Rediscovery Trip to Lithuania

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Why Rabbenu Chaim Wept

Next we visit the old cemetery of Volozhin. The newly refurbished tombstone of Rabbenu Chaim of Volozhin stands out among the aged stones at the center of the cemetery. As we walk among them, we see familiar names: one member of our group points out the grave of the father of R' Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz ylct'a. At the edge of the cemetery we notice several matzeivos that have been given a coat of paint, and we go over to see who they belong to.

They bear the name "Peresky." These are relatives of Shimon Peres, whose grandfather was among those who learned in Volozhin and who watched in horror as his children left the path of Torah. Apparently some local authority arranged this gesture in honor of Peres' visit a few years ago.

After we pour out our hearts in tefilla at the grave of the Nefesh HaChaim, R' Leib Baron tells us how before his death, Rabbenu Chaim one day burst into tears. His talmidim asked him why he was crying, and he explained that the Torah had, through the centuries, gone into golus after golus, and the last golus, he said, would be in America.

But why did he cry? R' Leib asks again. He offers this explanation: Today we can clearly see that R' Chaim was speaking out of ruach hakodesh. There were not many Jews in America at the time of his petirah, and most of those who were there had left their fathers' ways. The idea of founding yeshivos in the New World was like something you would see in a dream. Who could have imagined then that America would become the haven of Torah that it is today?

But if R' Chaim knew all this through ruach hakodesh, he probably also knew of the circumstances under which it would come about.

The Torah wandered with Am Yisroel from Eretz Yisroel to Bovel, to Spain, to North Africa, and to Europe. There were many reasons for these peregrinations, including persecution by our enemies, but never has there been such large-scale destruction of the Torah world as the churban that brought Torah to America.

The survivors who straggled in gave everything they had to the task of rebuilding Torah. R' Aharon Kotler came to America with the words, "Bemakli ovarti es haYarden hazeh" (with nothing but my staff did I cross this Jordan River), and then founded the yeshiva of Lakewood.

Just so were founded the rebuilt yeshivos of Mir, Telz, Kaminetz, and others. The Torah world was indeed rebuilt, but we do not forget what preceded the rebuilding -- and it was this that made Rabbenu Chaim cry. "And just as we have seen that everything that was revealed to R' Chaim min haShomayim came to pass, let us remember that he also said that the golus of Torah in America would be the final golus! So let us trust in those words and expect the geula," says R' Leib with tears in his eyes.

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