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A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tishrei 5767 - October 3, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Moshe Halberstam, zt'l: A Shining Light of Yerushalayim

by B. Reem

The Sages said Yerushalayim is in the middle of the world, and the influence of holiness emanates from Yerushalayim to the entire world, which draws from its Heavenly influence and is nourished by it. The sages of Yerushalayim, the men of Yerushalayim, the children of Yerushalayim, and regular old men of Yerushalayim — all have a sparkling cleverness and wisdom, with a heartfelt smile, and a shining, sensitive face. The Yerushalmi simplicity among the winding cobblestone pathways is a well- known thing. Yerushalmim do not flee from honor, because it means nothing to them.

"The shining lights of Yerushalayim" (those with facial radiance and a shining countenance — Rashi, Bava Metzia 84a) were figures that shone over the entire city with their beauty and shining countenance. One of them was HaRav Moshe Halberstam zt'l who departed suddenly from the Yerushalmi scene on 26 Nissan, 5766.

His great Rebbe, HaRav Shmuel Wosner the Shevet Levi, said about him at his funeral: "A man who excelled in halochoh, and excelled in interpersonal relationships, who made peace between husbands and wives, and increased peace in the world." This article presents a few sketches and rays of light from his life.


Decades ago, HaRav Moshe took his young children on a trip to pray at the gravesites of the tzaddikim. As they traveled between Kever Rochel and Hebron, HaRav Moshe asked the driver to stop the van by the roadside. He pointed out a nearby mountain, and turned to his children in an emotionally choked voice: "Do you see, precious children? This is where they brought the he-goat to be killed on the sharp rocks on Yom Kippur, which would atone for all the sins of the Jewish people.

"You certainly remember what you learned in cheder? The man who took the he-goat did not live to the end of the year."

Rav Moshe suddenly raised his voice and turned lovingly to his children: "Children, remember! Remember this well! For despite this, the gemora tells us that there was a long line of important Jews who were ready and willing to be the emissary. Why? So that through their hand Hashem would atone for the sins of the Jewish people!"

At this point HaRav Moshe's voice cracked with stirring emotion: "See what we learn from this! This is an awesome lesson. A Jew has to be ready to sacrifice his body and soul to benefit another!"

HaRav Moshe not only educated his children with these principles, he fulfilled them himself. He sacrificed himself for the sake of Klal Yisroel. This was the principle he indoctrinated within himself at all times: A Jew has to be ready to sacrifice his body and soul for another.

In order to gain a perspective of his sacrifice for the individual and the public we interviewed his son-in-law HaRav Mattisyahu Deitch, one of the rabbonim of Ramat Shlomo, Yerushalayim.

HaRav Moshe zt'l was ish ha'eshkolos, a man of wide erudition. What was his life's central point?

He aspired to teach Torah and to give halachic rulings to each and every person according to his situation and his level. Such an aspiration is not easily achieved. He obtained it with great toil and effort.

He was a great masmid in his youth. His primary Rebbe, HaRav Shmuel Wosner, related that he does not recall a moment that HaRav Moshe was without Torah learning. We do not remember a single idle moment in his later years as well. He achieved a very high level with his toil and investment of time, to the point where every group and every community found he had great openness and depth. He did not play games. Rather, he had a special ability that he developed in order to raise everyone he met to their special portion in the Torah.

He delivered shiurim for decades in a kollel for halochoh that he headed. In the notebook of kabollos, resolutions that he accepted upon himself, we found: "I accept upon myself . . . to continuously apply myself to learning the holy Torah, and especially to prepare well the shiurim that I say in public."

Even though he reviewed the Shulchan Oruch Yoreh De'ah hundreds of times in his lifetime, to the point where he said about himself that if someone were to wake him up in the middle of the night he could recite every seif koton of Yoreh Deah exactly by heart, he would still sit and work to prepare the regular shiurim.

I know the father of a family who came to ask him a shailoh in halochoh twenty years ago. He put on a kippah in the hallway when he came in to ask HaRav Moshe, and his wife also put on a hair covering just before she entered. From the love and the kiruv he showed them they became close to him, and today the family are all outstanding bnei Torah. There are hundreds of stories like this!

He received everyone with a true love that has power to influence many. This love originated in emeskeit, and he saw it as a special part of his personal avodas hakodesh.

This ability brought him to the level where his face shone. He had a shining countenance. No one ever saw him with an angry expression, even in the difficult situations he sometimes endured. He was always in fulfillment of the verse: "And Moshe descended from the mountain to the people."

However, he was not naturally like this. After he passed away we found notebooks of kabollos from an earlier period of his life in which he wrote that he accepts upon himself not to be annoyed or irritated by any man, and to greet everyone with a cheerful expression. A few days later in the daily journal he notes: "I stumbled in this, and I will work to overcome this trait even more."

