HaRav Shach was born to Rav Ezriel zt"l and Bat Sheva
of the Levitan family, a family of talmidei chachomim
who served as rabbonim in important Lithuanian communities.
Her brother was HaRav Nisan Levitan zt"l, who became
one of the most senior figures in Agudas HaRabbonim of
HaRav Shach was born in Vabolnik, Lithuania on erev Rosh
Chodesh Shvat 5655 (1895) into a home of yirei
Shomayim. HaRav Shach always praised the yiras
Shomayim he absorbed in his parents' house.
"I remember how I was educated in my parents' home: when my
yarmulke fell off my head, I was taught that you had
to cry from distress. They were guided by a concern for the
punctilious observance of mitzvos. Once I woke up after the
zman Krias Shema according to the Mogen Avrohom
and I burst out crying and continued to cry about it all day
He was brought up and educated with Torah and immense
yiras Shomayim. Throughout his life he was extremely
careful about being medakdek bemitzvos.
Although there was a yeshiva ketana in his hometown,
he begged his parents to let him go to Ponevezh Yeshiva in
order to fulfill the directive, "Exile yourself to a place of
Torah." When they saw how persistent he was they agreed to
his request, and he set out for Ponevezh Yeshiva. He was
never to see his parents again.
He pursued his studies diligently together with the other
talmidim. His great rov was HaRav Itzele Blazer
zt"l and he also had the merit of sleeping in the
Ba'al Hamitzvos' House. Already in his youth those
characteristics, which were to make him admired by the whole
Jewish world, stood out: his amazing hasmodoh,
wonderful talents, a shining mussar personality,
respect for his fellow man, and a cheerful countenance.
He acquired his learning during his youth from Slobodka
Yeshiva in Lithuania, where he quickly became one of its
outstanding students. During the years 5673-74 (1913-14) he
absorbed Torah and mussar from his great rov, the
Alter of Slobodka, HaRav Nosson Zvi Finkel zt"l, from
his son- in-law, HaRav Yitzchok Eisik Sher zt"l and
HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt"l.
Throughout his life HaRav Shach considered himself to be a
talmid of Slobodka and he often praised that great
institution of Torah and mussar. Once he said that all
the Torah in Eretz Yisroel and America today
originates from Slobodka, the "mother of Yeshivas," for all
the roshei yeshiva of the last generation learned
The Slobodka mussar outlook and the Alter's approach
to the depths of ma'amorei Chazal guided the Rosh
Yeshiva in his avodas Hashem in general and in his
mussar shmuessen in particular.
In 5614 (1914) HaRav Shach was forced to leave Slobodka due
to the outbreak of war and he returned to his hometown of
Vabolnik, where he joined the yeshiva of HaRav Yechezkel
Bernstein zt"l, the author of the Divrei Yechezkel,
who had opened a yeshiva in the town in which his father-
Rav Shach writes about this period in the introduction to the
new Avi Ezri edition published in 5753 (1993): "How
can I repay Hashem for all His mercies? Starting from the
days of my youth, when I went through periods when I had
nothing at all. I cannot adequately describe this period from
the beginning of the First World War in 5674 (1914) when all
the Jews were exiled from the Lithuanian towns and I did not
know where my parents were, for I was alone in Slutsk and I
had no contact with them. That was how I spent several years,
The Rosh Yeshiva spent these years fleeing the terrors of the
First World War. He wandered from town to town, but fulfilled
the posuk, "Had Your Torah not been my delight, I
should then have perished in my affliction." He learned in
shuls and botei medrash, washing his face,
hands and feet in the sinks at the entrance of the botei
medrash. Every fiber of his being was immersed only in
Torah, and he could say about himself, "The Torah which I
learned in the period of wrath, endured."
In later years, when bochurim came to him to complain
about physical conditions in the yeshiva, he told them that
in those days he would take off his shirt, soak it in the
sink outside the shul and wait in the cold for it to
dry outside. "I never wanted to be dependent on the kindness
of others." Thus he remained immersed in the Sea of the
Talmud, cleaving to his Creator.
He would subsequently say that anyone attached to materialism
could never attain ruchniyus, and quoted from
Vayeiro, "Sit here with the donkey": "Anyone who does
not see the mokom, who does not see Hakodosh Boruch
Hu, it is a clear sign that he is attached to
chamor, to materialism. Only someone who detaches
himself from materialism, attains spirituality."
Then he would relate the spiritual heights he attained during
this difficult period, when he had no material goods
whatsoever and only experienced suffering.
His unique hasmodoh was conspicuous in all stages of
his life. His whole life and his whole being revolved around
the holy Torah, in which he toiled and which elevated him at
After a while HaRav Shach joined the HaRav Isser Zalman
Meltzer zt"l who had founded a yeshiva in Slutsk in
5657 (1897). He developed a close relationship with HaRav
Isser Zalman, whom he considered his rov with respect to
everything, and he had the merit of absorbing Torah from
HaRav Isser Zalman in his house in Slutsk.
He would recall how when he came to be tested by HaRav Isser
Zalman, his clothes were torn because of his intense poverty
at the time, after he had been forced to travel from town to
town and he only had one set of clothes. By the time he got
to see Rav Isser Zalman his clothes were tattered and he was
afraid to go in to see the Prince of Torah looking like that.
He turned his pants inside-out in order to make them look
less torn and shabby.
