NOTE: The following article,was sent from Jerusalem by Rabbi Rakowsky, the late son-in-law of Rabbi Mickel Shlapobersky.
They ask me to recount a thorough story about the life of Rabbi Michel Shlapobersky, more involved and more comprehensive than any that has been written or told of him. His daily manners, his complete order, his punctuality in all his regular activities, were in fact the great and lengthy stories of his life. His heart beat according to the clock-like rhythm of Kelm. The Kelm on which he was nourished in his youth, whose symbols were carved deeply within him, and thus for decades he managed his life according to the same pattern. His measured and thoughtful steps became his nature and his essence, reasoning and stability were his entire being, and like you see the sun rise every morning, then one expected to see Rabbi Michel in his set ways. Within that same routine of life there opened a window between the rocks of his solid personality, and through this window were seen pictures that could tell, for those who did not know him, how great were his deeds, how much love of the Torah and fear of Heaven was contained within him. How he integrated them into the path of life so that they were all dedicated to G-d. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say Telz since it was there he studied in the Yeshiva, and grew to be one of its brightest students and was taken under the wing of its head.
Indeed during his youth, Rabbi Michel Shlapobersky studied in the small Yeshiva that was founded by the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian (Of Blessed Memory) in Kelm. Before he had reached the age of 13, he received the honorary title: "Kelmer". He had the special privilege: to pray during the High Holy days in the Talmud Torah of Kelm. He absorbed and was nourished by its special atmosphere. Indeed Kelm deeply engraved its mark upon him. The Gaon Rabbi Michel was a man who in all his ways and through all the events of his life was a living example of Kelm and everything which that implies. He was a man, who sustained his power from deep roots, distant and ancient, that grew in fertile ground that was tended by the great people of the world and by spiritual giants. Impressions of Kelmian existence were topics of conversation on various opportunities. He painted his images of Kelm with a bright brush and he viewed them with great affection. An example of this is Rabbi Michel's introduction to the book, "Lev-Eliyahu", of his teacher and Rabbi, The Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian (Of Blessed Memory). This article radiates the light of truth to the reader, a light that clarifies the images of Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian and those of additional figures who dwelt in the "East" of Kelm. In this article he told of the marvelous and prominent Gaon Rabbi Mordechai Pogramansky (Of Blessed Memory), whom Rabbi Eliyahu saved and redeemed and who gave to the world his book of the living Torah. Rabbi Eliyahu, who saw his brilliant potential, arranged for him, living quarters with older students who would help him prepare for his lessons. One of them was Rabbi Michel, himself, who studied Chumash and introductory Geraana with him. This memory filled his entire being with joy over the great privileges which had come his way. It should be pointed out that in the book he edited and wrote an introduction to, Rabbi Michel did not mention the part he had played in the education of the Gaon Rabbi Mordechai Pogramansky (Of Blessed Memory), iluyim of Tavrig. This is certainly additional testimony to his great modesty and humility. The strong ties between Rabbi Michel and Rabbi Eliyahu can be learned from the following story, all of which gives a living illustration of true friendship
When Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian was making Aliyah to the Holy Ark (aron kodesh) he visited the Gaon Rabbi Yehezkel Serna (Of Blessed Memory), the head of the Hebron Yeshiva, in his home in Jerusalem. When Rabbi Michel heard that this prominent Rabbi was in the home of the head of the Hebron Yeshiva, he immediately went to greet him, and while Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian and Rabbi Yechezkel Serna were there at the Yeshiva. Rabbi Michel, who was already a Rosh Yeshiva, entered and greeted them warmly with "Shalom Aleichem", and Rabbi Eliyahu returned a joyous "Shalom". After settled in, Rabbi Eliyahu asked for permission to kiss Rabbi Michel, after receiving his permission he got up and kissed him on the head. In addition, the Tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo Bloch (Of Blessed Memory), who was one of the glorious figures of Kelm was recalled by Rabbi Michel as an example and symbol of persistence. He told them that he remembered him studying upright all day while he was covered with Tallit and Tfillin.
Shkudvil, the town of his birth, was filled with love of the Torah and reverence. There he studied in the Yeshiva for youths that was founded by the Gaon Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Perlman (Of Blessed Memory). He would recall Shach Salita who studied there in the Yeshiva, and even ate at Rabbi Michel's parents home once a week. Later Rabbi Michel moved to a small Yeshiva in Kelm. When the First World War broke out he returned home. After the war, the Gaon Rabbi Lapian (Of Blessed Memory) traveled through various towns in order to encourage and hearten the children of Israel and collect students for his Yeshiva. The Gaon Rabbi Lepain found Rabbi Michel at his parent's home and opened a discussion with him on Gaon Rabbi Shelomoh Yitzchak (Rashi) Rashi's Commentary on Leviticus regarding the verse and the soul who offers a sacrifice of 'Mincha'. It does not say 'soul' in every sacrifice of 'Nedeva', only at 'Mincha'. Because who will give 'Mincha' sacrifices? The poor. Then G-d said: I will give him credit as if he had sacrificed his own soul. Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian concluded that even in our time the Torah requires devout devotion to study. The students of Torah are few, and they cling to the Torah as if they were sacrificing their own soul, thus Rabbi Michel Slapobersky returned to the Yeshiva.
