International Commemoration of the 100th Yahrzeit of R Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan zt”l Thur. May 25

[Editor’s Note: With trepidation and pleasure, we bring news of the commemoration of the 100th yahrzeit of one of the most incredible Torah figures of the early 20th century. The commemoration will emanate from several locations: Berlin, Israel and the East Coast. What follows is the list of events, (times posted are Berlin times) followed by a wonderful introductory essay by Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, shlit”a, reprinted from the Jewish Observer]

הגאון החכם אברהם אליהו קפלן זצ”ל תר”נ – תרפ”ד

תוכנית אזכרה של בית מדרש לרבנים – ברלין במלאות 001 שנים לפטירתו

ט”ו אייר תשפ”ד

HaRav Avrohom Elijo Kaplan Zt”l 1890-1924

Memorial Program Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin marking 100 years since his passing

15 Iyar 5784/May 23, 2024

R A B B I N E R S E M I N A R Z U B E R L I N B R U N N E N S T R . 3 3

1 0 1 1 5 B E R L I N R A B B I N E R S E M I N A R . D E






9:00 – 9:20

Tehillim at the Kever

Adass Jisroel Cemetery, Berlin



12:00 – 13:00

Yahrzeit Shiur

RavMoshe Mordechai Farbstein Shlit”a, Rektor



13:15 – 15:00

Yahrzeit SeudaShiur: “Rav Kaplan Zt”l – His Life& Weltanschauung”

Vignettes from RSzB studentsVideo message from Rav Ahron Lopiansky Shlit”aRosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva of Greater Washington, USA (EN)Shiur from Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer Shlit”a

*Only R Bechhofer’s sh


16:00 – 16:20

“The Life of Rav Kaplan”

Rabbi Chaim Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan, grandson of Rav Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan Zt”l



16:30 – 17:30

“Rav Kaplan and the Rabbinerseminar”

Rav Prof. Meir Hildesheimer



* The live streams will be available on the Rabbinerseminar YouTube channel

B’Ikvos HaYir’ah: The Quintessence of Mussar

Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

One hundred years have passed since Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan’s untimely

death at the age of 34.

Reb Avraham Elya was the Alter’s most beloved student (Reb Yaakov: The Life and

Times of HaGaon Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, p. 85). There was a close personal relationship

between the two, and Reb Avraham Elya felt that the Alter was privy to his deepest thoughts.

The Slabodka perspective that became Reb Avraham Elya’s outlook is perhaps best

expressed in one of the Alter’s shmuessen that Reb Avraham Elya himself transcribed (B’Ikvos

HaYir’ah, ibid., p.221). Chazal (Bereishis Rabba 10:67) say that every blade of grass is

controlled by a malach that causes it to grow. Man casually walks upon thousands of blades of

grass, not thinking of the great wisdom and transcendent purpose of the thousands of malachim

upon which he treads. How uplifted should a person, in fact, become when he realizes how many

malachim were created to serve him! His heart should fill with both the glory of this kedusha and

emotions of gratitude for this gift. How can one not be ashamed to enter the sanctuary of

kedushah that is this world with soiled shoes and dirty clothes? How is he not embarrassed to be

engrossed in frivolities while at the same time making use of the malachim created to facilitate

Man’s destiny? The entire world from its most general principles to its finest details serves as a

reminder at each step we take to be cognizant of Gd, and bechol derachecha da’eihu, “In all your

paths you shall know Him.”

Reb Avraham Elya came to teach at the Hildesheimer Seminary in Berlin in 1920. Upon

the death of Rabbi Dovid Zvi Hoffman zt”l in 1922, Reb Avrohom Elya became Rosh

HaYeshiva. Reb Avrohom Elya brought hitherto unknown levels of learning to Germany.

Another of his major accomplishments in Germany was his influence over many students to

spend years learning in the great Lithuanian yeshivos.

