(1895 - 1963)
Rav Aharon Kotler was one of the very few Torah
giants who contributed mightily to the transformation of the face of
American Jewry in the middle of the twentieth century from one of Torah
ignorance and mourning over the Holocaust
to significant progress in Torah knowledge and partial recovery from
the tragedy of the Holocaust. When he arrived in the United States in
April of 1941, while the fire of Nazism was raging in Europe, he addressed
an audience, For myself, I wouldnt have come. I have come
only to help save, with your assistance, American Yidden, the centuries-old
Torah centers of Europe.
He dedicated his life, night and day, to the building
of Torah in America and by leadership of an organization called Chinuch
Atzmai, Independent Torah Education, in Israel as
Known in his youth as the Svislovitzer Ilui,
the Torah prodigy from Svislovitz, his fame had spread throughout the
Torah world of Lithuania, and
he had risen to become the head of the Yeshiva of Kletsk. He considered
the Vilna Gaon, an eighteenth
century Torah genius of exceptional greatness, one of his spiritual
mentors. He saw in the case of the Gaon a genuine Divine revelation.
He became the son-in-law of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, another great
Talmid Chacham, and they had mutual respect to a high degree.
He chose Lakewood, New
Jersey, as the site for his new Yeshiva in America, because its
location, far from the distractions of New York City, would enable his
students to concentrate on their studies. The Yeshiva began very humbly;
Rabbi Ezra Novick, one of the earliest students, reports that when he
joined the Yeshiva, there were only three students. By the time Rav
Aharon passed away, there were hundreds of talmidim, and they were beginning
to have a major impact on Torah education in America.
One of Rav Aharons maxims was One should
imagine that his entire spiritual standing is literally dependent on
how he utilizes the present moment, for the time that comes afterwards
is a completely different entity.
He wrote, The great benefit that a Yeshiva brings
to Klal Yisrael, accrues to the entire nation, even to those
who have distanced themselves from the Torahs ways. For the Torah
and its scholars are the heart of the nation...
Rav Aharons efforts ultimately made a deep imprint
upon American Jewry. Many thousands received a solid Torah education
in or because of the Lakewood Yeshiva and its many branches during its
first fifty years.