The Jewish Eye
Rav Yisroel Salanter: A Genius In Torah Blazes A New Trail
Rav Chaim Brisker said about Rav Yisroel Salanter that even had he lived in the generation of the Rema he would have been considered one of the Geonim of torah in the generation. Rav Yisroel Salanter was on path to become from the great Roshei Yeshiva of his generation but he had another agenda.
Rav Yisroel was born in 5571/1811 to his father Rav Zev Wolf. In his youth he learned torah from his father and the famed Rov of his Salant, Rav Hirsh Broide, who was highly respected by Rebbi Akiva Eiger. At the age of 14 with the encouragement of his Rebbi Rav Hirsh, Rav Yisroel sent his chidushim to Rebbi Akiva Eiger. Rebbi Akiva Eiger never responded. A while later when a traveling businessman from Salant passed through Posen, he stopped to visit Rebbi Akiva Eiger. Rebbi Akiva Eiger showed him the brilliant chidushim that he received from the young prodigy in Salant. He said that he never responded because the mere fact that it was sent to him rather than to the tzadik Rav Hirsh made him think that the boy was trying to upstage the great Rav, and he did not want to be part of such a devious scheme.
Rav Yisroel later joined the chabura of the great Rav Yosef Zundel of Salant, the talmid of Rav Chaim Volozhin. He learned there together with Rav Shmuel Salant who eventually became Rav Zundel's son-in-law and later Rov of Yerushalayim. Rav Yisroel carefully studied the Shita Mussar of Rav Zundel and it is said that what Rav Zundel developed for himself, Rav Yisroel turned into the Mussar movement.
In 1840 at the age of 29, Rav Yisroel was appointed Rosh Yeshiva in Kovno. His dazzling shiurim attracted so many talmidim leaving the other Magid Shiur with an embarrassingly small group that he decided to leave the Yeshiva and embark on his life's work of creating a mussar movement.
He then went on to open his Bais Mussar where he delivered Mussar Shmuessen and made mussar a limud in and of itself which sparked great controversy among those who believed that mussar was part and parcel of limud hatorah and not a separate entity for which to allocate time away from the gemara.
In 1849 he started his own Yeshiva where he attracted his illustrious group of talmidim including among them, Rav Itzele Blazer, Rav Eliezer Gordon the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, Rav Yaakov Yosef the future Rov of New York, Rav Naftali Amsterdam, and Rav Simcha Zissel the Alter of Kelm. He did confine his activism to his own locale. He traveled to many cities giving shmuessen and setting up mussar groups. It was in Mamal where he found the Alter of Novhardok during the latter's business trips to that city.
In 1880 at the age of 70 he left his familiar surroundings to travel to Paris to be Michazek Yiddishkeit where it needed chizuk most. He was most successful in his time spent there. He was niftar three years later in 5643/1883 but not before he changed the world as we know it today.
To speak about Rav Yisroel's fine character would be like daring to try to describe the Vilna Gaon's incomprehensible greatness in torah. Someone once asked the Alter of Kelm if Rav Yisroel had Ruach HaKodesh. He said he doesn't know, but what he could say for sure is that Rav Yisroel excelled in every single character trait that Chazal say bring a person to Ruach HaKodesh. Yehi Zichro Boruch!
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