Rabbi Shalom Natan Ra’anan, who was known to all as Rabbi Natan, the son-in-law of Maran Harav, was one of the most prominent members of the teaching staff in the yeshiva. He was a diligent learner and treated everyone around him in a pleasant and friendly manner. From an early age he aspired to perfect himself in three ways: using his time wisely, sharpening his thinking in learning, and honing his concentration in prayer. He had special relationship with Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and Rabbi David Cohen, the Nazir.
Rabbi Natan lived in the house of “the Nazir” for many years, learning from him and becoming his close confidante. After becoming one of the most prominent students at the yeshiva, he married Rebbetzin Batya, the youngest daughter of Maran HaRav Kook, and strengthening his relationship with his father-in-law. He also had a close relationship with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda.
Upon the passing of the Rabbi Kook on the 5th of Elul 5635 (1935), a difficult period commenced in the yeshiva’s history, and the burden of management was placed on Rabbi Natan. He carried the responsibility with great strength and love, and after the difficult period, he was privileged to see the yeshiva stablize and continue to grow.
Following in the footsteps of Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Natan kept his house open and available to the public. Reb Natan lost his youngest son, Reb Avraham Yitzchak, who drowned in Bat Yam, and later his wife passed away after suffering from illness. He received his suffering with great love and passed away on Erev Shabbos Hagadol i1972. In his youth he wrote in his personal diary: “Joy is the foundation of success, the sadness is the disfiguration.” Indeed, despite the difficulties he encountered throughout his life, happiness always remained to guide him through.
His Life Story
Rabbi Natan Ra’anan (or as known through the Ashkenazi pronunciation of his students, Rav Nassan) was born on 21 of Menachem Av 1900 to Rabbi Ya’akov Elazar Hershovitz and to his wife, Chesna. He was raised and educated in the region of Zamut, Lithuania. He spent his childhood studying in cheder and at the local yeshiva, and was a talented and polite child.
In the Yeshiva
When the First World War broke out in 1914, the family immigrated to the city of Vitebsk, where they lived for about five years, during which time Shalom Natan studied at the local yeshiva and was found to be a diligent student with a pleasant manner toward those around him. The family was close to the religious Zionist movement in the area, and even worked in the fields of culture and propaganda for the Lovers of Zion organization.
At the end of the war, in 1921, the family returned to Shavli, and at the time, Shalom Natan, a young man of about twenty, joined the Lithuanian yeshiva world. There he learned under Rabbi Kahanaman in the Ponevezh yeshiva. From that period, he kept notes of the lectures given by Rabbi Kahaneman, and his writings, which were among the few remnants of the pre World War II era, were used in a sefer of Rabbi Kahaneman lectures. He was privileged to hear a lecture from Rabbi Avraham Aharon HaKohen Burstein, “Rabbi from Tavurg”, who visited the yeshiva in 1923 and gave shiur in Yeshivat Ponevezh, and who later taught at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav. This shiur was printed in Rabbi Burstein’s book “Ner Aharon” from Rabbi Natan’s notes.
Immigrating to Israel
He later studied at the Slobodka Yeshiva. In those days, the movement to immigrate to Eretz Israel grew in the yeshiva. Many of the young men came early and sought to find their place in the world of the Eretz Israel yeshivot. One of them was Shalom Natan Hershovitz. In Nissan 1924, Rabbi Natan moved to Eretz Yisrael, reaching the shores of Jaffa on Erev Shabbat Hagadol. His goal was to move to Jerusalem and join the “Central Yeshiva” that he had heard about previously.
With his arrival in Jerusalem, a new era began in his life. His absorption in Jerusalem and the yeshiva was not easy. It was a long time before the young immigrant found a roof over his head, and until then he slept on the bench of the Yeshu’ot Yaakov synagogue in the Mea She’arim neighborhood. Later, he slept in the home of Rabbi Nazir, in the Nachlat Achim neighborhood.
Aspiring to Perfection
Rabbi Natan recorded his impressions and memoirs of this period in a personal journal. This diary, which was a dialogue between him and his conscience, reveals the story of a young student who aspires to complete and demands much of himself. In his notes from the winter of 1926 we hear about various areas in which he demanded perfection from himself: respectable external appearance, using time wisely, and concentration and focus in prayer.
Relationships with the Staff
Rabbi Natan developed deep relationships wih his colleagues – Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook and Rabbi David Cohen – “the Nazir.” Various letters they sent to each other attest to the strong ties between them. Rabbi Charlap wrote to him that ” true connection is an spiritual attachment coming from a hidden place” and indeed, Rabbi Natan was one of his regular visitors to his home, eating with him, and accompanied him every Shabbat as he davened at the Kotel.
Confidante of “the Nazir” and Rav Kook’s son-in-law
Living in the Nazir’s home for a number of years, Rabbi Natan learned much Torah from him and became his confidante. As one of the most prominent students in the yeshiva, he was privileged to be matched with the Rebbetzin Batya Miriam, the daughter of Maran Harav. Their wedding was held on the Sivan 3, 1928. O Rabbi Natan who’s connection to Rabbi Kook as his son-in-law only grew stronger. The mutual concern between Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda and Rabbi Natan was enormous, and they became close confidantes and friends.
Yeshiva Director and Maggid Shiur
With the passing of the Rabbi Kook on the 5th of Elul 5635 (1935), “the sun came at noon” and a difficult period began to unfold in the annals of the yeshiva. With great strength and love, Rabbi Natan shouldered the burden in order to see the yeshiva succeed. In those days of the ongoing instability and the great difficulties, he worked with Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda. Together, they were privileged to see the yeshiva grow out of the crisis and renew itself in all areas.
Rabbi Natan filled the spot left by Maran HaRav by teaching the Mishnayos class every morning after Shacharit and speaking during the third meal on Shabbat. In the yeshiva, he used to give a shiur from the his Torah novellas in the Masechet that was studied and a lesson in Masechet Derech Eretz Rabbah. He was able to formulate his thoughts so that his approach would be understood easily and clearly by his s student. Indeed, those who learned his Torah from his lips remember its sweetness fondly.
An Open Home
His students tell of his special humility that was even greater than his Torah. Following the practice of Rabbi Kook, his father-in-law, Rabbi Natan’s home was also open to the public. There is a story told by students of the time during a cold and wet winter when a student approached Rebbetzin Batyah, who was living with Rabbi Natan in Rabbi Kook’s house, and asked her permission to borrow a little fuel from a barrel that was standing on the window ledge in the house. The Rebbetzin’s response was unequivocal: “Is there anything in this house that is private thing?” Rabbi Kook’s house was not private but was open for everyone
Accepting Suffering with Love
In Menachem Av 1959, Rabbi Natan’s youngest son, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak, named after his grandfather and resembling him in knowledge, drowned in Bat-Yam. Rabbi Natan received this tragedy with love. His wife later became ill and suffered enormously, and even though he too suffered from physical pain, he would help her as much as possible. In the end, the daughter of Maran HaRav zt “l, who was a devoted mother to the yeshiva for many years, died in his lifetime. Her departure caused Rabbi Natan’s health to deteriorate, and a few months after she passed away, he too passed away on Erev Shabbat Hagadol 5732 (1972).
After Rabbi Natan’s passing, “the Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Institute” published a two volume sefer with of a collection of his writings, biography, Torah compiledin his memory called “Shemen Ra’an.”