Above all, however, Reb Avraham Elya brought Mussar to Western Europe. His pleasant

demeanor and refined personality were the foundations, and his discourses the framework that

enabled his German students to develop and perfect their spiritual selves. His personal Avodah

was exemplary: “One who has not heard him read the Pesach night Hallel in lofty ecstasy in the

unique melody that he wrote yet in his youth has not seen true Jewish life in our generation. One

who has not seen him dance the Kotzker Rebbe’s dance in the joy of Sukkoth has not seen true

Jewish joy in our generation. He was alive and gave life” (ibid., p. 297). His talks: “…ignited

hearts with the lightning flashes of his ideas, heads were enwrapped in illumination, a purifying

tremor enveloped all existence…” (ibid., p. 294).

Reb Avraham Elya died suddenly, on the 15th day of Iyar 1924. On his matzevah was

engraved the following epitaph: “An Ish Yehudi, great in knowledge, and great in life, possessed

of heart and pure spirit. A master of Torah, mighty in Emuna, powerful in understanding, and a

pleasant songwriter. He loved his fellow man as himself and was beloved by all who saw him.

To his students he was like a brother, and their souls bonded to him. With the brilliance of the

Heavens, he illuminated East and West. The sun set at the heart of its day.”

The following passage from the Berlin journal Jeschurun is quoted in translation from

Three Generations: The Influence of Samson Raphael Hirsch on Jewish Life and Thought by

Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld (Jewish Post Publications, London, 1958, p. 77):

It is generally agreed that never had there been witnessed in Berlin a similar scene

of lamentation as on the day when Avrohom Eliyahu Kaplan was laid to eternal

rest (16th Iyar 5684/1924). The expressions of desperate grief, the continued

sobbing of West European men trained in self-control cannot be explained merely

by the tragic event that a young father had been torn away from his family and

that a very promising career had been cut short. It was far more than that; from

the depths of our subconscious minds a feeling arose, breaking with all elemental

force through all conventional behavior and telling us that this death was a blow

which had struck down every one of us and had put an end to a sacred conviction

which we all shared; that this man was destined to bring about a revival and

renewal of German Judaism. (Beginning on page 74 of Three Generations there is

significant biographical material on Reb Avraham Elya.)

Reb Avraham Elya left many moving and inspiring writings in the realm of

Machashavah. Yet, one masterpiece stands out from among the rest, and is the work by which he

is best remembered: B’Ikvos HaYir’ah /In the Footsteps of Fear. Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna

wrote about this essay: “This essay could have been written by one of the fathers of Mussar. I

regarded him [Reb Avraham Elya] with great esteem and honor but I would not have expected

this much. In the final analysis, he was yet young. True, he had learned and toiled mightily in

Torah and especially in the realm of Machashavah and Mussar, but even all his toil cannot

explain the great depth and profound thought which I found in B’Ikvos HaYir’ah. This is not an

essay, rather a unique synopsis of immersion in profound thoughts and ideas…” (B’Ikvos HaYir’ah p. 284).

In a letter written to Reb Avraham Elya (ibid., p. 281), Rabbi Sarna placed special

emphasis on the style in which B’Ikvos HaYir’ah was written: “…strong and sweet, clear and

deep, penetrating and captivating robust and passionate, and that is why it makes a Mussar

impression.” The German philosopher and literary critic J. G. Herder wrote that it was

worthwhile to study Hebrew for ten years just to be able to read Psalm 104 (“Borchi Nafshi”) in

the original! It is difficult, if not impossible, to convey the full inspiration of the original in

translation; it is to be hoped, however, that the following translation will allow the English reader

to catch a glimpse, and perhaps even more than a glimpse, of the essay’s power and pathos. In

this translator’s opinion, B’Ikvos HaYirah is no less than the quintessential definition of the

Mussar Movement. (A more recent and comprehensive translation of the essay by Rabbi Hillel

Goldberg is at

toward-the-fear-of-heaven/ ).

…But one who has not traversed the actual pathway of illumination [that of the

prophets and the sages], he who stands opposite the rays of light, at some

distance, possesses little understanding of this term [yir’ah]. It would be better had

he never known this term and was now learning it for the first time. But this is his

problem: He knows it but does not know it properly. He possesses a dangerous

translation of the entire concept and cannot avoid its negative ramifications.

