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Wednesday
May202015

THE “SHEVET HA’LEVI” AND THE ADMOREI LUBAVITCH

The world-renowned halachic authority Rabbi Shmuel Wosner ztl was in contact with our Rebbeim. As a youth, he fought for the regular study of Chassidus in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. * The unique expression that the Rebbe Rayatz said to the young gaon. * The yechidus in 5736, at the end of which the Rebbe escorted him outside with great honor.

The gaon, RShmuel Wosner ztl, passed away on the first night of Pesach at the age of 101 in Eretz Yisroel. He was one of the pillars of halachic ruling of our generation with rabbanim and talmidei chachomim flocking to his door every day, including Chabad rabbanim. About 100,000 people attended his funeral, which took place Motzaei the first day of Pesach.

What follows are some milestones in his 101 years which were replete with Torah and Chassidus.

YOUNG GENIUS

R’ Shmuel Wosner, author of Shevet HaLevi, the Gaon Av Beis Din of the Zichron Meir neighborhood of B’nei Brak and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, was born on 2 Elul 5673 in Vienna to his parents, Yosef Tzvi and Rochel.

He learned in Nitra and in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, headed by the gaon, R’ Meir Shapiro. His genius was recognized in his youth, and in the years to come he was given smicha by the g’dolim of that generation.

Apparently, his acquaintance with Chassidus and Lubavitch began when he was learning in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. R’ Shapiro, who was a Chortkover Chassid, agreed to the study of Chassidus in his yeshiva only during the times set aside for learning Musar. The mashgiach, R’ Shime’le Zelichover (R’ Shimon Engel), who was a brilliant genius, thought otherwise. R’ Shime’le who was greatly attached to sifrei Chassidus and Kabbala, thought it important to learn Tanya and he fought so that the talmidim of the yeshiva could study Chassidus regularly. He even demanded that the teachings of Chassidus be incorporated into the shiurim of Gemara and halacha. He bequeathed Chassidic behavior to his students in many areas.

The differing opinions of the rosh yeshiva and the mashgiach created a tumult, in the course of which a large group of talmidim gathered about the mashgiach and who went with him through fire and water. They were called Shime’listim or Shimonaim. R’ Wosner was one of the central pillars of this unique Chassidic group, who received a vast amount in Nigleh, Chassidus, and Kabbala from the gaon along with Chassidic conduct.

We can see R’ Wosner’s great esteem for the gaon from what he wrote many years later, “My teacher and rebbi, the tremendous gaon, master of the entire Talmud, before whom all the paths of revealed and hidden Torah were illuminated for him as they were given at Sinai, R’ Avrohom Shimon Engel Horowitz, may his merit protect us, may Hashem avenge his blood, of Zelichov (from an approbation to a new edition of Miftichei Chochmas HaEmes).

R’ Meir Shapiro left this world at a very young age and R’ Shime’le left the yeshiva during this period, but he kept in touch with his close talmidim and continually encouraged them in the study of Chassidus. Among the core nucleus of bachurim who kept in touch with him were: R’ Wosner, R’ Boruch Shimon Schneersohn, R’ Yitzchok Flakser and R’ Pinchas Hirschprung.

CONNECTION WITH THE REBBE RAYATZ

At the end of the winter of 5695, the Rebbe Rayatz was in the resort town of Purkersdorf near Vienna, and shortly after he also visited Vienna. At this time, R’ Wosner visited the Rebbe.

When he had yechidus he spoke about his teacher, R’ Shime’le Zelichover. The Rebbe said in response, “For several hundred years, there wasn’t in the world a mind with a memory like that of R’ Shime’le of Zelichov.”

It is said that when R’ Wosner and his friends of that time received a prize for excellence in their learning, they went to the Rebbe Rayatz for his blessing. The Rebbe showed them pictures of bachurim learning Torah with mesirus nefesh in Russia and said they needed to learn from their mesirus nefesh. After the Rebbe Rayatz returned to his home in Warsaw, he sent a letter to R’ Wosner with instructions for bein ha’z’manim (intersession) at which time he would be with his parents in Vienna. In that letter the Rebbe instructed him to review maamarei Chassidus by heart like a sermon delivered to the public.

The Rebbe told him to meet with other yeshiva bachurim over Pesach and to talk with them in divrei Torah and Chassidus.

That same day, 13 Nissan, the Rebbe sent another letter to R’ Eliezer Breuer (see sidebar) and apologized for not being able to speak to him before leaving about the systematic order of learning maamarei Chassidus, and how it would be good if he set a time every day to learn Chassidus with the distinguished talmid, R’ Shmuel Wosner, to learn maamarei Chassidus, easy ones first. Afterward, Shmuel should review it to himself two or three times and R’ Eliezer was supposed to write to the Rebbe about how Shmuel was progressing.

