Notes on the Life of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, author of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah
by Rabbi Aryeh Levin
The following paragraph is excerpted from the words of Rabbi Avraham Elyashiv, son-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, in his introduction to Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah: Chelek Habiurim, Part One:
Many people have yearned to know a few details about the life of my father-in-law, the holy gaon, the author of the holy book, Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah, who in the course of his lifetime concealed his holy ways so that few had the privilege of coming close to him. Regarding that, I approached my relative by marriage, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who had the privilege of coming close to my master and father-in-law in his last years when he was in Jerusalem. Rabbi Levin was among those who came to my father-in-law’s home every night, listened to him and knew of his deeds. Rabbi Levin focused his heart and soul on considering my father-in-law’s holy ways. My heart told me that Rabbi Levin is worthy of this holy work of transmitting some of my father-in-law’s praises for the good of the people at large. May my father-in-law’s great merit stand on behalf all the people of Israel. Amen, so may it be His will.
A Biography of the Holy Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv
by his relative by marriage, Rabbi Aryeh Levin
The following are sketches and impressions toward a biography of the gaon [great Torah leader], author of the holy work, Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah, the rabbi, Godly kabbalist, master of secrets, unique in his generation, peerless gaon in the “wisdom of truth” [kabbalah], holy to Hashem, our honored master and rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv.
This author deserves a full-length biography so that we might appreciate him: a Godly man who lived in our generation, a messenger sent from the heights to decipher hidden matters, to illuminate the world with the volumes that comprise his Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah. “Greater are tzaddikim in their deaths…”—for, following his death, volumes continued to be published, containing the revelation of vast amounts of hidden matters, peerless secrets of the wisdom of truth. He achieved this wondrously and tremendously in his holy works.
And knowledge of the biographies of tzaddikim encourages a person to improve his behavior by giving him the yearning to cling to their deeds.
It is not for someone like myself to evaluate this great man, the holy content of his pure soul, a living soul that merited by means of the Torah’s whispers to be like the holy angels upon the earth (in the words of the holy Zohar). Only those wise of heart, the gaonim of Israel who belong to the council of those who are wise and understanding, can evaluate this holy and giant being. Recounting his praises and wonders misses the mark, for that is like attempting to extol a fabulous jewel: the more one praises it, the more one fails to adequately portray it. Also, he hid his holiness. He was modest in his ways, such that we have not found anyone in his generation to compare to him.
However, since Hashem gave me the merit of serving the holy gaon—at least to “pour water upon his hands,” if I cannot claim to have learned from him—I acceded to his esteemed family’s entreaty to record some notes of what I learned from them—in particular, from his precious son, the wise and understanding Rabbi Yitzchak. When the holy gaon learned in Telz in a state of self-abnegation, he took Yitzchak, his only son, with him in order to supervise and guide him. Afterwards, Yitzchak helped him a great deal in writing his Torah insights and in organizing them. In addition to that, I have also recorded that which I was privileged to see with my own eyes, as best as I could understand it.
Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv was born in the city of Zagar [Zagory], Lithuania, in 5601 , to his righteous and upright parents, who lived in poverty. His righteous father—who “was pious with his Maker” (Zohar: Mishpatim 114b) [as he writes there in the introduction]—was the rabbi, the gaon, Rabbi Chaim Chaykel,  and his righteous mother—“a woman who fears Hashem will be praised” (Proverbs 31:30) [as he writes there in the introduction]—was Mrs. Setira Gita. He was the descendent of holy rabbis. As he writes at the end of his introduction to his Sefer Hakadosh: “According to what I was told by the elder members of my family, from both my father and mother’s sides I am a descendant of the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing), and from one side I am a descendant of the holy rabbi, the master, Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropolye (may his memory be for a blessing for the life of the world-to-come, may his merit guard over us),” both of whom brought Torah and light to all Israel.
Even in his youth, his outstanding qualities, greatness and wondrous abilities in comparison to those his age manifested themselves—in particular, his superb memory, which was like a plastered cistern that does not lose a drop of water; his clear intelligence; and his refined traits with which the Elevated One graces those whom He has chosen as remarkable among tens of thousands. His deeds were recognizably pure and upright. From the time that he knew how to choose good and reject evil until his final day, he was holy and pure.
Until the age of thirteen, he learned with his father. And when he became bar mitzvah, his heart inspired him to exile himself by making his way to the city of Minsk to seek Torah from the mouth of the great gaon, Rabbi Gershon Tanchum. For six years, he learned in his yeshiva with diligent application. And Rabbi Gershon Tanchum showed him an extra measure of love by establishing a special learning time with him, during which they learned all of Talmud, Rambam, etc. His Torah learning was clear in his mouth and guarded in his heart, the fear of Hashem was his treasure and he was crowned with all of the traits with which the Torah is acquired.
Before he reached the age of twenty, Hashem gave him a God-fearing wife, Ms. Bas-sheva Esther, daughter of a loving, precious Torah sage, Rabbi Dovid Fein, who was one of the honored people of the city of Shavel. She was afterwards of great help to him in that she took upon herself the responsibility of earning a living to support her family and she made do with little in order not to disturb her holy husband at all from serving Hashem. Because of her, he attained the hidden light. In this way, he sat for a number of years learning Torah and worshipping God with intense, holy diligence.
The discerning people of Shavel, those who appreciated his great worth and knew of his difficult circumstances, proposed that he accept the post of halachic decisor. At this time, the great gaon of his generation, Rabbi Yosef Zechariah, was serving as av beis din [head of the court]. At first, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv agreed to their suggestion. However, the following day he changed his mind, for reasons known best to him.
[One time I happened to hear him speak of this, but he did not provide me with any explanation. However, afterwards he showed me a passage in the Pesikta Rabbasi (Chapter 22, s.v. lo sisa), which concludes, “Rabbi Abahu said [that God tells a person who is considering becoming a rabbi]: ‘I am called holy and you are called holy. If you do not possess all of the traits that I possess, do not accept a position of leadership.’” And Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv concluded with a blessing, “And all who accept upon themselves, etc., so may it be His will that God’s Presence will rest upon the works of their hands.”]
He increased his meticulousness and intensified his efforts in Torah and serving Hashem. But he did not satisfy himself with this, and his pure heart drove him to leave his home and family—with permission—taking Yitzchak his only son with him, so that he might supervise him for his good and they proceeded together to learn Torah in self-abnegation. To that end, he made his way to the city of Telz [Telsiai], which was then a place of Torah learning for great men of Israel who later gained fame as world gaonim, shepherds of Israel, such as the great gaonim, R. Meir Atlas, av beis din of Shavel,  and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Teomim (Rav Kook’s father-in-law), av beis din of Ragli.
He lived there for about ten years in self-abnegation, learning Torah and serving God with diligence great beyond description. He only allowed himself a few hours of sleep a night, and even then his lips murmured.
He learned the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, halachic works, rishonim, etc., and he dedicated a part of the night to the study of Torah of the wisdom of truth, in keeping with the verse, “Arise, sing in the night” (Lamentations 2:19). He concealed his holy ways, but the Torah that he learned in secret made his stature evident.
And the spirit of Hashem began to pulse within him, and he began to write his holy books, Sefer Hakadosh and other volumes of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah.
I heard from the mouth of the Godly kabbalist, the rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, our master, Rabbi Aharon Shlomo Maharil, that when Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv began learning in Telz he took the opportunity to meet with a Torah scholar and sage there who learned in a state of self-abnegation. Rabbi Elyashiv recognized that this was a man who was wondrously modest in his ways, and sensed that he was learning the wisdom of truth after midnight. And since Rabbi Elyashiv’s soul had yearned from his youth for the wisdom of truth, he begged this man to learn with him. And that man accepted his entreaty and learned Sha’ar Ruach Hakodesh of the Shmonah Sha’arim and Sha’ar Gan Eden with him. From then on, Rabbi Elyashiv’s strong yearning for the wisdom of truth increased. However, it was not long before that pious man was summoned to the heavenly yeshiva, and he remained unknown. And the holy gaon, Rabbi Elyashiv, did not speak about this to others.
[The rabbi, the gaon, our master, Rabbi Tzvi Ferber (may he live long), of London writes:
I know that from the time that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv was in Telz he received this holy wisdom from the gaon, the tzaddik of his generation, Rabbi Yosef Rozen, av beis din of Telz, author of the responsa Eidus Bihosef. The gaon, the tzaddik, Maharil Bloch of Telz, told: Rabbi Shlomo ben Chaim Elyashiv attained what he did as a result of his great toil in self-sacrifice and intense weeping in pouring forth his soul to Hashem that He illumine his eyes.]
