Rabbi Ben Zion Yadler • “The Maggid of Jerusalem”
All the days of the life of the Tzaddik Rabbi Ben Zion Yadler were devoted to Torah and the fear of G-d. His voice was heard in the cities of Eretz Israel for 70 years without interruption, a voice that awakened hearts to repentance and good deeds.
Let us examine just who this Tzaddik was, a man whom all the Jews of Eretz Israel loved and whose impassioned and awe-inspiring words were heeded.
Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Goldberg was a great Talmid Chacham and a wealthy man. At an early age he dispensed with all his business dealings in the city of Grodno and traveled to the port of Odessa on his way to Eretz Israel. In those times, the journey to Eretz Israel was not easy. The Turkish government, which was then in power, prohibited his family from settling down in the land of his ancestors. When Rabbi Yitzchak Zev arrived at the coast of Jaffa, his wife was hidden in a sack of potatoes. Thus when these sacks were being lowered off the ship, one of them contained the mother of Rabbi Ben Zion Yadler!
Rabbi Yitzchak Zev remained in Jaffa with his wife for several weeks, as they awaited a caravan heading for Jerusalem on camels. The journey from Jaffa to Jerusalem lasted two days.
When they arrived in the holy city, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev tore his clothes (in accordance with Halachah), but when he proceeded to tear his wife’s clothes, she was seized with birth pangs and began to give birth. She bore a son, whom his father named Ben Zion because he was born at the gates of Zion.
Like all children in Jerusalem, the young Ben Zion was educated in the famous Etz Chaim yeshiva, where he rose in the rungs of Torah and the fear of G-d. At the age of 22, he received semichah from Rabbi Shemuel Salant’s Beit Din.
During that time, Jews in Eretz Israel had already spread beyond the walls of Jerusalem and begun to establish settlements. In a short time, new settlements were established in every corner of the land. Rabbi Ben Zion was appointed by Rabbi Shemuel Salant’s Beit Din to go from village to village in order to teach and watch over the separation of offerings and tithes, mitzvot dependent on the land.
Automobiles did not exist at that time, and Rabbi Ben Zion would travel by donkey from Jerusalem to Metula, Mishmar Hayarden, Rosh Pina, and throughout the Galilee. Wherever he went, he would speak in synagogues, markets, and city streets, and his words – which emanated from a pure heart – entered the hearts of his listeners.
The Dayan Tzvi Harkavi, a native of the village of Yavniel, recounts that his father was a shochet in several places in the Lower Galilee. On one rainy summer night, his father was slaughtering a poor farmer’s calf about which a question of kashrut arose. Tiberias was far away and the road there was dangerous. He was very troubled and didn’t know how to rule concerning this calf. All of a sudden he heard steps in the howling of the wind and rain, and Rabbi Ben Zion entered his house and removed his drenched clothes, trembling all over because of the cold and rain. He sat down with the shochet and drank some coffee, and they began to weigh the issue at hand. They consulted some books and discussed the matter at length, and all of a sudden the two burst out in joy: The calf was kosher! The next day, after prayers, Rabbi Ben Zion gave a lecture in the small synagogue. Albeit a meager public turnout, they and their children greatly benefited from this lecture, and everyone parted from their guest with a feeling of gratitude, for his arrival had brought with it a feeling of warmth and enjoyment in this lost village.
This same Dayan recounted the following story:
“In 5683, I encountered Rabbi Ben Zion Yadler on a street in Jerusalem. I approached him and introduced myself: ‘I’m the son of Rabbi Meir the shochet in the Lower Galilee.’ Upon hearing this, he gave me a hug. When I told him that I worked for the government set up by the British Mandate, he began to ask if I put on Tefillin and what I did on Shabbat.
“One day I noticed that Rabbi Ben Zion was very worried, so I asked him what he was concerned about. He replied that in Vienna at that moment the Great Assembly of Agudath Israel was taking place, a gathering of all the Torah luminaries and Tzaddikim of the generation, and that he himself – Rabbi Ben Zion – had been selected to represent Jerusalem.
“I then pointed out to him that on the contrary, this should be a source of great joy to him, not of concern! He replied, ‘I am 53 years old. In my entire life I never left the Holy Land. I always avoided swimming in the sea, lest the waters be considered as being foreign. Yet now, I’m being asked to leave for abroad! That’s the reason why I’m broken and concerned!’
“I answered him, ‘But you’re leaving with the intention of coming back!’ However Rabbi Ben Zion responded with a sigh: ‘Who knows if I’ll die in a foreign land? I’m more than 50 years old.’
“After his return from Vienna, I once again encountered him, and his mouth was filled with gratitude for having had the merit to return to Eretz Israel alive.”
The Dayan Harkavi finished his story by saying, “All those who spoke lovingly of Eretz Israel are completely insignificant compared to Rabbi Ben Zion Yadler!”
Rabbi Ben Zion had the custom of mourning by the Kotel on the night of Tisha B’Av. Someone who witnessed this said the following: “I found myself among those who were listening to him, and until this day his grief over the destruction of the Temple still resonates in my ears. With a roaring voice, like that of a lion, he exclaimed, ‘Why have You forgotten us and abandoned us forever?’ He cried, and we cried with him.”
During Elul and the Ten Days of Awe, he would often go to the new settlements in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, and Haifa, as well as to all the small settlements along the way. After each lecture that he gave, he would passionately read the verse, “Bring us back to You, O L-RD, and we shall return” (Lamentations 5:21).
For dozens of years, Rabbi Ben Zion suffered from very poor vision, yet despite this he never interrupted his work. He assembled the public and spoke to awaken them to Teshuvah.
On the final day of his life, Av 15, 5722, as he stood by the Chuppah at his granddaughter’s wedding to a notable Talmid Chacham, Rabbi Ben Zion’s soul departed in purity. He was 92 years old at the time.
Thousands of Jews followed the funeral procession of Rabbi Ben Zion, the Maggid of Jerusalem, accompanying him to his final resting place. In returning from the funeral, more than one person said, “Who knows if Rabbi Ben Zion wasn’t the last Maggid of Eretz Israel?”