שבת ט' בכסלו תשפ"ג 03/12/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Hagaon Harav Meir Simchah haKohen of Dvinsk ztz”l

The works ‘Ohr Somayach’ on the Rambam and ‘Meshech Chochmah’ on the Torah by Hagaon Harav Meir Simchah haKohen, the rav of Dvinsk, have been accepted by all streams of Jewry across the world.

Avi Lazar 24/08/2009 12:00
Harav Hagaon Meir Simchah haKohen was born in the year 5603 in the town of Baletrimentz, a suburb of Vilna, to his father Rabbi Shimshon Klonimus ztz”l. His father was a great talmid chocham and teacher of Torah, a generous baal tzedokah and a machnis orech. When Hagaon Rabbi Meir of Tiktin ztz”l was in Baletrimentz, he stayed in Rabbi Shimshon’s home, and was provided with all of his needs. Before leaving the town, he blessed Rabbi Shimshon and his wife that Hakadosh Baruch Hu should grant them a son who would light up the eyes of klal Yisrael with his Torah. The brachah of this tzaddik was fulfilled when Rabbi Shimshon and his wife gave birth to a son and named him ‘Meir Simchah’, after the tzaddik Rabbi Meir of Tiktin.

In the year 5616 when he became bar mitzvah his father took him to Eisishok to learn Torah from Hagaon Rabbi Moshe Danishevski ztz”l. In the year 5620, when he was seventeen years old, Rabbi Meir Simchah married the daughter of the wealthy Reb Tzvi Paltiel of Bialystok, who was a great supporter and admirer of talmidei chachomim. For several years he was supported in the house of his father-in-law, and his wife also engaged in business, in order to enable her husband to devote himself entirely to Torah. Once he mentioned with a smile that; “He Who gives life gives sustenance” – alluding to his wife, whose name was Chaya, who provided the family with its livelihood.

The diligence of Rabbi Meir Simchah was astounding to behold. On long winter nights he would learn throughout the night, whilst standing on his feet, closeted in the ladies’ gallery of the beis medrash, totally immersed in the great sea of Talmud. He was entirely detached from this material world, and never for one moment did he take his attention away from his obligation to learn constantly. Nevertheless, he had a custom not to leave the shul on Shabbos night until he had arranged for all the poor visitors to town to be hosted by local families for their Shabbos meals.

In the year 5648, Hagaon Rabbi Reuven Halevi Dienburger ztz”l, the Av Beis Din of Dvinsk, was niftar, and Hagaon Rabbi Yaakov of Zhodjer came to eulogise him. After he had finished speaking, he turned to the members of the Dvinsk community and suggested to them that they appoint Rabbi Meir Simchah to fill the place left vacated by Hagaon Rabbi Reuven ztz”l. Hagaonim Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik (the Beis haLevi) of Brisk and Rabbi Yitzchak Diskin ztz”l added their support of Rabbi Meir Simchah, and in that same year Rabbi Meir Simchah was indeed appointed as rav of Dvinsk.

Rabbi Meir Simchah served the Jewish community of Dvinsk for some forty years, and he was beloved by the members of all the various groups in the town. Rabbi Meir Simchah lived in great poverty and did not desire to be beholden to others. His custom was also not to accept any payment for executing the mechiras chametz. Once, a meeting of all the community heads of Dvinsk was held, at which it was decided to increase the salary of the rav. Rabbi Meir Simchah objected to this, saying that his existing salary was adequate for his needs, and he refused to accept any increase. Any monies that he received in the post he would return to their sender. On the occasion that he did not know the identity of the sender, he would donate the money to tzedokah.

Rabbi Meir Simchah was one who could count himself among the students of Aharon haKohen, being someone who loved peace and pursued it, loving all fellow-men and endeavouring to bring them closer to Torah. In addition, he exerted himself with all his might to make peace between couples experiencing marital strife, and on many occasions he was indeed successful in restoring marital harmony to couples who had been on the brink of divorce. He was also often called upon to assist new couples experiencing friction at the start of their married life together. And this was notwithstanding his being entirely devoted to the study of Torah – he was aware of every communal need and active in raising the banner of Torah at every opportunity. He would take part in many committees and meetings of rabbonim in Peterburg, Vilna and other areas.

When the Russian government decided to introduce the study of the Russian language into the curriculum of the Volozhiner Yeshivah, gedolei Yisrael gathered to discuss this development and decide how they should respond to it. Rabbi Yisrael Meir haKohen of Radin (the author of the Mishnah Berurah) was of the opinion that it was best to close down the yeshivah entirely, but Rabbi Meir Simchah argued that it was possible to continue to operate the yeshivah. The Mishnah Berurah suspected that Rabbi Meir Simchah had been offended by his words, and as a gesture of appeasement he deviated from his custom of not bringing references from contemporary gedolim in his work, and he made a reference to Rabbi Meir Simchah. (Biur Halachah, siman 585, words beginning “Vetov litko’a b’tzad yemin.”)