Similarly, people who learned with him in his youth noted that he was very introverted, and that he labored very much to reach the level where he would greet everyone cheerfully. The many people who came to him with sheilos, some of whom were very troublesome, never knew how much he worked on his traits to obtain the iron-willed patience for which he was well known.

In a notebook from his youth we find a painful statement, apparently written in the midst of his battle with his yetzer hora to acquire pure character traits: "Today I stumbled in the trait of anger."

A man who stumbled in a serious transgression once told us that he felt completely crushed and did not know how to rectify himself. He visited HaRav Moshe and poured out his bitter feelings to him. HaRav Moshe told him: "I want you to strengthen yourself in Torah and the fear of Heaven, and I will take upon myself the transgression you made. I will write it down in my notebook. On Yom Kippur, I'll pray especially for atonement for this sin. You should know, from the moment this sin is on my shoulders it is mine . . . You have nothing to worry about from it . . . "

From that moment this man returned to himself.

For some reason, HaRav Moshe earned appreciation from the entire Klal Yisroel in general and from the gedolei Yisroel in particular. One of the roshei yeshivos related that years ago he moved from Bnei Brak to Yerushalayim. Before he left, he asked Maran HaRav Shach ztvk'l to whom he should ask sheilos in Yerushalayim. Maran ztvk'l thought for a moment and answered: "R. Moshe Halberstam — ehr iz gut" (Rav Moshe Halberstam — he is good.) Similarly, HaRav Rimer relates that one of his family members asked Maran HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv whom he should ask, and Maran instructed him to ask HaRav Moshe.

Stories about his Righteousness and Kindness

A day never passed that he did not occupy himself with some charity. He founded the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Tzedokoh, and was the head of the charity Chibas Yerushalayim Kupas Rebbe Meir Baal Hannes. He would sign every check by himself. He insisted on having continuous surveillance of every expense of the Kuppah. Sometimes, he added a title to the check's recipient so that he would have some gratification from the recognition.

Whenever a talmid chochom was in trouble, HaRav Moshe initiated a fund to help him. He never felt it a slight to his honor to pick up the phone and call donors he had never met to help other Jews. He always used to say: "My grandfather, the holy Gaon the Divrei Chaim zy'a, never paid any attention to his honor when it came to matters of tzedokoh and chesed."

He also did tzedokoh bodily, and whenever he heard about someone who was sick he would go to visit them.

HaRav Moshe would be up late at night trying to raise large sums of money for widows and orphans. He would call on friends in Chutz La'aretz on the telephone, but in Eretz Yisroel he traveled to their homes.

Once, he labored extensively for a large donation from generous individuals in Chutz La'aretz for an orphaned young kallah in southern Eretz Yisroel. The kallah only agreed to accept the help anonymously. One day, HaRav Moshe received a telephone call that the money had arrived in Eretz Yisroel and needed to be brought to the kallah. Faithful to his promise that no one would know her name, HaRav Moshe traveled himself to the center of the country to pick up the money, and continued personally to the south to bring the money to the kallah's family before returning to Yerushalayim.

On the last morning of his life, a short while before his sudden collapse, he made a phone call and managed to arrange for a $5,000 donation for a sick talmid chochom who could not afford the necessary medical treatments.

Once, a woman in great pain came to see him from the Tel Aviv area. She was troubled because a relative had passed away and she felt that the funeral was not in accordance with his honor. She knew no rest since then. HaRav Moshe told her gently: "A few minutes ago an avreich was here who intends to publish a sefer. Contribute the expense of printing the sefer to the memory of your departed relative."

The Rov's family made the connection between the two parties, and the avreich sat down with her to compose the text of the commemoration. She said her relative was named Yisroel after the Maggid of Kozhnitz. The avreich was astonished. The sefer he was publishing was the hand- written manuscripts of the Maggid of Kozhnitz!

He always felt the pain of other Jews. He stood very firmly that no one should ever be slighted even in the midst of religious struggles. Teaching Torah and halochoh was the ultimate value in his eyes.

Hundreds of avreichim gained experience from him in rendering Halachic decisions (shimush), and were tested for semichoh. He was instrumental in raising the consciousness among the Torah world of the need to learn halochoh, and brought life to this occupation.

And always, everything was done pleasantly and peacefully. However, he said the truth must come first. It is said: "Truth and peace shall you love," and he would always emphasize that truth comes before peace and love.

Whenever two litigants came before him for a din Torah they both left satisfied, both the claimer and the claimant. He had the ability to form a bridge between the parties. This was an integral part of "his shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid, his closeness to Hashem," explains Rav Mattisyahu.

