YM: What happened next?
MZ: At this point my father came to Israel for a visit and was so happy with my wife and new child that he purchased an apartment for us since we had very little money. In addition, he decided that he wanted to give me, rather than to my three brothers who remained in the States, whatever money he had as an inheritance. I didn’t know this at the time and I only learned about it later on.
Half a year after visiting me in Israel my father had a heart attack. He died six months later following a second heart attack. When my father died, before I knew of the will he left me, I went to the States for the last time. I went with my wife and kids in order to convince my mom and brothers that he must be buried in Israel. Eventually they gave in and my dad is buried here. However, they were angry at me since I didn’t visit his grave. I go according to the Rambam who prohibits visiting graves. They say to me “what’s the point of having him buried in Israel if you don’t visit him!?”
YM: So this was the last time you ever left Eretz Yisrael. Incredible. So what happened to the will when you came back to Israel?
MZ: Needless to say, when we heard about the will my brothers were not happy that I would receive all the inheritance so I agreed that for the time being they should hold on to the money. At the time I was still teaching in a high school in Hadera but when the school year ended I decided that I wanted to seriously study Torah. I told my brothers to continue to hold on to the money and just support me with a sum of roughly sixty liras a week. With this money we lived a very simple life but it allowed me to sit and learn Torah. I was twenty six years old and I wanted to learn with all my strength, all my intelligence, powers and energy.
The Period of Intense Torah Learning
YM: With the weekly allowance of 60 liras, how long were you able to learn?
MZ: I learned for nine or ten straight years – morning, noon and night – until the money ran out.
YM: That’s staggering! Can you describe your learning schedule and some of the items you learned?
MZ: During that period I finished all of the Babylonian Talmud, all the midrashim, all the books of the Rambam, the Tur, Shulchan Aruch; all and all I completed about one hundred different works.
Each day I learned four pages of Gemara (Talmud), two chapters of Tanach (Torah, Prophets, Writings), a few hours of Halacha, lots of Musar, and various other books.
One fellow, a real tzadik who had a toy store, wanted to be awake every night at midnight in order to learn Kabbalah so he came every night to my apartment at 11:30 and we learned Kabbalah until 12:30. After that I slept until 4:00 and then another study partner came and we studied Kabbalah until sunrise, at which time we went to pray the morning prayers.
After the prayers I then slept a bit before starting to learn again. Except for three times a day to go to synagogue I almost never left my apartment during those ten years. Anything that needed to be done my lovely wife did for me as she was totally supportive of my learning.
When the money ran out Rabbi Zuriel got a teaching job with Rabbi Bagad in Nachal Yitzchak (a high school yeshiva in Nachalim, near Petach Tikva). Then be began teaching in the Sha’alvim high school, after which he was asked in 1978 to be the mashgiach ruchani (spiritual supervisor) in the Sha’alvim Yeshiva. Although he didn’t consider himself a mashgiach he accepted the job and continued there for eighteen years. During his time in Sha’alvim he was asked questions by hundreds of students and he had a custom of giving everyone a clear answer, either on the spot or the next day after checking with various sources or rabbis. Thus no one was left hanging.
The Rav jotted down in the cover of a book all his milestones in learning, per year, as a form of self- motivation. For instance, during a specific year it might be noted that all of the Babylonian Talmud, the Etz Chaim of the Arizal, the Mishne Torah of the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch and Sefer Ha-Zohar were studied. In addition, it was noted whether this was the first time that a certain work was completed, the tenth time, or in the case of the Nach (Prophets and Writings) the 100th time. Once again this was purely a technique that the Rav employed for self-motivation and therefore should not be construed in any way as a form of vanity or arrogance. Personally I was blown away when I saw the amount of material that he had covered through the years. It’s really, really mind-blogging.