we arrived on Rechov Chanan, Rav Efrati was there to greet us and take us upstairs to the rov’s dining room. It was a special treat to be able to get in without having to wait on line, and we were honored to have the rov to ourselves. He shook our hands and beckoned me to be seated.
Rav Elyashiv then turned to my wife and said, “You are probably wondering why I asked for all of you to come. Let me explain. Your husband is involved in klal work and therefore probably you suffer agmas nefesh. I wanted to give you a little kovod and be mechazeik you. That’s why I asked for you to come here.”
It was a visit that my family will never forget. A picture of us at Rav Elyashiv’s table hangs in my office, reminding me of his kindness, warmth, compassion and understanding, and, on many occasions, it has provided the chizuk to continue and persevere.
How are we to understand how he became Klal Yisroel’s rebbi? Without public relations people, nor a press secretary, hundreds of thousands instinctively turned their eyes to him, accepting him as their guide, even though they had never met him.
Perhaps Rav Elyashiv answered that question himself. He once related how Rav Bengis told him that he was upset when he received his first rabbinic position in a very small Lithuanian town. He complained to his rebbi, the Netziv, that all his vast Torah knowledge was going to waste, as it was serving no purpose in his role as the rov of a small town.
The Netziv responded to him that baalei batim can discern the difference between a rov who knows the entire Shas and a rov who only knows half of Shas. A rov who knows Shas is much better able to influence and lead his people than one who doesn’t.
Rav Elyashiv didn’t finish the thought, but he himself was the greatest testimony to the truth of the Netziv‘s words. Because he knew the entire Shas and had spent decades learning, hureving and mastering Bavli and Yerushalmi along with Rishonim, Acharonim, daled chelkei Shulchan Aruch, and all the teshuvah seforim, Klal Yisroel recognized his greatness, and as hard as he tried to cloister himself and concentrate on his learning, the respect for him grew.
Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach was Klal Yisroel’s rebbi, carrying the burdens of institutions and individuals, and guarding the olam hayeshivos with love, tenderness and a tenacious hold on the mesorah. When he himself felt like he was weakening, he performed the ultimate act of selfless leadership, carrying the burden of a nation up the rickety steps to the small Meah Shearim apartment and asked for help.
He traveled repeatedly to Yerushalayim to prevail upon Rav Elyashiv to take over the leadership of the dor from him. He felt that he could not continue to be the leader of the am haTorah, but he could not remove himself from public life until he was able to convince Rav Elyashiv to assume that position. He would tell his gabbai to take him to Yerushalayim, and when he got there, he would climb the steps to Rav Elyashiv’s humble apartment and sit with him for up to an hour and a half speaking to him. When he finally received Rav Elyashiv’s acquiescence, he would travel to discuss matters with him and give him the tools of hanhogah.
How is a godol groomed? Are there classes in community organization and consensus building? If so, Rav Elyashiv was an unlikely candidate. He’d never previously been involved in public leadership and never spoke in public, immersed in Torah as he was. It was the last fact, apparently, that made Rav Shach so certain that he was the proper person to assume the leadership position. His only interest was the truth and his only motivation was Torah. He had no negios and no agenda other than to grow in Torah and provide Torah-true answers to the problems of the day. He never accepted any gifts from anyone, and interests of personal glory or benefit never entered his mind.
Shortly after Rav Shach prevailed upon Rav Elyashiv to assume his leadership responsibilities, Rav Zvi Schwartz of Lev L’Achim went to speak with the Ponovezher rosh yeshiva. He had been discussing an issue with him and returned with a follow-up question. Rav Shach told him to go to Rav Elyashiv and discuss the matter with him.
Reb Zvi protested. “We discussed this issue previously. This is not a new matter for the rosh yeshiva to rule on,” he said.
Rav Shach responded that when he realized that he was not able to analyze an issue from all sides, visualizing all its dimensions and ramifications before issuing a ruling, he transferred the hanhogah to Rav Elyashiv.
“Go to Yerushalayim,” he told Reb Zvi. “Rav Elyashiv will decide how you should move forward.”
Rav Shach had the faith in Rav Elyashiv that he would be able to analyze each issue, crystallize it to its core, and offer a Torah response. And that is how it was.
