By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Often there is a “Plan A.” But sometimes, one has to go with a “Plan B.”
And, since everything is mishamayim, it soon becomes clear that perhaps Plan B was Hashem’s Plan A all along.
The origins of Beis Medrash Elyon began not with Beis Medrash Elyon. Rather, it began with an idea from the fertile mind of Reb Shraga Mendlowitz ob”m. His idea was to create a program for mechanchim – to train those who would go out into Chinuch. His goal was to recruit students from all of the Yeshivos in America. He called it the Aish Dos program.
It was 1943, and Reb Shraga Feivel found a property in Monsey, New York. The property had two buildings atop 16 acres of land and one of the properties was a large mansion with a steeple. A gentile gvir had built it more than a century earlier. It had two floors. It was perfect and only $13,000. He took out a personal loan from someone of $3000. Then he obtained a bank loan for the other $10,000 providing a down payment of 23%.
The Aish Dos program lasted one year, and then morphed into a different program called Beis Medrash l’Mechanchim which lasted an additional 18 months. But it did make a remarkable impact. Mechanchim of great import emerged. TAG’s Rav Moshe Weitman ob”m had studied there, as did so many other successful mechanchim.
In 1944, Reb Shraga Feivel retooled. Another idea that he had toyed with was to create an elite program, but he had rejected it earlier on. The holocaust, however, had kind of changed his mind. The vast majority of European talmidei chachomim had been eliminated, and now – there was shortage.
In the fall of 1944, Reb Shraga Feivel opened up “Beis Medrash Elyon” and changed history. He gathered eighteen of Torah V’Daath’s top talmidim. Rav Reuvain Grozovsky zt”l, YTV’s Rosh Yeshiva also became BME’s Rosh Yeshiva. He spent the second half of the week and Shabbos in Beis Medrash Elyon. Rav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan zt”l, the son-in-law of Rav the famed Mir Mashgiach, Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l and a former Maggid Shiur in the Brisker Rav’s Yeshiva, was the Mashgiach of BME.
And very soon, BME became the premier Yeshiva and Kollel in America. Rav Simcha Schustal headed the Kollel Reb Shraga Feivel, however, passed away only four years after BME was established, in 1948. Indeed, Rav Moshe Bick once said of this Yeshiva, “No other yeshiva has produced lomdim the way Bais Medrash Elyon has.”
The Yeshiva built bungalow housing for the Rebbeim and the Kollel Yungeleit. They called these bungalows “Batei Elyon.” The Yeshiva bochurim lived in the dormitory housing. Meals were delivered to everyone three times a day.
The cook, Mr. Appledorfer, who worked in Yeshiva was a remarkable tzaddik. He once related that he would wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for the bochurim, and find Rav Reuven absorbed in learning. It was not that the Rosh Yeshiva was up early. It was that he was up all night. Such was his example of hasmada for the bochurim.
Once Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l had given a shiur in Beis Medrash Elyon. Rav Aharon had left his pen there and Mr. Appledorfer chased after Rav Aharon to give him back the pen. Rav Aharon to him to hold onto it. Years later, when Rav Dovid Schustal, a talmid of Beis medrash Elyon, married Rav Shneur Kotler’s daughter, Mr. Appledorfer gave him a gift-wrapped box. In it was a ball-point pen. Rav Dovid Schustal asked him later, “Mai Hai?” Mr. Appledorfer answered, “It was Rav Aharon’s pen. Now that you are marrying into the family, I figured I should give it to you.”
In 1951, Rav Reuvain Grozovsky suffered a serious stroke, and Rav Kaplan the Mashgiach took over as Rosh Yeshiva. Originally, Rav Gedaliah Schorr did not have so much to do with Beis Medrash Elyon. Rav Reuven Grozovsky was the rosh yeshiva, and the day-to-day running of the yeshiva was done by Rav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan. After Rav Reuven’s petirah in the late 1955, Rav Schorr began coming to Monsey every week, where he gave shiur on the masechta. He also gave maamarim that were based on the Sefas Emes, or Rav Tzadok or others. His power of chiddush and his genius in these areas were perhaps unparalleled.