HaRav Meltzer noticed the state of his clothes and accepted
him to the yeshiva straight away, realizing that he was a
treasure house, a plastered cistern that does not lose a
drop, who was destined to illuminate the skies of Torah-true
Judaism with the light of his Torah and greatness. The
following day HaRav Isser Zalman bought him new clothes.
In the introduction to his great work Avi Ezri on
Haflo'o-Zeroim HaRav Shach writes: "It is my duty to
mention my uncle, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztv"l and
my aunt . . . who were like parents to me already in my youth
. . . I received much from them, and whatever is mine -- is
The Rosh Yeshiva received semichoh from HaRav Isser
Zalman, eventually married his sister's daughter, and was
appointed maggid shiur in the Slutsk Yeshiva headed by
HaRav Isser Zalman.
Throughout his life HaRav Shach related to his uncle HaRav
Isser Zalman like a son to a father and a talmid to his
eminent rov. In his shiurim he often cites divrei
Torah of Rav Isser Zalman on sugyos of
Shas. In a letter on the occasion of the establishment
of Even Ho'ezel Yeshiva in Netivot, HaRav Shach wrote,
"Rav Isser Zalman disseminated Torah throughout his life, and
I, although unworthy of it, had the merit of becoming close
to him and he taught me like a father teaches a son."
In a letter of chiddushei Torah to Rav Isser Zalman
dated Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5799 (1938) HaRav Shach
(who was then Rosh Yeshivas Karlin in Luninetz) addresses him
as follows: "My teacher and master, the great and true Gaon,
the Prince of Torah and treasure house of yir'oh, the
Glory of the Jewish nation, the master of his nation, my
uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer shlita." He concludes
the letter: "With this I bow to my master and teacher with
the blessing that he may live a lengthy life, remain strong
and merit the comfort of Zion. His devoted student . . .
Rav Shach recalled that in his youth he wrote for himself a
whole composition in a notebook on hilchos na'aroh
besuloh and his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman would go up to
the closet where the notebook was, look at it and make a few
comments. The Rosh Yeshiva said that Rav Isser Zalman told
him about his suggestions for a hagohoh on the Rambam
(Naaroh Besuloh 3:3 -- see Avi Ezri (ibid.), dibbur
hamaschil vesovur hoyisi) that he had arrived at the
truth with this hagohoh and that everybody had a part
in the Torah.
Rav Isser Zalman also treated HaRav Shach like his son,
remaining very attached to him throughout his life and
showering him with an abundance of Torah and yir'oh.
Rav Isser Zalman praised Rav Shach's chiddushei Torah
greatly, and due to his great admiration of them he published
some in his book Even Ho'ezel. Rav Isser Zalman also
encouraged the Rosh Yeshiva to publish his sefer Avi
Ezri. When Rav Shach was about to publish his first
sefer in 5708 (1948) there was a shortage of paper
because of the war and Rav Isser Zalman took pains to obtain
sufficient paper for the printing of the book.
On 16th Av 5683 (1923) HaRav Shach was engaged to Rav Isser
Zalman's niece, Guttel, the daughter of Rav Ben-Zion
Gilmovsky z"l, who was a descendant of the Ponim
Meiros. The book Shimusho shel Torah contains her
lineage as recorded by Rav Isser Zalman. They were married
between Yom Kippur and Succos 5684 (1923), Rav Isser Zalman
being mesader kiddushin.
Over the years the Rosh Yeshiva would speak about the
Rebbetzin's mesirus nefesh, which allowed him to toil
in Torah undisturbed. She took upon herself the yoke of
supporting the family, working as a pharmacist in the town.
"After my marriage too I would travel [to yeshiva to learn]
from Pesach to Succos and from Succos to Pesach to devote
myself undisturbed to my studies, and my whole Torah is to be
credited to her."
For five consecutive years he devoted himself to his studies
with amazing hasmodoh acquiring a mastery of all parts
of the Torah. His soul yearned for Torah, and during those
years he overwhelmed his inclination and purified his body,
submitting it totally to Torah with his elevated yiras
Shomayim. He did not cease his studies day or night; he
did not take leave of his books or interrupt his studies. He
afflicted his body and purified his soul until he had
acquired a vast knowledge of the Talmudic waters.
In 5789 (1929) he was asked by HaRav Aharon Kotler
zt"l to assist him by becoming a maggid shiur
in Kletsk Yeshiva. He disseminated Torah there for five
years, leaving his mark on many talmidei chachomim.
During this period he developed a close relationship with
HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt"l, the future
mashgiach of Ponevezh, who was the mashgiach of
Kletsk at the time.
At this time HaRav Shach was asked by the Brisker Rov to
accept the position of rosh yeshiva of Toras Chaim in Brisk
to replace the Imrei Moshe, HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik, but for
various reasons HaRav Shach did not take up this position.
After the sudden passing of HaRav Meir Shapira zt"l on
7th Cheshvan 5694 (1933), HaRav Shach was asked by Rav Chaim
Ozer Grodzensky zt"l to become the rosh yeshiva of
Lublin and he stayed there for a while.
He then served as maggid shiur in Novardok Yeshiva,
where he taught Torah to young students for two years. In a
letter written by HaRav Aharon Kotler to HaRav Chaim Ozer
Grodzensky he asks Rav Chaim Ozer "to use his influence to
support Novardok Yeshiva since my relative, the Gaon Rav
Eliezer Shach shlita joined the yeshiva as a maggid
shiur, and I have it on reliable information from members
of that Yeshiva that the learning is on a superior level
especially now that my above relative has been accepted
there, for he is great in Torah and influencing others in
Torah . . . "
In 5696 (1936) the Rosh Yeshiva became a maggid shiur
in Karlin Yeshiva in Luninetz, which was headed by the Rebbe
Rav Avrohom Elimelech Perlow zt"l.
