Living Legacy: Rav Menachem Mendel Hager of Visheve, zt”lAround Ta’anis Esther of the year 1936—a great tzaddik, a ga’on b’Torah, avodah, and chassidus who impacted thousands of talmidim in his relatively short lifetime, alighted the ship in the port of New York City.
His name was Harav Menachem Mendel Hager, the eldest son of the holy Ahavas Yisroel of Viznitz, who was known as the Vishiver Rav. He came here to spend six months in the glow of his illustrious father in law, Rav Mottele Chodrov, the Tolna-Viznitzer Rebbe who came here in 1922—and to the Torah families of America at that time—prior to the mass influx following the Holocaust, it was like a breath of fresh air, a special aura that he carried with him that was remembered for many decades later, and anecdotes from those precious few months are still passed down in family lore.
We mark his 81st yohrtzeit this Friday, 13 Teves
Born to Lead
The Ahavas Yisroel of Viznitz, zy”a, was known throughout Rumania as a unique leader whose piety and greatness in Torah was only outshone by his love for his fellow Jews—and it was this fusion that lifted the Yidden of Rumania during that terrible era between the two world wars, when the terrible suffering and displacement tore apart families, and tore Jewish souls away from their Father in Heaven.
His father was the Tzemach Tzaddik, Harav Menachem Mendel of Viznitz, who led his court in that town, and in the year 5645 (1885) his eldest son was born, and was named Menachem Mendel after his grandfather who had passed away earlier that year.
His sheer brilliance was seen early on in his childhood.
At the tender age of seventeen, he married the daughter of his uncle, Harav Mottele Chodorov, the Tolna-Visnitzer Rebbe. Reb Mottele was himself a scion of the Tolna-Chernobyler dynasty, and he married the daughter of the Imrei Baruch of Viznitz—hence his title. Thus, his daughter was a cousin to Menachem Mendel.
If there is any one personality strain to this wondrous man; a fearless leader, an absolute genius in Torah who could stand and orate with closed eyes for four hours at a time—in every area of Torah—and pious oved Hashem, it is probably his tremendous vision, and his refusal to give up on his dream of bringing true Torah scholarship to an area where it was yet undeveloped.
The Vishiver Rav came to an area that was virtually barren from Torah and chassidus, and built a world-class yeshivah where hundreds of bachurim toiled in Torah from morning till night—many putting in eighteen-hour days at their Gemaros. These graduates—those who weren’t annihilated during the Holocaust—went on to illuminate the postwar Torah Jewry.
An Everlasting Impact
About his visit to America, Rebbe Mottele of Viznitz (Monsey) said: “der fetter hot iberkekert America, our uncle turned over America.” And indeed, his visit made great waves.
This regal personality left an everlasting impact on the American landscape, and, cognizant of this mission—and keenly aware of the boost that American Jewry desperately needed at the time—he utilized the time to infuse them with chizuk, leaving an everlasting impact on those who were privileged to come in contact with him, and those encounters were related for decades to come.
The unforgettable Reb Moshe Sherer, the name that is synonymous with Agudas Yisroel, once related to a conference of Viznitzer and Vishiver talmidim, “I am also a Vishiver chassid, for it is by the virtue of hearing his fiery drashos of what Agudas Yisroel has accomplished in Rumania and Marmarosh that motivated me to become an Agudist to my core.”
Thus, his incredible influence—both in Europe as well as in America—continues to be felt to this day, an ongoing living legacy.