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23 Shevat 5765 - February 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Go, For Hashem Has Sent You!
A Mission for Tomorrow: HaRav Eliyohu Meir Bloch and the Rebuilding of Telz

By Rav Dov Eliach, head of Machon Moreshes Hayeshivos

An Interview With Rav Nosson Tzvi Baron, rosh yeshivas Mesivta DeCleveland, about his Great Teacher HaRav Eliyohu Meir Bloch zt'l, Rosh Yeshivas Telz, Marking Fifty Years Since HaRav Bloch's petiroh

By Rav Dov Eliach, head of Machon Moreshes Hayeshivos

Part II

Time for Everything

The Rosh Yeshiva was a tremendous masmid. He pored over his learning every night and the light would burn in his room until morning approached. And after this, he would deliver a shiur in the yeshiva in the morning!

He was once asked how he managed to keep himself going, with his frequent traveling for communal affairs — for example to New York for meetings of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah — while at the same time leading and guiding the yeshiva and even delivering shiurim.

He replied that he saw clearly that when he returned from trips to meetings of the Moetzes and the like, he saw far greater success in preparing his shiurim than he did on days that he stayed at home. This was special Heavenly assistance.

I modestly added my own observation to this, pointing out that Rav Shimon Shkop zt'l makes the very same point in the introduction to his sefer. Chazal teach that the posuk (Devorim 14:22) "asser te'asser", is telling us: " `Separate tithes' so that you should become wealthy." The same is true of a person's emotional and physical resources. To the extent that he devotes time to the community, he will see blessing in utilizing the rest of his time. He'll manage to accomplish more than he could have without his communal involvement.

A Time to Remain Silent

It should be noted that despite his extensive involvement in both communal and private affairs, in bolstering religious observance and in disseminating Torah, he played no part whatsoever in the local affairs of the Cleveland community. He wasn't involved at all in such matters as shechitah and kashrus.

He heeded the lesson of an earlier incident that had taken place in the city in the nineteen thirties. A local rosh yeshiva had interfered in the city's kashrus affairs and in consequence of the ensuing controversy, his yeshiva suffered and was forced to close. When Rav Eliyahu Meir arrived in Cleveland to open Telz, he laid down an unbreakable rule that the yeshiva and its leadership would not become involved in anything that lay in the province of the local rabbinate.

At the same time, for this very reason, the yeshiva had arrangements for its own separate, high standard kashrus. The policy of keeping out of local kashrus affairs saved many arguments and quarrels with butchers and their like.

On the subject of kashrus — cholov Yisroel was virtually nonexistent in those days, certainly in a place like Cleveland where, with no other choice, everyone relied on the psak of HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l, that government supervision of milking and production removed the problem. In time, circumstances allowed for improving the hechsher and today, thanks to the initiative of HaRav Yosef Tendler of Baltimore, quality cholov Yisroel is obtainable everywhere.

Even in those days though, when the bnei hayeshiva were forced to rely on the hetter, an elderly Jew from a farm named Greenbaum came to the yeshiva twice a week bringing cholov Yisroel for the roshei hayeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Meir and Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz zt'l, who wouldn't use the regular milk. Some people are still lenient today with regard to using the regular milk, but he was stringent about it even then.

A Time to Speak

Here's an example of the Rosh Yeshiva's greatness. Reb Aharon zt'l came to Cleveland on several occasions to raise funds for his own yeshiva. Though Rav Eliyahu Meir himself bore the burden of supporting a yeshiva, he would accompany Reb Aharon to the homes of the local householders to get them to contribute to Lakewood. We possess letters in which Reb Aharon thanks the Rosh Yeshiva for his help.

People wondered aloud whether Rav Eliyahu Meir wasn't letting his generosity run away with him, considering that his own yeshiva's interests might suffer. His response was, "Our purpose in life is to sanctify Heaven's Name. What is the difference if it happens through my yeshiva or through someone else's? The main thing is that there should be kiddush Hashem."

