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25 Tishrei 5773 - October 11, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaGaon Reb Leib Gurwicz, zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Gateshead

His 20th yahrtzeit

A crisp autumn wind blows through the tiny train station in the town of Molota. People turn their collars up and pull their coats around them as they anticipate the incoming train.

A young boy, his expression serious far beyond his tender years, stands next to his father awaiting his farewell brochoh and last minute instructions. Leib is not yet bar mitzvah, but in conjunction with the mishna that tells us "exile yourself to a place of Torah," he is leaving his hometown to learn in the great yeshiva of Mir.

Looking up expectantly at his father, Leib watched as the older man removed his fur-lined coat and handed it to his son. "Take it — it'll warm you in the cold winter."

Leib, however, refused to take the coat, unable to imagine that he could be comfortably warmed while his father shivered in the cold. His father insisted, pushing the coat away from him and then draping it around his son's shoulders.

"Listen my son, I've already had my intense learning years. I'm no longer at the stage of shteiging constantly. You, on the contrary, are starting out now in your prime years, a time when you should continually be in a state of aliyah, climbing upwards in Torah, and it is therefore imperative that you have the warm coat."

The young Leib heard his father's words and grasped their inherent instructions — that he was to shteig constantly. With this in mind he entered the portals of Yeshivas Mir and, during his entire first year there, he made sure to be the first one to enter the beis medrash in the morning and the last to leave at night, every day.

Under the guidance of his great rabbonim and mashgichim, he excelled until he belonged to an elite group of distinguished bochurim, most of them a few years his senior. During bein hazmanim this chaburah took upon themselves to learn 10 pages of gemora each day be'iyun, and to say chiddushei Torah on at least one of them.

Reb Leib became very close to the mashgiach, Reb Yeruchom, who was later to give rare testimony to his sterling character. When the Mashgiach's close friend, the tzaddik R' Elya Lopian, was looking for a suitable match for his daughter, Reb Yeruchom told him, "I can suggest for you a bochur who has never worked upon his middos — simply because he hasn't had to. The boy was born with a blessed nature and an inclination to do only good. His name is Leib `Molota' (after his hometown)."

When Reb Yeruchom was told that the wedding was scheduled to take place in England, where the illustrious R' Elya Lopian lived, a tremor shook his body. England of those days was a virtual wilderness as far as Torah was concerned and sending off such a promising bochur into spiritual desolation was very risky.

Even though, as Reb Yeruchom himself put it, "the house of R' Elya is no England," it's an island of holiness within the British Isles, nevertheless he urged them to ask the advice of the Chofetz Chaim before making so treacherous a move.

Although the plan was to return to Poland and the yeshiva world a short while after the wedding, Reb Leib followed R' Yeruchom's bidding and traveled to Radin.

The venerable Chofetz Chaim was already frail and aged, having come almost to the end of his long and fruitful life.

When Reb Leib entered, the Chofetz Chaim began to say the prayer of "Boruch She'omar." He continued through the brochoh stressing the words meaningfully, " . . . Boruch merachem al ho'oretz, boruch merachem al habriyos . . . boruch podeh umatzil, boruch Shemo," and then proceeded to repeat the aforementioned phrases.

Those present were sure that their Rebbi, in his weak state, had forgotten that he had already davened shacharis. However, Reb Leib understood that the message was for him and an answer to his question. His journey to England would be a "redemption and a salvation."

Indeed, as it turned out, the salvation was not for Reb Leib himself, but for the Torah and Jewry of all of England and Europe. Rabbeinu stepped onto British shores and immediately perceived its barrenness.

As he related, on one of his first days there, he was passing by a fish shop and stood to watch as the fishmonger deftly wrapped a large fish in sheets of printed paper. Stepping closer, he stood transfixed in horror, realizing that the printed matter was in Hebrew and contained divrei Torah. Upon his inquiry of the one-day-a-year- Jew as to what he was doing, the boor scratched his head and explained, "These are the Talmudical works of my late father, G-d bless his soul. I've got nothing to do with them so I reckoned they would at least come in useful for wrapping the fish!"

This was the spiritual vacuum into which Reb Leib entered — and eventually succeeded in filling with true Torah values and spiritual satisfaction. With his charisma and charm he drew Yidden from all walks of life towards him. With his phenomenal memory and amazing talents he drew from the wellsprings he had imbibed in Mir and slowly succeeded in creating a dramatic transformation.

In the winter of 5685 (1925), when Reb Leib traveled from Mir to Baranowitz to try to procure a visa to Eretz Yisroel, one of his rebbes blessed him that he should not succeed in his quest. The blessing was fulfilled and he could not obtain a visa.

The young Reb Leib stayed on in Baranowitz and joined the shiur of Reb Elchonon Wassermann, Hy"d. During the shiur, Reb Leib gave his opinion and thought on a certain point and, immediately afterwards, was cornered by Reb Elchonon, zt"l, who asked him to stay in Baranowitz and study with him when he prepared his shiurim. All through the winter months, Reb Leib learned together with Reb Elchonon and, as he says in the introduction to his sefer Arza Devei Rav on Yevomos, his derech halimud was greatly influenced by Reb Elchonon. It was at this time that one of the maggidei shiur in Baranowitz took ill and Reb Elchonon asked R' Leib to step into his place for several months.

Reb Leib also merited to bask in the glory of the Brisker Rov, zt"l. When the rosh yeshiva Reb Leizer Yudel Finkel, zt"l, sent a chosen group of talmidim from Mir to Brisk, Reb Leib was among them.

The Brisker Rov took a great liking to the bochur and spent much time "talking in learning" with him. When he went on his daily walk, Reb Leib would accompany him, learning much in the way of pure hashkofoh and clear guidance during those sweet "leisure" hours with the Griz.

As Hashgochoh would have it, just at the time that Reb Leib was in England for his wedding, his mother-in-law, the Rebbetzin Lopian passed away. It fell on the newlywed daughter to look after her orphaned siblings and run the busy household that R' Elya's was.

Thus, Reb Leib and his Rebbetzin stayed in England under the wing of R' Elya who once said concerning his son-in-law, "He is a living Mesillas Yeshorim."

After a while Reb Leib was appointed rosh yeshiva of the Yeshivas Beis Yosef of Gateshead. Under his guidance and great strength, the institution grew by leaps and bounds, soon becoming the fortress of Torah of England and Europe. Today the Yeshiva continues to produce thousands of talmidei chachomim who spread the light of Torah the world over.

In retrospect, we now understand why the Chofetz Chaim said not only "Boruch podeh umatzil," but also "Boruch merachem al ho'oretz, boruch merachem al habriyos."


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