Monday, November 26, 2007

Rav Moshe Zvi Neriah - Hilloula this week!

His hilloula (Yarzeit) is this week, on Yud Tet Kislev! This is from

Rav Moshe Zvi Neriah, the son of Rav P’tahia and Rachel Menkin, was born on the 21st of Sh’vat 5673 (1913). As early as his youth he absorbed the fragrance of Torah, since his father served at the time as the Rav of the town of Krotchka, in White Russia. His mother Rachel, was an educated woman, fluent in several languages, and would assist the people of the town with her wisdom.

Rav P’tahia was a great scholar and was not only admired by the people of the town, but also by his son Moshe Zvi. After fulfilling his community obligations, Rav P’tahia would sit down with his son and learn Torah with him. These were both enchanting and wonderful hours that they spent together. When they finished learning for the day, Rav P’tahia would repeat to him over and over; “My son, no matter what, you must learn Torah until you are twenty, at least twenty, so that you are not an am haaretz, an ignoramus [literally, a person of the ground].

After having learned in a cheder until his Bar Mitzvah, Moshe Zvi traveled to Minsk to study in the grand Yeshiva there. His talents with regards to learning quickly became known and he was considered one of the best students in the Yeshiva. But Moshe Zvi didn’t make do with learning Torah in the Diaspora, the galut: his soul longed for Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land.

During the year 5690 (1930) he was notified that he would be allowed to immigrate to Eretz Israel, with a special visa granted to Yeshiva students. He immediately wrote a letter to Rav Kook, who lived in Jerusalem, requesting the visa, and added several Torah compositions of his own. Rav Kook was duly impressed by his work and not long afterwards he received an envelope from Palestine containing the visa and a ticket for the journey.

He arrived in Eretz Israel on 20 Tammuz, 5690 and immediately headed for Jerusalem. Where would he go? To Rav Kook’s home, of course. Rav Kook welcomed the youth with loving, open arms and accepted him into the Yeshiva. Years later Rav Neriah spoke of his years in the Yeshiva: “In Russia, one’s life was centered around one’s personal problems – how to properly observe Shabbat when surrounded by the profane, how to get Kosher food when only one shochet (ritual slaughterer) was available, etc. In the Rav’s Yeshiva I learned how to make community or national Judaism the central part of my life. I learned that each and every person is obligated to think of, worry about, and care for Am Israel, the People of Israel, to see himself as responsible for the People of Israel.

It was these feelings that inspired Moshe Zvi, known to his friends as Neriah, to join the Bnei Akiva Snif in Jerusalem, initially as a madrich, and a short time later to take over as the merakez of the snif. His ties with the snif remained strong throughout his life, and from the merakez of a single snif – he became the founder and establisher of many, many snifim, wrote songs and prose for Bnei Akiva [including the movement’s himnon (anthem)]. He organized many nation-wide activities, authored many activity handbooks for madrichim, and much, much more – to name just a few of his ceaseless efforts for the t’nua.

In 5699 (1939) during one of the many seminars held for the madrichim, Neriah came to the conclusion that without an educational institution of our own, there was no way to stem the erosion or drift of religious youth towards the non-religious lifestyle. But how does one go about establishing such an institution? This was not a task to intimidate Neriah: He took three lirot, and traveled to K’far Haroeh with thirteen other youths, their hearts brimming with excitement: “We are going to establish a Yeshiva!”

The yeshiva grew and prospered – and in time became the Yeshivat Bnei Akiva K’far Haroeh, forerunner of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot and Ulpanot [religious girls schools]. It also was the forerunner of tens of thousands of chanichim and chanichot, who have fulfilled in the past, and continue to do so today – the visions of Rav Neriah Z”L and of his teacher and mentor Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook Z”L.

How fortunate we are to be part of a generation that was zoche to have had Rav Neriah as one of its leaders.

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