RAV WOSNER TEACHES CHASSIDUS

In Nissan 1937, R’ Wosner married his wife Rivka. In the years to come she joined him for yechidus with the Rebbe Rayatz.

After he married, he lived in Pressburg, where his in-laws lived. He was very close with the gaon, R’ Akiva Sofer, author of Shevet Sofer, who lived there at the time. In Pressburg he taught Tanya to talmidim, most of them from the yeshiva in Unsdorf and who were inclined toward Chassidus.

After several members of the shiur went to the Rebbe to accept the Rebbe’s leadership, the Rebbe wrote to R’ Wosner, “Yesterday I had by me R’ Yitzchok, brother-in-law of R’ Moshe who was by me the week before, and also by me was his brother-in-law Mr. Avrohom Yehuda [Gelber, brother of R’ Wosner’s wife] and one more who did not tell me his name, whose father is the one who expressed interest in the organization Yesodei HaTorah.”

The Rebbe then wrote to R’ Wosner that those who want to be mekushar to Chabad Chassidus should know “what is the inyan of a Chassid according to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus, and what is the inyan of a mekushar according to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus … and the title mekushar according to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus; the inyan of hiskashrus is by establishing regular times to learn Chassidus …

“If they want to be on the list of mekusharim and want to fulfill the aforementioned, please set a time – if possible on weekdays too, and especially on Shabbos – to learn divrei Elokim chayim, Chassidus, and give them guidance in what they should learn among themselves, especially in reading the sichos.” In other words, R’ Wosner was supposed to be their mashpia to guide them in the study of Chassidus.

The letter ended with an instruction for R’ Wosner, “May Hashem help you with what you need, materially and spiritually, you should learn Chassidus diligently and with proper in-depth analysis, and also try to spend time on t’filla, an hour or two, to contemplate the greatness of G-d and be inspired with middos in the heart to love and fear Him, and may Hashem be of help to you materially and spiritually.”

DANGER IN MAKING ALIYA

The Nazi regime was gaining control, and many Jews all around Europe left home for distant parts. Britain, which ruled Eretz Yisroel at the time, allowed very few Jews to enter the country. Many opted to sail on illegal boats and sneak into the country.

R’ Wosner decided to board one of these illegal boats with his wife, leaving behind his oldest son with his in-laws for fear of danger on the journey. Indeed, as the boat approached the coast of Eretz Yisroel, it was not allowed to proceed because of the British blockade. The boat drifted for months. At a certain point, the fuel was used up and having no choice, some of the passengers jumped into the water and began swimming to shore. R’ Wosner and his wife did so and arrived in Eretz Yisroel healthy but bereft of everything.

R’ Wosner was quickly welcomed with great esteem by the rabbanim and gaonim of Yerushalayim and was appointed rav of a Yerushalmi neighborhood and moreh tzedek of the Eida HaChareidis. He lived in Yerushalayim for a year and at this time was even one of the leaders of the “study house for the study of Yerushalmi” in which scholars gathered daily to learn the Jerusalem Talmud. There were great gaonim who ran the institution including R’ Elchonon Yakobovitz, who during World War I served as rav in Lubavitch.

ON THE SIDE OF THE CHASSIDIM

In 1947, he moved to B’nei Brak in order to reestablish Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. During the war, many of its staff and students had been killed while the original magnificent yeshiva building remained desolate in Lublin. Along with the founding of the yeshiva, he was appointed rav of the Zichron Meir neighborhood, named for R’ Meir Shapiro, his beloved and esteemed rosh yeshiva.

He also founded a “Beis Horaa” where rabbanim answered halachic queries to whoever posed them. They clarified difficult questions on various subjects with R’ Wosner at their head. Questions from all over the world came to this renowned Beis Horaa. For fifty years, this institution helped establish a new generation of rabbanim and halachic experts who learned from him the principles of p’sak halacha. They are now dispersed all over the world.

Upon arriving in B’nei Brak, he became friendly with the Chabad rav of B’nei Brak, R’ Yaakov Landau. The two worked together on halachic matters and matters of the public welfare in the city which eventually became ultra-Orthodox.

After the passing of R’ Yaakov Landau, he supported the appointment of the latter’s son R’ Moshe Landau as successor to his father. This was despite the fact that certain entities in B’nei Brak fought maliciously against this. He stood alongside the Chassidim even when he was persecuted for doing so.

