Ha-Admor of Erlau in Yerushalayim Ztz"l

[Eulogy given in Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim]

Ha-Gaon Ha-Admor of Erlau, R' Yochanan Sofer Ztz"l, also known as "Imrei Sofer" after his commentary on the Gemara, has ascended on high.  He was a fifth-generation descendant of the Chatam Sofer, son after son, Imrei Sofer ben Yad Sofer ben Hitorerut Teshuvah ben Ketav Sofer ben Chatam Sofer.
The Gemara in Megillah (29a) says that in the future all of the Shuls and Yeshivot that are in the Exile will be established in Eretz Yisrael.  There are many discussions among our great Rabbis as to the meaning of this Gemara.  Will the buildings, dirt or people connected to these Shuls and Yeshivot be transferred to Eretz Yisrael?  The Steipler Gaon related that the Chazon Ish said after Davening on the night of Simchat Torah that the Gemara says that in the future all of the Shuls and Yeshivot that are in the Exile will be established in Eretz Yisrael.  Now that the Ponevezh Yeshiva has come here, we need to go there.  And they went that very night to celebrate the first Simchat Torah of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael (Kuntres Minchat Todah p. 68).  This means that the essence, the philosophy and the method of learning of the Shuls and Yeshivot will be uprooted from the Exile and re-established in Eretz Yisrael (Le-Netivot Yisrael in the article "Mivtzar Ha-Kodesh Le-Yisrael U-Le-Artzo", #5.  Tal Orot – Vayikra pp. 32-33).  But the essence of these places is not easily transferred.  It requires a sort of bridge, which is connected to there and yet leads to here (This is similar to Yaakov Avinu who transferred everything he had from one side of the river to the other.  See Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah 3, 48).  This was the greatness of Ha-Admor of Erlau.
His grandfather, Ha-Rav Shimon Sofer, the author of Shut Hitorerut Teshuvah and Rav of the city of Erlau, Hungary for 64 years, and his father Ha-Rav Moshe Sofer, author of Shut Yad Sofer, were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz.  Ha-Admor of Erlau survived and dedicated his life to reestablishing that which had been destroyed.  He returned to the city of Erlau where there was barely a Minyan.  A single Yeshiva in Hungary was established in Budapest, Yeshivat Chatam Sofer, and a descendant of the Chatam Sofer was sought to serve as its Rosh Yeshiva.  Ha-Admor of Erlau agreed to fill this position, but was unwilling to abandon his community.  In the end, a solution was found.  Ha-Admor of Erlau served as Rosh Yeshiva for the first half of every week, and Ha-Rav Moshe Stern, Debreciner Rav and author of Shut Be'er Moshe, served as the Rosh Yeshiva during the second half.  Ha-Admor of Erlau slept in the dormitory with the students and would not take a salary.  His only goal was the resurrection of the Yeshiva world.  After a year and a half, he succeeded in establishing a Yeshiva in the city of Erlau.  After the Yeshiva in Budapest closed, the students transferred to his Yeshiva in Erlau.   
