Shneur Zalman Berger, Beis Moshiach
Rabbi Sholom Eidelman a’h, shliach in Morocco, was in the middle of Mivtza Pesach and Mivtza Matza when he was stricken with corona virus. He was hospitalized and his condition deteriorated. His name was said in tefilla around the world as doctors fought for his life. Tragically, he passed away on 16 Nissan, the second day of Pesach.
The doctors informed the leaders of the Jewish community who were uncertain about the protocols involved in burial on the second day of Yom Tov. Additionally, there was the question of whether to bury him in Morocco or to wait until after Yom Tov and have him buried in Eretz Yisrael where he owned a plot on Har HaZeisim.
Via a non-Jew, the director of the chevra kadisha in Casablanca called Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Rishon L’Tziyon and rav of Yerushalayim and former student of R’ Eidelman. Upon consulting with Eidelman relatives in Eretz Yisrael, a decision was made to bury him immediately in Casablanca since the Moroccan government said burial could not wait which is why they could not fly him to Eretz Yisrael.
In accordance with the halacha, local non-Jews did the burial under the supervision of the shliach to Casablanca, Rabbi Levi Banon. It was first on motzoei Yom Tov that the sons, daughters, other family members and talmidim were informed of his passing and the sorrow was indescribable.
In conversations that I had with the family, the pain and shock was still raw and the tears had not yet dried. Nobody could believe that R’ Eidelman, who was at the height of his activities along with his wife, and directed tefillos, farbrengens and shiurim throughout Morocco, who had established mikvaos in various cities and programs for women and children, had passed away in the middle of his great works.
Furthermore, R’ Eidelman was the supreme halachic authority of all the religious institutions in Morocco: the rabbanus, the kashrus and the beis din. All those who lead these institutions are his students. Whenever they had a difficulty, they went to him for advice and direction. When it was necessary to set kashrus policy or to make enactments in gittin and kiddushin, it was all done in collaboration with R’ Eidelman with the full support of the president of the Jewish community, Mr. Serge Bardugo, secretary-general of the WJC affiliate Israelite Community Council of the Jewish community of Morocco, and a close confidant of the king.
Morocco was orphaned and this is no exaggeration. R’ Eidelman is the man who breathed Jewish-Chassidic life into the Jewish community in Casablanca and other communities. At the same time, he was the man to turn to with every halachic question.
THE YEARS OF SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
R’ Sholom Eidelman was born on 4 Elul 5696 in Moscow. His parents were R’ Aryeh Dov and Mrs. Slava Eidelman.
During World War II, when he was a little boy, his father was drafted while his mother and the children fled from the approaching front. For a period of time, they stayed in Fergana in Uzbekistan where they suffered starvation. At the end of the war, they returned to Moscow where they hosted Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, as she was on her way to Lvov to leave Russia. The Eidelman family also traveled to Lvov and were able to cross the Polish border.
The family eventually settled in Paris where R’ Eidelman learned in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Brunoy. Already back then, he received an unusual instruction from the Rebbe, to have an influence on the Sefardic students who learned in the yeshiva. This was after he asked the Rebbe about learning in Tomchei Tmimim in New York so he could be near the Rebbe, but the Rebbe told him that his job was to remain in Brunoy and to influence the Sefardic students there.
Some or most of these talmidim were graduates of Chabad schools in Morocco who had come to learn for a while in Brunoy.
R’ Eidelman was among the group of bachurim who went to Eretz Yisrael in 1956 following the massacre in the vocational school in Kfar Chabad. Along with his peers, he went from city to city and from community to community, to encourage the residents and infuse them with the feeling of hiskashrus to the Rebbe.
While learning in Brunoy, he was of help to Baba Sali (the tzaddik, Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira) who would come to the yeshiva for certain periods and reside there in a special room.
R’ Eidelman said about this privilege:
“He once came and spent a month. He asked for a sefer on kabbala and I brought him the sefer and he did not sleep all night; he sat on a low chair, nearly on the ground, and read it. In the morning, he returned it to me and thanked me. I saw how he learned all night long.”