Afterwards, he returned to his home in the city of Shavel, and he again made a special effort to safeguard his Torah and his worship of God. He did not speak purposeless, trivial words. He enclosed himself in his room, crowned in tallis and tefillin, and learned the revealed and concealed Torah with awesome diligence, day and night. He measured and weighed all of the minutes of his life, sanctifying them for the sake of Hashem. Thus he dedicated his spirit and body entirely to the service of Hashem in all of his ways. And all of the traits that the sages enumerate as being necessary to master the Torah were realized in him. His broad and holy awareness was calm and quiet, even as he acted with great enthusiasm and alacrity. In that room, he composed all of his holy volumes.
The following is a list of all of Rabbi Elyashiv’s holy works. All of them were given one general title, Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah (in which the letters of the author’s name are embedded), and he gave each volume its own name in keeping with its contents (as written in Rabbi Elyashiv’s introduction to Sefer Hakadosh, published in 5669 [1908-09]).
a) Sefer Hakadosh (The Book of Holiness). (The Hebrew word for “holiness” is an acronym for “Introductions and Gateways”). This presents, as the name suggests, “introductions and gateways for everyone whose soul yearns to enter into the palaces of holiness, the teachings of the wisdom of truth of the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing) in his holy and awesome book, Eitz Chaim, etc.—that which pertains to the teachings of the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing) in general and that which pertains to a number of topics in greater detail, etc. We brought have everything together and worded it in easy-to-understand language and in simple terms that may be comprehended by everyone—even someone who is not yet accustomed to them, etc. When a person learns this work from beginning to end, he will have an excellent overview of the wisdom of truth in general, so much so that it seems to me that whoever is incapable, etc., can fulfill his obligation to learn the hidden aspect of the Torah by learning this book…” (ibid.). In his introduction, the author explains more of its content. The author himself published this in 5669 [1908-09].
b) Sefer Hadeah (The Book of Knowledge). (The Hebrew word for “knowledge” is an acronym for “Disquisitions on the ‘World of Chaos’”). This is divided into two parts. Although this is the second book of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah, it is the first volume of disquisitions. The author briefly explains its contents in his introduction: “Part One explains the secret of the early kings: the eight kings mentioned at the end of Parshat Vayishlach (Genesis 8), their root and secret, their existence and sovereignty, their death and shattering, etc. Part Two goes on to discuss the levels of the state of the worlds before mankind’s sin and the change that those worlds underwent as a result of mankind’s sin, and the deeper meaning of the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, upon which depend all of the awesome events that were decreed and that have constituted the experiences of our forefathers and ourselves—from the time that we arose in God’s thought to create us until the future coming of the righteous redeemer (may he come quickly, in our days, amen), and some other associated awesome matters.” “And in truth its topics and disquisitions are not limited but have no end” (Author’s introduction, published by him in 5772 [1911-12].)
c) Sefer Hakelalim (Book of Principles) (the second volume of disquisitions, divided into two parts). This discusses “the principles of the spreading out [of God’s light] and [its] rising up, and it discusses wonders of the order of the weaving together of the worlds and their descent from the highest world in the elevated height to the end of the totality of the worlds--beriah, yetzirah, asiyah—which were created ex nihilo, etc., and how they are all bound and united, and depend upon Him forever” (title page, ibid.). “And it tells how they are all descended from Him in one structure, etc., explaining elevated, extraordinary matters in the words of the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing). [This is] a wondrous and awesome book…” (from [the author’s] introduction to Sefer Hakadosh).
The first part of Sefer Hakelalim was published in Jerusalem in 5686  on a Friday, on the same day that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv was summoned to the heavenly yeshiva. I, the writer, was present at the time that the book was brought to him from the printer. He reached out for it, embraced it and kissed it, as tears streamed from his eyes. And he praised and thanked Hashem for the kindness, miracles and wonders that He had shown him all of the days of his life. “And what will I restore to Hashem in accordance with all that He has given me?” (Psalms 116:12). The people present blessed him that he himself might have the privilege of publishing all of his holy manuscripts. And he replied to them, “Thank God that I at least merited this much!”
Part Two of Sefer Hakelalim was published in 5688 [1827-28] in Jerusalem by his son-in-law, the honorable rabbi, the gaon, active and accomplished, our master and rabbi, Avraham Elyashiv, the son of that tzaddik who gave merit to the people, the gaon, Rabbi Moshe Araner, who has now published, with self-sacrifice, the great work, the final section of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah, Chelek Habiurim. May Hashem grant him the merit to complete the work and publish all of the holy manuscripts of his father-in-law, the holy gaon. May his fathering-law’s great merit stand by him and all of his elevated family.
d) Chelek Habiurim (“Volume of Explanations”), which is “a commentary on and explanation of the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing)’s Eitz Chaim, etc.: that which relates to understanding its simple meaning and that which relates to their depth, as well as a number of apparent contradictions that appear in his words. All of this is commented upon and explained in accordance with the good hand of Hashem upon me, in accordance with the introductory writings that I composed with the salvation of Hashem (in my earlier books), etc., so that not even a single expression lacks commentary and explanation” (from the author’s words in the introduction). Part One comments on Eitz Chaim until “Shaar Ha’akudim.”
Published in Jerusalem by his son-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Elyashiv, in 5695 [1934-35].
Similarly, his Hagahos Yekaros (“Precious Comments”) on the Eitz Chaim were published by the rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, the kabbalist, our master, Rabbi M. Minchen, in Jerusalem in 5670 [1909-1910], with commentaries and corrections. Rabbi Minchen wrote: “Rav Elyashiv produced this work because the text of Kuntres Chasdei Dovid [by the Yemenite kabbalist, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi] was very incomplete and corrupt. He (may he live long) proofread it all and made it like fine flour. He also wrote a number of precious, excellent comments on [Rabbi Sharabi’s] Rechovos Hanahar and Nahar Shalom and I have attributed these to ‘Rashbach’” (from Rabbi Minchen’s introduction). And I heard that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv asked that he only be given the title Rashbach, [an acronym for] “Rabbi Shlomo ben Chaim Chaykel.”
“In 5640 [1899-1900], the leaders of the generation agreed that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv was the only person suited to publish the holy writings of our rabbi, the Vilna Gaon, and the gaon, Rabbi Haim Moshe Luzzatto (may their merit protect us) and others. He, with the spirit of his great understanding, proofread them” (from a letter of Rabbi Tzvi Ferber).
Besides his holy books with whose lights we were privileged, others remained in the handwriting of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv: a) Part Two of Sefer Habiurim (whose Part One was mentioned above), until the middle of “Derushei Hanekudos”; b) a commentary on Sefer Hayetzirah; (b) a commentary (highly-condensed) on Sifra Detzniutah; (c) a commentary on Sefer Hatemunah—but I heard him say that heaven indicated that he should refrain from working on it, and stopped him in the middle.
Besides his holy books in kabbalah, he inscribed comments and insights on all of the volumes of the Talmud, the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch and the books of the Rambam, in the books from which he had learned. Similarly, he replied to each of the many people who asked regarding the word of Hashem in the wisdom of truth, and he exchanged letters with the gaonim, the tzaddikim, the kabbalists of his generation—in particular with the gaon, the tzaddik, the Godly kabbalist, our master and rabbi, Aryeh Leib Lipkin, nephew of the holy gaon, holy man of Israel, Rabbi Israel Salanter.
Also, in the course of the days of his life, he sent many holy letters to encourage the hearts of the people of Israel with words of Torah, awe, hope and consolation. And his holy words welling from a holy and pure heart entered people’s hearts. But to our dismay we were not privileged to possess this large treasure, because it was burned with all of the treasures of his books in 5675 [1914-15] in Shavel.
All of the leading sages and gaonim were thrilled when they studied his holy books, which gained fame and spread among those who know the hidden wisdom throughout all of the corners of the world. The reputation of the holy gaon as a prince of the kabbalah—of the wisdom of truth—and as a majestic gaon radiant in his purity traveled far.
We were told that when the holy work, Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah, reached the gaon, the tzaddik, the Godly kabbalist, Rabbi Yosef Chaim, the lion of Babylon, and his sons, the great rabbis, he recited the blessing recited on glad occasions, shehechiyanu.
I, the writer, was present when a volume of Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah was brought to the gaon, the tzaddik, our master and rabbi, Avraham Abba Werner, av beis din of Machzikei Hadas in London. In his great joy, his eyes welled with tears, and he said, “The author is one of the remnants of the great assembly on whom the light of the sun of the Vilna Gaon shone in accordance with the way of ultimate truth that he paved in the wisdom of truth.”
