by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
He uniquely combined Torah knowledge, love of Mussar study, the Lithuanian Torah notion of a Mussar Shmuess, leadership, and a profound love of man.
For Torah knowledge, Moreinu HaRav Gershon Edelstein zt’l was unparalleled. He was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Ponovech Yeshiva for an astounding eighty years. Rav Edelstein, zt’l, gave shiurim in Talmud to his students until the very end.
His dedication to the teaching of Torah can be seen from the fact that even in his hospital bed, he delivered his daily shiur. He gave that shiur even during the months of Nissan and Av—the traditional months where Bnei Torah have a short break or vacation. His lucidity was never absent.
His last shiur, on Monday night, was given to the close talmidim who visited as well as the live hookup to the Yeshiva itself. The shiur lasted for precisely 16.5 minutes.
Rav Edelstein, zt’l, actively encouraged everyone, layman and Torah scholar alike, to partake in the daily study of Mussar—ethical self-reflection. He would constantly remind others that it is an obligation incumbent upon us all embodied in the Mishnah Berurah itself.
He emphasized, along with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt’l, with whom he partnered on so many projects, the daily halachic obligation that few of us are performing—studying Mussar daily. Although the Mishnah Berurah clearly rules that this is a great obligation (See Mishnah Berurah 1:12), the obligation is almost universally ignored.
Rav Edelstein, zt’l, would point out that the Chayei Adam Klal 143 also writes that it is an obligation that supersedes learning Mishnayos or any other learning. It is also clear that it is an obligation from the fourth chapter of the Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim. In rishonim, we find that Rabbeinu Yonah (2:15) also discusses this daily obligation, too.
The Mussar Shmuess
Each week, on Tuesdays, the shiur always included the traditional Lithuanian-style Mussar Shmuess, wherein the Rosh Yeshiva would examine one of the meforshim on Tanach or on a Midrash and would draw a profound ethical lesson that was both textually and contextually compelling. There was no other way to understand it and it always contained a remarkable insight in human character.
Leadership And Love Of Man
The loss of Rav Gershon Edelstein, zt’l, is devastating not only because of the loss in Torah—he was of the Ziknei HaRoshei Yeshiva who gave iyun shiurim and Rosh Yeshiva of the prestigious Ponovech Yeshiva. The loss is so significant because he was not just the Gadol haDor in learning; he was the Gadol haDor in chinuch and guidance. A few years ago, he gave a remarkable hashkafah session about chinuch and how to deal with those who are either struggling or off the derech, r’l.
The Wealthy Man And The Car
Rav Edelstein, zt’l, told of a story where a wealthy individual had a delicate question regarding his off the derech son. The son asked the father if he could buy him a car. The parents were unsure as to whether to buy him the car, on condition that he not use it on Shabbos. The husband and wife discussed it between themselves and decided to present it to the Chazon Ish.
The Chazon Ish paskened to the husband that he should buy him the car with no restrictions. When the husband came home, he related the psak to his wife. She could not believe it. “There is no way that the Chazon Ish could have paskened that way. You must have heard wrong or misunderstood him.”
The wife would not budge and they bought the car—but with the restrictions on Shabbos use. Rav Gershon, in tears, emphasized that he was intimately involved with the parties and he saw that the young man was turned away from Torah entirely.
Rav Edelstein, zt’l, constantly emphasized and implored parents and rebbeim not to force a child to do things. He gave examples: In tefillah, rather than force the child to daven, learn with him (or her). Teach them what is gained through tefillos and the opportunities lost as well. Never teach through ka’as, anger. It is so counterproductive.
The Rosh Yeshiva explained that some children or young men are extraordinarily sensitive, and they must be treated delicately. He told of a young man who was sensitive. He could not learn Gemara, but used his time in being meshamesh a Rosh Yeshiva. What was the reason for his being so sensitive? When he was young, his parents did not force him to do anything, but they constantly pointed things out and left him with the feeling that nothing he did was good enough. The young man lost his desire to learn. He does not hate his parents, chas v’shalom. He is just a young man that is not happy with his lot.
The Rosh Yeshiva also cautioned not to give a child everything he wants. Believe it or not, this can lead to a sense of superiority on behalf of the child—even feeling that he is above his parents! The child must realize that he should be batel to his parents in order to facilitate true growth. It will also lead to true yiras shamayim.
HaRav HaGaon Gershon Edelstein, zt’l, was the Nasi of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the leader of the Lithuanian Torah community in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world. After the petirah of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, zt’l, and HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, zt’l, HaRav Edelstein became the leader of the Olam HaTorah.
Who Will Take Over As The Leader Of Lithuanian Torah Jewry?
Exactly one year ago to the week, Rav Edelstein, zt’l, added four Roshei Yeshiva to the leadership of the Moetzes. He granted the title of Maran to four more Gedolim. This author confirmed this with Rav Gershon’s Gabbai. Apparently, it was in response to questions posed by Rav Nosson Zachofsky, the Rosh Yeshiva of Gaon Yaakov (Rav Shteinman, zt’l’s Yeshiva) and Rav Yoseph Efrati, Rav Elyashiv’s talmid and gabbai, author of Yisah Yoseph.
The four additional Gedolei Torah (in alphabetical order) all members of the Moetzes of Degel HaTorah, are:
Maran HaGaon HaRav Meir Zvi Bergman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rashbi in Bnei Brak and son-in-law of Maran HaGaon HaRav Shach, zt’l. He is the author of the Shaarei Orah series on Chumash and on the Rambam, and the Beis Medrash series on Shas.
Maran HaGaon HaRav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel in Bayit Vegan and author of the Birchas Mordechai. He is the son-in-law of Rav Meir Chodosh, zt’l, the Mashgiach of the Chevron Yeshiva.
Maran HaGaon HaRav Dov Landau, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He is the grandson in law of Rav Isaac Sher, zt’l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka and son-in-law of the Alter.
Maran HaGaon HaRav Baruch Dov Povarsky (Rav Beryl), the co-Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponevezh. He is a grandson of Rav Yeruchem, zt’l, of the Mir.
All four are in their early nineties. Rav Don Segal, shlita, and Rav Moshe Hirsch, shlita, are also considered leading Gedolei Torah but are not yet in their nineties and Rav Gershon Edelstein did not get a chance to include them.
Parents, roshei yeshiva, and rebbeim would come to Rav Edelstein, zt’l, daily for advice. The loss of his sagely advice is devastating. Yehe zichro boruch.
The author can be reached at [email protected].