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HaRav Elyashiv: The Passing of a Tzaddik is an Atonement

July 24, 2012 – 6:48 pm20 Comments
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv זצ״ל

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv זצ״ל, leader of the global Litvishe community

By Rabbi Meir Rabi
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv has passed away. He has moved on to the next stage, the loftier stage of existence. I have heard it estimated that almost half a million people attended his levaya, his funeral procession.

We are left with but memories and stories, mind images of his noble and holy life.

Is it not amazing though, that these mind images can be so dramatically different? Is it not amazing that the one personality can be and is so differently portrayed and projected? HaRav Elyashiv was a very great man. It is no wonder that everyone and every group seeks to claim him as personifying their own set of ideals and aspirations.

But there is an enormous difference between what various groups see in and wish to project from HaRav Elyashiv’s life. And this prompts me to ponder: are we in fact, when enshrining the memory of HaRav Elyashiv, doing so in order to learn from HaRav Elyashiv? Perhaps we are seeking to justify, to use this memory as a device to reinforce our own formulations and our own philosophies about Judaism and Torah? I think most of us will agree that this is a very serious question of substance.

And this leads me to reflect and ask, did HaRav Elyashiv accomplish something in his death that he did not accomplish during his life? Between the multitudes of people that came to pay their last respects, there were no mechitzos, no barriers. Were the divisions that usually separate people and groups eclipsed by a united awareness of communal mourning and a profound sense of loss?

And I ruefully reflect upon the observation of our Sages, that the death a tzaddik, the death of a righteous person, is an atonement for the people. What greater atonement can there be than having brought disparate religious community groups together? But I fear that perhaps they are united only in location. Perhaps they are mostly thinking of themselves and their philosophy.

I have enjoyed a faint connection to HaRav Elyashiv via the soft matza that is produced under my supervision. The Rav of Israel’s largest dairy corporation, HaRav Weitman, had a sample of this soft matza shown to R’ Elyashiv. According to R’ Weitman’s email R’ Elyashiv examined the soft matza and said that he sees no problem with it, and R’ Elyashiv meant to include even for use by Ashkenasim. When this became known through publication on RealMatza.com, strenuous efforts were made to negate these claims resulting in a statement in the name of R’ Elyashiv by one of his close aides.

So, as I stand in respectful silence and recite tehillim at a gathering to honour HaRav Elyashiv, I contemplate that I might well be standing alongside a colleague who exerted much effort to negate HaRav Elyashiv’s observations about the suitability of soft matza.

Are we united?

Perhaps what we might glean from HaRav Elyashiv’s life, where those who sought his counsel came from the entire spectrum of Jewish observance and colour; and his passing, where no mechitzos not even notional mechitzos separated Jews from one another: is that we must be able to respect and dignify one another notwithstanding our differences.

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  • Robert Weil says:

    True, the death of a Tzaddik is an atonement for the people, but reading this article it seems what Rav Eliyashiv has accomplished in his death is to provide an opportunity for the writer to self-promote himself and his ‘soft’ matzah.

  • Ari says:

    From the website quoted above there is an error in translation which is significant:

    English Translation:
    HaRav Weitman, the respected Rav of Tnuva wrote, “I requested that an associate take the Matza you left with me to Rabbi Elyashiv. Rav Elyashiv saw these (Exodus) Matzot and inspected them, and he said that from what he observes, these Matzot would be perfectly Kosher for Pesach.”

    this is the email I received from Rav Weitman
    “לרבי מאיר שלום רב,

    ביקשתי מחבר לקחת את המצות שהשארת לי לרב יוסף שלום אלישיב שליט”א והרב אלישיב ראה את המצות ואמר שהצורה והרכות שלהן איננה מעכבת ואיננה מפריעה לכשרותן

    The english claims that R’ Elyashiv Ztz”l inspected the Matzot and from what he observes… “these Matzot would be perfectly Kosher for Pesach.”
    The Hebrew reads more like:
    R’ Elyashiv saw the matzot and said that their shape and softness does not preclude their use and does not render them not kosher.

    The translation from the website implies that R’ Elyashiv claims these ‘specific’ Matzot are kosher (the word from what he observes is too insignificant to be noticed by most people), while the more accurate translation makes clear they are kosher only in terms of their shape and hardness – nothing is mentioned about the flour used, the cooking process, etc.

    I guess there are others who also make statements in the name of R’ Elyashiv.

  • yossi says:

    Please! Not the soft matza again………

  • Shalom to you friends,

    Perhaps you did not notice this notification on the same page, http://www.realmatza.com/harav-elyashiv.html
    “Of course, this is not and can not be taken as a statement of endorsement for this particular soft Matza, since HaRav Elyashiv is unaware of the details of the process of manufacture.”

    as for the translation – it is provided by 3 people who are familiar with the subtleties of Talmudic-Rabbinic Hebrew and who all concurred that the meaningfully correct and accurate translation is as I have provided on the website.