I heard directly from our rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, our master, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, that since the time of the holy Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, no book on the wisdom of truth was published with such breadth of explanation and a grasp of the material as all of the volumes of the holy work, Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah, “except for those holy books of our holy rabbis (may their merit protect us) that discuss the essentials of the roots of the kabbalah, all of whose holy words were spoken with the holy spirit.”
He produced all of his insights and discourses in his holy books before he turned fifty. After that, he became a wellspring that grows stronger as it spreads out. In his great might, he could not constrict his thoughts and thus engaged only in their revision, and he arranged them in various editions. I heard directly from the Godly kabbalist, the tzaddik, the gaon, Rabbi Aharon Shlomo Maharil, that the holy gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, himself made the ink and prepared the quills to write his Torah insights in holiness and purity. And he was also careful in not to touch the mucus of his ears and nose, for which purpose he had special feathers—and that was something that I saw with my own eyes.
In order to grant merit to the Jewish people, he sent free copies to his colleagues familiar with the hidden wisdom—in particular, to those who sit before Hashem in the courtyards of the house of Hashem in Jerusalem, the holy city—accompanying them with money for binding, and he asked others of his acquaintance to help support these people.
And we saw something wondrous: in general, he found it hard to write because his right hand was weak. Nevertheless, when he wrote his Torah insights, his hand wrote with wondrous swiftness, so that he succeeded in favoring Israel with his holy books, supernal lights and treasures containing all good.
[The above-mentioned Rabbi Tzvi Ferber writes:
He said on a number of occasions that Hashem had blessed him with a swift scribe’s pen. People did not understand his meaning, until, when I grew old, I saw that the Chida writes that the Shach had the power of causing a quill to write of its own accord. And I understood that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv had a hidden meaning in saying that Hashem had graced him with a swift scribe’s pen.]
And in the following episode we saw that heaven agreed that his holy books should be revealed to the world. At the time of the expulsion from Shavel in 5675 [1914-15], when people were given only fifteen hours to leave the city, the confusion was great and their outcry reached to the heavens. Of course, the decree greatly affected the holy gaon at this time of his old age and weakness—in particular, at a time when mortal peril accompanied a person’s every step. In particular, his heart and soul were affected by the idea of being separated from the apple of his eye: the holy manuscripts that had not yet been published to grace the people of Israel. To take them with him was impossible, so in great haste he managed to conceal them in the ground in accordance with the law regarding all holy books that require sequestering, and with many tears he left them. A number of years later, after the holy gaon had established his residence in the city of Hamla, as the city Shavel was conquered by the Germans, he told of his suffering to his kind benefactor, the elevated and pure-hearted man outstanding in his generous charity, Mr. Ben Tzion Nurik (may Hashem avenge his blood) of Shavel, who was then in Riga. This kind man did not rest and was not still but attempted, with Hashem’s help, with his own efforts and money to save this holy hidden treasure, sending experts (eksperetin) from Riga to Shavel. And with God’s help, he succeeded in restoring the holy hidden treasure to the holy gaon.
[May that elevated man be remembered for the good. He performed much charity on behalf of this tzaddik when he was in his exile and afterwards when he came to Jerusalem, the holy city, until his final day. And he bestowed merit upon the people by publishing the precious volumes of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah. And Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv mentions him in the introduction to his holy book: “May Hashem bless him with all good and elevate his horn with honor, and may he merit still more to publish the hidden matters of wisdom.”]
And another wonder: when Rabbi Elyashiv and his retinue were on their way to the land of Israel in 5684 [1923-24], they spent a few days in Kushta [Constantinople]. Afterwards, when they boarded the ship to sail from Kushta to the land of Israel, they lost the container with the holy manuscript of Chelek Habiurim and more. That tzaddik’s great suffering cannot be imagined and described, because the ship was due to sail in a few minutes. He prayed to Hashem with many tears that his loss should be restored to him. And a few minutes before the ship sailed, a person who had been rooming with him in the hotel quickly ran with all his might and brought him the holy lost object.
In 5666 [1903-04], he wrote an approbation for the commentary on the holy book, Otzros Chaim, by the rabbi, the gaon, the pious and ascetic Godly kabbalist, our master, Rabbi Chaim Shaul HaCohen Dveck, one of the sages of the great Sephardic kabbalists in Jerusalem.
In the book, Kuntres Kelalei Haschalas Hachachmah of 5653 [1892-93], the editor states in a note in section 69 “that he received a letter from the rabbi, the gaon and tzaddik etc., etc., the rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (may he live long), regarding a certain matter that our rabbi, the Vilna Gaon, asked my ancestor, the pious gaon, the Godly kabbalist, Rabbi Kalman Kalonymus, of Tshaus, regarding a surprising midrash in the name of the holy Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropolye (may his merit protect us).” And the editor concludes, “And so do I have it in a handwritten manuscript of my pious ancestor, but with a slight change in language.”
When the holy gaon was in Shavel, all of the gaonim visited him when they passed through there—in particular, the gaon, the tzaddik, the wonder of the generation, the master, Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer. They used to go into seclusion with each other for a few hours at a time, and they exchanged letters with Rabbi Israel Salanter during the war. When Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv was in Hamla [Homel], Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, the gaon, the tzaddik, the rabbi of all of the people of the exile, author of the Chafetz Chaim, visited him and said of him, “We build below and reach up to the world above, whereas he, since the pathways of the upper worlds are clear to him, builds his parlors in heaven.”
One of the great rabbis outside the land of Israel wrote that he heard that the gaon Rabbi Israel Salanter had visited Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv in Shavel. I had not heard that. When I sat before Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv during Purim 5686 , the conversation turned to the gaon, Rabbi Israel Salanter, and Rabbi Elyashiv said that “it is fitting to say that Rabbi Salanter did not take benefit of this world, etc., for he disdained honor, he utterly hated gain, and he allowed no place in his heart for the love of his children—these three things being the foundation of a person’s pleasure in this world. I did not have the privilege of seeing him. Despite my will and desire to know him and come close to this elevated man, I nevertheless avoided going to him because I was afraid that he would prevent me from learning the wisdom of truth—for at that time, in particular in Zamut, delving into the wisdom of the kabbalah was a rare sight. Nevertheless, I did have the privilege of being in touch with him via one of those particularly close to him, the gaon, Rabbi Nachum (may the memory of a tzaddik be for a blessing) (the ilui—“young genius”—of Dokshitz). He related to me every word that he heard from Rabbi Salanter’s holy mouth and everything that he saw. And when, after some time, Rabbi Nachum told Rabbi Salanter of my fear, Rabbi Salanter responded to Rabbi Nachum, ‘To the contrary, it has never occurred to me to keep anyone from following his unique path in serving Hashem that he has chosen for himself.’ But even then I was unable to meet him, because a short while later the gaon, Rabbi Israel Salanter, traveled on his way.”
And Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv added that as far as he knew the gaon, Rabbi Israel Salanter, did not have a particular approach in serving Hashem with the attitude that everyone must follow in it. Because of the depth of his feeling and because of his great fear and awe of the splendor of the majesty of Hashem, he was always in a state of sensitive spiritual responsiveness. A proof of this contention is that his outstanding students, the righteous gaonim, did not all follow on the same way, for “straight are the ways of Hashem” (Hosea 14:10)—[the word “ways” is in the plural]. “A precious stone was hanging about his neck, and whoever saw it was healed by it” (Bava Batra 16b)—and those majestic of spirit, the wise of heart who seek the word of Hashem, would find sufficient satisfaction in the progress of their soul that he bestowed upon them from his great spirit to each one according to his way and straightforwardness of soul—that being the principal matter.
The genius, holiness and purity of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv is testified to and communicated by his holy books, all of whose words are based upon and sourced in the words of our sages: Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, midrashim, holy Zohar, Idras and Tikunei Zohar. And from there he went forth and shone and arrived at to the holy within.
I heard directly from our rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, our master, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, the chief rabbi of the holy city, Jerusalem, that before Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv entered the orchard of the wisdom of truth, he filled himself with the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, halachic works, rishonim, etc., and he learned many works of ethics, such that the book Reishis Chochmah was fluent on his tongue. Afterwards, he learned works of philosophy from the rishonim. Afterwards, he learned all of the books of the holy Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, and the books of the pious master, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Afterwards, he learned the holy Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah with the commentaries and explanations of the Vilna Gaon, and all of the works of the Vilna Gaon. And afterwards he entered the orchard to understand the teachings of the holy Ari. And he acquired the light of his Torah in all of the 48 ways that the Torah is acquired.