SHLICHUS TO A FOREIGN LAND
R’ Eidelman married Gittel Gurkov in the summer of 1958. Shortly before the wedding he was told by the Rebbe to go on shlichus to Morocco after the wedding, in order to be involved in chinuch there.
A while later, R’ Eidelman went to the Rebbe and had yechidus in which the Rebbe gave him special instructions about the shlichus. R’ Eidelman told me an important detail from that yechidus:
“The Rebbe told me that the students of Oholei Yosef Yitzchok in Morocco are like the tmimim in Yeshivos Tomchei Tmimim except, for certain reasons, they are not called ‘tmimim’ and the yeshivos are not called ‘Tomchei Tmimim.’”
In one of my conversations with R’ Eidelman, I asked him how he wasn’t afraid to go on shlichus to a foreign place where they spoke a foreign language and had a different mentality, particularly when it was an Arab country. He said:
“If the Rebbe sends you, there is no reason to fear. Even when you are apprehensive, when you go to war you are not fearful, for that is what it says in the Torah. In Chassidus it explains that one can control the fear.” Simply, and without fanfare, he explained the whole thing and banished the issue from his heart.
Just three days after the end of sheva brachos, the young couple packed their few belongings and set out for distant Casablanca where they were welcomed by the shluchim, Rabbi Shlomo Matusof and Rabbi Nissan Pinson. R’ Eidelman was going to replace R’ Pinson who was getting ready to move to Tunisia to be the shliach there.
R’ Eidelman was appointed as spiritual administrator of the yeshiva which had hundreds of students. In the following years he also ran the learning programs for bachurim and adults in Casablanca.
R’ Eidelman did not limit his activities to raising the standards of Torah study but also worked to ensure proper mitzva observance, and did much to fix and develop mikvaos throughout Morocco. In places where there was no mikva, he worked to have new mikvaos built. In later years, he was the supreme halachic authority among the country’s rabbis and Jewish population.
R’ Eidelman was exceedingly humble and conducted himself with utter simplicity. This is why few knew of his Torah greatness. Those who got closer to him discovered that he was a genius in Torah who was proficient in many areas. It is sufficient to look at some of the areas he was involved in over his more than sixty years of shlichus: he taught Nigleh and Chassidus to thousands of talmidim, he taught how to write tefillin and mezuzos and how to manufacture the battim for tefillin. He taught and gave semicha for rabbanus and dayanus to hundreds of talmidim. He was also involved in mikvaos. One could easily conclude that his broad knowledge was thanks to his work on shlichus, but the truth is that already in his youth he was known as a talmid chacham and even a gaon, as his older sister, Rebbetzin Eshka Pevsner, related:
“Due to the war, when he was a youngster, I raised him. In the years that followed, I was happy to see that everyone realized that already as a young lad my younger brother was a great gaon.”
His brilliance served him well upon his arrival in Morocco as a young man, when he presented himself to the rabbanim of Morocco and they saw that here was well-rounded scholar of note. “R’ Sholom Eidelman became known among the locals as a young lamdan and they respect him accordingly. Also, within the yeshivos his worth is recognized,” reported R’Shlomo Matusof to the Rebbe about a year after R’ Eidelman arrived in Casablanca.
The extent to which he earned the respect of the rabbis of Morocco can be seen from the following episode. He once called Rabbi Sholom Mashash who served as rav of Morocco and rav of Yerushalayim and was known for his genius, and asked if he could visit. R’ Mashash, who was a true friend of Chabad in Morocco censured him, “Why are you calling? My house is open to you 24 hours a day. All is open for you; come whenever you want.”
Yeshivas Ohel Yosef Yitzchok flourished under R’ Eidelman’s leadership. The learning took place in three large buildings that were in different neighborhoods. R’ Eidelman would circulate between the buildings where he gave shiurim and supervised the talmidim. He also traveled to Meknes and Marrakesh to teach adults and youth.
R’ Eidelman told me about the yeshiva that he led for many years:
“We had hundreds of talmidim, more than twenty classes. During the height of the growth period, even twenty-six classes in three buildings. The classes were divided according to level and not age because the gap between talmidim was very large. Some barely knew Hebrew while others were learning sugyos in Gemara. Most of the talmidim came from Casablanca and they were all from religious homes.
