Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5760 - July 26, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Torah's Grace Personified -- HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin Zt'l Of Yeshivas Kol Torah -- 15th Tammuz 5760, His First Yahrtzeit

By Rabbi A. Gefen

Part Two

Introduction: Manifold Burdens

In this continuation of our look at HaRav Diskin zt'l's life, we examine his years in Yerushalayim, where he lived and taught for the last quarter century of his life.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the picture which emerges is how one person could be so completely devoted to so many different roles and activities. HaRav Diskin's commitment to the yeshiva, to his shiurim and to his talmidim was total, yet it did not preclude his maintaining long-term relationships with past talmidim and with involvement in a range of major communal undertakings outside the yeshiva.

We have already seen that when it came to spreading and strengthening Torah, he was utterly selfless and was willing to do anything and everything in his power, without a thought for his own prestige, or even for recognition. This negation, or more correctly sublimation, of self is the key to understanding his ability to fill so many diverse roles at once and yet to make them all expressions of his basic drive: to support and further Torah in every possible way.

We continue our presentation of the recollections of his family, friends and disciples, interspersing them as before with extracts from a hesped delivered by ylct'a HaRav Boruch Shmuel Deutsch.

And Raise Many Talmidim

Despite the extent to which he disseminated Torah, we were always astonished anew -- with no exaggeration -- at the speed of his comprehension and his tremendous abilities. The person he was speaking to would just open his mouth and Rav Shimon Moshe would already grasp what he wanted to ask and would answer him in a flash. It happened all the time that we would be sitting and discussing a particular topic, while he would complete his reflections and arrive at his conclusions, with amazing speed.

Yet all this notwithstanding, when a bochur approached him with a question, he would descend to the questioner's level and say, "Let's think about your difficulty . . ." It often appeared as though he was hearing the question for the first time. He gave up hours and hours for this. Countless talmidei chachomim acknowledge that they received their approach and their direction in learning from Rav Shimon Moshe, as well as their desire to produce chiddushim and the idea that one can and should find chiddushim in every part of Torah . . .

Rav Shimon Moshe's shiurim and chaburos were renowned for their straight, clear thinking and the solid principles upon which the ideas they conveyed were built. Many of the talmidim felt that it was Rav Shimon Moshe who put them on their feet in their own learning and many of them maintained close and regular contact with him even years after they had left the yeshiva.

He had the wisdom and insight to grasp each talmid's mentality and to see what points were causing difficulties. He would then correct misconceptions and eliminate cloudy thinking, leading each of them along the way they had to take in order to reach the straight path. It was all done in a warm, genial and friendly way. When speaking together in learning, Rav Shimon Moshe was never condescending. He gave each talmid the feeling that he was a colleague.

The yeshiva's board put Rav Shimon Moshe's gifts of insight to good use in processing new applicants for the yeshiva. They relied implicitly upon his evaluations at the entrance examinations and he commented himself that he had virtually never been wrong about a bochur. If it seemed hard at first sight to justify Rav Shimon Moshe's verdict, time usually showed that he had not been deceived.

A close talmid recalled the first time he approached Rav Shimon Moshe for advice on how to learn. The first question he was asked, before he'd finished speaking was, "Are you a capable fellow?" The bochur was momentarily confused and did not know what to say. After a very brief silence, Rav Shimon Moshe simply said, "Okay. I already know the answer. Carry on . . . !"

He felt that the yeshiva was his second (maybe even his first) home and his involvement with his talmidim and their progress went far beyond the minimum that was expected of him. He arranged many private chavrusas with bochurim in his own home and frequently came back to the yeshiva at nights to speak in learning with the bnei hayeshiva. He in fact asked a shailoh regarding these evenings: was it better to spend them disseminating Torah in the yeshiva, or to learn on his own, delving into subjects that he wanted to learn in depth? The answer he received was that public Torah study took precedence.

The extent to which he felt that he belonged in the yeshiva was apparent to all during the last months of his life when he would literally drag himself there, to talk in learning or to deliver a shiur. He was so weak that at home, he needed assistance with everything, yet to stop coming to yeshiva was just not an option for him.

My Rebbe's Legacy: A Talmid's Recollections

He held a monthly chabura in his home until almost the end of his life, which I attended even ten years after my marriage. First, one of the avreichim would speak on a topic he'd prepared. Then Rav Shimon Moshe would speak. From the moment he started, until he finished an hour or an hour and a half later, the stream of chiddushim didn't stop. He moved right from one thing to another, citing yet another chiddush and another resolution and going on.