And I will copy a few sections of a letter that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv sent to a friend, one of those great in both the revealed and hidden Torah. And the following is his holy language:
I will not withhold from my friend a little of what is in my heart. I have seen that the great Sephardic sages (may the supernal pleasantness be upon them selah) view the Torah of the holy master, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi (may his merit protect us) as being equal to the Torah of the holy Ari—the equivalent of the oral Torah explaining the written Torah.
However, this is not my view. I acknowledge that the words of the holy rabbi, our master Rabbi Sharabi (may his merit protect us) are true, and a number of his holy words constitute basic propositions and axioms regarding the depth of the Torah of the Ari, without which it is impossible to master the truth. But his way in general is no more than one facet of the teachings of the Ari. And in my humble opinion it is also possible to understand them well via other facets, for there are a number of facets to the Torah, and it is not necessary to understand the Ari only according to Rabbi Sharabi’s holy approach. Also, Rabbi Sharabi’s approach in holiness is extremely acute and deep, and not every mind can bear it, and it is possible to understand the Ari’s teaching as well in another way that is simpler and easier, as I myself have tried to do, and I have seen in a number of places that Hashem has favored me with such explanations. However, in regard to the yichudim [mystical intentions] transmitted by the holy master, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi, there is no comparison to the heights that a person who is privileged to unify them can reach—and, as is explained in the words of our rabbi, the holy Ari, the practice of yichudim is very great, and fortunate is the person who clings to them.
Despite Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s genius in all of the chambers and mysteries of the kabbalah, his heart did not turn to practical kabbalah, and he opposed all who used and engaged in practical kabbalah, etc., even to resolve questions in their learning, being shown matters from heaven. He only allowed his soul good as a result of his toil, and besides that his soul did not want such help. And his heart experienced wondrous joy only as a result of resolving questions by means of his great toil and intense, unceasing diligence with especial holiness.
His greatness was coupled with his humility. In all of his ways he walked modestly with wondrous simplicity. And also in his prayer, he acted as is said of the master, Rabbi Shimshon of Kinon, that after he learned all of the secrets of the Torah of the wisdom of truth he would pray like a child, etc.
One time I heard him say, amongst his holy words, that there are pious, accomplished men, masters of kabbalah, who bear in mind a particular trait associated with every Divine name [that they pronounce]. But, as Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid wrote to his son, if a person does not know all of this [kabbalistic] wisdom clearly, he should only have the intention of directing his prayer to his Father in heaven. The dictum that a person must focus his heart in his prayer means that every individual’s intent must be in accordance with his level—every individual according to his awareness and knowledge. And the Holy One, blessed be He, accepts the offering of the poor person no less than He does the sacrifice of the wealthy person: both are called “a pleasing fragrance.” Moreover, the poor person is called “a soul who brings himself close,” for he brings his soul close to the Holy One, blessed be He. And even if a person is on a lower level than this, so that he does not even understand the meaning of the words, if his intent is to pray for the sake of heaven—i.e., to fulfill the Creator’s commandment that he should pray to Him—then the Holy One, blessed be He, accepts his prayer as though he is praying with intent and with purity of heart. And our sages teach that even when a person is imperfect, as long as he is sincere, God loves his efforts (Midrash Rabbah). And it is written, “Better is a little with the fear of Hashem,” etc., (Proverbs 15:16), and regarding that the sage said, “All that you find yourself able to do, do” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). That is to say, everyone must act in accordance with his power and his understanding—as long as he does so for the sake of heaven.
The trait of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s humility was beyond imagining. His way was always to be among those who are insulted and forgive. He never spoke harshly, heaven forbid, even if people upset his pure spirit. And he bore and tolerated everything in silence. Although his body was very weak, he was as mighty as a lion in his spirit to conquer his evil inclination.
Every day of his life constituted a unique page in his history. He lived a life of poverty and want. And, moreover, he underwent various sufferings and difficulties. But he accepted everything with love and joy.
Although he underwent privations of poverty, he dedicated his soul to the details of Torah and its scribes, keeping all of the mitzvos and all of their particulars with intense joy.
Every time a mitzvah came to him, he prayed to Hashem with many tears to give him the privilege of performing it completely. And every time, it was clear that—in accordance with the requests of his pure heart out of his great faith—Hashem brought him a “jar of the manna” (as I heard directly from the gaon, the tzaddik, Maharash Neta).
Whoever did not see the joy of his soul when he celebrated the Torah during the hakafos dancing of Simchas Torah never saw joy in his life.
On the night of the sanctification of the holiday of Passover, the fervor of the holiness of his joy was so intense that he was not aware of himself, so that his family, despite all of their efforts, could not continue the seder together with him. And he would tell about the Exodus from Egypt the entire night with intense fervor and joy, and it was clear that he experienced literally the directive, “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as though he came out of Egypt.”
After his great suffering in his old age—during the World War, at the time of the decree of expulsion from Shavel in 5575 [1914-15] (as mentioned earlier), when he lived in Hamla [Homel], and afterwards in the city of Berdyanski in Russia, when he experienced a chain of troubles for seven years and more, and after he returned to Hamla—the yearning and pining to come to the Holy Land that he had experienced all of his days intensified. His soul longed to worship in holiness in the Holy Land. And he prepared himself for his journey with vast self-dedication.
After all of his travels, we had the privilege, thank God, to greet the face of our rabbi and those who accompanied him in the gates of Jerusalem [These were: his daughter, the righteous Ms. Chayah Musha, who had the merit of serving her holy father for a period of a number of years; her husband, the rabbi, the gaon, etc., a man of deeds in Torah, our master, Rabbi Avraham; and their precious son, young and very wise, who while yet in his childhood had the privilege of writing some notes on the holy volume, Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah: Chelek Gimel, which were dictated to him directly by his grandfather, as he mentions in his book Ashrei Yoladeso. This son is the gaon, etc., our master, Rabbi Yosef Shalom.]
In 5684 , in the month of Adar, a modest reception was held in his honor by the leading citizens of Jerusalem, out of a profound feeling of appreciation. Among those who greeted him were men of Jerusalem great in the revealed and hidden Torah: his faithful outstanding student, the tzaddik, the Godly kabbalist, our master, Rabbi Aharon Shlomo Maharil, and the rabbi, the gaon, wondrous and outstanding in the revealed and concealed Torah, Chacham Rabbi Yaakov Almage. When the former met him, he kissed him and recited the blessing shehechiyanu. And the latter recited the blessing, asher chalak meichochmaso lireiav (“Blessed is God Who has given His wisdom to those who fear Him”), and everyone responded “amen.”
The great sages of Jerusalem came to his house to welcome him, and some to receive his pure blessing. And when the rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, Rabbi Ze’ev Ashkenazi, came to him, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv rejoiced greatly to meet him, for they had exchanged correspondence. His stature was that of a palm tree. The lineaments of his face and the gaze of his eyes spread pure light, and a holy enchantment drew the eye of everyone who saw him.
Afterwards, the great rabbis of Jerusalem came to seek Torah from his mouth, for he was “a rabbi similar to an angel,” etc. Whenever someone came for a useful purpose to discuss his problems and seek his advice, he greeted him with a pleasant expression. He inspired and encouraged every person whose soul was embittered. His advice was proper and his words, emerging from a pure heart and through his holy mouth, entered into the depths of people’s hearts, and not one of his words was in vain. As the verse states, “You will make a decision and it will be accomplished for you” (Job 22:28). And I too was drawn after his awesome distinctiveness. From time to time, I came to this Godly man to tell him the sufferings of distressed people, may the Compassionate One protect us, so that he would request God’s compassion on their behalf, and he would pray from the depths of his heart. And if his prayer was fluent in his mouth, we knew that it was accepted.
As I approach that which is holy in order to eulogize him properly, I will tell about a wondrous matter. Once I met a former acquaintance who had learned a great deal in his youth. As we talked, he expressed doubts regarding faith in the wisdom of truth, and I ended my conversation with him.
That day I was summoned to come to the holy gaon in the evening. When I came to him, he told me that he had something to discuss with me after the evening prayers. And that evening, he began to speak to me about the wisdom of the kabbalah, and he discussed everything that the man whom I had met had spoken about. I remained silent, quiet and astounded, knowing truly that all of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s holy words were directed to me.
Afterwards, I would come to him frequently, until he allowed me to come to him every night to read to him from his holy volumes. I would spend a number of hours doing so. And although I lack human understanding in the wisdom of truth, at the time that I sat before him I felt as though I were in another world entirely, far from the matters that remove a person from spiritual reality. Neither rain nor snow prevented me from coming every night. All of my days upon the earth will not erase from my heart this important chapter of the years of my life in this world, in which Hashem gave me the privilege of serving the holy gaon, when I saw my true world. A number of times when I came to him, I found him sitting and learning by heart, so immersed in his holy thoughts that he did not even sense my arrival.
