Simcha Zissel Ziv
Simcha Mordechai Ziskind Broida
|Died||26 July 1898 (aged 73-74)|
Kelm?, Samogitia, Russia
Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida (Hebrew: ? ? ; 1824-1898), also known as Simhah Zissel Ziv or the Alter of Kelm (the Elder of Kelm), was one of the foremost students of Yisrael Salanter and one of the early leaders of the Musar movement. He is best known as the founder and director of the Kelm Talmud Torah.
Simcha Zissel Ziv was born as Simcha Mordechai Ziskind Broida in 1824 in Kelm?. His father, Yisroel, belonged to the well-known Lithuanian Braude family. His mother, Chaya, was a descendant of Zvi Ashkenazi, "the Chacham Tzvi". Chaya's family name was Ziv, and her son took on his mother's family name when he moved to Grobin in 1880.
Ziv married Sara Leah, the daughter of Mordechai of Vidzh, a small town near Kelm. Following his marriage he travelled to Kovno, where he studied under his foremost mentor, Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Musar movement, at the Nevyozer Kloiz. Among the other outstanding students were Yitzchak Blazer, and Naftali Amsterdam. Ziv established himself as one of Salanter's closest disciples and Ziv devoted his life to furthering Salanter's teachings.
At the time, Kalman Zev Wissotzky (who later became famous as a tea magnate) was another of Salanter's students living in Zhagory. Wissotzky had studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva and had become very wealthy and had many connections within government circles. He was a great supporter and benefactor of many Jewish causes. When Wissotsky decided to move to Moscow, Salanter instructed Ziv to accompany him, out of concern that the move to Moscow might have a negative effect on Wissotzky's spirituality. Ziv then moved to Moscow, where he lived for two years.
Following his time in Moscow, Ziv moved to St. Petersburg, then the largest city in Czarist Russia. After spending almost a year there, the communal leaders brought Ziv a signed document appointing him as their Rabbi. He was unwilling to accept the position, however, and proposed that his friend from the yeshiva in Kovno - Yitzchak Blazer - be appointed to the position.
Seeking to combat threats to traditional Judaism and to strengthen the cause of the Musar movement, Ziv decided to open a school in Kelm, the Kelm Talmud Torah. At the time, Ziv was almost forty years old.
The Talmud Torah opened in approximately 1865 and attracted young students, mainly thirteen and fourteen-year-olds. Ziv's teacher - Yisrael Salanter - had taught Ziv the importance of Musar and so the Talmud Torah aimed not only to enhance its student's Torah knowledge but also to shape their personalities and develop their character traits using the Musar approach. Indeed, much of daily study at the Talmud Torah focused on Musar, while comparatively little time was devoted to the conventional study of Talmud.
Ziv also introduced general subjects such as geography, mathematics, and Russian into the Talmud Torah curriculum. These subjects were studied for three hours a day, which was unprecedented in traditional Lithuanian yeshivas. Ziv did not view general studies as a "necessary evil" but rather argued that such studies would encourage "better living" and "a better understanding of religious teachings as well."
In 1872, Ziv purchased a plot of land and erected a building for the Talmud Torah. A few years later, however, in 1876, the Talmud Torah was denounced to the authorities, who began to watch it closely and to hound it. Ziv decided to open elsewhere, and re-established in Grobin, in the Kurland province. He arranged for the purchase of a fine building, situated in a spacious yard. There was a main study hall, smaller rooms for classes, a dining room and dormitories. The school in Grobin opened by 1880.
Ziv suffered from failing health which necessitated his spending long periods in his home, which was in Kelm. In 1881, he returned to Kelm, leaving his son, Nochum Zev Ziv to run the Talmud Torah in Grobin. Young men from Kelm and the surrounding areas flocked to study under Ziv and the town once again became a center of Musar.