    Anyway, try to focus on the main part of the article; what can be done to build a better deeper respect between Frum Yidden? That is the atonement we ought to be looking for. What can we do to show dignity and respect to one another and particularly to those we disagree with?

  • Harry Joachim says:

    For heaven’s sake, it’s almost Tishah B’Av and here we are talking about the soft matza issue (yet again).

    Did you really have to include this in your piece Rabbi Rabi? Surely you can comment on R Elyashiv’s greatness, the achdus of klal Yisorel, etc., without having to mention your soft matzo!?

    Owing to the divisiveness that your matzo has brought to Melbourne Jewry and the controversy surrounding what R Elyashiv did or did not say about them, surely you knew that reference to the matzo would cause your readership to discount what could otherwise be a worthy posting about a most worthy gadol?

  • ariel says:

    I write this for fear that many will end up falling into the adage of “Achrei Mot…Kedoshim Emor” (“after one dies, everyone speaks of them as holy people”, but the statement is formed from the names of three successive parashot.)

    It is interesting that Rav Elyashiv was an animated opponent of Chabad and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Yet his own followers treat him with no less veneration than Chabadniks their rebbe (leave the meshichism aside for now).

    Over the last several years, the rav made some halachic psakim which were questionable in their common sense. For example, he suddenly ruled that “shabbat elevators” were assur, even for the elderly and invalid, and also ruled that orthodontic braces caused a hatzitza when immersing in the mikveh (and therefore women should not have braces).

    Now, as a neutral orthodox observer who is not litvish (and generally not pidgeon-holeable) and for whom Rav Elyashiv was not the “pre-emminent halachic authority”, these rulings point to an extremely elderly man beginning to show the signs of dementia. Although his closest students later claimed he rescinded these decisions, one can’t help but compare the this with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s urging his hassidim to greet him as mashiach after his second stroke. Yet both continued to be seen as compus mentus until they passed.

    Furthermore, Rav Elyashiv caused significant pain to our Bnot Yisrael, Jewish women, as recounted here:
    Rabbi Elyashiv’s Legacy of Women’s Pain

    The question becomes: Why didn’t Rav Elyashiv pass on the mantle of leadership when it became clear some time ago that he was not capable of making decisions which could affect world Jewry? Why must we cleave to our rabbis until they pass away and long after they show signs of being too unwell to continue in their leadership roles?

    Let us hope that in future, we are more rational and rather than blindly follow our rabbis, we scrutinise them when it is clear they are no longer capable of sound decision making.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    An excellent article on R Elyashiv’s “Mixed Legacy” – much more informative than the post by RR…


  • My intent was not to write the sort of article about HaRav Elyashiv that will be printed in the Yated the HoModia and the Mishpacha, etc. My intent was to explore the contrast between the Achdut displayed at his Levaya and the lack of Achdut otherwise seen within the Orthodox community. And I sadly suspect that the Achdut could easily be far deeper and more meaningful.

    I suppose I planted a little test to see just how readily some might fail to see the main feature and become distracted by peripherals. I think a good test for the tone and majesty of our contributions might be to ask ourselves, what might an outsider think of the tone and posture of these discussions? Also, what might be omitted from a contribution that might make it less aggressive and yet maintain the main thought? Unless of course …

    So my friends, I again appeal to you, what can be done to build a better deeper respect between Frum Yidden? That is the atonement we ought to be looking for. What can we do to show dignity and respect to one another and particularly to those we disagree with?

    Ariel, would you explain why HaRav Elyashiv’s opposition to Chabad is flawed if his “own followers treat him with no less veneration than Chabadniks their rebbe”?

    On a second point Ariel, May I presume you meant to say that some of HaRav Elyashiv’s rulings were not Halachically correct when you wrote, “questionable in their common sense”?

    As to the question of passing the mantle of leadership, and recognising when it is no longer appropriate to act as a leader; …… tough and painful questions

  • JohnyGipps says:

    “I suppose I planted a little test to see just how readily some might fail to see the main feature and become distracted by peripherals.”

    Ah huh. So the reference to soft matza was just a “little test” to see how the readers respond. Subtle. Very subtle.

  • ariel says:

    Dear Rabbi Rabi,

    I suppose what I am saying is that blind following of a rabbi/rebbe is not good. Whether it be those in Lubavitch who never questioned their rebbe’s urging them to greet him as mashiach after having suffered two strokes, or Rabbi Elyshiv’s students/followers blindly accepting his (impractically machmir) halachic decisions when he was in advanced old age and possibly in the process of impaired brain function. His halachic decisions which I cited may have been academically correct (eg, in an ideal world, we probably shouldn’t use elevators on shabbat), but they lack common sense and are impractical in the real world (the 5th volume of SH”A).

    I suppose that my criticism emerges more as one toward the rabbis’ followers than the rabbis themselves…

  • Ariel, thank you for your clarification. You have succinctly and accurately explained your point. I agree with you.