For example, when we mention yir’ah to this person he can only translate it thus:

Bent head, wrinkled brow, glazed eyes, hunched back, trembling left hand, right

hand clapping al cheit, knocking thighs, failing knees, stumbling heels.

And he does not know that this translation is heretical for the one who knows

what yir’ah is and what it means, the source from which it flows, and from

whence it comes…

There are times that demand tears and eulogies… It is necessary then to stoop like

rushes and take up sackcloth and ashes. Times come upon the world when our

sins require these. Such, however, is not Yir’as Hashem, not it and not even part

of it. It is not yir’ah’s essence, but only preparation for it…

Yir’ah is not anguish, not pain, not bitter anxiety. To what may yir’ah be likened?

To the tremor of fear which a father feels when his beloved young son rides his

shoulders as he dances with him and rejoices before him, taking care that he does

not fall off. Here there is joy that is incomparable, pleasure that is incomparable.

And the fear tied up with them is pleasant too. It does not impede the freedom of

dance… It passes through them like a spinal column that straightens and

strengthens. And it envelops them like a modest frame that lends grace and


It is clear to the father that his son is riding securely upon him and will not fall

back, for he constantly remembers him, not for a moment does he forget him. His

son’s every movement, even the smallest, he feels, and he ensures that his son will

not sway from his place, nor incline sideways his heart is, therefore, sure, and he

dances and rejoices.

If a person is sure that the “bundle” of his life’s meaning is safely held high by the

shoulders of his awareness, he knows that this bundle will not fall backwards, he

will not forget it for a moment, he will remember it constantly, with yir'ah he will

safekeep it. If every moment he checks it then his heart is confident, and he

dances and rejoices…

When the Torah was given to Israel solemnity and joy came down bundled

together. They are fused together and cannot be separated. That is the secret of

gil ber’ada” (joy in trembling) mentioned in Tehillim. Dance and judgment,

song and law became partners with each other…

Indeed, this is the balance… A rod of noble yir’ah passes through the rings of

joy… [It is] the inner rod embedded deep in an individual’s soul that connects end

to end, it links complete joy in this world (eating, drinking and gift giving) to that

which is beyond this world (remembering the [inevitable] day of death ) to graft

one upon the other so to produce eternal fruit.

A Swedish wise man, when once discussing sanctity, said: “The sanctity of an

individual proves that he who possesses it has a direct relationship with the

strongest source of existence.” In my opinion, in the conception of Judaism this is

a definition of yir’ah (but sanctity kedusha is loftier still, we have a different idea

of it, but this is not the place to define it). What is yir’ah? It is the broad jump

over the vast gap between myself and my Creator… It is a mitzvah to

separate from smallness! Fly over barriers! And from there, quest Him, for there

you will find Him…

Indeed, this is the direct relationship. Indeed, this is the true vision (ראיה) that we

call yir’ah (יראה).

And this, therefore, is the reason that we dwell so much on fear of sin (“yir’as

ha-onesh”). This is also vision seeing things as they really are… One who refuses

to see his future shortchanges only himself. Only if he sees will he fear, and only

if he fears will he repent.

And from here we proceed to the fear [awe] of loftiness (“yir’as haromemus”)

that is the vision [the perception] of loftiness. From here “The maid servant at the

Red Sea saw loftier visions than the Prophet Yechezkel.”

From here comes the direct view, across all the dividers, to the source of

existence. This is an unceasing inner gaze toward the matter that is one’s

responsibility [the bundle of his life’s meaning] (that he must safeguard lest it

fall…). The gaze is one that leads to remembrance, remembrance that leads to

care, care that leads to confidence, confidence that leads to strength (“oz”) an

inner, bold, uplifting, strength (“Hashem oz li’amo yiten”) and a strength that

leads to peace (“shalom”) and wholeness, internally and externally, in thought

and in deed (“Hashem yivareich es amo ba’shalom”).

Indeed, this is the wisdom of life: “Reishis chochma yir’as Hashem.” A fear that

is vision.