He would go around all the avreichim asking each one what he was learning. One was learning Bovo Kama, another Zevochim . . . he'd home in to whatever daf each one was on and instantly recall some chiddush or piece in a Rishon on their topic.

Sometimes when he met a bochur or an avreich and asked to hear some novel thought that they'd arrived at in the course of their learning, the response would be vague, along the lines of, "Well, I'd started to think about such and such . . . " or "to try and clarify why it is that . . . "

Such responses pained him. "Why don't I hear a kushyoh in the style of the Ketzos HaChoshen, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, or the Brisker Rov?" he'd ask. "This is the kind of learning we're waiting to see. Of course, it may be possible to argue with your question or its premise, but the question itself should be presented clearly, without hesitation. The question should be clear; the problem is defined. I can present how I understood things before the answer and what has changed in my understanding after the answer."

It was not just a question of arranging one's thoughts but of building the picture with precision, of knowing exactly what one was saying. We learned Pesochim and in the kibbutz [top] level, the bochurim delivered chaburos every week. He asked, "Why are all the bochurim picking the topic of Zeh vezeh gorem to speak about? It's such a difficult, unclear topic. They should pick simpler topics."

Of course, the work which a bochur invested was always worthwhile, whatever the topic or the result, but he felt that it would be much more beneficial for them to be working on topics that gave them a better chance of attaining a high degree of clarity.

I once either wrote or called him to ask how he delineated an avreich's task [as opposed to that of a yeshiva bochur] in learning a sugya. He replied, "One can spend limitless time on each and every sugya. However, one should learn in order to identify the points that need further clarification, one should see what the Rishonim and the Acharonim say . . . think a little and then go on."

He used to say, "Once every three months one should prepare a chabura. Take a topic that interests you, open up seforim and look around, from morning until evening . . . you should have the essential points of the topic clear, not foggy. Then go on . . . "

He would urge us to look at things through a businessman's eyes, in profit-and-loss terms. One can stay on one point until one's strength gives out -- but think, "What will I have gained?" A more precise way of putting something, perhaps? One more question?

The question is, is it worth it? Do those profits justify staying in one place, when one could achieve more if one moved on to another topic? Would it not be more worthwhile to make a much bigger gain? It's not simply a matter of being able to cover more dapim. The point is, that one shouldn't stay on one topic to the point where one dries up but should continually look out for new ways to make profit . . .

He would urge us to think about a kushyoh before falling asleep, to take a lighter sefer, such as Kehillos Yaakov or Divrei Yechezkel . . . not to battle against oneself; rather to make a businesslike reckoning and take what one naturally felt drawn towards, where one stands to gain the most.

He once arrived in the hospital after having lost consciousness. As he awoke, he started repeating a shiur, with four different approaches to the topic, which he'd prepared to say in the yeshiva. Someone asked him if he'd really kept all that in his head during the hours he'd been asleep? He replied, "If I'd been a chess player, I'd have been thinking about my next move!"

He used to encourage us to broaden our horizons. As a bochur, he once sent me to attend the engagement of a friend who was in the same chabura. The engagement was in Rechasim, a good few hours' ride by bus and it meant spending the entire afternoon travelling in order to be there. "What's the problem?" he asked, "Bitul Torah? So take something for the way. He gave me several kushyos to ask HaRav Uri Kellerman and told me to bring him back the answers the following day. He wanted to get us out of our insularity and get us used to other people's approaches. He said that as bochurim, he and his friends' idea of "fun" was to travel to other roshei yeshiva and repeat their chiddushim to them.

He once wrote in Yated that he hoped that during Chol Hamoed, bochurim would go and hear shiurim from other roshei yeshiva. He wanted us to be able to hear other approaches as well.

He gave us the ambition to produce chiddushim, to broaden the scope of one's thought and to avoid getting caught up. And he wanted a certain type of chiddushim too, not mere sophistry over super-fine nuances but clear and well defined ideas.

