Rav Avrohom Genechovsky zt”l

HIS PARENTS’ LOVE FOR TORAH

 

Rav Avrohom was born in Yerushalayim on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in 1937 to his father, Rav Eliyahu Moshe, and his mother, Gita. The Genechovsky family was famous for generations of talmidei chachomim and rabbonim and its giant love for Torah. Rav Eliyahu Moshe’s father, Rav Shlomo Yosef, founded the El Hamekorospublishing house, which printed improved editions of classic seforim and first edition printings of many important manuscripts.

 

With Rav Avrohom’s birth,a shailoh came up. Should his mother fast on the upcoming Yom Kippur? Gita used to address all her shailos to the great Yerushalayim posek,Rav Aharon Polonski, the Tepliker Rov, one of the gedolim who gave Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv practical shimush in halachah on his road to becoming a gadol hador.

 

When Gita’s husband asked the Tepliker Rov whether his wife should fast on Yom Kippur he emphatically ruled that she should not. He also appended a blessing that the newborn should grow and become a rosh yeshiva and that his mother should enjoy long years and merit to see her son reach this goal. Both blessings were fulfilled to completion.

 

Rav Eliyahu Moshe was an ardent member of the Mizrachi movement in Europe. After the founding of the state of Israel, he served two terms as a Mizrachi MK. At that time, the Knesset was situated in Tel Aviv, so he moved from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak to be closer to work. His new home was only seven steps from the Chazon Ish’s front door. The Genechovsky family already had a close connection to the Chazon Ish since years earlier, when Rav Eliyahu Moshe’s father, Rav Shlomo Yosef, learned bechavrusah with the father of the Chazon Ish.

 

Rav Eliyahu Moshe was a staunch supporter of Torah. In reaction to a government proposal to reduce state support of religion, he declared, “Without religion there will be denial, intermarriage and emptiness… The yeshivos are the most important means for the survival of the nation.”

 

He revered talmidei chachomim and never did anything without taking counsel from the Chazon Ish. It is said that when the Knesset voted on introducing national service for religious girls, Rav Eliyahu Moshe voted in accordance with the Chazon Ish’s ruling that it is absolutely forbidden. The Mizrachi did not take kindly to his violation of the party line and forced him to resign from the Knesset. In appreciation of Rav Eliyahu Moshe’s mesirus nefesh and obedience to daas Torah, the Chazon Ish blessed him that his sonAvrohom will illuminate the world with Torah.      

 

The love that Rav Avrohom’s parents had for Torah induced them to remove their two sons from the schools they had been attending and send them to yeshivos. This fact is mentioned in the introduction that Rav Avrohom’s father wrote to the sefer Cheder Horasi on Maseches Horayos that Rav Avrohom printed in 1969 in his mother’s memory.

 

“Her main yearning was that her sons should not, chas veshalom, be amei haaretz,” his father wrote. “Because of this, she did not allow you to finish primary school and sent you to yeshivas, for her main goal was that her sons should be gedolei Torah.”

 

Rav Avrohom echoes the same idea in his introduction to the sefer after outlining his mother’s distinguished ancestry:

 

“She was the daughter of the gaon,Rav Dov Nochimovshy, av bais din of Goldenen in Latvia, granddaughter of Rav Chaim Meir Green, av bais din of Grabin, and great-granddaughter of Rav Shneur Zalman, av bais din of Goldenen and author of the sefer Gilyon Alfas on the Rif. The whole purpose of her life was to see her sons walking in the ways of Hashem.”

 

Incidentally, the last mentioned name, Rav Shneur Zalman, reflects Genechovsky family tradition that their ancestors included the Baal Hatanya, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi.     

 

Consequently, before his bar mitzvah, Rav Avrohom’s parents sent him to study in Yeshiva Ketanah Ohr Yisroel of Petach Tikvah, where he became a close talmid of Rav Yosef Rozovsky, a brother of Rav Shmuel Rozovsky of Ponovezh Yeshiva. Rav Eliyahu Moshe chose this yeshiva because, back in Lithuania, he had studied in the Lomza Yeshiva with its rosh yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Neiman. Rav Eliyahu Moshe had also spent one zeman learing bechavrusah in Lomza with the future American gadol, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky.

