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Feb242017

AN OUTSTANDING CHASSID IN TORAH, T’FILLA AND G’MILLAS CHASSADIM

Thousands of his students accompanied the gaon and Chassid, Rabbi Meir Tzvi Gruzman ah on his final journey. For nearly sixty years he served as teacher and rosh yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad. * Along with his genius in Torah, he was venerated for his lofty character. He had a smile for everyone and his sensitive heart was alert and open to any suffering.

By A. D. Mur

Among the thousands in attendance at the funeral of Rabbi Meir Tzvi Gruzman ah, who passed away at the age of 83, were rabbanim, mashpiim, roshei yeshivos, and members of battei din. Many of them were the students of the veteran Chabad rosh yeshiva. RGruzman, who was known affectionately by all as RMunke, was without a doubt a unique Chassidic personality with an old world flavor, permeated with deep inner avoda and absolutely immersed in the world of Torah.

EARLY DAYS

R’ Gruzman was born in the Soviet Union on 17 Shevat 5694. His parents were R’ Mordechai and Mrs. Pella nee Berger. From the earliest age he absorbed the Chassidic experience in a very deep way. When he was ten he lived with his family in Samarkand where he imbibed in large measure the Chassidishe atmosphere from the great Chassidim who lived there. He would daven sometimes in R’ Yisroel Noach’s minyan, as he later recounted:

“On Shabbos I would go to R’ Yisroel Noach’s [Blinitzky] house, in order to see the Chassidim daven with avoda. R’ Yisroel Noach himself davened in the first minyan that began at 9:00 and ended at 11:00. Only after the first minyan ended did the minyan of the ovdim begin.

“In this minyan there was an extremely rarified atmosphere. During the t’fillos nobody paid attention to their daily suffering. The Chassidim, who were educated in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Lubavitch, were immersed in their davening like in the good days. The house consisted of one room with a small, narrow hallway. There was a knitting machine in the room from which R’ Yisroel Noach barely eked out a living. The machine took up a quarter of the room and there were beds on the sides of the room. While the ovdim davened, R’ Yisroel Noach and his wife sat at a narrow table for the Shabbos meal. In the middle, in the space left between the beds, the machine and the table, about fifteen Chassidim packed in who davened at length and with d’veikus.”

In 5708, his family was able to escape Russia and move to Eretz Yisroel. Leaving the Soviet Union entailed great danger. “The expenses for this escape were large,” he recounted many years later. “First, we had to pay for the trip to Lvov and then pay for forged documents, etc. The family’s financial situation during the war was terrible, which is why my father did not initially join those traveling to Lvov. When R’ Yisroel Noach heard that he wasn’t planning on going, he convinced him to go to Lvov where money for the trip would be arranged for him. Thanks to his persuasion, we went to Lvov and then left the Soviet Union, being freed forevermore from communist confinement.”

R’ Mordechai Gruzman settled in Ramat Gan and founded the first Chabad shul there, while his son who was fourteen was sent to learn in Yeshivas Achei T’mimim in Tel Aviv. “When I arrived at the yeshiva as a fourteen-year-old, R’ Chanzin was the maggid shiur. He gave a shiur klali in Nigleh. I remember him as an outstanding lamdan with a sharp mind. When he read the Gemara, he would incorporate into his explanation the elucidations of the various commentators on the topic. I loved to hear his deeply analytic shiurim.

“For us, the students who came from Russia at that time, this kind of learning was a novelty. This was because in Russia there weren’t s’farim for every student, and each class learned somewhere else, while in Eretz Yisroel all the classes learned in the same building and each of us had his own Gemara.

“Aside from his genius, I was captivated by his special regard for every student; a feeling of respect and closeness.”

FROM TOP STUDENT TO EXPERT MASHPIA

The mashpia in the yeshiva at that time was the Chassid, R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman. R’ Shlomo Chaim would draw close those students who were gifted, and that appears to be why he gave special attention to young Meir Gruzman who was treated especially fondly by R’ Shlomo Chaim. They even shared a room on those nights when R’ Shlomo Chaim slept in the yeshiva dormitory.

In an interview that was held with R’ Gruzman about his relationship with R’ Shlomo Chaim, R’ Gruzman refused to say much. Nevertheless, he answered the interviewer’s question about what, more than anything else, in his opinion, contributed to R’ Shlomo Chaim’s having so many mushpaim who “received” from him in such a deep and unique fashion as compared to the other mashpiim of that generation:

“His special quality was that he was someone who served Hashem. When a Jew serves Hashem, he has love and fear of Hashem and he consequently has Ahavas Yisroel. R’ Shlomo Chaim loved every bachur, took a genuine interest in them, and really cared. Everyone felt this and this was his special quality.”

