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23 Tammuz 5759 - July 7, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt"l

by B. Kahn

Last week, on Wednesday the 16th of Tammuz, the entire Torah world was cast into a deep pall of mourning upon the petirah of the great and renowned gaon, HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt"l, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Torah.

HaRav Diskin was born 67 years ago in the town of Periaslov in the Kiev region of the Ukraine. His father, HaRav Yehoshua Zelig Diskin, was the rav of the town. The Diskin family are descendants of the Maharal MiPrague and the Chavos Yo'ir.

When R' Moshe Shimon was a child, his family immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and settled first in Tel Aviv. Later, his father became the rav of Pardes Channah, where he was well- known for his strong stands on Torah issues. In 5718 (1957) he was involved in a tremendous public controversy over his ruling to bury the child of a mixed marriage (only the father was Jewish) according to the halacha -- with dignity but outside the regular burial area. He stood firm for the Torah view in the face of tremendous abuse and pressure.

As a youngster R' Moshe Shimon studied in Ponevezh, and was one of its most famous and outstanding students. The roshei yeshiva of Ponevezh loved to speak to him in learning, and the Ponevezher Rav, HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was extremely fond of him, a feeling which is reflected in the Rav's haskamah to HaRav Shimon Moshe's first sefer.

After his marriage, he and his wife, who is a descendant of the Gaon of Vilna, moved to Yerushalayim, where he studied in the Kaminetz-Knesses Beis Yitzchok kollel.

However, his yearning for dibuk chaverim (one of the 49 ways whereby Torah is acquired), drew him back to his colleagues in the Ponevezh kollel, where he would study until the small hours.

The period in which he studied in the Ponevezh kollel was very fruitful in chiddushei Torah. Every Shabbos night, a chabura, attended by many well known talmidei chachomim would meet in his home, and talk in learning with rischa de'Oraisa.

He also became involved in influencing students from religious high schools (who normally went on to the army and working careers) to draw closer to the genuine Torah way, and was one of the founders of the Tiferes Netanya yeshiva, geared for such students.

Many students who studied in that yeshiva became outstanding talmidei chachomim due to the tremendous efforts and energies he invested in their chinuch. He once said: "Teisi li, because none of the students who studied in Tiferes Netanya reverted to their former ways."

Later he was asked to found the famous Tiferes Tzion kollel, in Bnei Brak which was joined by outstanding avreichim. The kollel developed into a unique and eminent mokom Torah.

He then moved to Jerusalem and was invited to be a ram in Yeshivas Beis Hatalmud. Then, since 5733 (1973) he served for 26 years as one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Torah.

Until his final day, he delivered shiurim and was highly esteemed by his students, who were very attached to him.

Despite his failing health, he came to the yeshiva a few days prior to his petirah, and with the very last vestiges of his strength he delivered a shiur and spoke in learning with the students. Those who saw him then said that giving the shiur gave him a special strength. Even though he could hardly adjust his yarmulke before beginning, his delivery was powerful and full of life.

During his fifty years of harbotzas Torah he produced hundreds of students, showing them a correct and clear-cut approach to Torah study.

For many of them it was he who taught them how to understand the sevoros of the gemora in a lucid and straightforward manner. He was known for his brilliant and original thinking, and thorough rigor.

His unique approach was evident in his seforim, Ma'ases Hamelech on Rambam, Shas and Torah. These seforim are studied in yeshivos all over the world, and his method has become a concept in itself, to the point that budding talmidei chachomim who wished to praise a sevoro would often say: "That sevora is worthy of being Reb Shimon Moshe's."

He merited the praise of the Rav of Brisk (not to his face) after saying to him his chiddushei Torah.

He was constantly engrossed in Torah thoughts, and would engage in divrei Torah with everyone he encountered, opening all of his conversations with either a question or an answer. At the shiva his son said that he would look into a difficulty posed by R' Akiva Eiger before attending a wedding or other public affair, so that he would have an engaging topic to occupy him while participating outwardly.

Even during his final days, when it was difficult for him to pursue his customary learning routine, he would say to those close to him: "Ask a kushia," or "What chiddush did they make in the beis medrash today?"

His efforts on behalf of the general public were a special chapter in his life. He offered guidance and counsel to talmudei Torah teachers, enabling them give their best to the young talmidim. He went to great pains to place graduates of Beis Yaakov elementary schools in suitable seminaries. He also founded a welfare organization called Matan, which focused on the absorption and rescue of youngsters.

His integrity, uprightness and honesty were known to all. He helped spearhead the Ramat Shlomo housing project, solving the dwelling problems of hundreds of low income chareidi families.

