There is a famous story (mentioned in his wikipedia article) that R' Elchonon Wasserman visited the United States before the war. He had the option to stay, but he refused since (as I heard) "A leader doesn't abandon his flock".

He went back to Lithuania and was killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust with his students.

Even though one could say that he didn't know how bad the Holocaust would be, he undoubtedly knew that his life would be in greater danger in Europe than in America.

Given the principle that "Chayecha Kodmin" - one must save one's life before someone else's (and even more so here, that he wouldn't be able to do anything in Lithuania to save his students), what Halachik right did he have to go back to Europe?

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    +1 Had this questions recently...besides the fact that he could have opened new Yeshivot in America and spread more Torah. Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 4:52
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/a/22515/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 5:46
  • There are lots of similar examples to this, each nuanced in different ways. For example, Rachel Citron, the daughter of R' Yosef Rosen (the Rogatchover), left Petach Tikva for Dvinsk to work with her father's student, publishing his various manuscripts. They worked until the Nazi ban on Jewish publications reached them, at which point they worked covertly. They worked right up until the point when they were murdered, making available to the world the Rogatchover's manuscripts: tzafnat.com/mission--history.html
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 6:47
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    we see moshe rabeinu said "erase me from Your book if You dont forgive them" (for the golden calf). could be he learned it from there
    – ray
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 17:43
  • Dupe? judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/13807/…
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


I don't think its a question of chiyuv (obligation) but more of a moral feeling towards his students. When they heard that he is coming back they were probably inspired and rejuvenated etc. Which could of enabled his students to continue life. in addition noone really knew the real situation in Europe then.

  • rosh mishpacha, welcome to Mi Yodeya. I don't see that this answers the question, which asks for an halachic basis for Rav Elchanan's actions. Unless you can provide halachic grounds for what you called his "moral feeling", or the halachic relevance of "noone really knew..."?
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 21, 2013 at 23:09
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    @ShmuelBrin I'm not sure what your point is. He though it was correct to go back. Why does he need a formal halachik chiyuv?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 7:57
  • @msh210: The halachic relevance of "noone really knew" is fairly obvious; the obligation to save oneself can only be said to take effect when and if your life is in clear and present danger. Since he did not know what the situation was, there can be no chiyuv to stay away. Furthermore, there is an argument to be made that he had a chiyuv to return to lead his flock, as he was their spiritual leader, without whom the flock would be like the people in the desert; without water, i.e. Torah.
    – razumny
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 11:08
  • Is there a halachic teaching that we shall make an account of ourselves to Hashem? If that is the case, then it becomes a question of which course of action one would prefer to be discussed at that time.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 16:33

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