Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Teves 5766 - January 25, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Gems of Torah and Daas from Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch

Based on Conversations with Rabbi T. Lasdun by Rabbi Dov Eliach

In honor of his yahrtzeit: 28 Teves, 5715

With All Your Heart and Soul

Rav Baron, a talmid, spoke about Rav Eliyahu Meir's supreme self-sacrifice during the war years, when he devoted himself completely to Torah dissemination in America, far away from his family who were trapped in Telz and eventually murdered by the Nazis. Moreover, he succeeded in subjugating his own emotions to Hashem's service, finding the source of joy in Torah, as though his own world was not in ruins.

In the course of one of our conversations, Rav Lasdun repeated a wonderful idea that he'd heard from Rav Eliyahu Meir about Akeidas Yitzchok — an idea that Rav Eliyahu Meir himself exemplified.

In the trial of the Akeidah, Avrohom Ovinu undertook not only the physical sacrifice of his son but also to surrender all his deepest feelings of fatherly love towards that son. We find a similar idea in parshas Vayakheil (Shemos 35:22). When bnei Yisroel made their donations to the building of the Mishkan, the posuk tells us, "The men came with the women." Rashi's second explanation of these words is that the men brought the women's jewelry while it was still on the women, without removing it. This was done to show that although women are usually attached to their jewelry, they were prepared to sacrifice those feelings in donating their adornments for the Mishkan.

One of the main ideas in Rav Eliyahu Meir's teaching was that a person should arouse all his emotions and attributes and then sanctify them to Hashem's service. This was how he explained the command to, "love Hashem with all your heart and all your soul" (Devorim 6:5). One must serve Hashem with the yetzer hora, as Yael did in doing an aveiroh with pure intentions. Chazal tell us that "an aveiroh performed with pure intentions is greater than a mitzvah performed with impure intentions," because the former is the hardest thing to do — to transform the strong feelings influenced by the yetzer hora and to use them for Hashem's service.

Rav Eliyahu Meir sacrificed the ordinary pleasures of life in his communal service, subsisting on the very minimum. "I witnessed a rarely-encountered integrity in Rav Eliyahu Meir," Rav Lasdun relates, "when he himself had nothing whatsoever.

"I was once in his room following shacharis, and talmidim came in to speak to him, as they did every morning. After half an hour, a bowl of cooked food was brought in for his breakfast but before he got around to eating it, it had cooled off completely. It was a freezing winter's day, yet I didn't dare ask him how it was that with all that he did for the yeshiva, raising funds, training talmidim and more, he didn't even feel that he deserved a portion of hot food on such a cold day. He had no personal demands whatsoever for his own needs.

"It was a fifteen-minute walk from his home to the yeshiva and when going to deliver a shiur he always went on foot. I asked him, `Couldn't the yeshiva send a car to fetch the Rosh Yeshiva?' He replied that he refused to put anyone to the trouble of coming especially for him. `In fact,' he said, `I prefer it this way. In the meantime as I walk, I can direct my thoughts to preparing the shiur.' "

Arranger of the Benches

Moshe Rabbenu asked Hashem to appoint a leader to succeed him and Hashem chose Yehoshua because he "did not move from the tent" (Shemos 33:11). The medrash tells us that Yehoshua would arrange the benches and cites the posuk, "The guard of the fig tree will eat its fruit" (Mishlei). What is the great significance of Yehoshua's arranging the benches and how did it lead to his being chosen as a leader?

The greatness of a great man is particularly discernible in his small, insignificant acts. A small-minded person only appreciates big actions, but the great man sees the potential contribution to greatness in small things as well and he knows how to rate them accordingly. He sees a great undertaking in every small deed; he is not misled by outward appearances.

This is how Moshe Rabbenu himself was chosen as a leader — he chased after a lost sheep in order to retrieve it. Dovid Hamelech too, was chosen for royalty through his having been a shepherd.

How does caring for sheep prove that a person is fit to preside over Yisroel? When someone does not belittle or neglect even small things but sees their significance and takes due care over them, this demonstrates his greatness. To him, everything assumes significance and is very important.