He was the answer to every question. Every shailah. Every problem. Whenever there was a serious, intricate question anywhere in the Torah world, vexing roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, askonim and regular, plain good Jews, the answer was the same: Go to Rav Elyashiv. We’ll ask Rav Elyashiv. He’ll have the definitive answer. And so it was.
Rav Elyashiv would be presented with the question, and his brilliant mind suffused with a century of ameilus baTorah would whir into action and, within minutes, there would be an authoritative answer. His word was accepted by all. His p’sak was the final ruling on every matter.
A man of few words, he would hear the question, grasp all the issues involved, and provide a response. He didn’t engage in small talk. He measured each word that he spoke. With sparing words and exactitude, he crystallized the sugya in a few sentences and returned to the Gemara which was open in front of him, one hand holding the place. As the questioner stood up to leave, Rav Elyashiv was already areingeton in the sugya he had been learning before being interrupted. Every minute was precious and not to be wasted.
Rav Elyashiv stood firm, leading with clarity and strength. And then, six months ago, we began fearing for his health. We had been hearing for several weeks prior to that about his weakened condition, but Klal Yisroel davened for him and Hakodosh Boruch Hu had rachmonus on him and on us. We were granted another six months of having the posek and amud hador among us.
Back then, in February, the reports were that Rav Elyashiv’s heart was operating at just 20% capacity, and we thought that somehow it would return to 100%. We believed that Hashem would have rachmonus on him and on us, and that he would return home and pasken shailos for Klal Yisroel as he had been doing for the past eighty years. We thought he’d be back in the shul where so many of us had watched him daven and participated in his shiurim.
When his heart stopped back then, hundreds of thousands of hearts across the Jewish world skipped a beat and slowed down. Wherever the news reached, people were awestruck. They said it couldn’t be true. They begged Hashem to have mercy on us. And He did.
Yeshivos interrupted their learning and, heeding the call of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, began storming the heavens to save the life of Yosef Sholom ben Chaya Musha. We were granted a reprieve and he was resuscitated. His condition was stabilized. He was placed in a medically-induced coma and connected to a respirator, as doctors sought to drain the fluid which had built up in his lungs as a result of his cardiac condition.
Ramkolim were heard around Yerushalayim in the dark of night asking people to daven. People streamed to their local shuls and took out Tehillims. Others went to the Kosel, from where the Shechinah hasn’t left, to pour out their hearts and souls in tefillah. It feels like just yesterday that Rav Elyashiv went to the Kosel to give shevach vehoda’ah that he survived a medical emergency. Hundreds of thousands begged that a miracle should happen again.
His heartbeat, faint as it was, drove the entire Yiddishe velt, as we all felt our dependence on his Torah, and his zechuyos, not only for his life, but for our lives. We felt the actualization of the words of the Rambam, “levavo levav kol Yisroel.” To paraphrase Rav Yisroel Salanter, we all felt that kol zeman az der hartz klapt, iz doh hofenung far unz aleh, as long as that weak heart pumped, we were strong and well and connected to greatness. Hashem was kind and gave us time to do teshuvah, to learn, to daven and to give tzedakah so that the faint heart that resided in a century-old body living in a simple apartment on a tiny narrow street could continue pumping life-giving sustenance to an entire nation.
Rav Elyashiv’s existence was bederech neis in the zechus of Klal Yisroel and the Torah that he studied. He was weak and sickly as a child and was home-schooled due to his constantly recurring illnesses. He was so weak that he was never able to help out at home or undertake any strenuous physical activity. All he was able to do was learn with his father at home. His health did not improve with age. His children often feared that he was about to die and that they were about to become orphans. His physician, Dr. Aranoff, taught one of his older daughters how to check his pulse. The pulse rate for a normal, healthy person is anywhere from 65 to 100. His daughter remembered that when Rav Elyashiv was 40 years old, Dr. Rachmilevitch, a famous cardiologist, said that his physical condition could never improve.
But Rav Elyashiv was Torah, Torah, un noch Torah. When he learned, he was as fresh and vigorous as a healthy, strong man. The Torah was his eitz chaim, sustaining him and giving him life.
