The Story of How the Mekubal Rabbi Shlomo Elmeliach Became a Chasid of Rabbi Eliezer Berland shlit”a and of His Monumental Commentary on the Etz Chaim
Great Sages in the hidden and revealed Torah have glorified Moroccan Jewry for hundreds of years. One of the unique among them chose to be hidden even after his death. Read how Tzaddikim in their deaths are calling living, even after decades. In an interview with his grandson, Rabbi Shlomo Elmeliach, one of the important students of the Rav, continuing the glory of his family, tells his story of his drawing close to our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a, and in doing so reveals to us another facet of the greatness of the Rav.
This was more than a decade ago. The Jewish cemetery in the city of El-Kala in Morocco stood in imminent danger. Under the instruction of the city ruler who decided to turn the place into an open market, the Arabs started destroying and clearing out the Jewish cemetery. There was no one to protest, since Jews already didn’t live there, and who would stop them from doing what they wanted? Or so they thought in any case.
Only in truth, they forgot that here is buried – or more correctly lives – a holy man of God who won’t let them do what they want. This was the Holy Gaon, the Mekubal Rabbi Yehuda Elmeliach ztz”l, who only 72 years earlier served as the Chief Rabbi of the city and led his congregation with eminence.
Awesome miracle stories circulate about this wondrous Tzaddik, and there are still amongst us Jews who remember his phenomenal way in holiness. To this day Moroccan Jews ascend to his grave, and during his Hillulah (anniversary of his death) hundreds of Jews from all over Morocco gather there.
The tractors ascended the plot and began plowing down grave after grave. However, behold, suddenly the engine went out and the excavation vehicle stopped in place. The workers tried in vain to fix the vehicle, but couldn’t find any visible signs of malfunction. Their attempts to go forward with the vehicle resulted in silence, however, when they tried to go back in reverse, the tractor went without any problem. Now, they tried again to go ahead with the destruction of the grave in front of them, however, once again the vehicle didn’t work. After they tried over and over again, they understand that there was something behind this, and they stopped the excavation. These were the graves of Rabbi Yehuda Elmeliach and his holy pupil Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen. There the tractors stopped, unable to continue.
At night Rabbi Yehuda came in a dream to one of his descendants, informing him about the danger which his grave was found in. He commanded him to travel urgently to Morocco, and there to meet with the King. “The King will already assist with the preservation of the site, and I command you to move our graves to the edge of the cemetery, and next to it, construct a large building for welcoming visitors. Upon the grave with be appointed the elderly Arab who lives close to there. They told him that I appointed him to guard the site and to concern himself with visitors to the grave. Additionally, surround the entire cemetery with a strong fence in order to guard its honor and holiness.”
The descendant, who didn’t understand how to execute all of this in a foreign land, merited to a response in the dream from his grandfather: “When you wake up in the morning, you’ll find in your coat pocket a letter from me to the King of Morocco. Don’t open it. Hand him the letter as is, and see that he will assist you. Don’t return to Israel until you have completed the mission,” he warned him.
Stirred and agitated, the grandson arose in the morning. Behold, the letter from his grandfather was in the coat pocket. He understood that the dream was, in fact, true. Immediately, he placed the direction of his Kollel into the hands of a Talmid Chacham who learns in the Kollel, and went out to fulfill the stirring mission.
Escorted by two Jews, he left Israel. Upon arriving in Morocco they requested to be received by the King. The guards, as expected, rejected their request on the spot, but the grandson didn’t give up. “Tell the King that I have in my hand a letter for him from one of the Tzaddikim who died decades ago,” he requested. The King of Morocco, whose curiosity was aroused at the bizarre news, gave instructions to bring them into his palace. There, the grandson briefly told the King who his grandfather was and handed him the letter, describing how it came to him.
The King ecstatically ready the letter. In the letter, Rabbi Yehuda instructed him to command the ruler of El-Kala to help his messengers to fulfill the mission he placed upon them. He even requested that he assist them financially with it. In exchange for this, the Tzaddik promised him abundant blessings. The King, moved by the content of the letter, immediately wrote a letter to the ruler of El-Kala, and additionally, said that he wants to take the expenses onto himself.
So was the structure at the grave built. Not one word of Rabbi Yehuda’s words went unfulfilled. The three executed the entire mission, and after eight months merited to complete it.
This story opens for us a little window into the awesome character of the Tzaddik Rabbi Yehuda Elmeliach, who served as the Chief Rabbi of the city El-Kala, and the stories which are told about him, a portion of which are not even given over to publication. He merited to and accomplished greatness and levels not known.
His grandson Rabbi Shlomo relates, as he heard from Rabbi Yehuda’s daughter Chana:
“From various people who I didn’t know at all, that have no connection to one another, I heard stories of greatness and wonder which are difficult to describe. In his house, he opened a Kollel for a group of Talmidei Chachamim in which all the expenses were on him, and they would learn Torah in his house in shifts all hours of the day. His daughter Chana relates that she wouldn’t sleep at night because of the ‘battle of Torah’ which was in their house. He conducted himself with awesome holiness. He didn’t do his needs except by the river which was a distance of a kilometer from their house, because he was careful to immerse immediately afterwards.”
