The collected, and posthumously published, works of renowned rabbis often provide deep insights into the rabbis personal philosophies. An excellent example of one such work is Michtav May’Eliyahu,* (A Letter from Eliyahu), one of the most popular “Mussar” volumes today, expounding on Jewish thought and ethical conduct.
So who was Eliyahu?
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler was born in Lithuania in 1892. At 13, he was sent to study at the Yeshiva of Kelm, and, with the exception of World War I, he remained in Kelm until it became necessary to escape from the Bolsheviks. Four years later, he accepted a rabbinic pulpit at the “Ein Yaakov Shul” in the East End of London.
During World War II, while Rabbi Dessler was safe in London, his immediate family was far away. His wife and daughter were trapped in Poland where they had gone to visit his son, who was studying at a Lithuanian Yeshiva. Throughout the entire period of the war, Rabbi Dessler did not know the fate of his family. Luckily, his wife and daughter had been able to escape to Australia. His son made it safely to America (via Shanghai).
In 1941, Rabbi Dessler was invited to help establish a new kollel (an educational institute with paid Torah scholars) in the Gateshead Jewish community, just outside of Newcastle, England. The new kollel was created to absorb the scholars who had escaped the European conflagration. They were to be trained to serve as Jewish leaders for the future. It remains a renowned institute of Torah study to this day.
By the time Rabbi Dessler was reunited with his wife, the Gateshead Kollel was on solid ground and the Desslers felt free to accept a new position at the Ponevezh Yeshiva in B’nei Brak, Israel. And while Rabbi Dessler remained connected to Gateshead, traveling back to England frequently, his health slowly began to deteriorate. He passed away from heart disease on 24 Tevet, 1953.
*In English, this publication is known as Strive For Truth.
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