Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kamai • “The Last Rav of Mir”

In the Diaspora there have been communities large and small that have gained worldwide renown because they were places of Torah.

One of these blessed places was the small town of Mir. It earned everlasting renown in the Jewish world by the merit of the light of Torah that burned there for more than a hundred years, specifically in the famous Mir yeshiva, known around the world.

The city of Mir also knew many great rabbis, rich in Torah and wisdom. The last Rav of the city was Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kamai, known for his scholarship as well as his sterling character traits and good deeds. He was pure and wise, possessed of great humility. Everyone loved him because of his refinement and natural goodness.

Rabbi Avraham Tzvi was born in 5620 (1860) in the small Lithuanian town of Shkod. His father, Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch, was a great Rav and famous Rosh Yeshiva. From childhood he demonstrated an extraordinary memory and a sharp sense of comprehension, and he was known as a child prodigy. By nature he was a frail boy with a pale complexion, and his father did not want to send him to study at the yeshiva that was far from their house. The boy therefore stayed at home while his father taught him Torah. He acquired great understanding in the Talmud and Poskim, and while still young he was already known as a Torah great.

After his marriage to the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Grodzinski, he continued to study Torah day and night. He did not wish to become a Rav or to use the Torah for personal ends, for by nature his was a noble and sensitive soul, very humble and fleeing from honor.

He chose to earn a living by opening a pharmacy in the city of Keidan, and thus the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Avraham Tzvi became a pharmacist. The residents of Keidan preferred to buy their medicines at the Rav and Tzaddik, their “pharmacist,” for they believed that luck would accompany them in so doing, bringing them a complete and speedy healing. When the Prime Minister of Czarist Russian, Peter Stolypin, was passing through the Keidan region, he too would personally go and purchase his medicines at the “Talmudist,” for he also believed that the pharmacist’s medicines brought healing.

When the Rav of Keidan passed away, the residents of the town came to the pharmacist and asked him to become their new Rav. Rabbi Avraham Tzvi, who during his entire life fled from that position, as well as from all forms of honor, at first did not even want to hear of this. He felt that he had already spent the majority of his life as a simple man, a pharmacist, and he did not want to accept the responsibility for a community in his old age. However after extremely vigorous insistence, he agreed to become their Rav, but only on condition that he could continue to live off the earnings that he made from his pharmacy.

When word began to circulate that in Keidan, an important Jewish center at the time, the town pharmacist had been appointed as Rav, people understood that this pharmacist was a Gaon and a Tzaddik. Everyone marveled at the fact that he had managed to hide his greatness in Torah. This tremendous modesty accompanied him throughout his life, even when he became known in the yeshiva world upon succeeding his father, the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch, as the Av Beit Din and Rosh Yeshiva of Mir.

His father Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch passed away in Minsk during the First World War. All the Torah greats of the generation, as well as hundreds of rabbis who had taken refuge in Mir, attended the funeral. Included among them were Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, Rabbi Raphael Shapira of Volozhin, Rav Shapira of Kovno and others. In his eulogy, the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz (“the Gadol of Minsk”) announced the appointment of Rabbi Avraham Tzvi, the Rav of Keidan, as the Av Beit Din and Rosh Yeshiva of Mir. He stated, “Standing alive before us is Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch, one thirty years younger than the Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch that has left us.” Rabbi Abraham Tzvi then contested the words of the Gadol of Minsk by saying that there was absolutely no comparison between himself and his father.

A new phase of his life began in Mir. He was loved by the entire community, as well as by anyone who came into contact with him. The Rav’s home was open to all, and whoever came to ask for help was warmly received. Even though he was immersed in four cubits of Halachah, he never neglected community affairs. He was like a devoted father to the residents of Mir and its yeshiva students. A resident of Mir once caught tuberculosis, and his doctors ordered him to leave his small apartment and to go live in a larger place. The Rav had the man come and live with him, and he cared for him as if he were his own son. The man stayed there until his dying day.

Doctors once forbid the Rav’s sister to fast on Yom Kippur. Before the fast, he went to pay her a visit and saw that this prohibition caused her great heartache. He therefore told her, “I am ready to switch with you: I will give you the mitzvah for my fast on Yom Kippur in exchange for your mitzvah of eating. I’ll even add a few mitzvot on my part.”

While still a famous Rav and Rosh Yeshiva, who counted among his students hundreds of rabbis and Talmidei Chachamim, Rabbi Avraham Tzvi acted like a friend and brother with each of his students and the residents of Mir. He never angered anyone, and no harsh words ever left his mouth. Wisdom illuminated his face, and through his sweet and pleasant language he brought hearts closer to Torah and the fear of Heaven. He understood the ways of this world and was aware of everything that was going on around him, yet he remained innocent, upright, and pure in heart.

Rabbi Avraham Tzvi once went into a bookstore and wanted to purchase a book of kinot for Tisha B’Av. The book dealer asked a price of 40 zlotys. The Rav bargained and proposed a price of 20 zlotys. Surprised, the book dealer said to the Rav, “Excuse me, but you’ve purchased hundreds of books from me in the past, and you’ve always paid without discussing the price. What happened today?” The Rav replied, “I purchased the other books to last my entire life. However I’ve purchased this book of kinot for this year only, for next year Mashiach will arrive and I will no longer need kinot. For a single year, 20 zlotys are enough.”

When the Second World War erupted, the Mir yeshiva moved to Vilna, but the Rav said that he would stay with the community and suffer along with it.

On Heshvan 19, 5702 (Nov 9, 1941) 2,300 Jews of Mir were murdered – men, women, and children – along with their Rav and leader, the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kamai.

Rav Zalman Miranker, a native of Mir, recounts what happened at that time: “When all the residents were assembled to be brought towards the trenches dug on the outskirts of town, the Rav said to all the Jews, ‘Let us accept all of this with love, as did the Tanna Rabbi Akiva, who at his final hour accomplished “ ‘With all your soul’ – even if He takes your soul!” ’ ”

Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kamai was 82 years old when he met death as a martyr. May G-d avenge his blood.




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