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22 Iyar, 5784 - May 30, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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A Reiner Mentsch, A Reiner Torah, — The Gaon HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik zt'l

By Moshe Musman


For Part III of this series click here.

For Part V of this series click here.

Part IV

Part 3 included the topics: The Heart of a Community; the Heart of a Continent; Chassodim Tovim; and Rofeh Cholim. This multi-part essay was originally published in honor of the first yahrtzeit. He was niftar 19 Iyar, 5755. This was first published in 5756 (1996).

The Torah of Chesed

Reb Moishe taught that the guarantee that one's Torah learning would not suffer from doing chesed came with a condition. It applied only if one's intentions in interrupting learning were correct i.e. one only wanted to be of benefit to another Jew and was not seeking a pretext to take a break from learning.

The extent to which Reb Moishe himself fulfilled this condition can be judged from the way he would return after a phone call or consultation to the very same spot in his learning as before, picking up the discussion as though there had been no interruption at all.

Though he could hardly have considered this an ideal way to learn, he did not agree to stop the calls. When those he was learning with complained that the telephone's periodic ringing was disrupting their learning and asked him to disconnect the line while they were learning together, Reb Moishe refused. "Perhaps someone needs me," he stated simply.

The most he would concede was that his rebbetzin take the calls and refer to him only those that could not wait.

Reb Moishe once sat with another talmid chochom, immersed in the depths of a difficult sugya, when the telephone rang. The caller sounded troubled and confused. He asked Reb Moishe a question about running a business. From the way the man was talking, Reb Moishe understood that the man had no idea of how to keep the business accounts. Within a few minutes, Reb Moishe had explained the principles of book keeping and the conversation ended.


As soon as he replaced the receiver, Reb Moishe returned to the very same point in the sugya that he had been discussing when the phone rang.

Even when it was not the caller's emotions but his own that were affected by some distressing event, this did not warrant interrupting his learning. Once, when learning through a topic in Achiezer together with a family member, the telephone rang and the caller informed Reb Moishe of ploni's death. The call over, Reb Moishe and his chavrusa returned to contemplate Reb Chaim Ozer's Torah. Only after they finished learning did Reb Moishe go into the kitchen, sit down and begin to cry.

When Reb Moishe was immersed in learning, no personal considerations entered his mind. At the end of one of the frequent fasts which he took upon himself, he was served a cup of coffee. Before drinking it, he sent someone to ask his rebbetzin if he was no longer fleishig...

The truth is that whether he was learning or doing chesed, Reb Moishe was always cleaving to the Shechina. Indeed, those close to him spoke of their awareness of the Shechinah's presence as they sat and talked to him. This enabled him to make the effortless transition between seemingly widely separated topics and it also explains the following incident.

Once when he was learning with a chavrusa, he could not recall a certain gemora that was connected to the topic they were learning. He made an effort to remember the sugya but to no avail. Tears of anguish came into his eyes and he said, "Forgetfulness is a result of my sins. If not for them, I would remember better."

As private an individual as Reb Moishe was, glimpses of him could yet be caught through his interactions with others in the course of his Torah and his chesed. His avoda however, remained almost completely hidden.


A talmid from Lucerne recalls that on Tisha B'Av night, for example, Reb Moishe would sit under the bimah with his hat covering his face. A friend once told this talmid how he saw Reb Moishe arrive home one Tisha B'Av night to a darkened living room, go to lean on one of the walls, and remain standing there, weeping throughout the night.

He would fast every day during Elul, as well as on numerous occasions throughout the year. His awe at the approach of Rosh Hashana and on Yom Kippur, when he would spend the entire day standing, the extra kedusha which suffused him on motzei Yom Kippur, his boundless joy on leil Shavuos, as he hurried around the beis hamedrash, rejoicing in the sight of the bochurim sitting and learning — all these give us just a clue but no real understanding, of what was transpiring inside him.

Only at the end of his life did something take place that gave an inkling of what he put into his tefillah.

Reb Moishe was in the hospital, bed ridden and connected to an array of monitoring equipment. A relative stood nearby, at Reb Moishe's request, in order to check that he did not inadvertently miss saying a word of the tefillah. When Reb Moishe reached the brocho of refo'einu in the Shemoneh Esrei, the hands on the dials of the machinery began to speed up. Reb Moishe's relative counted around seventy names of individuals in need, the full name of each, with the mother's name, came from Reb Moishe's lips. Judging from the testimony of the equipment, in the form of the specially frenzied movement of the hands on the dials, some of the names were causing Reb Moishe particular distress.