Rav Gedaliah had asked his mechuten, Rav Margolis from London for a loan and housing was built for the Kollel Yungeleit. Eventually, Rav Gedaliah Schorr became the Rosh Yeshiva.
Some of the early talmidim under Rav Reuvain were:
- Rav Yehoshua Yoseph Preil
- Rav Don Ungarisher
- Rav Hillel Zaks
- Rav Gershon Zaks
- Rav Hershel Zaks
- Rav Yitzchok Scheiner
- Rav Moshe Feigelstock
- Rav Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz
- Rav Chaim Grozovsky
- Rav Sheah Schiff
- Rav Shmuel Mendlowitz
- Rav Yehoshua Gelddzahler
- Rav Yaakov Moshe Kulevsky
- Rav Simcha Schustal
Rav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan – The Mashgiach
A Talmid later recalled: Search through the Mesilas Yeshorim and Chovos Halevovos and glean from there all the glowing poetic phrases descriptive of human perfection; seek out the component ingredients of pure ethical man. Blend these harmoniously and then add a touch of humanity and warmth and sweetness beyond words. There you may come into existence again; or at least inspire a new generation of imitations.
The Mashgiach personified eternity. In his company, the commonplace and ordinary had no room to exist. His was the world of the scholar-philosopher; where angels could feel at ease and where puny humans lost touch with their crushing pettiness, to be carried aloft on the soaring wings of wisdom to the dizzying heights of the ethereal plane.
The presence of the Shechina shone forth from his kindly countenance, and he imparted its glow to the entire assemblage. With quiet step he trod the floors of the Yeshiva, making his way among the endless rows of student benches, often hardly noticed by the men by dint of their deep concentration.
His personal erudition was eclipsed by his heavy focus on ethical development, but many a time even the most brilliant students would marvel at his ability to resolve their Talmudic difficulties. Some have claimed that this was more a result of his calming influence on the students than of his own profundity of learning; and therein lay a remarkable observation …. Even after all these years, the very memory of the Mashgiach has a soothing effect on my nerves and often brings a calm to troubled waters. Thus passed in idyllic tranquility my earliest period in Beis Medrash Elyon.
Rav Reuvain Grozovsky zt”l – The Rosh Yeshiva
Rav Reuvain Grozovsky zt”l, was one of the Gedolei HaDor, who almost single-handedly changed the face of the Torah world as we know it. He was the person responsible for bringing Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l to the Slabodka Yeshiva – and literally saving them from grave spiritual dangers. He married the daughter of Rav Boruch Ber, was a member of the Vaad Hatzolah, Moetzes Gedolei Torah and Torah uMesorah. He was a Rosh Yeshiva in Torah V’Daas, Beis Medrash Elyon and Kamenetz.
Imagine. No Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l. No Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l. No Lakewood Yeshiva. Also, all of the Yeshiva Bochurim that were saved by Rav Reuvain and Rav Aharon. One shudders to think of what would have been without him.
In beis Medrash Elyon, Rav Reuvain would give the same shiur that he delivered at Yeshiva Torah V’Daas, but on a far deeper level. He delivered the shiur every Shabbos.
Some of the thoughts and sayings of Rav Grozovsky zt”l were:
- The Holiness of Shabbos pre-existed creation and is the culmination of the world’s completion. The verse states that G-d completed His work on the seventh day. Before the Holiness of Shabbos existed – the world was incomplete. This can only be understood by those who perceive that Holiness. The seventy two sages who translated the Septuagint for Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Greek king of Egypt in 72 different rooms – thus all translated that G-d completed His work on Friday (Bretton translation on Genesis 2:2). This is because they knew that only Jews would understand why the world’s real completion was on Shabbos. (Sichos Rav Reuvain, Moadim, Maamar 1).
