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11 Sivan 5762 - May 22, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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HaRav Zalman Rotberg zt"l
by S. Baruchi

This past Sunday, 8 Sivan, tens of thousands of bnei Torah accompanied the great gaon HaRav Zalman Rotberg zt"l on his last earthly journey. HaRav Zalman Rotberg was the rosh yeshiva of the Beis Meir yeshiva, and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel Hatorah. A talmid of the European gedolei Torah, he was 89 at the time of his petiroh.

HaRav Rotberg was one of the greatest marbitzei Torah umussar of our generation and who was meshamesh the gedolei HaTorah of previous generations. He taught Torah for over sixty years to thousands of students, and produced legions of talmidei chachomim who themselves became gedolim in Torah and mussar.

The bitter news of HaRav Rotberg's petiroh became public close to twelve noon on Sunday, 8 Sivan. Soon the poroches was removed from the Oron Hakodesh of the beis medrash, and by one o'clock his mitoh was brought from the Maayanei Hayeshuva hospital where he was niftar, to the beis medrash of the Beis Meir yeshiva. Students who had studied under him and heard his Torah and mussar shiurim for scores of years assembled in the beis medrash. The Torah world deeply mourned the loss of one of the gedolei hador, who had played a major role in strengthening Torah and Torah study in Eretz Hakodesh.

At four in the afternoon, tens of thousands of mourners from all over the country gathered around the beis medrash.

Prior to the beginning of the levaya, Tehillim and the 13 Middos were recited in unison. Afterwards words of hesped and his'orerus were delivered. The first hesped was delivered by the moro de'asra of the Zichron Meir neighborhood, HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, who wept over the loss of one of the gedolim of our times, who as a youth merited to study under HaRav Shimon Shkop. He then cited the words of the gemora, "Fortunate is one who grew up in Torah, whose prime labor is in Torah and who does nachas to his Creator." Then he said: "All of us are familiar with the extent of the niftar's ameilus beTorah and know that throughout his life he had a good name and was niftar with a good name, having merited to spread Torah and yirah for scores of years and to produce many students, all with an unusual humility."

HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz called to the tzibbur to contemplate the great loss of one of the gedolei haTorah. He said: "Even before World War II, HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky and the niftar came to Eretz Yisroel together. HaRav Rozovsky often described how Rav Zalman strengthened him during that period. Both were broken and shattered, but nonetheless fulfilled, "Lulei Sorosecho sha'ashu'ai, oz ovadeti be'onyi." HaRav Zalman motivated and inspired HaRav Shmuel and all of the bnei yeshiva. This vitality stemmed from simcha of the Torah.

"Throughout his life HaRav Zalman Rotberg fulfilled Rabbenu Yonah's teaching that a person shouldn't think of himself, but should rather make efforts on behalf of his fellow. Together with his righteous Rebbetzin, he attended to the needs of the generation. She devoted herself to the chinuch of bnos Yisroel, according to the Torah- true way transmitted from generation to generation. He was a loyal representative and wise servant of HaKodosh Boruch Hu for his entire life."

Other hespedim were delivered by HaRav Gershon Edelstein, who said that we should use the occasion of the death of tzadikim for teshuvoh, HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky, who called R' Zalman the "tiferes of Torah, HaRav Aryeh Finkel, one of the most prominent talmidim, HaRav Tzvi Markowitz, and HaRav Shraga Domb (the mashgiach of Beis Meir). The niftar's son, HaRav Tzvi, parted from his father saying that he was the father of all, and that the Torah they learned from his was like the Torah of "Abba." He added the request that HaRav Zalman be a meilitz yosher for the entire family and for all of the students whom he so loved.

The levaya proceeded to the Netzivei Ponevezh yeshiva, where the niftar was buried at sunset.

His Biography

HaRav Zalman Rotberg was born in 5673 (1913) in Lepnishock, a city in Lithuania's Vilna district. His father, HaRav Tuvia Rotberg Hy"d was a close student of the Chofetz Chaim, who referred to his as "kodosh." He also studied in the famous Kollel Kodshim in Radin. HaRav Tuvia was eventually appointed rav of Luno, a city near Grodno.

In that illustrious Torah home, HaRav Zalman's unique personality as an ish Torah was fashioned and the foundations of his remarkable soul were laid.

Already in his childhood, the attributes which he displayed throughout his life, and which caused him to be esteemed by all of the gedolei hador, were evident. These attributes were: amazing hasmodoh, outstanding talents nobility of spirit, refinement, and a special chen and chesed which defined his entire being.

Even before he was thirteen he began to study in the Grodno yeshiva under HaRav Moshe Mordechai Shkop, the son of HaRav Shimon Shkop and the son-in-law of HaRav Shraga Feivel Hindes.

HaRav Shimon Shkop and HaRav Zalman's father HaRav Tuvia were very close. Rav Tuvia helped HaRav Shkop in his efforts to support his yeshiva and in 5689 (1929) he even accompanied him on a trip to the United States. HaRav Zalman also drew very close to HaRav Shimon Shkop, who thought highly of him and regarded him as a devoted student.

When Zalman was only fifteen he went to the Mirrer Yeshiva, where he became close to HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel and HaRav Yeruchom Lebowitz, from whom he derived the foundations of mussar and daas.