 

Although he left Ohr Yisroel when he was only fourteen years old, years later he tore kri’ah after Rav Yosef’s passing. Asked why he specifically tore kri’ah over him more than any of his other rabbeim, he replied, “Because he taught me how to learn.”

 

YOUNGEST TALMID IN SLABODKA

 

After leaving Ohr Yisroel, Rav Avrohom learnt in Ponovezh Yeshiva for six months before moving to Slabodka Yeshiva at the age of fifteen. Although he was the youngest of its talmidim, he became a close talmid of Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, the Chazon Yechezkel, who delivered a shiur klali there once a week.

 

Sensing Rav Avrohom’s talent, Rav Abramsky asked him to write down his weekly shiurim almost immediately. The first week Rav Avrohom was appointed to this task, Rav Abramsky was surprised when the youngster sat throughout his whole shiur without writing a single word.

 

“Didn’t we arrange that you were to write down my shiur?” he asked him afterwards.

 

“I’m going home to write it right now,” came the answer.

 

Sure enough, barely an hour later, the youngster returned with the entire shiur written down, correct and exact. Although Rav Avrohom was gifted with a tremendous memory, he never showed it off. Whenever he wanted to cite something from a sefer,he would go to the bookshelf and take out the sefer as if to check that he remembered its contents correctly.

 

Upon Rav Avrohom’s engagement, his friends lightheartedly placed a newspaper advertisement announcing the engagement of “the finest product of the yeshiva world.” When people complained to Rav Abramsky that such praise seemed extreme, he replied to them, “I would have liked to sign the announcement myself.”

 

During his years in Slabodka, Rav Avrohom once sent some chiddushei Torah on Gittin to an organization that was distributing prizes for the most talented Torah essays. The organizers of the competition were so impressed by his entry that they simply refused to believe it was written by a teenager until Rav Abramsky testified that he was well capable of it.

 

“The reward for all my toil is that I have two talmidim who are experts in the whole Shas as if it is in their pockets, Genechovsky and Shulsinger,” Rav Abramsky said in later years.

 

The second talmid was Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger (1941-2010), rov of the Yarchei Kallah Shul in Bnei Brak, who authored the seforim Mishmar Halevi, Peninei HaGriz, Peninei Avi Ezri, and Peninei Kehillos Yaakov. The last three seforim recorded his correspondences with the Brisker Rov, Rav Elazar Menashem Man Shach, and the Steipler Gaon.

 

During Rav Abramsky’s shiurim, these two future gedolim were the only ones who dared to challenge him with questions.

 

Living in close proximity to the Chazon Ish, Rav Avrohom was constantly in and out of his home. The Chazon Ish was well aware of his brilliance. In 1954, when Rav Avrohom’s father was planning to print a Min Hamekoros version of Shas that included the chiddushim of the Chazon Ish arranged according to daf, he asked the Chazon Ish if he consented to such a project.

 

“Yes, I agree,” he replied, “but on one condition. Avrohom should organize my chiddushim according to the order of the masechtos – he and no one else!”

 

At the time, Rav Avrohom was only seventeen years old.

 

In his twenties, Rav Avrohom received semichah from Rav Elyashiv, who only farhered three avreichim for semichah in his entire lifetime. Of one of the three Rav Elyashiv said, “He was gevaldig.” Of the second he said, “He was just so so.” Of the third, Rav Avrohom, he marveled, “I didn’t know who was farhering whom.”

 

Despite receiving semichah from Rav Elyashiv and the Tchebiner Rov, Rav Avrohom humbly refused to pasken shailos under most circumstances.