In Kelm, he possessed spiritual properties, noble qualities, and the way of Musar. His manners were always the same. One never saw him run or walk hastily, he always walked in a peaceful way, calm, with serenity of mind from his youth until the end of his days. In a list of sayings he wrote: let each hour of the day be in order with you, and above all live according to resolute principals. Even his prayers were special and exemplary. He would stand while praying like a slave before his master, he would utter the words from his mouth like counting money while considering the prayer, with intonations corresponding to the depths of his intention. Thus he prayed for many many years with the same rhythm and the same movements, with the examination of the content of the prayer and with a completely devoted and holy heart. On the proverb of our great Rabbis (Hazal) And you should worship with all your heart which worship is in the heart? It is a prayer, he would say: whoever prays without meaning and without attentiveness, is like he who puts on the Tefilin on the wrong part of the body. The place of the prayer is in the heart!
The four years that he studied in Kelm were enough to form his whole personality. From there he was already prepared to move on to the great Yeshiva in Telz and to huddle in the shadow of the wings of the great Gaonim, the spiritual giants, the Rabbi Bloch (Of Blessed Memory), Gaon Rabbi Rabinovitz (Of Blessed Memory) and the Rabbi Chaim Telz (Of Blessed Memory).
In Telz, he acquired a method of studying Torah and was one of the most special and sublime students in the Yeshiva. He was numbered among the first committee of the members of the board who wrote the lessons of Rabbi Chaim Telzer, printed and disseminated them in stencil from time to time, and thanks to them we have these important lessons today. While he was in Telz, he was called by the Gaon Rabbi Bloch to deliver a lesson to the Yeshiva for youths. Against his will, he accepted the Rabbi's orders and began to instruct the youth of this flock in the basics of study. This was the first step for Rabbi Michel Shlapobersky in teaching the knowledge of the Torah to young yeshiva students and he was just 22 years old. The students received him with great affection.
After seven years of studying and teaching in Telz, it was determined by the leaders that Rabbi Michel would have to leave his country of Lithuania and emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. It was the time when he was about to be drafted into the army. His uncle, Gaon Reb Moshe Baruch Broida, (who was married to Rochel [Propp] Broida the sister of his mother Hinda-Rivka [Propp] Shlapobersky) lent him 500 lirot sterling. This made it possible for him to immigrate to the Holy Land as a capitalist, and thus he arrived in the summer of 1925 in Hebron, fortified with outstanding recommendations from the Gaon Rabbi Bloch (Of Blessed Memory) and the Gaon Rabbi Telzer (Of Blessed Memory). From here he continued to correspond with his teachers in Telz regarding profound issues of the Torah.
The Hebron Yeshiva, located in the city of our fathers, was the royal crown in the kingdom of the Torah. There they studied and were perpetually and profoundly diligent under the leadership of the Gaon Rabbi Epstein (Of Blessed Memory). The holy Yeshiva acquired the reputation of a good name thanks to the superb students who came from it. The spiritual direction was managed by the Righteous Gaon Rabbi Nosson Tzvi ben Moses Finkel (Of Blessed Memory), the Alter of Slobodka, who placed his imprint upon the entire Yeshiva. His conversations and sayings were a source of spring, filled with wisdom, and his students drew from him a way of life. Even the silences of the Alter were very educational, insofar as he added no words over and above what needed to be said, and when he said whatever he had to say, everyone knew that his words were the fruit of thought. Behold one day Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel turned to his student, Rabbi Uri Broida, and asked him, have you met the Skaudviler? This expression implied that there was something inside and something worth knowing in Rabbi Michel Shlapobersky. Rabbi Uri approached Rabbi Michel and asked him what the Alter of Slobodka had spoken with him about, and Rabbi Michel answered that he knew of nothing in particular that he had told him, and so he tried over and over to uncover what the Gaon Rabbi Finkel was conveying with such a special expression that only a few were worthy of it. Until it became clear that Rabbi Michel had organized a moral framework that accounted for the difficulty of why the Torah needed to warn us thou shall not murder, a thing that was directly understood by logic and even the nations of the world comprehend, and surely it was understood by Israel? He explained this question in different ways. one way through the system of Kelm, another way through the system of Telz, a third way by the system of Slobodka, and one extra way which he had added himself. When all this got back to the Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, he was deeply impressed and that is why he had expressed himself as he had. As a result of this event, Rabbi Michel's name became well known and the appreciation of him grew and he was considered one of the Select of the Yeshiva.