Oh G-d our L-rd! Who would grant that we would for a moment forget this

oppressive thought: That everything has happened before, thousands upon

thousands of times. That the great ones have already spoken, and that the small

ones have already closed their ears. That all was without benefit, without

blessing… that nothing can fix distorted hearts, that there is no escape from

twisted concepts. Who would grant that we would for a moment forget this!…

In forgetting this smallness, we would suddenly remember greatness. In

destroying this despair, we would suddenly renew souls. Evil would dissipate.

Stupidity would dissipate. Surely a bridge would be built between man and his

brother, a ladder would rise between Earth and Heaven.

A moment… Yes, that is what I said: “That they would forget for a moment!” For

greater is the glory of one short moment than vast stretches of time enwrapped in

desolation. What a moment can achieve years cannot…

Let us not wait [for this moment] till we come to shame… If it does not exist, let

us create it…

“If the tzaddikim desire, they can create worlds” – if they desire…

It is told about the Gr”a zt”l that anyone who overheard him at the time of

Kabbolas Shabbos saying: “Today, if you listen to His voice,” would immediately

become a Ba’al Teshuva.

Today! This moment! Immediately – and eternally.

But when will this moment come? When will it be sought? When will it be

found? In every generation they ask this same question, and every generation

answers with greater despair than its predecessors: “Who knows?”

But one [truth] “I” know! This response can only suffice for all Mankind, or for

Israel as a whole. For an individual, the specific person who sits and writes or

reads these simple lines, can he respond any other way to the question “when?”

than with the reply of Hillel: “If not now… when?”

Now. Immediately. For now and for all generations…

And now, not pride (“ga’ava”) is our downfall, but humility (“anava”). We have

become humble without strength, our souls are like widows deprived of

confidence and security, without strength of mind (“da’as”). This is not humility

for the sake of Heaven; it is for the sake of inactivity that comes from despair, and

for the sake of despair that comes from inactivity. We have become paupers

happy with our lot in our [limited] spiritual property. The Lithuanian Jew is happy

with the glory of his lomdus; the Polish Jew with the majesty of his mysticism

and lightning pilpul; the Hungarian Jew with his Torah fervor and detailed grasp

of Talmudic topics; the German Jew with his meticulous mitzvah observance and

secular acquisitions. The common denominator among us all is that we suffice

with what we have, placidly and quietly, each of us in our own [portions],

slumbering deeply… [nothing] contains enough spirit of life to arouse and

encourage, to uplift and to lead…

G-d said to our first forefather: “Do not fear Avraham!” The Tanna d’bei Eliyahu

says: “One only says ‘do not fear’ to one who is truly fearful of Heaven…”

He who has walked in the footsteps of fear until he has reached its truth will feel

even now the great call to Gd: Do not fear! Do not weaken! Do not be poor in

your own eyes and humble in the eyes of others, enrich yourself so you may fulfill

yourself, and go among the people of this world. And like your forefather in the

days of Nimrod who proclaimed the goodness of Gd, plant an oasis for those lost

on the way, and pray for Sodom and Amora. And then when you come to the

community of Israel, and you arise up on its stage even if it must be a political, a

partisan stage you shall call out from upon that stage to the nation that it should

renew its heart; that it should open its heart to Torah and fill its heart with the love

and fear [of Gd] (yes, in such simple terms). Let these direct and clear words,

devoid of metaphor and criticism, be heard from atop every high stage and

penetrate every vigorous heart. To know, to inform, and to clarify that we have

but one slogan: yir’ah and good deeds…

We certainly know that the only redemption for our spiritual and material national

crisis is the robust return (“teshuvah”) to the lofty yir’ah of Judaism and are we

permitted to be embarrassed by to those who mock us, and therefore refrain from

diligent, constant public proclamation of this sole redemption? Who guarantees

that the nation will not listen to us? If hundreds may not listen, perhaps tens

might. Who seduces us to deny the possibility of a mighty society of refined Jews

and youth who, truly and guilelessly, will begin to immerse themselves in the

purification of hearts and deeds? Why not? It is indeed possible! If it is truly

impossible, it is only for one reason: because we, the individuals who strive for

this goal, deny its possibility. The nation is not yet barren if there is barrenness it

is in you, the individuals…

Reb Avraham Elya stood out in a generation in which spiritual giants trod the face of the

Earth. Yet from the examples of that vanished world even we can derive inspiration to aspire to

spiritual heights. True yir'ah must guide us in our quest to be mekadesh shem Shamayim in all

aspects of our lives.

