יום רביעי י"ז בשבט תשפ"ב 19/01/2022
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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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  • 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

Trailblazer in the Desert: Rav Aharon Kotler zt’l

Rav Aharon Kotler was the founder of the Torah world in America, and the undisputed leader of American religious Jewry

Avi Lazar 19/11/2009 09:00
Rav Aharon Kotler was born in Savislovitz, Lithuania in the year 5652 (1892). His father Rav Schneur Zalman Pines served as Rav of the town. In his youth Rav Aharon learnt under Rav Zalman Sender Kahan-Shapira of Krinski. Whilst a young boy he was tragically orphaned of both his parents and he lived with relatives in the city of Minsk. There he grew close to Rav Rafael Reuven Grozovsky, who encouraged him to learn in Yeshivas Slobodka.

In Slabodka, Rav Aharon outshone himself with his tremendous diligence, his swift grasp and unusually sharp intellect. The Gaon Rav Meir Simcha haKohen of Dvinsk (the ‘Or Sameach’), was heard to say that Rav Aharon would be the future ‘Rabbi Akiva Eger’ of the generation.

The Ohr Sameach  

In the year 5674 (1914), at the age of twenty-two, he married the daughter of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Av Beis Din of Slutzk and Rosh Yeshivas Etz Chaim. This match came about when Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer approached Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the ‘Sabba of Slabodka’, and asked him for the best bachur in the Yeshiva to take as a son-in-law. Rav Nosson Tzvi did not hesitate and immediately pointed out Rav Aharon.

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer

After the wedding Rav Aharon began to deliver Shiurim in Yeshivas Etz Chaim in Slutzk, at whose helm stood his illustrious father-in-law. He also assisted his father-in-law in leading the congregation and dealing with issues that arose in the community. In the year 5681 (1921), when he was twenty-nine, Rav Aharon was forced to escape from the Communists together with a considerable number of students. They arrived in the town of Kletzk and there Rav Aharon continued to deliver Shiurim to the eager young men. Eventually the Yeshiva grew and flourished there, until it became one of the greatest Yeshivos of its time – both in quantity and quality.

Shortly thereafter (in 5685 / 1925), Rav Aharon Kotler became one of the founders of the ‘Vaad haYeshivos’ – a committee set up to provide help and assistance to the Yeshiva world. This committee is in existence until today. Rav Aharon worked on this project side by side with luminaries such as the Chafetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna and Rav Elchanan Wasserman. In addition, Rav Aharon was a member of the famous ‘Moetzes Gedolei haTorah’ of Agudas Yisrael, and participated in its historic assemblies.

Rav Elchanan Wasserman  

At the age of forty-one (in the year 5693 / 1933) Rav Aharon travelled to England, and three years later he made his way to the shores of America, to collect funds for his Yeshiva. Aside from his fundraising he also became involved in various spiritual matters regarding the communities in America. Out of a strong feeling of public responsibility, he looked into the situation of the Yeshiva world in America. Yeshivos were few and far between, and Rav Aharon consulted with Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (principal of Yeshivas Torah V’daas in New York), and suggested the idea of founding a type of ‘Kollel’ or ‘Beis Medrash for higher studies’, far from the large cities. In his vision, the purpose of the Yeshiva would not be for teaching Rabbanus, but for the solitary and lofty goal of producing Torah scholars who would learn without limit, and who would devote their entire lives solely to the study of Torah.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (right) []

After eleven months Rav Aharon Kotler returned to Europe, where he continued teaching Torah and delivering Shiurim which gained repute over the entire country. In the year 5701 (1941), after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Yeshiva wandered from Kletzk to Vilna which was still independent, and from there to Yanova – one of the suburbs of Vilna. Rav Aharon managed to flee to Japan, where he debated whether to immigrate to Palestine or travel to America. He decided to carry out a ‘Gorel haGra’ – (the lottery devised by the Vilna Gaon based on Pesukim in the Torah), and the verse that came up was from Sefer Shemos: “And Hashem told Aharon, go and meet Moshe in the desert”. Rav Aharon in his foresight interpreted this to indicate: And Hashem told Aharon Kotler, go to meet Rav Moshe Feinstein in the desert – the spiritual wilderness that typified the wastelands of America in those days. So it was, that Rav Aharon Kolter made his way from Japan to the bustling metropolis of New York.

