Wednesday, June 27, 2007

12th Tamuz - Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was recognised by everyone as one of the most brilliant Talmudic scholars of his time.

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1875-1941) was a prominent Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in pre-World War II Europe. He was one of the Chofetz Chaim's closest disciples and a Torah scholar of note.

His seforim on Talmud are learn in all the major Yeshivot today - 'Kovetz Maamarim' and 'Kovetz He'aros' are the most famous. You can read some exerpts of an article of his on faith here: Reb Elchonon

He was in the USA at the outbreak of WWII (and the holocaust). Although he had many offers to stay in the USA which would have been safer, he knew that his place was with his Yeshiva. A captain always stays with his ship. (In this sense he was the 'frum' version of Janos Korcak). He was arested by the Nazisin 1941 with 20 of his students.

(Quote from Wikipedia)

Rabbi Elchonon was taken and murdered by the Lithuanians on the 12th of Tammuz, 1941. Before he was taken he gave this statement: "In Heaven it appears that they deem us to be righteous because our bodies have been chosen to atone for the Jewish people. Therefore, we must repent now, immediately. There is not much time. We must keep in mind that we will be better offerings if we repent. In this way we will save the lives of our brethren overseas."

"Let no thought enter our minds, God forbid, which is abominable and which renders an offering unfit. We are now fulfilling the greatest mitzvah. With fire she (Jerusalem) was destroyed and with fire she will be rebuilt. The very fire which consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people."

One of his books that is well known but not so often learnt is 'ikvusa d'mechicha' in which he talks about the time immediately before the coming of Mashiach. He describes how we should understand the difficult times that will precede the Messianic era beautifully with the following parable.

Once there was a man who knew nothing about agriculture who came to a farmer to learn about farming. The farmer took him to his field and asked him what he saw. He saw a beautiful piece of land full of grass and pleasing to the eye. Then the visitor stood aghast as the farmer plowed up the grass and turned the beautiful green field into a mass of brown ditches. "Why did you ruin the field?" asked the man. "Be patient and you will see," answered the farmer. Then the farmer showed him a sack full of plump kernels of wheat and asked him what he sees. The visitor described the nutritious inviting grain and then once more watched in shock as the farmer ruined something beautiful. This time he walked up and down the furrows and dropped kernels into the open ground wherever he went, then he covered them up with clods of soil. "Are you insane," the man asked, "first you destroy the field, then you take this beautiful grain, and you throw it underneath." The farmer answered, "Be patient and you will see." Time went by, and once more the farmer took his guest out into field. Now they saw endless straight rows and green stalks sprouting up from all of the furrows. The visitor smiled broadly, "I apologize, now I understand what you were doing, you made the field more beautiful than ever; the art of farming is truly marvelous. "No," said the farmer, "we are not done, you must still be patient." More time went by and the stalks were fully grown, then the farmer came with a sickle and chopped them all down as his visitor watched openmouthed, seeing how the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. The farmer bound the fallen stalks into bundles and decorated the field with them. Later he took the bundles to another area, where he beat and crushed them until the became a mass of straw and loose kernels. Then he separated the kernels from the chaff and piled them up in a huge hill. Always he told his protesting visitor, "Be patient we are not done." Then the farmer came with the wagon and piled it high with grain which he took to the mill. There this beautiful grain was ground into formless choking dust. The visitor complained again, "You have taken beautiful grain and transformed it into dust." Again he was told to be patient. The farmer put the dust into sacks and took it back home. He took some dust and mixed it with water, while his guest marveled at the foolishness of making whitish mud. Then the farmer fashioned the mud into the shape of a loaf. The visitor saw the perfectly formed loaf and smiled broadly, but his happiness did not last. The farmer lit a fire and put the loaf into the oven. "Now I know you're insane, after all that work you burn what you make." The farmer looked at him and laughed, "Have I not told you to be patient?" Finally the farmer opened the oven took out the freshly baked bread crisp and brown, with an aroma that made the visitors mouth water. "Come," the farmer said. He led his guest to the kitchen table where he cut the bread, and he offered his now-pleased visitor a liberally buttered slice. "Now," the farmer said, "Now you understand."

Rav Elchonon said, "Hashem is the farmer, and we are the fools who do not begin to understand his ways or the outcome of his plan. Only when the process is complete will all the Jewish people know why all this happened. Then, when Moshiach has finally come, we will know why all of this had to be. Until then we must be patient and have faith that everything, even when it seems destructive and painful, is part of the process that will produce goodness and beauty.

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life, and May G-d Avenge is Blood.

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