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Welcoming the Dean of Kabbalah

Rav Auerbach spent the next two years traversing the continent at a pace and depth that would make Lewis and Clark gasp


Title: Welcoming the Dean of Kabbalah
Location: North America
Document: Assorted Newspaper Clippings
Time: 1931–1933


While Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach never came to America, his father, Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach, made a storied visit that was quite an adventure. On March 11, 1931, the illustrious, energetic co-founder of Yeshivas Shaar HaShamayim for the Study of Revealed and Concealed Torah (Kabbalah) alighted from a Greek steamer in New York Harbor. A waiting car hastened him to City Hall for a grand reception hosted by acting mayor Joseph McKee, where, in front of an adoring crowd of more than 1,000, he was presented with a symbolic key to the city.

Rav Auerbach spent the next two years traversing the continent at a pace and depth that would make Lewis and Clark gasp, stopping in remote Jewish outposts like Tampa, Florida; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Sioux City, Iowa, and countless places in between, reaching almost every state and several Canadian provinces. His depth, charisma, and idealism touched American audiences, who lovingly dubbed the small jovial rabbi “the Dean of Kabbalah.”

Jews of all types came out in droves to hear his lofty words. Keenly aware that although his audiences anticipated words of “mysticism,” few had the ability to comprehend it. So he often gave his speeches mystical titles, with the content generally devoted to Torah views on the issues of the day. His packed lecture at Denver’s B’nai Brith building was called “The Mystic Conception of the Human Soul”; his address in Rock Island, Illinois, was titled “The Cause of the World’s Depression and Its Remedy.”

He regularly spoke about the rise of Hitler, Prohibition, and the role of the Great Depression in returning lost Jews to their roots. Rav Chaim Leib urged his audiences to strengthen their observance and implored them to consider joining him in the burgeoning yishuv, where miracles were “occurring at a stunning pace.”

While Rav Chaim Leib saw success reaching his fellow Jews, his fundraising efforts did not manage to dent Shaar HaShamayim’s mammoth deficit. He returned to Palestine prior to Purim of 1933 with few monetary gains, but great spiritual conquests.

Mystical Founding:

One night Rav Auerbach awoke from a strange recurring dream. He decided to consult his friend, Rabbi Shimon Tzvi Horowitz. As he left his home, he was surprised to see Rav Horowitz approaching him. It turned out that Rav Horowitz had had the same dream: The Arizal had come to beg them to revive the study of his teachings, saying, “My Torah has the power to bring the Divine Presence back from its exile.”

Right then Rav Auerbach and Rav Horowitz resolved to open a yeshivah for the study of the Arizal’s Kabbalah, sharing responsibilities as joint roshei yeshivah, which they did, shortly afterwards in the Old City of Jerusalem. They made accommodations for a Talmud Torah, a yeshivah ketanah, a yeshivah gedolah, and a kollel for married students.

Rav Chaim Leib served as rosh yeshivah of Shaar HaShamayim from 1906 until his passing in 1954. His sons Rav Eliezer and later Rav Rafael inherited his position while Rav Shlomo Zalman served as the nasi. The current roshei yeshivah of Shaar HaShamayim are Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter and Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 862)


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