Friday, March 11, 2016

A Tribute to Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, Author of Leshem Shevo v-Achloma: On his Ninetieth Yahrzeit

Seforim Blog    by Joey Rosenfeld

R. Shlomo Elyashiv (1841-1926) known as the Leshem after his vast body-of-work Leshem Shevo v-Achloma was a Lithuanian Kabbalist known for his adherence to the school of Kabbalat Ha-Gra.[10] Described as the fourth stage, or peh revieeh within the chain of talmidei ha-Gra, the Leshem formed a system in which the apparent contradictions between the Vilna Gaon and the Arizal were reconciled through a unique form of Kabbalistic analytics. R. Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen Kook, close friend and student of the Leshem described R. Elyashiv as applying Talmudic analytics (pilpul) onto the Lurianic corpus thereby clarifying and reconciling the various contradictions and textual ambiguities.[11] With an exhaustive knowledge of the gamut of Jewish esoterica- from the philosophic rationality of the rishonim to the complex intricacies of R. Chaim de La Rosa’s Torat Chachom[12]- the Leshem can be described as one of the most comprehensive as well as creative Kabbalistic thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century. Born in Zagory, a small city in northern Lithuania, R. Elyashiv was raised studying Talmud with his father R. Chaim Chaikl Elyashiv until leaving home to study under the tutelage of R. Gershon Tanchum of Minsk where he became known for his Talmudic expertise. After his marriage to the daughter of R. Dovid Fein the Leshem went on to study at the Telshe yeshiva where his intellect and vast memory earned him the appellation of Telsher illui. While in Telshe the Leshem was introduced to chochmat ha-nistar by his teacher R. Yosef Reissen who then served as the Rav of Telshe. While learning in Telshe, R. Elyashiv became familiar with the fundamental texts of Jewish mysticism, learning the Pardes Rimonim of R. Moshe Cordevero as well as the Vilna Gaon’s commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah, Safra D’Tzniyuta and the Tikkunei Zohar. Only afterwards did the Leshem begin studying the system of the Arizal and it’s commentaries. R. Aryeh Levin who served as R. Elyashiv’s assistant after the latter’s move to Jerusalem includes within the curriculum the texts of R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato as well; however the distinctive relationship between R. Shlomo Elyashiv and the Ramchal’s school of Lurianic mysticism will be discussed below. After leaving Telshe, the Leshem settled in Shavel, Lithuania where he began to write what would become his vast oeuvre known as Leshem Shevo v-Achloma. In 1922, through the help of Rav Avraham Isaac haKohen Kook and Rav Yitzhak haLevi Herzog,[13] R. Shlomo Elyashiv moved to Jerusalem with his family where he eventually passed away on the 27th of Adar in 1926. While never accepting upon himself any form of communal leadership, the Leshem became known as the preeminent scholar of Kabbalah, through his written works, glosses, vast reaching editorial skills and the various rabbinic personalities with whom he studied and taught.[14] [...]

R. Moshe Shapiro: The Popularization of Leshem Shevo v-Achloma

This phenomenon in which the texts of the Leshem undergo the “occasional deletion of a passage so as not to include matters of concealment (nistarot)”[61] for the sake of making them “equal to every searching ben-torah” has taken place primarily within the school of R. Moshe Shapiro and his students. Viewed by many within the Haredi world as the preeminent baal-machshava, R. Shapiro is purported to see in the Leshem- who he describes as “a giant, discordant with the nature of our lowly generation, sent to enlighten our eyes and enable us to grasp a miniscule taste of the depths of torah”[62]- a paradigm of authentic hashkafat ha-torah. In a letter reprinted in Shaarei Leshem[63] at the behest of the Leshem’s grandson R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, R. Shapiro explains the rational for publishing a collection of texts taken out of context as follows:

            “Many have been asking and searching, who will give us faithful waters to drink from the well of living water, the seforim of our master (the Leshem) that were given over closed (chatumim), and they are yearning to find an opening, one that does not engage the depth of the sugyot in the Zohar and writings of the Arizal. And it is known that many of the drushim open gates in the knowledge of God, the fundamentals of faith and yearning for redemption that each Jew is commanded to know, and in our generation in which the wicked ones surround us and things are “cheapened in the eyes of men” and anything that stands at the height of the world is cheapened and lowered to the dust, it appears to be a “time to act for God” (ait laasot la-Hashem), to open an opening for the masses to the enlightened writings that cleanse the eyes and heal the spirit, that they may swim in them so that knowledge be spread; and I know personally how wondrous the affect these writings have on those who learn them, and even on those who taste from the edge of their sweetness, their eyes shall be enlightened.”

