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the Life and Ideals
by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman with Rabbi Nosson Scherman
Rabbi Meir ZIotowitz
in conjunction with
MESIVTHA TIFERETH JERUSALEM / YESHIVA OF STATEN ISLAND
ARTSCROLL HISTORY SERIES*
© Copyright 1986,
This is the book of the generations of man (Genesis 5:1)
This volume is dedicated to the memory of
May we always be inspired by her kindness and concern, and may we follow in her path of tzedakah and chessed.
Her children arise and praise her; her husband, and he lauds her(Proverbs 31:21)
Sol, Elliott, Marvin, Jacqueline, Erin, Julie, Goldie and family
This volume is
We are privileged to dedicate
This volume is dedicated to the memory of our
In honor of
In eulogizing the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, b"Xt, noted that, generally, the more one becomes acquainted with a person, the more he notices that person's character flaws and other deficiencies. In the case of the quintessential gaon and tzaddik, however, the opposite is true: the closer one becomes to such a person, the more one is awestruck by his sublime attributes and ways. In the course of my work on this book, Reb Elchonon's observation seemed more perceptive day by day. In conducting interviews with scores of people, I began to realize that the stature of Maran Reb Moshe Feinstein was far beyond anything I had imagined. Those who revered him most were those who knew him best.
My personal contact with Reb Moshe was limited to a few cherished encounters, certainly not enough to gain even a minimal insight into his incomparable greatness. Perhaps this was my saving grace in writing this biography. Had I known Reb Moshe well, I might have portrayed him based on my own perceptions and experience; the absence of a personal relationship makes such an attempt impossible. This book, then, is an effort to convey, to the best of my ability, the recollections of his relatives, contemporaries, talmidim (students), and others who were privileged to have known him. I pray that I have succeeded at this in some small way, and that the book serve as an inspiration to all.
The material herein is based almost exclusively on interviews, first-person articles, and eulogies delivered by those who had a personal relationship with Reb Moshe.
Anecdotes which were popularized following Reb Moshe's passing (both in writing and through word of mouth) were included only after verifying them with people in a position to testify to the veracity of such material. Much effort was expended in this area, even after the manuscript was completed, resulting in numerous corrections and deletions. These inquiries were particularly rewarding, for they not only separated fact from legend, but also served to uncover many new points of information.
I am deeply indebted to the REBBETZIN, for her cooperation. It became increasingly apparent that her own strength and faith were indispensable components of her husband's greatness. I am equally indebted to Reb Moshe's illustrious sons, shlita HAGAON HARAV DAVID FEINSTEIN, Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, and HAGAON HARAV REUVEN FEINSTEIN, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah of Staten Island, for having consented to this project and having shared their recollections and insights. My thanks also to the other members of the family who graciously provided information.
I am deeply grateful to two of Reb Moshe's esteemed friends and colleagues HAGAON HARAV TUVIA GOLDSTEIN, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Emek Halachah, and HACAON HARAV MICHEL BAREN-BAUM, Mashgiach of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, for sharing their recollections and insights.
My deep appreciation to all those who contributed to this volume. The following distinguished Rabbanim (listed alphabetically), all of whom were privileged to have had a personal relationship with Reb Moshe, had a noteworthy share in this book: RABBIS ELIMELECH BLUTH, AHARON FELDER, NECHEMIA KATZ, NATHAN LOMNER, CHAIM MINTZ, MOSHE RIVLIN, BARUCH SICKER, YAAKOV YITZCHAK SPIEGEL, CHAIM TWERSKY, GERSHON WEISS, and MOSHE MEIR WEISS. My appreciation also to RABBI HILLEL DAVID for his continued guidance and encouragement, and to RABBI NISSON WOLPIN for his amiable advice and assistance.
Since his days as a talmid in Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, RABBI EPHRAIM GREENBLATT of Memphis, Tennessee, remained close to Reb Moshe. Although my contact with him began close to the time of the passing of his father, z"l, Rabbi Greenblatt took the time to provide an hour-long tape of recollections and always made himself available for my inquiries.
My sincerest thanks to RABBIS YEHOSHUA BLOOM, YOSEF BRICK, AMOS BUNIM, YISRAEL H. EIDELMAN, SHLOMO EIDELMAN, DOVID GROSSMAN, HESHY JACOB, YERUCHAM LAX, EPHRAIM SPINNER, and YOSEF TANNENBAUM, most of whom were talmidim of Reb Moshe and all of whom enjoyed a personal relationship with him, for their contributions to this work. My thanks also to GERSHON SPIEGEL, a neighbor of Reb Moshe.