The Jews of Hungary slowly fled on account of anti-Semitism and the rise of Communism.  After the last Jew left Erlau, Ha-Admor of Erlau made Aliyah with his Yeshiva.  He succeeded in fulfilling the words of our Sages that in the future all of the Shuls and Yeshivot that are in the Exile will be established in Eretz Yisrael: he brought Yeshivat Erlau to Yerushalayim, in the neighborhood of Katamon.  Over the years, he established communities in Bnai Brak, Tzefat, Petach Tikvah, Haifa, Elad, Beitar Ilit, Beit Shemesh, Modi'in Ilit and Asdod.  He also established communities in cities outside of Israel, such as London, Antwerp, Williamsburg, Boro Park and Monsey.  His children and grandchildren served as the leaders of these communities.  He witnessed a world built up, a world destroyed and a world built up once again.
Many ask: Was Maran Ha-Rav Kook a Mitnaged or a Chasid?  After all, his father's side was from the Volozhin Yeshiva and his mother's side was Chabad Chasidim.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook combined all of the different worlds.  He was Klal-Yisraeli.  He opposed dividing Am Yisrael into groups and called such expressions "The names of idol worship" (Ma'amrei Ha-Re'eiyah p. 76).  Similarly, Ha-Admor of Erlau had good relationships with the Eidah Ha-Charedit and Satmar on the one side, Zionist Rabbis on the other side, and everyone in between.  He was very close with Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef and Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.  This is the future vision of Am Yisrael as one body, without division into groups.
Ha-Admor of Erlau, a descendant of the Chatam Sofer who was a Mitnaged, become very close to the Belzer Rebbe and the Skever Rebbe.  He combined both worlds.  Like the Mitnagdim, he Davened Nusach Ashkenaz and did not wear a Gartel, but like the Chasidim, he immersed in the Mikveh every day, had a Tish and danced the Mitzvah Tantz at weddings.
Although he did not support the idea of Zionism, he adopted an approach similar to that of his Rebbe, Ha-Admor of Belz, who accepted the fact of the establishment of the State.  This allowed for dialogue with the Zionist leaders and for representation in the Knesset.
Ha-Admor of Erlau strongly opposed any territorial concession on Israel's part, since it weakens us and encourages Arab attacks.  He once said to the Israeli Foreign Minister: "I am not prepared to cede even one grain of the Land of Israel to the Arabs".  And regarding the expulsion from Gush Katif, he was quoted as saying: "Whoever leads to the transfer (of Jews from parts of Israel) is destroying the State".
The Chatam Sofer had incredible success through his students in spreading the Torah throughout the entire world.  Many communities can find their roots in the Beit Midrash of the Chatam Sofer.  Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter of New York asked: What is the great secret of the Chatam Sofer's students?  He answered: The Chatam Sofer insisted that any community who hires one of his students as their Rabbi must commit to supporting a Yeshiva.  In fact, every place the Chatam Sofer's students served, the Torah spread in a wondrous manner.  This was the secret of the success of Ha-Admor of Erlau, who became Ha-Admor of Erlau in Yerushalayim.
The Chatam Sofer was a genius in learning, in Paskening Halachah and in leading the community against those who wanted to destroy traditional Torah Judaism.  This sun was so strong that it continued to shine even in the fifth generation, and – Be-Ezrat Hashem – beyond.