In New York Rav Aharon Kotler immediately set to work with the ‘Vaad haHatzalah’, which had been formed by the leading Rabbanim of America for the purpose of saving as many Jews as possible from the Holocaust. From his position there he was able to assist his students who were scattered all over the world, from Uzbekistan until Shanghai, and even as far as Teheran, capital of Iran. Slowly a faint trickle of his former students from Kletzk arrived miraculously on American shores, at which point Rav Aharon decided to rebuild his Yeshiva. He chose the quiet town of Lakewood in New Jersey as an ideal location, since it was far from the bustling city life of New York, but near enough to be able to maintain contact with the larger Jewish community.

During that time Lakewood was known as a vacation resort. After Pesach of 5703 (1943), when Rav Aharon Kotler was fifty-one years of age, the Yeshiva of Lakewood opened its doors. Its original name was ‘Beth Medrash of Higher Study in America’, but the name evolved over the years into the well-known and beloved ‘Lakewood Yeshiva’. The kernel of the Yeshiva consisted of students and young married men who had been students of Rav Aharon in Kletzk, and who wished to continue their studies on foreign shores. Rav Aharon’s goal was to revive the old flavor of Kletzk and Slutzk, and to give birth to a new era in the Yeshiva movement in America. He wished to produce distinguished Torah scholars, great in Torah knowledge and fear of Heaven, who would in turn light up the landscape of Jewish America and influence their brethren with their piety and scholarliness.

And so it was – the will of Hashem prevailed, and Rav Aharon’s ambitious enterprise bore fruit. His Yeshiva became the father of Yeshivos in America – it was a Yeshiva that produced ‘Roshei Yeshiva’. The revolution that Rav Aharon Kotler implemented in America is awesome. There in the American melting pot, which screams materialism and worldly pleasures, there were barely those who believed in the success of any type of Yeshiva, even one which taught secular subjects alongside Torah study. Never did they dream of the success of a pure and holy Yeshiva, where Torah alone is taught in all its beauty with no distracting external studies. But Rav Aharon with his tireless zest and endless resourcefulness proved that the verse “…So that the Torah not be forgotten from the mouths of your children”, could be said about America too. At the end of his life, the Yeshiva numbered almost two hundred students.

Another area in which Rav Aharon Kotler invested his entire heart and soul was the founding of the ‘Chinuch Atzmai’ in Eretz Yisrael – an educational body that deals with the schooling of thousands of children. There are those who claim that he devoted himself more to the Chinuch Atzmai than to his own Yeshiva. Rav Aharon took no regard for his honor or his time, when it came to amassing funds for the Chinuch Atzmai.

Rav Aharon was also heavily involved in the Agudas Yisrael movement, and whenever there was an election campaign in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Aharon would travel there in order to impress upon the people the importance of a religious vote. Rav Aharon would say that Election Day is more critical than Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, since in the Days of Awe we are judged for only one year whereas Election Day sets the tone for the coming four years – and the losses that can accumulate in those four years cannot be recouped even in twenty years. (In the words of the tzaddik himself: Election Day is the day of judgement for generations to come.)

 
Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz  [צלם]

At the end of his life, Rav Aharon Kotler lay sick and weak in bed. At one point he lost consciousness for a while, and from then on had to be fed intravenously. As a result his mouth became painfully dry and he could barely speak. But the doctors did not allow him to taste a morsel, not even a drop of water. One day a junior doctor came by and said that he would allow the Tzaddik to suck a candy, which would relieve some of the pain. The student who was taking care of Rav Aharon at the time was elated and told the news to Rav Aharon. But Rav Aharon answered him with great exertion: Wait, I wish to keep this candy for Shabbos. That was not Friday, nor Thursday… it was still Wednesday. In the meantime a senior doctor came by to examine Rav Aharon, and after the test declared that had he tasted the candy, he would have been in danger of death…

Rav Aharon Kotler passed away at the age of seventy-one, on the 2nd of Kislev 5723 (1962). His place at the helm of the Yeshiva was filled by his son, Rav Schneur Zalman Kotler. Today the Yeshiva is led by the Tzaddik’s grandson, Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, along with three other Roshei Yeshiva who assist him in this mammoth task. Lakewood Yeshiva is considered the largest Yeshiva in American, and perhaps even in the entire world. There are over five-thousand students and young married men who learn in countless study halls, keeping the torch of Torah blazing strong in these turbulent times preceding the arrival of Mashiach.
Beis Midrash Hagadol-Lakewood Yeshiva [צלם]