He didn't merely accompany Reb Aharon. There was one well-to- do fellow named Broder whom they didn't manage to see and Rav Eliyahu Meir took it upon himself to obtain his contribution to Lakewood. Several days later, Reb Aharon sat down to write to Rav Eliyahu Meir to remind him of his promise. Before he'd finished his letter, a letter arrived from Broder informing Reb Aharon that he'd sent the money as requested. Rav Eliyahu Meir had already kept his word. Reb Aharon notes this at the end of his letter and thanks him for it.

The Truth at Any Cost

Rav Eliyahu Meir was a man of truth with a clear, unsullied outlook. One of the American Zionist leaders was Abba Hillel Silver, a Reform rabbi who lived in Cleveland. The city was one of Reform Jewry's main strongholds and almost all its Jews were under his leadership.

Silver once wrote to the yeshiva asking to participate in its annual fundraising dinner. There was no doubt that were he to come, he would bring the yeshiva a great deal of money. The yeshiva's directors understood though, that he intended that they seat him on the dais at the head table, according him the honor that befits such an influential leader.

They therefore responded that he would be as welcome to attend as any other Jew. "We don't shut out anybody who wants to come along and participate," was the message — but there was no offer of seating at the head table. Silver later commented that since the day of his arrival in Cleveland he'd never received such a slap in the face as that insulting letter. For his part, the Rosh Yeshiva was willing to forgo considerable financial gain in order to avoid honoring that man.

After the Chazon Ish passed away, an evening of eulogy and lament was held in the city's largest Orthodox synagogue. The Rosh Yeshiva spoke, bemoaning the terrible loss and opening the Aron Hakodesh and crying. A large majority of the townsfolk however, were absent that evening. Besides the bnei hayeshiva and the avreichim, there were only a few householders there. The Rosh Yeshiva was extremely disturbed by this and he decided to protest.

The yeshiva's annual dinner, which was its main source of income, was held shortly thereafter. Addressing the hundreds of guests who were being asked to contribute to the yeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Meir rebuked them scathingly. How could it happen, he asked, that a hesped for the godol hador was held in the town and people didn't show up? This was a clear case of "neglecting a scholar's eulogy."

Don't forget that this event was the culmination of the yeshiva's campaign to get the baalabatim to contribute to the yeshiva. Now, instead of praising and flattering them, the Rosh Yeshiva himself was berating them harshly.

Some of the yeshiva's directors were indeed irked, and they pointed out that this was not the right occasion to deliver such a message; it didn't serve the yeshiva's interests. Rav Eliyahu Meir's response was, "Where else will I find them, if not here this evening when I meet them face to face?! When they should have come to the beis haknesses for the hesped, they weren't there!"

That was how a man of truth spoke, who put his principles above any financial considerations.

Greatness Revealed in Private

I once witnessed the Rosh Yeshiva's behavior towards his son, HaRav Yosef Zalman Bloch (who was born from his second marriage). I had a regular session with the Rosh Yeshiva in his home every Thursday night for two years. We would work at editing the Shiurei Daas until two or three o'clock in the morning. I gained a great deal of Torah knowledge and instruction in life from those sessions.

In praise of the Chofetz Chaim it is said that usually when a great communal figure's public deeds are known, everyone is impressed by his greatness. But the closer one gets to the private person, the picture becomes less and less impressive.

This was not the case with the Chofetz Chaim. The more closely he was observed, even in his own home, the more profound was the impression that his greatness made.

I can also say this about the Rosh Yeshiva. Over the many evenings that I spent together with him, the more time I spent with him, the more I saw of the greatness of his deeds and conduct.

On the aforementioned occasion — it was a little after Succos — I arrived to see his son Zalman, then a little boy of about six, standing on the veranda at the entrance to the house wearing a long coat. A suitcase stood next to him. He looked miserable and he was crying.

I went over to the Rebbetzin and asked what had happened to him. She told me that little Zalman had told a lie and that his father, the Rosh Yeshiva, had become angry with him and had said, "If my son tells a lie he can't be my son." He put a coat on him, put a suitcase in his hand and put him outside saying, "No liars will live in my house."

