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Bet Midrash-Rav Menachem Mendel of Sklov Print E-mail
Written by Machberes Avodas Hashem   

Yahrtzeit-Rabbi-Menachem-Mendel-of-ShklovThe 1st of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov (1827). He was the leader of the aliya of the followers of the Vilna Gaon to Eretz Yisrael. This is significant because of the many Minhagei Yerushalayim that were established by that Ashkenazi community. His leading student, Yitzchak Eizak Chaver Wildmann (1789-1853), perceived that the obscurity of the kabbalistic system was a major factor in the flight of students and thinkers from Torah to science, secular philosophy and atheism. In Pischey She'arim, R. Yitzchak Eizak Haver vindicates the kabbalah against its detractors, showing that behind its metaphors lies the only system with the power to provide satisfying answers to man's deepest questions about the meaning and purpose of the universe.


Among the cities of Lithuania, Sklov was unique. Its reputation was close to that of Vilna, and the spirit of the Gaon lived in her midst. Many of his outstanding disciples lived there, and the Gaon's yearning for the Holy Land affected them, too. Rabbi Ezriel, the grandfather of Rabbi Israel of Sklov, journeyed there in 1772 to go through the country and to become familiar with local conditions. He returned to the Diaspora to arrange for the immigration of the whole community, but his sudden death in the city of Izmir frustrated the achievement of his aims.

In 1804, the scholars of Sklov wrote a special “Letter to the Ten Tribes” impelled by a strong desire to gather in all the exiles and to bring them to the Holy Land. During the Gaon's lifetime, only a few of his students and of his group went to the Holy Land, but ten years later the first organized immigration of his disciples took place.

At the head who was his famous student, Menachem Mendel of Sklov, of sacred memory. He was a close friend of Rabbi Israel, great intolerant knowledge and in mystic lore and like him, gathered and published words of his master, the The Gaon. He was the first to publish his works, his commentary on Proverbs, his notes on the Seder Alum and Seder Olam and Zuta, about the form of the globe and the architecture of the Temple, also his book of comments on the Shulchan Aruch.

The two friends planned to build the Holy Land, to take hold of it, settle in it, spread their the Torah of their great master and to live there according to his way, in holiness and purity.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel and his group went to Israel in 1808 and settled first in Tiberius, in which, by that time, there had been already a small Ashkenazi Hassidic Yishuv, but after a short time, they went from there to Safed, in which the majority of the Jews were Sephardic. We have no reliable details about the first years of Rabbi Menachem Mendel in Tiberias and Safed. All we know is that their situation was very difficult, their financial means very low, the condition of their life primitives, even within the frame of those days. The legal position of the Jews in general and of the Ashkenazim in particular was unbearable. Their life was that of pariahs, no security or peace, but Menachem Mendel and his friends, and their deep love for Israel, accepted all their sufferings in the sure knowledge that they were the pioneers of a great camp of the Lord that would come after them. They would come to Israel, not as isolated individuals, but would conquer it as a divine post, for the Ashkenazi Jews, for the people of the Torah, for the disciples of the for the people of the Torah, for the disciples of the Gaon. They were the pioneers who lived by the classic patterns of the great men of Israel. Rabbi Menachem Mendel remained in close contact with his colleagues, the disciples of the Gaon still in the Diaspora.

A year later, in 1809, a second group came to Israel. At their head was Rabbi Saadiah, the son of Rabbi Nathan Nata of Vilna, also one of the most famous disciples of the Gaon, and the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel himself. This group strengthened the spirit of the first, but their condition continued exceedingly grave and difficult. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, therefore, sent two emissaries to Lithuania, Rabbi David Tevel and Rabbi Abraham HaLevi. They found attentive years and open heart with Rabbi Israel of Sklov, who entered fully into the enterprise and began to organize a widespread network of aid for the new, struggling Yishuv of the Holy Land. He was greatly aided by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the greatest of the disciples of the, the greatest of the disciples of the Gaon, who exerted a mighty influence over Lithuania and Russia. Together they recruited the rest of his students and all the rich men of Vilna into holy work of assistance to the Holy Land. With the support of the rich in other cities of Lithuania and Russia, they fostered the sacred task of establishing the Kollel of the Perushim.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel's personality was so tied up with that of Rabbi Israel that every new item about his life helps one to understand the life of the latter. Not only did they come from the same city, both disciples of the Gaon, but they both had gone to the Holy Land, and had looked upon the creation of the new Ashkenazi Yishuv as the main task of their life. Rabbi Menachem Mendel arrived there two years before Rabbi Israel. He laid the foundation of the Ashkenazi Yishuv, but had it not been for the aid of Rabbi Israel while still in Lithuania and for his arrival in the Holy Land with all he possessed, that Yishuv would never have found roots nor maintained itself at all.

In his book, Sha'ar haTzimtzum, Rabbi Menachem Mendel says: “Know that I am brute too low for man. What is man, that God regards him? But He saw my lowest state and my poverty, brought me to the house of my master, the, the Gaon and Chassid, the teacher of all Israel, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, gave me grace in his eyes so that I could serve him with all my strength. During the years that I spent with him, I did not leave his 10th day or night. Where he walked, I walked, where he rested, I rested. My hand was in his hand altogether. He opened to me the key to wisdom. He said to me many precious things, and even what in my presence he said to others did my ear hear and understand. One of those things I built great and deep edifices. His merit and that of my holy ancestors and of the people Israel enabled me to come to the Holy Land and to settle in Safed, where I established, with God's help, houses of learning and prayer, full of books. But that was not enough in His eyes, so He brought me to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and there, too, the Lord and His princes were my counselors and I established, with His help, the house of learning and prayer, and took the synagogue in the Hurbah of Jerusalem, which, for more than 100 years, had belonged to our Ashkenazi brethren and which had been taken over by strangers and rendered desolate, now, in His great mercy, He let me take it out of their hands. I am publishing this book ' to build up the ruin of Jerusalem.' May the merit of this work protect me and enable me to build a synagogue as a little sanctuary in the city only to our God.”

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