Font of Counsel

He devoted all his strength and abilities towards benefiting others. Hundreds, [maybe] thousands of people, both distinguished and ordinary, were helped by the wonderful advice he gave. He was attuned to the feelings of those in need. His thoughts were always on finding ways to extend both material and spiritual help and support. His tremendous abilities helped him find shrewd methods of so doing . . . The work and the good deeds which he did for the klal are famous, however I must say that what is known is only a minute fraction of what he actually did. His honesty and integrity are also well-known . . . he derived no personal benefit whatsoever from any of his work, devoting himself to communal matters wholly for the sake of Heaven . . . His contribution was so great that even five men could not make up for him. He took everything that he was involved in very seriously, even though he tried to conceal his earnestness with quips . . . (HaRav B.S. Deutsch)

Despite his intense application to learning and teaching, Rav Shimon Moshe's heart remained wide open to the needs of others and whenever approached, he would focus all of his skills and warmth into assisting them. Many used to turn to him for advice or mediation and he developed a reputation for his wisdom and integrity.

As a result, over the years, he was asked to manage a number of communal concerns, his suitability for providing the necessary direction being unanimously agreed upon. For example, when Talmud Torah Hamesorah, one of the oldest and largest chadorim in Yerushalayim, was plunged into a crisis that threatened its continued operation, it was HaRav Shach ylct'a who personally called upon Rav Shimon Moshe to act as the institution's advisory consultant, as part of a rabbinical board, and provide the guidance that it needed for its smooth functioning. Rav Shimon Moshe and the other rabbonim on the board succeeded in their task and the talmud Torah expanded to the point where it had several branches and a combined student body numbering in the thousands. His involvement continued even after the crisis had been resolved. Rav Shimon Moshe kept a watchful eye open and participated in weekly meetings and in the testing of the students. In time, the talmud Torah gained a reputation as being a top-notch elementary institution.

Rav Shimon Moshe commented on several occasions that throughout his communal dealings -- which he conducted on a purely voluntary basis -- he knew that he had remained wholly untainted by any personal agenda. He would not think twice about extending his assistance to Institution A, even if this meant that his own children would thereby be deprived of some other benefit. He was happy to forgo his own honor as well and if the situation demanded it, he would personally attend to mundane tasks, so that young children could learn undisturbed.

He bore the full burden of his numerous and varied appointments, faithfully discharging all the attendant responsibilities. A friend once called to inform him about a certain irregularity in one of the institutions which he guided, and to ask him to see that it was dealt with. The caller eventually discovered that the matter had indeed been sorted out and he let Rav Shimon Moshe know.

Some time later, he wanted to make sure that Rav Shimon Moshe remembered that the problem had been seen to, so that he shouldn't deal with it by mistake and he reminded him that things had been arranged. "It's true that there are certain things that I forget and need to be reminded about," Rav Shimon Moshe responded, "but this was something entirely different. When you first told me that there was a problem in that institution, it weighed upon me. Then, when you told me that it had been sorted out, the yoke of dealing with it disappeared. Do I need to be reminded that a yoke has been taken off my shoulders?"

On the evening before Rav Shimon Moshe's petirah, one of the communal workers received an urgent call from a distraught Jew. "Save me!" cried the voice on the other end of the line. "The man who supported me is dying. Who will help me and the other families to whom Rav Diskin extended secret assistance? Nobody knew about it. Please help to ensure that we won't be left stranded cholila . . . "

It was the night of bedikas chometz and everyone was hurrying home from the beis haknesses to see to the myriad preparations for the approaching Yom Tov. However, there was no ignoring Rav Shimon Moshe, as he sat at a table by the door in order to raise money for Kimcha dePischa. His sons, who had come to the beis haknesses, complained. Not only does he go from door to door throughout the neighborhood, but to sit like this surely compromises the honor due to him as a talmid chochom . . . Rav Shimon Moshe simply answered that after all the money collected for Kimcha dePischa had been distributed, he had discovered another needy family who had not been included in the distribution. "How could I stand by and see their distress? I have to do everything in my power . . . "

During the year of mourning after his father's petirah, Rav Shimon Moshe would hurry to a shul, where he would lead one of the many minyanim that convened there for tefillah. Out of the corner of his eye, he once noticed a young orphan who was also trying to find an omud from which to lead a minyan, but who kept getting pushed aside by his seniors. "Here, daven here," said Rav Shimon Moshe, turning over his own omud to the youngster. "I will find another minyan." From then on, day after day and month after month, Rav Shimon Moshe arrived at the beis haknesses earlier in order to "reserve" an omud for the orphan and only then did he look for one for himself.

