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2 Marcheshvan 5773 - October 18, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Meir Shapira, zt"l: Rov of Lublin and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin

In honor of his yahrtzeit

One of the most notable and renowned of the last generation's luminaries was no doubt HaRav Meir Shapira. Whether the underlying cause is his introduction of the Daf Hayomi that he initiated to the Knessia Gedolah and which became accepted worldwide, or his holy yeshiva which became the springboard for roshei yeshiva and their yeshivos across the continents; it makes no difference. The fact is that the name HaRav Meir Shapira pulsates with life today and every day — almost 70 years after his passing.

Yes, the blessing sent in a telegram to Rabbi Meir by a great rosh yeshiva in Lithuania was fulfilled in his talmidim, "Al tikrei bonayich elo bonoyich — may it be the will of Hashem that the sons of the yeshiva grow to be like the builders of the yeshiva."

However, at the time that the Lubliner Rov decided to found his yeshiva that was to become the chosen mokom Torah for the cream of Poland and Galicia's talmidei chachomim, he had no inkling of the physical and emotional strength it would cost him to finance the running of such an institution and to ensure that the bochurim could learn without worrying where their next meal would come from. (The whole idea was innovative, as up to then yeshiva boys had always eaten "teg," being a guest for each meal by families of the town.)

It was later said of the Rov that he literally gave his life for the yeshiva.

Succos 5694/1933, in his last month in this world, found HaRav Meir Shapira sitting in the large succah that was built for the bnei hayeshiva, surrounded by his talmidim who for the most part had not gone home for yom tov. Among them was HaGaon Reb Shmuel Halevi Wosner, shlita, one of the few talmidim still with us today, who stayed in the yeshiva for two consecutive years without leaving once.

He related of that night: "We sat around the Rov and he told us that tonight we sit in the succah which is called by the mekubolim: betzeiloh demehemnusso — in the shadow of emunoh of Hashem. The Rov added, "But we are sitting in the shade of Hashem in a literal sense."

He then went on to explain, "Just before Succos, I used up the last of the money that I had from my father-in-law for the building of the yeshiva succah. The amount I had was insufficient to cover the job, so I went to borrow. My benefactors, knowing that I am a man of G-d, believed that I would repay them and readily lent me the money required. So here we are sitting in the shade that was provided to us because I am a servant of Hashem."


Once Rabbi Meir met an old acquaintance he had known in his youth. His friend expressed surprise that in the few years they hadn't seen each other Rabbi Meir's black, youthful beard had turned almost completely white and he demanded to know the cause. Rabbi Meir retorted sharply, "The truth is that really my whole beard is white. The few black hairs that you see here are from the yeshiva that's keeping me young!"


Often his journeys to collect money for the yeshiva brought in only a paltry sum. The Lubliner Rav, however, was not one to be broken by disappointing excursions.

Once, after such a trip, he was asked by talmidim how much he had made.

"I didn't make much money but I definitely managed to get money's worth — shoveh kessef." Then, explaining, he added, "Every time I go collecting, people imagine I've amassed large amounts and, relying on this `knowledge,' the banks and rich people lend me money. So just by traveling around to schnor, I'm laying the ground for borrowing large sums."


A wealthy individual who had long strayed from Torah's path sat in his palatial living room, listening to Rabbi Meir Shapira's request for money for the yeshiva. His face took on an expression of boredom and indifference as Rabbi Meir launched into a long speech extolling the virtues of the boys who sit day and night learning Torah, and the rewards of those who support them, enabling them to study without any material worries.

With a wave of his hand, the haughty man interrupted, "Listen here rabbi, you're wasting your words. I have no connection to yeshivos and their students. I never learnt in a yeshiva and neither did my sons, and I sincerely hope that my grandchildren too will never do something so superfluous."

"So you consider yourself worse than Haman Horosho, I see," shot back R' Meir.

Confused, the man was taken aback. "How do I consider myself worse than Haman?"

"It says in the gemora that Haman's grandchildren learned Torah in Bnei Brak," replied R' Meir, "and here you are saying that your grandchildren will never do so — surely your wickedness does not chas vesholom exceed that of Haman?"

Left with nothing to answer, the man donated a large sum for the yeshiva.


When Rabbi Meir was in America, another godol had come from Poland for the same purpose of collecting much needed funds. They were both called to a certain town to put forward their cause. The other rov gave a brilliant and eloquent speech, whose underlying message implied the cause he was there for.

Then came the turn of Rabbi Meir Shapira. "Rabbosai," announced R' Meir, "after those wonderful divrei Torah, I'll just relate a short story.

"A while after I got married, my father-in-law showed me around his estates from one end of the city to the other. At one entrance to the town he had a guard posted as a toll keeper. The fellow, who was deaf, stood straight as a sentry and proclaimed the fee loud and clear to each wagon driver passing through. To a driver with one horse drawing the wagon, so-and-so much; with two horses, so-and-so, a simpler cart, a lesser fee, a grand carriage, a greater sum, and so on.

"When the wagon drivers tried to argue about the price or haggle it down, the deaf man would point to his ear, signaling that he doesn't hear or comprehend and would repeat the charge in a stronger, clearer voice that demanded obedience. Left with no choice, the drivers paid their dues and drove on.

"Astonished, I turned to my father-in-law. `Have you no one but this deaf man to appoint for this job?' I asked.

"Without answering, my father-in-law motioned me to follow him to another toll gate, at the opposite side of the city. There we found a long line of wagon drivers with their respective vehicles, each one shouting for attention, bartering and arguing with the toll keeper. The latter listened to each one's argument, argued back — and total confusion reigned, with nobody passing through the gate, everybody being late for work and much time and money lost in the process.

" `Now you understand why I have the deaf man at the other gate,' said my father-in-law. `I would gladly pay to have another one like him here too!' "

Rabbi Meir addressed the congregation, his voice ringing out. "Rabossai! This great rov gave a long, eloquent speech in order to arouse in your hearts a feeling towards our causes. I am left now like the deaf man, without grand oration and cryptic parables. I'll just tell you clearly. We have a yeshiva. We need money for the boys in the yeshiva. Whoever has hundreds of dollars should donate such and such a sum, he who has thousands should donate a greater amount, and so on. I'll repeat this clearly a few times and the matter will surely be settled with all of you!"


Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Meir said in a drosho in Warsaw to a crowd of thousands, "Rabossai, know that I have already long finished my personal, private life. I have nothing personal to live for anymore, for I have completed my own mission as a man. I am now living solely for the sake of the holy yeshiva."


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