Thousands of people from Bnei Brak and beyond filled the streets near the beis medrash of Rav Landau z’l, before the funeral set out. It was at this time, after the recitation of a few chapters of Tehillim, that Rabbi Chaim Yitzchok Isaac, his son, was appointed the new rav of Bnei Brak.
Rabbi Landau spoke of the prophetic words of the Rebbe Rashab that were said at the end of the winter of 5680. At that time, typhus ravaged certain areas of Russia, cutting down thousands of men and women, young and old. Rostov, where the Rebbe lived, was also stricken with typhus.
It was at that time that one of the great Chassidim visited Rostov and was stricken with typhus. Having no relatives or acquaintances there, Rabbi Yaakov Landau z’l, known as the “rav of the courtyard” (meaning the Rebbe himself and his family) had to take care of him. This was because R’ Yaakov with his many talents had acquired medical knowledge and he devoted himself to caring for this Chassid.
One of the main difficulties was obtaining medication. Russia had just been through the Bolshevik Revolution. Business was conducted on the black market and medicines were not reliable. R’ Landau, who made every effort to heal the Chassid, did his own research among the doctors and picked up the basic methods of making medicinal compounds and he prepared the medication himself. Unfortunately, he too became sick.
The month of Nissan was approaching and the Rebbe Rashab asked him, as the family rav to check out a new invention, an electric grain mill for wheat.
Friday morning of parashas Vayakhel-Pikudei, R’ Yaakov went to the Rebbe who asked him about the new machine. R’ Landau said he did not feel well, he had no strength, and he had not yet checked it out.
“At this time, everyone feels unwell,” said the Rebbe briefly. The bitter truth was the Rebbe was also sick with typhus.
Since R’ Landau served as the Torah reader in the beis medrash of the Rebbe Rashab, the Rebbe found someone to replace him to read the double parshiyos and parashas Parah. It turned out that R’ Landau felt strong enough and he read from the Torah as usual.
After the davening, the Rebbe asked him again about the machine and concluded with a cryptic remark, “The word ‘tzav’ indicates speed, immediately and for generations to come.” R’ Landau did not understand this but not long afterward, the words were understood to be parting words from the Rebbe.
His grandson, R’ Yitzchok Isaac, the new rav of Bnei Brak, says:
“Over fifty years later, in 5744, I had the privilege of being one of the people in charge of baking the Rebbe’s matzos. Those responsible for the matzos brought them to the Rebbe’s room. That year, the others were afraid to enter the Rebbe’s room and so I went in alone.
“On that rare occasion, I saw how the Rebbe was mafrish challa. He first placed the boxes of matza in a row near the window. As far as the boxes that did not fit in the row, the Rebbe opened them and took out the packages of matzos and then lay the packages on the rows of boxes near the window. He covered them all with a paper and then did the hafrashas challa.
“When I entered his room with the matzos under the Rebbe’s watchful eyes, I got goosebumps. I suddenly remembered the story of my grandfather and the job the Rebbe Rashab had given him. Here I was, his grandson, the third generation, fulfilling the ‘command’ of ‘generations!’
“This week, when I was appointed the successor of my father and grandfather a’h, I was reminded of this again and felt the full impact of the far-reaching words that the Rebbe Rashab told my grandfather, ‘immediately and for generations.’”
This story provides a rare glimpse into the workings of history and the connection between three generations of Chabad leaders and three generations of rabbonim.
THE FOCAL POINT OF CHABAD CHINUCH
Rabbi Chaim Yitzchok Isaac was born on 6 Adar 5721/1961 in Bnei Brak. His parents were R’ Moshe Yehuda Leib z’l and his mother Mrs. Miriam Landau.
He attended the Chabad elementary school in Bnei Brak and then the Litvishe Ohr Yisrael yeshiva in Petach Tikva. For yeshiva gedola he attended Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad.
He spoke about the inner changes he went through when he switched to Tomchei Tmimim:
“I remember myself as a 17 year old. I had grown up in a home where there were certain established practices. My grandfather, R’ Yaakov, had all sorts of customs that he adhered to, so this is how we did things without asking questions. When I went to yeshiva, I suddenly saw and heard that in certain matters the Rebbe did otherwise. Time passed and I also changed and adapted to the conduct of the Rebbe.
“When I went home for an ‘off’ Shabbos, they began asking me, ‘Why are you doing that? Until today, you grew up here and you saw what your grandfather did; why are you doing differently?’ I said the Rebbe does differently. They would say, ‘But your grandfather was a member of the Rebbe Rashab’s household and all his practices surely came from there; they are Chabad practices.’ I said: That is precisely the chinuch that I got from him; it is exactly what I am doing – carrying out the practices of the Rebbe. So yes, I made changes and I do differently but for precisely the same reason, to do as the Rebbe does.”
