Photos: Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky Visits Lita


rav-shmuel-kamenetsky-lita[Photos below.] [Click here for the report on the Moscow visit.] After spending an emotion packed weekend in Moscow the delegation prepared for the second part of the trip – Lithuania. Before leaving, the Operation Open Curtain delegation members expressed their amazements for all that is happening. Especially here in camp one could see the siyata dishmaya in the beautiful peiros. Graduates of Etz Chaim who went on to study in the BYA-Touro program under the auspices of Rabbi Shlomo Teichman Shlit”a and Mrs. Suri Pinter and the rest of the team, have returned as counselors and mentors to the new generation.


For the Rosh Yeshiva Shlit”a it was the first time stepping back on this land since fleeing in 1939, escaping literally at the last minute. Rav Yaakov zt”l, who was at that time in Toronto, realized that the situation was deteriorating and sent for his wife and children. Rav Yaakov s brother in law, the Slabodka Mashgiach Rav Avraham Grodzensky hy d actually tried to dissuade Reb Yakov, At least let your two older sons, Binyomin and Shmuel stay in Slabodka, what kind of Torah education can you give them in the treife medina? With Siyata Dishmaya, Reb Yakov held firm and the entire mishpacha was saved.

The delegation began the tour of Lita in the city of Vilna where they were met by the local Rav, Reb Chaim Burshtein. From the very first minute until the group left three days later, Rav Burshtein personally cared for all the technical details ensuring that the Rosh Yeshiva and the rest of the guests were able to focus on the special experience.

At the kever of the Gaon the Rosh Yeshiva remarked:

We are at the kever of the Gaon zt”l. Its known that R Chaim Volozhener was extremely careful with his words and did not stam throw out superfluous titles. Yet he found it necessary to tell us that the Gaon had reached the level of a rishon. We see from here that R Chaim Volozhener felt that it is important that we know that not too long ago there lived a man who had reached the level of the rishonim. That hkb h gave us a gift, a glimpse into what the rishonim looked like, something which is so far from us that for someone who did not see it, it is completely unfathomable. So we are standing now not at the kever of an achron who lived 250 years ago but rather from mamash an amologe at the kever of a chacham of centuries ago!

In the shul main Vilna shul the Rosh Yeshivah addressed the tzibbur:

It is heartwarming to see that yidden gather for minyan in this shul. Vilna was once known as the Yerushalaim d’lita , a place full of torah and yiras shamayim. You are fortunate that your Rav shlit”a, is continuing this tradition, ensuring that there is Torah and Tefilla in this holy place.

Chazal say that any person who has not merited witnessing the rebuilding of the bais hamikdash in his days, is considered as if the the bais hamikdash (it) was destroyed in his days.

It is interesting that chazal do not speak about a generation in which the bais hamikdash was not built rather a person, the focus is on the individual.

This is difficult to understand, how is one individual responsible for the fact that the entire generation does not merit the rebuilding of the bais hamikdash?

We read this week about another individual, Pinchas. The Torah tells us that Pinchas alone accomplished saving the entire Klal Yisrael. Every Yid must realize that he has within him the power of Pinchas! Each Yachid can save the entire klal Yisrael. If he doesn”t, then r”l it is as if the bais hamikdash was destroyed in his days.

People such as your Rav, Rabbi Burshtein prove what a yachid can accomplish, may we all be zoche to witness the rebuilding of the bais hamikdash,

On the way to Tizitvyan:

When Reb Yaakov zt”l was Rav, there was a time when people realized that when the postmaster was paid he would return too much change. Reb Yaakov paskened that the people should return the change, adding that he suspects that the postmaster was deliberately erring, in order to test the honesty of the Jews. It is well known that during the holocaust this postmaster saved many yidden.

During Reb Yaakov s first year as Rav, there was a man who was a diabetic, the doctor told him that the must not fast on Yom Kippur. In order to strengthen the doctor s opinion Reb Yaakov himself went (in)to the man and told him that he should fast. The man refused the Rav s recommendation and r l died as a result of the fast. In what was a very audacious move as a young Rav, Reb Yaakov refused to eulogize the man and said that he felt that he was meabed atzmo ledaas!