In 1928 he married the daughter of the Rabbi Abraham Yochanan Blumenthal (Of Blessed Memory). One of the most important men in Jerusalem, at the time, and a disciple of the Gaon Rabbi Maharil Diskin, the Angel from Brisk (Of Blessed Memory). Nechama, Rabbi Michel's wife, stood by his side all his life. She did this, so that he could entirely devote himself to his studies without any disturbances. They built their house in the holy city of Jerusalem and thus, with the grace of heaven, he was saved from the infamous Arab massacre that struck the students of the Hebron Yeshiva in 1929. After this terrible slaughter, the Holy Yeshiva at Hebron was relocated to Jerusalem.
It was decided to open a preparatory Yeshiva for the famous Hebron Yeshiva and they discussed who was to head it. The Gaon Rabbi Shapira (Of Blessed Memory) said at that point: has not Rabbi Mickel's teaching experience in Telz made him appropriate for this position? He was chosen by the Gaon Rabbi Chasman to head the small Yeshiva. Rabbi Michel accepted the burden of founding that Yeshiva and was 29 years old when he took over the famous Tiferet-Tzvi Yeshiva. At first the Yeshiva was located next to a small synagogue in the center of Jerusalem. Later on it moved to the Synagogue Fraternity (Achava). It was there for a long time, until it moved to its present location. The Yeshiva gathered the best students and acquired a reputation as a Yeshiva that builds its students and guides them into the world of the Torah through love of the Torah and fear of heaven. Rabbi Michel's special imprint was stamped on the students and the reputation of the Yeshiva continued to grow. Rabbi Michel would deliver the lessons himself. He taught what he was taught by his teachers, with understanding and attentiveness to the questions of the Gemara, commentary on the Mishnah, in a clear and eye opening manner. Many of his students testified that he taught them to read a page of the Gemara in a extraordinary style. It was said of his technique, that when he explained an interpretation, with great clarity and honesty, his students were as joyful as if they had received the words from Sinai.
The organization of the Teferet-Tzvi Yeshiva was a symbol and example for many Yeshivot that were founded afterward. The fruit of this Yeshiva, who later went on to the Hebron Yeshiva and became the backbone of Hebron. They grew to be the greatest of the Yeshiva heads and the most intelligent students in their generation. They testified themselves that Rabbi Michel Slapobersky was the angel who electrified them and called to them: Become Great! He did this through encouragement and a moral sense. Sometimes he would publicize throughout the entire Yeshiva news of a student in order to elevate him and make him noteworthy, Rabbi Shlapobersky would be as delighted about this as if it were news about himself. Sometimes he would also give out an honored award, until the students felt, each one in his own way, that Rabbi Michel's true hope was to see each of them develop and succeed in their studies. His total dedication to his students was the secret of his success .
When the children of Tehran and other refugees arrived in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Mickel took some young men and placed them in the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva didn't have a dormitory and those students didn't have any place to go after the day's studies. Rabbi Michel took them home with him, he put mattresses on the floor in other rooms, the members of the house-hold crowded together and they made room for the guests. They were, for a long time, like his own children. He took care of all their needs, material and spiritual, and got them on their own two feet.
A scholar studying at the Porat-Yosef Yeshiva. During his Shivah, this important young scholar who was very intelligent, came home seeking solace. One day he just left the Yeshiva and returned home, wandering around without any direction. The young man's father, who was very worried about the situation and was concerned about his son's future, approached Rabbi Slapobersky and spoke to him of his son's predicament. Rabbi Mickel told the father that he should bring the young man to him, and he will make sure that he gets integrated into the Teferet-Tzvi Yeshiva. The young man arrived and Rabbi Michel received him with warmth and became very close to him, matching him with an older student who taught and helped him to develop. Rabbi Michel also acquired for him valuable awards and influenced him through his great goodness and even invited him to his home, until the young man felt like a member of the family. Today, that young man, whose has since gained great fame, could testify that the profound affection of Rabbi Michel Slapobersky was what enabled him to continue in the Yeshiva.
