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Wednesday May 9, 2012 1:11 AM - Leave a CommentRav Yechezkel Landau, the Rav of Prague, was known by the name of his sefer Noda B’Yehuda. During his time he was the source par excellence to whom people turned for practical advice, and even until today his name shines like a star in the firmament of Judaism.
The son of Rabbi Yehuda Levi, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau was born on Heshvan 18, 5474 (1713) in Opatow, Poland.
Up to the age of 13, he studied Torah with Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi of Ludmir, as well as with the Rav of the city, Rabbi Moshe Yaakov of Krakow, who greatly liked this young boy with a sharp mind. Together they discussed difficult problems posed by the Gemara.
At the age of 14, he went to the town of Brody and there he studied with very devoted young men. At the age of 18, he married a girl by the name Liebe, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakovka of Dubno, and went to live with his father-in-law there. Yet after a short time, he persuaded his father-in-law to come live in Brody, which was then a town filled with sages and scholars. There he was welcomed as one of the “Sages of Kloiz,” a famous Beit Midrash that included great Torah scholars.
In 5506 (1745), Rabbi Yechezkel became the Rav of Jampol. He stayed there for six years, and then he was called upon to be the Rav of Prague. There he directed a great yeshiva that attracted so many students that he was forced to study with them in the yard of the main synagogue. He gave courses in Gemara each day, and on Friday he taught the parsha of the week along with Rashi’s commentary. He loved his students like a father loves his children, and he was very happy to see them succeed. Among his students were such great rabbis as Rabbi Avraham Danzig (author of Chayei Adam) and others.
Rabbi Yechezkel had a fixed rule that, be it in Torah study or in his approach to Mussar, the main thing was not abstract study but action. It was not the discussion that counted, but the final conclusion. This is why he often comes back, in his responsum and lectures, to the point that the essential thing is not to deny oneself or fast, but to perform good deeds. On the other hand he wrote, “The main thing is diligence in study. One must study Torah works that have true meaning, mishnayot with Tosaphot Yom Tom, the Gemara, the Poskim, the Chumash, the Prophets, and the Writings, as well as books on Mussar.”
All this, however, applied to others. With his own person, he was very strict and denied himself. His disciple Rabbi Eliezer Fleckles testifies that to his old age, he did not sleep in a bed, but rather with his head on a bed and his body on some chairs. He also wore a coarse haircloth on his body, and he taught while standing. From the 17th of Tammuz until the beginning of Av, he ate no animal products, and from Rosh Chodesh Av to Tisha B’Av, he only ate dry bread.
Like a shepherd faithful to his flock, Rabbi Yechezkel also devoted himself to the needs of the community. He enacted decrees, dealt with government ministers and emperors, and built up institutions that promoted tzeddakah and chesed. All aspects of Jewish life progressed in accord with his decisions.
Rabbi Yechezkel died on Iyar 17, 5553 (1793) in Prague. He ordered that neither praises nor orations be multiplied at his funeral, that a large headstone not be placed on his grave, and that no glorious titles be inscribed on it. He left numerous works behind, including Noda B’Yehuda, Hatzlacha (Tzion L’Nefesh Chaya) on the Talmud, Ahavat Tzion, and Dagul Mei’Revavah.
Many legends surround Rabbi Yechezkel’s brilliant character, and these illustrate both his intelligence and sharpness of mind. What follows are some examples:
(1) One day, a merchant carrying wine barrels was traveling from Hungary to his home in Prague. While on route, he encountered a poor Jew from his hometown and gave him a ride in his carriage. The poor man owned a sack filled with money, and since he was afraid of thieves, he hid it among the barrels. Upon arriving in Prague, however, he could not find his money. He therefore accused the merchant of having stolen it, then ran in tears to see Rabbi Yechezkel and cried out to him, “Save me Rabbi!” Rabbi Yechezkel had the merchant brought to him, but he denied everything that the poor man had said, and furthermore he complained that the poor man had paid him back evil for good, since he had helped him out by giving him a ride home. Hence Rabbi Yechezkel resorted to a ruse and said to the merchant, “I believe you - you did not steal the money. Surely it was your driver who stole it. However if that is the case, your wine has become forbidden to drink, for the hand of your non-Jewish driver has touched it.” When the merchant heard this decision, he acknowledged his sin and admitted that he had stolen the poor man’s money. However the Rav was not satisfied with this, and he said to him, “Since you began by denying this with all your might, I will not believe you until you swear in synagogue, before the entire community, that you stole this poor man’s money.” The merchant did what Rabbi Yechezkel said, and only then did he allow the merchant’s wine to be sold.
