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Beit Halevi: Kedoshim: Rebuke

The 4th of Iyar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Dov (Yoshe Ber) Solevetchik of Brisk, the Beis Halevi, father of Rav Chaim Solevetchik. Yosef Dov (1820-1892) was born in Nisvizh, near Minsk, to Reb Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik. Rav Yitzchak Zev was a grandson through his mother of Rav Chaim of Volozhin. Although Reb Yitzchak Zev was not a Rav he was known as a baki in Shas and Shulchan Aruch. By the time Yosef Dov was ten he knew Mesechtas Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, Bava Basra, Brachos, Gittin and Kiddushin by heart and was already writing his own chiddushim. When he was 11 his father brought him to Volozhin to learn under his uncle, Rav Itzeleh, the Rosh Yeshiva and son of Rav Chaim of Volozhin. After his marriage, his father-in-law supported him for thirteen years. In 1849, Rav Itzeleh of Volozhin passed away. Less than four years later, his successor, Rav Eliezer Yitzchak Fried also passed away. The Rabbanim decided that two descendants of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the Netziv and the Beis Haleivi, would lead the yeshiva. The Netziv would be Rosh Yeshiva and the Beis Haleivi would be assistant Rosh Yeshiva.The sefer Beis Haleivi is comprised primarily from the shiurim he gave in Volozhin. His derech halimud was something that was completely new and original to the Volozhiner Yeshiva and was very different from the traditional way that shiurim were given there. His sefer Beis Haleivi was published in 1863. In 1865, a delegation from the city of Slutzk came to the Beis Haleivi to present him with a ksav rabbanus that was signed by all of the respected members of the community and recommended by Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spektor, the Kovno Rav. The Beis Haleivi served as Rav of Slutzk for close to ten years, but his unbending battle against the maskilim and the wealthy eventually forced him from the city. In 1865, a delegation from Brisk came to him and offered him the position of Rav to replace Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin who had just moved to Eretz Yisrael. The Beit Haleivi served as Rav in Brisk for 17 years until his passing.

In one of the most dramatic reunions in the Tanach, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. He says, “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?!”. This comment causes the brothers such shame and humiliation that they cannot look at him. What is so humiliating about this statement? And why does Yosef ask if his father is still alive? Doesn’t he know that Yaakov is alive, hearing the brothers’ every sentence punctuated with “our father” or “his father”?

The Beit HaLevi answers this with a powerful response. Citing Chazal’s statement “Oy Lanu Myom HaDin, Oy Lanu Myon HaTochacha”, he explains how Yosef trapped the brothers in their own words. Yehuda argues that Benyamin must be set free because “his father” will die of a broken heart. Every phrase is punctuated with worry about Yaakov. However, when Yosef asks if their father is still alive, it is really a sharp retort. Why didn’t they care about Yaakov’s feelings when they sold him 22 years ago? Ensnared in their own logic, the brothers feel the humiliation of knowing that Yosef’s reasoning is correct.

The Beit HaLevi continues, stating how it will apply to every individual after he or she dies. When everyone will die, each person will be asked by Hashem why he or she did or did not do certain mitzvot. People will respond that they did not have the time or the resources to do so. Hashem will then show him or her something else and ask how, then were you able to have time or resources for that? To this, there will be no answer but shame, not only for what they did, but for what they could have done instead.

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