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23 Adar I, 5782 - February 24, 2022 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Life and Life's Work of HaRav Shimon Schwab

by Rav Yosef Fleischman


For Part VI of this series click here.

For Part VIII of this series click here.

Part VII

Editorial note: The article was written and published in 1995/5755 in the months following the petiroh of HaRav Shimon Schwab zt"l. This year on Purim Katan was the 27th yahrtzeit.

In the first parts, we read about Rav Schwab's family and early education in Germany, as well as the eastern European yeshivos: Telshe and Mir. Then we were told of his experiences as a young rav in Ichenhausen in the early years of Hitler, ym'sh. Next was about his first job in the U.S.A. in Baltimore, Maryland. Also his support of Agudas Yisroel, while maintaining the Hirschean principle of austritt - having nothing to do with kofrim.

The Importance of Lishmo

He explains (Speeches 167-171) that lishmo is a tremendous power whether for good or for bad. He attributes the koach of the Bolsheviks to spread their revolution to the fact that their early leaders were working lishmo. Likewise he thought that the downfall of Russian Communism was due to the mesiras nefesh and sincerity of the thousand or so baalei teshuva who kept mitzvos. He writes, "Their koach of lishmo is so great that it can bring down the greatest power on earth."

He explains there as well with regard to Bilaam, noting that the first time Bilaam requested to curse the Jews, Hashem refused, but the second time Hashem granted permission. The first time Bilaam wanted to go, it was lishmo. He hated Jews and wanted a kelolo to befall them without any regard for his own interests, so Hashem told him not to go. Hashem would not permit him to go lishmo because of the inherent danger involved. Even something done for a bad cause, against Hashem's will, may succeed since Hashem made the world in a way that lishmo has tremendous power.

However, the second time Bolok promised Bilaam more money, which enticed Bilaam to go. Since it was not lishmo Hashem told him that he may go. Hashem said, "im likro lecho," and Rashi comments: if you are going because you're thinking of honor and riches, then you may go. It didn't pose a threat to Klal Yisroel since Bilaam would be working lo lishmo.

The posuk continues that Hashem saw that Bilaam didn't listen and that he was going to curse lishmo, so therefore, "Hashem got angry because he was going," meaning that Bilaam was going lishmo which Hashem had never granted him permission to do. Thus, Hashem prevented him by sending a mal'ach three times and so on.

From this we see how Rav Schwab felt about sincerity.

He constantly exhorted that we must work to bring back those Jews who haven't yet done teshuva. A typical speech on this matter was one given to the Aguda Convention in 1988 (reprinted in Speeches, Chapter 13).

He differentiates quite clearly between the leaders of Conservative and Reform congregations and their members. The leaders he proclaims, are apikorsim and minim and are our enemies, but the vast number of their not-yet frum congregants, he says, are considered tinokos shenishbu. Hashem will exonerate them and we should do our best to bring them back. He said about them, "They are estranged from the Ribono shel Olam and His Torah through no fault of their own... They are our brothers and we have a responsibility for our brothers."

His way of bringing back baalei teshuva is also evident. He writes, "By being role models, by our own conduct, we can replace the colossal chilul Hashem of five million Jews estranged from the Ribono shel Olam with our own kiddush Hashem. The more kedusha and taharoh we can bring on ourselves, the more holiness and purity will come down from Heaven and enter into the hearts of our estranged brothers." Of course, he was supportive of direct work with baalei teshuva as well but even if one is not directly involved he can be influential by working on his own self perfection.

Speaking to Men and Speaking to Hashem

We have previously mentioned some examples of what koach he would put into tefillah. He would say the words of Krias Shema slowly in the tune of Krias HaTorah. Many people received tremendous inspiration from his Tefillas Ne'iloh which he led. Besides having a beautiful voice, one felt that every word was yotzei min haleiv, was heartfelt and Chazal tell us devorim hayotz'im min haleiv nichnosim laleiv. We mentioned earlier how he would constantly daven that his children remain Torah-true Jews and boruch Hashem these tefillos were granted.

His brother, Reb Mordechai zt'l thought another tefillah was answered as well. When Reb Shlomo Breuer was niftar in 1926, some in Frankfurt felt it would be best to engage a replacement rav who hailed from Eastern Europe. Rav Horowitz was, thus, brought from Unsdorf to serve as rav. Not being a native German, Rav Horowitz found it difficult to speak in German. It was his practice that before he began to speak he would turn to the Aron hakodesh and say a quiet tefillah that Hashem help him speak. At that time Rav Schwab, then a young bochur in the shul, would daven as well that the speech be successful.

Later in life, when Rav Schwab went to the U.S., he put tremendous effort into improving his speech. He would listen to the "Fireside Chats" of President Roosevelt and the oratory of Winston Churchill — but his brother felt that he owed his success to his tefillos.

The gemora in Bava Kama 92A deduces from Avrohom that if someone needs something from Hashem and yet he davened for someone else, then he gets answered himself first. Even though Rav Schwab did not need it at the time, but since he davened for someone else, when the time came that he needed help on that selfsame request then Hashem granted it to him. The fact that even though Rav Schwab tried very hard to polish his English oratory but ultimately one needs tefillah is borne out by the gemora in Niddah 70B-71A.