And that was not all. Since the boy had no father to care for him and supervise him, Rav Shimon Moshe invited him to his kollel and said, "You must need someone to prepare you for the entrance test for yeshiva. Come in whenever you want and I will help you to the best of my ability." When the boy arrived, Rav Shimon Moshe explained to his chavrusa that somebody important had come and that he had to learn with him.

One of the luminaries of our generation recalled, "I used to see him going to great trouble for various chassodim and I asked him, `Reb Shimon Moshe, how far do your obligations extend?!'

"He turned to me and said, `I didn't know that there is a point where one can stop troubling oneself over chesed.'

"For me," commented the talmid chochom, "that was a lesson in both chesed and mussar!"

It was four-thirty a.m. The telephone rang in the home of one of the rabbonim. Rav Shimon Moshe was on the line. "Since you rise for vosikin, I allowed myself to call at such an hour . . . That chesed matter which we discussed yesterday simply didn't let me sleep. I think that now I've got a solution though . . ."

Love and Respect for His Fellow Man

"Greet every person with a pleasant countenance" (Ovos 1:15) -- what a special welcome he had for all, young or old! He was never angry and never raised his voice more than the average.

Several years ago, in connection with one of the communal projects he was dealing with, he was targeted by a group of people who tried to offend him in a way that would have disgraced the Torah's honor. When he found out about it, he immediately sat down at his table and said Tehillim for half an hour, so that he should chas vesholom feel no personal grudge against them.

Once, when it was almost time to light the candles for Shabbos erev Pesach, and the last minute preparations were at their frenzied height, the telephone rang and a very nervous and apologetic caller excused himself for calling at such a pressured time . . . however he urgently needed some brief information concerning a certain shidduch . . . Rav Shimon Moshe first put the man at his ease and then spoke slowly and calmly to him at length, to an even greater extent than he usually did, in order to save him from the discomfort that he felt for phoning at such a time which, given the urgency with which he needed the information, he had been justified in doing.

It was a motzei Shabbos and Rav Shimon Moshe was due to fly to chutz lo'oretz that night for a dangerous operation. Nervous family members kept coming in, the expression on their faces betraying their fears that this might be the last time they saw him. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. An old talmid had come to consult his rebbe on a particular matter. Rav Shimon Moshe took the young man into his room and spoke to him there for approximately one and a half hours. Having received the guidance he needed the talmid left, unaware to the last minute that there were any special preparations underway in the rav's home, lest he feel uncomfortable for having imposed.

Rav Shimon Moshe's home was near a main road and the blare of an ambulance siren could often be heard. When this happened, he would interrupt his learning and say a perek of Tehillim. A Jew was in trouble and he had an obligation to help.

Once, when the news of a terrorist bombing attack R'l, was received, before any precise information had been given, he reached for his Tehillim and began praying immediately. The details could wait but prayers could not. The lives of fellow Jews were hanging in the balance.

A bochur who was new in the yeshiva approached Rav Shimon Moshe and extended an invitation to his wedding. Somewhat apologetically, the bochur explained that although Rav Shimon Moshe barely knew him and the wedding would be held far away, he was nevertheless inviting him. "You are mistaken," Rav Shimon Moshe told him. "Your invitation is very important to me. Even if I don't come to a bochur's wedding, I rejoice with him during the time of the chasunah. Therefore, I need the invitation."

When he arranged a time to meet someone, he took great pains to arrive on time, so that no one would chas vesholom have to wait for him. Once, he was an hour late for a meeting due to circumstances over which he had no control whatsoever. When he arrived, the man who had waited for him started to grumble and to give him mussar about the delay. Rav Shimon Moshe accepted the rebuke in silence. When the meeting was over and the man had left, the person accompanying Rav Shimon Moshe asked him, "I know that it was no fault of ours. Why didn't you tell him that?"

Rav Shimon Moshe replied, "While he was waiting for me, all his complaints built up inside him. It afforded him relief to tell me them all. How could I spoil it for him by telling him that it wasn't my fault?"

Simplicity, Humility and Concealment

Despite all his tremendous efforts to hide behind the mask with which he covered himself -- the mask of an ordinary member of the rank and file -- we who were close to him know that he was a gaon of the type about which we read in books. (HaRav B. S. Deutsch)

He tried his best to escape from being honored. When arriving at the yeshiva on Simchas Torah, he entered by a side door so that the bochurim would not sing in his honor when he made his entrance. When about to enter a simcha, he would look for someone with whom he could start to talk in learning, and remain next to, in order to avoid being seated by the hosts in a position of honor.