Other testimony to his dedication and the level of his commitment: since the founding of the Yeshiva and its great financial difficulties. The Gaon Rabbi Yehezkel Pratzovitz (Of Blessed Memory), one of the Yeshiva heads, traveled throughout the Mediterranean countries to raise money. During such times, the heads of the Yeshiva went without any salary. The situation got so difficult that Rabbi Michel and his family didn't even have a piece of bread to eat. During that period, Rabbi Mickel received an offer from the Gaon Rabbi Michel Tukotzinski (Of Blessed Memory), head of the Tree of Life Yeshiva, to serve at his Yeshiva as an instructor. His friends, acquaintances and relatives all urged Rabbi Mickel to accept the position but he refused, reasoning that it was precisely during this period that the Yeshiva depended upon him most, and he wasn't willing to destroy the Yeshiva even though he had no bread in the house. Such dedication sustained him, and he managed to elevate the Yeshiva to its present glory.
Kollel! An idea so simple and accepted in our time. The younger generation is already born within a Kollel environment which extends throughout the Holy Land. But forty years ago, the situation was completely different. The Kollels that existed grew from within the great Yeshivot. The scholars studied together in the Yeshiva. However, groups of scholars which studied alone, each under a separate structure, were a new phenomenon in his time and the fruit of the thinking of the Gaon Rabbi Mickel Shlapobersky (Of Blessed Memory).
It was in the year 1956, when he suggested, to his already important son-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Raphael Riechman, to develop a special structure for scholars. He even outlined for him the academic programs, and encouraged him to open a Kollel. His son-in-law, who was already known for some time as a distinguished young scholar took the mission upon himself and right after his seven blessings he opened the Kollel Ateret Shlomo. In Elul of 1956, a new idea was created in the world of Torah, a new form, new perspectives and even greater supports. This Kollel, was in effect, the model for the many Kollels that were founded afterward.
Rabbi Michel Slapobersky, himself, when well along in years, rapidly regained his youthful vitality and founded a Kollel for outstanding young scholars called Ner Yehuda after his teacher and Rabbi, The Gaon Rabbi Tasman, (O f Blessed Memory). There he delivered lessons and discussions on Musar on a regular basis despite his advanced age. That Kollel was a source of great satisfaction to him. Because his happiness and spiritual Satisfaction was derived from the glorification of the Torah and its teaching. It is interesting to note that both the preparatory Yeshiva for youngsters and the construction of Kollels, which are so accepted in our time, were in fact, the results of the thoughts of the Great Gaon Rabbi Mickel Shlapobersky.
Thus all of his days were a single string of Torah and good qualities. A continuous process of teaching the Torah and spreading its meaning to the many. Even during the period of his illness, in his last year of life, he didn't cease his individual routine according to the way of Kelm. As long as there remained within him strength, he would reflect upon and discuss issues of the Torah, because that was the ardent desire and the joy of his life. When he grew weak, his image appeared still but remained glorious. While he remained in full possession of his exceptional faculties; he bore his suffering in silence and took care not to disturb anyone. Even in that condition, he would think carefully about every movement. A single fact can exemplify his thoughtful behavior. It was when he was already on his deathbed and he needed to be helped by his family. It was amazing to witness his special virtuous consideration of others. It was when one of his grandsons prepared a cup of tea for him and offered it to him to drink, but Rabbi Michel was not able at that time to drink, and then when he (the first grandson) got up to leave and another grandson again tried to offer him the cup of tea, Rabbi Michel insisted that the grand son who prepared the tea should be the one to give it to him to drink, because after all he had prepared it. The best way to describe his personality would be to quote the saying of Our Great Rabbis (Hazal) If Rabbi Mickel Shlapobersky is similar to an Angel of G-d, seek out the Torah from his mouth The pageant of Rabbi Michel's life with his singular leadership and his elevated acts are encapsulated in this saying. As all of the angel's essence is a mission, then Rabbi Michel felt like a faithful messenger who was wholly devoted to his holy task of teaching the Torah and education of the fear of G-d. He clung to this mission for over seventy years of his life. Like an Angel who is known as steadfast, thus it is known of Rabbi Michel Slapobersky that from the first until the last of his days he maintained the same deliberate pace and tranquillity of spirit without being influenced by mood swings or distress over time. Being an elevated soul, possessed of such rare qualities, indeed there exists the end of the saying of our Great Rabbis: they (his students) bought, they owned and learned from him and they still sought the Torah from his mouth, indeed many of the best students of the Torah, today teach his Torah and his mode of education and so do their students throughout the Holy Land.
His pure soul was raised to heaven this year, 1995, on Yom Kippur, and laid to rest after midnight on the 12th of Tishri. Delivering the eulogy, one of his students, the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Yakov Bernstein said, the sun came in at noon, even though he was advanced in his old age, to the generation for which he became a holy symbol, his absence will be thought of as the Absence of The Sun at Noon.
Translation Commissioned by Henry Propp; firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated by Dalit and Adam Katz Syracuse, New York, 1996
Copyright © 1996 Henry Propp