Rabbi Israel Yehoshua Tronk • “The Rav of Kutna”

Rabbi David Tronk was a simple, G-d fearing man and a skillful teacher who carried out his work to perfection. Rabbi Zalman Posner, a wealthy man and Torah scholar, offered him a position as the private tutor of his children, and Rabbi David accepted on condition that his young son, Israel Yehoshua, could also participate in the lessons.

On Shabbat, the Torah scholars of the town would usually gather at Rabbi Zalman’s home to discuss Torah matters. He would oversee the discussion and expound on some ideas that he had come up with during the week.

One Shabbat Rabbi Zalman gave a long, profound talk that impressed many of his listeners, who complimented him greatly on his wisdom. All of a sudden, little Israel Yehoshua got up from his chair and began to present numerous problems with what Rabbi Zalman had said. In the beginning he tried to resolve these difficulties, but in the end he had to admit that the boy was right.

Following that particular Shabbat, Rabbi Zalman left on a business trip to Warsaw. On the way, some ideas came to mind pertaining to the boy’s objections, and he ordered the driver to immediately return home. Arriving at midnight, the residents of his home were already asleep and the door was locked for the night. Thus he began to knock until everyone awoke. Quite frightened, his wife asked him, “Why did you come back? What happened?”

Rabbi Zalman replied, “I returned because of Yehoshua. I have an answer to give to his objections.” Rabbi Zalman then explained his ideas to the boy, who listened attentively to his words. Yet even before Rabbi Zalman could finish, Yehoshua swiftly demolished all the counter-arguments that he had devised on route. At that point Rabbi Zalman let out a deep sign and said to the boy, “I tired myself out for nothing to get back home. Have you no pity on me?”

This young boy ended up becoming renowned and fondly known by all as Rabbi Yehoshuali Kutner. When he grew up and became famous, he often spoke very highly of Rabbi Zalman, saying of him: “He held meticulously to the words of the Torah.”

Rabbi Israel Yehoshua was born in 5681 (1820), and from his earliest years people discovered that he had exceptional gifts. All those who knew him testified to the fact that he was a child prodigy, destined for greatness.

By the age of 14 he already had received numerous offers to marry, but it was the Gaon Rabbi Meir Posner of the Schottland congregation in Danzig (the author of Beit Meir) who prevailed, and he thus married his daughter. Rabbi Israel Yehoshua remained with his father-in-law for six years, during which time he studied Torah day and night. His renown spread to every community, and people from the city of Schrensk named him as their Rav, at which time he was only 20 years old.

He was the Rav of several towns for a short period, passing quickly from one to the other, among them being Gombin, Wourki, and Poltousk. In 5621 (1861) he was named as the Av Beit Din of the splendid community of Kutna, which merited giving him the name by which he is known today, Rabbi Yehoshuali Kutner.

In Kutna, he founded a yeshiva that many young men in the surrounding areas attended in order to listen to his teachings. He became famous as a Torah instructor and an author of superb commentaries. He knew how to attract the hearts of young listeners, and he implanted in them a love for Torah and a fear of G-d.

What follows is an explanation he gave for the passage, “Train the youth according to his ways; even when he grows old, he will not swerve from it” (Proverbs 22:6): “The ways of a youth designate what he is capable of, not what gives honor to his teacher. That being the case, even when he grows up he will not depart from it, for what the boy has learned in accord with his personality will always remain with him. On the other hand, if he was not educated in accordance with his own personality and ways, he will abandon it all when he grows up.”

There were profound bonds of affection between himself and Rabbi Avraham of Sochachov, the Gaon and author of Avnei Nezer, who always spoke well of the Rav of Kutna. From time to time, he even went to visit the Rabbi of Kotzk, the father-in-law of Rabbi Avraham.

Rabbi Israel Yehoshua’s love for Eretz Israel is a story in itself. He loved the land with all his heart and worked for its good with all his soul and all his possessions. In 5655 (1895), he left for Eretz Israel with his son-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Elazar Wax (author of Nefesh Chaya and the Av Beit Din of Kalish). There they were welcomed with great honor, and they had 10,000 rubbles on hand that they been entrusted with by a wealthy man who wanted these Tzaddikim to use it for the poor however they best saw fit. With this money they purchased a few buildings in Jerusalem, and they drew lots to select observant Jews to live there for a period of five years, with the drawing occurring again in five years. They also purchased a large orchard at Kfar Chitin, near Tiberias, and planted etrogim there.

They held talks with all the Torah greats to try to convince them to give preference to the etrogim of Eretz Israel over those of the Diaspora. Before the holidays, they themselves sold etrogim to vendors.

When they returned from Eretz Israel, they encouraged several wealthy people to purchase land there, but only on condition they also go and live in the land.

One day, a wealthy man came to Rabbi Israel Yehoshua to ask for his advice on establishing a large business venture in Eretz Israel. “Do you plan on living there?” the Rav asked him. “No,” replied the man. “I want to send money to Eretz Israel so that the Rav’s friends can do business there.” The Rav, who knew that it was impossible to always depend on others, and who was afraid that this wealthy man might begin to speak ill of the land if he lost his money there, replied with a biting witticism: “I know some wealthy people who abandon their money in the Diaspora and go settle in Eretz Israel and get buried there, but I never saw or heard of a man who lives in the Diaspora and sends his money to get buried in Eretz Israel!”

Rabbi Israel Yehoshua remained in Kutna for 32 years, all while enlightening everyone around him. All the people, from the least to the greatest, knew and heard of this great Rav of the generation. He left this world on Tammuz 25, 5653 (1893) at the age of 72.

He left us with three books: Yeshuat Israel on Choshen Mishpat, Yavin Da’at on Yore Deah, and Yeshuot Malko on the Rambam.




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