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A Human Torah Scroll

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 1/8/2020

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A Human Torah Scroll

R’ Elchonon Wasserman would relate that, once, when the Netziv[1] (1816-1893) was carrying a Sefer Torah to the Bima, the Netziv slipped and fell along with the Sefer Torah. While everyone ran to pick up the Sefer Torah first, R’ Itzele of Volozhin[2] yelled that the Netziv must be picked up first because he is a living Sefer Torah.[3]


The Sefer Be’er Moshe tells of a story with the great R’ Dovid Deutsch[4] (1756-1831). He once came to the city of Pressburg late at night and didn’t have a place to lodge in. He therefore went to the Beis Midrash and rested on the floor. Early the next morning when the Chassam Sofer arrived and saw R’ Deutsch on the floor, he decreed a fast, saying that a Sefer Torah is on the floor![5]

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the Sefer, Fascinating Insights: Torah Perspectives On Unique Topics. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] נציב is an acronym for his name—נפתלי צבי יהודה ברלין. His first wife was the daughter of R’ Yitzchak of Volozhin (R’ Itzele), the son of R’ Chaim Volozhin. His second wife was his niece, a daughter of R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of the Aruch Hashulchan. A son from his first marriage, R’ Chaim Berlin, became the rabbi of Moscow. His son from his second marriage was R’ Meir Berlin (later Bar-Ilan). The Netziv led the yeshiva in Volozhin from 1854 to its closure in 1892. During the Netziv’s time in Volozhin, the yeshiva produced many greats, including R’ Issur Zalman Meltzer and R’ Zelig Bengis. His Sefarim include Ha'amek She'eila, Meishiv Davar (a collection of his responsa), Ha'amek Davar (a Torah commentary) and Meromei Sadeh. 

[2] R’ Chaim Volozhin headed the yeshiva in Volozhin until 1825. When R’ Chaim died, his son, R’ Yitzchak, who was called Reb Itzele, became the head of the yeshiva and the chief rabbi in Volozhin. R’ Itzele often took an active role in lobbying the Russian government on behalf of the Jewish people. 

[3] The Gemara says כמה טפשאי...ולא קיימי מגברא רבה, how foolish are those that they rise before a Sefer Torah but not before a great man—Torah sage (Makkos 22b).  

[4] He was a student of the Noda B’yehuda and became a Rav in several cities. 

[5] See Shu”t Chassam Sofer, Orach Chaim 124 where the Chassam Sofer gives R’ Dovid Deutsch a title of honor. In the Haskama for the sefer of R’ Dovid Deutsch, the Chassam Sofer wrote “that Tzadik, holy Jew, genius…I have seen in it [the sefer] wonderful things. We are privileged to merit his words and his light…His merit should protect us from all harm.” 

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