This is how Rav Shach came to serve as maggid shiur in
Karlin Yeshiva: The most important rabbonim of Lithuania and
Poland were once in the middle of a meeting when a young man
stormed into the room without noticing any of the rabbonim
present. Some of the participants tried to prevent him from
entering the room but he insisted on proceeding with his
mission. "I must go in," the young man said and turned
straight away to HaRav Chaim Ozer, telling him. "I've got a
simple solution to yesterday's problem."
One of the Rebbes got up and protested,
"Yungermanchik, a little derech eretz!" The
avreich apologized to those present and left the room.
HaRav Chaim Ozer smiled and said to the rabbonim: "When this
avreich has a question or an answer, he is not
concerned about anything else, so there is nothing to protest
The Karliner Rebbe, who was also present at this meeting
turned to HaRav Chaim Ozer and said, "I am looking for such a
personality to serve as Rosh Yeshiva of my yeshiva."
The Rebbe's wish was fulfilled and HaRav Shach became rosh
yeshiva in his yeshiva, a position he maintained for four
During this period Rav Shach was arrested for protesting
chilul yom tov. He protested against Jews who
desecrated the sanctity of Shavuos, which fell on erev
Shabbos, by buying fish from non-Jews. In a letter
written to the management of the Vaad Hayeshivos in Vilna
dated Monday 9th Sivan 5697 (1937), HaRav Shach wrote the
following about these events:
"You must have read in the newspapers reports about what
happened here. I wish to inform you what happened last Friday
morning after davening. The yeshiva had been up all
night learning, as is customary, and davened after
alos hashachar. After davening I noticed some
Jewish ladies buying fish from two [non-Jewish] fishermen. I
immediately went over to them and protested this abomination,
of yom tov being publicly desecrated. Straight away
two policemen came over and arrested me, having gathered
testimony from some non-Jews that I had incited Jews not to
buy produce from non-Jews. Boruch Hashem after people
interceded with the procurator in Pinsk I was released after
having been imprisoned for two days. At the moment I do not
know whether there will be a trial about this. The report in
the newspaper is therefore a lie, and tomorrow a report will
iy"H appear in the newspaper by the IATA giving a
correct version of what happened, and this will atone for the
great fear we felt in the town, especially following the
events in Brisk."
In 5700 (1940) the Rosh Yeshiva reached Vilna, where he spent
some time with Rav Chaim Ozer with whom he held a lot of
Torah discussions, at the same time learning a lot from him
about Jewish leadership. Rav Shach admired Rav Chaim Ozer
greatly for his greatness in Torah and for the way he bore
the yoke of leading the nation.
While he was in Vilna in 5700 the Rosh Yeshiva's daughter,
Miriam Reizel, passed away. He recalled that following her
petiroh, whenever Rav Chaim Ozer met him he would
comfort him, saying, "Rebbi Shach, `Had Your Torah not been
my delight.' Rav Shach added that Rav Chaim Ozer also had a
daughter, an only child, who died young.
During the levaya, which took place in the Vilna
cemetery, HaRav Shach's son Efraim, yibodel lechaim
aruchim remained with Rav Chaim Ozer, who held him on his
lap, playing with him and making him feel relaxed.
A Lion has Come Up from Bovel
In 5700 (1940) HaRav Shach immigrated to Eretz
Yisroel. He said that he came without enough money to
support himself for even one day and without even the most
minimal possessions, because all his possessions, including
his personal effects, had been confiscated at the border. He
went straight away to the home of his uncle, HaRav Isser
At that time a maggid shiur from a yeshiva in Tel Aviv
came to see Rav Shach offering him the position of rosh
yeshiva. HaRav Shach recalled:
"His yeshiva at that time was still without secular studies.
It was an ordinary yeshiva with proper bochurim. (At
that time I still was not so much aware of the Chazon Ish,
since he was not yet so well-known. The Brisker Rov had also
not yet come to Eretz Yisroel. [So he did not and
could not ask their advice - Ed.]) I asked my uncle HaRav
Isser Zalman what to do. He thought about it for a day and
then told me to accept the position, which I did. The
maggid shiur in that yeshiva gave me an advance of 13
lirot, which was a lot of money at the time, with which I
also bought some furniture -- what I have now is what I
bought then -- and I rented an apartment in the middle of
Baalei Melacha neighborhood in Tel Aviv. I was relaxed there
and successful. The management of the yeshiva was happy with
"As I said, the yeshiva at that time was run like an ordinary
yeshiva without any secular studies, and that maggid
shiur never spoke anything about such things. Once, when
I was in my room in the yeshiva building, Rav Avrohom
Farbstein zt"l, subsequently rosh yeshiva of Chevron
Yeshiva, who was a young man at the time (and was a regular
visitor to my uncle's house, Rav Isser Zalman, from where I
knew him) found me immersed in my thoughts. He asked me what
was troubling me. I told him that I had the feeling that
people around me were surprised that I had this position here
and that I did not understand why. He told me that the Chazon
Ish was in Bnei Brak and I should seek his advice.