 

TEACHER OF GENERATIONS

 

In 1962, Rav Avrohom married Esther Branfeld. In addition to being a descendant of the Chasam Sofer and Rav Akiva Eiger, she was a granddaughter of the second wife of the Tchebiner Rov, Rav Dov Berish Weidenfeld. This drew the young genius to the Tchebiner Rov’s attention, and before his passing in 1966, he stipulated in his will that Rav Avrohom should become one of his yeshiva’s roshei yeshiva. Rav Avrohom delivered shiurim there for the next 45 years.

 

Rav Avrohom was a born teacher and loved to teach. In addition to delivering shiurim in Tchebin, he also delivered many shiurim to bnei Torah and baalei batim. Both in yeshiva and in other botei medrash, his goal was for people to understand. In yeshiva, he never budged from the shtender until the slowest talmid grasped what he said, and in shuls and botei medrash, every baal habayis who attended his shiur went home with handfuls of knowledge and insight.

 

His love for Torah made it impossible to touch on any Torah topic without probing it in depth. Every Sukkos, Rav Avrohom used to travel a long way to visit his older brother, Dov, in accordance with the mitzvah of honoring an older brother. On one such occasion, his brother protested, “There is no need for you to travel to see me; I am mochel my honor!”

 

The simple remark sparked off a huge analysis, as Rav Avrohom probed whether a person can forgo the rights granted him by the Shulchan Aruch. If the Torah grants someone a right to be honored, can he forgo it? Roaming through his brother’s house, he searched in seforim for sources on the topic and found a Biur Halachah that seemed to discuss it. This led to looking for yet another sefer.

 

“Do you have the sefer?” he asked his brother.

 

“No,” his brother replied.

 

“Perhaps a neighbor has it?”

 

“What’s the urgency?” his brother replied. “Check it up when you get home.”

 

For Rav Avrohom, however, that was not an option. He couldn’t rest until he had probed in depth the Torah topic bothering him.

 

Rav Avrohom overflowed with chiddushim, recording them in voluminous collections of notes. He often said that for him, a problem with Shabbos and Yomim Tovim was that although it is permitted to study on these days, it is forbidden to write. How could he record his Torah thoughts?

 

His home on Rechov Avtalyon in Bnei Brak was a lighthouse for people seeking solutions to knotty sugyos, and he regarded every moment as an educational opportunity. When he saw people idle at a bus stop or during a journey, he would present a halachic question to them and try to figure a way out of the conundrum. When someone left his home, he provided them with mental food for the road.

 

“On your way home, maybe you’d like to think about what a person should do in such and such a circumstance or if such and such a question arises,” he would say. “Please phone me if you think of an answer.”

 

Despite his voluminous output, little of his work was published. Tens of thousands of pages of chiddushei Torah and dozens of volumes of his shiurim await publication. In total, only two of his seforim have been printed so far. They are Cheder Horasi, mentioned earlier, and Bnei Re’em, a collection of his public shiurim published by his talmidim.

 

Some years ago, after a fire broke out in his building, his entire apartment was damaged by fire and water. Only his seforim shelves and his collection of chiddushei Torah emerged unscathed.

 

When a neighbor, together with the other residents of the building, offered financial aid, Rav Avrohom refused to accept a cent.

 

“I don’t lack for anything,” he said. “If you want to give money, give it to So-and-so, a widow, and family So-and-so, who are indeed in great need. As for myself, boruch Hashem, I have everything I need.”

 

A HUGE BAAL CHESSED

 

In addition to his greatness in learning, Rav Avrohom was also a giant in bein adam lachaveiro.

 

“A person should be like this planet,” he said. “Just as the outside of the world is primarily water, so should a person not be harsh with people, but rather flexible like water. In terms of his core, however, a person should be like a rock and encompass within himself the fire of Torah.”

 

That is exactly how he was. When simple people came to speak to him, he treated them with such respect and humility that he was described as being the epitome of the posuk, “And Avrohom bowed before am ha’aretz”(Bereishis 3:27).