This explains Chazal's choice of posuk to support their statement about Yehoshua — "The guard of the fig tree will eat its fruit." A person takes a tiny seed and plants it in the ground, so that in time he will be able to eat its fruits. He shows that he understands that a mighty tree can grow from a tiny seed. That shows greatness.


To end, here is an idea that Rav Eliyahu Meir developed that is fundamental to understanding the Torah's approach to fulfilling mitzvos in this world. Chazal tell us that when the Torah was given, the souls of bnei Yisroel left their bodies because they couldn't withstand hearing Hashem speak. Why did this only happen at Har Sinai? At the splitting of the Sea, even a maidservant witnessed a greater revelation of Hashem than the novi Yechezkel. How was it that on such a sublime occasion, when Hashem's Presence was revealed to such an extent, that nothing happened?

The splitting of the Sea was a miracle that transcended nature. Hashem suspended natural laws in order to perform a miracle. Because they were experiencing something that was beyond natural existence, the people could withstand it and even babes-in-arms were able to exclaim, "This is my G-d and I will beautify Him!" (Shemos 15:2)

This was not the case when the Torah was given. The Torah couldn't be given under supernatural conditions. It obligates us to fulfill its commandments in daily life. Had Torah been given in a way that transcends nature, we wouldn't have the knowledge or the ability to follow it in our day-to-day existence. On the other hand, though, under natural conditions, the people were unable to withstand such a sublime spiritual experience and their souls therefore left their bodies.

A Letter by Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, Written During the War

by Rabbi Dov Eliach

Rav Bloch wrote this letter in America while the war was at its height and after the Jewish community of Telz, including virtually all his own family, had been wiped out, though he did not know it at the time.

Two distinct themes run through it. On the one hand there is grave foreboding of what was happening behind the cloud of uncertainty that was covering Europe. On the other, true spiritual heroism and might are expressed that should stagger and amaze us. "Terrible though the situation is," he writes, "we haven't given up, chas vesholom, nor have we despaired."

He himself had escaped just in time. Many long months had passed since he had last received news of his wife and children, of his yeshiva and of his talmidim. His heart must have sensed the full horror of what had happened. Yet the feeling that accompanied him, or more correctly that directed him and propelled him forward, was his sense of mission — the conviction that he had been assigned an historic task.

Providence had indeed entrusted him with the mission of preparing a refuge — establishing and rebuilding Yeshivas Telz in the United States, even before it had been destroyed in Lithuania. How clearly he puts it: "We are boruch Hashem full of vigor at the prospect of fulfilling the historic task that has been entrusted to us, namely, to continue Torah labor according to the Torah approach of Yeshivas Telz, in every place that we have been moved to."

Even after the magnitude of the calamity had become apparent, we find him (in an article he wrote for the newspaper Yiddishe Shtimme in Shevat 5703) offering encouragement to prevent people from choliloh losing heart. He demands, "Alongside our mourning, we ourselves must remember and we must remind others that as far as Klal Yisroel is concerned, our present miserable situation should not be viewed as a decline chas vesholom. [It should] rather [be seen] as a time of distress, a crisis that guarantees that new life and new illumination. In the broad, historical view of our eternal nation, this is nothing more than a passing episode" (Shiurei Upeninei Daas, Wickliffe 5765, p.68).

The contents of this letter, written as early as the end of 5701 (1941), cast powerful illumination in the gathering darkness — a spark of profound Torah insight that cuts through layers of confusion, powerlessness and faintheartedness and shows how a towering Torah personality saw beyond the tempest that was so imminently and devastatingly threatening. What a far-reaching lesson in daas this is, written as it is with the lifeblood of one of the greatest transmitters of Torah to the generation that survived the Holocaust!

The letter is headed with the words, "Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, Ram in the holy yeshiva of Telz," while the address given is in New York. At the end, Rav Eliyahu Meir had his brother-in-law, Rav Mottel Katz zt'l, sign too.

B'eH, Yom Rishon deSelichos 5701

. . . We are alone and isolated. We were uprooted from our surroundings and our families and from all our spiritual acquisitions and our "sons, meaning talmidim." They are all in difficulty and are being held captive; may Hashem have mercy on them. How we long for a friendly word from a loyal friend or comrade!