May the soul of Ha-Admor of Erlau in Yerushalayim be bound up with the bonds of the living with all of the Tzadikim and Geonim.

Revering Torah Scholars

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught us to revere all Torah scholars. Once, one of his students disparaged Charedi Rabbis and accused them of being responsible for Jews dying in the Holocaust. Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah castigated him: “Before all else, you must learn the meaning of treating Torah scholars with respect!” He devoted several hours to explaining this concept to him. Why go to such lengths? Because “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, passed it down to Yeshoshua, Yehoshua to the elders and the elders to the prophets, and they in turn passed it down to the Men of the Great Assembly” (Avot 1:1). Without those who handed down the Torah, there is no Torah. Everything rests on the way we relate to those who learn Torah. “Torah scholars increase peace in the world” (Berachot 64a). That is their essence.
Consider how Rabbenu Tam honored Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra. With enormous humility he wrote: “I am the servant of Avraham, and I prostrate myself before him.” And see the adoration with which Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra responded: “Is it proper for a knight of the People, mighty and thundering, to lower his head in a letter to a simple individual?”
If you say that the Rabbis of our own generation are not as great as those of previous generations, you are not speaking from wisdom. Our Sages taught us: “Gidon in his generation was like Moshe in his generation, and Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation…” as it says (Devarim 17:9), ‘Approach the Cohanim and Levi’im and the judge who will be in your times’” (Rosh Hashanah 25b).
Do not cast aspersions on the Rabbis of the generation if you find a shortcoming. A person is judged according to his overall deeds, and a great Rabbi’s shortcomings surely make up only a negligible minority of his total: less than a sixtieth, perhaps less than a thousandth. Our Sages did not refrain from pointing out that even the greatest Jewish personalities - the Patriarchs, the kings and the prophets - had shortcomings. That does not mean, however, that we are allowed to criticize them. An irrevocable pre-condition for criticizing them, says Maran Ha-Rav Kook, is that we ourselves must be learned, saintly, pure, and free of all blemish (Ein Aya, Berachot 83, page 97, Ot 29).
Moreover, writes Radbaz, even if it is revealed that a great Rabbi has expressed himself heretically, there is no reason to ridicule him. After all, even after Rabbi Hillel said to the Jewish People that there shall be no Messiah, the other Rabbis continued to quote him (Shut Radbaz 4:187).  Also, Rav Kook wrote that if we set out to create a fence to protect Jewish law from harm, we mustn’t as a result cause even greater destruction by disgracing a Torah scholar (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 56).
Controversy between scholars is legitimate. It is good to ask questions of the great Rabbis of the generation, our spiritual leaders. Having faith in the sages doesn’t mean playing the fool. It is permissible to ask. Yet it is forbidden to disgrace them! In any case, it is impossible to follow all of the sages at once. There are controversies among them. Therefore, one must “find a Rabbi” (Avot 1:6), but at the same time honor all other Rabbis.
The rule is this: Love and revere those who dedicate their lives to Torah day and night, for their devotion earns them divine assistance. The Rabbis said: Whoever loves Torah scholars will have a son who is a Torah scholar. Whoever is deferential to Torah scholars will have a son-in-law who is a Torah scholar. Whoever reveres Torah scholars will himself become a Torah scholar (Shabbat 23b).

We can learn from Yehoshafat, King of Judea. Whenever he saw a Torah scholar, he would rise from his throne and hug and kiss him and say to him, “Rebbe! Rebbe! Master! Master!” (Ketuvot 103b). Rabbi Zeira, when in need of a break from his studies, would sit at the entrance to the house of study in order to be able to fulfill the Mitzvah of rising before Torah scholars (Berachot 28a; quoted in Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 19). How fortunate we are that we have Torah scholars! How fortunate we are that we love, honor and revere them!