"I went straight from the yeshiva to the Chazon Ish and asked
him what to do. He told me that I certainly had to leave my
position. He added that from what he heard about me already
in chutz lo'oretz from Rav Chaim Ozer and from the
divrei Torah he had seen which were published in
Knesses Yisroel in Vilna in 5792 (1932), it was
surprising that I had accepted a position there. He then made
some severe criticisms of the head of the yeshiva -- not
against the yeshiva but against him personally. He added that
if in the next world they will say that hadn't they signed
for you for a parnossoh for the year and how could you
dare to abandon that parnossoh, I should reply that I
did not want to make a parnossoh that way and I will
be left alone. I told him: Shouldn't I go to my wife first to
prepare her for this step? But he told me (in these words),
`If a mitzvah comes by your way, do not let it sour!'
(Mitzvah habo'oh leyodecho al tachmitzenoh.) And he
said no more.
"I therefore went straight from the house of the Chazon Ish
to the head of the yeshiva in Tel Aviv without going home
first, and told him that I was resigning. He was surprised.
At first he thought that I wanted a higher salary and he
offered to double it, but I resigned without any further ado
and left the yeshiva that same day. Afterwards I went home to
tell my family that I had resigned. When I told Rav Isser
Zalman what had happened he was full of praise for what I had
In 5741 (1941), at the instruction of the Chazon Ish, HaRav
Shach was called by HaRav Ben-Zion Bruk zt"l to serve
as maggid shiur in his Yeshiva Beis Yosef in
Yerushalayim, where HaRav Shach remained until 5704
In 5744 he went to serve as a ram in the Kletsk
yeshiva in Rechovot that was founded by the son of HaRav
Isser Zalman. Later he returned to this yeshiva to say
shiurim in 5710 and 5711 (1950-51).
In 5745 the Rosh Yeshiva was asked to become a maggid
shiur in Lomzhe Yeshiva in Petach Tikva which had been
founded by HaRav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon zt"l. He
served there for six years as maggid shiur alongside
HaRav Reuven Katz zt"l, the rov of Petach Tikva, HaRav
Eliyohu Dushnitzer zt"l, Rav Y. Boruchsohn
zt"l, Rav M. L. Ozer zt"l and Rav D. Zochovsky
During all the periods that the Rosh Yeshiva served as
maggid shiur and rosh yeshiva in Petach Tikva and
Rechovot and also when he first took up the position of Rosh
Yeshiva of Ponevezh, Rav Shach would only go home on
Shabbossos, devoting all his energy to the yeshiva, conveying
to the bochurim the Torah which he had received from
his rabbonim and paving them a path in avodas Hashem
by demonstrating to his talmidim that the Torah was
the main thing in life. His image served as an illumination
for the rest of their lives.
In 5711 (1951) Rav Shach was asked by the Ponevezher Rov
zt"l to become Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh. HaRav Shach
recalled his first meting with HaRav Kahaneman: "I met him at
the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station in 5711. He told me that he
was on the way to Yerushalayim [to see me]. I was surprised
and asked him what he wanted to see me about. Then he told me
about the yeshiva he had founded in Bnei Brak and he asked me
to become its Rosh Yeshiva."
For fifty years he was totally dedicated to educating
generations of talmidei chachomim to become gedolei
Torah, instilling each talmid with the yearning
for acquiring shleimus in Torah.
With unlimited devotion and paternal affection he nurtured
each talmid like a growing flower, and in addition to
drawing and watering from the historical wellsprings of
Slobodka, Brisk and Slutsk, he managed with a determined
spirit to impart the legacy of his rabbonim to future
HaRav Shach left a huge imprint on many thousands of
talmidim and followers, who witnessed his
derech in avodas Hashem, and learned about the
means of acquiring Torah and pure yiras Shomayim. They
saw in him the figure of an oved Hashem whose whole
being was dedicated to only one thing: serving Hashem with
all his might, increasing kvod Shomayim, Torah,
yiras Shomayim and mussar amongst Klal
His many talmidim saw in him a caring father figure
who sought only their own good and wished to direct them in
the ways of Torah and mussar that he had received from
his rabbonim. With his sweet and pleasant manner he managed
to deeply affect the bochurim and guide them in
avodas Hashem, serving as the perfect model for the
middos which he demanded from his students.
His shiurim in Ponevezh became renowned throughout the
Torah world. They were delivered with immense enthusiasm and
genuine rischa deOraisa. The beis hamedrash was
full of argumentations back and forth and of pilpulin
deOraisa. His profound shiurim were distinguished
by their analysis and clarification of the sugyos and
he would teach his talmidim how to penetrate the depth
of a sugya and explain it.
For many long hours during seder time the Rosh Yeshiva
would impart an atmosphere of rischa deOraisa in the
beis hamedrash, as he would talk to talmidim
about the sugya, questioning and answering,
constructing new avenues of insight into the sugya.
There were times when he gave several shiurim a day in
the yeshiva, daily shiurim as well as a shiur
kloli, and there were even times when after the
shiur he would travel to Grodno Yeshiva in Ashdod and
Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Geula, Yerushalayim, to deliver
The Avi Ezri
His shiurim and the fruit of his labor were published
in his books Avi Ezri, which were published in several
editions and became basic study material in the whole Torah
world. In these books he presented his shittos in
lamdonus and his bekius and powers of
chiddush in all areas of Torah became apparent.
The Rosh Yeshiva's sefer Avi Ezri received the
enthusiastic haskomoh of the Brisker Rov zt"l,
whom Rav Shach already knew from the time he spent in Brisk.