R’ Wosner’s nephew, R’ Shlomo Gelber, who taught in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in B’nei Brak, told about R’ Wosner’s attitude toward the Shulchan Aruch HaRav:

“One time, when talking with bachurim who were learning the laws of blessings on fruits, he told them to learn the Shulchan Aruch HaRav. R’ Wosner said, ‘I once noticed someone who wasn’t clear in these halachos and I told him it was because he did not study the Rav’s Shulchan Aruch. After a while, he came back to me and said it opened a whole new world for him.’”

VISITING THE REBBE

R’ Wosner had a special relationship with the Rebbe MH”M. In Sivan 5736/1976, he had yechidus with the Rebbe along with his escorts. At a certain point, R’ Wosner asked his escorts to leave him alone with the Rebbe and they spoke for three quarters of an hour. These are some tidbits from that yechidus as related in Shemen Sasson Meichaveirecha:

When R’ Wosner arrived, the Rebbe showed a rare level of endearment to him and the entire conversation was conducted in a manner of closeness and great love. The Rebbe told him that “the role of a rav in Israel nowadays is to implant in the nation that there is someone who runs this world.” They also discussed chinuch in the course of which the verse “Torah tziva … morasha” was mentioned, and from there the conversation segued into the laws of inheritance.

When the yechidus ended, the Rebbe escorted him out with great honor. In the car, R’ Wosner said in amazement, “That the Rebbe’s bekius (encyclopedic knowledge of Torah) is incredible, for that I was prepared since that’s famous; but his amazing depth, that I did not approximate.”

R’ Wosner said that he told the Rebbe something in the name of the Maharsha and the Rebbe said, “I don’t think there is such a Maharsha.” After the yechidus, he looked for the Maharsha and found it and was very happy, but when he examined what it said he saw that it meant something else entirely and that the Rebbe was right.

In this yechidus, he had said he would send the Rebbe his s’farim, Shevet HaLevi and he did so. The Rebbe responded with a letter of thanks and blessed him that he increase his strength in Torah and asked him to promote the study of halacha, especially by those who only learned Gemara and were not involved in the study of practical halacha. In the margin of the letter, the Rebbe wrote comments and citations for the Shevet HaLevi.

R’ Wosner once said to R’ Yekusiel Farkash that during the yechidus with the Rebbe, he spoke about a certain shochet who was caught with a television in his house. Since a shochet needs to be G-d fearing, the question was posed to R’ Wosner whether he should be terminated from his position.

R’ Wosner said that someone who owns a television is not in the category of a yerei Shamayim and he should be fired. The Rebbe disagreed, saying that although having a television is completely intolerable, still, in the US, it was not an indication about a person’s yiras Shamayim.

In one of the comments that the Rebbe wrote in the margin, he referred to this and said this was true for other countries too, and although there needed to be a warning and much more than a warning, there is room for concern that (according to the laws of nature) a significant portion of the public is not careful with this, and therefore it was questionable if it was appropriate to speak of this in terms of an actual decree or prohibition etc.

PRAISING THE REBBE’S TAKANOS

R’ Wosner often praised the Rebbe’s takanos (enactments) and the work of the shluchim around the world. When the Rebbe announced the mivtza of writing a Torah for Jewish children, R’ Wosner was one of the first to buy letters for the children in his family. He also signed the proclamation of the g’dolei Yisroel who supported the Rebbe’s fight against the Viennese conversions and the amendment of the law of Who is a Jew.

During the Shloshim gathering for those slain in the Chabad House in Bombay, R’ Wosner delivered an emotional phone address. He spoke about the murder al kiddush Hashem of the shliach, R’ Holtzberg, which brought to the public’s attention how the Rebbe’s shluchim are moser nefesh on their shlichus to spread Judaism everywhere. “Regarding the shluchei Chabad it is fitting to apply the saying of our Sages in the Midrash Raba: ‘There is none more beloved to Hashem than a shliach who is sent to do a mitzva and is moser nefesh to be successful in his shlichus.’ How fitting these words are to the Chabad shluchim, who are undoubtedly beloved to Hashem for being moser nefesh to spread Judaism and to make the name of heaven beloved all over the world.”

Three years ago, on 11 Nissan 5772, R’ Wosner attended a Siyum HaRambam which took place at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv. In his short speech, he spoke about the importance of the Rebbe’s takana to learn Rambam daily: “This great thing that the Rebbe did, that we unite in the study of Rambam, and by doing so we hasten the coming of Moshiach. The Rambam begins with the laws of faith in the Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah and ends with faith with the Hilchos Melachim. That is the uniqueness of the Rambam’s work that it begins and ends with emuna and it includes all the mitzvos that pertain nowadays and that do not pertain nowadays.”

