-- Chapter from The Rosh Yeshivah Remembers -- Disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter: Rav Nachum Zev Ziv of Kelm Chapter from The Rosh Yeshivah Remembers -- Disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter: Rav Nachum Zev Ziv of Kelm
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  Chapter 20 from
The Rosh Yeshivah Remembers

By Rabbi Asher Bergman 

Other Available Chapters
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Disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter: Rav Nachum Zev Ziv of Kelm

  • Father of Orphans

The Rosh Yeshivahrelates that when Rav Nachum Zev Ziv, the son of the Alter of Kelm, was on his deathbed, he called his three unmarried daughters and told them:

“I want you to know that the fact that I’m leaving you as unmarried orphans does not cause me even the slightest concern, and it should not cause you any concern either. You are simply leaving my custody, the custody of flesh and blood, and entering into Hashem’s direct care. Thus I did not call you here in order to console you, but rather to discuss several matters concerning the yeshivah which will require your attention.”

  • When Excessive Mourning Is Permitted

The Rosh Yeshivahheard the following story from a former student, who was an eyewitness to the incident. Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshivah, once went to visit Rav Nachum Zev Ziv, the son of the Alter of Kelm. Although this visit took place long after Rav Nachum Zev’s brother-in-law, Rav Zvi Hirsch Broide, had passed away, Rav Yerucham found Rav Nachum Zev still mourning the loss. Rav Yerucham expressed his surprise, since the Torah forbids excessive mourning.

Rav Nachum Zev answered: “Chazal did indeed say, ‘Three days for crying and seven for mourning.’ From then on Hashem says, “You are no more merciful than I am!” (Moed Katan 27b). This refers, however, only to mourning over the situation of the departed. That is what Hashem means when He says we are no more merciful than He. But I am crying for myself and for the Torah world which has lost such a towering figure. The more time that passes since his death the deeper I feel loss, and the more I cry. Such crying is permitted, since I’m crying for myself and my loss.”

A parable illustrates this same point. A rich man once decided to take a poor family under his protection. He gave them in abundance everything they had previously lacked: food, clothing, and so much money that they were even able to put some aside for emergencies. One day the benefactor passed away, and needless to say his adopted family mourned his loss bitterly. When the last of their food ran out and they had to dip into their savings, their mourning grew even greater. And when they finally exhausted their savings, they felt his loss even more intensely. Every time they felt the pinch of poverty, their sadness over the loss of their benefactor grew. The rule of “three days for crying and seven for mourning” obviously does not apply in such a situation, and they cannot be accused of excessive mourning.

Similarly, when the Talmudic sage Rabbi Eliezer passed away, Rabbi Akiva tore his flesh so violently that blood streamed to the ground. Yet this was not considered a violation of the prohibition against cutting one’s flesh as a gesture of mourning (Vayikra 19:28). Rabbi Akiva’s grief was not for Rabbi Eliezer himself, but for the Torah that had been lost to the world with his passing. As Rabbi Akiva himself said, “I have many coins, but no money changer with whom to exchange them” (Sanhedrin 68a; Tosafos on Yevamos 13b).

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