During that period HaRav Shach had spoken to the Brisker Rov
on a certain Torah subject, after which the Brisker Rov had
said that since his father Rav Chaim had passed away, he had
not been fortunate enough to engage in pilpul and an
in- depth discussion of sugyos haShas until this
conversation with Rav Shach.
This is what the Brisker Rov wrote in his haskomoh in
5716 (1956): "My close friend, the great Gaon, showed me . .
. in truth the Gaon . . . does not need an approbation from
anybody, for he is a very great man with a mastery of Torah,
sharpness and bekius, and his deep comprehension of
pshat in all areas of Torah matches that of one of the
gedolim of our generation. He has already become
renowned for his shiurim . . . it is not for me or the
likes of me to testify about him and his chiddushim.
However, Chazal have said, `A man is to be honored by
honoring his request.'"
When the Brisker Rov stayed in Switzerland he told his host
about the humility of HaRav Shach. The following is taken
from Shimusho Shel Torah:
"When Rav Shach finished his work Avi Ezri on the
Rambam, he brought the manuscript of the book to the Brisker
Rov and asked him to look at it and express his opinion about
the chiddushim. The Brisker Rov, who had already known
Rav Shach and the depth of his learning for many years,
having spoken a lot to him in limud, was also amazed
by these printed chiddushim and wrote his wonderful
haskomoh to the Avi Ezri, in which he extols
the virtues of the author and his chiddushei Torah.
"When Rav Shach went back to the Brisker Rov's house, the
latter gave him the approbation. Rav Shach looked at it and
quickly put it into his coat pocket. After Rav Shach left his
house, the Brisker Rov looked pensive, and he then turned to
members of his family and said, `Judging from the way Rav
Eliezer put the haskomoh into his pocket, it looks
like he has no intention of printing it.' He therefore sent
his son, HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, to tell
HaRav Shach in his name that the haskomoh had been
given to him on condition that it was printed. HaRav Shach
confirmed that he had not intended to print the
haskomoh and his whole intention in showing the
Brisker Rov the manuscript had only been to hear his opinion
about the sefer. It was enough for him, he said, that
he agreed with him and what need was there to print the
haskomo? HaRav Yosef Dov repeated his father's
instructions and it was only because of the Brisker Rov's
insistence that the haskomoh was actually printed.
"When the Brisker Rov was in his host's house he asked his
host to bring him a copy of the Avi Ezri, and the
Brisker Rov went through the haskomoh with him,
explaining everything he had written in it."
With the Brisker Rov
Rav Shach's acquaintance with the Brisker Rov continued for
many years. From the time that the Brisker Rov came to
Eretz Yisroel, the Rosh Yeshiva would come to
Yerushalayim for Friday and Shabbos and spend all his time in
the Brisker Rov's company.
In this context we should point out an incident retold by one
of the roshei yeshiva who was present at the time: There was
once a meeting of gedolim in the Brisker Rov's house.
HaRav Shach was sitting next to the Brisker Rov. When the
gedolim arrived, Rav Shach got up for one of them. The
Brisker Rov turned to Rav Shach and said to him, "You're
giving them your seat? They have to give you their seat!"
When HaRav Shach moved from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak the
Brisker Rov would send him talmidei chachomim to ask
him questions in halocho.
HaRav Shach recalled: "During the period that I was living in
Yerushalayim I never went to visit the rabbonim who were
living there, because I was very close to the Brisker Rov and
he told me things that he never revealed to anybody else, not
event to members of his family. I knew that if I would visit
them they would want to hear the Brisker Rov's opinion about
various topics and I was particular not to say anything in
the name of the Brisker Rov. That was also why he was so open
with me, because he knew that everything that he revealed to
me would remain secret. Therefore I did not go to visit them,
to avoid any unpleasantness if they would ask me and I would
not be able to answer them.
His Links to the Gedolim of Yesteryear
HaRav Shach ztvk'l, personally met many of the great
luminaries of past generations, men whose teachings guide us
to this day. He had longstanding connections with many of
them in the course of which they would converse together in
divrei Torah. They would also discuss communal matters
with him and the different issues which arose over the years,
and many times appointed him their envoy for various
These links were apart from those he had to his great
teachers, among whom were the geonim HaRav Itzele
Ponovezher, HaRav Yechezkel Bernstein, author of Divrei
Yechezkel, the Alter of Slobodka, the Slobodka roshei
yeshiva HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein and HaRav Isaac
Sher, Klal Yisroel's prince, HaRav Chaim Ozer
Grodzensky, HaRav Shach's uncle HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer,
author of Even Ho'ezel, and the Brisker Rov --
zecher tzadikim ukedoshim livrochoh.
HaRav Shach merited meeting the Or Somei'ach, to whom he
addressed a letter containing divrei Torah, as he
notes in a letter he wrote about the publication of a
sefer zikoron for the great gaon HaRav Meir
Simchah of Dvinsk ztvk'l: "I merited seeing him and I
wrote him a letter with divrei Torah, but the time was
inauspicious, for he departed from us to the other world and
I did not receive a reply . . . "
Our master met the Chofetz Chaim a number of times and
received daas Torah from him on a range of matters,
which guided him in leading communal affairs in later years.