R’ Gruzman also remembered something unique about R’ Shlomo Chaim which was that he remained awake Thursday nights under any and all circumstances. This was an instruction that he got from the Rebbe Rashab and he was particular about carrying it out.

GEMARA TEACHER IN THE YESHIVA AS A BACHUR

Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Pardes-Lud was founded in 5709 and when, in the summer of 5711, Yeshivas Achei T’mimim of Tel Aviv merged with Tomchei T’mimim in Lud, R’ Shlomo Chaim and Meir Gruzman also moved there.

Being a bachur, R’ Munke was one of the founders of the periodical Pardes HaTamim (which ended up having only one issue, in 5714). The single issue was published under the chief editorship of Rabbi Boruch Shimon Schneersohn, later rosh yeshiva in Tchebin in Yerushalayim. At that time, he was rosh yeshiva in Lud. At the beginning of the issue was a letter from the editors which called upon rabbanim to send their comments and questions. It was signed by R’ Meir Tzvi Gruzman and another two well-known Chabad rabbanim, R’ M. Y. Landau and R’ Y. Friedman. This demonstrates how their talents were already outstanding at that time.

In Bitaon Chabad we find some insight into the qualities of the young R’ Gruzman, in that when he became engaged on 8 Nissan 5715, it says, “Tenaim were held for Mordechai Tzvi Gruzman with the daughter of R’ Yosef Schneersohn a”h. The groom is one of the outstanding students of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim Lubavitch in Lud.” A few months later it reported about the wedding and noted that “The groom is one of the outstanding students in the Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim Lud and now serves as a teacher in one of the yeshiva’s divisions.” The fact that even before he was married R’ Gruzman was appointed to teach in the yeshiva, testifies to his exceptional abilities.

When the yeshiva moved from Lud to Kfar Chabad in 5723, the mashpia, R’ Kesselman and the rosh yeshiva, R’ Yisroel Grossman, and the maggid shiur, R’ Gruzman, moved too. R’ Gruzman was later appointed as menahel ruchni and as one of the Roshei Yeshiva.

He continued giving shiurim to the talmidim in Kfar Chabad until his final years. Thousands of students were impacted by him over sixty years, during which he not only gave shiurim but also farbrenged with the bachurim and strengthened them in avodas ha’t’filla and hiskashrus to the Rebbe.

THE REBBE’S
STRONG DESIRE

The most important thing to R’ Gruzman was his talmidim. Even when he had a private audience with the Rebbe, a significant part of the time was devoted to discussing the education and guidance of the talmidim.

One year, in the 1970’s, he had yechidus in the course of which the Rebbe told him about his strong desire that the T’mimim be proficient in Nigleh. R’ Gruzman told about this yechidus on many occasions. The following is a summary of what he said:

“When I went in for yechidus, the Rebbe spoke to me about our yeshivos not being developed enough in quantitative achievement, as compared to non-Chabad yeshivos. When I said that they follow the idea of learning “not for its own sake,” which might be why they were more successful in this area, the Rebbe said we can also have a Chassidic version of “not for its own sake,” i.e., to use the understanding of Torah for other purposes. So for example, when bachurim travel on Merkos Shlichus, if they know how to learn then they can go to the local rav and talk to him in learning, and then the hafatza will be altogether different.

“As we spoke, the Rebbe said that a bachur who does not know Shaagas Aryeh (and the Rebbe mentioned the names of other s’farim but R’ Gruzman did not remember which ones), desecrates the name of the holy Baal Shem Tov, the Rav HaMaggid, the Alter Rebbe until the Rebbe, the shver! That is what the Rebbe said in that yechidus …

“The Rebbe said there are bachurim who are very involved in the haskala (intellectual grasp) of Chassidus. Thus, they need to know that you can only understand Chassidus well when you understand Nigleh well. Otherwise, you cannot understand Chassidus. The Rebbe added that although in Lubavitch there were great Chassidim who did not know Nigleh well, they were exceptions. But Torah speaks of the majority and you generally cannot understand Chassidus without understanding Nigleh.

“Before traveling home, I had yechidus again and I wrote two points: 1) about speaking to the bachurim about learning Nigleh “not for its own sake” in order to be successful in hafatza and to understand Chassidus well, and 2) since hiskashrus to the Rebbe “speaks” to the bachurim, should that angle be exploited in the efforts to get them to learn.

“The Rebbe took a long time reading my note even though he usually read these notes very quickly. He said, ‘“Not for its own sake?” They need to learn for its own sake! But when they are not successful in learning for its own sake, at least they should learn for this.’ As far as what I wrote about hiskashrus, the Rebbe said, ‘Hiskashrus means carrying out what the meshaleiach wants. What I want is for the bachurim to be excitedly immersed in learning Nigleh.’

