Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Eliyohu Yourkansky zt"l

by S. Bruchi

A crowd of thousands, including many prominent roshei yeshivos, attended the levaya of HaRav Eliyohu Yourkansky zt"l, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir in the US and one of the last survivors of the previous generation of Torah giants, who was summoned to Yeshiva Shel Maaloh at the age of 98.

Eliyohu Yourkansky was born to R' Avrohom of Minsk and raised in a home of Torah, yir'oh and admiration for gedolei Yisroel. R' Avrohom cleaved to the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov and other gedolim who lived in his town.

At the age of 11 he went with his older brother to study at the yeshiva of HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Hy"d after Bolsheviks took over Minsk and prevented Torah study. His mother gave all of her available funds to a goy who was willing to smuggle them from Russia to Poland.

After an adventurous two-day border crossing, the young boys had to traverse a bridge where soldiers were standing guard. They hesitated, afraid of getting sent back to Russia if they were caught since they had no form of identification. Suddenly a woman who sold fresh bagels to the soldiers every morning spotted them. She gave each of the boys a basket to carry and the soldiers were sure they were non-Jewish boys helping the woman carry her goods.

Through chasdei Hashem they eventually arrived at Yeshivas Baranovitch. For the next three years they slept on benches, rather than beds. Eliyohu celebrated his bar mitzvah at the yeshiva without any family, except for his brother. He devoted every moment of his time to Torah study, clinging to HaRav Wassermann, HaRav Shlomo Heiman, HaRav Leib of Ivia, HaRav Dovid Hakohen Rappaport the author of Tzemach Dovid, and the Mashgiach HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky. He formed an especially close bond with the Mashgiach, who would invite him to eat and sleep in his home.

After nine years of intensive study he decided to transfer to Yeshivas Mir, arriving in 5689 (1929). He became a talmid muvhok of HaRav Yeruchom, who grew very fond of R' Eliyohu and arranged for him to study with talmidim from Germany and the US to pass on the Torah and yir'oh he had acquired from his rabbonim.

When army recruiters threatened to enlist him, R' Eliyohu began to starve himself. An army doctor who examined him determined he could not be inducted. Due to his weak condition HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt"l sent him away for a rest and covered his medical expenses.

R' Eliyohu remained with the yeshiva during its miraculous period of exile, including several years in Shanghai.

In 5709 (1949) he arrived in the US with the rest of the yeshiva and immediately got engaged. After the wedding HaRav Avrohom Kalmanovitz asked him to deliver daily shiurim at Yeshivas Mir in the US. He also gave a shiur every evening for twelve years at Yeshivas Torah Vodaas.

HaRav Yourkansky spent 53 years teaching Torah and giving talks at Yeshivas Mir. Serving as a model of yiras Shomayim, elevated middos and hasmodoh he passed on the teachings he had received from gedolei Yisroel to thousands of talmidim.

Years ago, after sitting Shiva for his daughter Rochel Leah Pearlstein, he told her sons to return to their Torah studies and he did the same. Opening the gemora he revealed no further sign of the pain he felt. When his daughter-in-law Devorah Yourkansky passed away, he offered his son and grandchildren encouragement, saying all of HaKodosh Boruch Hu's deeds are for the best and the most important thing is to return to one's Torah learning immediately.

During the past few years his heart was weak and as he walked along slowly he would murmur Tehillim. He did not stop cleaving to HaKodosh Boruch Hu for even a moment. He had to spend the last month of his life hospitalized in Lakewood, where he returned his pure soul to his Maker on Monday 26 Cheshvan (November 28) in the morning. As the mittoh set out from Lakewood, thousands of bochurim and avreichim were on hand.

In the heichal of Yeshivas Mir in New York the deceased was eulogized by HaRav Shmuel Birnbaum, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir, HaRav Avrohom Yaakov Nilkelbaum, HaRav Osher Kalmanovitz, HaRav Herschel Zolti, HaRav Azriel Erlanger, HaRav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, HaRav Yeruchom Olshin, HaRav Eliezer Ginsburg and HaRav Moshe Handelsman, his sons, HaRav Avrohom, HaRav Reuven, HaRav Azriel, HaRav Chaim Shaul, and his sons-in-law, HaRav Tzvi Lubel and HaRav Shmuel Pearlstein.

The aron was then transported to Eretz Hakodesh and the levaya resumed at Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem, where hespeidim were delivered by HaRav Don Segal, HaRav Aryeh Finkel and HaRav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman.

HaRav Eliyohu Yourkansky zt"l is survived by four sons and one daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and thousands of talmidim lamenting the loss of their much admired rebbe.


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