The poverty was rampant, my father the Rav had one shirt which he would wash on Friday lekavod Shabbos. Yet as a youngster I don’t remember feeling deprived, we ate potatoes with “smetana” sour cream and we were very content! It was a small town in Reb Yakov s time, there were only sixty families, but during the summer it was a resort town, many talmide chachamim would come to enjoy the clear air. One of those who visited was Reb Reuven Dov Dessler zt”l, who later wrote to his son, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer zt”l that since Tzitivyan was a small quiet town, Reb Yakov had the opportunity to learn day and night and become a super gaon during those years.

The town had a minhag that when the Rav s blatt shiur made a siyum maseches the entire town would daven in the main shul, and they would not say tachnun. (In fact Reb Yakov added that they would especially plan the Siyum to fall out in a Monday and Thursday so that they would not have to say the long tachnun!)

Once on a day of one of those siyums, there was a visiting Rav and when the gabbai announced Yisgadal.. this Rav gave Reb Yakov a surprised look. After davening, Reb Yakov explained to the visiting Rav, that one of the reasons that the fifteenth of Av is a Yom Tov is because they finished cutting the wood for the mizbeach. From here we see a source for this minhag. The truth is that the kaf hachaim also brings the minhag that at a Siyum the entire city doesn”t say tachnun.

I learned in the cheder in Shavel, one of my chaverim then was Reb Gedalya Nadel, but at one point many of my chaverim left and I was lonely, so at the tender age of eight and a half, I took a train back to Tzitivyan!

After a few years when my father left to Canada, my mother sent me back to Slabodka where under the supervision of my uncle Reb Avraham [Grodzensky hy “] I learned in the cheder which was located in Reb Yitzchack Elchanan’s bais medrash. After my father left to Toronto my uncle sent me to Vilkomier where I learned for two years, it was there that I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah, the celebration was that I was honored with being motzi the community with kiddush!

About Rav Avraham Grodzensky:

My uncle lost his wife at a young age r”l, and never remarried. (In fact Reb Yitzchack Grodzensky shlit”a of bnei brak grew up in our home in Tzitivyan). Some say that the reason is, because as an widower he elicited pity, which helped him in his job as mashgiach in the Yeshiva, a bochur would think twice before letting down the mashgiach the poor alman !

Reb Reuven Dessler reminisces:

My father [Reb Nochum Zev Dessler zt”l] said that as an 18 year old bochur, he went to visit Reb Chaim Ozer zt l who was his uncle. He walked into the house and there was a long table shaped like a ches with groups of rabbonim discussing all sorts of klal issues. Reb Chaim Ozer was feeling weak and was lying on a bed and he held my father s hand. Some of the elderyolder Rabbonim were upset as sensitive issues were being discussed and asked the gadol to remove the youngster. Reb Chaim Ozer said, this is my she er besari [my relative], and what better placeis there for him to learn how one must work for inyane klal if not here

My father would say over that in Kelm there was a batch of postage stamps in the bima, anyone who needed a stamp would take one from that pile. The one who took the last stamp, would go and buy the next batch. My father said Picture the scene, there was a blizzard outside and this person realized that he had taken the last stamp and literally danced from joy that he had the zchus to be mezake the tzibbur by buying the next batch!

Once my father was visiting his grandmother in Kelm. It was winter and the roads were muddy, but there was a narrow plank of wood where one could walk and not get muddy. As they were walking they noticed that the door to the Talmud Torah was opening an the talmidim began to come towards them. My father s grandmother said that they would have to step off the planks and give way to the talmidim so that they would not have to waste precious time cleaning their clothes afterwards. My father said, But my clothes will be (shmutzig) dirty . In what would become a lifelong lesson for Reb Nachum Zev zt l his grandmother admonished him, in Kelm we say “not clean”, we don t say “shmutzig”!

The group caused quite a stir in the small village of Tzitivyan, and the Mayor of the city came out to greet the large group. Unfortunately after the war, the city was completely burnt down and nothing remains except for one old dilapidated house which is called the Jewish doctor s house . It seems that long after the Nazi s yms h killed the yidden, there was still a Jewish doctor alive. The Lithuanian Reshaim who collaborated with the Nazis needed the doctor s services and thus kept him alive until their hatred for Jews got the better of them and they murdered him too..

Rav Shmuel about Holocaust education:

In the generation immediately following the holocaust, people did not talk about the churban even the gedolim did not discuss the horrors and we must accept that they probably had reasons, perhaps because they did not want to scare their children.