“The Rebbe used a few terms about ratzon to express his desire, and when I left, I could not remember them all. The Rebbe used phrases like ratzon p’nimi, ratzon atzmi, and other similar expressions. These are all deep and lofty levels of will that express how deeply the Rebbe wants a bachur to learn a lot of Nigleh.

“You can inspire a bachur to love to learn Torah and mainly Nigleh of Torah whether for success in mivtzaim, success in the study of Chassidus, and mainly, to connect to the Rebbe, because by learning Nigleh one fulfills his will (p’nimi, atzmi, etc.).”

THE FIRST CHARTER

Another interesting way-station in the life of R’ Meir Tzvi Gruzman is his participation in the first charter flight organized by Lubavitcher Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel. It was arranged for Tishrei 5720.

In an interview, R’ Gruzman shared some of his memories from this exciting experience. He said that Chassidim were very excited. Most of them had never seen the Rebbe before and knowing how Chassidim in Lubavitch of yore had prepared before seeing the Rebbe, they also began to purify their thoughts and speech and were as involved as possible in Torah, t’filla and farbrenging, because – we are off to see the Rebbe!

One stopover was at the airport in Paris. Since it was a planned stopover, a large crowd of Anash in France went to meet the Israeli passengers at the terminal. For some reason, the local authorities did not allow the passengers to join those who came to welcome them. They could see one another, since the passengers waited downstairs and those who went to greet them could see them through the glass windows upstairs, but they could not join them.

In any case, they were very joyous and while the Chassidim were dancing down below, Anash from France began dancing upstairs. It was an extraordinary sight that was engraved in the hearts of whoever was there. R’ Gruzman had a special memory of R’ Yisroel Noach HaGadol (Blinitzky), who also came to welcome the passengers from Eretz Yisroel, and clapped and danced enthusiastically. “He was very emotional and he rejoiced to see us traveling to the Rebbe,” concluded R’ Gruzman.

The first maamer they heard from the Rebbe was, “Lecha Omar Libi,” and the Rebbe even allowed them to listen to a recording of the maamer even though, in those years, permission was not granted to publicize photos or recordings.

R’ Gruzman told the interviewer, “The maamer can be summed up in words, but the experience of being there, seeing the Rebbe and hearing him speak as he said the maamer, cannot be conveyed, certainly not in writing.”

GLOWING COUNTENANCE

Along with his greatness in Nigleh which can be seen somewhat in his work Imrei Tzvi on the tractate Shabbos, R’ Gruzman was a man of avoda p’nimis exactly as R’ Shlomo Chaim taught his mushpaim.

R’ Munke spent hours on avodas ha’t’filla, and even had a special room in his home for this. In the early years of his working for the yeshiva, when he would farbreng with the bachurim more often, he would demand that they be involved in service of the heart.

Along with his greatness in Torah, being a talmid chacham and oved Hashem, he was a genius in noble character traits and receiving every person graciously, no matter whom, when or where. Many remember his pleasant manner of speaking with every person, and his shiurim delivered to Anash in Kfar Chabad which were always said calmly and smilingly.

I think that in this arena, he elevated himself to very high levels, even though many were unaware of his greatness in giving and chesed. This was because he did so quietly, modestly, far from the limelight. He modeled the trait that Chassidim wished to acquire, “a chush (sense/talent) in doing a favor for a Jew.”

R’ Gruzman was a person that many turned to, Lubavitchers and not Lubavitchers. They considered him wise and attentive. In addition to his official job as one of the roshei yeshiva of Tomchei T’mimim, he was an educational, marriage, and financial adviser. His phone number was known to all, and without screeners many people found him to be a source of comfort and counsel.

His wisdom and life experience produced creative solutions in every area, but the greatest assistance he provided was in the very act of listening. He was a master listener. People could unburden themselves to him for hours and he would sit and listen. And it wasn’t that he was indifferent, G-d forbid; it was an active listening with care and empathy, and that alone solved half the problem.

Rabbi Levi Epstein, a shliach in Hod HaSharon, relates:

“In recent years, I was in regular contact with R’ Gruzman and witnessed his special touch when it came to doing a favor for another Jew. He never conveyed a feeling to those who came to him for help that they were a bother. On the contrary, they felt like part of the family and considered him like a grandfather. His greatness was such that he reciprocated by attending their simchas and accompanied them through each step as though he was part of their families.

“A few months ago, R’ Gruzman called me and asked me to get involved with someone. I expressed my reservations saying I was afraid it would intrude on my peace of mind and suck me in. R’ Gruzman listened and said, ‘And what do you think? From whom can we ask for help, from someone who doesn’t get sucked into the problem? It’s the sensitive people, who are bothered by other people’s suffering, who should get involved in helping them.’