After some time he was forced to return to Grodno as a result of an order to report for army service. During that period, his relationship with his rav muvhak HaRav Shimon Shkop grew even stronger, and he would sleep in HaRav Shimon's room every night.

Due to the Russian draft decrees, which put increasing pressure on yeshiva students, HaRav Zalman decided to flee Russia for Eretz Yisroel. He arrived here on the 18th of Sivan, 5696 (1936), along with his close friend HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky zt"l who later became a rosh yeshiva of Ponevezh.

The arrival of two of HaRav Shimon Shkop's finest talmidim in Eretz Yisroel had an impact on the country's bnei Torah. As soon as they arrived in Eretz Yisroel, the two began to study in the Lomzhe yeshiva in Petach Tikvah, which at that time was one of the largest Torah centers in the country.

In that yeshiva, the two toiled over their Torah studies very intensely and in great poverty, attaining very high levels in Torah and yirah

In 5701 (1941), a yeshiva letze'irim was founded in the Ir Ganim section of Petach Tikvah. In that yeshiva, HaRav Zalman served as a ram and, together with HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky, delivered shiurim to the young talmidim.

During that period, he frequented the home of the Chazon Ish in order to speak with him in learning. In 5702 the Chazon Ish made a match between him and Soroh, the daughter of Rav Meir Karelitz the Chazon Ish's oldest brother, who had been rav of Lachowitz and was one of the great Torah leaders of his generation.

When HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel arrived in Eretz Yisroel, where he hoped to reestablish the Mir, he asked HaRav Zalman to draw together all students of the yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel to Yerushalayim. This formed the first kernel of what in time became the illustrious Mirrer yeshiva we know today. HaRav Zalman served as both menahel ruchani and maggid shiur in the Mir of Yerushalayim until the arrival of the Mirrer students from Shanghai. The students who studied in the Mir at that time are currently among its greatest talmidei chachomim.

In 5714, HaRav Zalman moved to Bnei Brak where he began to serve as a ram in the Tifferes Tzion yeshiva. Following the petiroh of his father-in-law HaRav Meir Karelitz in Adar 5715 (1955), HaRav Zalman established the Beis Meir yeshiva in his memory. The Beis Meir yeshiva opened in 5718 with six students, and slowly developed into a large yeshiva with a number of buildings on Devorah Hanevia Street in Bnei Brak.

The Kehillos Yaakov, HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, davened there on a regular basis, and was involved in every aspect of the yeshiva.

HaRav Zalman Rotberg delivered both daily and general shiurim in Beis Meir for forty-five years and produced thousands of students. His shiurim and discourses were well known for their unique clarity and for the amazing manner in which he elucidated the difficult aspects of the each and every sugya studied in the yeshiva. His well- known sefer, Mishneh Tuvia and his kuntrus, Chever Shiurim, published by the students of the yeshiva, are also known for their lucidity. In 5724, HaRav Rotberg founded the Or HaTorah yeshiva for Sephardic students, and was personally involved in their chinuch and progress in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

He was a gaon of great stature, who had imbibed his Torah from the Torah giants of the previous generation. He bequeathed this Torah to the thousands of talmidei chachomim and bnei Torah whom he raised as his very own sons within his yeshiva.

His Torah shiurim were highly acclaimed for their depth and for their penetrating manner in which they contributed to the understanding of the sugya. He was known for the conceptual structures which he established and developed in his shiurim.

He was also well for his mastery of Toras hamussar, in all of its various sources and aspects. He acquired the foundations of mussar and daas from his mentor, HaRav Yeruchom Lebowitz. The sichos and ma'amorei machshova which HaRav Zalman delivered and wrote were compiled into a sefer called Tuv Daas.

These sichos gained famed throughout the entire Torah world, and many came from outside to listen to them.

He delivered his last mussar discourse on Shabbos Zochor this year. He spoke at length about the difference between Pharaoh and Homon, explaining why we are obligated to stamp out the memory of Amolek and not that of Pharaoh.

HaRav Rotberg's dedication to the yeshiva and to its thousands of students was boundless. He ignored his own personal needs and life, and submerged himself in the needs of the yeshiva and its students, sparing no effort to ensure that they could devote themselves to their studies with undisturbed hasmodoh.

HaRav Zalman devoted himself to each student with endless patience, listening to their problems and questions, and probing the recesses of the hearts. In a kindly, warm manner he would chart a Torah-true path for them. Despite his many burdens, he received each visitor warmly and genially. All who approached him knew that he would listen to them attentively and patiently, and respond to them with a warm and loving smile. Only those who knew how precious every moment was to HaRav Zalman could fully appreciate the extent of his mesirus nefesh toward those who sought his advice.

Recently he fell ill, and when his condition grew worse prayers were recited for his full recovery in yeshivos all over the country. While bnei yeshiva everywhere davened for him, he returned his pure soul to its Maker.

He is survived by his wife and by his son HaRav Tzvi, the rosh yeshiva of Beis Meir, as well as by his daughters who are married to: HaRav Zeev Shapira, a ram in the yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Markowitz, rosh kollel in the yeshiva, HaRav Daniel Ginzburg, a ram in the yeshiva, and HaRav Yosef Yizra'eli, rosh yeshiva of Tifferes Moshe. He is also survived by grandchildren, great-grandchildren and thousands of students who deeply mourn the loss of their beloved and esteemed mentor.


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