He used to say that in sitting by the mizrach, he was being miskabeid bekolon chaveiro, attaining honor at the expense of others, for without anyone sitting at the western side of the room, there was no inherent distinction in sitting by the mizrach. If, however, he felt that one of the celebrants at the simcha would themselves be honored by his appearance at the top table, he would gladly go sit there, without making any show of refusal and having to be pressured.

Because of his extensive involvement in communal affairs, he was scrupulously careful to avoid receiving any benefits from public figures, lest this influence his judgment in matters involving them or those close to them. After every family simcha, he would separate all the presents that had been given by public figures and return them.

His bearing was always that of an ordinary person, who felt himself to be just one of the group. When, after a number of accidents l'a, in the neighborhood where he lived, a rotation of adults was organized to accompany young children across the roads in the mornings, Rav Shimon Moshe asked to be included in the list, like any other resident.

Once, as a bochur, he was travelling from his home to yeshiva, carrying a large suitcase. The bus driver was somewhat short-tempered and demanded that he pay an extra fare for the space taken up by the suitcase. Rav Shimon Moshe extended a sum of money and seriously asked the driver in that case to take three fares, one for the suitcase on his outward trip when, "they apparently forgot to ask me for money."

One of the distinguished talmidei chachomim who eulogized him, correctly noted that, "The same Rav Shimon Moshe who was busy reconciling a difficult Rambam, would also be busy mending his neighbor's solar water tank."

He would always refuse the honor of being sandek at a bris, even for his own grandchildren. He argued that it was a segulah for the child if the sandek was a man of distinction and that he would forgo the honor which the parents wished to give him, for the child's benefit. In his last years, however, when he had already undergone considerable suffering, he agreed to accept sandeko'us saying that, "I now feel more suited to it, besides which, since it is an omen for the sandek to lead a long life, it is part of the efforts that I am obliged to make towards recovery of my health."

He once commented that when the bochurim stood up for him when he entered the yeshiva, he felt as though he was being mocked, for he himself recognized his own worthlessness. He then reconsidered however, and likened it to people who stand up for two wooden sticks covered with the velvet sheath that encases a sefer Torah, because they think that under the covering there is a real sefer Torah. Even though they are mistaken, their rising certainly constitutes honor of the Torah. Seeing it in this light made him feel better.

In his humility and the simplicity of his bearing, he put no distance whatsoever between himself and whoever he happened to be dealing with. He would talk in learning to young bochurim as though they were both the same age. Any stranger who engaged him in ordinary conversation would be unable to tell that the man he was speaking to was a great gaon and teacher of Torah.

When Rav Shimon Moshe took part in a meeting of gedolei Torah from a number of different communities, one of the participants did not know who he was. When this talmid chochom met Rav Shimon Moshe again some time later, he asked for his forgiveness. When Rav Shimon Moshe asked, "What for?" he explained, "At that meeting, I thought that you were the attendant of one of the gedolim there and I didn't accord you the honor you deserve. However, when your seforim came into my hands, I saw that you are a godol beTorah yourself, so I'm asking your forgiveness." Rav Shimon Moshe, naturally, did not understand what the problem was.

He bitterly hated all outward shows of honor. In his youth, he once met a certain rosh yeshiva, who proposed a certain Torah position to him. At the end of their conversation, the rosh yeshiva remarked, "I see that you are no lover of honor." Rav Shimon Moshe corrected him straight away and said, "You are mistaken. I do love honor but, just a person with refined taste will not eat from whatever is at hand, so it is with my taste in honor. I don't feel that there's any honor at all in the cacophony and the various performances of honoring that are customary nowadays, therefore, I don't pursue them. If someone wants to demolish one of my chiddushei Torah however, then you'll be able to see how much I love honor."

On the last occasion that he went to deliver a shiur in Kol Torah, he was so weak that he was unable to wear his customary black coat because it was too heavy. When asked whether he wasn't disturbed by going about without it, he replied in the negative and added that in fact, during all the years that he'd had to wear it, it had disturbed him. Now he felt comfortable.