    “Blind Following” is the ultimate insult to Gd, the ultimate rejection of His endowing us with the ability and duty to think and innovate. And I think that your last posting is very much in sync with my article and my sadness when witnessing the cosmetic Achdut at the Levaya of great people like HaRav Elyashiv. As you say the criticism is really directed at the followers but I suppose also at the leaders for permitting and perhaps even encouraging this type of following.

    The extent to which Common Sense [which is not so common] guides Halacha is worthy of further discussion. Please write something and submit it to Galus.

  • Naftoli says:

    It is sad that people like Ariel can make statements which have little, if any, relationship to the truth and expect us to accept these statements as “gospel” (sorry, I couldn’t resist that). I am sure that in ariel’s mind the Rebbe urged his followers to “greet him as mashiach” but I know that is not true at all. On the contrary, the Rebbe was always against those who wanted to proclaim him as Moshiach as it detracted from his actual teachings. That certain people today, 18 years after the Rebbe’s passing, insist that the Rebbe is Moshiach cannot be blamed on the Rebbe and is more a reflection on those peoples misunderstanding of the Rebbe’s teachings in my opinion.

  • Naftoli,

    You too are troubled by the blind following of whoever they may be, after whatever they may be following.

    What are we doing to help alter this? What are our options?
    Are the leaders able to reduce this intense following, should they be trying or trying harder?

    Perhaps the greater good is served by providing maximum Rabbinic and Chassidic leadership for those who do benefit from it and there is little that can be done for the blind followers.

  • Naftoli says:

    True, I am concerned by the whole concept of ‘blind following’. But I do remain cognisant that there are great Jewish leaders whose depth of knowledge, spirituality, true love of others and whose Torah learning has encompassed their whole being and existence and which makes them sort of ‘super Jews’ who we can all learn from. Obviously I believe that one of these men was the Lubavitcher Rebbe but I know that there are other great leaders from all flavours of Orthodoxy – Chassidim or Litvish, Ashkenaz or Sefarad. By virtue of the amazing qualities of these leaders many are drawn to them and sometimes ‘lose themselves’ in that person’s shadow.
    What bothers me about ‘blind following’ is that many do it for other personal reasons – to take away responsibility for making decisions, to justify their (aberrant) behaviour etc etc etc. In doing so they degrade the person in whose name they do these things. That leads to people like ariel above denigrating the leader and not the follower.

    So, R Meir, my answer to your questions of what are the options is that it is not the leader’s fault that certain followers have a ‘warped’ sense of how to be a ‘follower’. The Rebbe criticised his chassidim many times for venerating him in inappropriate ways (eg. a number of times he reprimanded chassidim who would watch him daven rather than concentrate on their own davening). I don’t see that he could have done any more than he did.

  • ariel says:


    I thought I made it clear that I was referring to when the Lubavitcher Rebbe returned home after his stroke – confined to a wheelchair and unable to talk – his hassidim stood outside his apartment singing “yehi adoneinu…”
    The Rebbe was wheeled out to the window and made his traditional “fist waving” encouragement for his followers to sing louder, thereby implying explicitly that now – post stroke – he wanted them to greet him as mashiah.

  • @Ariel “implying explicitly”???

  • ariel says:

    should have said “indicating explicitly”

  • TheSadducee says:


    That is a little unfair – he was elderly, quite sick and probably mentally impaired and I can’t see how you can judge what exactly his intentions were?

    Do you think he should have driven his wheelchair off the balcony into the crowd below to protest their support?

  • Naftoli says:

    Ariel you are so far off the mark that it is almost not worth discussing. As someone who was there during Pesach of 1993 – almost a year after his first stroke – I can assure you that there was no ‘fist waving’. The Rebbe was hardly able to move his arms. He did nod to the singing but even at that time nobody really knew if that was just in reaction to the music.

    It seems to be popular in certain circles and on certain venomous blogs to denigrate the Rebbe but anyone who had any contact with him – and I am referring to many non-Lubavitcher gedolim as well – will tell you that he was a real Torah personality with a very different and broad outlook on the world. That his followers would be distraught at the thought of his passing after his strokes is only natural. That they would try to do what ever they can to lift his spirits is a given. That they were hoping he was Moshiach goes without saying.

    To blame the Rebbe for the deep feelings that his Chassidim had towards him is just plain silly [I’m trying to be nice here].

  • ariel says:


    I’m not sure what you’re question is referring to.

    I am criticising students/followers of rabbis/rebbes for accepting everything they say or do when they are – as you agree – “…elderly, quite sick and probably mentally impaired”.


    The late Lubavitcher Rebbe was a great leader and Torah scholar. There have been many in our history.

    Believing someone is the mashiach who is impaired in a wheelchair – not to mention dead – is a non-Jewish idea. The chassidim could have sung “yehi adoneinu, moreinu v’rabbeinu l’olam va’ed” to lift the rebbe’s spirits, without the “melech ha’mashiach” in the middle.

    No other chassidim believe their rebbe is mashiach. They may believe their rebbe will bring mashiach and that is totally acceptable.

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