The untimely passing of RABBI NISSAN ALPERT, zatzal, who was among Reb Moshe's closest and most prominent talmidim, came shortly prior to the start of this project. However, his eulogies, and information provided by his mother and by his son, R' MORDECHAI ALPERT, were most helpful.
It has been an added privilege
for me to have included in this volume a biographical sketch of Reb
Moshe's late son-in-law, the gaon and tzaddik Rabbi
Eliyahu Moshe Shisgal, zatzal. I am deeply grateful to HAGAON
HARAV AVRAHAM YAAKOV HAKOHEIN PAM, SHLITA, Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivta
Torah Vodaath, and HAGAON HARAV ELIYAHU S1MCHA SCHUSTAL Rosh
Yeshivah of Yeshivah Bais Binyamin, who shared their recollections of
their dear friend, Rabbi Shisgal. My thanks also to RABBI PERETZ
STEINBERG who provided a major portion of the material on Rabbi Shisgal;
and to RABBI YITZCHAK MEIR SCHORR, who contributed as well.
"In the Rosh Yeshtvah's Presence - as His Talmidim Saw Him"
by Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz
Rabbi Akiva encountered [the bier of his rebbi, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus] being brought from Caesar/a to Lod. He began striking his flesh until his blood flowed to the earth. He was crying out, weeping and saying "Woe is to me, my rebbi over you! Woe is me, over you, my rebbi, my master, for you have left the entire generation orphaned!" (Avos d'Rabbi Nassan 25:3)].
In the row of mourners, he introduced his eulogy with this verse, " 'My father, my father, chariot of Israel and its rider!' (II Kings 2:12). I have many coins, but I have no money-changer to evaluate them!" (Sanhedrin 68a; see Tos. there and Yevamos 13b; Yoreh Deah 180:6)
RABBI AKIVA EXPRESSED his grief with the verse that the prophet Elisha exclaimed when his teacher and guide Eliyahu was taken from this world. Maharsha (Sanhedrin 68a) explains that Eliyahu was likened to the chariot and riders that lead the way in battle, overcoming defenses and conquering new lands and peoples for the service of their sovereign.
So, too, Eliyahu waged the battles of Torah, refining and reinforcing old concepts, resolving impregnable difficulties, and opening new vistas of knowledge.
Rabbi Akiva compared himself to the possessor of a horde of coins; some ordinary and some precious, some negotiable and some invalid. How can he know the value of each unless he can find a trustworthy, experienced, knowledgeable money changer who can teach and guide him? Rabbi Akiva was a repository of Torah but he needed his teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, to polish his brilliance, direct his knowledge, resolve his questions. Now Rabbi Eliezer was gone and the world was orphaned. Rabbi Akiva was overcome with grief, as his tears and blood flowed to the ground.
This was the reaction of Rabbi Akiva, who lived in a world still peopled by giants of Torah. The Sanhedrin was in Yavneh and the Tannaim (Sages) of the Mishnah were the acknowledged leaders of the nation. If in such a generation a sage of Rabbi Akiva's stature could feel bereft and adrift, what words have we to describe our world without Maran HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein, the gadol hador and father of his nation? Rabbi Akiva had coins, what have we? Rabbi Akiva at least had the words to shriek in grief, we are mute.
Our sense of orphanhood is compounded by the quantum loss within less than a year of three of our era's most revered and venerable sages: Maran HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon; Maran HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Kamenetzky; and finally, the Rosh Yeshivah, Reb Moshe, Zatzal. We have often heard that the passing of a great man signifies the end of an era, but for American Jewry, surely, the twin losses of Reb Moshe and Reb Yaakov especially coming within two weeks of one another marked a sunset. In his hesped on the Chofetz Chaim, Reb Elchonon Wasserman asked how one can know when an era is over. He explained that when a great leader dies and there is no one left to compare with him, no one who can be a bridge to his level of greatness, then an era has ended and the world moves down a rung. With the death of the Chofetz Chaim, he said, a period was closed. There was none to succeed him. In our time, we have faith that the sun will rise again meanwhile Reb Moshe is gone and an era is over.
If a third of a million Jews in America and Israel came to bid the Rosh Yeshivah (head of the Talmudic Academy) farewell, then it was because his people recognized him as their gadol hador (leader of the generation) and father.
