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The Chabad community in Eretz Yisroel recently mourned the passing of the Gaon and Chassid, RZev Dov Slonim, member of the Beis Din of Rabbanei Chabad in the Holy Land and rav of Merkaz Hair (the City Center) in Yerushalayim. * Beis Moshiach offers some brief biographical notes describing this unique personality, who avoided the spotlight and integrated brilliant scholarship with true concern for the public welfare, maintained an open home for every downtrodden and needy person, and did it all with modesty, a genuine smile and captivating warmth. * Additionally, the family agreed to share with Beis Moshiach some anecdotes of his early years in Yerushalayim of old. * The child that Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel promised in a dream, the consent of the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir to learn Tanya, and why he was asked, as a ten year old, to come to yeshiva wearing a suit.

By Zalman Tzorfati

R’ Slonim was known for his brilliant scholarship, and for his tremendous diligence in Torah study from a very young age. Over the years, he published a number of scholarly works on halacha and on the Parsha, which he authored as a result of a direct instruction that he received from the Rebbe.

In 5739/1979, R’ Slonim was appointed to the Beis Din of Rabbanei Chabad with the Rebbe’s blessing. In this role, he accomplished a great deal in helping establish and expand Chabad mosdos in the Holy Land, while being extremely careful to avoid the spotlight.

One of the most famous initiatives was the publication of the famous Chitas, which has become a basic accessory for every Chabad Chassid: “In the year 5741, in order to strengthen and make easier the fulfillment of the institution of the Rebbe Rayatz, Hashem placed the idea in my heart to publish a volume that would include the five books of the Torah, T’hillim and Tanya, in order to stimulate and energize the study of Chitas. Obviously, the first thing that I did was to send a letter to the Rebbe in which I wrote to him about the idea. Before making any move, I waited for a response, since I knew that the Rebbe had opposed in the past any changes in the publication of the Tanya. How great was my joy when I merited that the Rebbe responded to the letter and wrote, ‘The thing is proper.’ At that moment the project was launched, and we started to work on printing the Chitas in its current form. 

“It was in the year of the passing of my father, HaRav HaChassid R’ Yehuda Leib z”l, and I published this volume as an elevation for his neshama. Boruch Hashem, a great merit fell to my lot, and the idea was quickly embraced among the entirety of Anash, and has become an inseparable part of each individual who associates with Chabad. And today, in every home and every car of Chabad Chassidim in the entire world, you can find the Chitas alongside a tz’daka pushka.”

In his official capacity, R’ Slonim served as the rav of the Merkaz Ha’ir section in Yerushalayim, an important and central position in Jewish life in the holy city. This role included responsibility for the full range of services relating to the practice of Judaism in the center of this holy and unique city. Aside from seeing to the spiritual needs of the people as was his job, he also did a tremendous amount of work in matters of chesed and providing for the needy. His home was always open to every dependent and needy person, and he greeted everyone pleasantly, with a genuine smile and tremendous warmth.

* * *

R’ Zev Dov Slonim was born on 21 Tammuz 5694/1934, to one of the most distinguished Chabad families. His father, R’ Yehuda Leib Slonim, was a direct descendant of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel Slonim, daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe and granddaughter of the Alter Rebbe. He was given the name Zev Dov after his grandfather, R’ Zev Dov Slonim, who had served as the rav of the Chabad community in Chevron.

In the Slonim family, there is told an awesome story in connection with his birth. His parents had an only son by the name of Tzvi Hirsh, who was blessed with outstanding intellectual gifts. Tragically, Tzvi Hirsh passed away after a brief illness at the tender young age of just eleven years old. The wisdom and cleverness of the child were legend, and his passing at a young age shocked and deeply pained the residents of the “old settlement” of Yerushalayim. However, this paled before the pain of the family members over the loss of their only son, and the parents were inconsolable.

During the Shiva, one of the female members of the family descended from the Alter Rebbe came to offer consolation, and she told the parents that she saw in a dream, a few days before the boy’s passing, the family matriarch Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel leading the child Tzvi Hirsh. She understood that this meant that she was taking the child with her, to hint at his imminent passing. She asked her ancestor in the dream, “Bubbe, where are you taking him?” and she answered that another son would come after him. And that is what happened; a year later, the child Zev Dov was born to the great joy of all, and the family was healed.   

Already in his childhood years, R’ Zev Dov was known as a brilliant prodigy who was blessed with extremely rare gifts. When he was ten years old, he began to learn in the famous Chayei Olam yeshiva in Mea Sh’arim, where he was accepted to a class of students older than he, after the administration tested his level and realized his superior abilities. In order for the young Zev Dov not to stand out more than necessary among the older students, it was suggested that he come wearing a suit in order to appear older.

During that period, the famed Torah genius Rabbi Eliezer Silver, who served as the president of the Vaad HaYeshivos, visited Eretz Yisroel, and visited the yeshivos and educational institutions in Yerushalayim. Since R’ Silver was not affiliated with the world of Chassidim, when he came for a visit to Chayei Olam, the teaching staff presented the young prodigy known as “Berele” to share his novel Torah insights with R’ Silver.

R’ Silver asked permission to take the boy with him in his car, and the eleven year old Zev Dov accompanied him on his visits to the various institutions. During the travel time in the car, the boy reviewed for the distinguished visitor his original insights and a lengthy disquisition on Meseches Gittin that he was learning in yeshiva at the time, and the world renowned rabbi could not help but be amazed and impressed by the range of knowledge and insight of the young boy. R’ Moshe Porush, who also accompanied R’ Silver on his visit, later recounted that R’ Silver told him at the conclusion of the stay, “I did not know that the Chassidim also have children who are gaonim.” When the boy parted from R’ Silver, he gave the boy a bill that was considered a small fortune in those days. When the boy inquired as to the reason, he answered, “You deserve it for having taught me new insights in Torah.”