By the year 5662, some fourteen years after having been appointed as rav of Dvinsk, Rabbi Meir Simchah had managed to accumulate a sizeable sum set aside from his meager salary which he intended to use for the printing of his great work ‘Ohr Somayach’ on the Rambam. Three volumes of this sefer were indeed published during his lifetime in Warsaw, and the final volume was printed after his petirah in the city of Riga by the Gaon Av Beis Din of Riga, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Jak ztz”l. The sefer ‘Meshech Chochmah’ on the Torah was also prepared for publication by Harav Jak a year after the petirah of Rabbi Meir Simchah, who had given him the manuscripts when he had travelled to Riga for recuperation. Apart from his monumental work on Rambam, Rabbi Meir Simchah also composed chiddushim on all the masechtos of Shas, but many of his manuscripts were lost in the Holocaust which all but wiped out European Jewry. Only a few of his chiddushim on several masechtos were salvaged and were later published.

During the forty years that he was rav in Dvinsk, Rabbi Meir Simchah wrote thousands of teshuvos to virtually every community of the diaspora, on halachic matters and also on other questions in learning. Unfortunately, these too were lost during the Holocaust years. In the seforim of his that were preserved, he mentions these teshuvos on numerous occasions. In the year 5666 he was offered the position of rav of Yerushalayim, but to the delight of his community, the people of Dvinsk, he refused to consider the request.

Rabbi Meir Simchah was greatly esteemed among the community and all the townspeople – even by the maskilim and the non-Jews of Dvinsk. They knew how to value the piety and greatness of the rav who lived in their midst. The former head of the Mossad, Isser Harel (Halperin) who lived in Dvinsk during his youth, described in his book ‘Security and Democracy’ a particular incident that made a great stir in town. During one of the rainy winters in Dvinsk the local river overran its banks and the waters threatened to wash away the town itself along with its inhabitants. Then the figure of Rabbi Meir Simchah appeared who went up to a high place and davened a quiet prayer to the Creator of the world, that He should have mercy on the town and its inhabitants. And then, behold – a wonder – just a short while afterwards, the waters began to recede, and the town of Dvinsk was saved from a potentially great tragedy. This incident brought about a great kiddush Hashem among the gentile inhabitants of the town, who saw that great wonders occurred when the Jews called on the name of their L-rd.

During the First World War, many of the residents of Dvinsk fled the town, but Rabbi Meir Simchah stayed in his home, saying that as long as there were nine other male Jews left in Dvinsk he would remain in order to complete a minyan for prayer. Rabbi Meir Simchah had one daughter who married one of the great scholars of Poland, Rabbi Avraham Luftbier of Warsaw. Rabbi Meir Simchah had a very great affection for him but to his great sorrow, he did not merit to enjoy their special relationship for long. On Isru Chag Pesach of the same year Rabbi Avraham was niftar and Rabbi Meir Simchah mourned him greatly.

In the year 5686 Rabbi Meir Simchah’s wife Chaya was niftar, shortly before his own petirah. It is recounted that Rabbi Meir Simchah prostrated himself on her aron and said in these precise words; “Chaya, Chaya – do not worry – before this year is over I will join you.” At the beginning of his sefer ‘Ohr Somayach’ he wrote; “a memorial to the soul of the rebbetzin Chaya, the modest and pious who was renowned for her pious ways, a woman who feared Hashem – the lady Chaya who went to her eternal sweet rest and was niftar on the 27th of Tammuz in the year 5686, may her soul be bound up in everlasting light.”

In the summer of 5686 at the age of eighty-three Rabbi Meir Simchah fell ill and in the month of Av he went to Riga to consult with the physicians there. His disease was discovered to be fatal, and in the month of Ellul, on a Shabbos night, he returned his soul to Heaven. On Sunday morning all the necessary preparations were made to transport the aron from Riga to Dvinsk. At five o’clock the train departed for Dvinsk and the levayah continued on its way to the home of Rabbi Meir Simchah. Since he had passed away without leaving sons after him, he had instructed his close friend Hagaon Rabbi Yosef Rozin, known as the Rogatchover Gaon (who was the rav of the chassidish community in Dvinsk) to set down his aron in his home and then to lift it up, in order to give his home the status of a house of mourning. Rabbi Meir Simchah had also requested that a minyan of Jews should be in his home next to the aron, and that they should receive condolences as if they were mourning relatives. The levayah then proceeded on its way to the beis hachaim, and at a late hour that night the great Kohen, the gaon of the generation and its great light, Rabbeinu Meir Simchah haKohen ztz”l, was laid to rest.