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

Rabi Yisrael Meir HaKohen of Radin

Rabban shel kol bnei haGolah – the Torah leader of the entire Jewish people in his day – the Chofetz Chaim fought unceasingly for the glory of Torah and the strengthening of Yiddishkeit – named the Chofetz Chaim for his work of that name – also the author of the Mishnah Berurah which has become a definitive work of halachah.

Avi Lazar 14/09/2009 17:30
Rabi Yisrael Meir haKohen of Radin was born in the year 5598 in the village of Zhetil to his father, Reb Aryeh Zev. In the year 5608, when he was just ten years of age, he travelled to learn in Vilna. In the year 5613, when he was fifteen years of age, his father was niftar, and friends of his father then took care of his needs for a number of years. His brother, Reb Aharon, who was nine years older than him, became his main teacher in those years of his youth. His mother remarried and went to live in the village of Bela-Radin.

Since his name had already gained renown while he was yet a bachur, many wealthy men desired him as a son-in-law. When his step-sister, the daughter of his new stepfather, was suggested to him as a possible match, his brother opposed the shidduch on the grounds that the stepfather had not offered a particularly large dowry. Reb Yisrael Meir, however, realised that the matter was impinging on the shalom bayis of his mother and her new husband, and did agree to accept his stepfather's offer. In later years he was heard to say that it was possible that if he had married the daughter of one of the rich men who had sought him, he would have later been forced to enter their business and travel around the towns and villages as part of his duties – and what would then have become of him? Perhaps it was only in the little town of Radin that he was able to grow to such heights of Torah.

Reb Yisrael Meir was greatly influenced by his teacher Rabi Nachum’ke of Horodna, who was one of the recognised tzaddikim of Lithuania. In the year 5629, when Reb Yisrael Meir was thirty-one years of age, he founded his yeshivah in Radin. The talmidim who came to learn there were known as ‘perushim’ (those separated from the material world) owing to their disregard for the vanities of this world and their total dedication to learning Torah. Reb Yisrael Meir was determined not to accept any salary from a position of a rav, and he supported himself from the sale of his seforim and from the income of his small grocery store. This store, which he opened together with his wife, was only open for half a day, in order not to take away too much business from competing storekeepers, who also needed to make a living…

Reb Yisrael Meir's major work was the Mishnah Berurah on the Shulchan Aruch, section Orach Chaim, in which he elucidated and explained the opinions of most of the Acharonim, at the conclusion of which he brought his opinion on the correct ruling. In his own commentary, the Biur Halachah, he brought proofs from the Gemara and the Rishonim to explain his conclusions. His great tzidkus was widely acknowledged – yet despite this great masterpiece of halachic literature, his amazing strengths in Torah itself were not widely recognised during his lifetime. Yet if one peruses his Biur Halachah, his great cognitive abilities are clearly apparent, and he did eventually gain recognition as a great ‘uprooter of mountains’ for his great depth of learning.

Reb Yisrael Meir laboured intensively for years on the Mishnah Berurah – it was the product of almost three decades of effort. During those years he finished Shas tens of times, before he merited to see his halachic work published. On one occasion, he learned a particular law for many hours with his son, at the conclusion of which merely a brief entry in the Biur Halachah emerged. His son was greatly pained at this: “We invested so much effort in this,” he protested to his father, “and people will learn it without giving it a second thought.” Reb Yisrael Meir answered him, that when the railway tracks had been laid in the vicinity of Radin, he had seen how tens of workers had laboured on the project for many long days. Yet the train flies past each day….but imagine what would happen if even just one part of the track had not been properly laid…”

Despite the fact that the Mishnah Berurah was purely a halachic work, nevertheless, between the carefully chosen words of Reb Yisrael Meir can be detected words of mussar, especially on the topics of modesty and sufficing with the minimum from this material world. Reb Yisrael Meir merited that this work become accepted among the entire Jewish people and his words studied as intently as those of the Rishonim – and there are those who attribute this phenomenon to the fact that for all of his years, he meticulously guarded his speech from slander and malicious tale-bearing. Thus his own careful measuring of each word that exited his mouth resulted in his own written words being treasured, each one of them as a measured and valuable item. There are few religious Jewish households, not to mention synagogues, without a set of Mishnah Berurah in them – talmidei chachomim and simple Jews alike, from the greatest minds to beginners – all learn the works of Reb Yisrael Meir. Many even have a fixed study session for the learning of Mishnah Berurah, and any person with a question on psak halachah knows to immediately refer to his authoritative work for a reliable ruling. In the context of Gemara study on sections related to Orach Chaim, the Mishnah Berurah is an indispensable study aid to in-depth comprehension of the topic. The Mishnah Berurah has been so widely accepted as a fundamental text that today one can find editions with commentaries by various later gedolim – and who is greater in our recent times than Maran haChazon Ish, who stated that the Mishnah Berurah is “like the Sanhedrin seated in the Chamber of Hewed Stone.”

