After having nine children who died at a young age, Reb Boruch Peretz
Meltzer zt"l and his wife Miriam Reisel a"h took it as a
good omen when on 5th Adar, 5630 (1870) their son Isser Zalman was
born. Perhaps this son, born in a month of joy, would merit a joyous,
At first the child learned in his hometown Mir under its rov, HaRav
Yom Tov Lipman, author of Malbushei Yom Tov, and under Reb
Boruch Avrohom Mirsky.
After his bar mitzvah and upon the recommendation of the Malbushei Yom
Tov, he was sent to Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Volozhin where he developed
a close relationship with its rosh yeshiva, the Netziv. He also
became the talmid muvhak of Reb Chaim Brisker zt"l, who
at that time was a rosh yeshiva in Volozhin too. He soon became
one of the yeshiva's most distinguished talmidim and was
lovingly known by all as "Zhunia Mirrer."
In the year 5652 (1892) he became engaged to Baila Hinda Frank.
However, soon after, Reb Isser Zalman fell dangerously ill. He sent a
message to his kallah's family that if they would like to break
off the shidduch they should feel free to do so, since his
future was unclear. The family indeed wanted to do as he said, but the
kallah herself refused to do so without asking the daas
Torah of the Chofetz Chaim. The latter's answer was short and
clear: "There are two types of people — those who are healthy
and those who live long." The righteous girl understood his message
and waited to marry Reb Isser Zalman once he had fully recovered.
In 5647 (1887) when the Ridbaz set up his yeshiva in Slutsk, he asked
the Alter of Slobodka to send him a suitable rosh yeshiva. The
Alter promptly sent R' Isser Zalman who filled the place of the Ridbaz
when he left town. After a while R' Isser Zalman moved the yeshiva
over to Kletsk, where he led it together with his son-in-law HaRav
Aaron Kotler zt"l.
Towards the end of 5683 (1923), the institution Eitz Chaim in
Yerushalayim requested that R' Isser Zalman preside as rosh
yeshiva. He agreed and was marbitz Torah there until the
end of his life.
His chidushim were printed in his sefer, Even Ho'ezel on
the Rambam. He also added his commentaries to the Ramban.
His Rebbetzin toiled to prepare his manuscripts and ready them for
printing. It is told that R' Isser Zalman once heard a droshoh
in which the speaker stressed the importance of respecting one's wife
and not making her work difficult. Upon returning home, R' Isser
Zalman apologized to his Rebbetzin for having burdened her with his
work and promised from then on to treat her with more respect.
On 10th Kislev, 5714 (1954), Reb Isser Zalman was niftar. He
was brought to Chelkas Harabbonim on Har Hamenuchos accompanied
by a huge levaya.
When the Alter of Slobodka, zt"l, turned to Reb Isser Zalman as
a candidate to serve as rosh yeshiva in his yeshiva, he was
surprised to hear R' Isser Zalman's question, "Who else will be with
me of the alumni of the yeshiva?"
The Alter informed him of his intention to appoint HaRav Aaron Bakst,
rov of Suvalk and Lomza, to join R' Isser Zalman in this holy job.
How much more shocked was he to hear the reaction of R' Isser Zalman,
"Rebbi, Aaron is surely fitting to serve in the exalted yeshiva in
Slobodka, but I cannot work there together with him."
Confused, the Alter begged for an explanation. Surely R' Isser Zalman
realized that his yeshiva was destined for greatness. Where else could
Maran have the opportunity to be marbitz Torah to such an elite
group of talmidim as those in Slobodka?
After much persuasion, Reb Isser Zalman revealed to the Alter of
Slobodka — and to us — a fraction of his gadlus and
the great caution he went to so as not to hurt someone's feelings.
Thus he explained:
"At the time when my widowed mother-in-law, Mrs. Frank, had to find
the right matches for her daughters, she tried her utmost to do as her
husband R' Shraga Feivel had requested in his will, namely, that she
choose only talmidei chachomim and not be persuaded by other
"For her eldest daughter, she chose Rabbi Aaron Bakst. During the
engagement period, the chosson came to visit his in-laws before
Yom Tov. It hurt him to see the widow and her orphaned daughters
working hard in their factory. Unable to contain himself, Reb Aaron
felt obliged to help them and started to assist in carrying and
packing the goods.
"Seeing her future son-in-law showing an interest in the business
caused the young widow to start having doubts. Perhaps after the
wedding he'll be drawn away from his learning and choliloh
neglect it for the sake of working. The woman found no peace and
decided to ask the Gedolei Hador. They advised her to offer him
a fair sum of money so that he should drop the shidduch and so
R' Isser Zalman continued his story:
"A couple of years later R' Moshe Mordechai Epstein, one of the top
geniuses of Volozhin was chosen to be this daughter's husband, and was
promised full financial support for ten years so that he could pursue
"When the ten years were over, he was offered several rabbinical
positions, but he refused them and was therefore forced to enter the
leather business in order to support his family.
"Imagine what will take place if I become rosh yeshiva in
Slobodka. My mother-in-law is sure to find out with whom I am working,
causing her no end of agmas nefesh. Here Reb Aaron, whom she
sent away, is rosh yeshiva together with me, whilst Reb Moshe
Mordechai Epstein, whom she took in preference to him, is working part-
With utmost sensitivity, R' Isser Zalman finished:
"It is in the best interests of the yeshiva that Reb Aaron serve as
rosh yeshiva. However, I cannot work together with him since I
would thereby causing my mother-in-law tza'ar."
The Alter was visibly moved. Nevertheless, he managed to find a
compromise that would please all those concerned.
"Aderaboh, I would be pleased if you and your brother-in-law R'
Moshe Mordechai would become ramim in the yeshiva!"