R’ Isaac Landau derived a practical chinuch lesson for parents nowadays:
“I was an adolescent, and youth need to express their rebelliousness, but I did so in the context of that focal point of chinuch, utter bittul to the Rebbe. This is the chinuch that we received and on this we based the chinuch of our children. If we start making changes and pick and choose from the Rebbe’s teachings what is comfortable for us, then that is precisely what our children will do, and they in turn will do whatever they want with what the Rebbe says.”
LEADER TO HIS STUDENTS
While learning in Kfar Chabad, he was one of the outstanding bachurim. That is why the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Katz, wanted him to go on shlichus to the new yeshiva that was founded in Migdal Ha’Emek. This new yeshiva was started by Rabbi Grossman as part of his Migdal Ohr institutions. R’ Landau spent about a year on this Torah-shlichus.
He related about his learning in Kfar Chabad:
“R’ Mendel Futerfas was the mashpia. The Rebbe had announced mivtza chinuch and R’ Mendel always spoke about it. R’ Mendel explained that mivtza chinuch is educating ourselves; chinuch begins with ourselves. I remember that R’ Mendel would demand in an emotion laden tone, ‘ Mivtza chinuch! The Rebbe wants each of us to educate himself!’”
R’ Landau went on Kevutza to 770 in 5741. At the end of that year, he returned to Eretz Yisrael and was a bachur-shliach in the Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas. Like his father, he also began teaching before he married, and his outstanding talents became readily apparent.
After completing his studies and earning semicha, he married the daughter of R’ Moshe Betzalel Vekselstein. They settled in Kiryat Chabad in Tzfas.
With the opening of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim Letzeirim (high school age boys) in Tzfas, which was started by the shliach, Rabbi Leibel Kaplan, R’ Landau served as rosh yeshiva until the yeshiva closed. Those were the early days in developing his approach to the issuance of halachic rulings and his approach to chinuch.
He later candidly said, “It’s not an easy age. I put in days and nights during those years in yeshiva. There were times that I felt I no longer had the strength and I wanted to stop. I wanted to tell the founder R’ Kaplan that I no longer had the strength and I want a different job. What stopped me was the fact that the Rebbe said Moshiach is about to come. I felt it wasn’t right to give up this important job in Tomchei Tmimim when it was very likely that Moshiach would come right afterward. Then I would eat my heart out for fleeing the front lines a moment before the end. So I continued working and handling the difficulties.”
Some time later, he was appointed as maggid shiur beis in the Chabad yeshiva gedola in Tzfas and remained there until 5774 when he switched to giving shiurim to shiur gimmel. His method of teaching combines depth as well as explanations appropriate for young students. He would also provided summaries that clarified the shiur.
Between 5765 and 5769 he was a member of the hanhala of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim Ohr Yehuda and gave shiurim in Nigleh.
Although he taught them Nigleh, he also influenced them with his deeply rooted Chassidic spirit when he farbrenged with the bachurim and demanded that they increase their learning of Nigleh and Chassidus, strengthen their “bein adam la’chaveiro,” improve their Chassidishe conduct and hiskashrus to the Rebbe.
R’ Landau not only taught but was a fatherly figure to many students. They say that sometimes he could be seen in the dormitory as he personally came to check on sick bachurim and help them, as though he wasn’t one of the honored roshei yeshiva. “He did this often and each time, in the most natural, simple manner,” talmidim told me.
When farbrenging with bachurim, he would weave his demands to increase in learning and in proper behavior with the belief in the coming of Moshiach. “Every addition that a student makes, needs to be connected with hastening the Geula,” he said. This topic was alive and palpable for him; it wasn’t just lip service.
Not surprisingly, he spoke with bachurim in yeshiva who were kohanim to set a time to learn the halachos that pertain to kohanim in the time of the Mikdash. He wanted them to be ready.
“When speaking about learning inyanei Moshiach and Geula,” R’ Landau explained, “it’s not just about learning things that explain the topic of Geula but also learning it to apply to oneself. Just like we learn the laws of Pesach in advance so we know what to do on Pesach, so too, the learning of inyanei Geula is to know what to do when Moshiach comes. That means learning halachos that pertain to the era of Geula like the laws of purity and impurity which we will need to be careful with and also the laws of korbanos.”
R’ Landau is a mashpia for many students of the yeshiva who find him to be warm and a good listener; with life smarts and a broad view anchored in halacha, while also being mellow and understanding.
