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8 Iyar, 5784 - May 16, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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A Reiner Mentsch, A Reiner Torah: HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik zt'l

Adapted by Moshe Musman


Rav Wolff Rosengarten Speaks to Yated Ne'eman about his friend and colleague HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik zt'l, in honor of his first yahrtzeit. He was niftar 19 Iyar, 5755. This was first published in 5756 (1996).

For Part I of this series click here.

For Part III of this series click here.

Part II

In the first part we learned about Rav Wolff Rosengarten and about the early years of HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik's life in eastern Europe, Switzerland and Eretz Yisroel.

Lucerne and Lake Lucerne

Private Leadership: Seeing but Unseen

When the yeshiva reopened its doors in Lucerne, there were ten talmidim. The number gradually rose to between fifty and sixty, which represented very significant progress for those times. There were few Jewish youths in Switzerland altogether and of these, only a mere handful were possible candidates for full time learning.

After leading the yeshiva for ten years and raising a nucleus of sincere and dedicated bnei Torah, Reb Moshe's sense of responsibility again dictated that it was time to move. His children were growing older and he wanted to raise them in a community where Torah life was stronger.

We can be sure that resigning his position as rosh yeshiva posed no problem for him. Indeed, he attached no importance whatsoever to the title of "rosh yeshiva" and the prestige of the position. For example, he never agreed to the establishment of a special shiur which he alone, as rosh yeshiva, would deliver. It was arranged that all the maggidei shiur would deliver a shiur in rotation and Reb Moshe took his turn along with the others.

In recalling his rebbe's utter self effacement, one of his talmidim described the occasion when a South American businessman paid a passing visit to the yeshiva. "Who is the rosh yeshiva?" asked the visitor, when mincha was over. The talmid motioned in Reb Moshe's direction.

Going over to Reb Moshe and addressing him, the man asked, "Are you the rosh yeshiva?"

Reb Moshe looked at him and replied, "I don't know," upon which the man asked, "So what is your function here?"

Waving his hand in a gesture of belittlement, Reb Moshe answered, "I learn a little with the bochurim."

Indeed, upon leaving Lucerne for Zurich, Reb Moshe remarked to the bochurim that were it up to him, he would prefer to be the shammos of a beis haknesses. But the choice was not his, for he had a family to support and this alone was what had led him to take up the post of rosh yeshiva.

Even Reb Moshe's personal ties with the institution to which he had devoted all his energies did not hamper him from moving on when he felt he had to. After having spent a decade nurturing in the talmidim an awareness of the centrality of Torah learning in Jewish life, and having been deeply involved with their progress and that of the yeshiva, he was ready to loosen these bonds as soon as he felt that other responsibilities took precedence.

Reb Wolff suggests that Reb Moshe may also have had some inkling of the role he was destined to play in effecting a spiritual revival right across Western Europe. HaRav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman took over as rosh yeshiva and Reb Moshe moved to Zurich in 1964.

The Jewish area of Zurich

Reb Wolff recalls that several proposals for his absorption into local communal life were suggested to Reb Moshe upon his arrival in Zurich. However he decided against taking up any official position and began instead to deliver the regular shiurim that continued for thirty years.

He taught any and every subject: gemora, mishnayos, Minchas Chinuch, sefer Mishlei, Ovos and hashkofo. One series of shiurim, which went on for many months, elucidated the Rambam's Thirteen Principles. For thirteen years he delivered a shiur on sefer Tehillim. Sometimes, an entire shiur would be devoted to explaining the idea expressed in a single posuk.

The only rest Reb Moshe got over weekends was from the incessant ringing of the telephone. On Friday nights, he hardly slept at all. On Shabbos, his shiurim were attended by between a hundred and two hundred people, some of whom walked for over an hour in order to be there. The main part of the shiur was on Minchas Chinuch followed by aggada, and concluding with Tehillim. He got little rest on motzei Shabbos.

HaRav Yitzchok Dov Koppleman zt"l

At an early hour on Sunday morning he delivered his first shiur, to which people would come from all over Switzerland. This was followed by two shiurim on Minchas Chinuch and a shiur on mishnayos.

He would plumb the depths of the sugyos and spread out their treasures so that they could be appreciated by each and every one of the participants. His explanations of the general principles of halacha, of the fine details and of the Torah outlook on life were all crystal clear. His face would shine as he delivered his lessons in his own, unique, lyrical manner of speaking.

Every shiur was thoroughly prepared beforehand — even a seemingly simple shiur in mishnayos. His rebbetzin told Reb Wolff that before delivering a shiur in the yeshiva, Reb Moshe would be closeted away in his room, deeply immersed in the sugya and unapproachable.

The level and size of the audience made absolutely no difference. In order to transmit Torah faithfully, the transmitter has to be selflessly dedicated to achieving a thorough and truthful understanding. While the final delivery must be modified to suit the level and type of audience, the toil and labor that must be expended beforehand in order to achieve a true understanding, must never be changed.

The fact that he was not associated with any particular group meant that Reb Moshe's guidance and leadership were sought by all who truly recognized and valued them. While he never sought leadership nor assumed any of its trappings, the circle of people who placed themselves under his influence grew steadily wider and wider.

"Many communal issues found their way to his door," says Reb Wolff. "There are many people who are completely immersed in Torah, learning day and night. They do not want to be troubled as they progress in their ascent heavenward, especially if they are gifted individuals, capable of limitless attainments and possessing abilities that enable them to raise themselves to unbelievable vistas.