The following episode remains carved in my heart forever, standing before me as though alive.
On the night of selichos [penitential prayers, recited at the time of the new year], I entered his room, as was my custom. I found him standing with his head bent and his knees shaking against each other out of his awe of Hashem and His splendid exaltedness. I stood at a distance to gaze at this awesome sight until, after a few minutes passed, he returned to his place. Later, as I took my leave of him, he told me the following story. The author of the holy book, Minuchah Ukedushah, was a holy man who had the privilege of living to an extremely old age. In his youth, he had served the rabbi of Israel, the gaon, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. For a short period of time, he made a living as a merchant traveling between villages. Once during the selichos days he was in a village because of his rounds, and after he finished his work that evening, he returned to the city to recite selichos with a congregation. When he entered the synagogue, the congregation began reciting, “To You, Hashem, is charity and we are shamefaced” (prayerbook). Shame seized him so powerfully that for a few minutes he could not raise his head, as a river of tears poured from his eyes, in keeping with the words of Ezra the scribe, “I am too embarrassed and ashamed to raise my head” (Ezra 9:6). For the rest of his life, that tzaddik (the author of Minchah Ukedushah) would pray that he may again experience such holy minutes. And my rabbi, Shlomo Elyashiv, was in this state at the time that I came into the room.
He was one of the spiritual “masters of accounts,” one of those who examine themselves and search their deeds so that they should not contain a trace of sin, heaven forbid—in particular, he examined his deeds that he had engaged in when he was not learning Torah. And if he suspected anything wrong, he repented and guarded himself for the future.
I will permit myself to relate what one of the rabbis, the gaonim of Israel outside the land of Israel, wrote regarding what Rabbi Elyashiv’s righteous wife told him in the simplicity of her soul: for a period of a few years every night after midnight she heard a sweet voice learning with her husband from the room in which the holy gaon had closed himself in. She did not dare ask her husband about that. However, one time, it happened that she had to interrupt his learning, and she sensed the presence of an awesome entity. However, she was afraid to talk about this. I also heard that about 5670 [1909-10], one of his relatives was a defendant in a criminal case—in which, if he were found guilty, he would be sentenced to hard labor. That man related his sad situation to the holy gaon, who arranged his prayer time to coincide with the time of the trial, and that person was acquitted. This incident made a great impression in the area at the time.
I recall with holy trembling the last time that I took leave of this Godly man. Those minutes were the most moving of my life. At the time that he spoke his final words to me, it did not occur to me to think that this was the last time: Wednesday evening, 24 Adar, after midnight. Invariably, when I left he would always accompany me to the front door and always me, “May it be His will that we will have the privilege of being connected and bound to the Holy One, blessed be He.” But this last time, he changed his blessing and said to me, “Our sages (of blessed memory) said that a person should express the worry in his heart, and our sages (of blessed memory) also said that a person who has a sick person at home should go to a sage. However, it is not so easy to find someone to speak to, and even if one does, that person is not always available. Therefore, regarding every trouble that might come about, a person should pour his words out before the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is always available and Who answers and is close to all who call to Him in truth.” And I took my leave of him. As I left him in the middle of the night, I contemplated these words, which I had never before heard from his holy mouth, and I decided that I would ask him about this the next evening. However, the next day I had to leave early for Jaffa. On Thursday at noon, I returned to Jerusalem, and I learned that the holy gaon had suddenly taken ill and had sent for me—or, if I could not be found, for my son-in-law, the rabbi, the gaon, Rabbi Shmuel Aharon. Rabbi Shmuel Aharon hurried to him, and he told Rabbi Shmuel Aharon some things to relate to me. Afterwards, he told Rabbi Shmuel Aharon, “If you have something to ask me, ask it now.” Rabbi Shmuel Aharon replied that he would ask him when Hashem would restore his strength. When I learned of this, I hurried to our rabbi, where, to the dismay of my heart and soul, I found him in dire straits. We told everyone of our sorrow, and we poured out our words before the Holy One, blessed be He, asking that we may have the privilege of remaining in his shadow until the coming of the righteous redeemer. Afterwards, he sent me a brief message that constituted a last will and testament. At the time, I did not understand the need for some of his words. However, afterwards I realized that all of his holy words were exactly and precisely spoken to reach their goal with unimaginably wondrous wisdom. The entire day he did not remove his mind from clinging to Hashem for even a moment, and his lips kept murmuring. The next morning, the eve of the holy Sabbath, he was brought a volume of his holy book, Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah, from the printer, and all of those standing around him blessed him that he might have the privilege of personally publishing all of his holy manuscripts. And he replied to them, “Thank God that I at least merited this much!” (as mentioned above). The entire day, he prepared himself for the day that is entirely Sabbath. In the evening, he made kiddush and learned, and after midnight his soul returned to God as He had given it, in purity in the year 5686 , at the age of 87, which forms the word paz—“fine gold.” His holy soul, pure as the essence of heaven for purity, dwelt in the heights. He went to his rest, leaving us until Hashem will look down and see, and revive those asleep in the dust, when Hashem will return us to Zion and the glory of Hashem that gathered him in will shine upon him.
At the end of the holy Sabbath, a large group of the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem from all of the communities gathered at the house of the deceased holy gaon, to accord him his final honor (in Batei Neitin in Meah Shearim).
Many of the gaonim and sages of Jerusalem eulogized him: Ashkenazim and Sefardim, and his son-in-law, the rabbi, the gaon, Rabbi Avraham, rabbi of Humla [Homel]. When the bier was taken into the city street, our rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, the master, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, the chief rabbi of the holy city, eulogized him with bitter weeping. As he spoke, he broke out in tears, and he cried out bitterly, “My father, my father, chariot of Israel and its horses! If we had the merit, we would see with our own eyes how the pillar of fire separated him from us, as is fitting for one or two people in a generation, because the holy gaon was unique in the generation in the wisdom of truth.” When his casket was brought up to the Mount of Olives, his honored resting place, and the burial began, all of us who participated had the privilege of seeing with our own eyes a pillar of fire in the shape of a rainbow beneath the vault of heaven stretching from east to west until the grave was covered. Everyone saw this and was stunned.
When I returned from the funeral with a broken and oppressed heart, I told the people who had accompanied the holy gaon who had passed away about the last words that I had heard from his holy mouth on the last night that I took my leave of him—“Our sages (of blessed memory) said that a person should express the worry in his heart, and our sages (of blessed memory) also said that a person who has a sick person at home should go to a sage…”—and I commented that I had never heard him speak like that besides that night.
When I came home, I found that a sick person was staying in my house and I realized that Rabbi Elyashiv’s holy words had been directed to me with precision. During the following week, the sick person was close to death. At the end of the week of shivah, I went to the gravesite of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, this Godly man, and prayed to Hashem, pouring forth my speech with many tears, since I had heard from Rabbi Elyashiv’s holy mouth—as he states in his Chelek Dales in the name of the Vilna Gaon—that “at the present time, God’s Presence rests upon the graves of the righteous.” When I returned home, I was told that the sick person had improved immensely. He had suddenly begun bleeding profusely from his ear and his fever had gone completely down. After a few days, this sick person returned to robust health.
I am afraid to tell everything that we knew, heard and saw, lest my pen disclose something against Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s holy will. In his lifetime, he distanced himself a great deal from this. Therefore, my words will be few—and to him silence is praise.
The following is the text that our rabbi, the gaon, the tzaddik, our master, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, composed to be inscribed upon the gravestone of the Godly man for an eternal memory.
The holy anointing oil, the light of souls,
A flame of holy fire, speaking of exalted matters--
From the heights a messenger was sent to decipher hidden matters.
He illumined the darkness of the world with his volumes of Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah,
The rabbi similar to an angel of the Lord of hosts,
the outstanding, peerless gaon,
To whom the eternal mysteries of the teaching of truth
were open and revealed,
A tzaddik, the foundation of the world, a modest instrument,
encompassed in great humility,
Our great rabbi, holy and supernal, master of mysteries, our master and rabbi, Shlomo Elyashiv (may the memory of a tzaddik be for a blessing, his soul is in the heavenly heights), author of the holy volumes, Sefer Hakadosh and Leshem Shevo Ve'achlamah,
Who passed away on 27 (which forms the word zach, “pure”) Adar 5686  here in the holy city of Jerusalem. May his soul be bound in the knot of life. May his merit protect us and all Israel, amen.