However, even though he would sit hidden in his room immersed in the revealed and hidden Torah, he also knew how to fulfill his role as Chief Rabbi of the city, and so he was involved in every detail which required his decision. There was no concept of a bill of divorce in his city. Rabbi Yehuda would sit with the couple for days on end until he returned the peace to their home. His name was also respected amongst the gentiles, who would come to him for his blessing, turning their hope to the pronouncement of his lips.
At his death, the Name of Heaven was sanctified in the eyes of all, when the gentiles saw with their eyes how the moon shined with great light like in daytime until he was concealed in his holy grave. Only afterwards did it return to its natural glow.
On the occasion of the appearance of the unique Torah-Kabbalistic work “Ateret Shlomo,” a comprehensive commentary on the entire holy book “Etz Chaim” of the holy Ari, the product of the pen of one of the important students of our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a for decades, Rabbi Shlomo Elmeliach shlit”a, we sat in a special conversation with the author. We have already heard from Rabbi Shlomo shiurim in the Torah of Rabbeinu Nachman for nearly twenty years, as he gives over the Torah of Rabbeinu HaKadosh according to the true way that he received from his Rebbe Rav Eliezer Berland shlit”a.
When the Elmeliach family came to the Holy Land, the family dwelled in Hatzor HaGlilit. The conditions of the place didn’t enable youth to know the ways of Torah, and through the active assistance of the government which set for them the goal of forgetting our Torah, it was very difficult to keep one’s Judaism as needed. Also the religious institutions of learning didn’t give the tools to deal with life beyond Torah. As a result, many didn’t hold out in this situation and continue a life of Torah.
Ascending in Torah
However, despite the challenges, Rabbi Shlomo managed with God’s help to be rescued from the jaws of the street. The thing which helped him was his love of being in the lap of nature, a place where he felt natural longing for Hashem Yisbarach. There he received the awakening to do teshuva, and so he rose and went to learn in the Lithuanian-style Yeshiva “Davar Yerushalayim” under the leadership of Rabbi Yoel Shwartz and Rabbi Hurwitz.
“At ‘Davar Yerushalayim’ we learned in the way that’s accepted in yeshivos: ‘lamdus’ and yeshiva-style analysis. One of the times, when I returned from the yeshiva to our house, my father asked me what we are learning. I told him Tractate Kedushin. ‘Let’s learn together’ my father said. So I ran through the sugya according to all the methods and commentaries that we learned. My father, Rabbi Chaim, who was the Rabbi of Hatzor and a Talmid Chacham, became angry and said, “So that’s how they learn?” That’s not how our forefathers learned in Morocco. They analyzed each word while delving in depth into the simple meaning of the sugya — not running to see beforehand the commentaries. Rather, [they] tried to understand from within the sugya, especially from within the holy commentary of Rashi.
“My father’s mind wasn’t at ease until he took me to one of the Sages of Morocco who lived in our city – none other than the Mekubal Rabbi David Suissa ztz”l, who was already then very elderly. For several months, he sat with me and explained the way of learning as they learned in Morocco, which is a special sweetness. From then on, I began to learn in the way which Rabbi David delineated for me, and I no longer learned in the way of the Yeshiva.
“When I was at ‘Dvar Yerushalayim,’ the bachurim once sat and laughed at the Breslovers, that they go to the fields and scream and do strange things. But from what they said in disparagement of Breslovers, a desire was awakened within me to know them and to be like them, because what they told about them actually sounded to me really good. Without knowing the Breslovers, I would defend them from the ridicule which they would direct towards them. I asked them if there are books of this Rav of theirs. They responded that his books were banned, and only one of his books remained which is called Likutey Moharan.
The Search for the Tzaddik
“Meanwhile I acquired Likutey Moharan and began to study it, and behold I saw that his book really aroused me. I felt that I had found a response to something which I had felt for a long time, which is that I learn all types of books, and there is written there all types of things, but they don’t arouse me to fulfill them even though I learn them. But when I learn Likutey Moharan a desire is aroused in me to also fulfill.
“When I told this to my friends, they responded, “You’ve already gone crazy…” However, I knew that this was the real thing, and I began to pray to Hashem to send me a Breslover Chasid. My prayer was answered, and one day I met Rabbi David ben Yishai. I told him that I’m searching for a Breslover Chasid. When he heard this, he brought me to our holy Yeshiva Shuvu Banim in the Old City.”
In order to describe his impression of the Yeshiva when he first arrived there, Rabbi Shlomo uses the expression “volcano.” “It’s impossible to describe what lofty holiness and light there was in the Yeshiva when I arrived there. Our Rebbe Rav Eliezer Berland shlit”a appeared like a flaming torch, and everything all around was a furor and storm of Avodas Hashem that’s impossible to describe. Mincha and Arvis together with the shiur of the Rav shlit”a lasted for six hours. I almost didn’t understand anything of the fast and fiery words of the Rav, but I saw a phenomenal sight which I never had seen before.”