Everyone perceived the Rosh Yeshivah in his own capacity, according to his own experience and needs, but one thing is indisputable: there is not an observant family in the world that has not been touched by the Rosh Yeshivah in some way, by his person or by his halachic (Torah law) decisions.
Many have noted that his funeral was the largest in Eretz Yisrael since the time of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Not coincidental. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Reb Moshe led their people after unprecedented destructions; both elevated the stature of Torah and the authority of Halachah (Torah law) in generations when the faint-hearted feared for the future of Klal Yisrael. Heroically and farsightedly they prepared the way for others. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai laid the groundwork for Rabban Gamliel. Reb Moshe and his illustrious fellow Gedolei Yisrael laid the groundwork for we know not yet the history of the next generation, but one thing is clear: these Gedolim had faith that Torah will never be forgotten from the Jewish People, and by their self-sacrifice and greatness, they assured that it would not be.
Totality of Greatness
THE ROSH YESHIVAH LEFT US many legacies, and an entire book could be written about each one. He was a giant in Halachah and Aggadah, a giant in fear of Hashem (God), a giant in prayer, a giant of inspiration to his countless talmidim (students), a giant in modesty, a giant in kindness, a giant in understanding people and situations with a perception born of the profundity of Torah. No one knew the complete Reb Moshe. Certainly the moreh hora'ah [halachic authority] who came to him with a complex question of agunah knew a different Reb Moshe than the woman who regularly asked him to translate a letter in Russian from her sister. The people who came to him for blessings and miracles knew a different Reb Moshe than those who marveled at his phenomenal intensity in prayer.
In the responsive reading of the Song at the Sea, Chazal(our sages) tell us that Moshe called out, / will sing to Hashem for He is exceedingly great, and the Jewish people responded, He has hurled the horse and its rider into the sea. Moshe saw the total greatness of Hashem, but the rest of the people could not perceive that they could see only that Hashem had toyed with mighty Egypt and exerted His mastery over horse and rider. So it was with the Rosh Yeshivah. Great men saw him in all his grandeur; the rest of us saw him according to our own needs and experiences. That, too, was part of his greatness. He could relate to each of us according to his individual needs. And the miracle of the man was that in every one of his roles, he was great beyond measure. I write as a talmid (student) who felt a personal closeness to him as to no one else. My picture of the Rosh Yeshivah is in many ways personal but it is also the reflection of the way countless others saw him.
One of the most distinguished of today's middle-aged rabbanim is an exceptional talmid chacham (Torah scholar) with the mind of a genius who has written a major halachic work. When he was working on his own sefer, he found it difficult to make time to respond to complex halachic inquiries and to attend simchos and institutional affairs. He was so totally engrossed in his own subject that he could not immerse himself into foreign subjects. "I am not Reb Moshe," he once told me. "I'm thankful that the Ribbono shel Olam lets me devote all my time to my sefer; I don't have the capacity to be available for so many things and to do each one as if that is the only thing on my mind." To him, the Rosh Yeshivah's greatness was demonstrated by his incredible ability to retain total command of every area of activity to respond with equal facility to every manner of halachic question, to teach, to write, to comfort troubled Jews, to lead organizations, to attend weddings and brisos and to do each without seeming distracted or preoccupied with something more important.
As HaGaon Reb David, the Rosh Yeshivah's older son and successor as Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem and as posek, puts it, "My father had more than a photographic memory. He had a total grasp of the entire spectrum of Torah. Whatever subject one brought to him, he could instantly and without distraction focus upon it every source and nuance from his lifetime of immersion in Torah."
Immersion in Torah
TOTAL IMMERSION IN TORAH that was the Rosh Yeshivah's essence. The public is familiar with the legends that he finished Shas more than two hundred times and Shulchan Aruch more than six or eight hundred times. Those who knew him best insist that these are exaggerations; what truly matters is that learning was his life and that if it could be said of anyone that he was a living Torah, it was the Rosh Yeshivah. When he was saying the twice weekly blatt shiur for us, he lived in the Gemara. When there was a humorous passage, he smiled and laughed with obvious pleasure. When there was a tragic story or a discussion of Jewish sorrow, pain and grief would be etched on his face and tears would come to his eyes.
To him a mitzvah (Torah commandment) was a joyous privilege and never an effort. As part of his role as Rosh Yeshivah, he would invite groups of talmidim (students) to be present at a chalitzah so that we could learn how such rare mitzvos (commandments) are to be practiced. With a basin of water beside him, he would go down on his hands and knees and examine the bare foot of the man, to make sure it was free of any extraneous matter that might disqualify the performance of the mitzvah (commandment), and he would wash the foot himself, if necessary. A lack of dignity? Not at all! What could be more dignified than the performance of a mitzvah?