- If a person is cruel and shows no concern about embarrassing another and does not care about the other being mortified – this is not of the “lighter sins” at all – rather it is of the gravest of sins (Maamarei Rav Reuvain p. 13)
- Sometimes a person will use Torah to chas veshalom cause pain or tzaar to another human being. He makes the Torah into a sword to stab another human being. This is the very opposite of Torah – which is a Torah of chessed and gives Everlasting life. (Maamarei Rav Reuvain p. 8)
- The trait of humility is what strengthens the trait of fear of Heaven (Maamarei Rav Reuvain p.32)
- The purpose of Vidui is so that a person will be filled with a fear and dread of his aveiros, (Lev Reuvain p.410)
- Just like we count our money in gashmius, we should also be counting our Mitzvos (See Rav Broan Brachos 9b) – this way he will understand, appreciate and value the mitzvah. He will also take pride and joy in it and seek to work harder in the performance of Mitzvos. (Maamarei Rav Reuvain p.3)
- Torah is life itself. Since Torah is so precious and valuable, a person should be in a state of great joy for every insight in Torah that he creates – for every question he has, and for every answer. As a result he will endeavor to sharpen it, clarify it, write it and spread it. He should do this also for his friend’s insights too (Maamarei Rav Reuvain p.22)
- If one does not feel the simcha in the learning of Torah it is because he never truly tasted Torah in the correct and proper manner. (Lev Reuvain p.416)
- When explaining a lomdisha shiur to Talmidim – it is important to leave out everything that does not directly pertain to understanding the concepts being conveyed – no matter how interesting that extraneous idea is. (Heard from a talmid).
A person is obligated to honor his limbs and his body. It is part of the Mitzvah of Zeh Kaili v’anveihu since man was created b’Tzelem Elokim. (Maamrei Rav Reuvain p.45)
A talmid later recalled: Rav Reuvain Grozovsky was wisdom incarnate. His fine, sharp, and powerful mind was a repository for the knowledge of the ages. The Tannairn, Amoraim, Rishonim, and Achronim were all alive and vibrant in the recesses of his magnificent brain: the Gaon personified, shades of the old Reb Chaim of Volozhin and Rabbi Akiva Eiger.
Beneath the ancient eyebrows, his piercing eyes danced and sparkled with subtlety; each carefully chosen phrase of his was permeated with depth and an analytic insight. He inspired awe in the mightiest of scholars, and spurred them on to greater heights of achievement. The Rosh Hayeshiva’s personal sanctity and purity were proverbial.
His very presence endowed the Yeshiva with a majestic and holy atmosphere, Yorn Kippur-like in its awe, focusing one’s mind on higher realms. For the few who had dabbled in secular studies, his presence was a unique revelation. His pure, potent wisdom and pristine personality were certainly a welcome relief from the stuffy sophists and scientists who claimed for themselves the exclusive right to scholarship. Compared to him, these were mere schoolboys who flaunted their meager knowledge in search of recognition.
Some of the Rosh Yeshiva’s students were already giants in their own right, and many were eagerly sought by established institutions to be deans and lecturers to fill important positions. In many a case, though, their thirst for the wisdom of their teacher kept them in the Yeshiva for additional years until they emerged in magnificent form.
Rav Gedaliah Schorr zt”l
Rav Gedalia Schorr, was called America’s first Gadol, by Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l. Although his parents were Sadigora Chassidim, he was a student of Rav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l in Yeshiva Torah VaDaas. When Rav Shlomo Heiman took ill, he was asked to give shiur in his stead. Rav Gedaliah went to learn in Kletzk under Rav Aharon Kotler and later became the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah VaDaas in 1958 after the passing of Rav Reuvain Grozovsky zt”la. He loved and knew every talmid like a father to a son.
