[Photos below.] A wave of excitement swept over Lakewood, America’s “Ihr HaTorah”, as the news spread that one of Klal Yisroel’s leading Gedolei Torah would be venturing out of Eretz Yisroel for the first time in his life in order to attend the Lev L’Achim Asifa in Lakewood. The renowned Rav Azriel Auerbach -son of Maran HaGaon Rav Shlomo Zalman zt’l and son-in-law of Maran HaGaon Rav Elyashiv zt’l– is the longtime Mara D’Asra of Bayit V’Gan and one of the most sought after poskim in the world. His very name evokes echoes of the greatness of yesteryear; of the storied families of the old Yishuv whose tzidkus and greatness in Torah were the hallmark of Yerushalayim shel Ma’aleh….
STEEPED IN GREATNESS
Yerushalayim in the late 1930’s. The world of the old Yishuv and the legendary inhabitants of the Holy City who filled Yerushalayim with kedusha and learned Torah amidst abject poverty.
In to this rarefied atmosphere a son is born to one of the most outstanding talmidei chachomim of the era; a yungerman named Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In the same Sha’arei Chesed neighborhood where his father Rav Chaim Yehudah Leib Auerbach zt’l -Rosh Yeshivas HaMekubalim Sha’ar HaShamayim- had settled and raised his family, the young Rav Shlomo Zalman had entered the world in 1910 and now was raising his own family. Each day he ventured out to Rechov Yaffo where he was counted amongst the elite married scholars of Yeshivas Etz Chaim who drank thirstily from the wellsprings of the revered Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer.
There is little to eat in the Auerbach house and there are already a number of children in the small home. But there is warmth and happiness in abundance and the ruach of hasmadah in Torah permeates the very walls. Rav Shlomo Zalman has made a name for himself as a yungerman of rare clarity with a knack for applying the essence of halacha to the realities of new technology. His sefer, Meorei Aish, had appeared just a few years earlier in 1935 and immediately established him as a leading expert on the halachic ramifications of electricity. He would go on to be appointed Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Kol Torah where he would serve for almost half a century and become acknowledged as one of the Gedolei HaDor.
The child is named Azriel and he proves to be a worthy link in the illustrious chain of the Auerbach family. He excels in Cheder and goes on to become one of the shining stars of Yeshivas Slabodka and Yeshivas Mir. Above all, he absorbs the quiet humility and devotion to halacha that are his fathers hallmarks. And as Rav Shlomo Zalman’s fame spreads and his home is frequented by Jews of every stripe seeking advice, a psak in halacha or just a word of blessing and encouragement, the young Rav Azriel imbibes deeply and learns the art of listening with ones heart and of providing succor to a fellow Jew.
AN EIZER KENEGDO
At the same time, in an equally humble apartment in Meah Shearim, a young girl named Leah is being raised with a keen understanding of the primacy of Torah. Her father is the renowned posek Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, son of Rav Avraham zt’l, the founding Mara D’Asra of the Tiferes Bachurim shul and a grandson of the famed Mekubal “The Leshem” Rav Shlomo Elyashiv zt’l.
Her mother, Rebbetzin Shaina Chaya Elyashiv, herself a daughter of the legendary “Tzadik of Yerushalayim” Rav Aryeh Levin, allows nothing to disturb her husband’s constant growth in Torah. The young Leah arises early each morning to the sweet sound of her father learning Gemara in the singsong tune of Yerushalmi cheder boys. She relishes the time spent with her illustrious father and looks forward to accompanying him late on Shabbos afternoons when the waning light prevents him studying the text of his beloved seforim -he does not make use of electricity produced on Shabbos- and he would use the “free time” to stroll outside and speak with his children until Ma’ariv.
The chasunah of Rav Azriel and Rebbetzin Leah Auerbach afforded Rav Azriel the opportunity to solidify his substantial grounding in halacha with the added dimension of his father-in-law’s depth of knowledge and experience as a dayan and posek.
For many years, Rav Azriel immersed himself in the world of psak halacha. Until his father’s petira, he was one of the few who were constantly involved with the flow of knotty shailos which arrived daily in Rav Shlomo Zalman’s mailbox. And for more than fifty years, the quiet and unassuming Yerushalmi Gaon Rav Azriel worked hand-in-hand with his father-in-law Rav Elyashiv, clarifying the halacha in every area of Shulchan Aruch.
Throughout the years, Rav Elyashiv would spend Chol HaMoed of Succos and Pesach with Rav Azriel and his Rebbetzin as well as join them each year for the Purim Seudah. In the summer, they would travel together to Ashdod where the two gaonim would learn together near the sea.
A GADOL FOR OUR TIME
Today, Rav Azriel is looked up to as one of the leading poskim in Eretz Yisroel and has trained many poskim who provide hora’ah to Bnai Torah communities in Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Beitar, Rechasim, Elad and more. He is the Mara D’Asra of the prestigious Bais Medrash Chanichei HaYeshivos of Bayit V’Gan and is much sought after to decide halachic issues all over the country.
His devotion to Yidden in need comes before all else and he established and heads the Va’ad HaRabbonim L’Inyonei Tzedaka that has helped countless widows and orphans, the sick, the infirm and the severely indigent.