One of the things which especially gripped Rabbi Shlomo was the community. “After the shiur of the Rav, I saw people who were all immersed in holy fire, great lights, and they had no time at all for conversations or words. I saw how the people would go with the words that they received now to pray to Hashem about them, to do hisbodedus that they should merit to fulfill them — people who live on a different level, detached from materialism, whose only desire is how to serve Hashem.
“Afterwards, the students of the Yeshiva went to rest in order to gather strength for Chatzos (the midnight lamentation). At three in the morning the Rav arrived once again for prayer and a shiur with awesome strength and a burning fire for Hashem. After prayer and the shiur, the order of learning began. There was a shiur in Gemara by the Gaon Rabbi Fishel ztz”l who arrived especially to teach Gemara to the students of the Yeshiva, despite his extreme age and the trouble in reaching the Yeshiva.”
Alongside the great spirituality, the physical conditions almost didn’t hold a place. “We slept where today the mikveh is found. Plaster would fall on us from the ceiling at night, and this didn’t bother anyone. Cold or heat didn’t bother the talmidim, certainly not what kind of food to eat. We were detached from those things.”
In order to illustrate what he’s talking about, Rabbi Shlomo describes an incident in which one of the talmidim of the Yeshiva at the time proposed a match for him. Rabbi Shlomo came to the meeting, and when the subject of residence and living conditions was raised, Rabbi Shlomo said to her that they don’t need cabinets in their home, and also beds are excess, because it’s possible to sleep on the floor…understandably the match fell apart immediately. This happened several times.
However, there was a point which bothered Rabbi Shlomo. “Because of all the energy and time which people invested in Avodas Hashem, [by the time] the learning arrived, many times they couldn’t hold out — already they ran out of strength, and I felt that the learning wasn’t enough. Because I had already become used to learning, Baruch Hashem, this bothered me, and I felt that I was really missing the learning which I had become accustomed to. Therefore, I decided to turn to our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a regarding the subject.
“It’s important to point out that to approach the Rav wasn’t so simple. The awe which we felt of the Rav was impossible to describe. Really, the Rav was always easy-going and pleasant with everyone, but from our perspective, the talmidim, we had great fear and terror of the Rav. When I finally entered to speak to the Rav, I remember with what awesome submissiveness I spoke to him. I said to the Rav when I reached him, that the Rav arrives and gives over shiurim and prayers of flaming fire, and we really serve Hashem, but after the Rav leaves people already lack the strength to learn, and in the shiur of Rav Fishel, there aren’t many participants. I saw on the face of the Rav that he was confounded by this, that they aren’t learning Gemara. I explained that this was hard for me that there wasn’t enough learning. The Rav asked me what I’m thinking of doing.
“I answered the Rav that I’m thinking of perhaps moving to a yeshiva where they learn more Gemara. The Rav answered me, ‘Yes, go to Yeshiva Lev Yehuda. There, you’ll learn Gemara and after the wedding return to us.’ I didn’t know that yeshiva at all, and I didn’t know that it was a yeshiva of antagonists of the Rav which was basically set up in order to try and make an alternative to Shuvu Banim (an unsuccessful attempt, as in known from the words of the Sages, ‘Truth lasts, falsehood doesn’t last.’ So the place was closed because of lack of interest…). However the Rav shlit”a, in his humility, sent me there, because they learned Gemara there and it was a Breslov yeshiva.
“The following day, the Rav shlit”a arrived at the Yeshiva and gave over a speech in which he screamed over that fact that they weren’t learning Gemara, saying that if they won’t learn Gemara, he’ll close the Yeshiva – there won’t be anything if there won’t be Gemara. ‘Because of you,’ the Rav added, ‘the bachur masmid (the young man who’s always learning) Shlomo Elmeliach abandoned the Yeshiva.’ I already wasn’t at the Yeshiva and heard this afterwards from my brothers-in-law Rabbi Yitzchak and Rabbi Gidon Roda who were present at the shiur.”
Baki B’Shov — Expert in Returning
“There at Lev Yehuda there really was a lot of Gemara learning, but on the other hand, there wasn’t at all the light that there was by the Rav. I started learning there Gemara with great persistency. The Gaon Rabbi Gidon Ben Moshe delivered the shiur. I was used to prayers like there were by the Rav and the light which I merited at Shuvu Banim. Little by little, they began to try and speak there against Shuvu Banim, that this is too much light and the like, but I didn’t pay attention to them. I saw that they didn’t at all have the light of the Tzaddik.
“There I had a part in bringing Rabbi Nosson Heller close to our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a. Rabbi Nosson learned at Lev Yehuda, and when he saw me pray as I was accustomed to pray by the Rav, he asked me a bit about coming close to Hashem and guarding one’s eyes, etc. I said to him, ‘I you want to merit to guarding the eyes and bris, it’s only at Shuvu Banim! There, there really is holiness. This was part of what brought him close.”
Anshei Midos – Men of Proportions
“Next to the yeshiva in Musrara there was a synagogue where the people who prayed there – Jewish ‘ba’alei basim [Jews who both learn and work for a living] – requested from the management of the yeshiva to give them a shiur every day. Therefore, I started to teach the ba’aley basim every evening. At the same time, I would go to Yeshivat Porat Yosef to hear shiurim from Maran the Gaon Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul (through the advice of our Gemara Rabbi, his student Rav Gidon Ben Moshe). There I met the Gaon Rabbi Shalom Arush shlit”a who would also come to hear the in-depth shiurim of Rav Ben Tzion, and that’s how I met him.
