The Remarkable Bond: Harav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, and Eretz Yisrael

The yeshivah today.

In honor of his yahrtzeit on 7 Cheshvan

When he was Rav in Pietrkov, Harav Mordechai Tzvi Shtalberg, z”l, a talmid of Harav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, related:

After the Rav received the large lot of land in Lublin from the philanthropist Reb Shmuel Eichenbaum, Hy”d, and the decision was made to build Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin there, the Rav traveled to Gur to tell the Imrei Emes, zy”a, about the developments and to ask for a brachah. I accompanied the Rav on this trip.

He entered the room of the Rebbe and emerged a short time later, very pale. He reluctantly agreed to tell me only that the Rebbe had heard him and responded, “Fahr vos nisht in Eretz Yisrael — Why not in Eretz Yisrael?”

Harav Shapiro was stunned by the question, and he had no answer for the Rebbe. The Rebbe shook his hand and he left. Now he was pacing up and down, deep in thought.

Suddenly, he turned to me and said, “Let’s go to Lublin; perhaps we will find an answer to the Rebbe’s question…”

We boarded the train for Lublin. We arrived at the station and encountered a few Jews who lived in the city. They knew Harav Shapiro and told him that a very elderly Chassid, a great-grandson of the Chozeh of Lublin, zy”a, was very ill, and his hours were numbered. Harav Shapiro’s eyes lit up and he said to me, “Perhaps here we will have an answer to the words we heard from the Gerrer Rebbe.”

We went to the Chassid’s home. Rav Meir approached him and asked if he could tell him something special that he had heard in the name of his grandfather, the Chozeh.

The elderly man replied, “My grandfather said that in the city of Lublin, we feel the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and the holiness of Yerushalayim and of the Mikdash…”

Harav Shapiro thanked him effusively and gave him a brachah. When we emerged, Harav Shapiro turned to me and said, “Look, we were guided here from Shamayim. If the holiness of Lublin is like the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, we have an answer for the Gerrer Rebbe…”

After that, Harav Shapiro was calm, Rabbi Shtalberg concluded.

Learning Seder Kodshim

A talmid of Harav Shapiro, Harav Elimelech Ashkenazi, z”l, writes in his sefer Ginzei Hamelech (pp. 453-4):

The learning sedarim in the yeshivah were built on Seder Kodshim, and my Rebbi would often repeat the words of the Chasam Sofer on the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (31a): “Reish Lakish said, ‘What does it mean v’hayah emunas itecha chosen yeshuos chochmas vadaas (Yeshayah 33:6)? Emunas is Seder Zeraim, itecha is Seder Moed, chosen is Seder Nashim, yeshuos is Seder Nezikin, chochmas is Seder Kodshim and daas is Seder Taharos.’” We see that Seder Kodshim corresponds to chochmas, and based on this we can ask: Don’t Chazal say (Bava Basra 25a) that one who wants to become wise should engage in monetary laws — which is Seder Nezikin and not Seder Kodshim?

He answered that the main part of chochmah is Seder Kodshim, but in order for a person to understand Seder Kodshim properly, he needs to first learn Nezikin. Only then will his mind be sharpened to understand the deep sugyos of Kodshim. This is the meaning of the words of the Gemara (ibid.) that one who wants to become wise — meaning he wants to understand and acquire knowledge in Seder Kodshim, alluded to in the word chachmas — should engage in learning monetary laws first, and then he will be ready to learn Seder Kodshim.

Rav Shapiro would also often repeat the words of the Sefer Chassidim (261) that people should hasten to study and fulfill a mitzvah or sugya that people do not frequently engage in. These holy words were his guiding light. Because most people did not learn Seder Kodshim, Harav Shapiro grasped it like it was a “meis mitzvah,” as the Sefer Chassidim notes.

Harav Ashkenazi continued:

I remember that the Rebbe Harav Moshenyu of Boyan, zt”l, author of Daas Moshe and one of the nesi’im of the yeshivah, came once to spend Shabbos at the yeshivah, and he spoke at length about Kodshim.

