Thursday, January 7, 2021

Yahrtzeit of HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig zt"l

Via Nachal Novea Mekor Chochmah:

The loss is still too fresh for Breslev Tsfat and anyone who was blessed to come into contact with the great Rav and Tzaddik, HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zt"l, who passed away exactly two years ago in the Holy City of Tsfat.

Fulfilling his father's directive, he accomplished so much during his life on behalf of Tsfat, Judaism, and Klal Yisrael. So many were touched and impacted by his presence, his endless blessings, prayers, tikkunim and miracles.

On any given day, there was usually a line of various types of people outside his door, waiting patiently for their turn to enter. During times like chol hamoed, or aseret yamei teshuva, a crowd would be packed into the small courtyard outside his front door. At times, it would overflow down the long steps into the courtyard below. Many were local Tsfat residents, some in his community, others not. Among the visitors, there were those who had heard of Rav Elazar and traveled great distances to see him. In some cases, they brought along a Hebrew or Yiddish-speaking translator. From the most secular to the most religious, many grasped a pidyon hanefesh in their hands—a small note with their Hebrew names and prayer requests, along with a sum for tzedaka.

Entering his modest home, visitors were struck by its simplicity and atmosphere of tachlis—getting down to the business at hand, whatever it was at the moment. This is because in Rav Elazar’s home, as well as anywhere else you may encounter him, he existed within the fullness of the moment.

Once in his receiving chamber, one might have expected more fanfare, more of an act, more ceremony. But there was none. Simply gazing into his eyes and taking in his voice, he would disarm you immediately with his straightforward manner. His communication was so real, without a trace of affectation. Perhaps the most startling aspect of the interaction is that he would listen in a way rarely experienced in today's technology-filled world. His quiet focused presence charged the air with electricity, all the while exuding profound yishuv hadaat, a settled and tranquil mind.

He might have asked a few introductory questions or just said, “What do you have to say today?” After listening intently, he would give solid advice and encouragement, inevitably ending with, "We'll remember you in our prayers." Sometimes these meetings are a mere few minutes, other times they would stretch to an hour or more, but the experience was always subtle yet transformative.

His dedication to every Jew was legendary. For example, families from the Tsfat community with children in tow, could wait alongside two secular Israeli business partners who made a special trip from Tel Aviv to receive advice on a business venture (and not their first visit). There were newly-religious young seminary women who would come in, one after another, with a translator, "What does HaShem want me to do in life?" they would ask. And this was the question which always brought a wide smile to Rav Elazar’s face and he would answer each one according to their unique circumstances.

Roshei Yeshiva from top yeshivas in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak would arrive in a special taxi to plead with Rav Elazar to send some of the famous “Tsfat bachurim” to their Yeshiva Gedola. The Tsfat bachurim were those students of the Yeshiva Ketana founded by Rav Elazar and which rapidly gained a reputation its sharp, sweet talmidim with the special "Tsfat derech eretz." Rav Elazar would say to them, “I will give you a few of my best, on the condition that you also take ‘Plony,’ who struggles in learning and comes from a broken home.” When the Rosh Yeshiva agreed, the deal would be sealed. There were also the many various public officials and heads of institutions in Tsfat and throughout the country, who would come for his advice and blessing. He received everyone, leaving them all with a renewed sense of direction and clarity.

Until his miraculous lung transplant in 2006 in New York, he was completely given over to anyone who came to his door or called him at any hour both in Tsfat and when he waited in Monsey for a new lung. In the period leading up to the procedure, he felt it was indeed the end, being dependent upon canisters of oxygen 24 hours a day. In the final moments before he received the call from the hospital that a donor had been located, he was unable to breathe, even with an oxygen mask. He thought that someone had accidentally turn off the oxygen flow, when in actuality, his one working lung was beginning to fail. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance seconds after the timely call. The extraordinary details of his experience would fill volumes with tales of wondrous and inspiring emunah. After his miraculous recovery, he repeatedly said, "I am now only here for Am Yisrael." One wondered what exactly had changed from his previous devotion to bring every Jew closer to HaShem.

HaRav Elazar was only a young man of 35 years when he was thrust into the mantle of leadership of the Tsfat community upon the sudden passing of his father, the great tzaddik and gaon, Reb Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zt"l. Reb Gedaliah was 59 years old when he left the world in 1980. Accompanied by his sons to the airport for a flight to England on what would be his final journey, Reb Gedaliah reportedly indicated to Rav Elazar that he should take over the fledgling Tsfat community. His sons were puzzled to hear such a disturbing instruction, but understood in the coming days its significance when word reached them that their father had returned his pure soul during a public address in Manchester on behalf of the holy city of Tsfat. His body was flown back to Eretz Yisrael and buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Rav Elazar not only continued the work of his father but caused the materialization of a vision which many saw back then as impossible and unattainable. Today, any visitor to Tsfat can experience an exquisite Shabbat in a way unattainable anywhere else in the world, in the same city where L’Cha Dodi was composed along with the entire Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy used throughout the Jewish world. The intrinsic sanctity of the Holy City of Tsfat has come to life again.

On this day, we profoundly miss HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zt"l, yet are confident that he continues to daven for us on high and that his merit protects us all. Zecher tzaddik l'vrocha.

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