His admiration of the Chofetz Chaim's greatness and holiness
was boundless. In a letter, HaRav Shach refers to the Chofetz
Chaim as "our teacher, the gaon and kodosh,
with whom Hashem has merited our generation, who illuminated
our minds in every area of Torah, in halochoh, in
Torah discussion and in pure yiras Shomayim . . .
teacher of the entire exile . . . ztvk'l.
Elsewhere, he writes about the Chofetz Chaim, "Not long ago,
Hakodosh Boruch Hu brought us a gaon in Torah
and in yir'oh, the Cohen Godol, the
tzaddik of the world . . . ' (Michtovim Umaamorim,
vol. V., #452).
On several occasions, HaRav Shach acted as an emissary for
his uncle, putting Reb Isser Zalman's questions to the
Chofetz Chaim. This happened during the period following Reb
Isser Zalman's arrival in Eretz Yisroel, when he stood at the
head of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim and would ask his nephew, who was
still in the diaspora, to go and ask the Chofetz Chaim's
Whenever some communal matter arose requiring a decision
which HaRav Shach needed to make, he would say, "I myself
know nothing. However, I have a tradition from the Chofetz
Chaim that such and such should be done . . . "
(alternatively he might say, " . . . but I have heard from
the Chazon Ish . . . "). Sometimes he would remark, "I did
not hear this, but I have no doubt that the Chofetz Chaim
would have decided like this and since he is no longer alive,
I have to decide."
In the essay Bezos Ani Botei'ach, HaRav Shach is
quoted saying, "I imagine to myself, were the Chofetz Chaim
to be living with us today, without a doubt he would explain
verbally and write an explanation of what has taken place and
what is being demanded of us at such a time. However, we do
not have the Chofetz Chaim to shoulder the burden of
leadership, `We are orphans and have no father.' "
HaRav Shach met HaRav Shimon Shkop ztvk'l, once in
Vilna. Following Reb Shimon's petiroh, after the war
had broken out and the yeshiva had been exiled from Grodno to
Vilna, HaRav Chaim Ozer asked HaRav Shach to head the
yeshiva. He also met HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt'l
when he came to stay with his uncle Reb Isser Zalman in
Slutsk and they discussed divrei Torah together.
Our teacher knew HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Kamai ztvk'l,
during the time he stayed in Mir, where his father-in-law,
Rav Ben Tzion Gilomovsky zt'l, Reb Isser Zalman's
brother-in-law, lived. There is a correspondence of divrei
Torah between them. HaRav Shach related that he once met
HaRav Elchonon Wassermann ztvk'l, Hy'd, rosh yeshiva
of Ohel Torah and had a lengthy Torah conversation
HaRav Shach had a very special relationship with the Chazon
Ish ztvk'l. He often mentioned his great merit in
having served as the emissary between the Chazon Ish and the
Brisker Rov, carrying messages in both directions. Since he
spent a lot of time with the Brisker Rov, when the Chazon Ish
wanted to discuss something with the Brisker Rov pertaining
either to the community or to an individual, he would call
upon HaRav Shach to take his question to the Brisker Rov or
to put the matter before him. The Chazon Ish sometimes sent a
messenger to call HaRav Shach to come to him.
In one of his letters to our teacher, while the latter was
serving as a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Petach Tikva,
the Chazon Ish writes, " . . . There is something . . . with
the gaon of Brisk, which I have been asked to convey
to his honor the gaon, shlita. I might come tomorrow
to Petach Tikva to transmit the matter, from one who seeks
your welfare, I"sh."
Our teacher related what happened on one of the occasions
that he was sent with messages between the Chazon Ish and the
Brisker Rov. He once came to see the Brisker Rov and found
him very worried and upset. HaRav Shach was alarmed and asked
the Brisker Rov what had happened. The Rov replied that a
certain rav had just been to see him and he told him that the
Chazon Ish had agreed to the establishment of a national
Agudas HaRabbonim, and that the Chazon Ish had requested that
the Brisker Rov also agree to it.
The Brisker Rov had not given clear response and the rov had
departed. The Rov was highly disturbed and said that he was
unable to fathom the Chazon Ish's opinion on the matter. He
himself rejected the entire idea out of hand and he simply
couldn't calm down. He was worried about the dreadful breach
it would cause among Klal Yisroel's faithful were the
plan cholilohto come to fruition. "The land was
delivered into the hand of the rosho," and the
compromisers would take control of the organization and force
it to carry out their policies, using it as an instrument for
implementing their destructive "reforms."
The Brisker Rov asked HaRav Shach to travel to that rav and
convey to him his unequivocal opinion, that whoever set up
such an organization would be considered, "a sinner who leads
the multitudes to sin."
HaRav Shach immediately rose and set out to see the rav, on a
long journey that in those days took several hours. When he
arrived at the rav's house, he was informed that the rav had
gone to visit his son. HaRav Shach turned around and got onto
the return bus. On the way, the outward bus passed them and
HaRav Shach spotted the rav to whom he had been sent,
returning home. HaRav Shach got off the bus and started
making his way back to the rav's house on foot, where he
finally delivered the Brisker Rov's message.
Afterwards, he continued on to Bnei Brak and went in to see
the Chazon Ish, who had reportedly been in favor of the
organization's establishment, to hear his opinion on the
subject and to convey the Brisker Rov's opinion to him. As
soon as he entered, the Chazon Ish told him that he had
received a letter from R' Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, in which Reb
Chaim Ozer expressed his amazement at the Chazon Ish after a
certain rav had come to see him to ask for his support in
forming an Agudas HaRabbonim and telling him that the Chazon
Ish supported the idea. Reb Chaim Ozer was amazed as to how
the Chazon Ish could lend his support to such a plan.