Incidentally, when the young lad returned home that evening, he did not tell his parents anything about what had transpired. They only found out about it after it had become the talk of the entire Yerushalayim.

After his bar mitzva, he began learning in the lower division of Yeshiva Toras Emes. There he continued to grow in Nigleh and Chassidus, under the tutelage of the Roshei Yeshiva and the elder Chabad mashpiim of the time. When the security situation deteriorated and prevented his continued study in the yeshiva, after consulting with R’ Zevin and the mashpia R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, it was decided that he should switch to the nearby Mir yeshiva, where there were many students from Chassidic homes.

R’ Slonim was a sixteen year old bachur at the time that he went with his father to see the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, R’ Lazer Yudel (Eliezer Yehuda) Finkel, who was the elder of the Roshei Yeshiva of the time. When he asked him his age, he answered truthfully that he was only sixteen, to which the Rosh Yeshiva responded that in his yeshiva the students were much older than him, and there is nobody as young as him, and therefore he has no choice but to decline. The two left the room just as they had come.

At that time, there was a young man sitting there with R’ Finkel who had heard about the brilliance of the young Slonim, and he said to the Rosh Yeshiva that this was the renowned prodigy that everyone was talking about. He immediately instructed that they call back the father and son to his room, and said that he agrees to accept him in the yeshiva. Since it was apparent that they were Chabad Chassidim, R’ Finkel said to him, “You should know that here in the yeshiva there is a daily study session devoted to works of Musar.” The young Zev Dov answered that he would study the Tanya of his holy ancestor. R’ Finkel agreed, saying, “In the Tanya there are Musar ideas,” to which the young bachur immediately responded, “In Tanya there are Musar ideas with the added explanations of Chassidus.” R’ Lazer Yudel smiled and agreed. When R’ Slonim went into the yeshiva library, he was surprised to find there a copy of a first printing of the Tanya. Every evening, when the yeshiva held the Musar study session, R’ Slonim would sit with a young married Chassid of Gur who was learning in the Mir, and they learned Tanya together.

After he married his late wife Gittel Leah, the daughter of R’ Yisroel Feldman, who was a devoted supporter and partner all the years, he continued his learning with great diligence. He completed his studies of practical halacha and received ordainment from the great rabbis of Yerushalayim, and was later elected to the position of rav of Merkaz Yerushalayim.

R’ Slonim merited many kiruvim and answers from the Rebbe over the years. In the year 5723, he traveled for the first time to the Rebbe. In later years, R’ Slonim shared some details from that first visit, “In my first yechidus with the Rebbe, the Rebbe told me: You are a nechba el hakeilim (lit. one who hides among the vessels). Go out of the keilim. In response to my question as to what exactly did the Rebbe mean, the Rebbe told me: Already tomorrow, you should speak with all of the T’mimim who are students of the yeshiva in matters of learning that they are studying, and you should also speak at all of the gatherings.

“In those days, I was still a newly married young man and could not grasp the extent of what exactly the Rebbe intended of me. I was a guest in Crown Heights, and according to the Rebbe’s instructions I was supposed to go the very next day to fulfill his directive and talk with the students in learning, even though the students in the yeshiva were studying diverse subjects, and not necessarily the topics that I was involved with at the time.

“What really shocked me was that only a few minutes after I had exited the inner sanctum, the Rosh Yeshiva of 770, R’ Mentlick, already knew what the Rebbe had told me in yechidus. I don’t know who told him, whether members of the secretariat or he heard from others, but he found me immediately and told me that I must immediately carry out the Rebbe’s instructions. 

“And so, the very next day, R’ Mentlick prepared a special room for me near the yeshiva, and would send in three students at a time for me to discuss with them the sugyos they were learning and to test them on their learning. That is how, over a number of days, all of the students of the yeshiva came to see me, and I got a close up appraisal of their knowledge. I gave R’ Mentlick a list with an assessment of each of the students. When I returned to Eretz Yisroel, there was already a letter to me from R’ Mentlick, telling me that he had sent in the report to the Rebbe, and he wrote the Rebbe’s blessing and encouragement for that.”

An additional role that R’ Slonim filled dutifully, aside from his position as a rav, was to serve as the mashpia of the Chabad shul on Baal HaTanya Street in Mea Sh’arim. R’ Slonim would recount an additional merit that fell to him, to be able to give nachas to his ancestor the Alter Rebbe, in his position as mashpia. This took place when he was still single, during a farbrengen on the Alter Rebbe’s yahrtzait on 24 Teves, which was held in the Baal HaTanya Shul, when he suggested that they organize a siyum of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch every 24 Teves, by dividing it among the participants at the farbrengen. The suggestion was approved enthusiastically, and every year there would be a siyum and division of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav in the shul on 24 Teves. The following year, on 24 Teves 5723, the Rebbe said a sicha on the siyum and beginning of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav.

On 13 Teves of this year, R’ Slonim returned his soul on high, leaving behind children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, serving as shluchim of the Rebbe around the world. His sons: R’ Aharon, shliach in Binghamton University in New York State; R’ Baruch, shliach in Modiin; R’ Shneur Zalman, shliach in S. Paolo, Brazil; R’ Yosef Yitzchok, shliach in Yerushalayim; R’ Tzvi, shliach in Mitzpeh Rimon; R’ Yaakov, shliach in Yerushalayim; and his son-in-law, R’ Menachem Mendel Osdoba, shliach in the Old City in Yerushalayim.

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