The holy gaon, the author, left behind his only son, may Hashem lengthen his days and his years in good and fresh old age, and three daughters: the righteous Chani Hinda, the wife of the rabbi, the gaon, Rabbi Mordechai Farber, of Shavel; and the rebbetzin Chayah Musha, wife of the gaon, Rabbi Avraham, the publisher of this holy book; and the rebbetzin Sarah Leah, wife of the rabbi, the gaon, Rabbi Shalom, rabbi of Vigava. May his great merit stand by his family and all Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv used to say that we must consider that the evil inclination is an angel and not a human being, and that it is an extremely practiced past master of stratagems, for it was already involved with a number of righteous and pious men, the foundations of the world, and it even wrestled with the patriarchs of the world and the prophets, etc., and its power is very great, and if not for the fact that the Holy One, blessed be He, helps a person, he would not be able to overcome it.
 Translated by Yaacov David Shulman shulman-writer.com.
 In the north of Lithuania.
 Alternatively, in 5602 , on a Friday night, 12 Tevet.
 However, Rabbi Nosson Kaminetzky is doubtful regarding this poverty.
 Rabbi Chaim Chaykel’s father, Rabbi Aryeh, would stay up every night learning Torah.
Rabbi Shraga Meir Leizerovitz—a colleague of the leading rabbis and kabbalists of his time—said that it was clear to him that Rabbi Chaim Chaykel was one of the thirty-six righteous men of the generation. When Rabbi Shraga Meir Leizerovitz fathered a son in Zagar, he sent a telegraph to Rabbi Chaykel, who was at that time living in Warsaw, asking him to come to the circumcision and be given the honor of acting as sandek.
 It is told that when his mother was pregnant with her son Shlomo she constantly saw a light before her eyes, from which she knew that she would give birth to a supernally righteous and holy son.
 Well-known as a holy kabbalist (d. 1648). Ostropolye [Ostropoli] is in Volhynia.
 In Belarus.
 Or Sliauliai. A city in Lithuania.
 During his time in Shavel, people called him Rabbi Shlomo Fein, after his father-in-law.
 Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv never held a public position.
 In Lithuania.
 Earlier, he had been rosh yeshiva [yeshiva head] in Telz. Later on, he served as a rabbi in the important cities of Salant [Salanti, in Lithuania], Kovrin [Kobrin, in Belarus] and Shavel. He was related by marriage to Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman (a prominent rosh yeshiva) and Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (chief rabbi of Vilna [Vilnius], Lithuania).
 He was the twin brother of the Aderes.
 Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv learned with both of these men.
 Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah reports that Rav Kook said that “the innovation of Rabbi Shlomo was that he injected explanations of lomdus [Talmudic analytics] into explaining kabbalah” (Likutei Harayah, p. 58).
 From the Ari.
 Or: Rabbi Yosef Reizen. Previously av beis din of Slonim (in Belarus). He was the father-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines (Lithuanian rabbi, important figure in nascent religious Zionism).
 Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch, rosh yeshiva in Telz.
 The fact that Rabbi Shlomo mentions all of these books in his introduction to Sefer Hakadosh indicates that as early as 5669 he had already written and organized a first draft.
 His writings relied particularly on the teachings of the Ari and the Vilna Gaon: “I derived everything only from the words of the Ari and from the words of the Vilna Gaon (may their memory be for a blessing).”
He wrote to his friend, Rabbi Naftali Hertz Halevi:
In my opinion, it seems that every understanding that is not based on the foundation of the words of the Zohar and the Tikunim and from the words of [the Ari,] the rabbi and gaon in whom the spirit of Hashem spoke literally with Divine inspiration (as is known), but which arises only from intellectual cogitation—to my mind, it is completely and entirely forbidden to use such intellectual constructs in this wisdom of the intellect. That is because the inquiring intellect is free and there is no end to its thoughts and it develops at times into mere airy words. And heaven forbid to use this approach and propose [original] theories regarding the Divine wisdom.… It is proper that we follow [the Ari’s] way in holiness—that we not to propound any theories of our own but only draw living water from the deep wells, which come from the words of [the Ari,] the rabbi and gaon alone.
Regarding differences between the approaches of the Ari and the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv wrote to Rabbi Naftali Hertz Halevi:
In essence, even if the Vilna Gaon presents an explanation that is not in accordance with the words of the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing), one should not be surprised, because the Vilna Gaon possessed the greatness to interpret differently and according to the vision of his holy eyes. And that is not at all new, for we have found in a number of places in Sifra Detzniutah where he writes differently than does the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing), and his words shine like the sun at noon. At times we have also found where, in the Shmonah She’arim, the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing) retracts from what he wrote in Eitz Chaim and makes a comment in accord with the view of the Vilna Gaon (may his memory be for a blessing).
Nevertheless, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv also made use of the books of Rabbi Israel Sarug and the students of his academy: the works of Rabbi Menachem Azariah de Fano, Emek Hamelech, Ma’amar Adam De’atzilus, and Sha’arei Gan Eden. Regarding this, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner wrote:
On the one hand, the Ari (may his memory be for a blessing) relied exclusively on Rabbi Chaim Vital and did not want people to study the writings of his other students who recorded his words. But on the other hand, a number of people (in particular, the master, the author of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah [may his memory be for a blessing]) have determined and clarified that many things that are not found in the writings of Rabbi Chaim Vital (may his memory be for a blessing) but which appear solely in the words of Rabbi Israel Sarug (may his memory be for a blessing) were authorized by the school of the Vilna Gaon.
The reason, according to Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin, is that Rabbi Israel Sarug learned kabbalah directly from the Ari before Rabbi Chaim Vital appeared as the Ari’s student. Since by that time Rabbi Israel Sarug had moved to Italy, Rabbi Chaim Vital was unfamiliar with his words, and so he did not include them in his writings when he gathered together what the other students wrote. And so the Ari’s warning not to study the writings of the other students does not refer to Rabbi Israel Sarug (Pachad Yitzchak: Igros Umichtavim, p. 147).
 In Pyetrokov [Piotrkow, Poland].
 In Pyetrokov.
 Or: 5684.
 Or: 5690.
 Or: Part One was published in Jerusalem in 5696, and Part Two in Jerusalem in 5708.
 Or: Rabbi Menachem Menchin Heilprin of Grodno [Hrodna, in Belarus]. He was a noted kabbalist and good friend of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv. In 5641 [1900-1901], the two of them published a handsome edition of Eitz Chaim in Warsaw with the aid of Rabbi Aharon Valden of Warsaw. (In his humility, Rabbi Elyashiv did not sign his name to his comments, but “Rashbach,” an acronym for “Rabbi Shlomo ben Chaim Chaykel.”)
 Such as Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver.
These works had for a long time been in the possession of Rabbi Shmaryahu Tzuckerman of Mohilev [Mogilev, in Belarus] and in the book collection of Rabbi Shmuel Luria. Rabbi Dovid Luria of Bichov [Bykhaw, in Belarus], a close friend of Rabbi Shmuel Luria, brought these writings to Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, who edited them with great care and profound insight. Rabbi Shmuel Luria was impressed by Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s greatness and said that his clear approach would gain favor even in the eyes of the Vilna Gaon.
 These included Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch (head of Telshe Yeshiva), who wrote: “I visited the tzaddik, the kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (may the memory of a tzaddik be for a blessing), and we discussed topics of the wisdom of the kabbalah”; Rabbi Tzvi Leviasan, also known as Reb Hershel Slabodker; Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (prominent musar rabbi), who stayed in Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s house for about a year; and Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (head of Ponevezh Yeshiva), whom Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv is said to have taught kabbalah when Rabbi Kahaneman was ten years old.
 Also, he knew Rabbi Naftali Hertz Halevi, rabbi of Jaffa, and exchanged correspondence with him on the topic of kabbalah.
He knew as well Rabbi Yuzyil Horovitz of Novardok (the Alter of Novardok). R. Mordechai Yaffan, great-grandson of Rabbi Yuzyil, told Rabbi Nosson Kaminetzky that Rabbi Yuzyil learned kabbalah together with Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv for about two months. A legend tells that after they finished learning Rabbi Yuzyil would to lie down to sleep in Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s home. Once he noticed that Rabbi Shlomo was learning with someone else, although he knew clearly that there was no one in the house, and he believed this to be Elijah the prophet. Regarding why he ceased learning with Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, it is related in the name of Rabbi Yuzyil’s grandson, the pious gaon, Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz (rosh yeshiva of Mir), that one time as Rabbi Yuzyil was walking in the street, he passed by a few children who called after him, “Here is another kabbalist!” He took this as a sign from heaven to stop his kabbalah learning.
 In his last year in Shavel.
 Author of the Ben Ish Chai.
