R' Chaim Friedlander's introduction to Kol Hator
The following is my translation of R’ Chaim Friedlander’s introduction to the book “Kol Hator.” R’ Chaim Friedlander was the Mashgiach in Ponevizh yeshiva in B’nei Brak, and was the publisher of many seforim, including many of the seforim of the Ramchal. R’ Friedlander also had a number of volumes of his own published posthumously by his children, and they are seeped with the Torah of the Ramchal, the Maharal, and his rebbe, R’ Elya Lopian.
Kol Hator, as you will soon see, is the book that describes the Geulah process in depth, and also focuses on the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef, which we have discussed many times here at length. It is important to understand the root of these teachings, and the quality of their validity, based on those who were the bearers of the traditions themselves. Keep in mind that this introduction was written a number of years ago by R’ Friedlander, who passed away in the mid-eighties. It is extremely interesting, and contains much biographical information that is probably not available anywhere else. It specifically speaks about the early history of the current Jewish settlement of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, which dates back to the early eighteen hundreds.
The book “Kol Hator” was originally released by Harav Shlomo Zalman Rivlin z’l twenty years ago in Jerusalem. The specific date is hard to figure out because the book was released in stages over a number of years for lack of funds. From the original version, it seems that only a few lone pieces remained in the possession of Rav Rivlin’s son as well as a few of his relatives. All of these are missing pieces at the end, because of the lack of funding and inability to complete their publication. The introduction of the original publisher was not included in the first printing. I found it in manuscript form in the hands of Mr. Shmuel Rivlin. I extend my gratitude to him, as well as the other sons of the publisher who gave us permission to include it in the new edition. In this introduction, no mention is made of the biography of its author, the Gaon Rebbi Hillel, son of Rebbi Binyomin of Shklov. Perhaps this was done because the book “Chazon Tzion” was specifically written about the life and times of the Rivlin family, and the Aliyah of the students of the Gr”a to the land of Israel. In any event, it would be a great lack in this exalted book if one will read it without knowing the greatness of its author. Therefore we decided to fill in this lack, and we have put together a short synopsis based on the material found in the book “Chazon Tzion,” which will give us an idea of his lifetime and the path he chose, lit by the light of his Torah.
The Gaon R’ Hillel of Shklov, author of the book “Kol Hator,” was born in the year 5518 (1758). His father, the Gaon Rebbi Binyomin Rivlin was a cousin of our teacher the Gr”a, and one of his primary students. Rebbi Binyomin was a spiritual individual and extremely active in causes for Torah and chessed. He donated his money to establish a great Yeshiva in Shklov, whose learning was patterned after the approach of the Gr”a, with the Gr”a’s approbation. Through Rebbe Binyomin’s influence, many of his wealthy friends moved themselves and their businesses to Shklov. His intent was to form a group of people to support the great center of Torah that he had established. During his lifetime the city merited to be called “Yavneh Dreizen” and Rebbi Binyomin was referred to as the “builder of the city Shlov and its wise ones.”
It is told that when Rebbi Binyomin was fifty two years old, he became extremely wealthy. At that time, he had a dream in which he saw a wonderful vision of Yerushalayim. Still strongly affected by this dream, he traveled to see his teacher the Gr”a, and told him the dream and about his great wealth. The Gr”a explained to him that the dream conveyed a mission from heaven that was given to him, and also to his son R’ Hillel. It was incumbent upon them to go up and live in Eretz Yisroel, and to begin broad-ranging activities to awaken the hearts of the Jewish people to return to Tzion. Rebbi Binyomin was very inspired by the Gr”a’s interpretation, which explained the dream as well as his wealth being for one purpose. When he returned to Shklov, he immediately began to work towards materializing his mission. We still have one of his sermons preserved from that time period, in which he speaks about the idea of the ingathering of the exiles, based on the verse in Yirmyah 31, “הנני מביא אותם מארץ צפון” – I am bringing them from a Northern land. According to Rebbi Binyomin, this verse teaches that from a Northern land – from Russia which is to the extreme North of Jerusalem, and more specifically from the city of Shklov – the inspiration will begin to return to Tzion and to rebuild Jerusalem. Through Rebbi Binyomin’s efforts, a movement began in Shklov to return to Tzion, a movement that the Gr”a called “Chazon Tzion.” Shklov merited that most of the first Olim to Eretz Yisroel came from it, and that it became an example in the eyes of the Jews dispersed in exile. Rebbi Binyomin himself left Shklov in 5572 (1812) headed for Eretz Yisroel, however, he did not reach his desired destination, as he passed away en route.
The author of the book “Kol Hator,” Rebbi Hillel, son of Rebbi Binyomin, also merited to be counted amongst the main students of our teacher the Gr”a. He studied under the Gr”a for seventeen years. In the year 5543 (1783), when the Gr”a saw that it was not Hashem’s intent for he himself to enter into Eretz Yisroel, he decided to give this heavenly mission into the hands of his student, Rebbi Hillel. This mission included activism toward the goal of the ingathering of exiles and inhabiting Eretz Yisroel. Thus, Rebbi Hillel was the person chosen by the Gr”a to be placed at the helm of the great “Chazon Tzion” movement. The Gr”a also taught him all the secrets of the beginnings of the Redemption process, and all the specific actions that would be necessary on the part of the Jewish people to bring about the complete redemption process. This Torah of the beginning of the Geulah that Rebbi Hillel received from the mouth of the Gr”a is one that is both broad and deep. This Torah was collated by Rebbi Hillel into a great and deep book, and the essence of that book is the book “Kol Hator” which we have in front of us.
