Bearing the Burden of the Holy Nation

Rav Eliyahu and Yeshiva ‘Merkaz HaRav’

I haven’t heard the reason, however, the Gaon, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l chose to connect himself with the Torani community affiliated with Yeshiva ‘Merkaz HaRav’. He himself grew up in the community associated with Yeshiva ‘Porat Yosef’, which leaned, to some extent, towards the Haredi public, and where many parents sent their children to learn in Haredi educational institutions and yeshiva’s. However, Rabbi Eliyahu was closer to the Chief Rabbi, the Rishon l’Tzion, Rabbi Yitzhack Nissim, and even as a young ‘dayan’ (judge) in the Supreme Rabbinical Court, before his greatness was revealed to the students of ‘Merkaz HaRav’, he sent his son Rabbi Shmuel, shlita, to learn in the Yeshiva Ketana of ‘Merkaz’, and his younger children he sent to the ‘Noam’ school system which was established by graduates of ‘Merkaz’. His connection to the National Religious public did not interfere with his close relation to the community affiliated with Yeshiva ‘Porat Yosef’ – his uncle, the Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Tzadka, ztz”l was, of course, the Rosh Yeshiva. Rabbi Eliyahu also had a strong attachment to the well-known Abuchatzera family and to Sephardic kabala circles – many of whom considered him their leader. He was also close to Hasidic groups, and the Lubuvithcher Rebbe treated him with honor and love.

Daily Class with Yeshiva Students

When his son, Rabbi Shmuel, was a second-year student at Yeshiva ‘Merkaz HaRav’, my father, who was his teacher at the time, encouraged him to organize a choice group of students to learn halacha on a daily basis with his father. For years this group would pray in the early minyan and learn with Rabbi Eliyahu ‘Tur’ and ‘Beit Yosef’ from 7:00 till 9:00 every morning. Afterwards, Rabbi Eliyahu would go to work in the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

As time went by, students starting asking him questions in halacha, until he became one of the halachic authorities for ‘Merkaz’ students, and consequently for many people in the community, and eventually, for all the yeshiva’s associated to ‘Merkaz’.

In the course of time, an hour was set every morning for all those who wanted to ask Rabbi Eliyahu questions in halacha. Even when he served as the Chief Rabbi, he continued to answer people’s questions each morning in his house. Tens of people would gather at the entrance to his room, and quickly, he would answer each one in a short and concise manner. When he needed to give encouragement to someone, Rabbi Eliyahu knew how to do it with one, on the mark sentence. Those who came to ask questions left pleased and satisfied, whether the answer was to permit or to forbid – for the halacha had been made crystal clear. Women would also come to ask questions and the Rabbi would not look at them directly. He was so modest and holy that women would not be embarrassed to ask him questions concerning the most intimate topics.

Keen Perception

During the days preceding the holiday of Sukkot, many people would come to ask the Rabbi about the ‘kashrut’ of their ‘etrog’ and ‘lulav’. Sometimes people would bring an entire carton of ‘etrog’s’, and for hours each day, the Rabbi would check them tolerantly and expeditiously.

At that time, I was learning the laws of the four species, and would give advice to friends purchasing them. Once, one of my friends returned from Rabbi Eliyahu’s house and showed me an ‘etrog’ that the Rabbi disqualified because of a slight technicality which I thought did not hinder its’ being ‘kosher’. I thought to myself that perhaps my friend did not understand the Rabbi’s decision, or that the Rabbi had checked it hastily.

I took the ‘etrog’, and the following day I put it amongst a carton of ‘etrog’s’ that another friend was bringing to Rabbi Eliyahu — without telling him that it had already been checked by him. I couldn’t imagine that after having examined so many ‘etrog’s’ he would remember that he had checked it, therefore, I thought he would reconsider his decision. However, my friend returned and said that he felt that the Rabbi was a little angry at him, for he said to his son who was assisting him: “This ‘etrog’ must be cut; it’s already been here and we said that it was disqualified.” The Rabbi didn’t actually cut the ‘etrog’ – he just wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Authority and Sensitivity

Rabbi Eliyahu possessed a rare combination of tremendous Torah authority, sensitivity, and honor for his fellow individual. Thus, people who came to him filled with doubts and sometimes bearing agony would leave him feeling secure that they had received the correct and best guidance.

He knew how to console widows and orphans, to gladden the hearts of the poor and the sick. Many were those who entered his house sad and left happy, for he understood their hearts and knew how to guide and strengthen them. It got to the point where there were so many people turning to him there just weren’t enough hours in the day to receive them all.

Rabbi Eliyahu Endured Our Illness

Most rabbis’ deal with clarifying issues and giving classes, but are not required to answer numerous questions on a daily basis. Although they also face a certain amount of stress – not to err in their learning or teaching – nevertheless, they have a lot of time to clarify the issues and take a breather. However, someone who is required to answer several questions everyday in halacha and guidance, some of them dealing with life and death, where every decision has critical implications on the life of the person asking the question – even if his nerves and heart are made of steel, the pain and anguish of those coming to seek salvation are liable to overpower him. I don’t know if there is any other rabbi in our generation who was asked as many critically important questions concerning people’s lives than our teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu. He served both as a Rabbi and as a Rebbe. Indeed, he endured our illness and suffered our pain. His memory should be for a blessing.

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