His Torah and His Seforim

Rav Shimon Moshe's Torah declared eloquently enough who he was and praises of his chiddushim would be out of place here. What should be noted however, is that he never used his tremendous gifts in order to make "a place of his own," or to force chiddushim for the sake of it. His only purpose was to clarify and fully explain what had already been said by others, to provide polish and shine, to bring out its full beauty. The clear and sharp definitions which he used in order to fathom Torah's secrets were drawn from the Torah itself; he did not invent his own tools.

He would never be party to a dim or hazy explanation; neither would he agree to an unlikely conclusion, even when there seemed to be compelling reasons for doing so. He preferred to leave something puzzling unresolved, rather than resolve it with something else that was just as amazing, if not more so. Though all his chiddushim made perfect sense by themselves, they were always founded upon a compelling basis. He was never tempted to put forward a nice idea or a sharp definition where there was no strong reason for doing so.

Someone once remarked about his seforim that even if somebody disagreed with what was written in them, the onus of explaining why it was not as he said would still be on the dissenter, so self- understood and transparent were all of Rav Shimon Moshe's conclusions. When he heard this comment, Rav Shimon Moshe responded that this was the greatest praise of his seforim that he had ever heard.

He knew his own mind and would not be swayed from his convictions, even on fine points. Someone once showed him a kushyoh in a certain sefer and Rav Shimon Moshe replied that in his opinion, there was no difficulty whatsoever, and he explained why. Some time later, the same person met him again and asked him if he was a talmid of a certain gaon. Rav Shimon Moshe replied in the negative and his colleague then showed him the same answer he had given in that gaon's sefer, except that the latter had prefaced the answer with the words, "And perhaps one could resolve it . . . "

Rav Shimon Moshe said, "You can see that I'm not his talmid. I said that there's no question, while he writes, `perhaps one could resolve it'!"

"No question" and "perhaps one could resolve it" -- two different worlds!

He was very fond of brevity; not only brevity in using the minimum number of words, but also in leaving out any extraneous ideas that did not have a direct bearing on the matter under discussion. A talmid once approached him after a shiur and pointed out to him that a particular point he had made was not necessary in order to buttress the central idea he had wanted to convey. Rav Shimon Moshe thanked the bochur and subsequently praised him highly for that comment.

Rav Shimon Moshe's seforim were warmly received by Torah scholars the world over and many of his chiddushim, both written and oral, became part of the standard Torah that was repeated on the topics they concerned. On a number of occasions, the Steipler Gaon zt'l, mentioned that it was his custom to study the volume of Rav Shimon Moshe's Mas'eis Hamelech on the Torah every Shabbos and that he greatly enjoyed what was written there.

A talmid chochom once told Rav Shimon Moshe that he had visited HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky zt'l, when HaRav Nochum Partzovitz zt'l, was also there. The two geonim had Mas'eis Hamelech on Hilchos Rotzei'ach Ushemiras Nefesh open in front of them and were discussing one of the chiddushim that appeared there. Rav Shimon Moshe responded, "Do you think that they couldn't find a more important sefer than Mas'eis Hamelech to discuss? Rav Abramsky is probably busy preparing his sefer on the Tosefta Makkos, and for completion's sake, is looking into every sefer that he has on that masechta, in case he finds some important information there."

The Last Shiur

His final years, when he suffered both physical and spiritual anguish, are deserving of special consideration. Despite his own suffering, there was no noticeable difference in the way he conducted himself at home or among his talmidim and followers. He continued to publish his seforim and to oversee communal affairs, to the very last drop of his strength. His face was suffused with the same joy of life as always.

One comment which he repeated on a number of occasions of surprising frankness towards the end of his life, was publicized after his petirah. He said that had he originally been given the choice whether or not to become sick, he would not have agreed to choose any differently, having seen that he had grown extremely close to Hashem Yisborach during the period of his illness which, after all, was the whole purpose of life.

Here is an the account of the last shiur which Rav Shimon Moshe delivered in the yeshiva. Far more than he actually said remains engraved on the memories of those who witnessed it. It was a shiur in love of Torah, in transmission of Torah, in devotion to talmidim and in self- sacrifice.

