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Return to Sender

Eliyahu Ackerman

After fleeing Brisk, an influx of letters from home became Rav Moshe Soloveitchik’s lifeline and subsequent private treasure… until they disappeared. Decades later, have they resurfaced?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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GREAT FRIENDS On safer shores, preserving Brisker Torah in Montreaux. From left, Aharon Leib Steinman and Leibel Glickson, Rav Chaim Brisker’s grandson; Moshe Soloveitchik is third from right (Photos: Amir Levy, Shimon Yosef Meller & Mishpacha Archives)

J erusalem, 5776/2016

A feeling of excitement, somewhat tempered with disbelief, filled Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller as he examined a yellowing document brought to him by a Judaica dealer. The crowded, careful handwriting seemed extremely familiar.

As someone who has examined countless letters from gedolim of previous generations, Rabbi Meller can often identify the origins of a letter by the handwriting alone, but in this case, the content of the letter provided an additional clue: it included a complex discourse by Rav Chaim HaLevi Soloveitchik of Brisk, which appears in its entirety in Chiddushei HaGrach (Hilchos Yibum V’chalitzah) — but with a conclusion different from the one printed in the sefer.

It was the name of the letter’s recipient, however, that caused a cautious thrill to rise inside Rabbi Meller. The salutation on the letter read: “To the choshuve bochur, Reb Moshe Soloveitchik, learning in the yeshivah in Montreux.”

For years, rumors circulated about a packet of treasured letters belonging to the Brisker Rav’s nephew Rav Moshe Soloveitchik that had gone missing. Despite all the buzz, however, few had actually seen such a trove — and now Rabbi Meller was quite certain that he was holding one of those letters in his hand. “I knew that if this letter was, indeed, one of those lost for nearly six decades, it could lead me to a historical treasure that collectors had despaired of finding.”

The world of Judaica collection runs on discretion. Due to security and other concerns, few dealers or collectors will ever reveal their current holdings. Rabbi Meller, however, is seen not as a threat, but as someone who can help Judaica enthusiasts. Having spent years collecting every document and shred of information related to the Brisker dynasty that he could possibly lay his hands on, Rabbi Meller is often approached by dealers and collectors to verify the authenticity or origin of a document — as was the case with the Torah letter sent to a young Reb Moshe Soloveitchik in Montreux. But before embarking on what would turn into one of the most intriguing finds of his career, Rabbi Meller wanted to confirm that he was indeed in possession of a sample of a great treasure.

Holding the priceless documents, Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller couldn’t believe he was on the paper trail

“I immediately took the letter to Rav Meir Soloveitchik ztz”l,” he recounts. “I had served as his driver for 20 years, shuttling him to events and family simchahs, so I had constant access to him. 

“In hindsight,” he recalls sadly, “that would be my last visit with him, because he suffered a stroke and passed away a short time later.” 

Rav Meir, the youngest son of the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, himself a son of Rav Chaim Brisker, examined the document for a few moments and declared, “This is a draft from the chiddushim on the Rambam of Rav Chaim HaLevi ztz”l of Brisk.”

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