. . . May we all merit basking in Hashem's illumination together — may it appear over His downtrodden and suffering people. May troubles give way to redemption and relief.

I have already referred to our welfare at the beginning of this letter but knowing how much pleasure you will have in hearing details, I will gladly do as you wish.

The two of us were miraculously saved through our having previously held American visas which, despite having already been invalidated by the government, were sufficient to enable us to reach Japan. There, through great toil and amazing circumstances, we obtained quota visas and arrived here last November.

Obviously, the first thing we went about was obtaining visas for our dependents — both physical and spiritual. We expended boundless effort in this direction and had been partly successful. Among [our achievements] was a promise from the American consul relating to our families, i.e. our wives and children, to our brother the gaon, av beis din [Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch zt'l, Hy'd] and to several of the other heads of the yeshiva and some of its talmidim. However with the outbreak of war between the Germans and the Russians, contact was broken. We have no idea under whose control they are or how they are being supported.

Beforehand we also conveyed considerable funds to them and the yeshiva was functioning in its full splendor and glory! This, despite being under the Bolsheviks and having been driven out of the [yeshiva's] premises and learning in the town's beis hamedrash.

After Pesach however, it was decreed that they should leave the city and split up into five groups, situated in five different towns. This was all carried out in an orderly and disciplined manner, under the disciplinary guidance of the yeshiva's board. The talmidim were divided up so as to ensure that there would be a correct balance of those capable of offering guidance and those requiring it. Torah study again increased and the injunction, "At the time of gathering, spread out," was fulfilled.

Now though, we know nothing at all. We are sure that they have not given up the fight even now and that Hashem's light will not be extinguished, but how this will happen only Hashem knows.

. . . Terrible though the situation is, we haven't given up, chas vesholom, nor have we despaired. We are boruch Hashem full of vigor at the prospect of fulfilling the historic task that has been entrusted to us, namely, to continue Torah labor according to the Torah approach of Yeshivas Telz, in every place that we have been moved to.

Some thirty talmidim were rescued from the field of slaughter; some of them are presently in Shanghai and some have arrived in America. Those in Shanghai have arranged the continuation of their studies and receive material assistance from us here, while we have also been making efforts to get them out of there. As for those who are here, we intend making arrangements for them in the near future, or more accurately, in the coming weeks by establishing be'ezras Hashem a yeshiva that will be named and patterned as a branch of Yeshivas Telz. Naturally, many talmidim from other Polish and Lithuanian yeshivos will also be attracted to it, as well as American talmidim. There is hope that this edifice will develop be'ezras Hashem into something glorious.

We live in daily hope of hearing something from our loved ones in captivity and are ready to extend immediate help to them. Even though the founding of the yeshiva here requires extensive funds, we will of course leave no stone unturned in order to extend them assistance.

This is a report of how things stand here. In this difficult hour, we are encouraged by the awareness of the enormity of the responsibility and the mission [that rest upon us]. Let us hope that we fulfill our duty and withstand the trial and that Hashem's salvation comes quickly.

Once again, many thanks to our friend, his Torah honor, for remembering us in our time of affliction and distress. Bountiful blessings to him and to his honored Rebbetzin . . . and to all his household . . .

As is the wish of those who love and esteem him, heart and soul,

Eliyahu Meir Bloch

Chaim Mordechai Katz

Two Vignettes of Rav Bloch as Recalled by Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

During the State of Israel's first years, the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel organization carried out activities aimed at saving the children of the olim. It was decided to establish the Sdei Chemed Youth Village. I traveled to America to raise funds and I arrived in Cleveland, where I was a guest in the home of HaRav Eliyahu Meir Bloch zt'l.

His hospitality is worthy of separate discussion. Besides the supreme efforts that the members of his household made on my behalf, the Rosh Yeshiva also extended himself and literally waited on me during the weeks that I was his guest. I wondered aloud in his hearing that it seemed unbecoming that he himself should serve me and he told me, "Right now I'm not the Rosh Yeshiva. I'm welcoming a guest."

Above all, he went out of his way to assist me in fulfilling the purpose of my visit. He would accompany me each evening to [Jewish] homes in the city to raise funds for the abovementioned project. In time, it became apparent to me that the townspeople did not take kindly to his identification with my cause.