Without any strength, worn out from the illness that ravaged him, Rav Shimon Moshe arrived to deliver his shiur. It seemed that the shiur was a substitute for a daily dose of pain-killers. How it is possible to give a shiur in such a condition? Fear and dread rippled through the talmidim. Rav Shimon Moshe was trying to move forward and cover the last few meters, to take the last few steps that lay between the door and his place. Tears welled up in a fruitless attempt to move the table a little. But a bridge of willpower reached over the depths. Rav Shimon Moshe slowly managed to gather strength and to reach his place uneventfully. Everybody breathed easier.

With moist eyes and slow motions, he began the shiur. His voice grew stronger as he went on. Amazing! Within two minutes, all had forgotten about the illness. Rav Shimon Moshe was as energetic as ever, full of vitality and grace, illuminating, flashing with power, giving his all; it was a picture of him in his prime.

Someone else was in the shiur room for a few moments, not the same person who had entered like a broken potsherd. This was a man whose veins flowed with Torah, a teacher of Torah, whose blood bubbled with a life force that emanated from a different source entirely. His voice rose and fell, presenting the opinions of Rishonim and Acharonim in all their clarity . . . a Torah of joy, as it was fetched down from the mountain . . . and the sound of the shofar grew ever stronger . . .

After the shiur, to everyone's surprise, he straightened up and stepped outside with his usual vigor. The rebellious table that had refused to listen to him earlier, moved aside at his touch, as though in honor and deference to him. It moved aside like the stopper coming off a bottle. He had "united his heart" and concentrated all his resources, and had rolled a stone away from our hearts. Torah's brilliance gleamed brightly.

Who will give us a substitute for him? The truth is that one can never finish speaking about this great man because he was an utter wonder, so highly gifted, such wisdom and such self-sacrifice. He gave his all; his thoughts were always centered on learning or on how to help someone else.

We have to learn from his ways. We have to recover some of the old glory when Torah was people's preoccupation . . . everyone needs to know how to use his own mind, to contemplate and to understand with his own abilities, not just imitating and following others. We have to learn from him the meaning of providing the public with merits, of Torah dissemination, of Torah study. The main thing is, to do everything honestly and to think in advance how much Heaven's honor will be enhanced as a result of what we do.

In the merit of our learning from Rav Shimon Moshe's wonderful ways, may he be an upright defender of all those who were so bound up with him in his heart. (HaRav B.S. Deutsch)

Advice on How to Learn

From a Letter to a Talmid

In our times, most people tend to be attracted by things whose meaning is dim, concealed and fantastic. They are more willing to listen to abstract ideas, than to clear and straightforward ones.

One must remember that learning is not an entertaining diversion for the intellect. It is the ultimate truth and the investigation and inquiry that lead to it. Therefore, where an alternative reading, or a very simple explanation, truly seem to be the correct ones there is no place for sophistry. We must remember that our task is to attune our thinking to that of the Talmud and of our teachers, the Rishonim, not to force the Talmud to fit our own ideas.

Our main objective should be to pay attention to the text, to the literal meaning of the gemora and the Rishonim -- because it is clear that they were precise in the way they expressed themselves -- and not to try and read untenable ideas into their words. There is no justification for attempting to attribute even the most beautiful idea to them, unless it fits comfortably into the language that they used. This requires a great amount of toil. Often, after a lot of hard work, we wonder why we didn't see that this was the meaning earlier.

It is very important to be aware of what we do and what we do not understand;

* Not to leave a Tosafos or a Rashba hazy, until we reach the point where we are able to summarize, "The Rashba says such and such, and I have the following difficulty in understanding him . . . " doing so in sentences that are short and to the point;

* Neither to speak, nor to think, in amorphous, undefined terms;

* Not to delve deeper than our minds are capable of grasping;

* To continually go, however, just a little bit deeper, and in time one's thoughts will become more refined;

* Not to advance any idea that needs the suffixes, vedo"k, vehovein, or veda"l [Hebrew abbreviations of phrases which adjure the listener to toil on his own in order to understand what is not immediately clear. Use of such phrases is obviously acceptable in the works of the great Acharonim but not for beginners in our own times.];

* Not to slip into a lack of clarity;

* To summarize and to sift through principles and ideas, so that they are clear and lucid enough to explain to a bar mitzva boy.

I mentioned a bar mitzva boy but I was not only referring to the simplest and most basic things. Every way of approaching a topic and every new idea, is built up from a number of components. Even a single idea can be divided up into several parts. Obviously, a bar mitzva cannot grasp the thing in its entirety. However, usually he is certainly able to understand each point on its own.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.