“In the early years when most Jews were poor, the talmidim would walk from even far away in order to get to yeshiva. Eventually, the economy improved and the talmidim came with either public or private transportation.”
SALUTE AND FAREWELL
Last year there were a number of celebrations in Casablanca to mark sixty years of shlichus on the part of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Eidelman. They lasted for two days and were attended by leaders of the Jewish communities in Morocco and the Jewish community in Casablanca. It was a moving historic occasion which was attended by a delegation of distinguished Chabad Chassidim: rabbanim, shluchim, family, and former talmidim who came from around the world to salute the couple. I was there too.
R’ Eidelman was in an especially uplifted mood and at the farbrengens that lasted for hours he shared his memories from his work in Morocco and recounted instructions and guidance he received from the Rebbe.
The highlight was the main celebration that was arranged by the Jewish community and attended by hundreds of members and leaders of Jewish communities in Morocco along with dayanim, rabbanim and public figures. Despite the impetus for the event, R’ Eidelman asked several times of the organizer, Dr. Moshe Abergel, one of the distinguished members of the Chabad community in Paris, to emphasize that the event was to mark seventy years of the Rebbe’s leadership and seventy years of shlichus in Morocco. That was R’ Eidelman, modest and humble.
During those few days, I was witness to a number of “small” but great moments which testified to the great and refined personality of R’ Eidelman. It was when the delegations began coming, many groups from various places in the world. In the kollel under the leadership of R’ Eidelman, the davening was already over and the talmidim along with local Jews went out to eat breakfast before the start of the shiurim which were given as usual, by R’ Eidelman, as he had done for decades.
The commotion surrounding the event was great. There were frequent announcements about the arrival of delegations at the airport and R’ Eidelman sent instructions about how to bring them. He also spoke on the phone to arrange proper kosher meals/farbrengens for members of the delegation. In the midst of all the commotion, R’ Eidelman, with his characteristic modesty, opened a Gemara and lost himself in deep study. Even when he was occasionally disturbed due to the arrival of family and former talmidim whom he hadn’t seen in a long time and who came in his honor, he got back to his learning. I can still see it, in my mind’s eye, a Chassid over eighty years old, sitting and immersed in Gemara learning while the celebration was going on around him, as though it had nothing to do with him.
Where he lived, among the buildings of the mosdos, where he moved after a serious health scare, also demonstrated his modesty and simplicity. He did not consider wasting money on finding proper accommodations as befitting a longtime shliach. He made do with a narrow uncomfortable apartment. When I expressed my surprise to the Eidelmans, they said that they had whatever they needed to eat and sleep. “And anyway, our life is shlichus and not about the living conditions.”
How stark was the contrast when I left their apartment for the shul within the same complex. The shul is large and impressive, like a palace. There are beautiful, sparkling chandeliers and the walls are decorated with expensive wall-coverings. The floor is made of marble and has gorgeous carpets and the chairs are upholstered in the finest tradition. It was hard to tear my eyes away from the aron kodesh. All of this was built in recent years by R’ Eidelman. The same person who was able to build a magnificent shul also knew how to live in a small, old apartment, as long as it provided minimum accommodations for eating and sleeping.
It was truly wonderful to hear the observations of Rabbi Yaakov Bitton, one of the members of the delegation for the sixtieth celebration, who has served as a shliach for close to forty years as the Rebbe’s shliach in Sarcelles, France who stood nearby and said in amazement, “Here is where the dormitory was for the young talmidim who came from the distant villages. I still remember R’ Eidelman who taught them devotedly from the beginning, starting with alef-beis until he made them into bachurim, some of whom became rabbanim, shochtim, sofrim and even experts in the field of safrus; all the work of R’ Eidelman.”
The pain over R’ Eidelman’s passing was felt not only by his students and admirers in Morocco, but also by the thousands who were his talmidim and mekuravim for decades. It is painful to look back at the sixtieth celebration as a goodbye party, especially for those members of the delegation, some of whom saw him then for the last time.
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