Acharei Mos -- Kedoshim -- Emor is interpreted to mean
that sometimes only after the passing of a tzaddik
should one tell the full extent of his greatness. We will try
to trace the life story of HaRav Moshe Ebstein, a master
educator who was niftar last Wednesday, 11 Sivan.
HaRav Yitzchok Moshe Ebstein was born in Breslau, Germany,
the son of a doctor. He grew up in a home imbued with
chesed. Chesed was not merely a praiseworthy activity;
rather it was a commitment to be pursued always, even to the
point of mesirus nefesh. Of course it was the job of
his father, the doctor, to treat patients even with dangerous
medical conditions. Yet the family's mesirus nefesh
went even further.
Hachnosas orchim was also performed with mesirus
nefesh, an opportunity that arose all too often in
Germany of the 30s with Hitler's rise to power. HaRav Ebstein
would relate that when his father had made arrangements with
the local police chief to allow Jewish prisoners to eat
kosher meals, it was up to the young Moshe to deliver the
meals, daily, under the watchful eye of the Nazi prison
guards who could at any moment punish this capital crime.
After Kristallnacht, the family decided to emigrate.
But to where? They had a number to perhaps be allowed
eventually into the USA. Similarly they received a number to
go to Palestine. To England they were rejected outright.
Where to go?
Soon Dr. Ebstein was arrested for attending shul and
sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. After an appeal,
which included the fact that Dr. Ebstein had been awarded the
Iron Cross for service to the Fatherland during World War I,
he was released. This brief experience helped prepare the
family for the ordeals to come.
Through the family's connections with Agudath Yisroel they
were able to relocate immediately to Riga, Latvia. The young
Moshe was profoundly moved by the intensity of both
tefillah and Torah learning in Riga. As foreign
nationals, the family was sent to a Siberian labor camp. Not
long thereafter, Dr. Ebstein succumbed to the starvation,
labor and primitive conditions. Before he died, he read to
his son Moshe the tochachos of the Torah and charged
his wife to direct their son to learn Torah. All that Moshe
was able to arrange for his father was the "capital crime" of
Throughout the five years that Moshe spent in this camp, he
was able to lay tefillin every day using the pair he
had brought. He also learned Novi with
meforshim with a rebbe there, daily, outside, after a
hard day's work.
After the war Moshe arrived in America, enrolled in Yeshivas
Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and became very close with the rosh
hayeshiva HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt"l. The Rosh
Hayeshiva awarded him semichoh Yoreh-Yoreh Yodin-
After his marriage, HaRav Ebstein was set to become rov of
Sao Paolo, Brazil, but the Rosh Hayeshiva ruled that HaRav
Ebstein must stay in New York with his elderly mother. Later
a position became available as mohel of Mt. Sinai
Hospital. This position was also nixed by the Rosh Hayeshiva
who would not allow use of a clamp and insisted on
metzitza bepeh. Finally, Hashgochoh led him to
his life's mission as a teacher of Novi in the Bais
Yaakov of the Lower East Side, first under HaRav Garber and
later also Rebbetzin Kaplan.
All of his own past difficulties helped him to relate to
other people's problems and he was able to develop a rapport
with and inspire everyone. When HaRav Ebstein taught, the
girls were glued to their seats even after the bell had rung.
He did not take on multiple teaching positions. He preferred
to devote his time to Torah learning with a chavrusa
in his home.
His inspiring and uplifting teaching style led him to
"extracurricular" challenges like teaching a group of
Sephardic girls who made such a dramatic turnaround that they
founded their own institutions, pursuing HaRav Ebstein's
ideals. HaRav Ebstein also innovated programs for teenagers
who needed something to do on motzei Shabbos. He was
always a mashpia regardless of the audience, whether a
taxi driver or a gardener, men or women, teenage boys or
When his own children had the need, HaRav Ebstein founded the
Hebrew Institute for the Deaf. Through no fault of their own,
such children were being deprived of their heritage of Torah
and yiras Shomayim. "We would be deaf if we can't
respond to their silent pleas," he would say. HaRav Ebstein
insisted on paying tuition for his own children. Acquiring
personal wealth was not important to him.
The uniqueness of the school's mission was felt immediately,
bringing HaRav Ebstein in close contact with many Chassidishe
Rebbes and attracting students from as far as Eretz
Yisroel. Later his school became a model and he helped
design the school Shmaya in Bnei Brak and a special-education
teacher training program in Ofakim.
In 1984 he retired to Israel, still teaching his favorite
Rabbeinu Bechaye and Maharal to women in Telz Stone and
Netanya. He is survived by his Rebbetzin, and sons and
daughters following in his footsteps in the USA, London and
Eretz Yisroel. He will be sorely missed by all, and
especially the students who were uplifted by his enchanting