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Blessings in Disguise

By: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

A very important rule to know and internalize is that the Almighty, who cares for us and sustains us, has only our good in mind. And even if matters appear bitter and sad, these too are the will of God and they may very well be blessings in disguise. Often we never get to see the silver lining, but upon occasion – sometimes decades later – the matter is clarified and the Divine intent revealed…

Like many roshei yeshiva, the famous mussar personality, Harav Eliyahu Lopian (1876-1970) bore the financial as well as the spiritual yoke of his yeshiva. Responsibility for the material support of the institution resulted in frequent trans-European trips.

On one such fundraising mission, Reb Elya had traversed a great deal of Europe and was in Germany on the last leg of his journey. Just before departing, he asked a local Jew for directions. The latter responded, “Rebbe, come with me and I will show you the way.” When they came to a dark alley, a gun was placed at Reb Elya’s head and the proverbial option offered.

His money gone, Reb Elya was now in a bind. He could not return to the same villages he had solicited just one month earlier, but he also could not return home empty-handed. The one and only alternative lay across the sea in England.

England at that time, from the perspective of an observant Jew, was a world apart. It’s only connection to Europe was its geographic proximity. As far as a Lithuanian rosh yeshiva was concerned, it might just as well have been thousands of miles away. British Jewry was by and large irreligious and thoroughly ignorant of Torah learning and mitzvos.

When Reb Elya arrived in England, he encountered a friend of his from Kelm, Rabbi Aharon Bakst – the rosh yeshiva and founder of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in London. “Reb Elya,” began Rabbi Bakst, “I must travel to Europe for a short visit. Perhaps you would be so kind as to fill in for me in my absence?”

Rabbi Bakst never returned to England. Reb Elya was left with a yeshiva to direct, another yeshiva to fund and a wife and thirteen children back in Kelm, Lithuania. What was he to do? He realized that the yeshiva in Kelm could survive without him, for he was not its sole rosh yeshiva. Furthermore, there was no dearth of roshei yeshiva in interbellum Lithuania. And so in 1928 Reb Elya sent for his family to pack their belongings and join him in England.

In 1934 Reb Elya and his eldest daughter, Leiba, returned to Europe in search of a suitable match. Already long-removed from the Lithuanian scene, Reb Elya turned for suggestions to his close friend from his days in the Kelmer Beis HaMussar, Reb Yeruchom Levovitz, the Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva.

“Go to the Brisker Rav,” Reb Yeruchom advised, “and ask for ‘Leibeleh Malater’ (Gurwicz). He is the illui you are looking for. You will find in this young man more humility, acuity in learning, and fear of Heaven, than in any other.”

After meeting and observing the prospective groom, Reb Elya was convinced that everything that he had heard was true, and the “shidduch” was consummated. It was understood that the couple would wed and remain in Lithuania.

During the course of the engagement, however Leib’s prospective mother-in-law died at the age of 49. Leiba wrote from England to her chosson that her mother’s untimely death ruled out travelling to Lithuania. Even after their marriage she would be obliged to remain in England to take care of her younger siblings.

The turn of events which had brought Reb Elya, and subsequently Leib to England, spared them from the entire Nazi horror. Reb Elya went on to become the head of one of the most illustrious “tribes” of Torah educators in the world. His son-in-law, Reb Leib Gurwicz became the rosh yeshiva of the largest yeshiva in Europe, Gateshead, in northern England.

I don’t know if Reb Elya ever thanked the mugger who forced him to be separated from his family and yeshiva, but in retrospect he had a lot to be grateful for.

The concept of a blessing in disguise is found in the Torah, in fact in our parasha (14:34). “When you come to the land of Canaan which I shall give you as a possession and I shall place an affliction of tzaraas on the house in the land of your possession.”

What could be more disastrous? You come home and discover tzaraas in your home and now the walls will have to be torn down and the home will be destroyed. AAAARRRRGGGH!

Actually (as Rash”i explains) God was providing a blessing in disguise. When the Canaanites saw that the Jewish People were going to conquer their land they hid their valuables in the walls of their homes. It was only through the tzaraas that the Jewish owner was able to reveal the treasures that were totally concealed.

Shabbat Shalom.





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