HaRav Moshe would never mix in at the beginning of the judgment in Beis Din. He listened carefully to what the litigants said and, after hearing both sides, he summarized calmly and sensitively. Both sides felt that he was indeed ruling "on their behalf."

From the time that he joined the Beis Din he was extremely concerned about any gift offered him. He viewed it as a "chefetz chashud," a suspicious object. Once he received an envelope on Erev Yom Tov as "yom tov gelt," which is customary to give to the rabbis of a community.

After an extensive investigation HaRav Moshe found that there seemed to be a slight connection to some forgotten din Torah. That was enough to convince him to immediately mark the envelope with a thick permanent marker in bold letters: "Shochad gelt, bribe money," so he would remember to return the money after the yom tov.

In another incident, he found a new siddur at his place in the beis knesses. HaRav Moshe understood that someone wanted to give him a present, and had inscribed his name and his mother's name inside the front cover so that the Rov would remember him in prayer. After investigation, it became clear that this person was connected to a current case in the beis din. HaRav Moshe quickly sent the value of the siddur to the man's house.

It is fascinating to note that in the semichoh HaRav Moshe received from HaRav Pinchas Epstein zt'l, the Head of the Beis Din in Yerushalayim at the time, it is written: "He is accepted to all his brethren . . . this is his name and his remembrance forever."

A Room in Yerushalayim

For many years the cheder hahoro'oh, the room in which he was available to the public for halachic rulings, was the central address for halachic matters in Yerushalayim.

HaRav Yaakov Chaim Dinkel, a close associate of HaRav Moshe, related to the Musaf Shabbos Kodesh of Yated Ne'eman that a new custom developed there in the past years. When it is morning in Eretz Yisroel, it is late at night in the U.S., and many took advantage of the time difference to call HaRav Moshe in Yerushalayim when there was no posek available locally in the wee hours of the morning.

He was always available even after the set times of reception. When someone would peer through the window to see if he was there, he used to walk out and offer his help. In his last months he said: "In the past they had no mercy on me and would call even after two in the morning. But today, boruch Hashem, the beis din has made a schedule for rabbonim to be on call in the late night hours, and the weight of the yoke is off of me."

Among the hundreds of questioners who came to him daily, there was no lack of bothersome individuals who arrived nearly every morning with a "shailoh." HaRav Moshe always smiled graciously to them and answered them with his characteristic warmth. The gabboim were concerned that his smile encouraged these characters even more, and gave them the feeling that they were welcome every morning.

When they approached him about it, HaRav Moshe answered them in his sharpness: "These Jews have a regular daily track: First Shacharis. Then they buy milk and bread in the grocery. Then a bank deposit, they pay a bill in the Post Office, and a shailoh by Moshe Halberstam . . . They are going to come anyway, even without my smile. So why shouldn't I smile at a Jew?"

HaRav Moshe once made a very sharp comment about himself: "A rov who thinks he has the right to sleep one night without being disturbed has no right to be a rov!"

His family relate that just about every Shabbos evening, after he poured the wine for Kiddush, they would hear someone knocking on the door . . . it was another bewildered Jew with a shailoh . . . and then the knocking came again, time after time.

On the First Night of Succos

Once, on the night of Succos, after all the regular questioners had come and gone before Kiddush, an avreich appeared in HaRav Moshe's succah and asked if his rosh yeshiva, HaRav Yehuda Tzadkah zt'l, could come up to ask a shailoh.

HaRav Moshe put down his silver cup and quickly descended the stairs to greet the rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef. HaRav Yehuda Tzadkah explained that there was a doubt in the kashrus of the succah of one of his students who lived quite a distance away. HaRav Moshe agreed it was a very complicated shailoh, and he had to see . . .

Immediately, he walked to the neighborhood where the succah was located to see if he could find a way to permit using it on the chag. Kiddush at home would have to wait until he found a halachic solution for another Jew's succah.

When he gave a halachic ruling, the main point in his eyes was the result that would come out of it. There are various rulings, he said once, that in essence are permitted, but since the results from the leniency would be severe one must rule that it is prohibited. In a number of subjects he had discussions with gedolei Yisroel in which he explained the need to be stringent because of the likely outcome.

Six years ago on Shavuos, there was a terrible tragedy in the U.S. His grandson's wife and daughter were killed in a fire that burst out in their home. The information came to Eretz Yisroel only on the day after Isru Chag.

HaRav Moshe came to the cheder hahoro'oh as usual. He was in great pain, and it showed on his face. He said sadly to the avreich who came to sit with him and gain shimush, "You must have heard about the tragedy that struck us . . . "

But when the people entered with shailos, he answered them with his usual shining countenance. Between questioners he spoke painfully about the tragedy, but as soon as someone came with a shailoh, he wiped the tears away from his face.