In later years, his nightly shiur became something of a public event. A large group of regular attendees of his shiur were supplemented each night by yidden anxious to see and learn from the godol hador. For many, especially thousands of visiting yidden over the years from all over the world, this was their only opportunity to be bimichitzoso, to experience firsthand the greatness that was Rav Elyashiv. They took their seats and let the sweetness and clarity of his delivery draw them in. The sugya was opened wide, as his dual roles, maggid shiur for laymen and rebbi of Klal Yisroel, fused into one during that hour.
Even after his one-hundredth birthday, he delivered the shiur with youthful enthusiasm. With a minimum of flourish, he encapsulated many of the exegeses of Rishonim and Acharonim. It was like a shulchan aruch, a set table, laid out in front of you. The shiur appealed to learned talmidei chachomim who appreciated the nuances, as well as to laymen, who benefited from the clearest possible elucidation of the Gemara.
But it wasn’t a laid back affair. The ris’cha de’oraisah was palpable. Every few minutes, one of the attendees would jump up with a question. “Uber der rebbe hut gezukt… Ich vill fregen oif dem…,” the man would say, as he launched into a question on the sugya that Rav Elyashiv was discussing. A lively discussion ensued. The attendees prodded the godol with probing questions, and he responded with equal gusto to people one-third his age.
The words on the aron kodesh in the bais medrash right next to his seat read, “Toras Hashem temimah meshivas nofesh.” Anyone who wanted to see a live demonstration of what those words mean would trek to the end of Meah Shearim and watch the shiur take place. It was an enlightening and invigorating experience guaranteed to strengthen the faith of anyone who witnessed it.
From inside the humble Ohel Sarah shul, Rav Elyashiv grew into the giant upon which we all depended. He stood as a symbol of the greatness man can attain if he applies himself to Torah. There is no limit to what we can achieve. If a sickly, weak individual, with a heart that could barely pump, was able to master kol haTorah kulah, we, who are healthy, can surely reach high levels and light up the world with our Torah if we dedicate ourselves to it. If Torah becomes more important to us than anything else, we can reach the levels he personified.
It was a gift to our generation that a person who we saw, spoke to and studied from lived among us and walked among us, in this day, in this generation, and epitomized a gadlus that the yeitzer hora says is impossible to reach anymore.
The Medrash in the parsha of the week of Rav Elyashiv’s petirah (Mattos, Parsha 22:7), states that there are three gifts that were created in this world, and that a person who is zocheh to one of them has taken all the valuables of this world. If he is zocheh to chochmah, he is zocheh to everything. If he is zocheh to gevurah, he is zocheh to everything. If he is zocheh to osher, he is zocheh to everything.
The Medrash explains: “When is this said? Only if they are gifts from Shomayim and are achieved through the koach of Torah.”
The koach of Torah is the key that allows the other gifts to be effective.
How appropriate are these words to be said on Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, whose chochmah was derived from the many years he strained himself studying Torah. He was physically weak, but he was a gibor, because his gevurah was attained through Torah, and though he neither had nor desired any earthly possessions, he was an osher, blessed with everything he wanted: the ability to sit and learn virtually undisturbed.
And now, the chosson who had no friends, the bochur who had no chavrusah, the yungerman everyone in the kollel thought could only read Mishnayos, the weak father whose young children were afraid was living his last day, the gaon who shunned the limelight, the masmid who locked himself in a small shul, the man who sought nothing for himself and shunned attention, the godol hador shekol bais Yisroel nishan olov, has left us.
Though he is no longer with us delivering shiurim, p’sokim and hora’ah for hundreds of thousands, the posuk on the aron kodesh which stood beside him, Toras Hashem temimah, is as true as ever. We can grasp his message, his example, and his essence, and do our part to connect with the totality of the Torah.
We all have a role to play in rebuilding what was, in erecting the fallen structure, and making our way home to Yerushalayim with Moshiach leading the way. Then, we will all merit, along with the tzaddikim and gaonim and tayereh Yidden of all the generations, to partake in that glorious feast, the seudah of the Livyoson.
May it take place speedily, in our day.