LEADER IN HIS COMMUNITY
R’ Landau is an imposing figure and not just physically. In his official position, he served as a teacher of Nigleh in the yeshiva gedola but he was far more than that. The fact that he is a Chassid, son of a Chassid, grandson of a Chassid, endowed with much Chassidic insight, is why many have sought to benefit from his Chassidic influence. Additionally, he has a pleasant manner and is an oheiv Yisrael. R’ Landau is admired in the Chabad community in Tzfas and in Chabad in Eretz Yisrael as a whole. This is also the reason why, without his wanting it, he became one of the leading figures of the Chabad community in Tzfas. Many people consult with him on various topics such as shalom bayis, medical matters as well as halachic questions.
“R’ Landau is an ‘urim v’tumim’ for dozens of families,” says Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Zalmanov, a veteran of the Chabad community in Tzfas. “He is patient with everyone. He is not only tremendously knowledgeable in halachos and minhagim but is also gifted with a rare ability to give shiurim in a captivating way. Even hard to understand topics as well as hard to apply issues are conveyed by him in a way that everyone can relate.”
Living in this northern Chabad enclave, he began serving as a rav and posek. His prodigious knowledge of halacha together with his practical approach that he learned from his father, have earned him a reputation throughout the north. He did shimush with his father for years in matters of halacha and in kashrus.
“Throughout the years, R’ Landau has been very much a part of the social fabric,” says the gabbai of the central shul in Tzfas, R’ Aharon Shiffman “A rav and mashpia who is also a people person, who speaks from a level position with everyone. He is always available for questions that people have and he patiently answers all questioners.
“He also gives shiurim in the community and lately took over for the mashpia Rabbi Orenstein by giving shiurim in Likutei Torah before shacharis on Shabbos.”
Very recently, someone came into shul on a Friday night in a turmoil. He had, without realizing it, placed food on the hotplate a few minutes after Shabbos had begun and now he didn’t know what to do. He asked R’ Landau who asked exactly when the pots had been placed and said the food could be eaten “for according to the Alter Rebbe, you have another four minutes until sunset.” R’ Landau took the opportunity to point out the need to finish all preparations well before Shabbos begins.
R’ Landau is also known as an excellent speaker, especially on the topic of chinuch. His farbrengens with young married men have become legend, and he has helped many of them establish their homes based on Torah, halacha, and Chassidus as he directs them on their new path, each according to his abilities.
One of his pet topics is investing in the family. For example, he often says that on Shabbosos when there are farbrengens, the farbrengens in shul are not allowed to be at the expense of the family. On the contrary, it is a preparation for the family farbrengen that everyone should have at home.
“I had the privilege of becoming a mekurav to the great light of Torah and Chassidus,” recounted one of the baalei teshuva in the community to Beis Moshiach. “During my years of learning in yeshiva, I filled in many gaps in Nigleh, Chassidus and halacha. After I married, we settled in Tzfas. I had no role model for how to run a Chassidishe home. My wife and I began with knowledge out of a book but without a person to emulate.
“Over a period of a number of years, the rav attended to us with devotion, sensitivity and understanding and guided us on the path of Torah, halacha and Chassidus. Whenever I found it necessary, he was available and fully attentive to all of my questions and internal debates, not only as relates to halacha and proper conduct but to general family issues as well. I think that the city of Bnei Brak is fortunate to have merited a rav that is not only great from a halachic and leadership perspective, but also from a humanitarian perspective.”
HIS FATHER’S RIGHT HAND MAN
In recent years, R’ Landau was appointed by his father to run the prestigious kashrus organization, lauded around the world for its exactitude and high standards. His father relied on him completely and said to those close to him on several occasions that his son is a “bar samcha” (someone to be relied upon). Over time, R’ Isaac became his father’s right hand in all areas of kashrus, and matters affecting the religious character of the city.
In an interview with him, R’ Landau said that over the years his father gradually transferred more of the administration of the agency to him:
“Many years ago, my father assigned me various kashrus missions in factories in the north of the country. I would deal with them after a full day of teaching in yeshiva.
“A few years ago, due to his health, my father found it hard to continue running the hechsher and he handed off the entire responsibility to me. Along with visits to factories, I would meet with him often for guidance and advice, in both the halachic and practical aspects.
R’ Landau was unwilling to share details of his father’s will, saying it was meant for the family members. The only thing he would say is that his father expressed his desire for R’ Isaac to take over after him.
Said R’ Landau, “The announcement by the mayor was first cleared with us and the greatest of the Rabbonim and Admorim so that it was with the consent of all gedolei Yisrael.
“I believe that as a result of the process being carried out in a way of open communication and agreement, this will lead to peace and unity. The public yearns for unity.
“This desire for unity, as well as the desire to collaborate with mutual respect, will help us to join forces in the field of kashrus, so that there is one kashrus system in place for the Chassidim and the Litvishe. Obviously, this process will take time, but since there is trust between the sides, it will happen, with Hashem’s help.
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