Rav Schorr interacted more and more with the Talmidim in BME. Each week, he would go to the Port Authority in Manhattan and took a bus to Monsey. After he arrived at Beis Medrash Elyon each Thursday, he would speak in learning with every bochur. Let’s recall that each of these talmidim were future Roshei Yeshiva and brilliant Talmidei Chachomim in their own right. The next week he would go around the Beis Medrash and answer questions that the bochurim had asked that previous week.
The following are eleven thoughts and sayings of his.
- The Midrash (BR 8:10) tells us that the Malachim erroneously thought that Adam Harishon was HaKadosh Boruch Hu and wished to say Shira and Kadosh before him. How could this be? The answer is that Adam was created b’tzelem elokim and his neshama is a chailek elokah mimaal. This is our potential!
- The concepts of mere resolve and stick-to-it-ism contain tremendous powers of growth. Rav Gedaliah Schorr once said: Yaakov Avinu, even while he was in Galus arose from one madreigah to another. The galus did not affect him negatively at all. His growth was such that the parsha concludes ‘vayifgeu bo malachei hasharais – the angels themselves met with him. The term pagah refers to the notion of chidush – containing an element of shock. The malachim were shocked both of this tremendous growth as well as to the fact that it happened in the house of Lavan. How did it happen? Because he did not deviate one iota from his Avodas Hashem – this resolve was what caused his growth – such growth that even the Malachim himself were in awe. Ohr Gedalyahu Parshas Vayetzai p.98
- Part of the Mitzvah of being mesamayach a chosson and kallah is bringing them gifts as the Rambam explains in hilchos Avel 14:1. In the sheva brachos we say about Hashem, mesamayach chosson vekallah. So what is the gift that Hashem brings the chosson and Kallah? It appears that it is the mechilah on all aveiros and the ability to start over – which is the greatest gift of all! (at a sheva brachos)
- The entire concept of a Korban being effective to remove aveirah – comes from Avrohom Avinu at the Akeidah. He davened to hashem that in the merit of his willingness to listen to hashem in the Akeida that his descendents houls have the ability to receive mechilah by offering something. From Rav Gedalia’s words we see the kochos of dedication to the ratzon Hashem.
- When the Simon Weisenthal Holocaust Museum was opened in California even bringing in stones from Auschwitz to show visitors, he responded emotionally, “They must certainly think that that they are building it so that anti-semites will see how far evil can take them and that they will do teshuvah. The truth is that it will not help at all. These types of places are only school houses of terrorism. It will instruct them as to how far they can strike Jews, may the Merciful One protect us.” Meged Givaos Olam Vol. II
- That which they say “the Shabbos after Shavuos” we still retain the sparks and light of Yom Tov – that Shabbos [when combined with its kedusha and that of the sparks and lights from Shavuos] is a very special time for hisorerus. The Maharsham had a proof to this from a teshuvah of the Radbaz Vol. Vi #2178. The Gemorah in Chagigah 26b states that after [every] yom tov the Kohanim would show the people the nissim that the lechem hapanim would still be fresh and warm and how much Hashem loved Klal Yisroel. This happened on Shabbos. Now why were the people there Shavuos? It was because they stayed. This si why it is called Shabbos noch Shavuos – and it has special Kedusha.
- The Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 60:2 tells us Eved maskil – zeh eliezer. Now each person has a particular mission or task in life – whether he admits to it or not. He must fulfill this task to his best ability. He should not try to rid himself of that task. What was the wisdom of Eliezer? The main aspect of his wisdom is that he knew his task and place. His place was the be the servant of Avrohom and through that he can achieve the apogee of what he was meant to do. He did not try to releive himself of this task or his responsibilities. This must be true of all people. We must recognize our task, and the particular strengths that shamayim has given us. We must serve Hashem with these kochos and not search for other aspects and heights that were not meant for us. Eliezer performed his task with all his abilities.