That was how strongly he felt about the truth. Distancing oneself from falsehood was a burning priority for him. It is said in the name of one of the Vilna Gaon's talmidim, maybe Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt'l or maybe someone else, that the effective way to repent completely from any sin is to undertake never to utter a false word and to cleave with all one's might to the truth.

That way, if someone asks him whether he's transgressed a particular sin, he won't be able to deny it. The knowledge that he won't be able to deny having done a sin and will suffer terrible embarrassment will make him ashamed to sin in the first place. In this way, one can guard against all sins and remain completely righteous.

Oz Vechedvoh biMekomo

A question worth asking is: How did Rav Eliyahu Meir, a man who clung to truth with all his heart and in whom there were no inconsistencies, withstand the unbearable trial of setting aside his private distress and his racked emotions to raise the banner of renewal and rebuilding in America, when virtually his entire family whom he had left behind in Lithuania had been wiped out?

I'll tell you something that happened one Purim, in 5704 (1944). Rav Eliyahu Meir danced and made merry with all his heart and soul. Later, a woman went over to him and said, "Rabbi! You can't really be happy; you must be pretending to be happy."

How can you be happy without your wife and children? she wanted to know. She actually determined that it was an impossibility. At the time he had only one surviving daughter out of his whole family. (She later became Rebbetzin Chasya Sorotzkin, the wife of Rav Eliezer.)

This pointed question led him to discuss the subject in a shmuess that he delivered in the yeshiva. His theme was, Might and Rejoicing are in His Place (Divrei Hayomim I, 16:27). "She thinks that I'm not really happy," he said, "but the truth is that [in the posuk's words] `might and rejoicing are in His Place' — when a person is fulfilling his purpose in this world it makes him happy."

Rashi quotes the medrash that tells us that when Avrohom Ovinu went to the Akeidah, the tears were flowing from his eyes but he was very happy. How can the two emotions coexist? The truth though is that every human is endowed with the ability to experience two [conflicting] emotions at the same time, in contrast to a mal'ach who can only experience one.

Chazal tell us that Hakodosh Boruch Hu didn't allow the mal'ochim to sing Shiroh after the splitting of the sea, saying to them, "Shall you say Shiroh while My creations are drowning in the sea?" Everyone asks how bnei Yisroel could say Shiroh; didn't the same objection apply to them?

A mal'ach, however, has a single, solitary mission and also is able to experience only one emotion, no more. If the mal'ach is happy, he can't feel any sadness over the deaths of evildoers. A human, on the other hand, can rejoice over Hashem's salvation and at the same mourn the demise of the wicked. Avrohom Ovinu was capable of crying over the approach of his son's being offered as a sacrifice, while still fulfilling his role with tremendous joy over the approach of that very event. And it was tremendous, genuine joy that he felt, without any reservation.

The Rosh Yeshiva then revealed his innermost feelings. "In the same way, although I am painfully miserable over the deaths of my family, whom I remember day and night, I am also wholeheartedly occupied with the joy of Torah and am genuinely happy."

At the head of one of the pages of his notes of the shmuessen that he delivered in the yeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Meir wrote, "I delivered this shiur daas in the yeshiva in Cleveland on yom rishon, erev Rosh Chodesh Shvat 5705 (1945) after receiving, on the eighteenth of Teves, the dreadful tidings of the murders of my perfect companion, the faithful rebbetzin Rivka Hy'd, by the Nazis ym'sh and of my brother, the martyr Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy'd . . ."

The subject of that shiur was, "Lovingly Inflicted Suffering (Yissurim shel Ahavoh)." One of the things that he said then was that, "for those who love Hashem, suffering is truly a means of becoming [even] closer to Hashem than [one does] during tranquil times. That being so, suffering is the greatest benefit, as David Hamelech o'h said, "As for me, being close to Hashem is good for me (Tehillim 73:28)."

Thus, in his towering greatness, he managed to withstand the difficult trials of the time, as he testified about himself. While constantly remembering all of his family, he nevertheless rejoiced wholeheartedly, as the Torah commands, experiencing two feelings together.