“After a while, when I got married, I proposed the place to Rav Arush, that there was an option to develop a place of Torah there. He began to teach there, while developing [a series] of shiurim there which spanned the entire day. In this way, he basically began to found his yeshiva ‘Chut shel Chesed.’ In my place, in the evenings, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Shapira ztz”l would arrive to give over the shiur. He began to teach them the holy book of Rabbeinu Nachman Sefer HaMidos, and because of this, he called the place ‘Yeshivas Anshei Midos.’”
With Rabbi Yechiya Shneur ztz”l
“One evening, a messenger arrived from the Holy Gaon and Mekubal Rabbi Yechiya Shneur ztz”l, who requested to call me over. When I reached him, he said to me that he wants me to be his assistant and to come to his home to sleep by him every night, and during the days, I’ll learn in the yeshiva. I happily agreed, and in this way I merited to know him and be in his presence over the course of a year. By Rabbi Yechiya I saw many heavenly and wondrous things. A portion of them, it’s forbidden to write about. He had spiritual powers. He could speak to a soul of a person when he sleeps and ask what he needs, as I saw with my eyes. His Avodah in holiness was miraculous and I’ll touch on a few occurrences [which I saw] from him.
“Every evening, Rabbi Yechiya would go to sleep at eleven at night for up to one hour. Not enough that [he] slept that little, but he would also wake up every ten minutes, ritually wash his hands and then return to his bed. When he would rise at 1 am, he would enter his room and say the piut ‘Adon Olam’ with great concentration over the course of a half-hour! Afterwards, he would be immersed in Kabbalah until the time for prayer arrived. I would escort him to the mikveh, and from there to prayer, and he would always speak chidushim and words of Torah. Such I saw by him when I would stroll with him sometimes. He was totally Torah. He also had many writings of Chidushei Torah, and once they were stolen and it pained him greatly. After a while he said to me that he already knows where they are.”
“Next to our yeshiva there was a Chasidic yeshiva of the Gaon Rabbi Matitiyahu Deitsch (who merited to learn for a long period with our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a in his home). There, they tried to help a little the talmidim of Lev Yehuda to find marriage partners, since the subject of matchmaking was very hard then for Breslovers. As a result of this, they recommended to us that when we go out to meet a potential match, to hide our peos behind our ears and to wear a short coat and ‘Kneitsch’ hat [such as Chareidi Jews wear]. Because I had a reputation of a ‘masmid’ I was proposed a match from an important family, the Roda family. The proposed match turned to her brothers to clarify details about me, and her brothers Rabbi Gidon and Rabbi Yitzchak answered with excitement, ‘Certainly we know him. He learned with us for a period at Shuvu Banim with great persistency and the Rav spoke in his praise.’ These words were all from the heart, but because of them it became known to her that I was a Breslover, and she, who learned in a place of Misnagdim [who oppose Chasidus], didn’t want Breslov…
“Here came help from an unexpected place. Her family, which did want the match, and even the Seminary who heard about me that I was a masmid, pressured her to continue with the match. Thus, with Heaven’s assistance, I merited to build a house with my wife Avigail a”h. The presiding Rabbi [at the wedding] was Rabbi Yechiya Shneur. Many people came to the wedding, and this was astonishing to the Seminary and to her Lithiunian-style Midrasha to see that everyone in the wedding hall were Breslovers…”
In the Yeshiva of the Tzaddik
“After my wedding, being that I didn’t have a livelihood, I began to learn STaM [to be a scribe who writes Torah scrolls, Mezuzahs, and Tefilin]. In this way I made a connection with Rabbi Yehoshua Dov Rubenstein who for many years is involved in ritual articles. In the course of our conversation Rabbi Yehoshua Dov proposed to me to come to the Rav shlit”a. I answered that I already know the place, and this isn’t right for me, because I’m already grounded… The venom that they put in me in the yeshiva penetrated. Rabbi Yehoshua Dov told me that today the Rav already changed the conduct in the Yeshiva and there is Gemara learning, and everything is more with a course of learning and the like. Therefore, I decided that at the next opportunity, I’ll go to the Yeshiva.
“The date 13 Marcheshvan 5747. That Shabbat I decided to come to the third Shabbos meal at the Yeshiva. I came from the direction of Damascus Gate to the Yeshiva, and, behold, in front of my eyes a shocking sight: The Kadosh Rabbi Eliyahu Amadi hy”d lying on the floor with blood flowing and streaming from him into the street. I was there mamash in the first moments after his murder and immediately ascended to the Yeshiva to call people for help. I remained there the entire night, including the funeral procession and the riots that were with the Arabs when they tried to interfere with the funeral procession. Understandably, this shocking event didn’t cause me to return to learn in our Yeshiva…
“Another year passed until I once again came to a shiur of our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a. The Rav then gave over a shiur of two or three hours, with awesome brilliance and phenomenal knowledge – tens of books and sources. I was dumbfounded. I never realized that the Rav was such a genius – to the point that I barely understood his words. Also his shiurim in the past had been primarily in Likutey Halachos, and here I was exposed to his greatness in Torah. From then on, I was drawn after his great light. I returned to learn in the Yeshiva, when all day the Beis Midrash was completely full, everyone immersed in Gemara.”
