The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 22 January 2005 / 12 Shevat 5765

The Other Side of the Vice Premier

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Library Library Library

There is an interesting story connected with the new Vice Premier of Israel, Shimon Peres.

The source for the story is Rabbi Yisroel Gellis, a renowned Jerusalem educator and historian.

About 15 years ago he arrived at the Jewish cemetery of the city Volozhin during a visit to Lithuania. His group paid a local gentile to clean away the debris which covered the tombstones. In the course of examining the now-visible monuments, Gellis noticed that one of them marked the grave of Rabbi Meir Persky. This was the man who was responsible for reopening the famed Volozhin Yeshiva after it had been closed by its heads as a result of the interference of the Russian authorities in its educational program.

Upon his return to Israel, Gellis wrote to Shimon Peres (born Persky) about the discovery of his grandfathers grave. Peres invited him to a meeting in which he revealed to him that his parents had lived in the town of Vishniva near Volozhin and asked Gellis to join him on his next diplomatic visit to Russia in order to direct him to his grandfathers grave.

When they arrived at the grave, Gellis relates, Peres put a kippah on his head and recited a few psalms of Tehilim. He also recounted to Gellis that when he was seven years old, his grandfather took him on a half-days journey in a horse-drawn carriage to the sainted Chafetz Chaim in Radin. Like any Jewish grandfather, Rabbi Persky asked the Chafetz Chaim to bless his grandson to become a gadol in Torah, a great Torah scholar. The blessing that Peres remembers receiving was that he become a gadol, a great man.

"I indeed became a gadol," confesses Peres, "but not a gadol in Torah."

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