Reb Yisrael Meir was himself, understandably, extremely meticulous in his observance of halachah. It is related that once, a Jew requested of his son Reb Leib that he tell him a case of when the verse ‘a tzaddik decrees and HaKadosh Baruch Hu executes’ was fulfilled through his father. Reb Leib answered that that was not an indicator of his father's greatness – rather, one should consider the opposite, that ‘HaKadosh Baruch Hu decrees and the tzaddik executes’…

Reb Yisrael Meir realised that religious Jews were not being sufficiently careful in their observance of the laws of slander and tale-bearing, and he attributed this to the fact that the galus had extended already for so long. In the year 5633, when he was thirty-five years old, he decided to set himself the task of remedying this situation, with the publication (anonymously) of his work ‘Chofetz Chaim’, named for the verse in Tehillim “Who is the one who desires life (chofetz chaim)…he should guard his tongue from speaking evil…” which delineated all the laws of loshon hora and rechilus. It is related that once, a Jew approached Reb Yisrael Meir and told him that since the publication of his work, it was no longer possible to speak at all, since so many prohibitions were printed there. Reb Yisrael Meir answered him that quite the opposite was true; until then, the man had been forbidden to speak, since he had been unaware of the laws of correct speech – now that he had been made aware of them, he was able to open his mouth safely.

In the year 5688, on his ninetieth birthday, Reb Yisrael Meir departed from his usual custom and made a seudas mitzvah – since he attributed his length of years to his adherence to the laws of proper speech, and thought it proper to publicise this. It was due to this scrupulousness that he earned the title ‘Chofetz Chaim’. Reb Yisrael Meir was a great supporter of the practice of making a personal accounting each day of the mitzvos and aveiros a person had committed that day, and he would express his wonder that whereas every little store had its account book in which everything was recorded, the great soul of a man was overlooked.

One of the great motivators of Reb Yisrael Meir throughout his life was his desire to sanctify Hashem’s Name. This he accomplished by his strengthening of Yiddishkeit in general, and by his stress on particular matters that needed in attention. When he realised that many young Jews were being forcibly conscripted into the army, where it was extremely difficult for them to adhere to the Torah and mitzvos, he composed the pamphlet-sized ‘Machaneh Yisrael’ on all the pertinent halachos for a Jew in such a situation. In the same vein, he also published other seforim on various other topics, such as ‘Ahavas Chessed’ on acts of kindness and ‘Nidchei Yisrael’ on returning to Torah observance. He also wrote many letters and various other compositions.

Reb Yisrael Meir was also renowned for his firm belief in the imminent coming of Moshiach and the Geulah Shleimah. With this in mind, he encouraged kohanim to learn Hilchos Kodshim, the laws of the sacrifices, since the Beis HaMikdash would surely soon be rebuilt and they would have to know how to properly fulfill their duties. In addition, Reb Yisrael Meir established a ‘Kollel Kodshim’ for study of the same, where many of his best talmidim learned, who later went on to become acclaimed gedolei Torah. He would also encourage the learning of sifrei Rishonim that dealt with the laws of the sacrifices, even if those seforim were infrequently learned as a rule, and saw to the publication of a pamphlet entitled ‘Shem Olam’ which contained words of mussar on that topic. It is related that near the door to his home stood a suitcase with Shabbos clothing inside, so that when the Melech haMoshiach arrived, he would be able to prepare himself to greet him swiftly. On one occasion, Reb Yisrael Meir heard cries coming from the street – “He’s coming! He’s coming!” and he was so convinced that this must be referring to the coming of Moshiach that he rushed to his suitcase to get himself ready…

Reb Yisrael Meir was a great warrior in the defence of Yiddishkeit. He participated in many gatherings, was one of the founders of ‘Agudas Yisrael’and stood behind many initiatives designed to raise high the banner of Torah and those who learn it. Chiefly, his role was to stand as the overall authority for the Torah world, and he felt this responsibility keenly, establishing many yeshivos and assisting in their upkeep. He was a great force in encouraging the study of Torah. Once he explained the tefillah of Rabi Nechunia ben Hakonah, as it is said; “They toil and we toil. We toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward.” He said that if a carpenter builds a beautiful table, he receives payment for the product of his labour and for his efforts – but if the table is not constructed properly, he will not receive payment, even if he put in the requisite amount of effort. However, for Torah one receives reward for the effort and not for the resulting product – and even if a Jew invests a whole day in attempting to comprehend a Tosefos, at the end of which he still does not understand it, he will still receive reward, since the reward for Torah is for the exertion and not for the ‘product’. This is what the words ‘we toil and receive reward’ mean.

Rabi Yisrael Meir was niftar at the age of ninety-three on the 24th of the month of Ellul in the year 5693. He merited that many of the seforim he authored find today a place in almost every seforim bookcase of Jews around the world.