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23 Cheshvan 5776 - November 5, 2015 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Hillel Meshel Gelbstein zt"l Author of Mishkenos Le'avir Yaakov

In honor of his yahrtzeit 24 Cheshvan 5668/1908

In his father's house in Bialystok sat the young boy Meshel, absorbed in his Torah learning day and night.

At the wedding of a member of the Gelbstein family a distinguished guest took part: The renowned gaon Rabbi Eizel Charif came to the city for the simchah. Together with the other participants, Meshel drank wine and made merry in honor of the chosson and kallah.

As soon as the wedding was over though, he made his way to the beis medrash, where he delved into his limud Torah for the remainder of the night. Arriving for shacharis early in the morning, Rabbi Eizel passed by the boy sitting with an open gemora. Sternly, he looked the boy up and down and then fixed him with a stare that seemed to say, "What are you doing with a gemora? Go and sleep off all the wine that you drank last night, and then you might begin to understand what you are learning."

In reply to his wordless rebuke, the boy requested humbly that Rabbi Eizel test him. Pointing to a certain sugya, the latter responded, "After davening, we'll see how much you understand."

After only a few minutes of testing, however, Rabbi Eizel Charif was beside himself with amazement at the young Meshel's knowledge.


There in Bialystok, Meshel became close with the chassidim of Kotsk, and he later rose to be one of their most distinguished.

Subsequently, he became a talmid of the Chiddushei Harim.

At the age of thirty-four Reb Meshel moved to Eretz Yisroel, where he lived in Yerushalayim. Despite the fact that the Ashkenaz community in Yerushalayim was composed of Prushim, he kept up his minhagim of chassidim. Eventually, their antagonism melted, giving way at first to acceptance, and later to respect and deep admiration for his accomplishments.

In Yerushalayim, Reb Meshel founded his famous chiddush in halochoh and maaseh: that the mitzvah of shemiras haMikdosh is applicable even nowadays after the Churban. If so, he held, there should be mishmoros of Cohanim, Leviim and Yisroelim to guard the Mokom Hamikdosh. He also said that this would bring the final Redemption closer.

Accordingly, Reb Meshel drew up a plan where a beis medrash would be built close to the Mokom Hamikdosh. Therein, a group of talmidei chachomim would study Hilchos Beis Habechiroh and all the laws pertaining to the Beis Hamikdosh nowadays.

His plan was to rent the area close to the Kosel (today the Kosel Plaza) and have three botei medrash there, one for those who daven in the Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Ari and Sefard respectively.

Reb Meshel even enlisted the financial aid of Baron Rothschild to support his idea, which almost came to fruition. However, at the eleventh hour, the entire enterprise was cancelled by the Turkish authorities.

One of the great chidushim of Reb Meshel was that he claimed it is osur to place one's fingers into the Kosel's cracks. He expounds that the Western Wall of the Beis Hamikdosh is part of the Beis Hamikdosh itself, and therefore, anyone who is forbidden to enter the Beis Hamikdosh — i.e. all of us these days — is likewise forbidden to place his hands into the Kosel's crevices.

The Maharil, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt"l, the Imrei Binah and the Baal Ha'aderes zt"l are all in agreement.

It is interesting to note that Rabbi Meshel managed, with mesirus nefesh and much toil, to have daily minyanim at the Kosel Hama'arovi for shacharis, minchah and ma'ariv. Until then, minyanim had been held there only on special occasions or in an eis tzoroh.

Rabbeinu established fixed minyanim throughout the week and for Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. Before Yom Kippur he had a large canopy erected to shade the mispallelim since they would be fasting. Reb Meshel was even the first to bring tables and benches.

Elderly Yerushalmim relate that in 5689/1929 the ruling British were trying to decide if Jews should be permitted to set up permanent tables and lighting near the Kosel, or if they should only be allowed to come for occasional visits so as not to disturb the neighbors. Upon seeing the furniture and regular minyanim that Reb Meshel had set up, they had to admit that the place was in constant use and continued to allow it.


Rabbeinu wrote a unique kuntrus named Or Zorua Latzaddik in which he brings a chiddush that a beis medrash should be set up next to the cave of Shimon Hatzaddik in East Jerusalem where Torah would be learned round the clock.

He explains that Shimon Hatzaddik was a Cohen Godol in whose days the Ner Hama'arovi in the Beis Hamikdosh was never extinguished. We therefore have the mitzvah of shemiras Hamikdosh for the grave of Shimon Hatzaddik. In his merit surely we would see miracles today too, and in the zchus of the his'orerus in this world, Heavenly mercy would be aroused, bringing us the Moshiach speedily.

Having a ner tomid at the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik is an important part of the beis hamedrash there. Reb Meshel relates two nissim.

Once, the amount of oil that normally would have burned three or four days did so for eleven days. On another occasion, as Rosh Hashonoh eve was drawing near, the oil spilled and there remained only a few drops. A neis took place and the fires burned for both days of Rosh Hashonoh as though they had been filled completely.


Four times a year, Rabbeinu travelled to Chevron, city of the Ovos Hakedoshim. There were none of the noise, music and strange groups soliciting attention that unfortunately plague the landscape of our holy places today. Back then, Rabbeinu davened and learned tranquilly and formed a close relationship with the city's gedolim such as the Sdei Chemed.

On one such visit, Reb Meshel was accompanied by his grandson. On the day that they were scheduled to return home, the Sdei Chemed asked the boy when his grandfather was planning to leave.

"This morning at ten o clock," replied the grandson.

Somehow, their departure was delayed and they only began to leave Chevron at twelve. As they passed the home of the Sdei Chemed, they beheld the elderly and venerable Sdei Chemed standing outside his house with an attendant.

The latter turned to the young grandchild, "Do you know, that from ten o clock my Rebbe has been standing here, waiting to accompany this small grandfather of yours!" He was referring to Rabbeinu's short stature.

Immediately, the Sdei Chemed corrected him, "He is no small person! Rather Reb Meshel is a gaon and great tzaddik. I would stand here waiting for him, not only two hours, but for twenty-four.


In the beginning of the year 5767/1907, Rabbeinu fell ill. The doctor advised him to move to an area with purer fresh air. Following his instructions, Reb Meshel moved in with a relative in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood, but he was back the next day, telling the doctor that he had never spent a night in Yerushalayim outside the Old City walls.

"In that case," conceded the doctor, "go to Chevron."

With a sense of foreboding, the family accompanied Rabbeinu to Chevron. Perceiving what was going on, a young granddaughter commented, "We will return to Yerushalayim without the Sabba."

Everyone chided her, but Reb Meshel seemed to agree, quoting, "From the mouths of babies and sucklings . . ."

In Chevron his condition worsened, until on Tuesday, the 24th of Cheshvan, Rabbeinu returned his soul to his Creator. He is buried in Chevron, close to the tziyun of the Reishis Chochmah, where his grave became a mokom tefilloh.


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