A Biography of Rav Elyashiv, zt”l

6 months ago, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l became critically ill. I wanted my class to understand for whom they were davening.  

I also wanted to understand for whom I was davening. What I knew of Rav Elyashiv from news reports was sometimes bizarre. His name was quoted frequently, but often incorrectly. I knew there must be a reason that when someone mentioned the name Rav Elyashiv, the Torah world paid attention. Who was Rav Elyashiv?

Here is the biography I wrote six months ago. It was written for third graders so it as rather simple vocabulary. I have updated it to make it timely.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910 – 2012)

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was born in Lithuania. He was the only child of Rav Avrohom and Chaya Erener. His mother’s father was Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, a great Talmid Chacham who wrote a famous sefer on Kabbalah called the Leshem.

Rav Elyashiv moved to Eretz Yisrael with his
family when he was twelve. Rav Kook had suggested that the Erener family change their last name to Elyashiv so they could get a visa to immigrate. Seven years later, Rav Elyashiv Rav Kook, made a shidduch between 19 year old Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Sheina Chaya, daughter of Rav Aryeh Levin zt”l. They had five sons and seven daughters.
In the 1950s, Rav Elyashiv became a Dayan in the Rabbanut Beis Din in Israel. He resigned in 1972. In 1989, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh
was the leader of the Chareidi community in Israel. He asked Rav Elyashiv to become involved in leading the Jews of Eretz Yisrael. After Rav Shach died, all major questions of importance to Klal Yisrael were addressed to Rav Elyashiv.
Rav Elyashiv lived in a small
apartment in Meah She’arim in Yerushalayim. He spent most of his days learning Torah and teaching in a small shul in Meah Shearim. He was considered the posek HaDor and Ashkenazi Jews followed  his psak.

The day after his wedding, Rav Elyashiv asked his wife if he could learn Torah undisturbed rather doing some errands right away. His wife, the daughter of Rav Aryeh Levin, was very happy with this request.

She asked him “For how long?” He answered “One thousand days,”

Since then, every day for the last eighty years, Rav Elyashiv learned for 16-20 hours a day.

Rav Elyashiv’s wife was his partner in his becoming a gadol. One day, her father Rav Aryeh Levin zt”l came by. Rebbetzin Elyashiv served dinner to her husband and father in the kitchen. Her father rebuked her for not treating her husband with honor due a Talmid Chochom. Why didn’t she serve dinner in the dining room? Later she explained that one of her children was sick and lying down in the living room. She didn’t want her husband to disturb his learning. She took care of the situation herself.
Living with Less
Rav Asher Balanson, a rav from Tel Stone, went to ask Rav Elyashiv a shaila in his tiny apartment. While there, Rav Elyashiv’s refrigerator broke. Someone joked that the refrigerator was so old that it could be donated to a museum. Rav Elyashiv earned a salary for his work as a dayan on Bais Din so he could have bought a new refrigerator a long time ago if he had wanted. Things were not as important as giving tzedakah and learning Torah.
Rav Balanson told another story about another time he was in the home of Rav Elyashiv. Rav Elyashiv was learning the Yad Moshe, the index of the Igros Moshe. He was reviewing every teshuva of Reb Moshe by looking at a list of titles and page numbers. .
Seeking Truth
Rav Elyashiv had a very good job as a Dayan for the Rabbanut Beis Din. He retired rather than compromising on something he felt was right.
A few years ago, Rav Elyashiv needed some electrical repairs done in his apartment. While the electrician was working, he learned that his daughter, Rebetzin Shoshana Zilberstein, had passed away. As he was preparing to go to the funeral, he asked his grandson to find out how much he owed the electrician. Only after he wrote a check to the worker, did he go to the funeral of his daughter.
 A Miraculous Life
Rav Elyashiv’s parents were childless for seventeen years before he was born. Rav Elyashiv’s daughter, Reb. Sarah Yisroelson, said that her father was very ill when he was a child and as an adult. They thought he wouldn’t survive but Klal Yisrael needed him.
Importance to Klal Yisrael
When Rav Elyashiv was 94, he needed heart surgery. Many surgeons refused to do the operation, but one doctor, Dr. Daniel Clair agreed. Dr. Clair flew from the United States. to Israel to do the surgery. 7 years later, when Rav Elyashiv was 101, the doctor came back to do another surgery. Thousands of Jews davened at the kotel. Shimon Peres, a secular man who is the President of the State of Israel, came to thank the doctor. Mr. Peres told the doctor that this surgery was important to the safety of Klal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.

This is what the doctor, Dr. Daniel Clair, his non-Jew doctor said:

“Taking into account that he is 101, when I initially walked into his hospital room, he was sitting at a desk studying. I began talking to him about the surgery and he asked the most insightful questions. . . . This was very impressive for someone at that age – he was so “with it” and involved in the decision-making.

In addition, I don’t know how to explain it, but he is obviously a very special person. I could identify that immediately when I first met him. His presence generates a feeling of reverence. When I returned home with him after the procedure, I got a better sense of how great he is, as there were fifty to one hundred people at his home, waiting to see him. I can’t imagine his importance to the community.”

 The Address for all matters of Torah.

Rabbi Orlofsky once went with his mashgiach for advice about a complicated question. He went to one gadol, and it took a long time to get an answer. His mashgiach then brought him to Rav Elyashiv. In the small apartment was a Rosh Yeshiva, avreichim, businessmen and a woman with a chicken all there to ask questions. When it was Rabbi Orlofsky’s turn, Rav Elyashiv immediately answered him in one sentence that put the question to rest.

Answering Klal Yisrael
In 2004, Rav Dunner went to India and found out that many sheitels were made with hair that had been used to worship Avodah Zara. The Halacha is that one may not even get pleasure from something used for Avodah Zara. Rav Elyashiv paskened that women in Eretz Yisrael could not wear
sheitels until they found out whether the sheitels came from India or not. Overnight, women stopped wearing these sheitels because Rav Elyashiv had paskened they were forbidden to wear. All over the world, women gave up expensive sheitels because of the psak of the Gadol HaDor.
Last Months
Rav Elyashiv became very ill six months before his death. Klal Yisrael began davening for his recovery. During the 3 weeks, Rav Elyashiv was niftar. Klal Yisrael lost a leader who knew Kol HaTorah Kula and lived by its every word.