Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5763 - June 18, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











HaRav Moshe Ebstein zt"l
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 one Kaddish.

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- 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 girls.

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 style.


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