He would use the time he spent traveling to test avreichim for semichoh. The candidates being tested would always marvel at his outstanding knowledge and memory, as he was exact in every Shach and Pischei Teshuvoh in the Shulchan Oruch. An entire generation of future Halachic authorities did shimush with him.

Furthermore, in halachos of a seasonal mitzvah such as shmittah, he would devote himself completely to the farmers who kept shmittah. In the hospitals Bikur Cholim and Shaarei Tzedek he was the halachic authority in the matters of medicine and halochoh.

HaRav Moshe actually had great expertise in the field of medicine and halochoh. This expertise acquired him renown amongst the bnei Torah who encountered medical problems.

His son-in-law HaRav Mattisyahu Deitch founded the Yad Ramah Institute under the guidance of the greatest halachic authorities of today, and it deals with solutions for problems in halochoh and medicine. This institute provides a continuation of HaRav Moshe's blessed work.

Complete Devotion

A few months before he passed away, HaRav Moshe spoke to one of his family about his mechutenes, a righteous Yerushalmi woman who had recently passed away. One sentence he said was engraved on the hearts of his listener like a halachic ruling: "Many people speak about her kind deeds. These are certainly wondrous things, but one must speak about the main thing — complete devotion to Torah and chesed, and the self-sacrifice to implant true chinuch in her descendants. This is what we must speak about, so that the youth will know that only when they continue to live in the path cut out for us by our holy forefathers without any changes will they feel the vitality of holiness and true simchah."

The entire family, his disciples, and admirers feel this today. We must continue his great light so that it will not be extinguished. Sometimes we saw him shining in certain fashion so strongly that we could not see his other brilliant facets. His wondrous personality was a fiery holy flame whose light was extinguished suddenly.

His image remains inscribed on our hearts, an unbounded influence. He had pleasantness without any stress, without the slightest drop of pressure. His countenance was etched entirely from pleasantness. A world of great friendliness surrounded him from one end of the land to the other. His patience was so outstanding, tried and tested by situations so difficult.

In the words of Maran HaRav Yeruchom zt'l, the Mashgiach of Mir: "Everything depends on man. A great man goes and carries bundles of greatness [even] from the smallest things."

These lines are a few of the "bundles of greatness" from the days of the life of HaRav Moshe zt'l. May his memory restore the soul from the ways of earthiness, as was said at his eulogy by his great Rebbe, the Shevet Halevi: "Rebbe Moshe! Our mind is on you and your mind is on us! We are not forgotten from him, and he shall not be forgotten from us!"

"For the Conductor upon the Shoshannim" / A Scholar's Image

"For the Conductor, upon the Shoshannim" — "They established this Psalm in honor of the Torah scholars, who are as tender as roses and as beautiful as roses, and perform good deeds as fresh as roses. A song of love, a song of praise for them [the Torah scholars] to endear them to the people and to endear their Torah to them [the people]" (Tehillim 45:1, and Rashi ad. loc.).

A rose is enclosed within a number of red leaves, until the time arrives for the flower to blossom and its petals to expand. Even when it is unopened, someone who crushes the rose bud in his hand will find the petals tender, beautiful and fresh. The tenderness, beauty, and freshness are the essence of the rose. The rose is striking from a distance as it dwells among the thorns, which surround it to guard it. The difference between the rose and the thorns gives more strength to the rose's uniqueness and points with great emphasis to its royal qualities. The rose's pleasant aroma wafts on high and affects even its guardians.

Talmidei chachomim are compared to roses. Their sensitivity and the freshness of their deeds are the lines of their unique form and etch the radiance of their countenance.

HaRav Moshe zt'l was a rose. He was tender and sensitive, with a fresh sweetness, beautiful in wisdom that always illuminated his countenance. Full of moisture that moistened his good deeds, full of a holy freshness for every mitzvah, he was like a rose in a fragrant flower bed among the roses.

He returned many from sin with his pleasant ways and speech. A natural desire to bestow goodness and grace, to straighten the crooked accompanied him in every walkway or corner that he turned. His life was a song of friendship with all of creation. His radiant countenance and heart were the same. He dearly loved Yerushalayim, the royal city, upon whose walls he guarded day and night.

"You are more handsome than [other] men; charm is poured into your lips. Therefore, G-d blessed you forever" — "You are more handsome than [other] men who engage in the work of transitory life. Why? Because charm is poured into your lips to instruct according to the halochoh . . . " (Ibid. 3).

"And your glory is that you will pass and ride for the sake of truth and righteous humility" — "To instruct according to the law and to behave with righteous humility" (Ibid. 5).


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