One particular part of tefillah that Rav Schwab would literally yell out was Musaf of the Yomim Noraim. When they reached the word "emes" in Aleinu, Rav Schwab would yell out the word "emes." He explained that in Frankfurt the whole congregation would yell out the word. In Washington Heights it was not the same, but Rav Schwab held on to the Frankfurt minhag. It is quite appropriate that with Rav Schwab's particular emphasis on emes he would cry out this particular word.


Kiddush Levono

One brocho that Rav Schwab was very careful about was Kiddush Levono. The Be'er Heiteiv (602, 4) quotes the Or Chodosh who said that he heard that from the time a person is mekadesh the levono he needn't fear that he will die that month. Rav Schwab, therefore, considered Kiddush Levono as life insurance.

Even though some opinions say that in Tishrei one should wait till after Yom Kippur and in Av until after Tisha B'Av, Rav Schwab never waited. Similarly although the Ramo rules (Orach Chaim 426, 2) that if motzei Shabbos is before the tenth of the month, one should rather wait until then, Rav Schwab would not do so. (Some differ with the Ramo). Thus, as soon as he saw the new moon when it was big enough, he would immediately recite the brocho — he did not wait for a minyan or even for three people to join him.

One winter night, he happened to attend a family simcha in Philadelphia in the early part of a month. As his son walked him to the car, the moon was nowhere to be seen. At the time, Rav Schwab was already plagued by arthritis, so his son carefully placed pillows for support so that he would not be jolted about during the ride back to New York. As they were finally set to start out, Rav Schwab sighted the new moon, and exclaimed, "Ah, the levono!"

Immediately he bounded out of his seat, held on to the roof of the car and started saying Kiddush Levono. When he finished, he turned to his son and asked him if he had already said it. When the reply was negative, Rav Schwab insisted that his son do likewise.

Finally, Rav Schwab was back in proper position and they set out on the trip. As they approached the toll booths at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge the car struck a patch of black ice and began to skid out of control. His son feared that the car would crash but it suddenly stopped just in front of the toll booth. Rav Schwab commented, "Didn't I tell you to make Kiddush Levono?"

When he was forced to be transported in a wheel chair his attendants knew about his Kiddush Levono habit and when they saw the new moon would ask him, "Rabbi, do you want to bless the new moon?"

If Kiddush Levono is such a big segulah how did the mal'ach hamovess finally catch up with the Rav? One can see from many gemoras (e.g. Mo'ed Koton 28a, Shabbos 30b) that when a person's time comes the Mal'ach Hamovess will win out in the end.

With Rav Schwab and his segulah it happened in the following way. On Sunday, the fifth day of Adar I, Rav Schwab was struck with a heart attack. Thus he was taken to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. He hadn't yet sighted the new moon. Immediately after the heart attack he was placed in the intensive care unit. On Tuesday he was told that if in the next twenty four hours his condition would stabilize he would be moved to a nice, large private room. He asked the staff which side of the hospital would it face. When he was told it faced the west side, he insisted that he wants a room with an eastern exposure, because he reckoned that would enable him to make Kiddush Levono.

However, it was not to turn out that way. The very next day after lunch, the Rav again felt pain in his arm, a sign of another heart attack. Thus, Rav Schwab was told he had to wait still another two days.

His move kept being postponed until it was the thirteenth of Adar. Rav Schwab woke up in his room in the late afternoon. He asked his children what time it was. When they told him, he said, "Ah in one hour will be the night of Purim Koton and I'll be able to say Kiddush Levono."

Once again, HaKodosh Boruch Hu confounded his plans. About six twenty, he had still another heart attack. This time they started saying Vidui and Shema. Each time they would say "Hashem Hu HaElokim" his pulse would shoot up. With the seventh "Hashem Hu HaElokim," his neshomoh departed from this world, missing Kiddush Levono but leaving the segulah intact.


People said afterwards that it was fitting that his neshomoh depart with the words "Hashem Hu HaElokim" since he inspired the tsibur for years with those words as the Shechina departed on Motzei Yom Kippur.

One might then ask: if we see that when a person's time is up then the mal'ach hamovess cannot be stopped, then what good is the segulah of Kiddush Levono? However, we find in the gemora in Chagigah 4B that a person can die before his allotted time is up as well, so Kiddush Levono could help for such circumstances. Perhaps, it can also be such a zchus, that it would cause that a person's time in this world would be extended as is discussed in Yevamos 50A.

That Rav Schwab should have chosen to be so careful with Kiddush Levono due to the segulah is one illustration of his eimas Yom Hadin — his fear for the day of reckoning. The gemora says in Shabbos 152B that tzadikim prepare for the Yom Hadin Hagodol their whole life, and are every day prepared in case it will be their last day. Reshoim, the gemora says, are complacent that they have many years when they can still prepare for their Yom Hadin. Rav Schwab was prepared that perhaps each day will be his last. He left over many tzavo'os — the first one from age thirty-three! Perhaps he wrote one even earlier, that was not found.



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