It was at the beginning of the Pesach Zeman 1974 in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Yerushalayim, when the Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Moshe Chait Z”TL called in a few of the students (this author being amongst them), who had just arrived to join the yeshiva, into his study for a brief orientation.
One of the things he said at that time, was that we as young men (actually more like boys) away from home probably for the first time had to understand that we have not just travelled from N.Y. to another city, like N.J. or L.A., we have come to a city that is described in the Medrash (Yalkut Shemonei Parshas Yayeira) as the one place in the world that is referred to as “Heaven on Earth)”.
The Rosh Yeshiva then instructed us to treat the streets of Yerushalayim, each step rich with the history of our ancestors with reverence and respect. And he promised us, if we walk the hallowed streets of this holy city with our eyes and our hearts wide open, we may very well merit feeling as if we’ve stepped into the very place that represents “Heaven on Earth”.
It was approximately two weeks later, when a Halachic question arose in the yeshiva and one of the Roshei Yeshivas asked for a volunteer to go present the “shaila” to a posek named Rav Elyashiv (Z”TL). Having newly arrived and being in Yerushalayim for the very first time in my life, I had neither heard of Rav Elyashiv, nor did I have a clue as to what Meah Shearim was. And so I volunteered to go. The Rosh Yeshiva appreciated my eagerness to go, but knowing full well I had no idea where to go or how to go, he had an older and more experienced bochur escort me.
That experience had such a profound effect upon me that it without question had a major impact upon the course that my life took afterwards. I had never seen such an old and poor community. I had never entered into a home so small and poor. I had never met a person bent over his yellow paged large Gemorah learning with such concentration, that it was more than 15 minutes of us standing literally in front of him until he noticed that we were there. And I have never before seen a person whose face and eyes shined from such a pure light of Kedusha.
And then I knew. I found that place that at least for me, was the place described as “Heaven on Earth”.
I had long forgotten that overwhelming feeling of meeting such greatness, such Kedusha and such simplicity that I had felt at that time, until a few weeks ago. Arriving in Eretz Yisroel for a brief trip for the Hakomas Matzievah of my father Z”L, it felt very strange not to visit with Rav Elyashiv Z”TL as I had done for close to 4 decades on each and every trip to Eretz Yisroel. And so by invitation from the family, I went to visit with him at the ICU in Sharei Tzedek hospital just 6 days before his untimely passing that has shaken up all of Klal Yisroel.
Sitting by his bedside, unable to converse with him, as he had a ventilation tube in his throat, all I could do was talk to him briefly, say some tehillim and observe him.
And then I remembered. The overwhelming sense of awe and Kedusha that I experienced from the very first time that I was zocheh to be in his presence, the feeling that I have come to the place of “heaven on earth” all came back to me.
Ad I observed him, the story that I had heard from the late Rebbetzin Elyashiv Z”L, over thirty years ago (today it’s widely known), that at her vort to Rav Elyashiv, many of her friends were indeed surprised at her choice of a chosson. After all, she was an extremely popular and lively person, and the chosson was seen as a shy, quiet and almost introverted young man with very few friends.
And when she was asked as to why she was so happy with this shidduch, she responded forcefully, “how could I not be happy, I’m marrying the Torah itself!”
I thought about that conversation, as I was sitting by his bed, holding onto his hand that was used for close to a century to grasp the Gemorah in front of him and realized that here in front of me, fighting for every breadth is not just a world renowned Talmud Chachom, but the Torah itself.
In Mesechta Sofrim, the ancient minhag is brought down that on Tisha B’Av, the Sefer Torah would be removed from the Aron Kodesh, placed onto the ground and all would gather around it and mourn and cry for the Torah itself.
Seeing the levaya, watching the holy body of Rav Elyashiv Z”TL, wrapped in his Tallis, being escorted by hundreds of thousands of Yidden representing every segment of Klal Yisroel, I couldn’t help but think that this was a real life description of that Chazal, that Klal Yisroel is mourning and crying over the very Torah itself.
Many of the readers of my articles will recall an article that I wrote about half a year ago, where I painfully described my conversation with an acquaintance from the 5 Towns community who has merited to visit Eretz Yisroel dozens of times and never made the time to visit or meet with the senior Posek of Klal Yisroel, Rav Elyashiv Z”TL, and how I described the missed opportunity
Well, the final chapter to that article is that after giving Divrei Hesped and sharing personal reflections on Rav Elyashiv Z”TL several days after his Petira, in the 5 Towns; my “new friend” approached me afterwards and lamented the fact that he no longer will have the opportunity to meet and speak to him, as so many of us had done over the years. His final statement to mi was stirring. He said,” I hope that one day, after 120, I will merit meeting him in heaven”.
Whether he or we will merit doing so, I have no clue. What I do know though, is that I and so many others have been indeed blessed for having been zocheh to sit in his presence and to learn, grow and be inspired by him. And most of all for having been zocheh to come into contact with “Heaven on Earth”.
YEHEI ZICHROH BORUCH……………… Klal Yisroel will sorely miss him.
BY: Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg, Rav of Chofetz Chaim Torah Center