“I think that that line epitomizes R’ Gruzman himself. He was sensitive to the suffering of all who turned to him, and their problems really bothered him. Their pain is what got him to help, without personal consideration and without asking for anything in exchange. In fact, just this past year I found out about an amazing story, in which R’ Gruzman exerted himself to travel to the far north of the country to meet with a Jew who got himself into a problem situation.”

His grandson, Mendy Gruzman, tells the story:

“During the Shiva, I heard about a family that Saba knew personally, who lived in a city far from Kfar Chabad. A few months ago, Saba became aware that the family was having serious shalom bayis problems. Saba tried to engage the father of the family in order to discuss the issue with him, but the fellow avoided any discussion and would not answer his phone calls. Saba put aside his personal honor and made a special trip to that distant city, spent a few hours in the home and would not leave until peace was restored.”

Regarding his sensitivity to every person, a family relative, Mendy Zajac, shared the following:

“I remember the first piece in his work Imrei Tzvi, which I learned when I arrived in the yeshiva in Migdal HaEmek. I enjoyed the clear reasoning and was happy with the fact that the author was the grandfather of my cousin.

“One day, I traveled to Kfar Chabad, and my cousin who had just arrived there from the yeshiva in Cholon, invited me to join him to visit the home of his Saba and Savta. I agreed and somewhat hesitantly entered the home together with him. I expected in advance that I would be showered with questions by Savta Chaya, but I totally did not expect to meet the Rav.

“As soon as I entered, R’ Munke exited his side room [the room that my cousin had told me amazing things about, where he sat and davened and learned], and he bumped right into me and his grandson. I did not expect him to interact with me directly overmuch, but R’ Munke approached me with interest, asking who I was and where I learned. When he heard that I learned in Migdal HaEmek, he reentered his room and came out with a copy of his work which had just been printed in a new edition, and asked if I could take one to R’ Goldberg.

“As I stood there somewhat overcome by the shower of personal attention [we are talking about a sixteen-year-old from Brazil standing and conversing casually with a respected Rosh Yeshiva], he went back to the room a second time and came out with another copy and handed it to me. ‘Actually, take a copy for yourself too,’ he said to me, ‘I am sure R’ Goldberg won’t be jealous.’

“I can still recall how moved I was at that moment, holding in my hands the two volumes that R’ Gruzman had handed along with the warm feeling in my heart.

“That is what he was like, not only a tremendous Torah scholar, an esteemed rosh yeshiva, a deep and inward oved Hashem who invested many hours in davening and learning, but before all that he was a great man who would talk to everybody as an equal, and did so naturally and simply, while truly relating to each individual.”

R’ Refael Heruti recounts the period when he was renewing his t’shuva process after having backslid, and he was still beset with doubts and ambivalence: “That Shabbos – Shabbos Mevarchim Elul – one year exactly from my first Shabbos in Kfar Chabad, I participated in a farbrengen for the bachurim that took place after davening. Suddenly, in middle of the farbrengen, the mashpia R’ Munke Gruzman turned to me and said, ‘It is time for you to come out of hiding.’ ‘I already came out,’ I answered with satisfaction, and he seemed truly happy and told me to say ‘l’chaim.’ Afterwards, he spoke for a long time to the bachurim about how a new bachur who is first coming close to Judaism and Chassidus goes through a process of completely reinventing himself relative to his prior situation, whereas a regular bachur is only asked for a small drop of change to his character and habits, to add here and there another mitzva or an enhancement, and still and all we see that the bachurim have a hard time with this.”

The residents of Kfar Chabad became accustomed to seeing R’ Munke in his utter simplicity. In the morning you could see him carrying home a bag of groceries that he purchased at the local market. With a measured pace, a bit lost in thought, he would walk leisurely without showing any signs of tiredness or weakness. He always rejected any offers of assistance in carrying his packages. This was something that was simply out of the question for him.

R’ Gruzman was a model of modest self-containment in his everyday behavior. His students testify that they never saw him agitated or angry, or raising his voice to a student or any other person. We might say that “his inside was like his outside” and “his outside was like his inside,” and his inner world found outward expression in the most honest and straightforward manner possible.

R’ Gruzman is survived by his wife Chaya, and their children Rabbi Yosef Yisroel Gruzman, Rabbi Yitzchok Gruzman (Rishon L’Tziyon, Israel), Rabbi Shmuel Gruzman (Teveria, Israel), Rabbi Sholom Dovber Gruzman (Vienna, Austria), Rabbi Shneur Zalman (Tzfas, Israel), Rabbi Moshe Gruzman (Rishon L’Tziyon, Israel), Mrs. Shoshanna Zaiantz (S. Paulo, Brazil) and Mrs. Yaffa Reichmann (Modiin, Israel).



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