The sefer Netzer Mishorshav, published by a talmid of the yeshivah, Harav Menachem Mendel Weitz, z”l, quotes in the name of a talmid of the yeshivah, Reb Meir Lamet, z”l (p. 116):

The sefarim of the Sfas Emes on Shas were the basic works for the yeshivah bachurim, because the yeshivah was focused on learning the masechtos in Seder Kodshim. This fact was well reflected in the written works of the talmidim of the yeshivah, and in their letters they discussed at length the serious sugyos of avodas Beis Hamikdash. [This is also evident in the sefer Kochvei Ohr, a Torah compilation by the yeshivah students, Hy”d, most of which discusses Seder Kodshim.]

Harav Shapiro declared that any talmid of Chachmei Lublin who would master Seder Kodshim would get a certificate from the yeshivah that he was a “Tzurva MiRabbanan.” The objective was to strengthen the learning of this seder, which is often overlooked and studied by very few. By doing so, their emunah in the arrival of Moshiach and the building of the Beis Hamikdash would be reinforced.

Daf Yomi — A Resurrection of Seder Kodshim

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, praised Harav Meir Shapiro for establishing Daf Yomi, which was a correction for “skipping over” Seder Kodshim. He would say, “The creations think that, l’asid lavo, each person will be called by his name: ‘Reb Chaim should please take a seat of honor in Gan Eden,’ ‘Reb Yaakov should please be seated,’ and the like. That is not the case. Each person will be called by the name of the masechta that he learned: ‘Sit here, Maseches Brachos,’ ‘This seat is for Maseches Shabbos,’ and so forth. Hence, all the seats that are designated for Seder Kodshim would be left empty and ashamed, on the side… What can this be compared to? Someone prepares himself a beautiful suit from the most luxurious fabric in the world. He gives it to a master tailor to sew it according to his size. Everything is fine, but then he notices that an entire sleeve is missing. The entire garment is a farce. The same is true when we skip over an entire seder in Shas — we are missing an entire sleeve.

“Now,” the Chofetz Chaim said, “thanks to Daf Yomi, the chairs of Seder Kodshim in Gan Eden will not remain empty… The beautiful sleeve will be affixed to the suit and nothing will be missing…”

The Chofetz Chaim remarked on a number of occasions that he was very happy that through learning Daf Yomi, a number of masechtos in Seder Kodshim were brought back from oblivion. He believed that this was a wonderful process indicating the preparations for the arrival of Moshiach. How would we look, the Chofetz Chaim would conclude, if Moshiach would come and want to speak to us about the halachos of Kodshim and the Beis Hamikdash, and we would not understand what he was telling us? How shameful! Through the takanah of Daf Yomi, this was somewhat rectified.

At Harav Shapiro’s heart-wrenching levayah, this was expressed in the emotional hesped delivered by Harav Menachem Mendel Alter of Pabianicz, Hy”d.

He stood next to the Maharshal’s beis medrash and said loudly before the aron, “Lubliner Rav! All the Tanna’im and Amora’im are coming out today to greet you, and they will joyously usher you into Gan Eden, because who has disseminated Torah Sheb’al Peh as much as you have, through Daf Yomi? Where do you have a Rav and Gadol b’Yisrael who revived a number of masechtos, mainly from Seder Kodshim, like you did? These masechtos were shamed and abandoned, standing on the shelves with no one looking at them, except a few individuals in each generation. Then you came, Rav Meir, and revived them, and they have been acquired by all of Am Yisrael, all those who study Daf Yomi. All those masechtos, those tens of thousands of pages of Gemara learned in your merit, are coming out to greet you.”

Model of the Beis Hamikdash

Harav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, with some talmidim viewing the model of the Bais HaMikdash in his yeshivah.

Harav Shapiro’s desire to see the Beis Hamikdash built in all its glory led him to have a model of the Beis Hamikdash placed in the yeshivah. The model was four by six meters and was crafted by artist Reb Chanoch Weintraub, Hy”d, who worked for many years to construct it. He studied the sources in depth and carved the various structures out of wood, including the towers and little chambers, the pillars, gates and partitions. The purpose of the model was to make it easier for the students to understand all the places in the Talmud and the commentaries that discuss the details of the Beis Hamikdash and the relevant halachos.

