Rav Dovid Soloveitchik lived in a world where the only reality was spiritual. The last living son of the Brisker Rav, his petirah marks the end of a glorious era in the dynasty’s history
n the yeshiva world, the word “Brisk” is uttered with reverence. It conjures up images of batei medrash pulsating with activity, erudite scholars steeped in solemnity, scintillating and rigorous analyses, and uncompromising dedication to the truth of Torah.
If Brisk is a kingdom, then it has several royal palaces—the yeshivos dotting the heart of Yerushalayim—and a royal family that presides over those bastions of Torah. The members of the Soloveitchik family hail from a long line of gedolim who pioneered and perennially honed its famed approach to Talmudic analysis. There was Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the rav of Brisk, and his son Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, the author of the groundbreaking Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim Halevi on the Rambam—a slim black volume of analytical essays that is one of the most fundamental texts studied in every yeshiva. Rav Chaim passed away in 1918 and was succeeded as the rav of Brisk by his son Rav Yitzchak Zev, otherwise known as the Brisker Rav. This weekend, a glorious era in the dynasty’s history came to a close with the passing of Rav Meshullam Dovid Soloveitchik, the last living son of the Brisker Rav, at the age of 99.
Rav Meshullam Dovid Soloveitchik was the fifth of the twelve children of Rav Yitzchak Zev and Rebbetzin Alte Hindel Soloveitchik. Born in Brisk in the early 1920s, Rav Dovid grew up under the vigilant eye of his father, who took a firm and meticulous approach to his children’s chinuch.
Rav Dovid was still a young bachur when the onset of the Second World War turned his own world upside-down. Years later, he remembered an Erev Shabbos in the summer when the sky suddenly filled with German planes. Rav Dovid hurried to a small local shul, where he recited the entire sefer Tehillim with great emotion. He attested years later that it was the most fervent recitation of Tehillim that he experienced in his life. Two weeks later, the Germans occupied Brisk and the Soloveitchik family fled.
In the aftermath of the German invasion, the family was torn asunder. The Brisker Rav managed to escape to Vilna along with four of his sons: Rav Yosef Dov, Rav Chaim, Rav Raphael, and Rav Meshullam Dovid. Several months later, three more children managed to evade the Nazis’ clutches and join them: Rav Meir Soloveitchik and his two sisters, the future Rebbetzins Lifsha Feinstein and Rivka Schiff. Tragically, the rebbetzin and her three remaining children (two other children had passed away years earlier) were not destined to reunite with their family; they remained trapped in Brisk and were murdered by the Nazis. The Brisker Rav and his surviving children ultimately made their way to Eretz Yisrael, where he became one of the foremost spiritual leaders of the generation and established his own yeshiva.
The Brisker Rav’s eldest son, Rav Yosef Dov (Berel) Soloveitchik, took over the leadership of the Brisk yeshiva in Geulah after his father’s passing, while Rav Meshullam Dovid and Rav Meir Soloveitchik went on to open prestigious yeshivos of their own. After Rav Berel’s passing, his own eldest son, Rav Avraham Yehoshua, took the helm of the original yeshiva of Brisk.
Rav Dovid’s memories of the town of Brisk remained crystal clear even in his old age. Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller, the acclaimed biographer of the Brisker dynasty, once traveled to Belarus in an effort to save part of the Jewish cemetery from demolition. Before his trip, he met with Rav Dovid Soloveittchik to ask if the rosh yeshiva remembered anything about the grave of the Bais Halevi, his great grandfather. To Rabbi Meller’s surprise, Rav Dovid dictated a series of flawless, detailed directions to the grave—nearly eight decades after his departure from Brisk.
Rav Dovid Soloveitchik was suffused with the reverence for his forebears that typifies the members of the Brisker dynasty. Every word of a Brisker gadol was a treasure, every anecdote priceless. When Rabbi Meller was preparing his multivolume biography of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, he discovered that he had enough stories about Rav Chaim’s acts of chessed alone to fill a separate volume. Nevertheless, he was concerned that dedicating an entire volume to that subject would detract from the image of Rav Chaim as a master Torah scholar that he was seeking to develop. Rav Dovid Solovetichik, however, had a different view. “Every story that isn’t published is a shame,” he asserted.
Today, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik’s yeshiva is located in the Gush Shmonim neighborhood in Yerushalayim. While he was raising funds for the building’s construction, Rav Dovid conveyed a powerful lesson to the members of his kollel. One day, he announced to the avreichim that they were to blame for the fact that the building hadn’t yet been erected.
Flabbergasted, the avreichim stared at their rosh yeshiva. They lived on shoestring budgets, emulating Rav Dovid’s example of profound frugality and mesirus nefesh for the sake of Torah learning. None of them were in a position to help sponsor the construction of a yeshiva building.
But Rav Dovid quickly explained his intent. “I don’t expect money from you,” he said, “but why aren’t you davening for me?”
Rav Dovid Soloveitchik lived in a world where the only reality was spiritual. As far as he was concerned, if the construction was delayed, it wasn’t a lack of funds that was to blame; it was a lack of prayer.
For decades, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik taught his students rigorous adherence to the traditions of Brisk, faithfully transmitting the legacy of his illustrious forebears. And now that silence has fallen in the apartment on Rechov Eli Hakohen where he received innumerable visitors and conducted countless Torah discussions, the sounds of his ceaseless Torah learning will continue to resonate in the yeshiva shel maalah.
A full length tribute to Rav Dovid zatzal will appear in the upcoming edition of Mishpacha, on newsstands February 3, 2021
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