The Chazon Ish went on to say that he had replied to Reb
Chaim Ozer that the report about him was groundless and that
he had always shared Reb Chaim Ozer's opposition to the
scheme. HaRav Shach thus received an answer to his question
before he even asked it.
The gedolim maintained a united front in their
opposition to the plot and it came to nothing. (See
Michtovim Umaamorim vol. III, pg. 100)
HaRav Shach saw the Chazon Ish as the supreme rabbinical
authority in all matters where a resolution of the
halochoh was needed. He said that here in Eretz
Yisroel, the Chazon Ish's recorded opinion should be followed
in many matters.
While the Chazon Ish lived, HaRav Shach would consult him
with his doubts and ask him how to proceed. Once, while
delivering a hesped for the Brisker Rov, he said, "We
remember when our teacher the Chazon Ish lived and we would
bring every difficult matter before him and he would guide
and lead us in our lives" (Michtovim Umaamorim vol.
A firm friendship had existed between HaRav Shach and the
Steipler Rov ztvk'l since their youth, at the time
they first met in Pinsk when the Steipler was serving as rosh
yeshiva of the Novardok Yeshiva there. In our days they stood
together as leaders of the generation, and were of one mind
and opinion, while each deferred to the other in boundless
estimation and admiration, as everybody knows.
They would send each other their seforim, whenever a
new volume of Kehillas Yaakov or of Avi Ezri
was published. Once, when the Steipler sent a new
sefer that he had just brought out, he told the
emissary who was to deliver it, "I know that HaRav Shach
doesn't need my sefer, but it is a merit for if my
sefer stands in his bookcase . . . "
In 5741 (1981) when HaRav Shach was ill, the Steipler sent
him a letter in which he heaped blessings upon the head of,
"Our master, the gaon, glory of the generation, avi
gedor, who makes fences and stands in the breaches, the
gaon Rav Elozor Menachem Shach shlita." Further
on in the letter he writes, "I bless his glorious elevation
with all my heart . . . may Hashem yisborach send him
a perfect recovery from heaven soon, a complete recovery to
every limb of his holy body, and may he remain at his post,
disseminating Torah to the multitudes, to thousands and to
tens of thousands, and may the Land be illuminated by his
honor . . . " (See Karaino De'igarto, vol. II, pg.
On many occasions, the Steipler told those who turned to him
with questions, "You should ask HaRav Shach. His initial
reaction is daas Torah."
The Steipler told his great son HaRav Chaim Kanievsky
yblctv'a, "Nobody cares about the community, with one
single exception: HaRav Shach. Heaven has appointed him as
the generation's leader and he is the only one who conducts
communal affairs as they ought to be conducted."
On another occasion the Steipler said, "Rav Shach's opinion
is daas Torah; his mouth is like mine and his hand is
like mine. Tell him that I am grateful to him for filling the
breach, because if he wouldn't, everything would rest upon my
In a letter printed in the sefer Toldos Yaakov, HaRav
Chaim Kanievsky shlita writes, " . . . the history of
our master, my father and teacher zt'l, who was
Klal Yisroel's teacher in the last generation and who
led the community of the chareidim lidevar Hashem
together with ylct'a our master the gaon Rav
Elozor Menachem Shach [shlita], for thirty years,
since the petiroh of the Chazon Ish zt'l on the
fifteenth of Marcheshvon 5714 until his own petiroh on
the twenty- third of Menachem Av 5745."
Following the petiros of the gedolim of the
previous generation, HaRav Shach was looked up to as the
leader of the generation as a whole and of the Torah world in
particular. It was a burden that he bore faithfully for tens
His voice was heard in every public confrontation over the
fundamentals of our religion, and he also spoke out against
various distorters of the Torah path who arose both from
within and without the Torah camp. Many remember him as the
standard-bearer in numerous campaigns against compromising
halochoh, for example in permitting mamzeirim,
as happened when the then-Chief Rabbi decided to allow a pair
of mamzeirim to marry, in opposition to the opinions
of the various botei din that had deliberated on the
HaRav Shach knew no fear or hesitation and he expressed his
opposition publicly and openly, since he saw grave danger and
a terrible chilul Hashem in the incident.
He had sharp criticisms of the Poalei Agudas Yisroel (PAI)
and National Religious parties. He considered their
ideologies harmful to the pure, genuine Torah outlook. In the
period leading up to the elections in 5734 (1974), when
Agudas Yisroel made a joint list together with PAI, HaRav
Shach and the Steipler ruled that people should not vote at
all. The Torah community in its multitudes followed the
directions of the gedolei Yisroel.
HaRav Shach led a difficult but consistent battle against
various kinds of nationalistic and Messianic ideologies. Even
before the threat posed by the Lubavitch movement was
apparent, he came out openly against the danger which it
posed with its beliefs. He utilized every opportunity to warn
of the danger in being swept up by the Messianic fervor and
by the leader who stood at its head. At the outset, there
were many who did not perceive the magnitude of the danger,
or the stage that things would yet reach in future years.
HaRav Shach was undaunted by the criticisms of him and he
continued his campaign to distance all those faithful to pure
Torah outlook from any closeness with counterfeit
He was active in all the various campaigns, such as those
opposing the conscription of women, the desecration of graves
and many others. There was not one major issue affecting
Klal Yisroel that he was not involved with, down to
its smallest detail.