“During that period the Rav would give over a shiur in our Beis Midrash in Meah Shearim in the early morning hours, and there was a group of bachurim and Kollel students there who would hear him regularly. They were very much drawn after the Rav and at a certain stage moved over to Shuvu Banim. One of them began at a certain stage to manage the Yeshiva in the Old City, but it didn’t find favor in his eyes that the Yeshiva was a place of Ba’aley Teshuva (returnees to Judaism). It appeared to him more appropriate that it should be a community of classical Chasidus. As a result, he began to limit the entrance of Ba’aley Teshuva to the Yeshiva, while at the same time showing to additional talmidim – usually Ba’aley Teshuva – the way to the exit. I’m talking about mamash great talmidim of the Rav.
“To our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a the phenomenon pained him, but he didn’t interfere with this. For the Rav, it was also very important that people learn Gemara, and since the manager used this excuse, the Rav didn’t get involved in this. They also distanced me from the Yeshiva, and we always had a great longing to get close again. In the meantime, we sat – a large group of talmidim of the Rav – and learned with great persistence in the Breslov Shul in Meah Shearim.
“One day, one of the group approached our Rebbe the Rav – this was in the month of Tishrei – and asked what will be. Until when will be distanced like this? Our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a answered him, ‘Don’t worry. Until Pesach he [the manager] will leave.’ This sounded a bit strange, because why would he leave here?!
“In the month of Nissan that year, the manager encountered me outside my home. When I saw him, I immediately asked for him to return me to the Yeshiva, only to my surprise, the manager began to speak words of hatred and controversy about our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a, while trying to draw me to his side. He informed me that he was starting a new community on the basis of people who came from Shuvu Banim and invited me to also join. He simultaneously tried to prevent me from hearing the shiurim of the Rav shlit”a.
“I answered him: ‘You don’t believe that the Rav shlit”a has Ruach HaKodesh (Divine inspiration)? A half year ago, when you still had no reason to leave, the Rav already said that by Nissan you won’t remain here. Here we are Erev Pesach, and you’re leaving here. You’re invited to hear this from the one who heard it himself.’ He was totally dumbfounded. He had no response in his mouth.
“I continued saying to him: ‘This that you try to prevent me from [going to] the shiurim of the Rav…I want you to show me another Rav like this who when he speaks about Chatzos you receive the strength to fulfill this in reality. When he talks to you about Torah, you immediately sit to learn. In every conversation of the Rav, you immediately also reach fulfilling it.’ Once again, he was stuck without a response.
“I concerned myself with passing on the word to others, that everyone should know the opinion of the manager. In the meantime, I ran to the Shul where the talmidim of the Rav sat and called on them to return. This was in coordination with the rest of the people in administration, and so there was wellbeing. From then on, I merited to learn in the Beis Midrash of our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a and to receive from his great spirit.
“When branches of the Yeshiva started to open in various cities, I was sent to serve as the head of the Kollel in Kiryat Ata and afterwards the Kollel in Bat Yam. The Kollel was managed according to the great spirit and leadership of our Rebbe the Rav, and for that purpose I would stay over the course of the week at the Kollel and return to my house for Shabbos. This was to the praise of my wife Avigail a”h who would send me with self-sacrifice for the entire week, while taking onto herself the yoke of running the house.
“Once a week, we had a shiur in the home of our Rebbe the Rav in Jerusalem, when we saw all the leadership of the Rav; especially in the matter of the Kollels [we saw] the Ruach HaKodesh of our Rebbe the Rav. I saw many great and awesome stories, and I’ll relate one of them:
“One of the important Kollel students didn’t merit to have children. In the shiur that we had in the Rav’s home, this Kollel student participated, and I prepared him beforehand that it was upon him to request a blessing from the Rav and from here would be his salvation. The Kollel student approached the Rav and requested his blessing that in the coming year he would already merit to a son. A year passed, and he didn’t have a child. So it was several times, that he requested the blessing of the Rav, and he still wasn’t saved.
“It’s important to note that from a medical standpoint there was no chance that the couple would have children, only that he understood that the power of the Tzaddik was greater than the words of the doctors.
“One of the times that we came to the Rav, I said to the Kollel student that it’s upon him to insist until he receives a promise from the Rav. ‘Here is your salvation’ I declared to him. ‘It’s upon you to insist until you see that you made it work.’ So after the shiur the Kollel student approached the Rav and requested his blessing. The Rav against blessed him, but our friend felt that it wasn’t quite enough and again requested and implored, while making known that he’s not leaving here until he receives a clear promise for children, until at a certain point he broke out in tears, which held in them all the sorrow of his long years of waiting for children. ‘Why does Hashem do this to me,’ he blurted.
