Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 24 January 2004 / 1 Shevat 5764

Ohr Somayach

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Many Readers

Dear Rabbi,

What is the meaning and significance of the name of your fine yeshiva, "Ohr Somayach"?

Dear Many Readers,

Our yeshiva was named after one of the works of Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926), one of the most unique Torah giants of this century. His renowned work "Ohr Somayach" is a brilliant commentary on the Rambams Mishne Torah, while another of his works, "Meshech Chochma", is a profound commentary on Chumash. Rabbi Yehudah Copperman, editor of the latter work, describes it as a unique blend of "halacha, thought and commentary". In it Rabbi Meir Simcha demonstrates the unity between the Written and Oral Torah and presents strikingly original interpretations of Biblical verses and Talmudic passages.

His unusual mastery of philosophic and kabbalistic texts is reflected throughout his writings. So great was his mastery of the Jerusalem Talmud that, when in 1906 Shlomo Friedlander claimed to have discovered the missing Talmud on Kodoshim, Rabbi Meir Simcha immediately determined that it was a forgery.

Rabbi Meir Simcha served in Dvinsk for nearly 40 years and was deeply loved by his congregants. He frequently helped restore peace to quarreling couples. Once a couple visited him to discuss their problem when, after a long period of silence, the sound of singing and dancing suddenly burst forth from the rabbis study. Rabbi Meir Simchas secretary peered in only to find him dancing with the couple, rejoicing in their reconciliation.

In 1906 he was offered the position of Rabbi of Jerusalem, but obliged the entreaties of his congregants to remain in Dvinsk. Twenty prominent leaders of Dvinsk wrote to Jerusalem as follows: "We of the Russian Golah (Diaspora) in the city of Dvinsk rise up in response to the report that the sons of Jerusalem wish to take away our master, our teacher. Not only will they destroy us, but shall also destroy the entire Golah for whom he is the teacher and the respondent for all who seek the word of G-d".

Rabbi Meir Simcha was a strong supporter of the settlement of Eretz Yisrael and greeted the Balfour Declaration with enthusiasm. He also believed that in order for a Rabbi to be a true leader of his community, he must be fluent in the language of the land. In a famous near-prophetic passage written before 1926, he presents a brilliant theory of Jewish history in the Diaspora and asserts that those who forget their origins, thinking "Berlin is Jerusalem", are doomed to destruction. Elsewhere he writes forebodingly that a Jew should willingly give his life to sanctify G-ds name, because it is natural that when one is confronted with an opposing force, his essence comes to the fore.

Rabbi Meir Simcha did not leave any surviving relatives. Therefore the founders of our yeshiva named it in his memory, so that their students should simultaneously inherit and perpetuate the Ohr Somayachs spiritual legacy.

Sources:

  • Orthodox Union website, www.ou.org, Learn Torah, Great Leaders of Our People
  • Meshech Chochma, Parshat BChukotai and VEtchanan

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