In an unprecedented act of yosher and nikyon kapayim, he even refunded the extra money of those who had bought apartments in the project of Degel Hatorah, on whose board he sat, when he saw that such a step was possible. That step made a great kiddush Hashem. Government officials thought that something was suspicious. Perhaps they had charged such high prices at the outset that they were embarrassed by the surplus and therefore returned the money. A thorough investigation found that they had charged a reasonable price, but had just managed to build the apartments below budget. One time when he was at a ceremony in which they were praising the fact that the money was returned, he turned to his neighbor and said with quiet irony, "They're just praising me for not being a thief."

The Levaya

Thousands of people led by roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, dayanim, and bnei Torah participated in the levaya from Yeshivas Kol Torah, starting on schedule at 11 a.m.

After the entire congregation had recited a number of chapters of Tehillim, verse by verse, the rosh yeshiva of Kol Torah, HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger, delivered a brief hesped:

"Rav Shimon Moshe was a great gaon, a gaon in Torah dissemination, a gaon in chessed. He is taking all of the Torah which he bequeathed to his students in our sacred yeshiva, along with him to the World of Truth. He will become a good interceder on behalf of his family and on behalf of the students of our holy yeshiva who were even more important to him than his own family."

HaRav Gershon Edelstein, one of the roshei yeshiva of Ponevezh and a brother-in-law of the niftar, began his hesped with the verse: "Al bomosecho cholol, eich noflu giborim, mi'neshorim kalu umei'aroyos goveiro, la'asos retzon Bor'om."

Giborim -- these are the mighty in Torah and avodas Hashem. They are the defenders of Klal Yisroel. Eich noflu giborim -- How have the mighty fallen, is a lamentation over Klal Yisroel. He taught Torah with every vestige of his strength. Everyone saw that all his thoughts focused on Torah, and on his devotion to the yeshiva students.

Hane'ehovim vehane'imim bechayeihem uvemosom lo nifrodu. Mineshorim kalu umei'aroyos goveiru -- The lovely and the pleasant in their lives, even in their death they were not divided. They were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. These are the praises Dovid Hamelech uttered in his eulogy of Shaul and Yehonoson. "Lovely and pleasant" to Klal Yisroel. Pleasant in good character traits, in love of one's fellow. These are the ones who safeguard the generation with their righteousness. This is both a lamentation and a eulogy.

"It is difficult to part. He was unique. When asked about his suffering, he said that he wasn't willing to forego his pains. Such a level is the embodiment of Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid. How high a level. The trait of love for one's fellow was imbedded in him, his humility and his ability to sense the Torah's truth had a deep impact on his students. I am distressed over your petirah, my brother. There is so much to say about your love of your fellow."

HaRav Boruch Dov Povarski, one of the roshei yeshiva of Ponevezh, began with: Zeh dodi; zeh rei'i -- This is my beloved; this is my companion. The concept `companion' constitutes the highest level of interpersonal relations. When the Torah states the mitzvah of ve'ohavto lerei'acho komocho -- Love your fellow as yourself, it stresses that this applies only if one's fellow is one's friend. He lived according to the ideals of ahava ve'achvo vesholom verei'us -- love and harmony and peace and companionship, and `mine is yours, yours is yours,' during his entire life. Light is a lucid element, which is sweet only in a Torah environment. Only one who merits the Torah's light savors this sweetness. Wherever you studied, you merited Torah's light. Every word, every sentence you uttered was sweet and pleasant. The light was sweet, and the Torah shone for you.

"Everyone says `chidushei Torah.' But there is also a concept of `mechadshim es haTorah.' Every chiddush which a talmid chochom utters is kissed by Hakodosh Boruch Hu. What we merit in this world is by dint of our talents, but talents do not go up to Shomayim. They remain here. Only toil in Torah goes up to Shomayim [provided that one uses his talents for the sake of Torah].

"Reb Shimon Moshe, you made maximal us of your considerable talents. You had many talents, and you toiled and exerted yourself in Torah. The result was chiddushim which are sweet and pleasant.

"`How shall gold be dimmed.' There is the good crown. So many merits, of Torah dissemination. Every one of his hanhogos was unique.

"How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished. Dovid Hamelech says this about Yehonoson three times. Dovid knew Yehonoson well, due to their friendship; he knew him in all areas. He said `how have the mighty fallen' three times about his friend, because in each facet of Yehonoson's character he saw the aspect of might. Exertion in Torah, humility and love of one fellow -- in every aspect, your greatness was evident. So we say: How the mighty have fallen."

