Living Legacy: Rav Zelig Reuven Bengis, Rov of Eidah Hacharedis

Living Legacy: Rav Zelig Reuven Bengis, Rov of Eidah Hacharedis

Yehudah Alter 

The second day of Shavuos, the seventh of Sivan marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Bengis, a ga’on and tzaddik who was the leader of the Eidah Hacharedis in Yerushalayim. 

He was born to his father, Rav Tzvi Hirsh and his mother Sheina, on 11 Sivan 1864 in the town of Shnipishok, Lithuania. 

As a bachur, he enrolled in the Volozyner Yeshiva. Given his brilliance and his familiarity in all areas of Torah, he soon joined the ranks of the other luminaries of Volozyn, such as Rav Shimon Shkop, Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, and others—and became a prize talmid of the Netziv of Volozyn and Rav Chaim Solovetchik, who was then a Rosh Yeshiva there. 

He married Esther Osna, the daughter of Rav Chaim Tzvi, the Rov of Shvekshne, who sought to inquire about the caliber of the young man. He write to the chief Rabbi of Vilnai, none other than Rav Yaakov Yosef, later Rav Hakollel of New York, asking him whether he knew the bachur Zelig Reuven. 

He wrote in return, “in my opinion, he will yet be one of the great men of the generation. I would also inform you that many great Rabbonim of Vilna wanted him as a son-in-law.” 

After receiving semicha from a number of these aforementioned ge’onim, he accepted the rabbonus of a small town near Grodno, and later Kalwaria. But his heart pined for Eretz Yisroel, and in 1938, fulfilled the dream of moving there. 

He was appointed head of Eidah Hacharedis, and of Yeshiva Ohel Moshe. 

In addition to his brilliance, he was a tremendous shakdan, one who toiled greatly in Torah. He would constantly be completing Shas, and would deliver complex discourses on Shas—tying one end into the other. It is said that his seforim, l’flogos Reuven, are also built on this style, complex and very deep. 

His successor as Rov of Yerushalayim, the Minchas Yitzchok, explained that his style in learning was too difficult for many in the generation. “Many who were unaccustomed to his derech in learning were prevented from properly understanding his intentions,” he wrote. 

In Yerushalayim, he was the address for anyone in need of advice or counsel, for all types of people, from all denominations. He would sit and learn all day in his humble apartment in Yerushalayim of old, and anyone could knock on his door and be received with a smile and endless patience. 

Rav Shloime Zalman Aurbach and Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv were his most prominent talmidim, who transmitted his teachings to the later generations. 

Rav Elyashiv related that his last encounter with Rav Bengis surrounded Torah, of course. “I came to the home, and Rav Zelig Reuven was laying on his deathbed, oblivious to all around him. Suddenly, he said, ‘I’m unsure whether I’m still alive. What did they debate in Beis Din today,? Thus began an in-depth Torah discussion with sources from all parts of Torah being offered. And then Rav Bengis said, now I know that I must still be alive!” 

A short while later, his neshomoh ascended to the World of Truth. He was interred on Har Hamenuchos, one of the very first prominent rabbonim to be buried there, which paved the way for many prestigious rabbonim who later joined this great leader in Klal Yisroel. 

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