“There was a man,”

A man whose life was creation,

A man whose creation was life.

There was a man who sang and who learned and who taught,

And who thought and who rejoiced,

And who loved and who grieved.

And all his words were alive and illuminated,

With the light of Avraham Avinu’s furnace,

A brilliant light that escapes from between his words

That like a hammer shatters rock,

The light of the secrets of Yisroel,

The light of the secret of the world.

And the light became life,

The light of life, a life of light.

“And he is no longer.”

Is he no longer?

Wasn’t the brilliance of his smiling eyes absorbed,

In the light of my eyes, in the light of your eyes,

You, my brother in sorrow, who knew him?

Will it not happen that his image will flash out and illumine us?

Will it not happen that we will see him smiling at us?

Accompanying us in our determined pursuits, in attempts to be “alive,”

In our ascents, in the joy of our creations?

Let us impart to all who come within our precincts,

From the light of his eyes, from the light of his soul.

And they will live by them.

And he will live in them.

(by R’ Fyvel Meltzer z”l, son of HaGa’on R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l, ibid., p. 299. First

published in the Telzer HaNe’eman, 1929)

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6 Responses

  1. william l gewirtz says:

    R. Elya Kaplan ztl died at the same age as his father. R. Chaim Brisker ztl said that his father was the only person he knew to whom the title gaon was appropriate. We have little of R.Elya’s writing. His small piece on the various zemanai ha’yom before ha-netz ha-chamah is masterful.

    RAK ztl gave a peshetel on the occasion of his engagement to RIZM ztl’s daughter. As reported, it was difficult to follow. A younger R. Elya got up and repeated the peshetel in rhyme that was easy to comprehend. As RYK ztl wrote, had he lived, his derech ha-limmud, combining yeshivishe lomdus with academic talmud similar to RYYW ztl and the Grash ztl, two other Slabodka graduates, would have become more universally adopted. Yehi Zichroh Baruch.

    • Shades of Gray says:

      “As RYK ztl wrote, had he lived, his derech ha-limmud…would have become more universally adopted”

      In fact, a YTV talmid related to me that when discussing RAEK with Reb Yaakov in his YTV office, RYK had told him that RAEK died early “because of the hakpada of Rashi ” to his proposed commentary on Gemara. When hearing this, I raised the question, as did the person who told me the anecdote, that RYK himself encouraged Artscroll’s publishers in 1982 to begin their mammoth undertaking of the Schottenstein Talmud!

      However one reconciles these statements of Reb Yaakov, one sees the great regard RYK had for R. Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan in that he considered him capable of writing a commentary that would compete with Rashi, so to speak(R. Aharon Lopiansky mentioned RAEK’s views on Rashi’s Bavli commentary in  Minute 3 of his presentation from  last week, available online).  

      In this vein, R. Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, in his article, ” In the Footsteps of Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan zt”l ”  quotes from  Jonathan Rosenblum’s biography of RYK about RAEK’s Talmud commentary: “Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky once remarked that Reb Avraham Elya possessed such remarkable powers that had he lived longer, he would have restructured the entire derech halimud (methodology of study) in the yeshivos with his proposed new commentary on Shas (Reb Yaakov, p. 85).” In Section III of the article, R. Bechhofer  lists eleven areas of the proposed commentary. See link to R. Bechhofer’s article and to AishDas Society page on RAEK:

      “A younger R. Elya got up and repeated the peshetel in rhyme that was easy to comprehend”

      Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz wrote about this story on his website(he says it was actually at RAK’s sheva berachos): “When, years later, an incredulous talmid shared this story with Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, rosh yeshivah of Ner Israel, he responded that it is certainly possible, as such was the brilliance of Rav  Avrohom Eliyahu. Rebbetzin Ruderman, the daughter of Rav Sheftel Kramer and first cousin of Rebbetzin Kotler, overheard the conversation and shared a postscript. “Not only is it possible that it happened, but I was there! And Rav Isser Zalman’s son played the violin as Rav Avrohom Eliyahu sang the grammen.”