With His Disciples

Initially, before he remarried, Rav Eliyahu Meir lived in the yeshiva dormitory, near his talmidim. They benefited from the extra measure of closeness to him and became very attached to him. I recall a letter that he wrote to a talmid — who eventually became a great rosh yeshiva — who had sent him an invitation to his wedding. The Rosh Yeshiva would not let anything pass that he considered needed addressing, as a matter of training and education. Even if it seemed to be a minor matter, he attempted to react and to set things right.

In this case, the talmid in question, who was one of his best, had written something like, "To his honor the great gaon, Rav E. M. Bloch . . ." adding that he wanted to invite him to his wedding. The Rosh Yeshiva wrote that he would be unable to attend the simchah but that he wanted to point something out about the language. His comment was approximately, "As to whether I am a `great gaon,' I have my doubts. But that you are my talmid, I am sure. That being so, is that the way to invite a rebbe?"

He was somewhat troubled by a noticeable lack of proficiency in loshon hakodesh on the part of his American talmidim, especially when it came to writing. He once remarked that he'd have no problem teaching them all of Shas but that it would be spelled with a tov at the end instead of a samech. That was the kind of mistake that they made because they didn't know how to write loshon hakodesh.

He selected me for the job of editing his father's Shiurei Daas and the other writings that accumulated on his desk because he felt that I knew loshon hakodesh. I indeed had some knowledge of Ivrit because as a child in Tavrig, we had a teacher for Ivrit in cheder. He was actually a good teacher (named Liss) and he came from the town of Kelm. He also taught us correct grammar. I was six or seven at the time. In Yeshivas Telz they were particular about language and speech and about grammar too, especially of course, in prayer.

Rav Eliyahu Meir had a musical ear and would lead the tefillos beautifully on the Yomim Noraim, with wonderful tunes. He was particular about singing them accurately and properly. If he heard anyone altering the song in any way or improvising he took exception. This inability to endure any deviation was another facet of his truthfulness. He was indeed a man of truth and it would manifest itself in every area.

He had a tune for Shoshanas Yaakov that he himself had composed. Everyone loved to sing it and other pleasant songs together with him. These tunes, which he brought with him from Telz in Lithuania, accompany the tefillos of the Yomim Noraim in Telz-Cleveland to this day.

Several difficulties exist with regard to Rav Eliyahu Meir's own writings. He devoted his time to correcting and publishing his father's Shiurei Daas and did not manage to do the same for his own. He died young after all; he was only around sixty. Each of his father's Shiurei Daas are ones that he prepared for publication. Those shiurim of his own that have been published are mainly based on the brief notes that he prepared for himself, which I expanded, or on notes taken by talmidim, except for a few pieces that he managed to prepare himself.

I have distinguished [in the sefer] between things that he said in public or to the entire yeshiva and things that he said in special, [smaller] vaadim. Some of the things he said concerned rules that he made or guidelines for conduct that applied to individuals or to the whole yeshiva, like the Semichas chachomim that I mentioned.

Who Pays for the Galoshes?

Rav Eliyahu Meir ran the yeshiva very responsibly. He was very careful about using yeshiva funds and was scrupulous about every expense incurred. I'll give you an example. Dr. Yitzchok Lewin, an Agudah leader who represented the organization in the United Nations, was the Rosh Yeshiva's close friend and always followed his guidance. When he published his book Eileh Ezkeroh, he sent the Rosh Yeshiva a copy, mentioning that it cost five dollars.

Rav Eliyahu Meir wrote in reply, "Yitzchok, my dear and precious friend, I value your book very highly — really very highly — but I cannot afford the five dollars for payment. It's beyond my limits."

I asked him at the time whether there was nothing else that could be done, for example, giving the book to the yeshiva and charging the yeshiva for it. But he wouldn't hear of it. "Absolutely out of the question!" he said determinedly.