In those days, people in America were either utterly ignorant of Agudas Yisroel or they knew about it solely for the purpose of hating it. It seems to me that at that time, there wasn't a single Agudist in all of Cleveland.

Therefore, ten days later I spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva and asked him to stop accompanying me. I told him, "You are busy building the yeshiva and you have to consider its interests. The people of Cleveland help you because the yeshiva has no political affiliation. Accompanying me exposes you as an Agudist, thus damaging your cause. On the other hand, the donations that I'm receiving are paltry anyway, because of the way people feel about our movement. It's better that you shouldn't harm your own cause on my account."

However, the Rosh Yeshiva unequivocally waved this aside, arguing that he very much wanted to actively assist Agudas Yisroel. As for the argument about the yeshiva being harmed, he told me, "I'll tell you a story that happened to me.

"Yeshivas Telz in Lithuania once suffered a major financial crisis that threatened its continued existence. Father zt'l — the gaon Rav Yosef Leib Bloch — decided to send my brother, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok zt'l, and myself to America in order to raise funds. Upon our arrival we encountered great difficulties and even the Telz alumni whom we met did not rescue us. We turned to Rav Meir Berlin, one of the Mizrachi leaders, who was close to our family, and he indeed accepted the challenge and managed to raise considerable amounts for us.

"One day he turned to us holding a book that was written by one of the great zealots of Yerushalayim sharply attacking Rav Kook zt'l. He showed us that among the sources from which the author adduced support in his book were some extremely harshly-worded expressions of contempt that were attributed to our father, the gaon HaRav Yosef Leib. He [Rav Berlin] declared, `If this is indeed true, I don't want to extend assistance or support to anything connected with him or with his name — naturally including his yeshiva. And if it's untrue, let him deny it.'

"I asked father. I told him what had happened and asked him if the quotations were indeed accurate. Father replied, `As to the language that has been ascribed to me, it's groundless. That is simply not my approach, nor my way of speaking. The language that I use doesn't include such expressions. However, as to Rav Berlin's request that I make a repudiation — I can't do that either since I agree wholeheartedly with the essence of the criticism, just not with its style.'

"`As to your point about this harming the continuation of the fundraising for the yeshiva, I don't know what Heaven has decreed my purpose in this world should be — whether I'm intended to be a Rosh Yeshiva or a shoemaker. If I'm supposed to fill the former role then I'm sure that no harm will befall the yeshiva and if I'm not, then I'm prepared to close the yeshiva and switch to filling my role as a shoemaker — just so long as I don't deny the truth.' "

Rav Eliyahu Meir then told me, "In everything I do I try to perpetuate my father's path and follow in his footsteps — in every single respect. If he said that he was prepared to close the yeshiva rather than deny the plain truth, I am also prepared to give up the yeshiva if that is what Heaven has decreed for me. But I won't compromise the truth. In my opinion, Agudas Yisroel should be supported and strengthened without any doubt or fear."

Here is another story that Rav Lorincz shared with us:

Over sixty years ago, I took part in the National Convention of the American Agudah. That year I was appearing as a guest speaker. I sat next to Rav Eliyahu Meir and we spoke at length in learning and about topical matters and the like.

At one point, Rav Eliyahu Meir surprised me by interrupting his conversation with me. I felt that I was speaking to him but that he wasn't listening. It was as though I was speaking to the wall. I couldn't understand it and tried to recall whether I might have unwittingly offended him. When my turn came, I went up and delivered my address and when I finished and returned to my place, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to me and thanked me for what I'd said.

Then he added, "I beg your forgiveness for engaging you in conversation for so long. I didn't know that you were one of this evening's speakers. When I noticed that your name appears on the program in front of us as a speaker, I immediately stopped. When a person has to speak before an audience he mustn't be troubled beforehand. He needs to have time and silence to dwell on arranging what he is going to say, so that it is fit for him [to say] and for his listeners [to hear]."

All his thoughts and considerations revolved around the welfare of the community and of individuals, in minor as well as in major points. He was truly a great man, in every single respect.


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