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8 Tishrei 5774 - September 12, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Yitzchok Shmelkish, zt"l, Rov of Lemberg and Author of Beis Yitzchok

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 9 Tishrei (5666)

A great future was foreseen for the young Yitzchok, even by the melamdim of Lemberg. "Your son is sure to be a godol beYisroel one day," they told his glowing parents.

However, before they could see these words of joy bearing fruit, tragedy struck the family. At the age of 12, Yitzchok was orphaned of his father. His mother valiantly devoted herself to continuing her children's chinuch. Rabbeinu alludes to this in the introduction to the first section of his sefer Beis Yitzchok. There he writes, "In the early dawn, she made sure to send me to toil diligently within the portals of Torah."

Rabbeinu made sure to be attached to the talmidei chachomim of his time. He became very close with the geonim Rabbi Mordechai Zev Ittinga and Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, learning with them in their homes and absorbing the light of their Torah. Rabbi Yosef Shaul had no children of his own and poured all his love and efforts into the young gem whose brilliance promised to shine forth.

After he married, R' Yitzchok was appointed rov of the kehilloh of Berzhan. His son-in-law related that, towards the end of his days, R' Yitzchok claimed that most of his Torah had been acquired while he was rov and rosh yeshiva in that city.

It was there that he wrote his first small sefer, Siach Yitzchok, a hesped on the Rabbon Shel Yisroel, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger zt"l. R' Yitzchok apologizes for the printing of the sefer, which is usually the custom of the gedolim: "However, the machlokes that broke out in Yisroel has caused me to do this." He ends with the hope that gedolei Yisroel will hear his words emanating directly from his heart.

Subsequently, he became rov in Premishle, a large city where the Jewish community was made up of a conglomeration of different sects. There were the chassidim and misnagdim, as well as maskilim and many others. Rabbenu won all their hearts and everyone was united in obeying him. When the Emperor Franz Joseph visited the city, Rabbi Yitzchok was at the head of a distinguished delegation that came out to greet His Royal Highness.

Impressed by his noble appearance, the Emperor stopped to talk to R' Yitzchok for a few minutes before continuing on his way, an act which served to raise the prestige of the Rov in the eyes of the goyim as well.

Finally, Reb Yitzchok returned to his hometown, Lemberg, to serve as rov there, and it is with Lemberg that he is generally associated.

During his tenure there, the maskilim tried to establish an institution there for the training of "rabbis."

Rabbenu organized a large meeting, at which about one hundred rabbonim from all over the Empire were in attendance.

He proposed to set up a network of kehillos "Machzikei Hadas" that would save Yiddishkeit in Galicia by separating Torah- true Jews totally from their Reform counterparts. Then and there, the suggestion was approved. Furthermore, he pushed for Torah- observant Jews to run for the Austrian Parliament so that authentic Judaism would be well represented. Rabbi Yitzchok himself and three other rabbis ran and, in the end, the gaon Rabbi Shimon Sofer zt"l of Cracow was elected.

Fearlessly, the Beis Yitzchok battled any new reforms that the maskilim tried to introduce. Yet his psak remained constantly tuned to the halochoh and when he deemed something necessary and halachically permissible, although it may have been a novel idea, he was mattir without hesitation.

Thus, when a new steam machine was invented for grinding flour, most of the rabbonim forbade its use for matzos, so afraid were they of anything new. Rabbenu, however, maintained that the gift of innovation was given to mankind for the sake of Yisroel and, since the machine has nothing about it that is halachically not permissible, it may be used.

It is of interest to note that in this controversy, the son of HaRav Shlomo Kluger wrote a public letter in the newspaper that Rabbenu's heter is null and void, the reason being that R' Yitzchok was a talmid of his father's and R' Shlomo had in his time forbidden the use of a machine similar to the one in question.

This was not the first time a public letter had been written against R' Yitzchok, yet he retained his usual humility even while defending his stance without faltering.

"Although I am small among the smallest," he wrote, "and cannot even merit to claim being the talmid of the great HaRav Shlomo Kluger, nevertheless, one cannot compare one machine to another. The rule in Torah is that one can only judge what the eye sees. Had HaRav Kluger seen this machine, he would have permitted its use."

His extreme humility almost calls out from the pages of the introduction to his renowned sefer Beis Yitzchok. There, he cites his reason for printing a sefer.

In reality, he writes, he is really not great enough to print a sefer at all. But on the day that his only son, R' Aharon z"l, passed away in the prime of his life, he requested that his father publish his own chidushei Torah together with his so that his memory would be perpetuated in this world. Therefore, he concludes, he is only doing it in order to fulfill his son's dying wish.

It is this same anovoh with which Rabbenu writes that he only brings the gemora in very short quotes. "For the main learning is really the study of gemora and the sifrei Rishonim, while I just point out a few small points."

It is told that when the first Rabbi of Bobov, Ha'admor Reb Shlomo Halberstam, went to visit the Beis Yitzchok, it was just when the Even Haezer part of the sefer Beis Yitzchok arrived at its author's house, straight from the printer.

The Bobover Rebbe looked through the sefer a little, skimming its pages. Upon seeing a certain teshuva concerning a divorce, he stopped. He had noticed that the names of the people concerned in the shailoh were mentioned, even though they were no longer alive. He suggested to R' Yitzchok that perhaps this would be a disgrace to the deceased and that their names should rather be omitted.

Rabbenu firmly replied, "What I wrote is absolute truth and that is how the teshuva must be written."

The Bobover pressed further; perhaps it was still better to remove the names. In the end, Rabbenu agreed to do so in the second edition, in which he indeed remembered to keep his word.

Even during his later years, Rabbeinu would not shirk what he saw as his responsibilities to the klal. At the age of 78, despite his weakness, he asked that all the hundreds of shailos that were sent to him be brought before him and he painstakingly answered each one — clearly, according to halochoh. Ignoring the doctor's strict warnings that he must not exert himself, the Beis Yitzchok dictated, word for word, every teshuvoh while a talmid would write and then forward them to the senders.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, while Klal Yisroel the world over was davening in shul "Vayomer Hashem solachti kidvorecho," the Beis Yitzchok returned his soul to its Creator.

Zechuso Yogein Oleinu.


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