(2) Two Torah greats of Israel came to see the Rav of Prague concerning the mitzvah of redeeming prisoners. “How much money do you need?” Rabbi Yechezkel asked them. They replied, “1,000 gold coins.” The Rav went into his room and brought them 990 gold coins. Looking at the amount, they said in astonishment: “Why did the Rav not add 10 more gold coins in order for the mitzvah to belong to him?” Rabbi Yechezkel replied, “I’m surprised that two great rabbis such as yourselves would ask such a question! Have you forgotten the explicit words of the Mishnah: ‘One who wishes to give but that others should not - he looks grudgingly toward others’ [Perkei Avoth 5:13]. I too must allow others to participate in this mitzvah.”
Rabbi Yechezkel was also marvelously clever in matters of everyday life, and he knew how to act with the most diverse types of people.
(3) Two rich men once came to see him for an unusual Din Torah. What happened was that these two men lived in the same building and were good neighbors. One day, a poor musician came and stood at the door of the building and began to play some music. The two rich men began to argue, each one saying: “He’s playing for me!” That’s when they decided to go see the Rav. First of all, each of them deposited 20 gold coins to cover the costs of the proceedings. At that point the Rav began to hear their strange arguments, and then he smiled and said to them: “It was not for any of you that the musician played, but for me - so that I could merit 40 gold coins.”
(4) A man came to see Rabbi Yechezkel to recount his troubles to him. “What can I do for you?” he asked. The man replied, “In my house, people are constantly coming and going, and this bothers me and prevents me from studying.” Rabbi Yechezkel said to him, “Let me give you some good advice. If those who come to you are rich, ask them to lend you some money - you won’t see them again. And if they are poor, lend them some money - you won’t see them again either.”
THE NODA B'YEHUDA
This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey NY. and is reprinted here with their permissionBy D. Sofer
One evening the Noda B'Yehuda, Rav Yechezkel Halevi Landau, was walking to shul when he noticed a young, non-Jewish peddler sobbing uncontrollably. Rav Landau stopped at the peddler's stand and asked what was wrong.
The boy explained that his stepmother had sent him to Prague's market to sell bagels, and she had threatened to whip him if he didn't return home with a large sum of money. Although he had sold many bagels, he had lost all his money and was frightened to go home empty-handed.
"How much money did you lose?" Rav Yechezkel asked the boy. "Fifty gulden," he replied, his eyes overflowing with tears.
Rav Yechezkel reached into his pocket and gave the boy 50 gulden. He then took the boy to his own home and gave him a hot meal.
To Rav Yechezkel, who was renowned for his kindness, this act was nothing out of the ordinary, and he did not give it a second thought. But it left an indelible impression on the gentile boy.
Many years later, a non-Jewish man visited Rav Yechezkel before Pesach. He told Rav Yechezkel that Prague's gentiles had devised a plot to murder the Jews. The local bakers were planning to poison the bread the Jews bought from them each year right after Pesach.
Rav Yechezkel was shocked when he heard of the plan - and even more surprised that the gentile man had shared it with him.
"Who are you?" Rav Yechezkel asked, "and why have you told me all this?" The man reminded Rav Yechezkel of how he had given 50 gulden to a peddler boy years earlier.
"I am that boy," he said, "I want to repay you for saving my life." At the same time, however, the man begged Rav Yechezkel not to do anything that might implicate him as the one who had divulged the secret. How did he know about it? The plot had been hatched by none other than his stepmother and the local priest.
Rav Yechezkel thanked the man for sharing the secret and guaranteed him that he would not endanger his life. After the man left, Rav Yechezkel sat deep in thought. Soon he had devised a brilliant plan that would enable him to save the local Jewish community without implicating the young man.
On Chol Hamoed, Rav Yechezkel summoned the entire community to shul. He explained that the date of Rosh Chodesh had mistakenly been calculated incorrectly and that they would have to celebrate Pesach for an additional day.
When the last day of Pesach had come and gone, the gentile bakers waited expectantly for the local Jews to purchase their bread. But one hour passed, then two, and it soon became obvious that they weren't going to have any Jewish customers that day.
It wasn't long before the bakers learned of Rav Yechezkel's decree. Angry that their plan had been foiled, they reported Rav Yechezkel to the local police, charging that he had denied them of their livelihood.
The police began to question Rav Yechezkel, but the questions came to an abrupt halt when Rav Yechezkel said, "Before accusing me, let's see if their bread is edible."
Rav Yechezkel took a piece of bread and gave it to a dog, who immediately keeled over and died. The case against Rav Yechezkel was, of course, dropped, and Prague's Jews were saved.
This was just one of the many instances in which Rav Yechezkel used his extraordinary wit and intelligence to foil the plots of rabid anti-Semites and save his fellow Jews from catastrophe.
