Hundreds of thousands of Jews from every corner of Israel and beyond gathered in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening to impart the final kavod to the leading Torah sage of our generation, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashav who passed away early that morning at Sharaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem where he had been a patient for the last six months.
After the funeral I reached out to Rav Simcha HaKohen Kook who returned my call from the car he was a passenger in that was returning him to his home in Rehovot. The Rav told me that the brief ceremony began with Slichos, Rav Kook said, and was followed by the recitation of Tehilim by the Mashgiach, Rav Don Segal. Following Rav Segal, Rav Elyashav’s son-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein the Rov of Ramat Elchonon in Bnai Brak announced that it was Rav Elyashav’s wish that there be no hespedim or eulogies at the levaya.
Rav Zilberstein thanked Shaare Zedek Hospital and the doctors that were so committed to Rav Elyashav’s care. He also asked mechilla of the Rav for having said the few words that the family felt was necessary to express.
“We are like a ship that has been left adrift without a leader,” Rav Kook said. “we have so many questions that we need to ask but now we do not know whom to ask.” Rav Kook talked about the experience of posing questions and shailos to Rav Elyashav over the years and how he was always quick and concise with his responses. “It was like he had no time because he always wanted to just get back to his learning which was always a priority above all else for the Rav,” he said.
Rav Kook said that the loss to Klal Yisrael was staggering and that he did not know how we were going to recover now that we no longer have the privilege to have Rav Elyashav in our midst. I asked Rav Kook if those gathered knew that it was Rav Elyashav’s wish that there be no hespedim at the levaya and he said that no one seemed to be aware of the plan until it actually was taking place.
Rav Aryeh Zev Ginzberg of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center was in Israel this week and was invited by the family to visit with Rav Elyashav in the Intensive Care Unit at Shaare Zedek last week. “He was a wake and he was able to look at me while I spoke but could not respond because there was a breathing tube in his mouth,” Rabbi Ginzberg told me from his seat on an El Al 747 on Wednesday evening as he prepared to return to New York. “I took his hand and told him that all of Klal of Yisrael was davening for him and that we needed him desperately.”
Rabbi Ginzberg described how one of Rav Elyashav’s grandchildren sat at his side and was saying Mishnayos close to the Rav’s ear so that even though he was hospitalized Rav Elyashav he would be able to be exposed to the study of Torah without interruption.
About the levaya, Rabbi Ginzberg said that it is near impossible to aptly describe as people streamed in all day long from all-around the county. Buses had to stop five miles away as the vehicular congestion was such that they could not get any closer. People parked their cars as much as ten miles away from where the funeral took place and walked so as to participate in the funeral. “it’s a terrible loss for us all,” Rabbi Ginzberg said. “This was a man with a powerful halachic clarity who opened up his home and his heart o Klal Yisrael. He was universally sought after and accepted, his home was a Reshus HaRabbim,” Rabbi G
By Larry Gordon