- Rav Menachem Zeimba zt”l wrote remarkable chiddushim on the entire Torah. The gzeirah that was the Churban was not only on him – but also on his Torah chiddushim – which could have enlightened all of Klal Yisroel. Only two seforim were saved: Totzaos Chaim and responsa Zera Avrohom. It is remarkable that these two seforim were printed as a chessed – to commemorate the memory of two Talmidei Chachomim. This was Torah of chessed – and that is why his Torah was saved from the Churban.
- When someone does an action – there are not only different levels of intent, but different types of intent as well. Rav Schorr zt”l would quote Rashi (Bereishis 9:23) on the pasuk of how it says, “And he took, Shaim and Yafes, the clothing and draped it on Noach. WRashi explains that Shaim exerted himself more in the Mitzvah than Yafes did. He therefore received the Mitzvah of Tzitzis for his decendents, while Yafes merited burial for his descendents as it says in Sfer Yechezkel 39:11 And I shall give Gog a burial place. Now the action that they each did was the same. The difference between them pertains to the type of intent that they each had. Shaim’s intent reflected inner depth, true understanding and for the sake of a Mitzvah. This is why he merited to a Mitzvah that reflects the inner nature of clothing. Yafe’s intent was external and aesthetic – so that things should look nice. This is the essence of Yavan to focus only on the out aesthetics and ignoring the inner depth and value.
- And Mordechai knew all that had transpired (Esther 4:1). Rashi explains that he was told this information in a But how does Rashi know this? How do we know that it wasn’t through Ruach haKodesh or through Eliyahu HaNavi – as is indicated in the Midrash (Esther Rabbah)? Rav Schorr explained based on the Gemorah in Chagigah 5b, “And I shall surely hide My Face on that day” – Even though I shall hide My Face from them – I shall speak to him in a dream (BaMidbar 12:6). Even in a period of Hester Panim – Klal Yisroel will still merit communication through a dream.
- There are two types of yirah. There is one that is calculated and developed intellectually. But there is a more fundamental yirah – one that exists naturally, like that which is found in the Beis HaMikdash as in the tefillah vesham naavadcha b’yirah. The main yirah is when there is a divine revelation and based upon the understanding of the person he is filled with true Yirah. (Ohr Gedalyahu parshas beshalach)
A Talmid later recalled: The hierarchy of Beis Medrash Elyon boasted yet another wondrous individual. The Wise One, as he was known, punctuated the regular study program with his intermittent appearances. Each of these was occasion for a generous dose of his sparkling Talmudic insight or a brilliant dissertation on mystical aspects of Midrash and Talmud, and the pleasure of his scintillating conversation.
A multifaceted luminary was he, with exceptional expertise in even many an exotic area of scholarly interest. He was a rare and unforgettable individual: charming and captivating, empathetically relating to many an individual student. The profundity of his thinking, though, often required inordinate exertion for fullest comprehension for he was of the type that was somewhat removed from the mundane tediousness of pragmatic concerns. Nonetheless, his impact upon the thinking of the student body was considerable.
Rav Gedaliah Schorr zatzal’s ideas and phraseology inevitably found their way into the vocabulary of all true Beis Medrash Elyoners, gently and irresistibly expanding their mental horizons. He was often beleaguered by an admiring following, eager to cull tidbits of wisdom from his repartee, delicately dissecting his shmuessim in search of the vast scholarly treasure they harbored. He never acted with condescension and was equally at ease with the great and the humble.
Rav Gedaliah Schorr’s fame spread far and wide, attracting to the Yeshiva a broader element of talmidim than had been customary in previous times. His role in the leadership of the Yeshiva expanded with the passage of time, ultimately assuming the foremost position, upon the demise of the Rosh Hayeshiva.