Rav Yechezkel Landau was born in the city of Apt on 5 Cheshvan, 5474. His father, Rav Yehuda, was a leading figure in Apt and a great talmid chachim. His mother, Chaya, was the daughter of Rav Eliezer, the av beis din of Dubno.
Until the age of 12, Yechezkel studied with Rav Yitzchak Isaac of Ludmir. Afterward, he studied on his own in the city's beis medrash. When he was 18, he married Leeba, the daughter of the wealthy Rav Yaakov of Dubno.
After their wedding, Rav Yechezkel continued to devote himself to his Torah studies, returning home only on Shabbos. His wife never complained about being alone during the week, and she was proud of her husband's achievements.
In his monumental Noda b'Yehuda, Rav Yechezkel later praised his wife for her dedication: "My wife is my helpmate. Due to her efforts, I was able to remain in the beis medrash the entire week."
While Rav Yechezkel was in Dubno, a controversy involving Rav Yonason Eibeshitz raged throughout Europe's Jewish communities. During this period, many women died in childbirth. One time, Rav Yonason gave a pregnant woman an amulet and, as a result, she had an easy birth. News of this incident spread quickly, and numerous people who needed yeshuos approached Rav Yonason for amulets.
Many, however, were upset by this practice, especially since the Jewish community was still recovering from the dire consequences of the false Shabsai Tzvi.
One of Shabsai Tzvi's most avid opponents was the Chacham Tzvi. The Chacham Tzvi's son, Rav Yaakov Emden, feared that Rav Yonason's amulets were connected to a belief in Shabsai Tzvi.
Rav Yonason, of course, denied that this was the case. He even published a sefer explaining that the amulets were based on kabbala, and had no connection to the Shabsai Tzvi movement, which he also firmly opposed. This argument, however, continued to rage, and it threatened to divide entire communities and to undermine the unity of the Klal Yisroel.
Rav Yechezkel was determined to terminate this argument. In a letter that he called Iggeres Hashalom, he praised Rav Eibeshitz highly, calling him a tzaddik whose intentions were good and whose behavior was totally impeccable.
But he added that since the masses misconstrue the meaning and implications of the amulets, the amulets should be placed in the geniza and their writing forbidden.
Rav Yechezkel circulated this letter throughout the Diaspora. Other letters on this issue appear in his seforim Aspaklaria Hameira and Luchos Eidus. Rav Yechezkel's letter was highly effective, and the argument slowly subsided.
After this incident, Rav Yechezkel gained wide acclaim as an outstanding peacemaker and arbitrator.
In time, Rav Yechezkel's father-in-law moved from Dubno to Brody, and Rav Yechezkel joined him there. After living in Brody for a number of years, he was asked to serve as rav of Yampala, Ukraine.
Not long afterward, he was appointed to the position of rav of Prague. Rav Yechezkel's predecessor as rav of Prague was Rav Dovid Oppenheim. A period of some 20 years separated their tenures because of the political circumstances that prevailed in Prague at that time.
During that period, Austria was ruled by Empress Maria Theresa, who had inherited the throne from her father. Even though she was Austria's rightful ruler, many of Europe's emperors sought to conquer large areas of her kingdom. Her prime enemy was the Prussian emperor, who waged war against her and wreaked havoc on Austria.
Austria's Jews were accused of being fifth columnists who provided the enemy with secret information and funds. As a result, Prague's Jews were banished from the city. After much effort on the part of various elements, they were permitted to return to their homes, but were still heavily fined and oppressed.
Under such difficult circumstances, Prague's Jews were unable to focus on selecting a new rav for their city. But once their financial situation improved, they went about the task of finding a rav. They were very impressed with Rav Yechezkel's efforts to bring an end to the controversy surrounding Rav Yonason Eibeshitz and his amulets, and they decided to appoint him to the position.
A contingent of rabbanim was dispatched to Rav Yechezkel with his writ of appointment. At first, he refused their offer, claiming that he wasn't worthy of such a prestigious position. Eventually, however, he accepted it. Rav Yechezkel was welcomed to Prague with a gala reception. There were, some members of the community who felt that Rav Yechezkel - who was a relatively young man at the time - was not an appropriate choice for the position because of his age. At first, these residents tried to undermine his authority as rav. In the end, however, they recognized his greatness and made peace with him.
RAISING THE PRESTIGE OF PRAGUE'S JEWS
During Rav Yechezkel's first two years as rav of Prague, its Jewish community flourished. But then the Seven Years War - which would wreak havoc on Austria, and particularly on Prague - erupted.
Rav Yechezkel's students and close associates advised him to flee the city, but he refused to abandon his flock at this critical time. It was during this period that his remarkable leadership qualities came to the fore. He conducted his communal affairs in a manner that not only aided his fellow Jews, but also raised their esteem in the empress' eyes.
