This Day in History – 19 Adar II/March 21

19 Adar II

In 5700/1940, the Arab restriction of the sale of land to Jews in Eretz Yisrael took effect.

In 5709/1949, the Jewish army captured Ein Gedi and the war of 1948 was brought to an end.

Yahrtzeiten

5634/1874, Harav Dovid of Dinov, zt”l, mechaber of Divrei Dovid

5640/1880, Harav Yaakov Shamshon of Kossov, zt”l

5680/1920, Harav Yehudah Greenwald of Satmar, zt”l

5688/1928, Harav Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtze, zt”l

5692/1932, Harav Shmuel Engel of Radomishel, zt”l, mechaber of She’eilos U’teshuvos Maharash

5699/1939, Harav Emanuel Weltfried of Pabianetz-Lodz, zt”l

5753/1993, Harav Yitzchak Kalisch, zt”l, Amshinover Rebbe of America

5763/2003, Harav Yaakov Chaim Yoffen, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Beis Yosef Novardok


 

5692/1932

Harav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l

Harav Yosef Chaim was born on 6 Kislev 5609/1848 in Varboi, Slovakia, to Harav Avraham Shlomo and Rebbetzin Zelda Sonnenfeld. He was named Chaim; Yosef was added later.

Yosef was a child prodigy. Tragically, Reb Avraham Shlomo only enjoyed his child prodigy for a few years; he was niftar when the child was six.

Rebbetzin Zelda struggled to raise Chaim and his two siblings herself. After two years she consented to a second marriage, to a gvir and yerei Shamayim from Samnitz.

In those days in Slovakia, cheder boys were forced to attend public school; limudei kodesh was relegated to the afternoons and evenings. Young Chaim excelled at both, delighting his melamdim and dazzling his teachers. By age 11, he had completed the school’s entire curriculum; his teachers dreamed of sending him to university.

Meanwhile, his melamdim had exhausted their capacity to teach him, and he was studying at the local yeshivah under Harav Leib Loefler. Reb Chaim’s mother was determined that he advance in Torah, but his stepfather was charmed by his teachers’ reports of his amazing aptitude for science. Reb Chaim’s older brother believed that a glorious career in academia was not incompatible with a life of yiras Shamayim and mitzvos, and the two prepared to enroll Reb Chaim in an advanced course in another town.

But Reb Chaim’s lifelong opposition to secular studies had begun early. He sought a brachah from Harav Yehudah Assad, and with his mother’s encouragement he left Samnitz and returned to his birthplace of Varboi, where he joined the yeshivah of Harav Chaim Tzvi Mannheimer, mechaber of Ein Habedolach and an old friend of his father.

During the next two years Reb Chaim’s greatness became so apparent that people throughout Slovakia and Hungary began blessing each other, “May you have children like the iluy Chaim of Varboi.” At 14 years old he was named “Rosh Hayeshivah,” the title given to the best talmid in Varboi. By then he was fluent in most of Shas, and it was time to move on. As a parting gift, his Rosh Yeshivah named him chaver, a title reserved for adults who have toiled in Torah all their lives.

The greatest yeshivah in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time was the Ksav Sofer’s yeshivah in Pressburg; the 15-year-old Reb Chaim was admitted immediately. Moreover, when he entered the beis medrash the Ksav Sofer would stand up for him. Within three years the Ksav Sofer granted him the title Moreinu.

Two years later, at the age of 20, Reb Chaim married the daughter of Reb Shlomo Seltzer, the shochet of Kobersdorf.  When he took leave of his Rosh Yeshivah, the Ksav Sofer granted him the highest title of all: Moreinu Harav — a title conferred upon distinguished elder Rabbanim — and this before he was even married!

Reb Chaim took the certificate and put it away for 20 years. Only when he felt confident that he could read it without a trace of gaavah did he look at it for the first time.

The Rav of Kobersdorf was the gaon and tzaddik Harav Avraham Shag, the Ohel Avraham. Reb Chaim became his talmid. For six  months, supported by his father-in-law, he learned peacefully under Harav Avraham, but then his shver was offered a much better position as shochet in a different town, and though he would have been happy to take Reb Chaim with him, Reb Chaim chose not to follow. For three years Reb Chaim remained in Kobersdorf, learning under his new rebbi and tutoring for a livelihood. During those years he lost his firstborn infant son, Avraham Shalom.

Harav Avraham Shag was a mighty warrior against the haskalah and reform, but the strain took its toll on him, and he decided to move to Eretz Yisrael. However, as a Gadol and leader in Hungary, he was not easily relinquished. The protests and pleading of Hungarian Jewry persuaded him to delay his plans for two years, but no longer. When the time finally came, Reb Chaim decided to join him on his journey.

On 9 Iyar 5633/1873, Reb Chaim bade farewell to his relatives, and on 21 Iyar he and his family reached Eretz Yisrael. He joined the Torah community in Yerushalayim anonymously.

Three years after their arrival, on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5636/1876, Harav Avraham Shag was niftar. Reb Chaim gave his rebbi a hesped that a Gadol baTorah deserves, and so revealed his own genius.

His secret now out, Reb Chaim opened a yeshivah and kollel in Reb Yeshayah Bardeki’s beis medrash. He still longed for a Rav of his own, and he found one in Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin of Brisk.

At this time Reb Chaim was given his second name, Yosef, during an illness.

For decades he was a general in the war to preserve authentic Yiddishkeit. At the same time he continued to teach Torah, and practiced chessed on a legendary scale, with deep personal warmth.

Reb Yosef Chaim continued to suffer yissurim in Eretz Yisrael. He lost eight children in his lifetime, as well as children-in-law, grandchildren, and finally his Rebbetzin. Nevertheless, he was b’simchah, and continued to care for others.

Amid the tefillos of all Jewry, Harav Yosef Chaim was niftar on 19 Adar II 5692/1932 at 10:30 in the morning. Yerushalayim was orphaned. Thousands accompanied his levayah to Har Hazeisim, where he was buried with no hespeidim, at his request.

Yehi zichro baruch.


 

March 21

In 1804, the French civil code was adopted.

In 1871, journalist Henry M. Stanley began his famous expedition in Africa to locate the missing David Livingstone.

In 1963, the Alcatraz federal prison island in San Francisco Bay was emptied of its last inmates and closed.

In 1965, civil rights demonstrators led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. began their third, successful march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that states may not require at least a year’s residency for voting eligibility.

In 1985, police in Langa, South Africa, opened fire on blacks marching to mark the 25th anniversary of Sharpeville; the reported death toll varied between 29 and 43.