When the book came to Rabbi Yosef Chaim, “he announced this with great joy to the city’s sages of the hidden Torah. He invited them to a special mitzvah feast in his home, and told them to light candles at his holy table in honor of the appearance of the bright light of the pure marble stones: Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah” (Sichos Harayah).
 Once, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ferber asked Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv why he did not solicit approbations for his books. Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv answered that once he had sent his writings to a unique man of the generation in the revealed and hidden Torah, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (whose greatness Rabbi Elyashiv had discerned from his books). When Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s response arrived only after a delay of many weeks, Rabbi Elyashiv understood that Rabbi Yosef Chaim had studied them in depth. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch asked what Rabbi Yosef Chaim had written. Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv laughed and answered that he would only reveal the two first words: “lion of mysteries.”
 Rabbi Neriah writes in Moadei Harayah (p. 455):
When the master, Rav Kook (may the memory of a tzaddik be for a blessing), held his first rabbinical post in Zoimel, he received permission from his community to travel for a month to the town of Shavel, to visit the lion of the group of great men who studied the hidden Torah: the gaon, the kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (may his memory be for a blessing). And from then on they were closely bound to each other.
Elsewhere he writes (Sadeh Harayah, p. 25):
When Rav Kook delved into the hidden Torah, he had a few fundamental questions and he decided to go to one of the great masters and present him with his questions and learn Torah directly from him. He arose and traveled to the gaon, the kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (may his memory be for a blessing), of Shavel. He lived in his house for about a month.
Rabbi Shlomo saw that the young rabbi was great in kabbalah and that his pure soul was worthy of entering into holies. Rabbi Shlomo revealed secrets of the hidden wisdom to him and taught him the knowledge of the holy, and inaugurated him into the secrets of the Zohar and its commentators, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and his student and master, the holy Ari, and the Ari’s students. The young rabbi was deeply impressed by Rabbi Shlomo’s greatness in the wisdom of kabbalah and said of him: “Comparable to the greatness of Rabbi Dovid of Karlin in the revealed Torah, so is the greatness of Rabbi Shlomo in the hidden.”
In a letter, Rav Kook described the first moments of his receiving Sefer Hakadosh: “I swallowed up a number of pages before it was bound, out of love of the holy, and it was in my mouth like honey for sweetness” (Igrot Harayah I, p. 236).
Rav Kook also wrote, “The book of the great master among the kabbalists of the generation, Rabbi Shlomo of Shavel, may his light shine, contains important matters that touch upon the disquisitions of the shiur komah (the ‘Divine anatomy’)” (Igros Harayah II, p. 114, 1 Kislev 5673).
And Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlop quotes Rav Kook as saying: “What can we say about Rabbi Shlomo? He strolls in the supernal Gan Eden in this world, and he passes from world to world in the upper worlds in the same way that we pass from room to room” (Sichos Harayah, p. 163).
 It is similarly said of the Vilna Gaon (Aliyos Eliyahu, 78):
When he turned forty years old, which is associated with understanding, he attained additional understanding and became like a flowing wellspring, so that time would not suffice to write all that was revealed to him. And from then on he only wrote and composed via his students. Before he reached the age of forty, all of his compositions that he had written himself were completed. And from then the profound depths of his understanding could not be comprehended.
 However, it appears from Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ferber that this refers to Rabbi Ovadiah Lachman of Berlin, who was a friend of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, and who monetarily supported the project to publish the Vilna Gaon’s books in memory of his parents. It was he who gave the books to all those conversant with kabbalah (among them Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Specter), including the sages of Jerusalem, and who sent the latter money for binding.
 This is the same year that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s house went up in flames, and his manuscripts were burned. At this time he was over 70 years old.
 Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s son-in-law, Rabbi Avraham, served as rabbi of Humel [Homel, Gomel], in White Russia [Belarus]. Rabbi Avraham was the son of the tzaddik, Rabbi Moshe ben Shlomo Elazar of Radin. R Moshe lived in the town of Aran [Varena], a parish of Vilna, and was known as “the ascetic of Aran.” He composed three books of ethical instruction: Oheiv Musar (Warsaw 5656), Yedei Moshe VeTorah Ohr (Warsaw (5657) and Ma’aneh Rach (Pyetrokov 5671), which had approbations by Ridbaz (Rabbi Yaacov Dovid Vilovski) of Slutsk, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Meisel of Lodz, Rabbi Mordechele Slonimer, Rabbi Chaim Berlin, and others.
Rabbi Avraham was educated in his youth by Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen (the Chafetz Chaim) of Radin, and he also learned in the famous group that learned under well-known maggid, Rabbi Elyakim Getzel of Dvinsk. After he married, he adapted the surname of his father-in-law’s family—Elyashiv. He undertook to publish Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s books, which he did during the latter’s lifetime and afterwards as well.
At the age of eighteen, Rabbi Avraham published part one of his own book, Bikurei Avraham, containing his Talmudical analyses, with appendices presenting those of his father and father-in-law. As soon as Rabbi Avraham arrived in Jerusalem, he published the second half of that work.
After coming to Jerusalem, Rabbi Avraham founded a group called Tiferes Bachurim in Meah Shearim, where he taught daily lessons to tens of laymen and workers, who over the course of time became learned. Rabbi Avraham passed away on Thursday, 4 Marcheshvon, 5703, and his post was filled by his famed son, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
 He is known to have written approbations for only two books, both by Rabbi Chaim Shaul Dveck HaCohen, the greatest of the Jerusalem kabbalists (he was among the sages of Yeshiva Beit El,). The first was for Eifah Sheleimah, a commentary on Otzros Chaim (Jerusalem, 5667 [1906-1907]), and the second for Benayahu Ben Tehoyada (Jerusalem 5671 [1910-1911]). Both of these approbations, which he wrote when he was in Shavel, indicate clearly his high standing among the kabbalists of his generation.
 Rabbi Aryeh Levin tells that the Chafetz Chaim visited Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv in Humel [Homel]. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Ferber adds that when the Chafetz Chaim visited Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv in Shavel, the usual order was changed in that the girls and women ate separately. Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s grandson, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, informed Rabbi Nosson Kaminetzky that the Chafetz Chaim first met Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv in 5675 [1914-1915], when they both were exiled because of World War One. Legend has it that the two men would take turns staying with each other for the Sabbath.
Once Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv asked the Chafetz Chaim why he did not learn the hidden Torah. The Chafetz Chaim replied, “I will walk simply ‘like a nursing baby with its mother’ (Psalms 131:2).”
It is told that when Rabbi Eliyahu Dushnitzer took leave of his rabbi, the Chafetz Chaim, in order to travel to Shavel, the Chafetz Chaim’s son-in-law met him on the way and told him that the Chafetz Chaim had sent him to tell Rabbi Dushnitzer that while he was in Shavel to try for God’s sake to visit Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, “for in this world it is still possible to see him and come close to him, whereas in the world-to-come, who knows if we will merit that.”
 A town near Vilna.
 Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (mashgiach [spiritual counselor] of Mir Yeshiva) tells (Da’as Chochmah Umusar, part 2, p. 174):
Rabbi Shlomoleh Finn told me that in his youth he learned kabbalah. One time when he traveled with the gaon Rabbi Israel Salanter, he asked him why he did not learn kabbalah. Rabbi Israel answered him: “What difference does it make to me over which firmament the Holy One, blessed be He, is sitting? One thing I know: that they will use whips, and these will be very painful …because the whips will burn. That much I know, and what more do I need?”
Regarding such an attitude to Kabbalah, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv wrote (in a brief introduction to his Sefer Hakadosh): “I am astonished at those sages of the generation who have no knowledge of this, for how can they refrain from studying the wisdom of truth, which is the core of the Torah?”
Also, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ferber (Yeshurun 6) testified:
The righteous gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (may his light shine), told me that the master and rabbi, the rabbi of the entire congregation of Israel, Rabbi Israel Salanter (may his merit protect us), once visited him in Shavel once (for a well-known and understood purpose). And Rashbach [Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv] expressed his surprise that Rabbi Israel does not learn the hidden Torah. The gaon Rabbi Israel Salanter replied that he is already old, and besides, who knows the proper books from which to learn the beginning of this wisdom?
Rabbi Shlomo Hoffman tries to reconcile these two testimonies as to whether or not Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv and Rabbi Israel Salanter met by saying that Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv literally only “saw” Rabbi Israel Salanter but did not actually meet him.
 He was surprised that the sages of his generation had no knowledge of kabbalah, and wondered how they could refrain from learning it, “and all of the apologies and excuses do not at all suffice.”
 In France. One of the ba’alei Tosafos of the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries.
 Of Regensberg. Circa twelfth century.