He served as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah and
since 5737 (1977) he was its chairman, placing his imprint
upon every issue that affected the community at large. As
leader of the Torah community, he was chosen to serve as
president of the Vaad Hayeshivos, in which capacity he
initiated several enactments whose purpose was to preserve
the integrity of bnei Torah at all times. He stood
guard against any attempts to introduce changes in the holy
yeshivos and kollelim, which he viewed as the
foundation of Klal Yisroel's survival.
Whenever the issue of army conscription for bnei
yeshiva reared its head, he rose like a lion in
opposition to the inciters and issued a public warning that
should this come to pass, we would all leave Eretz Yisroel
and go to a country that would allow us to learn. He ruled
that such a measure should be opposed, even to the point of
sacrificing one's life.
He also served as president of Chinuch Atzmai, where he stood
watch over the purity of the Torah education in the schools
for boys and in the Bais Yaakov institutions. He called for
increased manpower for Torah education and wanted to see
students who sought their inspiration in the Jewish nation's
eternal wellsprings of spirit. He saw Chinuch Atzmai as a
great and important enterprise and he devoted himself to its
development for the sake of the education of Jewish
In time he decided, for various reasons, to leave the Moetzes
Gedolei Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel. As one who had a long-
standing sympathy for the plight of the Sephardic community,
he was upset by the discrimination against the Sephardim in
the public arena. In 5744 (1984) he worked for the
establishment of the Shas movement and at the last minute
instructed bnei Torah to vote for it. The Torah
community followed his instructions and Shas was successful
in the elections.
Eventually, when the party's workers engaged in excesses,
acted contrary to daas Torah< and lent their support
to the uprooters of religion, he did not refrain from coming
out against them extremely vehemently, declaring that they
were distancing themselves from the chareidi community. At
that time, he supported the establishment of the Organization
of Sephardic Marbitzei Torah, which was headed by the roshei
yeshiva of the Sephardi yeshivos, and encouraged its
activities with all his strength as the central body of
Sephardic bnei Torah.
In 5745 (1985), he perceived the Torah world's need for a
vehicle of expression and together with the Steipler Rov, he
founded Yated Ne'eman, sacrificing himself for the
paper's establishment and recruiting resources for it. He
also set up a supervisory Vaada Ruchanit composed of
roshei yeshiva, rabbonim and gedolei Torah, who
determined every aspect of the paper's policy and watched
over what went into it, with everything printed in it having
first passed their scrutiny. There was fierce opposition to
the establishment of a paper especially for the Torah world.
However, HaRav Shach saw the project as being of supreme
importance and he made tremendous efforts to put the paper on
a solid foundation, to strengthen it and to lend it his
support at all times. He guided the editors on a daily
basis, as to their reactions to the issues of moment, and
expressing his own daas Torah to them. Articles
dealing with fundamental principles were even read out to
him, word by word.
In 5746 (1986), he encouraged the establishment of Shearis
Yisroel and the forming of its beis din headed by
HaRav Chaim Sho'ul Karelitz zt'l as the central body
for kashrus and for communal affairs for the Torah
community. He called for people to join Shearis Yisroel and
to strengthen it, as the finest hechsher, that is most
in keeping with the wishes of bnei Torah.
In Tishrei 5749, he founded the Degel Hatorah movement, the
public body centralizing the communal affairs of the bnei
Torah, in the parliamentary and municipal forums.
The rally marking the launching of the new movement is
remembered for its splendor. On the central dais were all the
Torah disseminators and roshei hayeshivos, the halachic
arbiters and the generation's leading poskim, in
short, the Torah world, which united itself for the sake of
this important undertaking.
Three months later he insisted that Yated Ne'eman have
an English edition.
During all these years, HaRav Shach acted as the Torah
community's navigator, charting its path in all communal
affairs. In his annual address at the opening of the
Ponevezh Yarchei Kallah, as in all his addresses to
the community at large, he expressed his pure daas
These events always aroused great interest. Everyone used to
wait to hear what he would say about any public issue that
arose and every public letter of his concerning communal
affairs quickly became the topic of conversation in the Torah
world and even in the general Jewish world.
His articles and letters were collected in the volumes of
Michtovim Umaamorim. A selection of his
shmuessen on the parshiyos was published in
Meirosh Amonoh, and a collection of the stories he
told involving gedolei Yisroel was published in
Shimushoh Shel Torah.
He was looked upon as a guide to both the community and to
individuals. In his plain room in his home on the yeshiva's
hill, many fateful decisions were made. Despite his
preoccupation with communal affairs, he never stopped
listening to the pains and distresses of individuals. He
would share the pain of any individual who came into his
home, offer sound advice and words of comfort and
encouragement, and he would actively help as much as he
His communal activities never took his attention away from
what was his principle obligation, namely, toiling in and
disseminating Torah. Even during the stormiest periods, when
the atmosphere was rife with public controversies and his
home was inundated with communal figures coming to him for
guidance, he didn't stop delivering his regular
shiurim and shmuessen, and his entire being
remained immersed in learning.
With his petiroh, our generation has lost its teacher,
the nation's heart, a unique figure who remained to us from
the levels of previous generations, the central support of
Klal Yisroel, which he carried on his shoulders and in
his heart, like a nurse carries an infant.
We have become orphans and we our father is gone. Who will
give us a replacement for him?