 

Rav Avrohom’s major chessed projects were behind the scenes. People didn’t know of his deeds. Quietly and unobtrusively, he was involved with the three Israeli boys recently imprisoned in Japan, with the Yad Eliezer organization that helps thousands of hungry families, with the Mesilahorganization that teaches young Torah families financial management, and the Dulberg case, in which a father who converted to Catholicism wanted to wrench his two daughters from their Jewish mother. He was often the living force behind such issues and no one knew about it.

 

Chessed encompassed his entire life. People constantly visited his home for advice and loans. Millions of shekels of charity funds passed through his hands. He was always on the lookout for people in need. An avreich related that Rav Avrohom’s sympathy developed into a years-long study partnership.

 

“I was once on my way to Yerushalayim by bus,” said the avreich. “At the time, I was suffering from a bout of depression and my miserable stance made this obvious. “Approaching me, Rav Avrohom said, ‘I see that something is bothering you. What’s the problem?’

 

“’I am studying Torah hard but don’t see that it is getting me anywhere,’ I replied.

 

“Immediately, he offered to learn bechavrusah with me. This arrangement continued for a number of years, and he raised me to heights I never dreamt of. I owe him my spiritual life.”

 

He was always sensitive to people’s feelings. When someone inadvertently rang his doorbell on Shabbos, Rav Avrohom immediately realized that the person would be embarrassed if the door was opened right away. Instead, he instructed everyone to hide at the back of his apartment and put on a robe so that the person would think he was relaxing in a bedroom. He only opened the door after an interval during which the person knocked. Through this complicated maneuvering, the person thought no one had noticed his embarrassing breach of Shabbos. 

 

Gedolim revered Rav Avrohom. Aware that Rav Chaim Kanievsky stood up for him whenever he visited, he always tried to sneak into Rav Chaim’s room without Rav Chaim noticing. Some years ago, when he visited Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and found him in the middle of a shiur, Rav Shteinman immediately paused and said, “Rav Avrohom, vos zogst du?What chiddush do you want to say?”

 

HIS PASSING

 

Four months ago, Rav Avrohom was hospitalized and doctors discovered that he had a tumor. Despite his deteriorating health and therapy in Israel and abroad, he continued delivering shiurim almost to the very end. During his last shiur, whichdealt with matters of the Bais Hamikdosh, he prophetically remarked, “Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will complete this matter when the Bais Hamikdosh is rebuilt.”

 

Heeding the appeals of gedolim to daven and recite Tehillim for Rav Avrohom, bnei Torah throughout EretzYisroelpleaded for his refuah shleimah. He passed away last Thursday, on the yahrtzeit of the Chasam Sofer, his wife’s ancestor, a day when it had been his longstanding custom to mention a devar Torah from his wife’s ancestor.

 

At the levaya, hespeidim were delivered by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman; Rav Gershon Edelstein, rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh Yeshiva; Rav Dov Landau, rosh yeshiva of Slabodka Yeshiva; Rav Nissim Karelitz; the Sanzer Rebbe; Rav Binyomin Rimmer, rosh yeshiva at Tchebin and Kiryas Melech; and Rav Nochum Schneerson, nosi of the Tchebin Yeshiva. Rav Shmuel Auerbach, Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman were also present at thelevaya.

 

Rav Shteinman emphasized that Rav Avrohom was a giant in both learning and middos.

 

“Morai verabosai,” he said. “The Torah is comprised of two types of mitzvos, those relevant between man and Hashem and those that apply between man and his fellow. The deceased constantly toiled in Torah. Questions of Torah relating to his studies were constantly on his lips. As everyone knows, he always had the very important quality of being constantly pleasant to everyone. May everyone learn from his ways and fulfill these two aspects of Torah observance.”

 

The vast crowd accompanied the niftar through the streets of Bnei Brak until the Shomer Shabbos Cemetery of Zichron Meir, where he was interred.

 

Rav Avrohom is survived by his wife, Rebbetzin Esther Hadassah; his son, Rav Shlomo Yosef; his son-in-law and daughter, Rav and Rebbetzin Binyomin Meir; his brother, Reb Dov; and thousands of talmidim and admirers. His son, Reb Refoel Yonah, passed away in 1988.

 

Yehi zichro boruch.