His extreme simplicity was misunderstood by some as naivetÙ, but he had a full grasp of every facet of a situation. The most intractable disputes came to him and he had to sift the truth and apply the Halachah (Torah law) in disputes at which both sides were presented by forceful, learned, influential people. Once, during a recess of a heated din Torah, he remarked to one of his senior talmidim (students), "They think they are fooling me."
Disputes between institutions invariably came to him. Often they were cases where both sides were right, but one was a bit more right. He had to decide the Halachah in cases that were clear cut only to him. The Rosh Yeshivah had his ways of deciding who was sincere and identifying the underlying, truly crucial issues. For example, during the course of a celebrated, long-running dispute, he wanted to force one gentleman to forgo long-winded rhetoric and articulate the real issues as he saw them. The Rosh Yeshivah asked him, "If it were up to you, what would you want the result to be, realistically?"
A Talmid's Eye View
HIS TALMIDIM CAN BEST DESCRIBE the Rosh Yeshivah from the vantage point in his beis midrash. The Rosh Yeshivah was utterly devoted to his institutions, on the Lower East Side and in Staten Island, and he was always available to anyone, especially his talmidim. He always seemed to be writing and learning. After Shacharis, he would review Mishnayos while removing his tallis and tefillin. In the earlier years, he would eat breakfast in the dining room, but when walking the steps became difficult for him, he began eating at his desk in the beis midrash. Breakfast was always the same: a roll, a soft-boiled egg, and a glass of coffee. As soon as he finished eating and bentsching (reciting Grace after Meals) he would begin writing in his hard-cover composition notebooks with usually only a gemara (book of the Talmud) open before him. Then he would go into his office to prepare for his shiur (lesson).
We hesitated to disturb him because we knew that every second was so precious to him, and we knew how he avoided bitul Torah. But we knew that if we ever had to speak to him, he was warm and gracious. Our consciences told us to beware of interrupting, but nothing he ever did or said ratified that reluctance. When we went over to him, we would stand and wait until he noticed us. It never took more than a few seconds, and then he would put down his pen and give us his complete attention. He was very happy if we had a kashya (question) on the Gemara or a probing comment on his shiur (lesson). Rarely did we ever have to complete a kashya before he knew what we meant. He was always way ahead of us, but he never interrupted. We wanted to finish making our point and he wanted to hear us develop it, even though he knew what we planned to say. He would answer, and if we didn't understand him, he would repeat his answer until we did. If we came to him with a personal problem or request, he gave us the same uninterrupted attention, and all the thought and sympathy our dilemma required.
When we were finished and ready to leave him, he always gave a b'rachah or encouragement. We never left him without a good word. And we knew he was concerned with our problem. He expected us to report back to him, and if we didn't, he would seek us out and ask. There was an exception. If the query was of a very personal nature, he would not inquire because we might have felt embarrassed. He would never pry, and he scrupulously returned private letters or papers, lest they fall into the wrong hands.
We approached him with reverence, and that feeling of awe was still upon us as we left him. We knew we were standing before the gadol hador and we felt that his throat was our conduit from Mount Sinai. Whether or not he used a pasuk or quote from the Sages to buttress what he was telling us, we knew that his every word and thought were growing from the lush soil of kol haTorah kulah. Even if his judgments had been coming merely from a man of experience, concern and enormous wisdom, he would have been a treasure to us, but he was much more. Whether one studied Scriptures, Talmud, Midrash, or Mussar, the descriptions of the ideal human being could have been written about him. To be near him was to be in the courtyard of a Bais HaMikdash and to hear his word was like hearing a holy voice emanating from between the Cherubim. Even his genius at humility could not obscure that.
As he walked through the beis midrash, and noticed a group of talmidim learning well, disputing one another vociferously over the p'shat of some commentary, he would pause and look on with obvious pleasure. Sometimes he would diffidently look over a shoulder to see what the to-do was about, but he would not come close to us because he knew that would make us self-conscious and interfere with our learning. Yet we knew he was there, and the thought that the Rosh Yeshivah was pleased with our efforts made us extend ourselves further in the fray of Torah.