"Reb Moshe however, looked at things differently, despite his unfathomable greatness. He took the view that if someone called him, he had an obligation to help. Despite the awe inspiring intensity with which he applied himself to his learning, it was unthinkable to him to refuse. (Reb Moshe would say that although it appears to people that time spent on a mitzva detracts from Torah learning, this is not true. When one fulfills the will of Hashem, he receives help from Heaven to repair any spiritual loss he incurred.) He bore the burden of communal affairs single-handedly. He was involved in every single public matter. For every controversy, he was the mediator. Concerning every problem, his was the last word.

"When there was a question about whether or not to found a yeshiva or open a Talmud Torah, he was the one whose decision was crucial. Not a step was taken in any communal matter across the entire European continent before his advice had been sought. He was the leader. Nobody did a thing without consulting him. He advised everybody. And throughout, he never reckoned with his own position in the larger scheme of things. Personal favors and his own personal honor cholila, had no place in the makeup of his character. Why, the Chazon Ish zt'l, described him as "a reine mentsch," someone possessing a clean, untainted soul. What more need be said?"

Reb Wolff goes on to add that Reb Moshe's influence was felt not only at the communal level but on an individual level as well. "Domestic harmony would be restored after his intervention. Medical problems, involving fateful decisions, were decided one way or the other, according to what he said. He would receive visitors from as far away as America. He was always personally involved, he himself accompanied people, he worried and he sympathized with them.

"If someone fell ill R'l, Reb Moshe would fast for their recovery. When calamity befell Klal Yisroel, R'l, Reb Moshe would fast over the degradation of his people. He prayed for both communal and private woes. He was once heard enumerating around sixty names of people in need of salvation, in the course of one tefillah. Both his days and his nights were devoted to others."

From the Hesped Delivered by Rav Wolff Rosengarten in the Lucerne Yeshiva

Rabbosai, the most fitting expression to use in order to gain an impression of the holy niftar zt'l, is the one written about the Menorah: 'The seven lights should shine towards the face of the Menorah.' He radiated Torah. He radiated chesed. But none of it was for his own sake, none of it was for himself. It was directed `toward the face of the Menora,' for the sake of the Shechina, the Torah and Klal Yisroel. Every thought of his was directed toward sanctifying Heaven's Name.

Moreover, his multifaceted activities were derived `all from one block of gold' [all had the same pure motivation], without any contradiction between different actions. In fact, he found ways to conduct an assortment of activities in a range of different fields. And all was done calmly and with tranquility. I think that this is the greatest thing that we have to learn from the late gaon and tzaddik, zt'l.

Reb Moshe passed away eighteen years to the day after the petiroh in Zurich of one Reb Yonah z'l, who was a great talmid chochom. Reb Moshe eulogized him and I would like to repeat part of what he said then. The gemora (Megilla daf 6) says that when Rabbi Zeira died, he was eulogized in the following way, "The land of Shinar (Rashi — Bovel) carried and gave birth [to him]. The land of delight (Eretz Yisroel) raised its beloved (for Rabbi Zeira went up from Bovel to Eretz Yisroel). Woe to Rekes (Tiberius) which has lost its precious vessel!"

Reb Moshe explained that in Bovel, where Rabbi Zeira grew up, there was much Torah scholarship but much poverty as well and this prevented Rabbi Zeira from attaining the spiritual levels of which he was capable. The gemora says that although the talmidei chachomim in Eretz Yisroel were greater than those in Bovel, the stature developed by a Babylonian scholar who came to Eretz Yisroel surpassed that of the indigenous chachomim.

Thus, said Reb Moshe, the meaning of this eulogy is that, `The land of Shinar carried and gave birth [to him]' — a young person's development in Bovel was apparently difficult, compared to Eretz Yisroel. `The land of delight raised its beloved' — in Eretz Yisroel though, where circumstances were easier, he grew doubly great in Torah. `Woe to Rekes which has lost its precious vessel! — the Torah of Rabbi Zeira.'

Rabbosai! when I think about Reb Moshe, I think about this gemora once again. Reb Moshe grew up in Poland, in Brisk, a place that was suffused with Torah and purity. The conditions however, were very straitened and difficult and it was impossible for him to fully develop his greatness. HaKodosh Boruch Hu saved him via Switzerland and then he went to Eretz Yisroel where he merited growing close to the Chazon Ish, who greatly loved and befriended him.

Afterwards he returned to Switzerland, where he found his partner and where he had the opportunity to develop. The fact that he was first in Brisk and Eretz Yisroel then Switzerland, is what allowed him to achieve the greatness that he did.

'We have become orphans without a father!' I saw an explanation of this apparent redundancy — for certainly orphans do not have a father — in the hesped which the Kovner Rav gave for Rabbi Meir Simcha. He explained that sometimes, while there is no father, there is nevertheless someone who takes the father's place. However, at other times there is not even that.

In our day, what can we say? The spiritual beauty that once existed amongst Polish, Lithuanian and Hungarian Jewry has long since gone. In His mercy, HaKodosh Boruch Hu left us remnants — great mentors, who achieved so much in America, England and other centers of Jewish population, and especially in Eretz Yisroel.

But now, not only are we orphans but our fathers have recently been taken from us, great fathers whose every thought and every deed, day and night, were on behalf of the klal. May HaKodosh Boruch Hu have mercy upon His nation, may these fathers be good advocates on our behalf and may we be saved swiftly and merit seeing our redeemer, omein.

End of Part 2


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