Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Adar 5761 - March 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







HaRav Moshe Feinstein -- In honor of his 15th yahrtzeit 13th Adar

A strong tree has healthy roots. So too were the roots of R' Moshe Feinstein, strong and special from the start. His father, R' Dovid Feinstein, zt"l, was a grandchild of the Be'er Hagolah and of the brother of the Gra, R' Avrohom. His mother was Feige Gittel, daughter of the Gaon, R' Yechiel zt"l, rov of Kopolia.

He was born on 7th Adar, 5655 (1895), a date which in his own words gave him the feeling that he was obligated to follow in the ways of Moshe Rabbeinu in Torah and in middos.

R' Dovid invested much time, money and effort into the education of his son Moshe, asking the melamed who usually learned with a group of ten talmidim to make Moshe's a group of five and he, R' Dovid, would subsidize the rest of the money from his own pocket. Even before he started to learn in the local cheder, R' Moshe learned the entire Chumash with his father and by the time he was bar mitzvah he was fluent in more than two sedorim of Shas.

He joined the yeshiva of R' Isser Zalman Meltzer in Slutzk at the age of twelve, where he also learned under the tutelage of HaRav Pesach Pruskin, zt"l. When the latter opened his own yeshiva in Shklov, R' Moshe went with him and recounted that at the grand opening ceremony of the new yeshiva, R' Isser Zalman himself was present.

At the age of sixteen, R' Moshe completed Shas and Shulchan Oruch. During this period he was called to serve in the army. R' Moshe traveled with his father to the Chofetz Chaim in Homil to request his blessing. "Heaven had originally decreed that you join the army," said the Chofetz Chaim. "But since you took upon yourself wholeheartedly the ol Torah, the ol Malchus has been removed from you." R' Moshe was never conscripted.

In the year 5676 (1916) he was appointed rov in Uzdah in order to avoid army service and, after two years when the laws were changed he returned to his father in Strobin.

From 5681 (1921) to 5696 (1936) he was rov in Lyuban, after which he decided that this was not the right place to bring up his children and educate them in the Torah's ways. He traveled to Riga and there he obtained visas to go to America.

An impressive delegation met R' Moshe as the ship docked at the port at Ellis Island. He was immediately offered numerous positions as maggid shiur in various existing yeshivos, but refused all the offers until, in 5697 (1937), he became a lecturer in Yeshivas Tiferes Yerushalayim, where after a year he became head of the yeshiva. From this position he disseminated Torah for the rest of his life and his shiurim are printed in his sefer Dibros Moshe.

Aside from the yeshiva, R' Moshe did not take on any official rabbinical position. Nevertheless, he became a center point, a point to which people turned from all directions from all parts of the world to hear the word of Hashem. Thousands of teshuvos in halochos were issued by him, many of these being printed in the eight volumes of Igros Moshe. There wasn't one matter in the world of Torah and halocho that wasn't brought to him for his opinion.

The gedolei haTorah were all in awe of him, as seen in an example: HaRav Yonoson Shteif of Budapest used to put on his hat out of respect for R' Moshe whenever he spoke to him on the telephone!

Towards the end of his life, when the doctors wanted to insert a pacemaker in his heart, R' Moshe only agreed after he had made sure there was no halachic problem involved, that the insertion does not inflict the type of blemish in his body that would render him unfit to be a member of Sanhedrin should Moshiach come.

On the night of Taanis Esther, 5746, R' Moshe was niftar. The levaya on Taanis Esther morning in New York City was like none that New York had never seen; about one hundred and fifty thousand people accompanied R' Moshe on this step of his final journey. Even the American flag on the East Side was flown at half-mast as the non-Jews' sign of mourning that the leader of the Jews had died.

His oron was brought to Eretz Yisroel and on Shushan Purim in Yerushalayim, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews from all walks of life accompanied the levaya to Har Hamenuchos where he is buried close to the Gaon of Tchebin, the Belzer Rov, in the portion near his Rebbe, R' Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt"l.


"R' Moshe." Just that -- without any extra titles or descriptions. So was R' Moshe known by all Jews: Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Chassidim, and Misnagdim, Rabbonim, Roshei Yeshivos, and Admorim, Rabbis and laymen; all knew R' Moshe and all saw in him their rabbi and leader -- whether in a complicated halachic query such as permitting an agunoh to remarry, or a private instruction for a yeshiva bochur or an avreich -- to all the address on the East Side was the place to which to turn.

It is impossible on a single page to describe even a fraction of his greatness in Torah and halocho. However, we cannot with this dismiss the whole subject. Let us at least take a glimpse into the sparks of his greatness in middos and try to emulate his wonderful and refined ways.