The model at the time was the only one of its kind in the entire world, and it drew Jewish, and even non-Jewish, visitors from all over the world. An experienced guide from the yeshivah would give tours to these visitors — using a pointing stick — and explain all the details. There was a special handbook printed by the yeshivah for this purpose.

Placing this model in the middle of the yeshivah was a manifestation of the yearning that the Rosh Yeshivah felt to see the Beis Hamikdash and the complete Redemption, and of his strong desire to imbue his students and the entire nation with these sentiments.

Preparing to Leave for Eretz Yisrael — Shemini Atzeres 5694

Right after Rosh Hashanah of 5694 (1933), the last of Rav Shapiro’s life, he surprised his students by informing them that he had decided to move to Eretz Yisrael. He told some of them that he intended to build a yeshivah gedolah there, in Tzfas or Teveriah, and it would have four buildings. In one they would learn Seder Moed, and the Rosh Yeshivah would be Harav Menachem Ziemba, zt”l. In another they would learn Seder Nashim, and the Rosh Yeshivah would be Harav Yosef Rosen of Dvinsk, zt”l, author of Tzafnas Pa’aneach. In another they would learn Seder Nezikin [and it was forgotten who would be the Rosh Yeshivah there] and in another they would learn Seder Kodshim and the Rosh Yeshivah would be Harav Avreme’le Weinberg, zt”l, author of Reishis Bikkurim. (Heard from Rav Shapiro’s talmid muvhak, Harav Avraham of Strikov, zt”l.)

The announcement had practical ramifications on the night of Shemini Atzeres, when Harav Shapiro told his talmidim that he would daven and do hakafos in the beis medrash of the Chozeh of Lublin, which was not his usual practice.

He explained, “Although I am used to davening in the Chozeh’s beis medrash on the first night of Pesach and saying Hallel there, because this year I plan to go to Eretz Yisrael and be there for Pesach, I must fulfill my obligation to the Chozeh’s beis medrash already now.”

The Chozeh’s beis medrash is one of the holiest sites in the Chassidic world. Torah and Chassidus were disseminated from there to cities all over Poland. Revered Rebbes who were disciples of the Rebbe of Lublin came to the beis medrash.

The news spread rapidly that the hakafos would be held in the Rebbe’s beis medrash, which filled up very quickly, as did the surrounding streets.

It was extremely crowded, and the assembled recited Atah Hareisa after Harav Shapiro did. Then the elder Chassidim of Lublin were honored with hakafos. To everyone’s surprise, the Rav instructed that the talmidim of the yeshivah should go around the bimah with Slavita-edition gemaros in their hands so as to connect the Written Torah with the Oral Torah.

The talmidim of Chachmei Lublin were honored with hakafos. The gabbai declared: “So-and-so is honored with a hakafah with Gemara Maseches Brachos,” “So-and-so is honored with a hakafah with Gemara Zevachim…”

The hakafos were extremely moving, and the talmidim danced with the masechtos they were so bound to all year. Harav Shapiro stood in the middle, beaming with elation.

A talmid of the yeshivah, Reb Yehoshua Betzalel Pasternak of Zerashin, Hy”d, remembered this unique Simchas Torah and especially the end of the hakafos, when Harav Shapiro had a custom of circling the bimah while saying, “L’shanah habaah b’Yerushalayim.”

Reb Yehoshua described: “On Simchas Torah, when the Rav would say L’shanah habaah biYerushalayim, he would always circle the bimah in the shul three times. On the last Simchas Torah of his life, despite suffering severe pain in his leg, he would not forgo this practice. Ach! He ran with such vigor around the bimah, that we, the talmidim, could hardly keep up with him…”

They continued dancing in the streets until they arrived at the yeshivah. After the dancing ended, the Rav sat down with his talmidim in the yeshivah’s sukkah and began to recount stories of tzaddikim, especially focusing on the story of the mysterious fall and disappearance of the Chozeh of Lublin on Simchas Torah when he worked together with the tzaddikim, the Kozhnitzer Maggid and Harav Mendele of Riminov, to bring Moshiach.