This incident made a profound impression on those who witnessed it yet it had been going on, out of sight, throughout Reb Moishe's life. The hospital machinery gave away what Reb Moishe had kept hidden.

To speak separately of Reb Moishe's humility is to risk misunderstanding it entirely. Reb Moishe could never be seen `practicing' or `working on' humility, as though it were a trait one had to adopt.

The short jacket he always wore, eschewing the long frock customarily worn by Lithuanian roshei yeshiva, was not the `uniform' of humility. Neither was his place in the beis haknesses in one of the rows behind the bimah, far from the mizrach, the `address' of a humble man. Reb Moishe lived constantly before the Shechinah. The thought of anyone honoring him probably never entered his mind. This was not something he practiced, it was a fact of life.

One example out of many will suffice. An avreich who was close to Reb Moishe was once walking down the aisle of a crowded Paris-bound train, in search of two seats for himself and his wife. They were travelling to attend a wedding there. At the end of one of the first carriages, in a first class compartment, he was surprised and delighted to meet Reb Moishe.

"Come and sit with me," beckoned Reb Moishe. When the avreich responded that he had to return to his wife and that they had second class tickets, Reb Moishe simply said, "So I'll come and sit with you." It was not meant as a favor. He felt that his place was with his friends. (In that case the couple moved to his compartment and paid the difference in the tickets.)

Heart and Mind

Reb Moishe's friend HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman once expressed his opinion that Reb Chaim's intellectual genius had passed to two of his grandchildren. One of them, he said, was Reb Moishe. But that was not all.

A rav who spent many years working alongside Reb Moishe, noted in the hesped he delivered in Zurich, that Reb Chaim was more famous during his lifetime for his chesed than for the profound lomdus for which he is principally remembered today. Reb Chaim's concern for the welfare of the Jews in Brisk and the care and warmth he extended to all, especially the down-and-outs who were rejected by other people, was legendary.

"Reb Moishe Soloveitchik," said this rav, "inherited Reb Chaim's heart!"

Indeed, gadlus develops when heart and mind expand together, turning away from self, upwards to Heaven and outwards to others.

The pain of Reb Moishe's loss will be felt for a long time. The feeling of bewilderment at having to proceed alone, now that Reb Moishe has gone, is shared by both his family and by those who used to consult him.

Those who were fortunate to have had longstanding connections with him will treasure their experiences and will learn to apply the principles they saw and heard from him, in the future. Those who did not merit knowing him personally, eagerly await the publication of his shiurim and the opportunity to become familiar with his teachings. Until these are available, may the above recollections of Reb Moishe continue to teach and inspire.

A recent issue of Kountrass

A Guide for Perplexing Times

By B. Katz

Chareidi journalism is unlike any other kind in that it acts as a mouthpiece for the Torah outlook on events and issues, rather than conveying what are merely the personal views of the writer or editor. The presentation of difficult topics from a Torah viewpoint in a way that can be easily comprehended and that is relevant to the community at large, can often be a difficult and complicated task. In formulating a piece that presents a Torah viewpoint on a current issue, various queries and problems always arise, which must be ironed out in advance to avoid the publication of inaccuracies. The gaon HaRav Moishe Soloveitchik zt'l would spend hours in such deliberations and consultations, in order to ensure that whatever was published was correct, understandable, inoffensive and entirely problem free.

Kountrass is the name of a journal in French to which Reb Moishe gave tremendous help, principally in the form of guidance and advice. Published monthly, the magazine circulates among French speaking Jews in Eretz Yisroel, Switzerland and Europe in general, besides of course its principal readership in France. The journal's aim is to spread Torah and Yiddishkeit through its articles and discussions of current issues and events from a Torah viewpoint, while recognizing that its target audience is not necessarily squarely within the world whose viewpoint it seeks to convey.

Great care and consideration must obviously be taken over what gets published and how. This calls for constant consultation with talmidei chachomim.