The following fact once slipped out when R' Moshe was trying to impress on his family the right approach to Torah.

As a child of eight he was playing chess with a friend, when he suddenly realized that he was concentrating deeply, so engrossed in his game that it was no longer a form of relaxation but an effort. If it requires effort, isn't it better to use these powers of concentration for Torah learning? From then on, he never played chess again.

He once added that since he was of short build, he was afraid to play with friends his age for they were taller and stronger than he was. "I saw this as Hashgocho protis for due to this, I spent more time delving into Torah."

It is no wonder, therefore, that he had finished Noshim and Nezikim by the time he was eleven years old.

Once, his uncle HaRav Eliyohu Pruzhiner, zt"l, came to visit their house and when the eleven year old Moshe entered the room, his uncle arose to his full height, saying, "For a boy who knows two sedorim, one must stand up."

His father, R' Dovid immediately sent the boy to bring something for the guest to eat. "When I left the room," R' Moshe would recount, "I caught my father admonishing my uncle: Do you want to ruin my son? To turn him into a baal gaavah, chas vesholom?"

His words had a profound effect on the young boy who internalized their lesson of humility forever.

In his later years too, when his name was mentioned with awe and respect by all, he remained as unassuming as Moshe Rabbeinu himself, his humility even preventing him from visiting Eretz Yisroel. When he came to the Holy Land in 5724 (1964), thousands flocked to his door, individuals with private sheilos, rabbonim with halachic queries that were rocking the rabbinic world, the brokenhearted to pour our their problems and ask for practical advice -- twenty-four hours a day they came in a steady stream.

Upon returning to New York, R' Moshe was heard to say, "To receive all the people who wanted to see me was impossible, yet who am I to turn away a Jew? I can no longer go on a short-term visit to Eretz Yisroel!" He was even absent at the wedding of his grandchild that took place in Yerushalayim for this reason.

His family related a remarkable incident that took place after R' Moshe paskened a famous sheilo as permitted. There were rabbonim who disagreed with his psak as is often since we are in golus. "We have no novi . . ."

A follower of one of these, a man of bad middos stood up publicly against R' Moshe's psak and even degraded R' Moshe himself. R' Moshe, true to the Torah's command, "You shall not fear any man," did not sway from his daas Torah, and held his own.

Not long after, this man was caught by the American authorities for a minor crime. His court case was imminent and he knew that he could receive a very harsh sentence if the court was against him. He turned to R' Moshe, not to apologize and beg forgiveness, for perhaps this happened because he had humiliated a godol hador, but to request that the rabbi write a letter in his favor to the judge, as even the non-Jews respected the rabbi's word.

Immediately, Reb Moshe took out a paper and pen and wrote a warm letter which, after reading it, one would think was written about a close friend, and handed it to his adversary saving him from a harsh verdict.

His astonished family explained their wonder: how could he so wholeheartedly help someone who had besmirched his name only a short while earlier? The wonder of wonders was that Reb Moshe was not working on his middos in writing this letter; he did it naturally and in total innocence did not understand his family's amazement. "If I am in a position to help this man, how can I refuse to extend a helping hand to a fellow Jew in need?

His wonderful middos did not allow him to even slightly harm the feelings of another, even at his personal cost. His sister, the Rebbetzin Chanah, related that when Reb Moshe was rov in Lyuban, before he was married, a woman was appointed to cook for him. The food she cooked was literally inedible, but to Reb Moshe, embarrassing a Jewish woman was even more inconceivable and he always finished his meals to the last crumb.

Thinking that the rov enjoyed her food so much, the cook served him even larger portions and these too were finished each time. "One day I went to visit my brother and joined him for lunch. I just about tasted the food and almost threw up the bit that I had swallowed, so nauseating was the taste. `How could you eat such disgusting food?' I asked my brother. His answer was simple. `I force myself in order to avoid embarrassing the cook.' "

Reb Moshe once told his sister that she did him a great favor that day by stuffing all the food into her bag so at least one day he didn't have to eat it.

On another occasion a talmid of Reb Moshe took him home in his car. He opened the door of the passenger seat and Reb Moshe got out, whereupon the talmid slammed the door on his hand. The pain was unbearable, but Reb Moshe contained himself with superhuman control in order not to alert the talmid, who would surely be mortified by his mistake.

Indeed, how appropriate are the words uttered by Reb Moshe himself, not long before he was niftar: "As far as I know, to the furthest extent of my memory, I never harmed anyone, nor did I ever hurt a person's feelings."

This short, concise admission coming from the holy mouth of Reb Moshe himself is sufficient testimony and the greatest mussar book for us.


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