Honoring Rabbis at Weddings

Question: Should we honor our Rabbis by inviting them to weddings to recite blessings under the Chupah?
Answer: What honor is there in this? When I was a small child, I was taught to recite blessings. When guests came and saw that I knew how to do it, that brought me great honor. But a Rabbi knows how to recite blessings, so what honor are you bestowing on him when you ask him to recite a blessing? And not to mention the problem of the long pauses that develop between the blessings under the Chupah, which some sources say is a problematic interruption. In some communities, it is customary for the groom to recite all the blessings without pause.
Someone once told me that he wanted to honor me with a blessing. I told him that I don’t chase after honor, and in any case this doesn’t honor me. He then told me that he wanted me to bless him so that I would honor him. Now he was speaking the truth. He wanted me to come in order to honor him. Obviously, I want to honor everyone, but perhaps this indicates a bad trait in him, as he is pursuing honor.
As is well-known, Rabbis don’t play tiddly-winks all day. They barely have any spare time. They also have families. For some of them, their rabbinic salaries do not suffice, and they have to do other work as well. So why are you forcing them to come to a wedding, to waste two or three hours, just to say a half-minute blessing? Because you are chasing honor. You should consider well before inviting Rabbis and wasting a lot of their precious time. Especially considering that, for some unknown reason, weddings always start late.
When I got married, I said that the wedding should begin at such-and-such a minute, and it began at that minute. I appointed a friend to take a cab and have it arrive ten minutes before the Chupah at the home of Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, who officiated at the wedding. I also told him, “After the Chupah, stay with the Rabbi, get a cab and bring him home."
I told another friend: when you bring Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, be at his house a half hour before the appointed time, and bring him back as well.” Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Min-Hahar preferred to come on his own, and arrived five minutes early. The wedding started right on time. Why start late and waste people’s time? I told all the guests and friends that the Chupah would start on time. My wife, as well, told all her friends and family the same, and so it was.
You might ask: Aren’t people happy to have an evening out? It could be, but Torah scholars don’t have the time.
If you invite a Torah scholar to a wedding, you have to take care to transport him there and back. Many times I’ve been invited to weddings where they have forgotten to arrange to bring me home. You must take care of a Rabbi’s transportation and not waste his time. The further the wedding is from his home, the more you have to consider whether it is justified to make him miss time learning Torah. If you decide it is, take care of his transportation. Pick him up exactly on time and place someone in charge of taking him home directly after the Chupah. Many times I’ve looked around after the Chupah to find who is taking me home, and everyone refers me to someone else. It should not be that way! If you invite your Rabbi, arrange decent transportation for him: both ways.
One person invited his Rabbi and told another Rabbi to take the first Rabbi home. He turned that second Rabbi into a cab driver. Of course, being a cab driver in Eretz Yisrael is a wonderful thing, because with every four cubits of travel he merits the World-to-Come (Ketuvot 111a). All the same, however, don’t turn Rabbis into cab drivers. You must think all these things through. At stake is wasting a Rabbi’s Torah-learning time. One has to be very careful regarding a Torah scholar’s time.
Once time Ha-Rav Shimon Shkop was ill, and Rabbis contributed their Torah learning to his cure. One Rabbi contributed half-an-hour. Another contributed fifteen minutes and the Chafetz Chaim contributed one minute. People asked him, “Rabbi, is that all?!” and he answered, “Yes. You don’t understand the worth of Torah learning. If you understood it, you wouldn’t be puzzled.”
A major rule is that you don’t put pressure on Torah scholars. A Rabbi knows all the considerations. If he says he cannot come, then he cannot come. There’s no need to pressure him. You shouldn’t pressure anybody, let alone a Torah scholar. At my own wedding, I gave an invitation to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Natan Ra’anan, and he didn’t come. I don’t know why he didn’t come, but I didn’t ask. Yet he sent me a letter with a blessing.
You’re allowed to invite your Rabbi to your wedding, but you don’t have to invite all the Rabbis of the yeshiva. Even as far as your own Rabbi, you should ask him if he wants to come in such a manner that it won’t be unpleasant for him to say no. “If you come, I’ll be very happy, but if you’re busy, that’s perfectly fine.” When you ask someone something, you have to ask in such a manner that it will be ok for him to turn you down. Don’t pressure anyone, let alone your Rabbi.
There are loftier ways to honor your Rabbi than giving him a blessing under the Chupah. There’s no law that a student has to follow his Rabbi’s path. He can follow another path, but if he thinks that this is the Rabbi who made him what he is, he has to find the avenues to increase his Rabbi’s honor. Ha-Rav Yoel Kahn, one of the closest disciples of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, admires his Rebbe and wants to increase his honor. He therefore works to spread his Torah, so that people read his ideas and learn from them. That’s called increasing one’s Rabbi’s honor. I don’t know if he ever kissed his Rebbe’s hand. Doing that doesn’t increase his honor. Dedicating his life to teaching his Rebbe’s Torah is what increases his honor
Likewise, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook is my Rabbi. That’s why I published his talks. Otherwise, people would forget what he said. This took hours, days, months, and a lot of money. Five volumes of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s talks on the Torah cost half a million Shekels. I took the money from my own book sales. In this way, I did my utmost to disseminate his Torah. Also, for years I collected all of his tapes. Having learned them, I wanted to honor him so that his words would spread. But I never kissed his hand. One day when he was eating, a crumb of bread fell on his trousers. I moved my hand to clean him off and he hit my hands. “How dare I…”.

If someone truly loves his Rabbi, honors him, and wants to increase his Rabbi’s honor, he must come up with ways to truly honor him, not via external gestures but via genuine paths to honor.