Our teacher the Gr”a passed on to the next world in the year 5558 (1798). He died, but his Torah, the Torah of the beginnings of the Redemption, remained alive and well amongst his students. This Torah is what gave them the audacity to place themselves, at the very onset, squarely into the face of all the difficulties that awaited them on the long journey, and into the many dangers that might ambush them when they came to settle in what was then a completely desolate country. In the year 5569 (1808), the first wagons left Russia, headed for Eretz Yisroel. Eleven months of difficult journeying later, the first wagon reached Tzfat on the fifth of Elul, 5569 (1809). Fourteen of the students of the Gr”a stood at the forefront of the first wagons. In Cheshvan of the year 5572 (1811), seven of the Gr”a’s students, headed by Rebbi Hillel, came to set up residence in Jerusalem. When they arrived, they only found twenty Sefardic Jews, and nine Ashkenazic Jews. As soon as they arrived in Jerusalem, Rebbi Hillel and his friends set about the task of setting up the vital institutions that would form the basis of the Jewish settlement. They established institutions of Torah and chessed, improved on the standards of medicine, and set up a group that was responsible for protection. It was called the “Gavradia,” and without it, the settlement would not have lasted for even one moment. A supernatural sacrifice was required of Rebbi Hillel and his friends in handling the settlement under the adverse conditions of that period. Plagues, attackers, false accusations, lack of food and water, and difficulty of communication with the outside world were only the beginning of t
he issues these original settlers faced. If not for their unbelievable belief in their heavenly mission that was solely dependent on them, and the light of the Torah of the beginning of the redemption process that they had received from the mouth of the Gr”a, they would not have continued to subsist under their grueling conditions. When word of the success of Rebbi Hillel and some of the Olim to settle in Jerusalem made its way back to Russia, it was an inspiration to the Jews of Russia, and many decided to go up to Jerusalem.
Rebbi Moshe, the son of Rebbi Hillel, became known as an excellent orator when he was just fifteen years old. One time, his father brought him to Vilna to display his talents for the Gr”a. The Gaon praised the young Moshe and told him, “You should know that you should use this God-given talent in order to inspire people to return to Tzion. As our sages say about the verse ‘ציון היא דורש אין לה’ – it is Tzion, no one speaks of her – from the fact that the prophet laments that none speak of her, this implies that we must indeed do so.” He also added a hint, that the gematria of the words “דורש ציון” is the same as “משה בן הלל בן בנימין.” The words of the Gr”a left a deep impression on his young heart. With a fiery spirit, he followed the request of the Gr”a, and spent much time speaking about the desire for Tzion, to the point where he became known as “Rebbi Moshe the Doresh Tzion.”
The grandson of Rebbi Moshe the “Doresh Tzion” was Rebbi Yosef, who was nicknamed Rebbi Yosha Rivlin. Until his days, the activities in Jerusalem centered around settlement inside the walls, and improving the quality of life there. Rebbi Yosef was the first to begin building outside of the walls of Jerusalem. With a bold spirit, Rebbi Yosef girded himself to fulfill the command of the prophecy, “widen the place of your tents etc.” in the spirit of our teacher the Gr”a. The first thirteen communities outside the walls of Jerusalem were all built by Rebbi Yosef. He was involved in this commandment with great sacrifice. The first house he built was the foundation house of the ‘Nachlas Shiva’ community. in the month of Tammuz, 5629 (1869), this historic house was completed. In those days, the entire surrounding area of the old city of Jerusalem was completely desolate and barren, and the gates of the city were closed at nightfall. For two years and eight months, Rebbi Yosef lived alone in this house, paying no heed to the desolation that surrounded him. His intent was to inspire those who lived inside the old city walls to spread out and settle the surrounding area, to fulfill the desire of the Gr”a and his students to rebuild Jerusalem and widen its borders. Thus, in the year 5632 (1872), Rebbi Yosef’s efforts bore fruit, and in that year forty five houses were built next to his home, and over fifty families moved in. This was Rebbi Yosef’s way throughout his life. Every community he built, he was the ‘Nachshon’ who lived there first, until the community was established and others followed after him. Besides for the thirteen communities he established, which are an eternal testament to his memory, he also left behind many poems and essays. All his poems are based on the torah of the קץ המגולה – the revealed end that is included in the book “Kol Hator” whose main ideas are included both in his poems as well as his essays, many of which were published in the different pamphlets that came out in his time, like “Hamagid,” “Hatzefirah” and “Halevanon.”
Rebbi Yosef’s son, Harav Rebbi Shlomo Zalman Rivlin, was the original publisher of the book “Kol Hator,” as we mentioned, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for making sure that the wonderful Torah of the revealed קץ, of our teacher the Gr”a, was not lost.
If you are interested in reading an authentic English translation of the book Kol Hator, Click here. The translation was done by Rav Yechiel Bar Lev, who was a student of R’ Chaim Friedlander. He has approbations from Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, The Badatz Eidah Chareidis, Rav Avraham Shapiro, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, and Rav Mordechai Gross, which you can see on his website www.yedidnefesh.com.