Sensing that certain elements sought to exploit the wartime circumstances and the political situation to libel the Jews, Rav Yechezkel strongly urged his community to display its loyalty to the empress.
He published a special Prayer for the Welfare of the Royal House, which he circulated among the country's Jews. A while after this prayer was distributed, he summoned Prague's Jews to the Altneu shul and declared that anyone who dared to undermine the empress, assist the enemy, or enter the enemy camp on business, would be excommunicated.
Empress Maria Theresa was very grateful to Rav Yechezkel for these efforts and, as a result, changed her attitude toward her Jewish subjects. After the war, she visited Prague, where she was welcomed at a gala reception. Rav Yechezkel greeted her with the blessing reserved for royalty and high-ranking ministers: "She'chalak mi'kvodo le'vasar ve'dam," "Who has conferred some of His honor on mortals."
RAV AND TALMID
Rav Yechezkel founded a yeshiva in Prague, and he regarded Torah dissemination in his yeshiva as his primary goal in life. Many of his letters reflect his devotion to this aim.
In one letter, to a person who consulted him, he wrote: "I am very busy now with my students, especially since it is the beginning of the zman.
Therefore, I beg you to forgive me for having delayed my response to you." He was very fond of his students, and he maintained close contact with them for many years after they had left his yeshiva. In one letter to a former student, he wrote, "I received your letter and am very pleased to see that my expectations of you have been realized, and that my efforts on your behalf have borne fruit."
To another student, Rav Yoel Brusker, he said, "May you be able to devote yourself solely to Torah study without having to accept any rabbinical positions." This blessing did, in fact, materialize.
As rav of Prague, Rav Yechezkel also enacted a number of important amendments that had a profound influence on the lifestyle of his community. These amendments were geared to limiting expenditures, especially at simchas. Among them were limits on the amount of guests one may invite to a wedding, and the type of food that may be served at a kiddush. He also abolished certain customs that he felt negated halacha.
His Talmud Rabbi Eliezer Fleckles wrote in his sefer on the behavior of the Noda B'yehuda. "Never did Chaztos of night pass, until he was in his old age, that he didn't arise to mourn the churban Beis Hamikdosh and Galus Hashchinah.
In the summer and winter he would arise with dawn and embrace the day and night with Torah and davening. During the day, he would teach four groups of talmidim, in different mesechtos and various chalakim of Shulchan Aruch. On Yom Kippur, from evening to evening, he didn't move from his place, didn't rest, didn't sit, and didn't sleep. He only begged, davened, and cried.
Until his old age, he did not sleep in a bed. He would learn and teach his talmidim while standing and he did not even sit down while davening.
UP IN FLAMES
In 5533, a fire broke out that destroyed Rav Yechezkel's entire house, as well as his many manuscripts. After this incident, he decided to dedicate himself to publishing his works in a systematic manner.
In 5537, he published his monumental work Noda b'Yehuda, which includes sheilos u'teshuvos on all four parts of the Shulchan Aruch. He called the work Noda b'Yehuda to indicate that his greatness was not is own, but was to the credit of his father, Rav Yehuda Landau.
He distributed his seforim to talmidei chachamim for free, and gave the remainder to seforim dealers on the condition that they sell them at a set price and never raise that price. The Noda b'Yehuda soon gained wide acclaim for its profundity.
In 5543, he began to publish the Tzlach, a pirush on Shas. However, illness prevented him from completing it. Among his other works were Doresh Tziyon, Ahavas Tziyon and Dagul mi'Reveva.
Though the Noda B'Yehuda was not a chassid, he was highly respected by many Chassidic Rebbes including the Baal HaTanya and the Sanzer Rav. The Chassidim relate that the Baal Shem Tov went to the Noda B'Yehuda to be serve him because the Baal Shem Tov said he wanted to be m'shamesh a Talmud Chochom. He once commented that the Noda B'Yehuda was holding up a good part of the world.
In the sefer Ohr P'nei Yitzchok, it is written that the Chidushei Harim recounted that on Leil Pesach when the Noda B'Yehuda opened the door and said Shfoch Chamoscha, he would accompany Eliyahu Hanavi on all the steps to his house. The Chidushei Harim added that he didn't know whether the Noda B'Yehuda saw Eliyahu Hanavi, but his emunah was so great that Eliyahu Hanavi visited every Jewish home during the Seder that he would accompany him. Concludes the P'nei Yitzchok that emunah like this is greater than the revelation of Eliyahu Hanovi.
Rav Yechezkel was niftar on 17 Iyar, 5543. Jews from all over the region came to Prague to attend his levaya. In his will, he requested that only a simple monument be erected over his grave, and that no praises be inscribed on it.
Rav Yechezkel was one of Klal Yisroel's most illustrious and brilliant leaders. Today, his legacy lives on in his remarkable works.