“Suddenly the face of the Rav became serious and he turned to him, saying, ‘You know why you don’t have children? Because you did such and such until the age of seventeen!’ – the age in which he did teshuva. The face of the Kollel student changed colors. He didn’t believe the sound of his ears. All of his deeds of his entire life are revealed to the Rav in minute detail. When he regained his composure a little, he asked the Rav, ‘What do I need to do?’ The Rav said to him, ‘Take a pen and write your downfalls.’ ‘But how can I remember everything?’ he asked the Rav. The Rav responded, ‘I’m giving you an hour to sit in the nearby room to remember. Afterwards, burn the paper and then you will have children.’
“With Heaven’s assistance the Kollel student succeeded in writing everything as our Rebbe the Rav instructed him. Then he merited to the blessing of the Rav. That year the couple already merited to a daughter, and today they have four children, may there be many more.
“Many stories I saw by the Rav, mamash nullification of free choice. However, I told this story because in this story you see the greatness of our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a – he also knows all of a person’s deeds, and also it’s in his power to instruct a person a [way of] rectification and a way of teshuva, and also to work for him a complete salvation that’s above nature.”
Rav Shlomo also has a message to learn from the story: “By the Tzaddik, one needs to insist. If you do that, in the end the salvation will certainly come. A person who immediately leaves when he doesn’t receive his request simply loses what he truly could have received.”
From Heading a Kollel to the Benches of the Yeshiva
Rabbi Shlomo went through a difficult period. At the peak of the success of the Kollels for which he was responsible, someone became jealous and decided that it was upon him to halt his success. This person came with various claims and pretexts to the management until things reached a point that they informed him in no uncertain terms: Choose for yourself – the Kollels, or your connection to Shuvu Banim, including [your] children’s learning in [Shuvu Banim] institutions.
Rabbi Shlomo and his wife a”h made a determined decision: The children’s education comes before everything. They won’t abandon or cause their children to abandon, God forbid, their closeness to Rabbeinu HaKadosh and his true Talmid in this generation our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a. Rabbi Shlomo sharply cut his ties with all the Kollels and abandoned everything.
However, his many students didn’t consent to leave him. They continued to see him as their Rabbi and continued to come to him and didn’t abandon him. Rabbi Shlomo, who saw that for the good of the matter it was upon him to abandon everything, rose and took action. He decided to open…a pizza store! Not less.
The spiritual sorrow that came with this is impossible to describe. From the status of a respected Rabbi to the masses, Rabbi Shlomo turned into a pizza store owner!? A portion of his students who heard about this couldn’t believe their ears and came to see with their own eyes if the rumor was true. Rabbi Shlomo’s blood spilled within him when these students came and saw that it was true. However, he reached a determined decision. He felt that such Hashem wants from him. The status and respect which he had were sickening for him. He understood that Hashem doesn’t wasn’t this honor, and so within a short period Rabbi Shlomo remained alone.
Hashem destined him for a different mission, and now he was on the way to it.
The Hidden Torah
When his students left him, Rabbi Shlomo could leave the management of the store to his workers and return to learning in our holy Yeshiva in the Old City.
“One day, Rabbi Natan Sa’ada wanted to talk to me. He said that a certain important Litvak Kollel student arrived who was interested in the Yeshiva and the Rav, and requested that I clarify things for him and bring him close. I sat down with the Kollel student for a conversation which lasted from midnight until the morning, and I explained to him a little about the Torah of Rabbeinu and the Rav shlit”a. The result of the conversation was that the Kollel student left his Kollel in Bait V’Gan and came over to learn in our Yeshiva in the Old City.
“The Kollel where he learned was a Kollel for the learning of the Kabbalah of the Ba’al Ha’Leshem’ ztz”l. The Kollel student who was very knowledgeable in this book requested that we learn together a chevrusa in the Torah of the Leshem. We reached a decision that during the day we learn Gemara, and at night from Chatzos [we learn] the Torah of the Leshem, the ‘Sefer haDEaH – ‘Drushei Olam HaTohu’ of the Leshem, which is a very deep book.
“We need to relate a little about the Leshem. Rabbi Shlomo Eliyashiv explains in the introduction to his book, that from the day that he became acquainted with the Kabbalah, he would only learn Kabbalah, over a course of eighteen hours a day!! And he had a secret Rebbe who would learn with him, and then he merited to all types of new revelations. A portion of them appear in ‘Sefer HaKlalim and Sefer HaDEaH and others.
“So we learned over the course of a year, and in the meantime I spoke about this Kollel student, who mamash knew the Torah of the Leshem ba’al peh – from memory, to Rabbi Moshe Tzenani shlit”a, and he also began to learn with him chevrusa in the books of the Leshem.
“At a certain point, I felt that we weren’t learning in the right way, because we don’t have the foundation which is the Torah of the Holy Ari. I said to the chevrusa: First, we must learn the Etz Chaim, which everything is based on. Then we can go back and learn the Leshem. To the chevrusa this was difficult, but I arrived at a resolution that for now I didn’t learn the Leshem, only the books which explain the Etz Chaim. In this way, I began to learn the Etz Chaim with the volume of the Leshem ‘Biur HaLikutim’ on the Etz Chaim, but there he only explains eight She’arim (general sections) of the Etz Chaim. I decided that now I have to learn well the entire Etz Chaim with all the commentaries, and then return to the rest of my learning.