He understood talmidim well and pushed them gently to come closer to realizing their potential. When we were studying for semichah [ordination], he would test us whenever we said we were ready. We could ask to be tested on one chapter or on an entire section. He let us know that the main thing in learning was to know something thoroughly; then we would be able to find sources and apply them to questions as they arose. "Cramming" was not the way, because things that are learned hastily and under pressure are soon forgotten. A rav has to know how to decide Halachah; if he remembers everything clearly, so much the better. But memorization is not a substitute for thorough knowledge.
New talmidim were always flabbergasted by the way he looked up a page in the gemara. He did not look at the page number at the top of the page. He would turn up the bottom of the page and look at the few words at the bottom corner. That was enough for him to know what page he was on. Total recall!
Part of the Klal
HE FELT A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY for Klal Yisrael; that is why he always managed to find time for so many causes and individuals. People usually manage to do what they must do, and to him attending the needs of Jewry was something that must be done. He was fully cognizant of his personal role in the Jewish destiny, and he sometimes groaned that he was personally liable for Jewish tragedy, because if he were more worthy, the nation would have merited Divine help. In a sense, he felt he was like the Kohein Gadol, who was held responsible for those who were exiled to a city of refuge for manslaughter. Since the most complex halachic questions came to him, he was subject to a constant flow of tragic news. He once remarked sadly to this writer, "Situations that the Rishonim dealt with as abstract, hypothetical questions come to me as realities."
The Rosh Yeshivah complained about few things, but those he did complain about were most expressive of the kind of person he was. It bothered him that his talmidim and others did not inform him of happy occasions. "People come to me with their problems and woes, why don't they come to me with their joys?" Those who would call him hysterically for his blessings and prayers in cases of illness or business crisis usually did not tell him when the patient recovered or the business remained solvent. In fairness, many of us did not do so because we knew how he treasured every second of Torah and we didn't want to intrude on him. We failed to realize that it was not an intrusion. We were all his children does a father resent the interruption when he is told that his child has weathered a crisis?
It bothered him that he was seldom asked halachic questions about the distribution of tzedakah (charity) or about the education of children. He once remarked that almost the only people who consult him about giving tzedakah are Kollel scholars who, in many cases, are not required to give. Don't people realize that the Shulchan Aruch speaks about tzedakah and chinuch just as it does about Kashrus and interest?
He could not understand why many more people did not attend the Melaveh Malkahs and dinners of his institutions. The Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem and later Yeshiva of Staten Island, where his son HaGaon Reb Reuven is Rosh Yeshivah, were very precious to him. He took personal financial responsibility for the institutions because his allegiance to talmidim, to the Jewish community of the Lower East Side, and to the transmission of Torah to future generations was so intense. His salary was modest beyond belief; he took only what he needed to maintain his very simple standard of living. It pained and mystified him, therefore, that many people ignored his appearances on behalf of the yeshivos.
Where are They?
OCCASIONALLY, IN HIS LATER YEARS, he would voice this complaint publicly when he spoke at a Melaveh Malkah. Where are the people, he wondered, who call early in the morning and late at night with she'eilos and requests? When we devote time to fund-raising, we are torn from learning and responding to the questions that come to us from everywhere. Why does the Jewish public force its roshei yeshivah to steal time from Torah and talmidim to raise money? Shouldn't people who value Torah go out of their way to give the roshei hayeshivah the financial support to which they and their institutions are entitled?
He had a remarkable ability to detach himself from his role. It was hardly possible for a human being to be more modest and personally self-effacing, but he was very much aware of what he was. The Rosh Yeshivah accepted the homage that was due to his Torah, his responsibilities, his position but he never considered that the individual Jew named Reb Moshe Feinstein was entitled to any honors. That is why he did not shrink from deciding complicated and consequential questions of Halachah that no one else in the world would touch, or why he was ready to oppose the consensus of poskim if he was sure he was right. Despite his enormous respect for the Chasam Sofer or the Mishnah Berurah, he would rule differently from them if his research so dictated. In someone else, this could have seemed arrogant, but there was no one in the world who could associate haughtiness with the Rosh Yeshivah. He had no ego; he had only the Torah of which Hashem had made him a caretaker. It was his duty to interpret the Torah, convey it to talmidim and apply it to situations. That he did, and if his Torah conflicted with the opinion of others, so be it. As he constantly reiterated, any qualified rabbanim had a right to differ with him, provided they were positive in their own minds that they had mastered all the relevant Talmudic and halachic sources.
Breadth of Halachah
IT IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to convey a full picture of the amazing breadth of his expertise. However, we can glean an inkling of his Torah greatness from a very brief sampling of the halachic inquiries that came to him:
Are heart and other organ transplants permitted?
What is the halachic definition of "time of death"?