The magazine was established eight years ago by a group of French avreichim, headed by Rabbi Nosson Khan of Yerushalaim. Reb Moishe was consulted from the very beginning and his advice was always regarded by the editorial board as being the last word on any topic. Reb Moishe was always ready to help weigh how an issue should be presented, either when the matter at hand concerned apparently routine coverage or when significant events had taken place which by their nature, called for a clear elucidation of a Torah position.

Here are examples of the help he gave in formulating the presentation of two very different issues, each delicate in its own way.

When the leader of a large and well-known chassidus passed away some time ago, the editors planned to devote a special feature to the event. They intended to use it as an opportunity to explain what the rebbe's policies had been and why the gedolei Yisroel were opposed to them. After carefully examining the issue from several different angles, Reb Moishe gave his advice.

Since there are many followers of this chassidus in France, he recommended that the subject be approached with restraint and understanding, treating it in a gentle manner and avoiding publishing anything that could offend one group or another. In this way, the readers would be in a receptive frame of mind as they read and would give due consideration to the reservations expressed by the gedolim.

He therefore advised that an article be written dealing with the history of this entire branch of chassidus, describing the earlier rebbes as well as the most recent rebbe and explaining why there was opposition to his program on the part of the gedolei haTorah. Response to the article was very positive, even from supporters of the movement.

The other topic concerned a certain well-known contagious and fatal disease. How was it to be regarded and what ought to be the Torah community's attitude towards it?

Reb Moishe spent over half an hour on the telephone in conversation with the editor, clarifying this issue. This took place about a month before he fell ill.

It was unheard of for Reb Moishe not to answer a question that was put to him. He was always available to deal with any major or minor matter. He encouraged the paper's distribution on account of the Jewish public's great interest in the kind of subjects it deals with and wide influence which it therefore has. He would also make a point of quoting reactions he had heard from people to things that had appeared in Kountrass.

On Unity Among Chareidi Jewry

Although Reb Moishe decided not to publish an article he himself had written on this topic, for fear that if it would not be of benefit then it would very likely exacerbate a strained situation, his message was conveyed at a later date by an editorial in Kol haTorah. It is hardly less topical today than when it was first published in 5741.

(The daf yomi on Lag B'omer 5755 was Sanhedrin daf 38. In the course of teaching the daf yomi, Rabbi Schwartz repeated Reb Moishe's thoughts. It later transpired that he had been doing so at the very moments of Reb Moishe's petiroh.)

At Agudas Yisroel's Second Knessia Gedola, HaRav Meir Shapiro quoted the gemora (Sanhedrin daf 38) that relates that when He formed Odom Horishon, Hashem piled up soil from all over the world. The head was from Eretz Yisroel, the body from Bovel and the limbs from other lands.

The process of recording Torah Shebe'al Peh has been a similar one. The `head' — the mishna — is from Eretz Yisroel, the body — the gemora — is from Bovel, the limbs — Rashi, the Rambam, the baalei Tosafos, the Maharsha, Maharshal and Maharam — from the rest of the world.

Nothing is capable of uniting the Jewish people like Torah. Indeed, prior to the giving of the Torah, Klal Yisroel encamped `like one man, with one heart.'

The Lubliner Rav's words contain an important message. Although the chareidi community is composed of many different groups which superficially, do not seem to have much in common, they are united on a deeper level through their shared Torah outlook and involvement in learning Torah. This gives them a common foundation and a shared language.

In the years following the Second World War, we have boruch Hashem witnessed how the chareidi world has gathered together around the Torah, and around its gedolim, and those who disseminate it. This progressed to the point where the partitions separating different groups of chareidim almost disappeared and they were on the verge of uniting, heart and soul, in one camp.

Unfortunately, divisions have recently begun to surface once again. If we do not correct the situation shortly, who knows whether the abyss may not widen further in the immediate future, rendering us two or more different camps once again. Who can foresee the results of such a development at a time as difficult and as dangerous as the present?

Chazal (in Kesuvos 112) say that prosecution will be leveled against talmidei chachomim at the time of the arrival of Moshiach. See the commentaries of Rashi and the Eitz Yosef — in our sins, both of these explanations have been fulfilled among us.

Let us remember that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred. How can we merit its rebuilding while this evil tendency is still at large among us? Let us examine our ways and return to Hashem and His Torah, thus becoming one nation. Then we will merit the ultimate salvation, as Hashem has said.


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