 Or Berdyansk. It is in the governorate of Tavrida [Taurida], in the middle of Russia.
 For seven years he moved from place to place.
 He traveled with his daughter Chayah Musha, her husband Rabbi Avraham, and their son Yosef Shalom.
Rav Kook, chief rabbi of the land of Israel, and Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, who was then chief rabbi of Ireland, attained the certificates for them.
Igrot Larayah contains the text of a letter of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv to Rav Kook, whom he thanks for proposing to send him a certificate for aliyah, and asks him to send certificates as well for his son-in-law and family:
Here in Hamel [Homel] is my son-in-law, the master, Rabbi Avraham (may he live long), who has served here a few years with the crown of the rabbinate among other outstanding rabbis. For about fifteen years you, the honorable gaon (may you live long), knew him well, because you and he were together a few times in Dublin [sic] near Riga, where people go bathing in the sea, and he received rabbinical ordination from your honor. It is hard for me to part from him. Therefore, I request that you kindly send an entry certificate for him as well. He is fifty years old, and his name (due to a name change) is Dovid Simchah Udelav Poupko. My daughter is forty-eight years old, her name is Chayah Musha, and they have an only son … whose name is Yosef Shalom….
In another such letter in 5682 [1921-1922], Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv writes to Rav Kook, “I was told that your honor was appointed chief rabbi of Jerusalem, and I rejoiced greatly over this. And I am honored to bless your honor to have long days upon this throne of the rabbinate, and may your good name travel far and rise upward. Amen, so may it be His will.”
In Av 5684 [1923-1924], Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv wrote to Rav Herzog (who later became chief rabbi of Israel) with guidance on how to learn kabbalah, which he also spoke of Rav Herzog’s help in obtaining entry certificates:
A wealth of peace from the heights to the great rabbi, tower of strength, etc., etc., sitting upon the throne of the rabbinate to teach the nation of Hashem the law of God and His Torah. May your throne be elevated ever upward. May your name shine before the sun: our master, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog (may you live long). May your light shine forever!
I received your letter from 25 Tammuz on the previous eve of the holy Sabbath. First of all, I will pay my debt to your elevated stature (may you live long) for your trouble and effort to benefit me with the entry certificate for entering the Holy Land, on whose behalf your elevated stature toiled on my behalf. Many thanks and blessing to your elevated honor for this. May you take blessing from Hashem to be blessed from the abode of blessings in all that your soul desires, selah. I did not write my thanks until now because, due to the difficulty of my travels, I was sick in bed for a few weeks (may you not suffer such). A few weeks have passed since I rose from my bed (thank God, blessed be His name), but I am still very weak (may you not suffer such). That is why I did not write to your elevated honor (may he live long) until now…. [Now follows a passage in which Rabbi Elyashiv provides guidance in learning kabbalah.]
All of this I saw fit to write to your elevated station (may you live long) now as an answer to your letter. And if the content of this letter does not satisfy you, may your honor please deign to write me again and I will reply to you with Hashem’s help (without a vow), in accordance of all of your desire, with whatever Hashem (may He be blessed) has been gracious enough to me to express His will in all things. I have written this letter [by dictating it] to a family member, my grandson, who is a child, since my eyes are dim (may you not suffer such), so that I cannot write myself. And I wrote everything through him, and nothing of this is known to anyone else at all…. The words of your friend, who blesses you to be blessed from the abode of blessings—Shlomo, called Elyashiv.
 Rabbi Elyashiv’s grandson, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, was especially close to him, and used to serve his grandfather and write his books at his dictation.
 Rabbi Aharon Shlomo Maharil, author of To’ameha Chaim Zachu (a commentary on Eitz Chaim), was one of the sages of kabbalah in Jerusalem. He was born in Zagar, lived near Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv in Batei Neitin, and considered himself a disciple of his. After Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv passed away, he said that now nothing was difficult for him in learning, because Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv solved every difficult problem for him in a dream.
 Many of the great rabbis of Jerusalem came to Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv’s home in the neighborhood of Batei Neitin, near Meah Shearim, and he would greet them warmly.
Rabbi Neriah writes that “it is known that Rav Kook took counsel with the gaon, the kabbalist, author of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah (may his memory be for a blessing), in the last year of that tzaddik’s life” (Sadeh Harayah, p. 577).
And Rav Neriah tells in the name of Rabbi Aryeh Levin: “When the gaon and tzaddik, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, came to Jerusalem at the end of his days, Rav Kook (may the memory of a tzaddik be for a blessing) would at times come to his house after midnight, and over the course of several hours they learned kabbalistic matters together” (Sichos Harayah, p. 163).
The gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Arieli wrote in his memoirs:
I had the chance to accompany Rav Kook to the home of Rav Elyashiv. And when Rav Kook appeared, Rabbi Elyashiv honored him by asking Rav Kook to sit in his place. Rav Kook refused. Rav Elyashiv said to him: “Cohen and nazir.” Rav Kook acquiesced and sat down. He showed him unbound sheets of the Leshem, Volume 3, and they began to discuss the comments of Rav Kook.
And I heard that when Rav Elyashiv came to visit the house of Rav Kook, that took place in the winter, and when Rav Kook saw that he did not have a warm coat he took out his own fur coat, clothed him in it and gave it to him as a gift.
Rav Kook knew him from the days of his youth and had traveled to him to the city of Shavel. And when his book came to Rav Kook, he said that the house was filled with light. When he passed away, I heard Rav Kook state in his eulogy that if we had merited, we would have seen a pillar of fire. And indeed, there are those who accompanied Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv to the cemetery who saw this pillar when he was laid in the grave.
R Neriah tells, “Once, when I entered the home of the well-known Jerusalem kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, author of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah, he was in the company of the kabbalist, Rabbi Aharon Shlomo Maharil (may his memory be for a blessing), author of the book To’ameha Chaim Zachu. When I parted from Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, author of Leshem Shevo Ve’achlamah, I asked him to bless me in spiritual matters, and he replied, “What is spirituality? Physicality is also spirituality.”
For three years Rabbi Aryeh Levin would go every night to his relative by marriage, the kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv.…. Neither cold, wind nor rain prevented him from going. He spent hours in Rabbi Elyashiv’s company. His son, Rabbi Chaim Yaacov (may he live long) told: “A few times I accompanied him. They went inside while I, who was young, waited in the corridor for about two hours. When we returned home, I asked my father, ‘What did you learn?’ He answered me, ‘The holy gaon learned and delved into the holy books and I stood next to him. I held the lamp in my hand, I handed him the books that he needed … and I do not know why I have the privilege of serving this holy man’ … and I asked him no more” (Ish Tzaddik Hayah, Simchah Raz, p. 51).
Rabbi Aryeh Levin named his son, Rabbi Simchah Shlomo, after Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv and after Rabbi Meir Simchah HaCohen of Dvinsk. Rav Kook instructed Rabbi Aryeh Levin to use “Simchah” as the first name because Rabbi Meir Simchah was a genius in the revealed Torah, and to use “Shlomo” as the second name, because Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv was a genius in the hidden Torah.
 Sefer Hakelalim.
 Which just then had been printed.
 Parshat Vayikra.
 27 Adar.
 Since he was a cohen, he could not enter a house containing a dead body.
 An allusion to Kesuvos 17a: “When [Rabbi Shmuel ben Rabbi Yitzchak] died, a pillar of fire came between him and the whole world; and there is a tradition that such a pillar of fire makes such a division for only one or two people in a generation.”
 Rabbi Sharia Deblitzki quotes his friend, Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Elkonik of Bnei Brak, who grew up in Jerusalem, as reporting that his father told him that he saw the pillar of fire with his own eyes. Also, Rabbi Avraham Stern writes in the name of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ferber: “At the time the casket of the holy Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (may his memory be for a blessing) was buried, an awesome sight appeared before the eyes of all the people: a pillar of fire from east to west, until the grave was filled in—something that had not appeared in the holy city of Jerusalem for a few hundred years” (Melitzei Eish: Chelek Adar, p. 71).
 Many stories are told in Jerusalem about people who had miraculous solutions to their problems after they visited his gravesite on the Mt. of Olives.
 And it is carved upon it.
 Rabbi Yitzchak.
 Near Kelm.
 Apparently none of them survived the destruction of European Jewry.
11/13/2017 10:07:40 pm
Thank you for sharing this fascinating material.
2/10/2019 11:35:08 pm
This translation is a tremendous accomplishment. Thanks you, R. Yaacov David, for making this important work available to the English speaking public. The writing and annotation are first rate!
12/31/2021 03:12:47 am
On the shoulders of giants ...
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Yaacov David Shulman
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