Rav Don Ungarischer zt”l
Rav Don Ungarischer zatzal, the son-in-law of Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt”l, gave the top shiur in BME after his father-in-law’s stroke and compiled and edited his shiurim in what is known as “Chiddushei Rav Reuven.” This sefer has become a venerable classic in the yeshiva world today. It is used by talmidim and Roshei yeshiva alike.
Rav Ungarischer devoted his life to harbotzas haTorah, and led both the yeshiva in Monsey as well as the Bais Medrosh Elyon branch in Bnei Brak, which is headed by Rav Don’s son, Rav Yerachmiel Ungarischer.
This author’s personal interaction with Rav Don Ungarischer zatzal showed his remarkable tzidkus – aside from his incredible lomdus. He spent hours and hours in an attempt to help an Agunah receive a get. He gave her much chizuk and also gave chizuk to all those who were helping her. His son is now Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon.
A Talmid later recalled: The mannerisms of the talmidim even with regard to dress, ranged from the dapper to the ascetic. National origin also varied widely, giving the Yeshiva its well-deserved reputation of being a supra-national cosmopolitan institution. The range of secondary interests of the students was equally vast in its extent, varying from the music of tefillah, to history, dikduk, mysticism, philosophy, and oratory.
In the Beis Hamedrash, the introspective baal mussar rubbed shoulders with the fiery emotional divine, very often as chavrusos debating with equal intensity the pilpul of the most recent Talmudic discourse as well as contrasting views on Torah Weltanschauung. The most striking and memorable element in the composition of the Yeshiva was the aura of kedusha that permeated every facet of its activity. Even after the passage of years, with the blurring of images and the fading of memories dismayingly taking their toll, this noble characteristic stands out remarkably sharp and clear. It remains to this day the hallmark of the true Beis Medrash Elyoner.
This spirit of kedusha, as it were, having once been ingested by the student during his tenure at the Yeshiva, continued to radiate from within his soul for all his days, indelibly marking him with grace and distinguishing him among his fellow men. As a genuine institution of higher learning and research, Beis Medrash Elyon harbored a generous dose of scholarly cynicism, but its intensity was limited to serve as a constructive stimulant for discipline in self-expression. It was, nonetheless, caustic enough to discourage most second-raters from choosing Beis Medrash Elyon as their place of study. This reinforced the Yeshiva’s well earned reputation as the abode of genius, on a plane of its own, well beyond the normal academic level.
The exceptional scholar who made his way to Beis Medrash Elyon after capping off a career as the outstanding student of his local yeshiva found himself subdued by the Yeshiva’s community of scholars. Yet despite the varying natures and wide ranging personalities of the students, they throbbed as one great soul in their relentless yearning for truth and in their steadfast devotion to the high ideals of Torah.
The genius of Beis Medrash Elyon was manifest even in its gentile help, one of whom held several patents for inventions. I particularly remember his keen wit and powers of observation. (Once, when he noticed a student lying in bed during study hours, apparently fatigued from an entire night of vigorous learning, he remarked, “There lies one of our students, in deep meditation.”)
Mention should be made of the dynamic community of Monsey that the Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon left in its wake. Originally located in an isolated, semi-rural setting, the Yeshiva had steadily drawn clusters of Torah-seeking families from without, who desired to bask in its light and cling to its holiness. A mini-community soon formed under the shadow of the yeshiva, nurtured by its vitality, fed by its outflux of maturing scholars, and crowned by its dominating presence. In time, however, this community flourished, and fast assumed an independent character, distinguished by great piety and serenity. The town ultimately survived the great academy that spawned it, and even superseded the Yeshiva in its significance.”
A family member is b’ezras Hashem purchasing a home in Monsey, an ever-growing metropolis with new neighborhoods arising every few months. People must realize, however, what the moving force behind the growth of this Torah shtot actually was. It was the Torah and gadlus of these remarkable individuals that created it all. Even the anti-Semitic New York Times informs us that it was Beis Medrash Elyon which metamorphosed into Monsey.
The author can be reached at [email protected]