HaRav Avrohom Erlanger, one of the roshei yeshiva of Kol Torah, began his hesped with: "Woe to us that we must eulogize one of the pillars of our holy yeshiva, and one of its greatest forces of influence, woe that we must eulogize one of the those who flowed with Torah day in and day out. He lived Torah, taught it and educated others in Torah, receiving everyone with the glow of ahavas Torah.

We beseech Hashem to grant us a life instilled with ahavas Torah and yiras Shomayim. Every conversation of his, was essentially Torah study. He had such a prodigious amount of ahavas Torah. The joy and delight he exuded when he made chiddushim was evident from his very demeanor. His face would glow with happiness, which he would impart to all of his students, all of his chaveirim.

"The sun has set at midday. Only a few days ago, he still delivered a shiur and accepted students into the yeshiva. When we visited him at his home, he spoke in learning. He was the embodiment of good character traits. Derochecho darkei no'am -- its ways are those of pleasantness.

"We worked together for decades. He never disgraced his fellow, never displayed anger, even when there were differences of opinion.

"In Pirkei Ovos it says: Make your Torah fixed; Say little and do much; and receive every person in a genial manner. These three attributes converged in him. In the midst of his avoda, he left us.

"His Torosecho keva was implemented with vitality, Torah for its own sake. Hashem was constantly before his eyes, as was his awe of gedolei Yisroel. He felt the power of Torah and yirah. He was steadfast and persistent in his Torah study under all circumstance.

"I asked him once how he felt, and he said: `Half in Olom Haboh.' He was always in a state of happiness, embodying the words of Chovos Halevovos that one should internalize his sorrow, and present a happy appearance.

"When one of the members of the chabura passes away, the entire chabura should be concerned. We saw the embodiment of truth before our very eyes. He studied eight pages of gemora a day between the study sessions of the yeshiva, in order to be able to complete the entire Shas by the end of a year.

"He went to great pains not to cause others suffering. He was a model for us, and we must recall his outstanding character traits, and make resolutions to strengthen ourselves and to emulate him."

HaRav Shmuel Deutsch, one of the roshei yeshiva of Kol Torah began: "Hatzvi Yisroel, al bomosecho cholol, eich noflu giborim. Your beauty, Israel, upon your high places is slain. How are the mighty fallen.

Al bomosecho cholol refers to Torah dissemination. He spread Torah until only a few days ago. In the middle of the stage, in the middle of his great harbotzas Torah, he fell. How have the mighty fallen in the middle of the battle, in the middle, the sun set in midday [i.e. before its time]. He was in the middle of publishing his seforim. He said a number of times during the this past year that he wanted still to be mezakeh horabim. In the middle of his sacred labor, the sun suddenly set.

"Tzar li olecho ochi, no'amto li me'od -- I am distressed about you, my brother; You were very pleasant to me.

"I say this, and everyone here, all of the thousands of participants in the levaya, who had any sort of contact with him, can testify that they too feel tzar li olecho ochi, no'amto li me'od.

He related to everyone with dedication, and with geniality and tremendous warmth. He was thoroughly versed in all aspects of the Torah, and a genius in the performance of chessed to his fellow, helping all to secure their needs. He almost didn't take a step without making a chiddush in Torah. Scores of times, he would open R' Akiva Eiger, see a question and contemplate a possible teirutz. He even went to sleep while meditating over R' Akiva Eiger. He was totally Torah, and when he made a good chiddush, he would tell everyone he met about it.

"He was the living embodiment of ki heim chayeinu. Torah constituted his lifeblood. Even when he was very weak, he made great efforts to come to the yeshiva to deliver shiurim, because speaking in learning with the yeshiva students is what gave him vitality. He produced many students. In the yeshiva his mesiras nefesh in speaking with students, guiding them and showing them the truth was evident to all. How abundant the amount of Torah they imbibed from him, how great the extent of the true hashkofo he taught them.

"He lived only in order to instill his students with Torah and yiras Shomayim. He was a role model of honesty and profound integrity."

His son, HaRav Yitzchok Zev Diskin concluded the hespedim with stirring words, explaining that when Moshe Rabbenu said, `I am 120 years old today,' he meant to convey that the wells of wisdom were closing with his passing. Moshe Rabbenu was saying his own hesped. He was saying that with his passing, a chapter in the mesora was ending.

"We, his family and students, have lost our mesores and wells of wisdom," HaRav Yitzchok Zev cried out.

"Until yesterday, the wellsprings of chochmah were amidst us; now they have been sealed."

After the hespedim, the massive levaya proceeded toward Har Hamenuchos. Many walked the whole way. By the late afternoon, the earth had closed over one of the great marbitzei Torah and servants of the community, who will be greatly missed.

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