In recent years, R’ Wosner’s health declined, but he continued to be involved in piskei halacha and leading the public. On Shushan Purim of this year he was hospitalized and then shortly after the onset of Pesach, he passed away.

His son, R’ Chaim Meir, was appointed as his successor as the rav of Zichron Meir and the head of R’ Wosner’s Beis Horaa.

 
REVEALING THE REBBE’S DIVINE SIGHT

The following story was heard by R’ Bentzion Vishedsky, director of Oholei Torah in Kfar Chabad, from R’ Wosner:

It was in the 1960’s, and one day a Lubavitcher Chassid came to my house. His son had recently become bar mitzva and at the same time began suffering health problems. Even after consulting with doctors, they were unable to get to the source of the problem. The various treatments given by the doctors did not help and so the Chassid had turned to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe’s answer was: check the t’fillin. Although these were new t’fillin that were bought from a good scribe who was an outstanding yerei Shamayim, and one could still smell the fragrance of new leather, the Chassid did not hesitate but gave them in to be checked by an expert scribe in B’nei Brak. He explained to him the urgency of the matter, and that same day the sofer called with the results: Everything is perfect, nice parshiyos, kosher l’mehadrin.

“I wasn’t surprised,” the Chassid said to me. “Although the scribe is not of my k’hilla, I checked him out and his reputation is excellent. I also paid him well and did not expect any other results.”

More time elapsed, during which the boy’s problems continued to bother him. They were at a loss as to what to do. They had even asked the Rebbe already, so what else could be done? One week followed another and the disturbing problems gave the family no respite. The Chassid decided to ask the Rebbe again. He described his young son’s ailment and the fact that they had checked the t’fillin which had been found to be kosher and beautiful.

The next day he received a two word answer from the Rebbe: check t’fillin. What could this be about? He looked for another expert scribe, the emphasis this time on “expert.” He even told me the name of the scribe who is well known. In addition to his expertise as a scribe, he is also a great Torah scholar. He brought the t’fillin to him and begged him to find the problem.

After a few hours, the scribe reported, “I checked every letter and crown, I went over the parshiyos three times. They’re amazing, beautiful t’fillin. I looked with all my might for at least one p’sul that is l’chat’chilla, i.e. an invalidation that does not render them unfit after the fact, where you can still say the blessing but something is lacking in its beauty and thus is not l’chat’chilla. But I must confess that I did not find anything like that.”

The Chassid immediately wrote a third letter to the Rebbe. He described the scribe’s expertise and the fact that he is a great Torah scholar and he repeated exactly what the scribe told him. He ended his short letter expressing his helplessness and asked for a bracha once again.

The next day, the Chassid received this answer: “Check the t’fillin. Consult with a rav in your town.” He came to me after having given the t’fillin to a third expert scribe. He, like his predecessors, tried hard to find a problem but he also concluded that the t’fillin were kosher l’mehadrin.

He came to me with the t’fillin, hoping I would solve the enigma. I examined the t’fillin and saw that they were particularly nice. But it was clear to me that if the Rebbe kept saying to check them that there was something that was still problematic.

After much thought, I asked for the sofer who had written the parshiyos to come to me. When he came to my house I saw a G-d fearing person. I asked him to tell me about his work, when he began, who taught him, and so on. After a long conversation, he said that he was particular about immersing in a mikva whenever he sat down to write parshiyos of t’fillin or mezuzos.

Since he had mentioned earlier where he lived and at that time there was no mikva in the area, I asked him how he managed. He told me the following extraordinary thing:

“Since my immersing before writing the parshiyos has to do with writing Hashem’s name, and since it is hard for me to get to a mikva, I developed a practice of writing the full text without Hashem’s name, leaving an empty space to fill in later. Then, when I have an opportunity to go to the mikva, I go back and fill in the blank spaces with Hashem’s name.”

The fright that overcame me, along with the “oy vey” that I blurted out impulsively, let the innocent scribe know that something serious had happened. I told him that the parshiyos of the son of that Chassid as well as all the parshiyos that he had ever written, were invalid even b’diaved (each word of the t’fillin must be written in the correct order). I told him that he had to call all his customers and tell them, in my name, not to use those t’fillin anymore. And he had to immediately stop working as a scribe until he relearned all the laws of safrus and became expert in them.

The Rebbe, in his righteousness, saw that the t’fillin were pasul and I was happy that I had the merit to discover the source of the problem and to save all past and future customers of this scribe.

 

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