“When I came to this learning, I saw that this isn’t at all easy, because there are many things which need explanation. I bought all the commentaries of the Etz Chaim with the goal of learning, and when I tried to learn with the commentaries of the Etz Chaim, I discovered that there was no comprehensive and crystalized commentary on the Etz Chaim, outside of what the commentators debate back and forth. I longed for there to be an orderly explanation according to the words of the commentators, like the work which the Mekubal Rav Daniel Frisch made on the holy Zohar [Metok M’Devash].
With the Crown Which They Crowned Shlomo…
“What encouraged me to begin to write myself was the introduction of the Mekubal Eloki, the author of ‘Beis Lechem Yehuda’ [Rabbi Yehuda Fataya ztz”l]. There he explains that he authored his book because there was lacking a commentary on the entire Etz Chaim, and the books that are out there are on specific subjects and not on everything. Therefore, he wrote his work. However, I saw that also his book doesn’t explain every word, and there remain things which require clarification. Also, the words of the Beis Lechem Yehuda appear in many places in great length and require work to simplify them.
“An additional thing which caused me to begin to write was the fact that despite there being many commentaries on the first section of the Etz Chaim until Sha’ar 25, almost all of them didn’t write commentaries on the second section, which remains in a certain respect the concluding book.
“When I started writing the commentary, I immersed myself completely only in this. From midnight until the morning, and from the morning hours until sundown, I was completely involved in this book alone. Sometimes, I sat on this for eighteen hours a day. When I saw a controversy between the commentators, I would pray to Hashem that he would illuminate my eyes with what was the truth. So I was involved with this work for eight years, while no one other than myself, including my wife a”h, knew at all about my involvement in Kabbalah.
“After I completed the commentary, I saw that it was very long. Therefore, I sat down to write everything from scratch, more abridged, leaving out explanations and debates that were not necessary for the essence of the commentary. After I completed this with much Heavenly assistance, I wanted to know what was the opinion of our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a on the work. I bought a plane ticket to Holland to our Rebbe the Rav.”
The Dreams Which Came True
That week Rabbi Shlomo had three dreams. Two of them he related on the Kav HaMeda (the Information Line) of our Rebbe the Rav, and the third dream he relates for the first time to “Hischadeshus”:
“In the week that I travelled, I dreamed on Sunday that I arrive in Holland and see the Rav shlit”a while he is alone. Only I come to the Rav in excitement, hug the Rav, and tell the Rav how much I longed for him. The Rav returns to me love and a hug. The dream was fully actualized, as I related on the ‘Kav’.
“On Monday, I dream that I’m walking with the Rav, and the Rav shlit”a is crowned in Tallis and Tefilin. We are passing by a river, and our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a jumps in his clothes to immerse in the river with Tallis and Tefilin. I call to the Rav in the dream that the Tefilin could become wet and invalidated. Only that the Rav already returns to me and shows me that the Tefilin remained completely dry, and also his clothes were dry. I was in wonderment.”
How did the dream get actualized? Behold, the things as they actually happened: “We prayed with our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a on Shabbos under the open sky, and in the middle of the Torah reading, rain started falling. People rushed to cover the Torah scroll, only the Rav said that there was no need. The Rav invited me to ascend to the Torah, and to my confoundment I see that the Torah scroll is completely dry! Not only that, but also the Rav appears completely dry, even his peos remained dry. This has no natural explanation, but this is reality – with my eyes, I saw [this].
“The third dream is connected to the reason why I travelled to the Rav – to hear his opinion on the work. On Tuesday night, I dream that our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a comes to me in the house and asks me, ‘Shlomo, where’s your work?’ I’m completely confused. I ask the Rav, ‘What work?’ The Rav answers me, ‘The work on the Etz Chaim.’ I approach the cabinet, take out a handwritten notebook and show the Rav. The Rav takes the notebook and begins to walk. In the dream, I start to plead for my soul to the Rav that he return to me the notebook because I don’t have a copy of it, and when I photocopy the material, I’ll bring it to the Rav. After the pleading, the Rav turned around to me, returned to me the notebook, and smiled.
“When I arrived in Holland, I prayed to Hashem that I would receive from the Rav a clear response about the work, whether to print it. As said, I still hadn’t spoken to anyone about the work, and I wasn’t capable of telling the Rav outright, ‘I wrote a work on the Etz Chaim’…As said, I ascend to the Torah by the Rav and still don’t know how, and if, to tell the Rav about the work. But then I saw that there was no need.
“After I ascended to the Torah, the Rav suddenly began to speak about the importance and obligation to learn Etz Chaim, that there’s no problem in learning this holy book. The Rav turned to his talmid Rabbi Yosef Man with the instruction that there should be here volumes of Etz Chaim, and over the course of 15 minutes he didn’t stop talking about learning Etz Chaim and that it’s obligatory that in every house there should be Etz Chaim. I stand next to the Rav nailed to my place and not believing the sound of my ears. I already received an answer to my question. And really, over the course of the entire Shabbos the Rav spoke about learning Etz Chaim, and what’s more, in the fourth meal after Shabbat, the Rav expounded on the Etz Chaim for several hours, to the amazement of some of those present.
