Living Legacy: Rav Eliyohu Chaim Meisel, zt”l, Upon his 110th Yohrtzeit
By: Yehuda Alter
Pesach Sheini marks the 110th yohrtzeit of the famed and legendary Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, zt”l, who led the great city of Lodz - the second largest city in Poland after Warsaw - with great wisdom and compassion. In addition to his brilliance in every area of Torah, he was a compassionate father to the downtrodden, the widows and orphans of Lodz, and assisted many poor and needy, as the volumes that have been written about his generosity alone attest.
He was born in Horodok, near Volozyn, in the year 5581 (1820). He was named for the Vilna Ga’on and his prize talmid, Rav Chaim Valozyner. At the tender age of thirteen, he received semicha from Rav Yaakov of Karlin, author of Mishkenos Yaakov and shortly thereafter became his son-in-law. Soon, he was summoned to assume the rabbonus of his hometown of Horodok.
In 1877, he was called to the great city of Lodz—beginning a golden era of leadership—and here he would serve as its leader for thirty-five years, until his passing.
Reb Benzion Eisenstadt was a biographer who lived in Brownsville, writing volumes upon volumes of biographical sketches of great Jewish figures. He wrote about the chessed of Rav Meisel: “This great ga’on and tzaddik is one of the remaining great people who worries for the good of his people. and who are moser nefesh for his brothers who are poor and downtrodden. He is pious in all his ways, and there is no limit to the wholeness of his soul. As in his youth, so too now in his old age, he exerts himself to assist the needy.”
He founded a great Jewish hospital, in response to the epidemics that were affecting the people, and photos thereof are featured here. The story went as follows. In Lodz, there was a Yid by the name of Kalman Poznansky, and Rav Eliyahu Chaim enlisted him to help pay the rent of this new hospital. The gentile proprietor wanted 1200 rubles per year, but Reb Kalman wanted to give only 700. Rav Eliyahu Chaim quietly told the owner that he would supply the remaining 500 rubles on top of what Poznansky would give... an astronomical sum that Rav Eliyahu Chaim expended each and every year for years.
His student, Rav Chaim Yecheskel Moseson, lived in America, and wrote about him following his passing. “The world speaks of his great kindness, but it was always Torah above all. He founded a Talmud Torah, a campus of three buildings. He instituted that the boys would learn the entire Torah and Rashi before Gemara... and was a fierce leader in all areas of operating the mosdos hachinuch... when I took leave of him before coming to America, he asked me to apprise him of the state of Torah in America.”
Rav Meisel was revered by all gedolim of his generation, who saw in him a great leader of the generation. He was niftar on Pesach Sheni of 1912.
In the moving photos featured here, we see the great funeral that passed through the streets of Lodz at the time of his passing in 1912, and of the great grief felt by the tens of thousands who mourned him.