Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim • “The Aderet”
Rabbi Eliyahu David and his brother, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, were twins (teomim) born to the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Binyamin on Sivan 6, 5603 (1843) in the tiny city of Pikeln, Lithuania.
Rabbi Eliyahu David at first studied with his father, who was the Rabbi of the cities of Shilel and Rogova, and later on in the great city of Vilkomir. Other than the fact that he was a Torah genius, his father was also a great Tzaddik and was called Rabbi Binyamin the Tzaddik. He would never sit down to eat a meal before finishing a tractate, and he never slept through an entire night. He also completed studying the Talmud every month. It is therefore not surprising that already from his youth, the young Eliyahu David behaved with great holiness and in a very special way.
The young boy was noticed for his great diligence in study, and up to his final days the Torah never left his mouth. He was also the author of many novel commentaries, and on each page he wrote the saying of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai: “If you have learned much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself, since for that very purpose you were created” (Perkei Avoth 2:8).
After his marriage to Feige Mina, the daughter of the notable Rabbi Leib Rosen of Ponevezh, Rabbi Eliyahu David went to live in that city. There his wife opened up a business so that he could devote his entire day to Torah study and serving G-d.
Rabbi Eliyahu David behaved with piety and lived a life of self-denial. He insisted on praying with a minyan at sunrise, and after prayers he would stay in the Beit Midrash to study until noon, only then coming home to eat. He wore Tefillin all day long, covering his head Tefillin with his hat, for all his deeds were marked by humility.
In 5634 (1874), at the age of 31, Rabbi Eliyahu David became the Rav of the great city of Ponevezh. This appointment caused a great stir in the rabbinic world, for never had someone so young, who had never worked in the Rabbinate, been accepted as the Rav of such a large community. It seems that at that point he was already famous for his knowledge of the Talmud (Babylonian and Jerusalem), as well as the Poskim and responsa. He was also known as an upright and honest man, one who possessed sterling character traits. The Chofetz Chaim regarded him highly, and in a letter he described him as follows: “The great Gaon, penetrating and scholarly, Sinai and Oker Harim, Tzaddik in his ways and perfect in his deeds.”
Rabbi Eliyahu David remained the Rav of Ponevezh for about 20 years. His family grew, but when he asked the prominent figures of the community to increase his salary, they refused. It was then that an offer came from the city of Mir, renowned for its Torah scholarship. The Aderet decided to change cities, and when the inhabitants of Ponevezh heard that their Rav was going to leave them, the news made waves, and they kept a close watch on him so that he wouldn’t be able to leave town. At one point all his belongings were packed away in his carriage, and they came and moved them back into his house! They also wrote a letter of protest to the city of Mir, which they felt wanted to “steal” their beloved Rav from them.
However the Rav’s decision to leave for Mir was firm, and he paid no attention to all the obstacles placed in his way, finally departing and settling there.
Nevertheless, his position in Mir did last long, and after seven years he left Mir for Jerusalem. When Rabbi Shemuel Salant, the Rav of Jerusalem, reached the age of 80 in the year 5658 (1898), he looked for someone to replace him. He felt his strength declining and could no longer carry the heavy yoke of the community all by himself. He addressed Rabbi Chaim Ozer, the Rav of Vilna, with a request that he kindly send him a great rabbi of sterling character who could efficiently assist him. By chance the Aderet was passing through Vilna at the time, and Rabbi Chaim Ozer proposed that he accept the rabbinical position in Jerusalem. Rabbi Eliyahu David, who loved Jerusalem and Eretz Israel with all his heart and soul, was delighted with this offer and accepted.
In 5661 (1901), Rabbi Eliyahu David left for Eretz Israel. The inhabitants of Jerusalem, with Rabbi Shemuel Salant at their head, welcomed him with a massive turnout, receiving him as a king and appointing him as the Rav of Jerusalem with great honor.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem had tremendous respect for their new Rav, and Rabbi Shemuel Salant respected and loved him greatly, never parting from him. His first action was to verify the weights used for the scales in Jerusalem’s shops, so that they would be accurate and precise. The Aderet himself would go from shop to shop checking each scale, and ordering that defective ones be replaced. He also took charge of setting up an eruv for the districts that were outside the walls of the old city. Up until the time of his arrival, it was forbidden on Shabbat to carry from the old city to the new districts, but many Jews neglected this prohibition. That is why Rabbi Eliyahu David, with Rabbi Salanter’s approval, constructed the eruv. The Aderet himself went from district to district teaching the people how to take care of it, and paid from his own pocket the occasional cost for its repair. He learned that in the bakeries of the city, bread and cakes were being made that were filled with meat or cheese, and he immediately prohibited this practice. He also surveyed the shops of the city on Friday afternoons, ensuring that they close before the beginning of Shabbat. However he did not remain long in Jerusalem. In the winter of 5665 (1905), four years after his arrival, he fell ill and died in that same year on the 3rd of Adar. He was buried next to the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Leib Diskin of Brisk, but before his death he ordered that no eulogies be made for him, but that people simply remember that he had “strived” throughout his life to live as a good Jew.
During his illness, the Aderet expressed his profound grief at not having had the time to implement many other reforms in Jerusalem. His modest request was that at least one booklet of his commentaries be published on the first anniversary of his death.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and son-in-law of the Aderet, devoted his book Eder Hayakar to the memory of his father-in-law, and in it he describes his great and noble character.
The Aderet left behind more than 100 manuscripts of his work, covering all fields of Torah. The last Rav of Ponevezh, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahanamen, entrusted a group of scholars with the task of going through his work and preparing them for publication. What follows are some of his personal habits, as well as some examples of the work he did on himself and his good deeds:
1. I have always paid attention, regarding whoever is greater or older than myself, to never address him as “my friend,” as if he were my equal.
2. I paid great attention to praying with the community, and very often I had to go to great lengths to find a minyan to pray with. I always had the impression that when I prayed alone, it was as if I had not prayed at all.
3. From the time I became an adult, I always paid attention to giving a tithe from everything I earned, with exception to my dowry, and I acknowledge that it was fair that none of my dowry remains, for I did not insure the money through the mitzvah of tithing.
4. I never wore a new piece of clothing for the first time during the week. Only on Shabbat would I wear it first.
5. On Shabbat Beshalach and Ki Teitzei, I was the last to be called to the Torah for Maftir, because of the importance of Shabbat Zachor.
6. For every mitzvah that is specific to a certain day, such as Passover, after performing the mitzvah I would say, “I thank You, my G-d and G-d of my fathers, for having allowed me to accomplish this mitzvah this year. Help me and allow me to live until next year so that I may accomplish it again, as well as all the mitzvot, from now until next year, in joy.” When I left the Sukkah, I did not recite yehi ratzon written in the prayer book (“to sit in the Sukkah of the Leviathan”), for this is a reward that belongs to the World to Come. I would instead say, “May it be Your will that we merit to sit in the Sukkah next year.”