Lately people have been urging the older generation to talk about the experiences so that the future generations would know. Now there is a big inspiration in our community to record as much as possible. In fact we do see that our sages dedicated kinos to the memories of those who perished in various tragedies.

However we should realize what the specific focus of these memories should be. There is a misguided approach which tends to focus on what caused the churban, we can never as human beings place a label on such an incomprehensible demonstration of Hashem s midas hadin.

Just as those kinos focus on the great tzadikim and communities that were annihilated, so too we should first of all ingrain in ourselves and our children the image of the gedole and kedoshe elyon who lived in this land before the war. Hundreds of yidden, whose lives were completely and utterly infused with nothing other than Torah and Avodah. They literally lived in the bais medrash in a world of lemaale min hateva ! They lived and they are no more, we have lost that life.

Another point to reflect on is something Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer zt l would call a partial nechama. That is that each and every Jew who was killed, was murdered only because he is a Jew and for no other reason. This means, that all six million Yidden regardless of their spiritual level, or level of observance, merited to reach the coveted level of kadosh.

One more important point that we must stress is that just as the entire churban was completely unnatural, lemaale min hateva , so too every single Jew who survived was saved in a completely miraculous fashion.

One of the delegation participants, Reb Yankel Hersowitz of Baltimore is a veteran daf yomi magid shiur. As a perfect beautiful end to the emotion laden week, on Tuesday evening he made a Siyum hashas.

The Rosh Yeshiva remarked that this was an historic phenomenon, as it was perhaps the first Siyum hashas celebrated in the city of Vilna since the holocaust!

The Rosh Yeshiva continued to explain the connection between the kaddish which we say at a Siyum, which is the same that is recited at a levaya r l. The essence of this kaddish is that we pray that we merit the opportunity to sanctify Hashem s name in the alma dehu asid lehischadita, ulachaya maisa in the world which Hashem will renew, and revive the dead. Why is this kaddish said at a Siyum?

The Siyum is called the hadran , signifying that the feeling of the one who has completed a mesechta expresses his longing to that which he had just learned. We do not want to separate ourselves from the mesechta, from the Torah which we learned. So we say Hadran alach we will return to you, in the words of chaza l Torah delei! That part of the Torah has become a part of the essence of the scholar who has mastered it.

We are consoled at a levaya r”l by declaring that there will yet be techiyas hameisim and those people will return, and in that world in olam haba, we will be mekadesh shem shamayim. The same idea applies at every Siyum mesechta as we acknowledge the fact that this Torah will forever remain, we will return to it.

The group departed early Wednesday morning back to the United States. As the Rosh Yeshiva continuously reminded us all, the churban Europe is beyond the grasp of human comprehension, especially for those such as the Rosh Yeshiva shlit a who saw the gadlus of Lita before the war. Being with the gadol on this trip we heard and felt a glimpse of what this rich chapter in Jewish history was about. In Moscow on Shabbos morning the Rosh Yeshiva said, It is the three weeks now when we are reminded of the churban. For klal yisroel it is a time of midas hadin. We suffered the loss of three gedolei yisroel, on three continents, and then the horrific murder r l in Brooklyn, a pure neshama snatched away. Chazal say that earthquakes are sent to the world in order to arouse klal yisroel to Tshuvah, What are we to say then if Hashem sends earthquakes one after another not in a far off loand, but right in front of our noses, in our own backyard! Yet perhaps, here in a small villiage 150 miles from Moscow, we have a partial nechama. We see other neshamos, souls that were dead for generations, now sprouting. They are ignited in Moscow, and grow in the schools and the camps and the other mosdos. This is a partial nechama&

And so as they  departed from the blood soaked land of Lithuania, the makom haresha that swallowed the lives of hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters kedoshei elyon, their thoughts are in turmoil. They  will forever remember the maamad of the Rosh Yeshiva shlit a standing over the gaping pits of panaar in Vilna and the ninth fort in Kovna. They  will remember the Rosh Yeshiva telling us, This is unfathomable midas hadin . And then they will remember Reb Yankel Herskowitz s Siyum hashas, and they will remember that hadran alach , the Jewish people always return. From the Etz Chaim school, Yeshiva and Kollel in Moscow, to Rabbi Teichman s BYA seminary in Brooklyn, and the Berlin Yeshiva those neshamos are flourishing, hadran alach, and together with all of klal yisroel we await the day of alma d asid lehischadta may it be soon.

See below for photos of the visit:

{Noam Newscenter}