This Day in History – 30 Shevat/February 19

Yahrtzeiten

5559/1799, Harav Dovid Hakohen, zt”l, Rav of Molitin and mechaber of Nefesh Dovid

5570/1810, Harav Reuven Horowitz, zt”l, Rav of Zarnovtza, mechaber of Duda’im Basadeh

5655/1895, Harav Shmuel Abba of Horodenka, zt”l


 

5587/1827, Harav Menachem Mendel Of Shklov, zt”l

Harav Menachem Mendel of Shklov, one of the greatest talmidim of the Vilna Gaon, was a son of Harav Baruch Bendit. He humbly wrote about himself, “I am an empty person but chasdei Shamayim saw to it that I became a talmid of the Gaon of Vilna. Hashem gave me favor in his eyes, and I was privileged to be his meshamesh for almost two years. During that time I would not move away from him, and wherever he would be, I would be. He opened for me the gates of chachmah, and that is what sustains me.”

Eventually he became the leader of the Perushim, a group of the Gra’s talmidim who ascended to Eretz Yisrael. Their journey involved many hardships; and even after they settled in Eretz Yisrael they encountered adversity. These challenges were also encountered by a group of Chassidim led by Harav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, which ascended to Eretz Yisrael at about the same time.

Reb Menachem Mendel writes that in 5567/1807 he settled in Tzfas, where he established “batei medrashim full of sefarim.” He subsequently relocated to Yerushalayim and there, too, he established houses of Torah and tefillah. He managed to acquire the abandoned Churvah Shul in the old city of Yerushalayim, which he considered a zechus. This famous shul was destroyed by the Jordanians in the war of 5708/1948. It has recently been rebuilt.

Historically, his wanting to settle in Yerushalayim was very significant because the first Ashkenazi settlement in Eretz Yisrael, led by Rabi Yehudah Hachassid, failed, leaving behind great debts. Subsequently, whenever Ashkenazic Jews tried to settle in Yerushalayim, the authorities would demand money from them and then evict them from the city. (Interestingly, traditional Yerushalmi garb closely resembles Arabic dress because their permission to live in Yerushalayim depended on complying with this stipulation.)

When talmidei haGra arrived in Eretz Yisrael, they initiated settling the old debts of the Ashkenazic community with the Yerushalayim authorities. Later, in 5597/1837, when a major earthquake struck Tzfas, groups of olim dispersed, many of them arriving in Yerushalayim. That is when the old debt was finally cleared, and the Ashkenazi Yidden, led by Harav Yisrael of Shklov, established themselves.

Reb Menachem Mendel was known for his vast Torah knowledge and his profound understanding of Kabbalah, and he devoted many years to writing chiddushim. It was known that he wrote 10 sefarim, but the only printed sefer of his chiddushim that remains is Mayim Adirim on the Idra Zuta, with footnotes from his talmid Harav Yitzchak Eizik Chaver. He also printed many of the sefarim of his Rebbi, the Gra. Many of his writings remain in manuscript form, yet to be printed.

He was niftar on the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar, 30 Shevat, and is buried on Har Hazeisim.

Zechuso yagen aleinu.


 

Feb. 19

In 1915, during World War I, British and French warships launched their initial attack on Ottoman forces in the Dardanelles, a strait in northwestern Turkey. (The Gallipoli Campaign that followed proved disastrous for the Allies.)

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, clearing the way for the U.S. military to relocate and intern Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In 1945, Operation Detachment began during World War II as some 30,000 U.S. Marines began landing on Iwo Jima, where they commenced a successful month-long battle to seize control of the island from Japanese forces.

In 1976, calling the issuing of Executive Order 9066 “a sad day in American history,” President Gerald R. Ford issued a proclamation confirming that the order had been terminated with the formal cessation of hostilities of World War II.

In 2008, an ailing Fidel Castro resigned the Cuban presidency after nearly a half-century in power; his brother Raul was later named to succeed him.