“I returned to Israel. One day, upon arriving to pray at our holy Yeshiva, I see the Gaon and Tzaddik, the Mekubal Rabbi Yehuda Sheinfeld who came to pray at the Yeshiva. I found a fitting opportunity and told him that I wrote a commentary on the Etz Chaim. His first question, as fitting for a mekubal who is expert in the writings and their commentaries, was ‘On the entire Etz Chaim? Also on the second section?’ When I responded to him in the positive he was astonished. I showed him the work, and he became very ecstatic, asking me to go show the work to the Gaon, the Mekubal Rabbi Amram Opman.
“Rabbi Amram Opman learned a large part of the work with Rabbi Asaf Chen, one of the Rabbis of our community. From there the work went to the Rosh Yeshiva of Sha’ar HaShamayim, the Mekubal Rabbi Reuven Gross shlit”a, and he wrote a Haskama (a letter of approbation) for the book.
“Afterwards, I turned to publishers to help me with the preparation of the book. However, they turned me down, whether because of the great size, or because this is a book of Kabbalah and demands a lot of responsibility.
“In one of my searches, I unintentionally came across a large book store. I said to myself: Perhaps I’ll also try here. The store owner, who also was involved in publication, couldn’t help me, but he suggested that I turn to some mekubal who was involved a lot in editing books of Kabbalah – ‘If he takes this onto himself, you can relax…’
“In this way was made the connection between me and the great Mekubal Rabbi Yosef HaCohen shlit”a, who himself put out a number of books of Kabbalah and also compiled all the writings of the holy Ari in his volume called “Meiras Einayim.” When I showed him the material he was totally astonished. He never came across such a comprehensive work on the Etz Chaim. He agreed to take onto himself the work, which besides the high costs, it would take at least a year and a half to edit the first draft. He had to copy everything from closely-spaced handwriting, to format, edit, etc.
“The great wonder which Rabbi Yosef told me, was that he had then just finished editing the holy book Mevo She’arim, and prayed to Hashem to send him another book in Kabbalah to work on to ‘make the Torah great.’ Rabbi Yosef decided to go the grave of the Admor Rabbi Gedaliah of Zvhil ztz”l to do the famous segula to pray there on Monday, Thursday, and the following Monday for the thing that one needs salvation for. At the grave of the Admor, Rabbi Yosef prayed that Hashem should send him a book of Kabbalah to edit.”
The day that Rabbi Shlomo reached him with the work was the Monday in which Rabbi Yosef had finished the segula!!
The work took longer than expected. The current edition which is being printed is the fourth version! Over a course of two and half years they worked together editing, organizing, and correcting with an additional mekubal, Rabbi Yitzchak HaCohen, to put out a pleasant and emended item. Rabbi Yosef was very ecstatic with the book, asking Rabbi Shlomo how he merited to this book. Then when Rabbi Shlomo related the story about this grandfather, the great Mekubal Rabbi Yehuda Elmeliach ztz”l (whose story we brought at the beginning of this article), his mind was calmed. “This is ancestral merit – in its power you merited to this,” he said to him. Rabbi Shlomo himself ascribes the merit for the publishing of the book also to his Rebbe and Teacher, the Rav shlit”a, and he felt that through his power he merited to this book.
In the Merit of Righteous Women
With teary eyes, Rabbi Shlomo mentions the great part of his wife Avigail a”h, that only through the power of her determined decision to take refuge by the Tzaddik, and through the power of the yoke which she took unto herself so that her husband could sit all of his days including nights on his holy avodah did he merit to all of this.
The book was brought up to the tables of kings, the tables of Gedoley Yisrael who expressed their excitement about the book in a way that’s highly unusual, and they crowned it with their Haskamas. At their head was the Haskama of our Rebbe, the Rav shlit”a, who wrote in his Haskama the words which he said to Rabbi Shlomo when he ascended to the Torah in Holland, that it’s obligatory that in every house there should be the Etz Chaim…The Admor of Toldos Aharon, who doesn’t usually learn from new books, learned from the book with a great deal of persistence. His assistant testified that he was very ecstatic from it. The Admor also gave a Haskama in his own name, which is very rare for him.
Also the detail from the dream in which the Rav took the notebook from Rabbi Shlomo happened literally, because the Rav was the only individual who received all the material before publication – at his explicit request. Our Rebbe, the Rav shlit”a expressed to more than one person his excitement over the book, and pointed out that he merited to this in the merit of his wife Avigail a”h. The Rav said that there was never a work like this before, and that the author merited to a free gift from Heaven.
To conclude, Rabbi Shlomo points out to us that although he heard over the years many shiurim from the Rav in Kabbalah, nevertheless, the Rav’s iyun (in-depth understanding) in this he wasn’t familiar with. In editing the present work, they came across serious questions which demanded great decisiveness. Rabbi Shlomo went to our Rebbe the Rav shlit”a and put before him three sugyas. To his wonder, he immediately received clear answers which illuminate the subjects with precious light, answers given over as if off the cuff. This was a surprise to see the great strength of the Rav in iyun in Kabbalah, something which not every day one merits to see.