For many years Rav Azriel has served on the Nesius of Lev L’Achim along with HaGaonim Rav Nissim Toledano zt’l, Rosh Yeshivas Shearith Yisroel in Be’er Yaakov, and y’blcht Rav Aviezer Piltz, Rosh Yeshivas Tifrach; Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein, Rosh Yeshivas Kiryas Melech; Rav Moshe Yehudah Shlesinger, Rosh Yeshivas Kol Torah; and Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Rosh Yeshivas Slabodka.
Rav Auerbach has been the featured speaker at many Lev L’Achim rallies geared toward signing up ever more volunteer yungeleit to give a night each week to knock on doors and learn with those less fortunate Jews who have never before tasted the sweetness of Torah. And for many years at the annual Asifa in Bnai Brak, Rav Azriel served as the shaliach of Rav Elyashiv to deliver his bracha to the assemblage.
The major day-to-day Lev L’Achim shailos in Yerushalayim are brought to Rav Azriel and he has been the patient yet firm posek who has convinced mosdos to take in the children of PROJECT RISHUM even though their parents may not yet conform with the standards the school would like. Indeed, when it became evident that there was a distinct lack of schools available for teenage girls of the Rishum, it was Rav Auerbach together with Rav Yisroel Gans of Matersdorf who stood behind the opening of Pninas HaChinuch; the highly acclaimed high school whose advanced academic level and focus on inculcating the basics of yiddishkeit has transformed hundreds of girls and in turn their entire families.
A UNIQUE SIMCHAS YOM TOV
Last year on Chol HaMoed Pesach a delegation from the Lev L’Achim Hanhala visited Rav Azriel in his home in order to personally invite him to the annual Asifa in Bnai Brak. At that time they presented Rav Auerbach with a copy of the newly released sefer ‘Mitchazkim BaTorah’. At first glance it appears similar to the collection of chiddushei Torah published by many Kollelim and Yeshivos Gedolos. However, when one scans the index and sees the names of those who have authored these complex “shticklach Torah”, the truth about this sefer becomes apparent. The outstanding yungeleit and bachurim have names such as Guy, Nir, Eren, Liat, Asaf, Amiram and Yakir. And next to their names and the Yeshivos they currently attend there appears the name of their former schools such as Tichon Begin in Rosh HaAyin, Makif Gimmel in Beer Sheva, Ben Gurion University and more bastions of secular education.
All of these novel Torah essays were penned by “Mitchazkim”; boys who were recruited by Lev L’Achim while attending secular high schools, yet took to Torah with such enthusiasm as to have advanced to being bona fide Yeshiva bachurim within just a few years.
As he scanned the various chiddushei Torah, Rav Azriel’s face grew pensive. After a while he turned to his visitors and declared with emotion; “Rabbosai, I have been trying to fulfill the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov this Pesach but it hasn’t worked. I lost my wife a’h this year and this is the first Chol HaMoed in many decades that I am not hosting my father-in-law Rav Elyashiv. Each day I drink the requisite reviis of wine and eat the bit of meat that Chazal say one must consume to fulfill the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov. Yet, my spirit has not lifted….until I saw this sefer! It is my z’chus to be part of Lev L’Achim and to have a portion in such a kiddush shem shamayim”.
On Wednesday evening, July 3rd, the Lakewood Torah community will have the rare privilege to see and hear Rav Azriel Auerbach as he makes his first appearance in Chutz L’Aretz. The Lakewood community will long remember the 2011 Asifa where Rav Azriel joined Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, the Mara D’Asra of Ramat Elchanan for a question and answer session revolving around the shailos submitted by Lev L’Achim personnel. The live satellite transmission took place early in the morning in Bnai Brak to coincide with the late evening in Lakewood. Together, as a huge crowd watched transfixed in faraway Bais Faiga Hall, the three illustrious brothers-in-law (all are sons-in-law of Rav Elyashiv) discussed the halacha l’maase; and issued psakim to the Lev L’Achim people in the field.
The very fact that Rav Azriel has decided to leave Eretz Yisroel for the first time in his life (he had no passport till now) speaks volumes about how the Gedolei Yisroel appreciate the work of Lev L’Achim. They are ready to step beyond their usual bounds to help ensure that the movement bringing all of Eretz Yisroel back to Torah is able to continue its vital work. This is why Rav Shteinman made his first historic visit to Lakewood in 1998 and was followed by Rav Yisroel Elya Weintraub zt’l and by y’blcht Rav Moshe Shapiro, Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenshtein, Rav Dovid Cohen and Rav Baruch Soloveitchik. And this is why luminaries such as Rav Elyashiv zt’l and Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkovits zt’l & y’blcht Rav Yaakov Edelstein, Rav Nissim Karelitz and Rav Chaim Kanievsky have appeared live via satellite transmission -in the wee hours of the morning in Eretz Yisroel coinciding with evening in Lakewood- before the annual mass Asifa in Lakewood.
The tens of thousands of children who are learning in Torah schools today as a result of the Lev L’Achim PROJECT RISHUM drives are the ultimate proof of why the Gedolei Yisroel are so united behind P’eylim / Lev L’Achim. Hopefully, this year’s campaign will enable Lev L’Achim to continue reaching the masses and further enable the transformation that is changing the face of Eretz Yisroel.