      R. Bechoffer has posted a number of videos in connection with RAEK’s 100th Yahrzeit on his blog and YouTube channel including the one from R. Aharon Lopiansky mentioned above.


      I value a derech ha-limmud that combines both Brisker analytics and academic approaches, it should be recognized that it is hardly conducive to “yeshivah for all” that dominates the Hareidi world; rather, it lends itself only to a more restricted set of metzuyanim. In pre-war Europe that was not an issue; the derech ha-limmud would be completely within the reach of Slabodka and other upper-tier yeshivot.

  2. Yisroel Miller says:

    Among his many important contributions we should not forget Rav Kaplan’s poem “Shok’oh Chamoh”, one of the very few statements by a Talmud Chochom testifying that Avodas haBorei can be a painful struggle, with moments of darkness close to despair:
    “…if this You call living, then tell me, my G-d, what is it to be dead?”
    “Have pity, my G-d, for I know not how to live like this, Shall I forget all that is and celebrate, or remember all and weep?”
    “Let me live, my G-d, please tomorrow, perhaps I will yet interpret the dream -“
    “The sun has set, clouds are coming, darkness rises from the deep”. (Free translation of excerpts)
    I saw an “updated version” with an upbeat chorus and happy ending, which I believe is a great mistake. But the original portrays the dark night of the spiritual seeker’s soul, and I (and I believe others) have been nourished by it since it was published decades ago.

  3. Shades of Gray says:

    The classic  “Shaka Chama” was recorded  a few years ago in a music video with an addendum by Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz. The beginning of the recording on his website has an approbation from a grandson of RAEK. In the link below, SY Rechnitz writes that “for many years, the poor, lonely, and sick have found company in these meaningful lyrics,” and that despite being “very hesitant to tamper with the lofty words and tune of the original Shakah Chamah,” he did so with “the hope[that] this addition will prove uplifting for our challenging times.” R. Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, however, while appreciating that RAEK “is brought to the attention of new generations that may be inspired by his brilliance,”  wrote then that he prefers the unaltered original.  RYGB’s blog post also has the Pirchei and Abish Brodt’s versions. See links:

    The hauntingly beautiful melody for Shaka Chama was not composed by RAEK(although some in the Lithuanian yeshivos did attribute it to him). The tune was composed either by Tuvia Shlonsky, a Chabad Chasid(and father of  the Israeli poet Avraham Shlonsky), or was taken from a Russian folk song about the Don River. Another poem sung to the tune of Shaka Chama is the Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky’s “Ani Maamin/Sachki Sachki”. Tchernichovsky wrote his Ani Maamin in Odessa in 1894, thirteen years before RAEK composed Shaka Chama as a seventeen year old yeshiva student. See National Library of Israel link(“About” section),  Wikipedia on Shaka Chama, and the  Wiki page for Tchernichovsky’s Ani Maamin. The last link, in turn, has links to  a paper by Yaakov Mazor(footnote 101)  and Tel Aviv University Prof. David Assaf’s Oneg Shabbat blog, both of  which discuss the origins of the tune to Shaka Chama.

  4. Joseph says:

    This was a wonderful essay. It was Raw Avraham Elya’s story that allowed me to break away from a Yeshiva that was hurting me spiritually, because I discovered that my spiritual longings, and the emptiness I felt, weren’t new things that the “”Old School”” rejected, and which threatened Torah-true, authentic Judaism with freethinking. Instead, those feelings were the Old School, and a dry Yiddishkeit is inauthentic and wrong.
    This was why he chose the Mussar Movement, paralleling my own choice of it, and in part through his life story, I was freed.
    Rav Bechoffer, as always, delivers.
    May the crown be returned to its old glory, and may we cease referring to a world of spiritual giants in the past tense.

    My only criticism is that the format of the article must be re-edited. The paragraphs are misaligned, and some the characters didn’t make the transition.

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