From his home in Kelm, Ziv continued to play a role in the running of the Talmud Torah in Grobin. This, however, began to be too difficult and Ziv decided to close the yeshiva. He sent a member of his family to consult his teacher, Salanter, who was living in Germany at the time.
Salanter disagreed with the idea and the Talmud Torah remained open in Grobin until 1886. In that year, Ziv's health took a turn for the worse and his doctors warned him that there was real danger to his life if he continued making the effort that the running of the yeshiva in Grobin required. At this point, Ziv was forced to close the Talmud Torah in Grobin.
With the closure of the Grobin Talmud Torah, the focus of his work shifted back to Kelm, which now regained its former prominence. Ziv established a group that was known as "Devek Tov," comprising his foremost students. He shared a special relationship with the group's members and he worked on writing out his discourses for them, which, unfortunately, required more strength than he had.
Ziv died on Wednesday, 26 July 1898.
Ziv was known for his humility, lovingkindness, thoughtfulness, and focus on order.
At Ziv's funeral, his friend and colleague Eliezer Gordon, the rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, said that aside from Ziv's greatness in Torah, he had never heard a single word from him that was not related to Torah and to fear of Heaven.
Ziv was not only great in Musar but also in his knowledge of Torah and Talmud. Gordon, who was known as a fiery and tempestuous genius, would repeat his Talmudic thoughts to Ziv and seek his opinion on them, for he valued Ziv's scholarship highly. Gordon said that his friend had been fluent in three orders of the Talmud, to such a level where he knew every comment of Rashi and Tosafot word for word. He was also fluent in all four divisions of the Shulchan Aruch and could locate any given Halacha within it with pinpoint precision.
Ziv taught that the whole world is a classroom where one can learn to improve one's character and increase one's belief in God. Ziv would frequently quote Socrates, who said that "true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
Ziv offered his students the following advice: "Take time. Be exact. Unclutter the mind." The school (Talmud Torah) that he operated in Grobin was an epitome of this approach. The students conducted themselves with calmness and order but were still motivated and enthusiastic. There are numerous anecdotes that illustrated the extent that this reached, among them are:
Ziv explained that a person can only progress in life and perceive God by clearing his mind of confusion and haphazard thinking. Once a person has done this, they will be able to achieve a level of equanimity and clarity of mind that will allow them to plan a path through life that is independent of the fallacies that are the subconscious product of personal weakness and temptations. They will also be able to recognise the subtleties (subtleness) of God's manifestation in the world.
Ziv would study for twelve solid, successive hours each day no matter the time of year. He explained that only through clarity and clear mindedness can a person overcome their will to act impulsively and achieve focus.
Dov Katz described Ziv's approach to learning as consisting of three guiding principles:
His foremost student was Yeruchom Levovitz the Mashgiach of Mir, who wrote all of his texts into Chochmah Umussar, due to the fact that no one else was able to put it out. His other students included many of the musar greats of the next generation: Nosson Tzvi Finkel of Slabodka, Aharon Bakst, Reuven Dov Dessler (whose son Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler authored the classic Michtav M'Eliyahu), Nachum Ze'ev Ziv, and Zvi Hirsch Braude.
There were many other great Rabbis who only spent a short period in Kelm, yet were greatly influenced by Ziv. Among these are Yosef Leib Bloch, the rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, Yosef Yoizel Horowitz of Novhardok, Elya Lopian of the Knesses Chizkiyahu Yeshiva in Israel, and Chaim Yitzchak Bloch Hacohen, the chief rabbi of Bausk and Plunge.
Many of Ziv's discourses and letters to his students were published in a two-volume work, Hokhmah U-Musar, edited by Yeruchom Levovitz and Simcha Zissel Halevi Levovitz. Additional letters, as well as transcriptions of his words by his disciples, appear in a series of volumes under the title Kitvei Ha-Sabba Mi-Kelm.
An English translation of the opening letters of Hokhmah U-Musar by Ira Stone appears in Stone's' 'A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Musar.