The True Gaon, HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt"l by Rav Shlomo Chaim Aviner


Kol Torah has the special privilege of presenting a eulogy for Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, one of the foremost Halachic authorities of the past sixty years, who passed away this summer. We present this eulogy in honor of and LeIlui Nishmat Rav Elyashiv zt”l. It is also a special privilege to present a eulogy written by Rav Shlomo Aviner, one of the leading Rabbinic figures within the Religious-Zionist world today. Rav Aviner serves as the Rav of Beit El and the Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim in the Old City of Jerusalem. Kol Torah extends a special thank you to Rav Mordechai Tzion (Freifertig) of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim for permitting us to reprint this eulogy. Rav Tzion translates much of Rav Aviner’s voluminous writings into English and may be contacted at to receive a weekly e-mail of Rav Aviner’s Torah thoughts.

On the Ark of God, HaGaon, HaTzaddik, HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, has ascended on high.

The True Gaon – because in our days, every Rabbi and Torah scholar is called a "Gaon" for the honor of Torah. We therefore emphasize with great respect that he is a True Gaon.

The True Gaon, on account of his virtuous characteristics, on account of his great modesty, since he did not pursue publicity and position, since he was secluded, did not give speeches or appear in public, and lived in an extremely simple apartment.

The True Gaon, since he was a "Shakdan" (one who learns Torah with great diligence), just as the book about him is called HaShakdan, and the first of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is learning (Avot 6:5). Already in his youth he was a great Shakdan and Torah scholar. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, HaRav HaGaon Yitzchak Isaac HaLeivi Herzog, therefore appointed him as a judge on the district Beit Din and then quickly to the Beit Din HaGadol. He filled this position for more than 20 years.

The True Gaon, on account of his complete loyalty to Torah and standing with full strength like a wall against any innovation (Chidush) that was not in accordance with the Torah. This complete loyalty came through flawless adherence to our holy Rabbis throughout the generations. If we were asked what was our Rabbi's unique method of learning Torah, we would respond: It is simple, he did not innovate anything. The words of our Rabbis are so great that they do not require innovation. And so too, if we were asked what was our Rabbi's innovation in his Pesak Halachah, we would respond: He did not innovate anything. In fact, Maran HaRav Kook taught in his book Olat Re'ayah (vol. 2, p. 152) that Moshe Rabbeinu's greatness did not lie in the fact that he created anything new, but in the fact that he received the word of Hashem ("Moshe received the Torah from Sinai" (Avot 1:1)). By doing so, he established the principle of adherence among the Nation and all the nations of the world. The great innovation of our Rabbi is that he did not innovate, and this itself is a major innovation: the innovation of loyalty to tradition, the innovation of healthy and clear conservatism, the great self-sacrifice for every letter of the Torah. And when our Rabbi was forced to innovate, the new was entirely old, as Rashi (Devarim 11:13 s.v. VeHayah Im Shamo’a Tishme’u) says in the name of our Sages on the Pasuk: "It will be if you surely hearken": "If you hearken to the old, you will hearken to the new" (i.e. if you truly learn the Torah as is, you will gain fresh insights into the Torah you already know).

The True Gaon, since he also knew how to be lenient when it was needed and required, and in this realm too he did not fear anyone.

The True Gaon, since he respected every Torah scholar even if there were differences of opinion.

This was seen, for example, in his relationship to Maran HaRav Kook. His connection with HaRav Kook already began with his grandfather, HaGaon HaGadol HaMekubal, HaRav Shlomo Elyashiv, the author of Leshem Shevo VeAchlamah, from whom Rav Kook learned. Rav Elyashiv greatly respected his student. He once said, “There are different ways in Kabbalah: HaRa'avad and HaRambam, HaRamak and HaAri, HaRama MiPano and HaRamchal, HaGra and others, but HaRav Kook includes all of them, no hidden teaching escapes him.”

In the year 5682 (1921-1922 on the Gregorian calendar), HaRav Kook attained permission for HaRav Elyashiv to make Aliyah, and his grandson, our Rabbi, made Aliyah with him. Rav Elyashiv and Rav Kook also learned many nights together in Yerushalayim. When zealots spoke against Rav Kook, HaRav Elyashiv silenced them: “You can't tell me who he [Rav Kook] is. We have spent nights learning together.”

Rav Aryeh Levin once spoke with Rav Kook about his sorrow that there was a wonderful, righteous, young Torah scholar who would be a great match for his (Rav Aryeh's) daughter, but the young man did not respond favorably to his suggestion (either because he thought he had better options or because he was not ready to marry). Rav Kook asked for the identity of the young man, and was told that this was our Rabbi. Maran HaRav called for the young man and spoke to him. The younger Rav Elyashiv then accepted the proposal and the couple married. Rav Kook served as the Mesadeir Kidushin. HaRabbanit Sheina Chaya zt”l shared her husband's respect for Rav Kook, and when she once saw from the window how people were scorning him on the street and trying to knock off his hat, she was incapacitated for months.

It once happened that one of the editors of the Otzar Mefareshei HaTalmud (Treasury of Talmudic Commentators) refused to include Rav Kook's teaching on the Gemara, and was therefore fired by the chief editor. The editor did not accept his decision, and they went to our Rabbi. HaRav Elyashiv was shocked and said to the editor: "Did you know HaRav Kook?! You should know – he was holy. I would have fired you too." And this happened with other books as well.

The True Gaon, the great Gaon has ascended on high, but his strong spirit is spread throughout all parts of the entire Nation. May we merit following his path and standing with great respect before his memory.

Fortunate am I, the humble one, to merit learning in the building of Yeshivat Torat Chaim (which today houses Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim) where our Rabbi learned in his youth. It is a great honor to stand on the same holy ground, and to learn his teachings.

May his soul be bound up with the bonds of the living with all of the Tzaddikim.

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