The atmosphere was electric as the subject then turned to Rav Shapiro’s impending move to Eretz Yisrael.

As recounted by someone who was there: “As he spoke, the Rav became very enthused and mentioned a number of ma’amarei Chazal regarding the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. The tears that flowed from his eyes indicated his yearnings. The atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael hovered in the hall, and the talmidim began to sing ‘V’havieinu l’Tzion ircha b’rinah v’liYerushalayim Beis Mikdashcha b’simchas olam.’”

Learning the Mitzvos Hateluyos Baaretz

This strong desire to go to Eretz Yisrael was channeled on a practical level right after Yom Tov, when Rav Meir gathered together a group of those close to him and said, “It is not fitting to step onto the ground of Eretz Yisrael without proper mental preparation. How does one prepare to come to Eretz Yisrael if not with Torah, with learning the halachos of the mitzvos hateluyos baaretz?!”

He formed a select group of talmidim and began learning Mishnayos Maseches Peah with the commentaries of the Rosh and the Rambam.

The learning began on Isru Chag of Sukkos and took place each day at 4:30 in the morning. The Rav would come to the shiur in the bookbinding room of the library and wait for all the participants to arrive.

The atmosphere at this shiur was electrifying. Rav Shapiro was a virtual fount of brilliant chiddushim, and the feeling was that this was not abstract learning for him; it was genuine spiritual and practical preparation.

“We sensed,” one of the talmidim described, “that we were standing together in a field in Eretz Yisrael holding a sickle and discussing the practical halachah of the obligation of peah.”

The Rav reinforced this sentiment with the statement that he would repeat over and over with tremendous bitachon:

“Soon, I will go, b’ezras Hashem, to Eretz Yisrael and I will establish there a yeshivah and a makom Torah, and then my Rebbe, the Tchortkover Rebbe, will come, and the passuk (Bereishis 46:28) ‘V’es Yehudah shalach lefanav’ will be fulfilled. (Harav Shapiro’s full name was Yehudah Meir.)

After his sudden passing on 7 Cheshvan, and the subsequent passing of the Tchortkover Rebbe on 13 Kislev, these words took on special significance, according to the words of the Zohar (Parashas Vayechi) that tzaddikim pass through Eretz Yisrael on their way to Gan Eden

Zichron Meir in Bnei Brak

Right after Rav Meir Shapiro’s passing on 7 Cheshvan, 5694, a neighborhood called Zichron Meir was established in his memory in the relatively new settlement of Bnei Brak.

Reb Yaakov Halperin, a wealthy philanthropist and renowned among the leaders of the World Agudah, said, h“Although, regretfully, we cannot find consolation for this terrible tragedy that has struck us in any commemorations made for the Rav, zt”l, still, this is a fitting thing to do that is suited for his honor.”

The talmid muvhak of Harav Shapiro, Harav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, zt”l, established Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Zichron Meir. At the time of the yeshivah’s founding, he said, “I can still feel in my heart and hear in my ears the words of my Rebbi and teacher Harav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, who said: ‘May it be His will that I should be able to move the stones of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin from Lublin to Eretz Yisrael and establish it on holy land.’ This gives me strength and encouragement to be the spiritual leader of the new Yachal in Eretz Yisrael. May our brethren in Eretz Yisrael understand this and may their generosity help establish Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Eretz Yisrael.”

  • • •

On 26 Elul, 5718 (1958), Rav Meir Shapiro’s aron was transported from the cemetery in Lublin to Eretz Yisrael and reinterred on Har Hamenuchos.

What he did not merit in his lifetime, he at least merited after his passing, and the words “ki miTzion teitzei Torah udvar Hashem miYerushalayim” were fulfilled — because perhaps there was no one in recent generations who disseminated Torah around the world as Rav Meir did.

Yehi zichro baruch.