R. Shapiro’s logic is clear, due to the spiritual dereliction of the generation two difficulties arise in learning Leshem Shevo v-Achloma properly. The first is practical in the sense that many have expressed interest in the philosophical aspects of the Leshem’s system without a prior knowledge of the Kabbalistic subject matter. Secondly, the spiritual climate in which the holy is “cheapened in the eyes of men” demands a paradoxical transgressive act for the sake of upholding the law, an “ait laasot la-Hashem.” By utilizing the rabbinic notion of ait laasot R. Shapiro enables himself to support the simplification of the Leshem’s work while simultaneously maintaining the non-ideality of such an undertaking. R. Shapiro’s ambivalence between the ideal sanctity of Leshem Shevo v-Achloma as a unique contribution to the Lurianic system and the real inability of many within the Haredi yeshiva world to grasp the complex subject matter is relieved through the utilization of ait laasot, a temporary disavowal in which the laws governing the revelation of Kabbalistic texts are held in abeyance. [...]

R. Moshe Schatz: Leshem Shevo v-Achloma as Foundational Text

Within the Hasidic world of contemporary Kabbalah study, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern - rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Torat Chochom - has consistently incorporated the works of the Leshem into his dynamic synthesis wherein the works of the Arizal, Rashash, Baal Shem tov and Gra are grafted together creating new constellations of thinkers who coalesce in a textual matrix described as “secret of secrets” (razin di-razin)[65]. It is R. Morgenstern’s teacher however, who serves as a significant scholar of Leshem Shevo v-Achloma. R. Moshe Schatz- born and raised in Brooklyn- sits in his cramped study in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul teaching the Leshem’s system to a wide range of students, many of whom have studied the Lurianic system extensively only to reach a point of confusion. In a process akin to Derridian deconstruction, R. Schatz leads his students through a process of deliberate unlearning in which the previously held assumptions regarding the Lurianic system are shed.[66] Once the student has moved beyond the preconceived notions that have compounded their confusion, R. Schatz begins to slowly work from the bottom up, elucidating and clarifying the fundamental ideas that the Kabbalistic system is built upon. For R. Schatz the Lurianic system - as refracted through the teachings of Rashash - is a complex structure in which specific concepts undergo a process of repetition through reconfiguration. Utilizing the Lurianic depiction of Partzufim, the works of the Arizal, Rashash, Baal Shem Tov, and the Vilna Gaon coalesce into a unified whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Building a gestalt of sod, R. Schatz simultaneously reveals the unity that rests beneath the disparate manifestations of Kabbalah throughout history as he removes the commonly held assumptions of machloket that have marked the interpretive approaches of many scholars.  [...]

R. Meir Triebitz: The Leshem as Authentic Mitnaged

Another current teacher of Leshem Shevo v-Achloma within the Haredi yeshiva world is R. Meir Triebitz who serves as a maggid shiur at Yeshivat Machon Shlomo, a baal-teshuva institute in Jerusalem. R. Triebitz, who also serves as a posek for his community, completed his dissertation in mathematical physics at Princeton University before moving to Jerusalem to teach. Aside from the Talmudic course he teaches, R. Triebitz delivers classes on Leshem Shevo v-Achloma: Hakdamot u-Shearim as well as pertinent source materials from the Leshem’s writings. R. Triebitz’s approach is noteworthy in that he maintains that the Leshem’s system is one in which the Kabbalistic system is purified from any pantheistic and acosmic notions. As an adherent to the Vilna Gaon’s interpretation of Kabbalah, R. Triebitz views the Leshem as the last authentic Mitnagdic thinker, fighting both the Hasidic predilection towards pantheism as well as R. Chaim Volozhiner’s revisionism of the Gra’s radical materialism. In supporting his thesis, R. Triebitz highlights the Leshem’s usage of Maimonides’s Guide as well as his literalist approach to the Lurianic system as signifying his attempt to bridge the widening gap separating mysticism and rationality. Of note is R. Triebitz’s usage of philosophical texts- from Kant to Kripke – in an effort to contextualize the evolution of Kabbalistic theology. [...]


  1. In R. Triebitz's shiurim on the Kabbalistic system of the GRA and the Leshem, it may be true that the GRA and the Leshem are arguing with the Chassidic Kabbalists such as the Baal HaTanya on certain issues.

    However I don't recall R. Triebitz referring to either of the GRA or Leshem as "Mitnagdim", which is a derogatory term, nor do I believe he referred to their Kabbalistic system as "radical materialism".

    R. Triebitz may have characterized the Kabbalah of the GRA and Leshem as a type of "rationalist" Kabbalistic system whose concepts derive from or are consistent with the Rambam's concepts in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed). The concepts in Moreh Nevuchim reject Hashem's "immanence" in this Universe, but this should not be classified as "radical materialism".

  2. Could somebody explain to the little guy what kabala is about? What question is it trying to address? In other words, one could not teach chemistry to a six-year-old. But one could tell him what it is about. I.e., the subject which tells us what things are made out of, and how we can make new, useful products by combining existing ingredients. Such products may include new medicines, fertilizers, fuels, plastics and many other useful materials.

    Thanks in advance for any help.

  3. I rewrote this question on the Seforim Blog, and received some answers there. May want to take a look.

  4. Did you know you can shorten your long links with LinkShrink and make cash from every visitor to your short links.


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