What is the halachic status of marriages and divorces performed and witnessed by people who do not accept the Divine origin of the Torah?
When a woman is in labor, may her husband ride with her to a hospital on Shabbos?
A response to Governor Carey of New York who asked the Rosh Yeshivah to explain the halachic status of the civil death penalty.
The permissibility of plastic surgery for purely cosmetic purposes.
Responses to several long series of medical inquiries regarding such matters as "pulling the plug," deciding priorities on who is more entitled to receive scarce medical treatment, prolongation of life which would involve great suffering but no hope of cure, abortion, and so on.
The use of frozen meat that was not washed within seventy-two hours after slaughter.
Severing Siamese twins if only one will survive.
Bringing a seeing-eye dog into a synagogue.
The halachic status of a deaf-mute from birth, who had been trained to function to a significant degree.
If a business in Israel is owned by a Diaspora Jew, may it open for business on the second day of Yom Tov?
Under what circumstances may an eruv be constructed in a metropolitan area?
How can a child make restitution to parents after a long period of minor pilfering from them?
What is the status of the laws of interest with regard to corporations?
When we consider that the seven volumes of Igros Moshe respond to thousands of such queries and that the Rosh Yeshivah decided countless agunah questions, we must stand in open-mouthed amazement at how a single human being could know so much, write so much, be available to so many people and institutions, grace so many simchos and tzedakah affairs, and accomplish so much in just one lifetime, even though it was nine decades long!
The Rosh Yeshivah was more than merely the sum of many parts; he was the embodiment par excellence of many perfect wholes.
The Greatest Miracle
IT IS TOLD THAT REB LEIB, the Chofetz Chaim's eldest son, once visited a town where he was surrounded by people who asked to hear of his father's miracles. "My father's greatest miracle," Reb Leib said, "was that he fulfilled, to the letter, the word of Hashem." Similarly, those who were very close to Reb Moshe insist that the greatest lessons we must learn from him are not tales of miracles, but the far greater miracle of his personal behavior.
Though this book cannot offer even a bare glimpse of the Rosh Yeshivah's Torah greatness, it can give us some idea of the man and his character traits. This is a very important, very worthwhile undertaking, because there is so much for us to learn from him. He was our Rosh Yeshivah and model in virtually every area of sublime human activity. There is much to emulate; even if we but make the attempt we will have benefited ourselves and our surroundings.
Because he is no longer among us, it is even more important that we preserve his legacy. It is not enough to mourn, we must preserve. And to paraphrase the Sages, we must ask ourselves, "When will my deeds approach the deeds of the Rosh Yeshivah?"
The Talmud relates that Rabbi Eliezer wept upon observing the incomparable beauty of his teacher Rabbi Yochanan. He explained, "Because of this beauty that will shrivel in the earth do I weep." [Rabbi Yochanan] said to him, "For this it is surely proper that you weep" and then they both wept (Berachos 5a).
The Avnei Nezer cited the above passage in his eulogy of the Nefesh Chayah. He commented that Rabbi Yochanan was a very old man, probably over a hundred years of age, when that meeting took place. How beautiful could he have been and why did Rabbi Eliezer cry? The Avne; Nezer explains that Rabbi Yochanan's beauty was spiritual. In his long lifetime he had unceasingly scaled the ladder of Torah, piety, kindness, and service to his people. This spiritual glow radiated from him and this beauty was his alone. He was not born with it and no one presented it to him as a gift. It was the product of a lifetime of striving and self-perfection. Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eliezer both knew that he would not live forever, and that children with the potential to succeed him would and had been born. But would they ever become great enough to duplicate his glory? Who would replace the spiritual radiance of Rabbi Yochanan when his time would come? At that thought, they both wept, as well they might.
The Rosh Yeshivah is gone. His beauty is gone. His wisdom is gone. Who will replace him? Well may we weep. At the same time, we are reassured by our faith and our history. Klal Yisrael survives and new Gedolei Yisrael have always arisen. The Rosh Yeshivah's heroic work for Torah will not be in vain.
In his hesped after the shivah, Reb David Feinstein noted, "Just as my father was accessible during his lifetime, his final resting place is accessible to everyone, even to Kohanim. He was laid to rest at the side of the road, where every Jew can come to pour out his heart and beseech him to pray for us now, just as he did in life."
He is still accessible. He still prays for us. May he implore our Maker to help his children. We mourn him and we miss him. May we learn from him and be worthy of his lifetime of dedication to Klal Yisrael.
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