Once he traveled for the yeshiva to New York and while he was there his galoshes tore, necessitating the purchase of a new pair. Upon his return, he raised the weighty question of how the galoshes were to be paid for, at a meeting of the yeshiva's board. He didn't want the yeshiva to bear the entire cost because he also made private use of the galoshes. He deliberated over what share of the cost he should bear and what share was the yeshiva's.

Of course, we're talking about a small, very minor expense. I don't know what was decided at that meeting but the very fact that the matter was discussed at all speaks volumes.

I was with the Rosh Yeshiva the night before he passed away. He was niftar on leil Shabbos and I was with him on Thursday night. He had stomach cancer, which can be treated today but for which there was nothing to do then. He had to drink ginger ale all the time and we took turns to come and give him it to drink.

When I arrived, the bochur from the previous shift got up and started leaving. Suddenly we heard knocking coming from the Rosh Yeshiva's direction. We looked to see if wanted anything and he was indeed calling the bochur back. He wanted him to take the empty bottles, which were left after his shift, so that he could redeem them in the store. That was how careful he was with Jewish money — like Chazal tell us about Yaakov Ovinu, who went back to fetch the small jars that he'd left behind. This, even though the Rosh yeshiva was very sick and it was a paltry sum of money.

The Mandatory Hour

The Rosh Yeshiva's dedication to Torah study even when he was sick was a shining example. He had made an undertaking — and he recommended it to others also — not to let a day pass without an hour of Torah study, meaning learning gemora or at least Chumash with Rashi, but not making do with Nach or mishnayos. He would call this chovas hasho'oh (usually meaning `the obligation of the hour,' i.e. a timely necessity, here taken to mean, `the obligation of an hour [of study]').

Another condition was that while the hour could be divided into two parts any way one liked — for example, two half- hours, or fifty and ten minutes etc. — it couldn't be divided into any more parts, such as three lots of twenty minutes. He was very careful in adhering to this undertaking.

During his last days when he was no longer able to read, we had to read to him. When weakness prevented him from taking anything more in, he asked us to stop. If he saw that he hadn't managed to complete the hour in two sessions, he'd ask us to continue for a long enough period to make up an hour together with the first session. That was how careful he was about his hour's learning, even when he was critically ill and extremely weak.

At first, there were those who made light of this undertaking. After all, what was a single hour? However, the true test was to adhere to it in difficult situations and still manage a whole hour's learning. Such times might be Yom Kippur or erev Succos, or when traveling to New York to attend to communal affairs. Then it meant freeing himself from all his myriad tasks and preoccupations and setting aside that hour no matter what.

He was once traveling on the overnight train with a certain distinguished rov and they were in their compartment. Before retiring to their bunks for the night, after a day that had been crammed with communal affairs, Rav Eliyahu Meir asked his companion to learn `the mandatory hour' with him. But the rov complained that he was utterly exhausted after the day they had just spent. Rav Eliyahu Meir didn't give in to himself; he made the effort and learned, as he had undertaken.

He Saw That Rest Was Good

Rav Eliyahu Meir filled every minute of his waking time with learning, teaching, or other activity. He never sat down simply in order to rest. Whether focusing on his yeshiva or on some communal endeavor beyond it, his aim was to be involved in broadening and glorifying Torah.

What is rest? he would ask [and would explain that] when one sits by a gushing, flowing river, or by the churning sea, one feels at peace. It is relaxing just to be there. The reason for this is that the river or sea is fulfilling its purpose. The inner awareness that the river is fulfilling its mission with its activity puts a person at peace. A person cannot relax without being active, without fulfilling his purpose; idleness will never prove restful.

On Shabbos we say, "And Hashem completed . . . and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done" (Bereishis 2:2). Rashi comments, "What was the world lacking? Rest. When Shabbos came, rest came with it." In other words, rest is part of the Creation. The rest on Shabbos is not merely the cessation of activity — it is something positive that needed to be created together with all else that Hashem made, for the rest of inaction isn't rest at all.

This was the lesson that Rav Eliyahu Meir left to his talmidim and to the entire Torah world — a lesson that he conveyed less through the spoken word than through the vast scope of his Torah, his deeds and his manifold achievements.


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